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A Baking Tradition — Swedish Rye Bread

23 Dec

Once or twice over the course of this blog’s short existence I’ve written about some of my traditional family recipes.  If there was an urtext that was the ultimate and prototypical family recipe growing up, then it was the recipe for Swedish Rye Bread.  My mother’s family is 100% German and my father’s is correspondingly 100% Swedish.  So, one might naturally think that it was my father responsible for introducing and making this bread.

Reality however is much less clear.  It was an ongoing debate in my house as to whether my mother or father is responsible for learning this recipe from my Grandmother on the Swedish side.  Each one claims credit for the original making of the bread.  I, not wanting to get in the middle of such an amusing (and not entirely in jest) feud, will take no position.  Not that I really have any basis to weigh in with my opinion anyway.

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Christmas Treat — Lebkuchen Christmas Cookies

9 Dec

Many of my family traditions involve food. (See this earlier post about Chicken Szechwan and Peanuts.)  This food-focused sense of tradition is especially true around the holidays.  Christmas cookie baking was always a big deal growing up, and no Christmas season would be complete without a full complement of different cookie varieties.  And it wasn’t just the resulting sweets that made holiday cookies so special; it was the process of making the cookies itself.

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Every year around Christmas, just as school was letting out for break, my aunt and granddad (my grandfather on my mother’s side) would come for an extended visit.  At some point early on in that visit, me, my sister, my mom, and my aunt would spend a day or two crafting the Christmas cookies for that year.  While some of the varieties we made would vary from year to year, there was some staples that we always made: spritz, snowballs (better known as Russian tea cakes), and befitting of the German heritage on my mom’s side of the family, lebkuchen. (The recipe I have actually spells it lebkucken, but knowing a bit of German myself, I know that just can’t be right!)

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Warm and Hearty — Crock-Pot Moroccan Chicken Stew

3 Dec

It’s winter time, which means ‘tis the season for hearty meals—like soups and stews.  Actually, apparently Mother Nature has made a liar out of me.  The calendar may read December, but here in Ohio it feels like anything but.  With the warm, rainy, days we’ve had recently it feels more like April than anything else.

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This past weekend, pretending that it was winter, I hauled out the Crock-Pot.  Crock-Pots (or slow cooker for those of you with models from other brands) seem to be perfectly designed for winter meals.  You can get them started, head out into the cold for some exercise or other event, and then return to a ready and waiting meal.

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Nutty and Sweet — Jeni’s Maple Ice Cream with Salty Buttered Nuts

22 Nov

You may not realize it, but Columbus is the ice cream capital of the world.  While other cities may host good, or even above average, ice cream shops, try telling a Columbus native about them.  They’ll get a faraway look in their eye—and you’ll get an unintentionally condescending “I’m sure they’re good…but…” in response.  The reason for this, is that we in Columbus have been spoiled.  We’ve been spoiled by being home to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, the greatest ice cream shop known to man.  (Hyperbole much?)

Until very recently, the only way to sample this idealized form of ice cream was to visit Columbus.  Then, last year, Jeni decided to compile a large numbers of recipes into a cookbook.  We in Columbus were torn.  On one hand, we could now make at home all of that delicious ice cream we had been enjoying in Jeni’s stores for years.  On the other hand, we were now deprived of leverage which we had previously used to coerce our out-of-state friends into visiting. (The cookbook actually wasn’t the first time Jeni had ventured into the realm of home ice cream making.  She had developed a few recipes previously, which can be found here.)

If it’s possible, Jeni’s ice cream cookbook was as successful as, or even more than, her ice cream stores.  It was a New York Times Best Seller.  And it won the James Beard Award.  No longer was Jeni’s ice cream a local Columbus secret.  She was a full-blown national sensation and treasure.

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Uncommonly Good — Sam’s (award winning) Apple Pie

4 Nov

The name of this blog is not just a math pun.  (Get it, pie are round, not πr2!)  I also really, really love pie.  Of all the things that I create in the kitchen, pie is probably my favorite.  And, it can be any kind of pie—strawberry, blueberry, peach, you name it.  I must admit a strong preference for fruit pies however.  Not to give cream, or other types of pie short shrift, mind you.  But if it’s a fruit pie…well, it has fruit! It’s not just dessert, it’s healthy! (Right?)

My pie obsession isn’t entirely new.  As my mother would be happy to tell you, at some point in elementary school I declared that apple pie was my favorite smell in the world.  This is probably still true.

What is new is the fact that I’m no longer just the pie eater—I’m also the pie maker.  The transformation from one into the other came about in large part because I was seeking out a culinary challenge.  It seems that many people are intimidated by pie crust; making pie crust is perceived as a time-consuming task whose prospects for success are uncertain at best.  With that in mind, I set out to master the art of the crust.

