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Archive for January, 2010

This cocoa-banana bread exposed a serious flaw our new house.  And it’s not just a matter of taste, like ugly counter tops or bad wallpaper.  No, it’s the oven.  For all you inveterate bakers out there, you know this is a problem not to be taken lightly.

So, here’s the situation.  The oven has all digital controls.  I can’t just twist a knob to 375 degrees and walk away.  I have to program the temperature by pressing buttons.  That makes my oven sound hip and cool and futuristic.  It’s not.  It’s old, tiny, and poorly designed.  Because these very same buttons control the timer.

The cocoa banana bread cooks for 30 minutes, then it’s tented with foil to avoid over-browning.  So I program my oven, set the timer for 30 minutes, and go on my merry way.  After 30 minutes pass, I hear the timer, turn it off (as one will do with noisy beeping sounds), tent the pan, reset the timer for another 30 minutes, and go on my merry way again.  When the timer goes off a second time, I return to the oven to check the bread.  It hasn’t risen properly and it’s still more batter than bread.  Hm.  I set the timer for another 15 minutes, stick it back in the oven, and realize the oven is cool.  Not cool as in “groovy.”  Cold.

I bring all of my Sherlock Holmes powers of deduction to bear and realize, with sagging shoulders, that when I hit “clear” to stop the timer from beeping after the first 30 minutes, it also cleared the temperature to zero and turned off the oven.  Sigh.

My daughter wanted to take a bike ride through our new neighborhood so I put the bread back in and willed it to cook fast.  After another 20 minutes, I pulled it out even though it still left streaks on the tester.

After our bike ride, we came back inside to try the bread.  Chocolate and banana struck my husband as a weird combination, but think banana splits and Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.  They work.  This bread does, too, in flavor.  But the texture is unforgivably dry.  Every time I cut a slice, a shower of crumbs decorates my counters.  Days after we finished up the bread, I still found cocoa banana bread crumbs in various corners of the kitchen.

My 4-year-old, who never pulls a punch when it comes to evaluating my cooking, was spot on in her assessment.  I said, “Do you think it’s good?”  She said, “Yeah, it’s good.”  I said, “Do you think it’s really good, or just ok?”  “Just ok.”

Thanks to Steph of Obsessed with Baking for providing yet another reason to start shopping for a new oven.  You can find the recipe for this cocoa banana bread on her site or on page 46 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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We moved this weekend, and I made these chocolate oatmeal almost-candy bars a week before the move because I knew once in the new house I’d want/need to make some classic, comforting family favorites.  Moving into a new house makes me feel unmoored.  Even if it’s just across town, as my move has been, I’m still viewed as a stranger in the new neighborhood.  It’s not exactly like a man in a cowboy hat is going to ride over on his horse, furrow his brow, squint his eyes, and say, “You ain’t from around here.”  (Quite the opposite, in fact.  Two young children scampered up to our door and begged to play with our kids, followed by two lovely parents who invited us to brunch the following morning.)  But it’s a strange feeling nonetheless.

Then there’s the mental process of packing up all your stuff, purging what’s not worth saving, giving things away to Goodwill.  And the physical process of dragging boxes full of books that you’ve already read, and may not ever read again, but can’t bear to part with anyway.

But most unnerving is the psychological process of reviewing where you are in life.  As I paw through old files, old photographs, old letters, old clothes, and think about the time when they were important, and why they’ve now lost their importance (or not), and where I thought I’d be at this point in my life and where I am and how I got here and how I’ll get to whatever’s next, well, it’s all a bit exhausting.

Cooking provides such a beautiful and uncomplicated connection to the past.  I can bring all of my old, beloved recipes wherever I go, and it feels like home.  When we moved into the new house, I unpacked the kitchen boxes first.  I had to.  I needed to see my KitchenAid mixer, my cookbooks, my good knives, my roasting pan.

This first weekend in the new house, I made roast chicken with mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, blueberry pancakes, chocolate chip cookies, blondies, coffee cake.  Later today I’ll make challah.  It’s all part of making this house mine.  I want it to smell like my coffee cake.  I want to see my chocolate chip cookies cooling on the counter.  I want to create a life here for my family, one that’s warm, inviting, and comforting.  Cooking does that, effortlessly.

As for the chocolate oatmeal almost-candy bars, I still have a couple left in the freezer.  These bars aren’t decadent, but they’re good to have around, studded with crunchy peanuts, soft chocolate, chewy raisins and oatmeal.  I would suggest substituting almonds instead of peanuts and good-quality bittersweet chocolate instead of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Coconut would be a nice addition, too.  Ok, back to the boxes.  Who knows what relics and treasures from my past lie in wait.

Thanks to Lillian of Confectiona’s Realm for choosing this week’s chocolate oatmeal almost-candy bars.  You can find the recipe on her site or on pp. 114-115 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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Shows what I know.  I’ve been calling this dessert Mrs. Scherben’s Vogel all week long.  It’s called Mrs. Vogel’s Scherben.  Got it?  The name doesn’t exactly go trippingly off the tongue, and, unfortunately, the dessert itself doesn’t fare well on the tongue.  Big disappointment this week, and I’m surprised, because I’m a sucker for sweet, warm, sugary, fried dough.

