Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Cover illustration for creative writing portfolio, Fall 2009.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ginger-Pear Upside Down Cake


Uh, YUM. Highly recommended. I was surprised how well the pears' shape and flavor survived baking; I rather expected them to disappear into a bland mush. 

I made double the pear topping, 1.5 x the batter, and baked two 9-inch cakes, dropping about a cup of partly-baked cherry cheesecake chunks (leftover from Epic Cake) into one pan. This filled both pans (with a little batter still left over) so full they aaalmost overflowed in the oven. All this is to say that I don't know exactly how full the following recipe will fill one 9-inch cake pan. Pretty darn full, I would guess. And if you want to make two cakes, I think the cake recipe x 1.5 will give you enough. The good news is, even if the sides ooze over a bit, don't worry about the edges getting very brown and crisp; after unmolding, the cake's moisture will redistribute, making those edges nice and soft again. 
The cherries added tartness, which was a very nice touch. I'm ambivalent about the cheesecake, though -- it's good, but probably not worth the effort unless you happen to have some lying around (as I did). 

Ginger-Pear Upside Down Cake


2 TB sliced almonds (optional)
2 anjou pears, barely ripe, sliced into circles, seeds poked out 
   (core will soften)
1 1/2 TB fresh lemon juice
2 TB candied ginger, finely diced 
   (or use 1 TB fresh grated ginger and add a little extra brown sugar)
4 TB butter, melted
1/3 cup brown sugar


2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger 
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp cocoa powder

1 stick butter, melted and cooled to room temp
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup molasses
1 large egg

1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup milk

3/4 cup dried tart cherries, reconstituted and drained (optional)

Mix dry cake ingredients in medium bowl and set aside. Grease and flour the sides of a 9-inch cake pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scatter almonds evenly along bottom of pan. Arrange pear slices, prettiest ones first, on top of almonds. Drizzle with lemon juice, then with butter. Sprinkle ginger and brown sugar evenly over pears. Set aside.

In large bowl, beat butter, sugar, and molasses on low speed until combined. Beat in egg. Gradually add milks and beat on slow, then medium speed for about a minute, scraping bowl as needed. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined (do not overmix).

Carefully pour batter over pears. Drop cherries into batter, if using. Bake for 35-45 minutes until tester comes out almost clean (rotate pans halfway through if you make a double batch). Cool on wire rack for five minutes, then run knife along the edge, gently invert onto flat serving dish, and remove parchment paper. Let cool at least fifteen minutes before serving. A dollop of whipped cream on the side would complete this dessert, I think.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wrapping Up

"Painting: the art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic." --Ambrose Bierce

Tomorrow morning, I turn in my creative writing portfolio. We were given the option of creating an illustrated cover. Because my longest and, reportedly, most promising piece of writing is about my summer job at an Alaskan fish cannery, this is what I came up with:

This is also a reference to frequent reminders in class to adhere to the Fish Head Principle of Editing, to wit, "cut it off!"

Thursday, December 10, 2009


My friend Julie Moore and I made baklava last night. It took four hours, including a trip to the grocery store in the middle of cooking to get more phyllo dough, and we were a little hysterical by the end, but we DID IT.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Notes

Liz, Jacob, and I had a lovely little feast on Wednesday (see Liz's blog or my food blog for details and photos) so that Jacob could be with his family on Thursday. I spent all Tuesday evening and the better part of Wednesday in the kitchen, and was so happy to have the time, money, and motivation to do so. I love, love, love cooking for myself and good friends.

Thursday morning at ten o'clock I attended the annual Thanksgiving Community Concert at the tabernacle. It was a joyful event in a handsome setting. The opening number was a choral arrangement of several phrases from the 55th chapter of Isaiah, the twelfth verse in particular:

For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

This struck me quite forcefully because, a few weeks ago, I went on a prayer/meditation walk, culminating in a (tentative) Big Life Decision, which was greeted immediately by a sudden stiff breeze that sent the topmost leaves of a nearby birch tree into a noisy, frantic flapping. It startled me; the sound was so loud, and so unlike anything I'd ever heard out of a tree. I exclaimed to myself, "That tree! It's clapping its hands!" 

(Of course, I was very pleased with the poetic-ness of this idea, and thought myself very clever and original. Now I find out Isaiah was there 3,000 years ahead of me. Ah well.)

After the concert, I went to the Samuelsons' home. Brother Samuelson had invited me for Thanksgiving the previous week. I helped him and his wife with dinner, chatted with his mother, met their kids and grandkids and friend, Paula Soper, who is another professor in the English department, ate a wonderful, noisy meal on a clothed ping-pong table set for fourteen, petted cats, sang songs of praise, and sampled five kinds of pie. They are a beautiful family and it meant a lot to me to spend this holiday with them.

