Eggplant Longbean Curry
Saturday, August 16, 2008, 06:57 PM - soups, comfort food
Today I was hit with a sudden impulse to make curry. Naturally, I had no ingredients of the curry powder, turmeric, or fenugreek persuasion. Furthermore, I had a refrigerator drawer full of eggplants and longbeans. So, I made eggplant longbean curry.

one eggplant, skinned and diced
10 longbeans, chopped into 1-2 inch segments
olive oil, one glug
milk, 2-4 inches, depending on pan size
black pepper, 1 tsp
5 thai chilis, chopped
mustard seed, 1/2 tsp
fennel, 1 tsp
coriander, several shakes
cardamum, 1/4 tsp
dried basil, several shakes
ginger, several shakes
cinnamon, several generous shakes
nutmeg, several shakes
cumin, several shakes
salt, several shakes
4 sprigs of fresh spearmint
an eyeball full of fresh basil
10 beet leaves
peanut butter, 1 tablespoon
lime juice, 1 glug
brown sugar, 1 tsp


Mortar-and-pestle any spices that aren't in a powdered form. Put them all in a saucepan with a generous glug of olive oil. Heat for 30 seconds or so. Add the longbeans, eggplant, and enough milk to submerge them. Simmer & stir periodically for a good long while.

In a bowl, combine a tablespoon of peanut butter and a glug of lime juice. Microwave for 15 seconds---just enough to melt the peanut butter---and stir them into a paste.

Go out in the back yard and collect spearmint, basil, and beet leaves. Wash them. Rip up the beet leaves; they're too big to drop in hole. Everything else just needs to be removed from the stem.

Turn off the heat, add brown sugar, peanut butter and lime concoction, and fresh greens. Stir until greens are wilted.


Sunday, March 23, 2008, 06:43 PM - comfort food, dessert, breakfast, holiday
Lately, I've been making a lot of pies. As usual, I have made up a recipe based loosely on 5 other recipes, only completely different, and its sitting in my head and I've realized I need to write it down because at some point it will be summer and I won't want to bake for a few months and I don't want to start from scratch making up a new recipe in the fall.

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup white flour
.... damn... or maybe switch those... I don't remember... I'd err on the side of what I've written, since it won't go wrong if there's not enough wheat flour but it can go wrong without enough white flour. All I know for sure is that you really can't do it all wheat. However, maybe I'll try 3/4 wheat 1/2 white next time, since I like to have as much whole grain as possible...
1 stick of unsalted butter
a spray-bottle with water

Leave the butter out until it's soft. Cut it into smallish pieces---maybe 1 TBS. Use a pastry blender (a device that looks like a slinky held sideways... functionally it's a huge, round fork) and moosh the butter into the flour until you have a bowl of little pieces of butter coated with flour. Spray the surface of the flour until it's lightly moist, wait a few minutes, then moosh it a bit. Repeat the process until it clings together and you find that most of it balls up and sticks to the pastry blender. Transfer all of the dough into plastic wrap, press it together into a ball, and stick it in the fridge.

Leave it in the fridge for half an hour.

Cut the dough in half and roll the two halves into circles. I find it's easiest to do this between two sheets of waxed paper. You have to pull up the paper each turn. I usually roll a few times on one side, remove the paper and put it back, flip and rotate and roll on the other side, then remove the paper and put it back, etc. Unless you are my grandmother, you will find it impossible to roll an actual circle. She had special superpowers. The rest of us have to cheat. You won't get a circle so much as you'll get something shaped like Australia (if you're lucky) or South America (if you're less lucky). To cheat, cut off peninsulas, rotate them so the smooth edge that you cut is on the outside, and slap them over inlets and fjords. Give the dough one more roll and you've got something that looks shockingly like a circle.

If you're my grandmother, you can use your superpowers to attach the pie crust to the rolling pin and roll it into the piecrust, where it will fall perfectly into the place. Me, I peel off one layer of waxed paper and flip it over into the pie pan. Then I carefully peel off the other layer, accidentally rip the crust, and pat it back together with my fingers and hope no one notices.

