Sunday, September 27, 2009

Old Faithful

I will be the first to admit that like many Americans, I am addicted to sugar. The stuff is good. And while, sure, I try to watch how much I eat of it, I tend to gravitate towards making sweets at any chance possible. Recently, I've been borrowing a "Holiday Recipes" book from my mum, with new and exciting recipes that I've never tried (but look easy enough). So, with baking from there AND trying to keep on counting down in MWL, it's always nice to have people to share these treats with, so that I don't end up eating them all myself.

18. Chocolate Chip Cookies, pg. 287

Speaking of cooking "more with more", this recipe packs in all sorts of crazy things! Well...two...I have never made a cookie that used soy flour, so I was excited to see how the taste would differ (if at all). Soy and whole wheat flours change (primarily) the taste of the cookie by giving a bit of a nutty-er, more complex taste. Though they distracted my taste buds at first (with that "pure white" smoothness), after two or three samples (from different cookies...), I found that I was enjoying the complexity. This recipe seems to blend the classic soft-batch approach with almost-healthy. So, if you have the whole wheat and soy flours on hand, I recommend you giving these cookies a try.

Per my experience at the bakery, it's best if you can make the dough a day before and let it do its thing in the fridge overnight. If you're short on time, a few hours would be sufficient in getting a prettier cookie.

Overall: 3.75 out of 5

Friday, September 25, 2009

And then some...

My goal for this week was to do at least two recipes.  I've surpassed that, and here are three more! :)
15.  Easy No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread, pg. 58

I was suspicious when I saw that name.  I don't like my bread to be easy, and I'm wary of yeast bread that doesn't need to be kneaded (ha!).  I decided to give it a whirl, anyway, and see what became of it.
Everything started out okay, the amounts were fine...I was careful to add the eggs after the warm liquids and flour mixture had been stirring for awhile (to avoid cooking the eggs).  But then came the "5-6 c. flour" part that proved a bit difficult.  I'm a bread-baker by feel, and having to tell by stirring and seeing when a dough has enough flour proved frustrating.  I put it a bit over 5 cups (to be safe), and decided just to see what happened.  An hour later, the bread was spilling out of the bowl (note: use something bigger than a 5 quart...), and looked positively sticky.  (I was already over the bread by this point).  I dumped the dough into two 9x5s, and set them to rise the stated 25-30 minutes.  By 15 minutes, the dough was spilling over the pans, and I had to spoon the extra back into the pans, and tried to lightly punch down the overflow.  I turned on the oven immediately, and when it was hot, I shoved in the pans and watched as the new overflow fell onto my pizza stone.  
The result had less-than-desireable flavors, with the eggs overpowering the normal yeasty taste.  I used one loaf to go with a spinach and artichoke dip and it fared fine as a vehicle of other-goodness, but this is not bread to be eaten by itself.  The second loaf may get made into croutons or something like that.  If anyone has made this recipe before with satisfactory results, please tell your story!
Overall: 1 out of 5

16.  Honey-Baked Lentils, pg. 106

Having made this recipe many times before, I knew what kind of yumminess I was getting into when I decided to make it for dinner last night.  A simple, make-ahead kind of dish which is mild enough to serve to your grandparents, but potentially sassy enough to serve at a dinner party :)
A couple changes I made to the recipe...I used a teaspoon of regular, sandwich mustard instead of dry.  I grated fresh ginger instead of the dry ginger as well.  I have never put in the bacon it calls for, and think it's perfectly fine without it (although I'm sure some good bacon would taste lovely in it!)  I did forget to put in that last cup of water this time, and the result was that the lentils got a little dry (though that might have also had to do with a slightly longer baking time...)

Overall: 4 out of 5  A sturdy, filling dish fit for you and yours or company!

17.  Apple Crisp, pg. 270

While I'm not a huge fan of fruit crisps in general, with the abundance of apples in Justin's shares the past couple weeks, I had to do something to get rid of them.

I used gala apples, and because they're a fairly sweet apple to begin with, reduced the amount of sugar that gets tossed with the apples.  I sprinkled in about a teaspoon of nutmeg to complement the cinnamon, which I found was just enough for you to get a hint, but not too much to overpower.  When I was mixing the crisp part, I felt like it seemed over-greasy, but once baked, the consistency was nice, and evened out the flavors.

Doubling this recipe made a very hearty 9" pan's worth, and could realistically serve up to 10.

Overall:  3 out of 5  Nothing special about it, but nothing terrible about it. :)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Now from our correspondent in the DRC...

