New Theme, New Era

Hi, there.  You may have noticed things look different around here.  This blog is ushering in a new era.  I’m not really ready to define this new era yet, but it will hopefully be better than it was.  I won’t necessarily be writing more regularly here, but I’ll be thinking about things a lot more.  I admit to being a tiny bit tired of eating out and of endlessly traveling around, although, I’m still a fiend for a great roadside diner.   I do love good home cooking, but my skills are limited and not worthy of an entire blog.  I’m still very interested in seeking out interesting food finds, and hearing about what other regular folks are making and eating and doing.  I love people, places, and food.  So welcome to a period of delicious questioning and transition.  I’m embracing the questions.  It’s an evolution.  This period begins with a trip from my current home base in Chicago to my heart home of New England.  More on that later.

So for now, I’m not saying I will not be blogging about road food and breakfast gems, but hopefully I push myself farther. Thanks.

-Whitney

Australian Hedgehog

Hiya.  Sometimes you make and eat new things.  Sometimes you indulge in a little saccharine nostalgia.  This delectable treat is called a hedgehog slice.  Say it.  Now in an Australian accent (really go crazy with the “sloyyyeece”).  You got it.

These chocolate goodies are the reason I put on fifteen pounds the year I spent in Australia in high school.  (Ok, they also didn’t really do after school sports, which made me happy and my cross country coach back home very unhappy).  I ate one nearly everyday for recess, which occurred a couple hours before lunch.  Recess in Australia was a very civilized fifteen minute tea break at 11am.  In which I consumed a hedgehog slice.  (Or a vanilla slice for non-chocolatey days.)  These bloggers indulged my request for Aussie sweets on their fantastic foreign food blog.  I’m returning the favor with the best aussie treat I know.   Now, I have found many different variations on this roaming around the internet.  This recipe (via) turned out the most authentic to a small high school in Victoria, Australia-style hedgehog slice.

The Hedgehog Slice

WHAT:
180g butter
2/3 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
2 tsp vanilla extract
500g of morning coffee biscuits (This is very important.  Biscuits here means cookies.  But dry, flavorless, packaged cookies that are only good dipped in tea.  I bought “tea cookies” in the Polish section of my small grocery.  Maybe try maria cookies?  I also kind of eyeballed the amount.  I ended up with about 450g.  It will look like there is far too little chocolate with far too many cookies.  This is good.  The chocolate is really there to coat the cookies and hold them together.)
shredded coconut for topping

HOW
1) Grease or line with parchment paper a 9×9 baking pan.
2) Combine the butter, milk, sugar, cocoa and vanilla in a saucepan. Stir over a low heat until sugar is dissolved, then bring to a boil and remove from heat.
3) Place biscuits in a large plastic bag and very roughly crush with a rolling pin (you want some big pieces and some little pieces).
4) Tip the crushed biscuits into a large bowl, add the melted butter mixture and mix well.
5) Press mixture firmly into prepared pan and sprinkle with coconut.
6) Refrigerate until firm. Cut into small pieces to serve.

Makes about 30 pieces. The slices will keep for several days in an airtight container in the fridge.

note:  I added in a few peanuts for fun.  Cherries would be awesome.  Go wild.

The New Year and Perfect Cake

real Amy’s Bread cake from wonggawei on flickr

My birthday project this year was to make the perfect cake.  When I lived in New York I often celebrated special occasions (and some random grey days) with a slice of yellow cake with pink buttercream frosting from Amy’s Bread in the Village.  It’s important to mention that I used to hate cake.  Too often it was dry with overly sweet frosting.  Why eat cake when I could be eating pie?  This simple yellow cake with pink buttercream frosting is the cake that made me like cake.  It is a perfect cake.  Luckily, James Beard has the recipe online, and I attempted to make it for my birthday.

The frosting calls for fondant, and I had intentions of buying some from a friendly neighborhood bakery.  However, I found that bakeries like to take their Christmas holidays with everyone else, so instead I forgot the fondant and altered the ingredient amounts as suggested.  I woke up and made the frosting before heading to a morning birthday yoga class, and with just one drop of red food coloring it turned out rosy, sweet, and perfect.

