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Baking Steel — Not From Krypton, But Still Super

17 Feb

By now, the secret of the Baking Steel is not much of a secret.  The word is out that this project, started on Kickstarter by Andris Lagsdin after reading a review Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine: The Art & Science of Cooking, is the “most impressive home pizza product [J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats] ever tested.”  Pizza lovers everywhere are trading in their stones for these well-made (and really heavy) sheets of steal.

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I got mine for Christmas (thanks Tania!) and it has been an incredibly useful tool as I’ve begun to explore the world of bread baking.  As I try and try again with my bread baking, I’m learning more about cooking than I have in years. And as good (or bad) as some of the breads I’ve made are, I hadn’t put the baking steel to its real intended purpose: making pizza.

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Classic Italian — Spaghetti and Meatballs

30 Jan

I was on a roll for a while, turning out regular blog posts to keep my nascent audience entertained.  And while I write this blog for the dual joys of cooking and writing, the ever growing number of hits showed that all my effort was not for nothing.  Then came the past few weeks and…silence.  It’s not that there’s nothing to write about; I’ve been busy.  It’s just that there hasn’t been time to write is all.  So, traveling in the way-back machine, let me tell you about an awesome dinner Tania and I had several Sundays past.

My ancestry is Swedish-German.  Somewhere along the way though, and I’m not sure where, a really good recipe for spaghetti and meatballs worked itself into my family’s repertoire.  (Is it just me, or is the word spaghetti hard to remember how to spell? It’s definitely one of those words that I misspell just about every time I write it.)  Lest you be confused, these are meatballs of the Italian—not Swedish—variety.

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Spaghetti and meatballs, at least as my family prepares them, is not a weekday sort of dish.  It’s one that requires several hours of simmering on the stove.  And while it can simmer largely untouched once you get started, you still have to stir the concoction every so often to prevent the bottom from burning. (Which inevitably still happens to me anyway.)

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Breakfast Rising — Apple Pancake or Puff Pancake or Dutch Baby

10 Jan

I know that everyone says “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”  And some people write entire books and blogs, just about breakfast. But I must confess: I’m not a regular breakfast eater.  I have nothing against the meal mind you.  It’s just that I’m really not that hungry until a few hours after I wake up, and by that time, I’m at work and it’s easier to wait for lunch time to roll around.  Someone once suggested that I just wake up earlier.  That suggestion  was a non-starter; as much as I love food, I love sleeping more.

In stark contrast to myself, Tania is a breakfast lover.  She eats breakfast pretty much every day, and it’s usually the same thing: oatmeal with bananas, cinnamon, Splenda, and vanilla.  Woe is it to the one who gets between her and her oatmeal; there are very few things that could tear her away from a bowl of hot oats.  If there is one thing that could do it however, it’s a dish that she calls “apple pancake.”

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I’ve written at length about my own family food traditions.  Apple pancake is one of Tania’s.  Most commonly referred to as a Dutch Baby, sometimes as a puff pancake, and occasionally as an oven pancake, the apple pancake is akin to a large popover.  If done properly, it will tower above the pan in which it is cooked.

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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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