Make the filling, roll the second crust, and put it over the top. Cut the edges off the crust so that it just comes up to or a little past the edge of the pie plate. Then roll the bottom crust over the top crust and squeeze it together into a ridge around the pie. Then, take two fingers from one hand and make a v, and stick it on the edge of the ridge. Take one finger from the other hand and pull it through the v so you get a W shaped ridge. Move up so that one of your two fingers is in the indentation left by the previous one, and repeat the process around the pie until the edge is all ripply. wwwwwww

Take a sharp knife and stick lots of holes into the top of the pie. This lets steam escape. I like to make cool patterns like this:

Cover the edges of the pie with a strip of aluminum foil so just the wwwwwww is covered. Stick it in an oven preheated to 325 degrees. Come back in half an hour and remove the aluminum foil. Come back in another 10 minutes and remove the pie. Turn off your oven to avoid burning your house down.

pie filling
Anything can go in a pie. I've been making fruit pies, mostly. I made an apple pie, an apple/pecan pie, several blueberry pies, and several cherry pies. All fruit pies are basically made the same. Add enough fruit to fill the pie. This varies by pie pan size. I don't know how big my pie pan is, since I've been reusing a cheap aluminum one that a pie was once purchased in. But I'd guess it's a 9" pie pan. It takes 3 cans of cherries or blueberries to fill it, and 8-10 apples (peeled & sliced), depending on how big they are. When filling a pie, apples should be heaped up, whereas berries should only come level to the surface of the bottom crust.

Regardless of what fruit you're using, the process is the same. Add 1/4 cup of flour and a bunch of spices to the fruit, stir it up so it's coated, and put it in the pie crust. With apple, I often add lemon juice as well, since I cut the apples into a bowl with lemon juice in it so they don't go brown while I'm cutting the rest of them. As for spices, use desserty spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, corriander, cardamom, allspice, ginger, etc. I don't always use every spice I can think of... just whatever mood takes me.

What to do with pie crust scraps

Pocket Pie
Last time I made a pie, I rolled the scraps out into a circle, topped it with chocolate chips, nuts, spices, and some mild cheese. I folded it over and crimped it up like a calzone and baked it with the pie. It didn't need to bake as long as the pie.

Almost but not completely unlike rugulach
Roll the scraps out as thin as possible. Top with cinnamon sugar. Roll back up. Put in the oven with the pie. It should be done in 5 minutes or so.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008, 06:14 PM - comfort food
I recently was sick and didn't make bread for a few weeks. When I decided to make it again, I had a momentary feeling of panic that I hadn't the faintest idea how to make bread. This was unsettling, since I knew I hadn't actually written down how to make bread because I do it all the time. So here's bread, just so I won't panic in the future.

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cups water
1 dash salt.... who knows... half a teaspoon? a teaspoon? eh?
1/4 tsp yeast

Put everything in a bowl. Mix it together. Put a dishcloth over the top and leave it out on the counter and forget about it all day.

Before you go to bed, fold it over on itself and beat it down. People say not to beat bread, because you want to redistribute the air, not eliminate it. That might be true of some breads, but not this one. Unless you want gihugeous bubbles in the resulting loaf, do make sure to beat out any big bubbles you might feel in the folding process. When you're done, put it in the fridge.

In the morning, pull it out and stick it on the counter again. Ignore it and go about your business. At some point between late morning and early evening, repeat the folding/beating process. This time, when you're done, shape it into a loaf and stick it on a baking sheet.

Leave it for an hour or so. Come back and slash the top (if you remember), and stick it in an oven at 400 degrees F. Preheating is unnecessary.