Since I spent the day being outside in the beautiful winter sun and doing indulgent birthday things, the cake preparation was put off until late afternoon.  And since I had only one 9” cake pan, I had to bake one layer, remove it, bake another layer, remove it.  (Carey recommended this trick for creating perfectly sized parchment paper rounds.)  This means I was rushing around getting dressed and frosting the cake five minutes before I was expected at an Indian restaurant ready to ring in the new year.   The cake looked divine, and my fabulous roommate helped me rig a genius transportation container involving a metal mixing bowl and plastic wrap.  When I opened the cake just before the midnight countdown, well, let’s just say, the cake could’ve cooled longer.  I had expected rosy, beautiful cake perfection, but the second layer had slid off the first revealing a lopsided mess.

my lopsided cake

NONETHELESS, the cake was delicious, and people ate it.  Plus, by that time I was full of enough wine to not care.  It wasn’t until the next day that I lamented even bothering with so much butter and sugar and time.   And then I heard this obit of Eva Zeisel on All things Considered:

Happy 2012, people!

My perfect summer lunch:  I added the last of the scape pesto, a hunk of goat cheese, and fresh tomatoes to steaming bowl of pasta and mixed everything together.  I had some frozen watermelon pieces in the freezer, which I blended with some water, a basil leaf and a dash of agave nectar.

Garlic Scape Pesto

Step 1: Get garlic scapes.

Step 2: mix the ingredients in a food processor or chopper

Step 3.  Put scape pesto on everything.  toast, pasta, sandwiches, crackers, cheese

midwest lesson: Michigan makes strawberries

Lowell went home to Michigan and came back with 8 quarts of Michigan strawberries.  We had to act fast.  He made his preferred “drop biscuits” while I made the incomparable, flaky, southern variety.

I have found this biscuit recipe from Salt & Fat to be superb.  They were the perfect accompaniment to lots and lots of berries and whipped cream.

Behold “the perfect bite.”

Remember those beet burgers I made way back when?  Turns out, they’re also incredible if you don’t add egg or bread crumbs and sautee the ingredients as a hash.  They’re good with eggs or in a flour tortilla with some sort of yogurt tzatziki sauce.

Graham Cracker Muffin/Cupcakes w/ Lemon Curd

Photo by my awesome new roommate, check her out: http://jenniferray.net/

So I’ve moved to Chicago.  After two years on the road, I have a new apartment, a new neighborhood, a new city, a new home.  This warrants a party.  But I only know two people in Chicago.  So I decided to host a friends-of-friends party.  I collected email addresses of my friends’ Chicago based friends and sent out an invite.  Instead of worrying about what would happen with a roomful of strangers at my house, I focused on the food.  I made some of my favorite party staples (eggplant caviar, curried couscous).  I wanted to make something to go with the mounds of leftover lemon curd (see recipe here) sitting in my fridge, something simple that would compliment its sweet/tartness.   And I wanted it to be stunningly delicious.  Lowell suggested graham crackers.  I wanted cupcakes.  So we made graham cracker muffin/cupcakes.  And the party was a success.

Graham cracker muffin/cupcakes

2 1/2 c Graham Cracker crumbs

2 t baking powder

1 c whole milk

1 egg

2 T honey (you might even try leaving this out.  I had honey flavored grahams, and they were plenty sweet)

lemon curd (recipe here)

-Preheat your oven to 400.  Line your muffin tin with muffin liners.

-In a mixing bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs with the baking powder.  Stir in milk, egg, and honey until just moistened.  Spoon batter into muffin cups.  (I didn’t think these would rise much, but they do, so leave a little room!)

-bake for 15 minutes or so, until a tootpick comes out clean.  Cool.

-Add a small smear of lemon curd (much less than you would with frosting, this stuff is potent!)

So what does it mean for a travel food blog when I’m not traveling constantly?  I don’t know yet.  We shall see.

Homemade bagels

homemade bagels (especially for those who no longer live in NYC)

makes 4
1 cup bread (or all-purpose or whole wheat?) flour; 1 cup rye flour
(these are the two flours I went with for a more hearty bagel, you could use only bread flour if you wanted plain bagels.  Next time, I’m going with whole wheat and rye)
1/2 T sugar
3/4 t salt
1/2 T vegetable oil
1 t instant yeast
3/4 c water

-Mix all ingredients together
-Knead dough on flat surface for 10 mins
-Cut into four equal pieces
-Let rise for 20 mins
-Roll each piece into a snake shape and then fuse the ends
-Let bagels rise for at least 20 mins.  Preheat oven to 425 and start a pot of boiling water.
-Drop bagels in a pot of boiling water for 1 min. Flip and let the other side boil for 1 more minute.  At this point, you can add toppings (caraway, sesame seeds, poppy seeds etc).  Put your toppings on a plate and place the bagel face down in the plate to coat the bagel.
-Cook bagels on an oiled baking sheet in a 425 degree oven for 10 mins.  Flip bagels and let the other side cook for 10 mins.