American Cake – A great baking book and a recipe for vanilla sauce

I’ve only cooked two recipes out of it and I love it, the book is American Cake by Anne Byrn (ISBN 978-1-62336-543-1).

It combines baking, history, and cooking science. Byrn follows the history of the United States in cake recipes, going back to 1600s.

The recipes are presented mostly chronologically, with notes about baking techniques and ingredients available at various times in U.S. history.

Which is why I also think of this book as yet another entry in the long list of reasons why the “good old days” weren’t as great as a lot of people like to think.

On page 7, Byrn describes what was needed to make light and fluffy cakes in colonial times. There was beating egg whites and egg yolks until they were fluffy enough to provide some leavening of the cake they would be put in. That was often an hour or more of whisking by hand, since even hand-powered gear-driven mixers would not be invented for quite some time. By the late 1700s, many cooks and bakers had started using potash, which was ash from burned hardwood trees which had been rinsed with water (the rinsing water was used for cleaning because of the lye in it). Pearlash was a purified form of potash, and the next time you open up your baking cabinet I invite you to marvel at the fact we don’t have to use woodash to make cakes anymore. Unsurprisingly, woodash (even rinsed) did not taste very good, so cakes that used it for leavening usually had a lot of strong spices or strong tasting ingredients like molasses. Which would still be nicer than having to whip eggs by hand for an hour every time someone wanted cake. It was not until the middle 1800s that baking soda or baking powder became available.

The recipe I’m including below is not even an actual cake recipe, it’s just a vanilla sauce recipe that’s an aside to one of Byrn’s cake recipes. Even so, it’s great, the book is great, and if you like cakes or history, I would definitely recommend getting American Cake.

Vanilla Sauce:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
  1. Place the sugar and cornstarch in a small pan, mix thoroughly with the 2 cups boiling water, and simmer or lightly boil over low heat until thickened. Take off the heat, stir in the butter and vanilla extract. Spoon over cake or whatever else you are putting it on.

Whoa, little book! – some light humor

Whoa, that’s enough now, whoa, little book!
We’ve come now right to the end.
You’re keen to keep going on further,
And you can’t be held back on the last page,
As if you hadn’t finished the task
That was finished already on the first page.
Now your reader is grumbling and giving up,
Now even the scribe himself is saying
“Whoa, that’s enough now, whoa, little book!”

Martial (full name Gaius Valerius Martialis, c. 40-101 AD), Epigrams 4.89

From A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities, by J.S. McKeown, page 232.

This is hilarious. I am really tempted to find some translation that I know is past copyright and then make some bookmarks or something out of it.


 

On a side note, Latin text of the above as written in A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities (excellent book, really enjoyed it, but some truly crazy stuff in there as well):

Ohe, iam satis est, ohe, libelle!
iam pervenimus usque ad umbilicos.
Tu procedere adhuc it ire quaeris,
nec summa potes in schida teneri,
sic tamquam tibi res peracta non sit
quae prima quoque pagina peracta est.
iam lector queriturque deficitque,
iam librarius hoc et ipse dicit
“Ohe, iam satis est, ohe, libelle!”

Smart and IQ and Doing Things Which Create Real Change in Other People’s Lives; A Short Rant, Some Thoughts, Some Links

A short rant: For the person who thinks they have the solution to all the problems in the world, their solution will be for everyone to act the same as the person who thinks they have the solutions.

This person’s own strongest and best qualities, as determined from their own perspective, will be the qualities which they will insist should be strongest and best — and most celebrated and most sought after — in everyone else.

These people are more often wrong, and more often wrong in multiple ways, than they are right.


The other day a relative asked me if I’d read the same blog post they had read about IQ. Continue reading

A recipe for Pickled Mustard Seeds and also some comments on the new cooking magazine Milk Street

First the recipe (which I have made twice and still really like, and yes I’m using a lot of mustard seeds recently), and then some happy comments on the new cooking magazine Milk Street (http://www.177milkstreet.com/) from Christopher Kimball.

Pickled Mustard Seeds (this is slightly different than what’s in the Fall 2016 Milk Street magazine)
Continue reading

Great Courses, Great Sentences 04 of 24

Notes I made to myself after listening to Lesson 4 of Great Sentences by Professor Brooks Landon from The Great Courses:

Kernel sentences are the core of the sentence and should be about as short as can be.