[[ Amanda Maust, hanging out in the DRC for a year, sent me these reviews.  Thanks, Amanda!! ]]

14. Honey Baked Chicken, pg.  

-I like to make about double the sauce as this is really the best part of the dish and then I can just eat yummy sauce on rice
-They call for way too much margarine...if you use the recommended amount I feel like the chicken is swimming in a pool of grease
-I add some water to stretch the sauce and kind of in place of some of the margarine
-I use about triple the amount of curry powder recommended
-After the dish is baked I will often drain off the sauce into a separate bowl and add a little water and cornstarch to thicken it for a nice gravy consistency

[3.] Oatmeal Bread, pg. 60
-I really like this bread, I did use regular sugar in place of brown sugar which is all but in impossible to find in DRC  [valerie's note:  MWL suggests combining 1 c. white sugar with 2 T. molasses to create a brown sugar substitute, if molasses is more readily available]
-I also added an additional cup of whole wheat flour in place of one of the cups of white flour...I felt even more could have been wheat flour.
-The directions say to let the bread rise twice in a bowl and then divide in loaves and bake.  I did this but I think it would be good to allow the bread to rise in the breadpans for a while before baking...maybe that was supposed to be a no brainer but... [valerie's note: I almost always let my bread rise in their respective pans until they are almost as high as I want them to bake before turning on the oven -- about a half hour, usually.  You'll still get a little yeast jump when they start baking, so don't wait too long!]

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Greens and such

13.  Prussian Kale, pg.238

A variation on cooking greens, this recipe was extremely simple and was cooked in a relatively short amount of time.  We had some collards that we used instead of kale, which turned out fine without any noticeable ill tastes.

I found it very interesting when looking at this recipe that it called for oatmeal -- I'm not accustomed to mixing oats with vegetables.  When I thought a bit more about the origins of the recipe, it began to make more sense.  When cooked with meat, this recipe could be a main dish, and the oats provided the grain.  Whereas I would typically think of kale (or greens) recipes as going well with rice, I can imagine that the 19th century Mennos in Prussia didn't have much or any access to rice.

Ultimately, the oats gave a nutty, starchy addition to the greens, but didn't dominate the dish.  We didn't use meat in the recipe, and rather added a little bit of butter instead.  

Overall: 3 out of 5.  Average -- perhaps on the edgier side of very tame.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Almost healthy!

[[ A fine chef herself, Amanda Gross submitted the following review. Thanks, Amanda! ]]

12. Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies, pg. 289

When I heard that my baby brother (turned large, adult male) was coming to visit this weekend, I knew I'd need something yummy and caloric to hold him over between meals. My favorite cookie recipe is a slight adaptation of Whole Wheat Peanut-Butter Cookies (pg. 289). I've made this recipe several times and had to alter it from the beginning.

First off, Ms. Beachy is out of her mind to claim that this recipe yields 5 dozen. When I make them, I get just over 2 dozen of modest, mom-sized cookies (equal to one dozen large, brother-sized cookies).

If you follow the recipe directly, you will find that the result is too dry to form into cookies. I double the water at least. Depending on the creaminess of your PB , you might require more.

And who wants to eat a whole wheat cookie with out chocolate chips? I like to add two generous handfuls of chocolate chips along with a 1/3 cup of walnuts or pecans. For extra yummy cookies, use brown sugar and substitute 1/2 cup oats for 1/2 cup of the flour.

And be careful not to burn them. Place on upper racks and check frequently. The bottom of these cookies get dark fast.

Bake and enjoy.

A quick comment...

In response to the comment made on the Apple/Almond/Cranberry bread, it's true: I'm straying a bit from the concept of eating with less pomp and circumstance. I have two answers for why I might be doing this.

1. Because I have a good deal of experience baking (professionally and as an amateur), I'm probably going to be adding and subtracting here and there on those recipes. With this particular recipe, I had all the things I added on hand, and felt like the additions I made only made the bread more interesting. I'm sure this recipe tastes fine as it's written, but knowing my own personal tastes, I wanted to change it up a little.

2. I'm finding that MWL recipes are somewhat of a "middle ground" between old-style Menno. cooking (laden with fat, sugar, and refined flours) and ultra-healthy, no-fun recipes. Because I tend to prefer a slightly healthier product (especially in baked goods), I will probably always use about half whole wheat flour (or other whole grain), extra seeds or nuts, dried or fresh fruits, etc. to give the fiber/vitamin count a boost. Cooking More-with-Less could also be a journey in exploring a 'healthy' balance between superior flavour and meaningful nutrition.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Is that Fall in the air?