Cookie Science
Saturday, December 8, 2007, 10:34 AM - dessert, holiday
A Comparison of Chocolate Mint Wafer Alteratives in Surprise Cookies

Traditional winter holiday festivities require certain essential cookies. One of these is the Surprise Cookie, which is a chocolate mint wafer encased in sugar cookie dough. Unfortunately, chocolate mint wafers aren't universally available. This paper discusses alternatives based on availability, ease of use, and affordability. Two alternatives that rate highly on ease of use and affordability are Andes Mints and Necco Thin Mints. A baking test was conducted to compare the alternatives for taste and presentability. Andes Mints fall short of the original for taste, but match the original for presentability. Necco Thin Mints taste good, but nothing like the original; they yield few presentable cookies.

1 Introduction
Traditional winter holiday festivities require certain essential cookies. An essential cookie is one that the holidays are incomplete without. Inessential cookies are those that can be added to the mix, but that won't be missed if they're absent. What is essential varies by individual, but they are often ethnic, they usually must be made by hand, and they are usually labor intensive enough to require group effort. They serve the functions of reminding us of our heritage, bringing the whole family together to prepare, and can't be found in a store.

For instance, lefse is a traditional Norwegian holiday food. If the winter goes by and I haven't got any lefse, I feel cheated. You can buy lefse in Norway, but in the US, you have to make it by hand. Chocolate chip cookies, on the other hand, are inessential. You can slap them on the desert end of the smorgasbord, but no one would miss them if they weren't there. If Spring were to come and you hadn't had any, you could march into any grocery store and just buy them. And, if a person doesn't like the pre-packaged versions, they are trivial for one person to bake.

Surprise cookies are a traditional American holiday cookie. They appear as Hidden Chocolate Cookies in Betty Crocker's Cooky Book. tells us that "more than 62 million of these cookbooks sold since 1950." It's hard to find a more perfect slice of Americana. Surprise cookies fit the essential cookie criteria. They are an American tradition. They can't be bought in stores. Stuffing the mints into the cookies takes effort, so making them requires most of the family to sit around together for a few hours stuffing the cookies. Family members might even talk to each other in the process.

Unfortunately, the essential ingredient, chocolate mint wafers, ceased to be available in most major grocery stores when I was in junior high. After several years of incomplete winter holidays, Trader Joes came to town and started stocking them. I've since moved to a town with no Trader Joes, and my grocery stores do not stock the necessary chocolate mint wafers.

2 Alternatives:
A replacement for chocolate mint wafers should share certain features with the original. Obviously, they should be both chocolate and mint. Beyond this, they should be available, affordable, and easy to use. If I had limitless time and energy, I would have made chocolate truffles and added mint extract, but that would have failed the ease of use test. When the chain grocery stores failed us as kids, we tried adding mint extract to the dough and using hershey kisses, but they weren't quite right.

A survey of the candy aisle at the local Hannaford revealed what was readily available and easy. The options were Andes Mints, Necco Thin Mints, and Hershy 60% cocoa mass chocolate mint squares. I really hoped there would be a mint Hershey Kiss by now, but they only had 6 or 7 non-mint flavors. The 60% cocoa mass chocolate mint squares were extremely pricey. They were in a package that held very few of them. They were individually wrapped and would have had to have been cut into quarters to be the appropriate size. The Andes Mints were also individually wrapped and would have to be halved, but they were a fraction of the price (by pound). Necco Thin Mints were comparably priced (by pound) to the Andes Mints.

Andes Mints are two rectangular sheets of chocolate with a sheet of similarly textured mint candy sandwiched between them. Necco Thin Mints are more like Peppermint Patties. They are round, and have some sort of white mint paste coated in chocolate. Andes Mints are clearly closer to chocolate mint wafers than Necco Thin Mints. But, several points are against them. They are individually wrapped and need to be cut in half. This adds significantly to the effort of using them. Furthermore, the square shape makes it harder to wrap dough around. Given their roundness and the lack of preparation involved, if Necco Thin Mints could be used instead of Andes Mints, they would give bakers a considerable advantage.