Additional modifiers add information to either clarify or elaborate on the information in the kernel sentence.

No, that’s not many notes. Yes, it was an interesting lecture. I just didn’t take that many notes from it.

My attempts at writing exercises are below.


Continue reading

Recipe: Chow Chow with Green Tomatoes, Bitter and Spicy

Adapted from a recipe by Anne Wolf in Cook’s Country magazine in the October/November 2016 issue. This version I made doubles the spices she called for and adds some dill weed that she didn’t have, so if it’s the first time you’re making it you may want to cut down a bit.

This recipe has to rest a while, so it’s not something to whip up right before dinner.

Chow Chow with Green Tomatoes, Bitter and Spicy Continue reading

Great Courses, Great Sentences 03 of 24

Brief summary of lesson 3

  • Sentences are not “sequences of words” but propositions.
  • Modifying clauses will not be able to stand on their own.
  • The base clause can stand by itself.
  • Free modifiers, words or phrases, can be moved around the sentence and the same factual information will be there, but it likely will create a different impression.
  • The place in the sentence a writer will usually tend to make the most memorable is the end of the sentence.
  • A sentence can be a narrative with a story all contained within itself.
  • Reminding the reader of the mind behind the writing is part of the style.
  • The part of a sentence that is actually written is the much smaller part, the propositions and impacts unwritten but still contained within the sentence are the much larger part. Landon compares sentences to icebergs.

Continue reading

Recipe: Seasoned Ground Beef with Chilis and Tomatoes and Onions

Everyone in the family calls this type of stuff “Taco Meat” and considers it to be Mexican food, but I’ve heard multiple times that ground beef is not really Mexican.

This particular variation turned out good enough that I got lots of compliments from a number of people, so I thought I’d write it down.

Yes, it’s a big recipe, and while it goes together fast, it takes a long time to cook.

Seasoned Ground Beef

  • 4 lbs ground beef (we usually use lean ground beef, but this should work with regular too)
  • 4 medium to medium-large yellow onions, diced medium
  • 3-4 Pasilla or Poblano chili peppers, seed and ribs removed, diced small
  • 6-8 Anaheim chili peppers, seeds and ribs removed, diced small
  • 4 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons Lawry’s Salt-Free Mexican Seasoning (if you can’t get this, I think you could approximate it with 2 teaspoons chili powder, 2 teaspoons paprika, 1 teaspoon cumin seed and 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves; you can order this from SpicePlace.com and I absolutely love this seasoning mix, I put it on eggs, I mix it in with cream cheese, it’s fantastic)
  1. Brown the ground beef in a large heavy-bottomed pan.
  2. Once the ground beef is browned, add in the other ingredients. Mix well, let simmer for two hours or more. Most of that time is boiling off the excess liquid from the tomatoes and onions; if you need to cut down the time I think you could drain the diced tomatoes before adding them and then add an extra can of tomato paste.

Yogurt cornbread, simplified and improved

Very moist, very flavorful, not too sweet.

Yogurt cornbread (version 2)

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose white flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • (optional) 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plain full-fat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 3-4 Tablespoons shortening/oil/grease
  • (optional) 1-2 Tablespoons honey

Heat oven to 425 F. Put 1-2 Tablespoons shortening in 8- or 9-inch cast iron skillet and place in oven.

Mix dry ingredients in medium-sized bowl.

Add yogurt, buttermilk and eggs to bowl, mix thoroughly. Dough will be a little stiff at this point.

Melt remaining 2 Tablespoons shortening. Add to dough. Add honey if you are using it. Mix thoroughly. Pour into heated skillet, place back in oven. Cook about 15-20 minutes, or until golden-brown and a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.

Quote: Authority – it’s more than just following the crowd

But we live in a conformist age, where the Enlightenment practice of thinking about something from first principles, and even thinking for yourself, nullius in verba, has been replaced with: “Gee. What’s the correct opinion to hold, here?”

– “Why Oracle will win its Java copyright case — and why you’ll be glad when it does”(1), Andrew Orlowski, The Register, article dated June 2 2016 (site last visited July 17 2016) Continue reading

Recipe: Salmon salad

Salmon Salad

  • 1 can canned salmon, 7 ounces, drained and flaked
  • 3-7 stalks of celery, finely chopped (depending on the size of the celery and how much you like celery)
  • Juice of 1 lemon (1)
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/3 to 2/3 cup mayonnaise (depending on how much you like mayonnaise and how thick you want it to be)
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, peeled, finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon McCormick’s Mexican seasoning mix (2)

Continue reading

Great Courses, Great Sentences, 02 of 24

Life got a bit busy for a while, but getting back to writing and back to this particular project.