Exhibit A:  When my brother and I were little, we spent summers at my grandparents’ house in Maine.  The house was conveniently located about 100 yards from the East Boothbay General Store.  On weekends, the general store churned out the most delicious classic donuts.  Mike and I would get up in the morning and walk to the store to buy a bag full of chocolate donuts rolled in sugar.  They were always warm, soft, and delicious, and I dream of making donuts that will be as good as those.  When the store stopped making the donuts, my dad started buying very good Harris-brand boxed donuts, and my favorite were the chocolate covered in coconut.  A very noble successor, but not the same as freshly-made, warm donuts that stained our brown paper bag with grease and sugar.

These scherben seemed like a shoo-in with their combination of sweet, warm, sugary, and deep-fried.  Alas.  It’s not that they were bad, but the fried dough was beyond plain.  Plain is a nice word for it.  More like stale crackers.  If you really plastered them with cinnamon sugar and powdered sugar, they were perfectly decent.  But mine weren’t greasy enough to take a thick sugar coating.  All my lovely cinnamon sugar slid off the scherben and gathered at the bottom of the bowl, leaving me with the stale crackers.

There is an upside.  This week’s Tuesdays with Dorie dessert was chosen by Teanna of Spork or Foon, and she’s one of my favorite TWD’ers, so go check out her site and read about her experience with the vogel, er, scherben.  She will make you laugh, I guarantee.  And she’ll have the recipe, in case you want to give these a try.

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We all have our favorite restaurants.  And we all have our favorite dishes at those restaurants.  As I’ve mentioned here before, my all-time favorite restaurant is Fore Street, in Portland, Maine.  It also happens to be my husband’s favorite restaurant, which is fortuitous.  Such things ensure long and happy marriages.

We do not agree, however, on what qualifies as Fore Street’s greatest dish.  For me, it’s definitely the warm chocolate souffle cake.  For him, it’s the tarte tatin.  The problem is, their menu changes every day, and you never know if the tarte tatin will be available.  Last summer, we stopped in at the restaurant one afternoon to inquire whether the tarte tatin would be on the menu that evening.  The host said she really didn’t know, but she’d check for us.  Two minutes later, out walks this short, furry, ponytailed, tattoed fellow.

“Were you asking about the tarte tatin?” he said.

“Yes,” my husband stammered, totally thrown by this turn of events.

“Do you want a tarte tatin tonight?”

“Yes,” said my husband, deer in the headlights.

“How about a tarte tatin with nectarines and golden cherries?”

“Yes,” said robot boy.

“Cool,” he said, and walked back into the kitchen.

Dave turned to the host and asked, “Who was that man?”

“Oh, I thought you knew.  That’s our pastry chef,” she said.

Dave walked back out into the street, shook off his trance, then did a little jig with joy.  “The pastry chef at Fore Street is making a tarte tatin with nectarines and golden cherries just for me!”  I let him celebrate for a minute, then reminded him that we have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old and no babysitter for that evening.  This reminder did nothing to dampen his spirits.  “It’s about time they tried the tarte tatin!” he crowed.

And they did.  My daughter still talks about the tarte tatin, and its accompanying scoop of apricot sorbet, to this day.  The other diners in the bar area that night probably still talk about the preschooler and toddler who shared their space for one surprisingly peacable hour of tarte tatin heaven.

Every year, at the end of the summer, I promise to make a tarte tatin for Dave.  And every year, I become daunted by the prospect of trying to create a dessert that has been done to perfection at Fore Street.  So it’s with great relief that I was tasked with making a tarte tatin for Tuesdays with Dorie to celebrate the group’s 2nd anniversary of baking together.  (It also, coincidentally, marks the first-year anniversary of my blog!)

This tarte tatin is something special.  I’m not saying it rivals the short, furry, ponytailed, tattooed guy’s version, but for a homemade tart using frozen puff pastry and store-bought ice cream, it is utterly delicious.  Oh, and I made it earlier in the day, then reheated it, which is expressly forbidden in Dorie’s marginal comments.  She says the tarte tatin must be eaten within the hour.  I believe that, but I can also promise that it’s extremely good after that hour has passed.  The apples were perfectly soft, with a rich layer of caramel flowing around them, all surrounded by a lightly crispy, chewy crust.  The ice cream is critical, and I’m already excited to make this again with homemade cinnamon or salted caramel or even just plain vanilla.

Thanks to our fearless leader, Laurie of Slush, for choosing this tarte tatin.  Tuesdays with Dorie members were torn between the tarte tatin and a cocoa buttermilk cake this week, so I actually had an option (and an out).  But I’m so glad I finally made the tarte tatin.  It will be a regular part of the dessert rotation here.  You can find the recipe here or on pp. 312-313 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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