I love cooking and baking on rainy days. Maybe it's because I don't have to feel guilty about not being outside, or perhaps it's because good food on a "bad" day is so pleasing to the soul. So, amidst the steady rain last night, I cranked up the oven and chose:

11. Dutch Apple Bread, pg. 81

At first glance, I knew this recipe could be made a tad spunkier with little effort. First off, I tend to shrink away from using 100% white flour for products which aren't meant to be desserts. So, I split the flour between white pastry flour and a blend of coarse and finely ground whole wheat flours. I used sour unsweetened soy milk (man, was it sour!!! almost an egg-white consistency...but it still worked fine!), though orange juice would certainly give it zest. I used slivered almonds instead of walnuts, which turned out fine, and am pretty confident that using pecans would also give a great taste. Again, here's a place where personal taste matters more than the recipe. Instead of raw cranberries as the "option" listed, I used craisins, which were a nice kick in the taste buds. Once I put the dough in the pan, I dusted a mixture of ground cinnamon and raw unrefined sugar on top.

While I'm not usually a big fan of sweet breads or muffins, I liked this one because of the variety of textures (chewy, crunchy, etc.) and flavours (fruit, whole wheat, cinnamon, etc.). I was a bit surprised how simply dusting the top with cinnamon/raw sugar gave the bread a boost of character.

Overall: 3.95 out of 5

In the world of quick breads and muffins, it's pretty darn good.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

By the sweat of my brow

I braved the emotional elements, and decided to try my hand at a meaty dish. I honestly can't remember the last time I cooked meat. It is such a rare occasion that I'm usually a bit intimidated as to where to start and how to do it. (For you non-meat eaters out there, stay with me, as I think we have a tofu-friendly recipe here.)

Usually, I like to purchase meat (when we have guests, when Husband wants some grilled carne, etc.) from one of two butchers at the Lancaster Central Market. Both supply locally-raised, grass-fed products, which takes a bit of the distress off of my conscience. For those of you that don't know, I'm not typically a meat eater by choice. While I occasionally like the taste of meat, the politics, environmental factors, and health issues connected with eating meat keep me from partaking on a normal, purposeful basis. This is yet another conversation we could have, but I want to say that regardless of my chosen diet, I generally try not to judge meat eaters when they have thought through why they eat what they eat. I like thoughtful eaters, I guess.

10. Indian Chicken, pg. 186

In comparison with my experience with Extending the Table, I find that "ethnic" recipes in MWL often seem a little too...American. I definitely had my doubts about this recipe. Granted, my only real experiences with Indian foods have been in restaurants here in the States, which are surely even at least a step from authentic Indian cooking. I find this recipe to be "safe", in terms of probably appealing to the general Menno. MWL constituency who can handle a sprinkling of spice. But if you're a true Indian foodie, this recipe brings a bit of sadness with its generic "curry powder" instructions. I had foreseen this problem, and decided to take spice matters into my own hands. I went heavy on the curry powder (albeit, a generic blend from the grocery store), dumped in probably and extra teaspoon of ground cumin, a hearty dash of cayenne, and another half teaspoon or so of garam masala. (I halved the recipe, so if you're going for the full recipe, go heavier on all these spices, or add your own.) While these additions made the sauce spicier, I still felt like I was missing something. This is a recipe to play around with, and easily changed around to (hopefully) suit your tastes.

Overall: 2.8 out of 5

Indian Tofu?
If I were to make this with tofu, I would recommend freezing extra firm tofu first (to get a nice consistency), and after thawing, cube and fry in a mixture of butter (or margarine) and olive oil. Continue recipe as written, substituting veggie broth or bouillon instead of chicken.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Inspired again...

No, I've not been starving my husband the last week and a half. I've only lightly fell off my own bandwagon of eating well. Our CSA share from Lancaster Farm Fresh has been overflowing these past weeks with more produce than we can handle, and in my occasional cooking fatigue, I opt for steamed or raw veggies rather than even a simple recipe from MWL. I was also momentarily tempted by the Cook's Illustrated magazine which arrived in the mail, and had to spend some time testing those recipes.

But I'm back again, with two updates, and scheming a few more. With a kitchen remodel in it's final design stages, I'm trying to cram in some good cooking before we're kitchen-less for a few days/weeks/months.

8. Simple Granola, pg. 90

This chunky, sweet granola is a simple but hearty morning munch. Because the recipe doesn't call for loads of "extras" (like seeds or other grains), it's easily tossed together and shoved in the oven for a fairly fail-proof culinary adventure. In my opinion, it was slightly on the too-sweet side, and if I were to make it again, I suppose the honey could be reduced with a slight increase of water to maintain the dry/liquid ratio. Please use honey if you have it on hand -- corn syrup is always a no-no in my book. Do your own research on corn products, if you're interested, or call me and we can talk corn-politics.