3 Experiment
We purchased a box of Necco Thin Mints and a box of Andes Mints. We halved the Andes Mints and used the Necco Thin Mints as-is. Since there were 20 Necco Thin Mints in a box and two of them disappeared while the cookies were being made (this is traditional), we made 18 cookies from Necco Thin Mints and 27 cookies from Andes Mints. This used up our half-recipe of cookie dough. There were Andes Mints left over. We compared the cookies for taste and presentability.

4 Results
4.1 Appearance
Two trays full of cookies were baked at 400 degrees F for 6 minutes, or until golden on the edges. The tray containing 27 Andes Mint cookies yielded 27 presentable cookies with no apparent flaws. The tray containing 18 Necco Thin Mint cookies yielded 5 presentable cookies with no apparent flaws, 2 slightly burst but still presentable cookies, 10 burst cookies that weren't presentable, and 1 completely flattened cookie that seemed to have exploded and oozed out in all directions. These results are statistically significant (p<0.05). It is fair to assume that using the standard methods of cookie preparation, Andes Mints will reliably produce cookies with a presentable appearance, and that Necco Thin Mints will tend to produce flawed cookies.

4.2 Taste
Two subjects compared two cookies twice. Once in the evening with sambuca, and once in the morning with coffee. Unfortunately, given the variability in appearance, a double blind test was not feasible. On both occasions, both subjects preferred the taste of the Necco Thin Mint cookies to the Andes Mint cookies. Andes Mint cookies tasted more similar to classic surprise cookies, but without enough chocolate-minty goodness to pass muster. Necco Thin Mint cookies tasted nothing like surprise cookies. They tasted like candy-cane infused sugar cookies. This is unsurprising, since the gooey minty center broke down in the oven and turned into a hard, minty, sugar candy. Since they invariably leaked, the candy infused into the cookie dough.

5 Conclusions
Clearly, neither alternative is a suitable replacement for chocolate mint wafers. It is possible that Andes Mints could be used if two half-mints were stacked on top of each other to provide more chocolate per cookie. Further research is necessary to determine the efficacy of double Andes Mints as chocolate mint wafer substitutes.

Necco Thin Mint cookies are tasty, but nothing like Surprise Cookie. What we have discovered is a new class of cookie: "Exploding Mint Cookies." Research is necessary to determine the cause of the tendency towards explosion, and culinary options for containing the explosions. Ideally, we would like to be able to achieve more presentable but slightly burst cookies and fewer flattened cookies that explode all over the baking sheet. We have several hypotheses regarding the tendency towards explosion. It is possible that structural weak points in the dough were produced by small lumps of butter that melted, allowing the candy center to burst through. Another possibility is that we simply didn't use a thick enough layer of cookie dough around the mints. A third possibility is that some of the fragile chocolate coatings on the mints were damaged by the wrapping process, leading the candy center to leak out. These can be tested by experimenting with more thorough mixing, thicker dough coverings, and gentler handling. Further experiments will be needed to reliably produce ideal Exploding Mint Cookies.

Yam Plantain Fiasco
Saturday, September 29, 2007, 05:06 PM - comfort food
Today, I made Yam Plantain Fiasco and salad for dinner. It's shockingly yummy.

olive oil (several glugs)
salt (several vigorous shakes; maybe 1 tsp)
pepper (a bunch of grinds; maybe 1 tsp)
nutmeg (1 shake)
paprika (a bunch of shakes; maybe 2-3 tsps)
coriander (1 shake)
coffee beans (10ish)
thai chilis (5)
chocolate chips (10ish)
rum (1 shot)
coffee (1/4-1/2 cup)
1 onion
1 yam
1 plantain
1 can black beans

cut the onions into slivers

cut the yams and plantains into cubic centimeters

Put the olive oil, all the spices (except the chocolate chips), and the onion slivers into a frying pan on high heat until the onions are carmelized. Then add the yam bits for a few minutes. Then add the plantain and the black beans. Let them go for a minute or two, then add a shot of rum. Flame it if you're on a gas oven. Pour in some coffee---maybe a third of a cup. Stir it up, heat it to boiling, then put on a lid and turn it to low heat and let it simmer for 15-20 minutes. Eat.