First post with information is here.

A very short summary of lecture 2:

  • “Effective and elegant writing” is writing where the reader can read with the confidence the writer is good at not just presenting the information, but at actually writing. Meaning that the reader is confident that the writer realizes how their text presents itself and is actively working at building a relationship with the reader through leading the reader through a process of logic or learning or the arc of someone’s story.
  • Grammar is just how the words relate to each other. Grammar does not relate to meaning.
  • Which means a sentence can be grammatically correct but not effective or elegant. Professor Landon uses the analogy of grammar being the machinery of a sentence, but the machinery doesn’t tell either the writer or the reader where the writer wants to go.

Continue reading

A website to report sightings of wild bees

Mentioned this to a friend a while back, but couldn’t remember what the site actually was, finally looked it up today.

The site is Bumble Bee Watch at the address http://www.bumblebeewatch.org/contents/.

Users sign up for an account and can send in photos they take of bees they see out in the wild, along with place and date. Experts will look at the photos and see if they can determine what type of bee it is. Your sighting will be placed on a map of the U.S.

I’ll admit the last paragraph is all theoretical information for me — I haven’t yet signed up or submitted any photos, although I plan to do so in the future.

A few years ago I got some good pictures of bees clustered on a sunflower blossom, but that was me playing around with a macro lens on a DSLR camera with a tripod. Trying to catch a detailed picture with a point-and-shoot or a phone camera is something I haven’t tried, and there are some helpful tips on the Bumble Bee Watch website on how to take pictures so there are enough details the site’s experts can actually identify the bee.

Bumble Bee Watch is a partnership among numerous organizations, including the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Although Xerces is listed as just one of many partnering organizations, the email address for Bumble Bee Watch is bumblebeewatch@xerces.org, so my thought is they are fairly invested in it if they are willing to be the initial point-of-contact for any emails. Xerces’ own bumble bee page is fairly interesting.

And while I’m listing wild bee information, here’s a few other links:

  • http://pollinator.org/PDFs/Identifying_Native_Bees_PosterFINAL.pdf –  A three page PDF file with drawings of wild bees and information about habits and range of each. Undated, which is very irritating, but given the website it’s hosted on and the number of organizations and associations that have their logos on it, I’m pretty sure it’s legit.
  • http://www.takepart.com/article/2016/02/03/humans-responsible-bee-virus-spread – Article about a wild bee virus being found originally in European honey bees and not being that big of a deal for adults but becoming a real problem when the Varroa mite started spreading it to young bees in the hives.
  • http://www.takepart.com/video/2015/05/21/bee-time-lapse-colony-collapse – Time-lapse video of bees growing from egg to adult bee. You can even see a Varroa mite crawling around on one of them while it is still a pupa. Just as interesting as the article and video are the comments, where there’s a discussion of the effect of electromagnetic fields like wifi and cell phone towers, and one person claims that putting a copper wire on the entrance to the hive slightly ionizes the bees themselves and that runs off the Varroa mites — I’ve never heard of any of that before, but am very very curious.

And from the United Kingdom, here is an article about bees with numbers glued to their backs being released in London so their range and habits can be tracked by residents.

Wonderful dynamic monochrome art from Lewis and Rubenstein, cannot figure out how to get pictures on this post. :(

The site is TheQuickeningImage.com. Please go visit it.

The artists are David Dodge Lewis and Ephraim Rubenstein.

I first saw an article about them in Drawing magazine. As I’m writing this post, I just now realize it was in the Summer 2015 issue. That was a year ago and I purposely kept my copy of that issue and still look at it occasionally because the images are that beautiful to me.

The technique is to make a drawing with non-water-soluble materials on high-quality white paper, and then use a paraffin crayon to place a wax resist layer over parts of the image. A black or gray wash is added with either India ink or Char-Kole (or soft compressed charcoal) and water. The wash is splashed and slashed around the image with brushes but won’t bleed through the areas covered by the paraffin.

If you can get a copy of the article, there’s some interesting discussion about how wax resist techniques have not been used very much in drawing.