Overall: 3.7 out of 5

9. Koinonia Granola, pg. 90

Also a sweet delight, with a more granola bar-like attitude than the Simple Granola. This one ups the ante with seeds, grapenuts, and nuts. I skipped the grapenuts (since we hadn't any on hand, and why buy cereal to make cereal? not sure...) but added a bit more of all the seeds, coconut, and nuts to make up for them. I love using cashews and macadamia nuts in granola, but if you're trying to watch saturated fat intake, it's more than acceptable to substitute other nuts without sacrificing a great deal of flavor. (Nutty Fat)

This one seemed a bit tricky as to deciphering when it was ready to come out of the oven -- it never seemed to get dry. I probably left it in a bit too long (had some burn-y sides) at 35 or 40 minutes, but the result was still quite edible. A next-time change would be to use a more shallow pan, perhaps, and see if that stops the questionable oven time.

Overall: 3.9 out of 5

My testers enjoyed both recipes, and Tester Husband enjoyed them combined, though I said I wasn't willing to make two types of granola just to make one kind... :)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Death by Chocolate....Pudding!

Who knew chocolate pudding could kill?

7. Quick Chocolate Pudding, pg. 264

Aside from the fact that though the recipe states it serves 4-6, Justin and I easily polished off an entire recipe by ourselves in one sitting. Perhaps it was the fact that for the milk, I used half cream? Or...that I doubled the amount of cocoa?

I've made this recipe many times before, and I've never been dissatisfied. Minus, maybe the fact there's never enough? (and/or no leftovers) When I use soy milk, I do not add vanilla. Normally, I also do not add the margarine. Definitely didn't this time -- didn't need any more fat! :)

This recipe would make a great chocolate pie filling, though you may need more than one recipe...perhaps 1.5 times?

Overall: 5 out of 5

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My mother won't believe this...

5. Green bean soup, pg. 201

I vividly remember meals growing up where I was forced to eat green beans, much against my will. I hated those suckers more than any other vegetable (although beets may have been a close runner-up), but of course, was required to take a small spoonful of them to get my serving of vegetable for that meal...

Fortunately, our tastes buds change, and what was once torture can be turned into appreciation or even enjoyment. Sadly, I can only appreciate green beans these days, quite short of enjoying them. (Beets, however, I
do enjoy now.)

The trick, I think, is to season them so they're perceived as potentially palatable. This recipe, with its happy fat factor (use cream!), achieves this. I used purple potatoes (mainly because they were on hand), and they add such a lovely colour! In the absence of any other protein source in the meal, the hard-boiled egg does fine as a garnish, though I found it a little strange, as the textures didn't seem to mesh well.

Overall: 3.4 out of 5 (Slightly better than standard, but still somewhat dull.)

Rollkuchen, pg. 83

If you've ever met a Russian Mennonite eating watermelon on a summer day, you may have noticed a stack of fried dough. You taste one, and your mouth rejoices in -- once again -- a happy fat factor. Who knew egg, cream, flour, salt, and sugar deep fried (I did mine in soybean oil) could be so delicious? Well...I guess we could all guess that...but still! I made half 'salty' by sprinkling just a teeny bit of salt on afterwards, and half 'sweet' by dusting them with powdered sugar. Though I liked both, the ones with powdered sugar were a little too salty (simply from what was in the dough) to be dessert-like.

Overall: 4.1 out of 5

Mealwise, these two can go well together -- just watch out for the salt (mainly if you use stock in the soup)! I'm still thirsty...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


4. Baked Lentils with Cheese, pg. 106

By this time most weeks, I'm scrambling to use all the fresh vegetables Justin brings home from work on Fridays before they rot before my very eyes. I do not like watching food go to waste, nor do I like having it finishing rotting in my trash can (my poor worms can't take it all), encouraging the propagation of fruit flies...

So, this recipe was great for calling for many vegetables which are in season. Carrots, an onion, half a bell pepper, parsley...And, instead of canned tomatoes, fresh ones worked wonders! I used slices of farmer's cheese with vegetables instead of cheddar -- most any cheese could virtually create a new dish! :)

Halved, this dish is a perfect solo meal dish for two. Though it's a bit time consuming with all of the timed-additions, if you've got an hour and a half free until dinner, it's a good fit.

Lentils are one of those foods that are so versatile, I'm surprised they're not more prevalent in our cooking habits. Then again, when a friend asked last week how lentils are grown, I had no clue. Apparently, there are over 15 types, though in our standard American groceries, you're lucky to find two or three. I've used lentils as protein sources in burgers, soups, and casseroles. This recipe particularly reminds me a bit of pot roast -- the stuff our mom's used to let sit in a crockpot for hours. It's so warm and hearty, most people will probably enjoy it, even if they're leery of the idea of lentils.

This recipe is easily doctored to be spicy, lactose-free, or vegetabbly-winterized. Add cayenne powder or fresh jalapeƱos, omit the cheese (or substitute your favorite soya-based cheese), and add potatoes or other root vegetables and omit the green pepper.

Overall: 4 out of 5