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Quick and Comforting — Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms and White Wine

30 Oct

I’ve discovered a bit of a silver lining to the early winter, when winter rolls in and the days get shorter and the nights get colder.  That is, because the dark and cold conspire to keep me inside, I’m forced to look elsewhere for evening entertainment and ways to pass the time.  While spring and summer is often filled happy hours, patios, and outside activities, I’m not nearly as motivated or willing to leave home on the weekdays after I’ve returned from work.

The result? I end up spending more time in my kitchen preparing evening meals. (If this were the NY Times or another form of modern journalism then I would have used the word “upshot.”  For whatever reason, “upshot” is everywhere the past couple of years.  Has anyone else noticed the proliferation of the word? Better yet, can anyone explain it? It kind of annoys me to be honest.)

I digress.

The fall here in Columbus ended in traditional style.  Which is to say, schizophrenically. Less than a week ago, the high was 80 degrees.  This morning, there was snow.  And so it was, as much of the east-coast hunkered down at home, involuntarily sheltering in place, I did the same.  But unlike them, it was of my own volition.

Not too long ago, I came across a fantastic sounding recipe for Chicken Thighs and Mushrooms.  Not only did the picture make it look incredibly appetizing, but the instructions also made clear that it was relatively easy and quick to make.  I love elaborate cooking as much as the next guy, but when it’s a cold Monday night, sometimes you just want something that will come together without much effort.  If it looks and tastes like it required greater work and skill?  That’s just icing on the cake. (Or sauce on the chicken?)

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Beer — the Second Movement

15 Oct

Just last week I began the process of brewing a batch of White House Honey Porter.  In writing about that project, I promised that it would ultimately comprise a movement in three parts.  The first movement, the brewing itself, was probably the most exciting of the three.  Once that step was completed, I largely became a passive spectator.  It was up to the yeast to do the heavy lifting from then on.

And it took to that task with gusto.

Over the course of the past week, my airlock bubbled furiously as the yeast began to consume all of the sugars contained in the wort.  By this weekend though, it had stopped, meaning it was time for movement number two: transferring the beer to the secondary fermenter. (If you’re keeping track, it was a busy weekend.  I also grilled up some delicious Honey Ginger Pork Tenderloin.)

Siphoning into the secondary fermenter.

I have found that a secondary fermentation is a crucial step to obtaining a high quality finished product.  Sure, you can skip this step and still end up with a fine tasting beverage in the end.  But the extra rest in the secondary fermenter helps to take your beer to another level.

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The Thrill of the Grill — Honey Ginger Pork Tenderloin (also with broccoli!)

15 Oct

I love grilling.  And to be honest, I don’t really care what the weather is; I’m perfectly content to bundle up and stand in a snow drift if it means that the end result is I get to eat something that was cooked over a bed of hot coals.  That being said, it’s always more fun to grill when the weather is beautiful.

At this point in the fall, you never really know which nice day is going to be your last.  One minute it’s a model fall day, sunny and in the mid 60’s.  Then, when you’re not even looking, a cold front rolls in and that’s all she wrote for the fall—winter is upon you.  The lesson then, is when October presents the opportunity to enjoy perfect grilling weather, you have to seize it.

On this past Saturday, I did just that.

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Beer — A Movement in Three Parts

9 Oct

I don’t remember how old I was when my dad first got his home-brewing equipment.  Regardless of my specific age, I know I was still young enough to be disappointed when it turned out that the largest present under the Christmas tree wasn’t addressed to me.  And, that it wasn’t anything particularly cool; it was just mainly a couple of generic white buckets.

As time progressed though, I eventually came to appreciate the beauty of the age-old, yet simple, process by which water, grain, hops, and yeast transforms into the wondrous beverage that we call beer.  By the time I was in college, I had taken up the hobby myself, brewing my own batches of beer under his watchful eye and taking the finished product off to school with me. (More on the ways that my dad influenced me as a cook here.)

Certainly at the time my dad started brewing, and even later when I did, brewing beer at home was an activity shrouded in mystery.  I can still recall the confusion that would follow when I told people that I had brewed the beer contained within the bottles in my fridge.  Even more, I can recall their reaction when they first tasted it and realized: “hey, this isn’t too bad!”

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Easy as (pizza) pie

2 Oct

There was once (and may still be for all I know) a frozen food commercial that proclaimed “when you have pizza on a bagel, you can have pizza any time.”  Now, I never understood why the frequency of pizza eating was dependent on it arriving via bagel.  And if you ask Tania, there is nothing about pizza in its traditional form that in any way prevents you from eating it whenever you want.

One of the reasons you can have pizza any time is that it’s incredibly easy. Of course, the easiest is always ordering delivery, something I admit to doing on a not infrequent basis.  But if you’re willing to put in a little bit of effort homemade pizza isn’t all that hard either.  It’s even easier, however, if you decide to start with a pre-made crust.  And here is where those bagel pizza people might be onto something: pizza crust doesn’t have to be traditional.

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