But . . .

Try as I might, I can’t figure out how to link pictures of the drawings (paintings?) from the website. I even looked through the web page code and can’t figure out how to write a link to the images themselves.

Yes, I could do a screenshot and paste a part of that. But I prefer to link to the artist’s website — or the website of a gallery showing their work — with the artist’s name and the name of the painting.

I couldn’t figure out how to do that with these, so please please please go visit their website.

Cranberry Beans from Rancho Gordo

These cooked up really well, but when I added some vegetables and broth they cooked up into a nice thick soup that tasted really good, with the beans being very soft.

So I’d really recommend these if you have something that will cook for a while and that you want to be really thick.

Cranberry Beans from Rancho Gordo

(Note: Yes, I’ve been putting up a lot of posts about things I’ve bought from specific companies. No, I’m not looking for ad dollars. I’m writing notes to myself and to a couple of friends who sometimes look at this blog for stuff I’ve posted about cooking. I’ll probably start posting some art links again soon.)

Brussel Sprouts and Asparagus

A very brief recipe I made after seeing a similar sample at the local Sam’s Club store.

Brussel Sprouts and Asparagus

  • 1 bag or bunch of fresh brussel sprouts
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • One of the following:
    • Butter
    • Bacon grease
    • Bacon bits and some vegetable oil

Wash all vegetables. Slice the ends off the brussel sprouts, cut in half. Cut the woody ends off the asparagus, cut the heads off the asparagus (and save) and cut the rest of the asparagus shaft into 1/2 – 1 inch pieces.

Heat the fat being used in a pan big enough to hold all the vegetable. Lightly saute the asparagus shafts first, as they will take longest to cook. After a few minutes, put in the brussel sprouts and cook a few minutes more. When everything is almost done, put in the asparagus heads last as they are pretty tender and will cook fast.

Serve as is, or with a little bit of salt and pepper.

Great Courses, Great Sentences, 01 of 24

After years of getting free catalogs and seeing all types of ads in a startingly broad array of magazines, I finally broke down and ordered a course from The Great Courses.

The first course I tried was Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft by Professor Brooks Landon.

And it is really really REALLY good. I really recommend it.

Over the last few months, I’ve listened to it twice, and now I’m going through it a third time.  Continue reading

Recipe: Black Bean Brownies

Black Bean Brownies

  • 1 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts.

Grease an 8×8 inch baking pan. Preheat the oven to 350 F. 

Put first seven ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Mix in chopped nuts by hand, pur into greased baking pan, and bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

These brownies are very moist and don’t taste like beans.

Slightly modified from “Peg’s Black Bean Brownies” from the 2016 Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Santa Maria Pinquito beans from Rancho Gordo

Santa Maria Pinquito is a small to medium-small pink bean from Rancho Gordo. I just cooked them up in plain water with a bay leaf, and even as plainly cooked as that they are great. They stay firm and hold their shape well, with a nice flavor.

I mixed some with some sauteed vegetables, and they were great in that. I plan to order some more next time I order from Rancho Gordo, and I am hoping to try them in thick soups and casseroles. If I use them in soups, I’ll be sure to try adding the pot liquor as well, as that cooked up very tastily.

Picual Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Lucero

Picual extra virgin olive oil is #2 of 9 on their scale of green to ripe, if you haven’t noticed, yes I am slowly working my way through Lucero Olive Oil‘s various single variety extra virgin olive oils in the green to ripe order.

Picual has turned out to be a really great oil to put on salads, and on sauted vegetables in general.

Picual does not have the peppery bite that Coratina does, but it also is not as bitter. However, Picual’s bitterness is much more noticeable if it’s used as a dipping oil for bread.

 

Sad to see Christopher Kimball depart Cook’s Illustrated

My parents and I have subscribed to both Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated for several years now. The recipes are fantastic. And so are (or were) the editorials from Christopher Kimball, which were more about life in general than just cooking.

We got the most recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated and I noticed that the editorial was from “the editors”, not Christopher Kimball. A scan of the publisher’s information also showed that Kimball’s name was no longer mentioned, whereas before he was the “Editor and Founder”.

Today I looked him up in Wikipedia and found out that he left the magazine and television programs in November of last year over a contract dispute. How sad.

The magazines are still fantastic, and if you like cooking I would highly recommend getting a subscription to both.

But I will definitely miss Kimball’s editorials.