After the main festivities I was invited to stay and watch a Christmas movie. I wanted to, but was tired from three days of Thanksgiving-prep, so I took a rain check and was driven home where I walked into a sparkling clean kitchen -- courtesy of one golden-hearted LizAnne Whittaker. 

I think I was asleep by 8:45. And very cozily, happily, gratefully so. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Epic Cake (recipe)

Notes: I still can't believe I pulled this off. It was very, very good. However, I do plan to make a few minor adjustments next time. The following recipe includes those changes. Scroll down to previous entry for luscious photos.


3 9-inch cake layer pans
parchment paper
wire cooling rack
unflavored dental floss
large icing spatula



1 German or Swiss chocolate cake mix
oil, water, and eggs as directed on box

12 oz cream cheese, cut into 1-inch squares, room temp
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup sour cream, room temp
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs, room temp
1 cup dried sour cherries, reconstituted, drained

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 can coconut milk

Line the bottoms of two cake pans with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cake batter according to directions. Set aside. In separate bowl, cream sugar and cream cheese on medium speed until fluffy. Beat in sour cream and vanilla. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix on medium speed about two minutes. 

Pour as much of the chocolate batter into one cake pan as you think will fit without spilling over (aim for at least 3/4 of it). Pour remaining chocolate batter evenly into second cake pan. Pour cheesecake batter directly into center of pan, so that chocolate batter is pushed out on all sides, rimming the perimeter as evenly as possible. Drop cherries on top of cheesecake batter (they'll sink). The cheesecake won't rise much, or dome on top, so don't worry about the pan being full. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, checking both cakes for doneness at 30 minutes. My plain chocolate cake was done at 30 minutes; the cheesecake layer took another 8 minutes or so. But I'm at high elevation and our oven is old and senile, so... just keep an eye on them. 

Meanwhile, whisk together sweetened condensed, evaporated, and coconut milk. (You'll only be using half of it at most, so start thinking of ways to use the excess.)

Cool cakes in pans on wire rack for at least 45 minutes, then unmold cheesecake onto flat plate, bring to room temp, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Pierce chocolate cake layer about 50 times with toothpick, then pour milk mixture over cake, let it soak in, and repeat until cake is saturated. Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours, checking once or twice to see if cake could absorb more milk. Wash and dry cheesecake pan for cherry custard phase.

Cherry Custard Filling:

2 1/2 cups pure cherry juice
3 TB fresh lemon juice
5 eggs, room temp
3 egg yolks, room temp
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp unflavored powdered gelatin
6 TB butter, cut into half-inch cubes, chilled
3 TB heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
pinch salt
red food coloring, if desired

Set aside 1/2 cup cherry juice. Heat remaining cherry and lemon juice at a brisk simmer until reduced by half. Whisk eggs, yolks, and sugar in medium bowl. Remove juice from heat for bout 30 seconds. Pour hot juice into egg mixture, whisking constantly. Add gelatin to reserved 1/2 cup cherry juice (this should stand undisturbed about five minutes before being stirred into the custard). Return egg/sugar/juice mixture to pot and set over medium-low heat. Stir steadily with spatula until mixture thickens enough to coat spoon (about 4 minutes). Remove from heat, stir in butter until melted, then stir in gelatin mixture, cream, vanilla, salt, and food coloring, if using. Divide custard between two parchment-lined cake pans. Refrigerate, transferring to freezer at least 40 minutes before commencing cake assembly.

Ganache Toppings:

1 12 oz package semisweet chocolate chips
1 4 oz bar Lindt milk chocolate, broken into small pieces
1 pint, minus 3 TB used in custard, heavy cream

~3 oz sliced almonds, toasted

Approximately one and a half hours before commencing cake assembly, place chocolate in medium heatproof bowl. Heat cream in small pot over medium-high heat until bubbling. Pour over chocolate. Cover and let sit five minutes. Whisk until smooth, let rest one minute, whisk again for one minute to fully emulsify. Pour a little more than half of ganache into separate container; cover and refrigerate both. After about an hour, remove smaller portion in original medium bowl and beat with electric mixer first on low, then medium speed until medium-stiff peaks form (took about five minutes for me). Set aside or refrigerate, whichever will make frosting easier for you.


Invert soaked chocolate cake out of pan onto flat plate. Cut in half with dental floss. Place bottom half on cake platter. Run bottom of frozen custard pan under hot water for about 30 seconds, then tap frozen custard layer out of pan, invert onto first cake layer, remove paper. Place cheesecake layer upside-down on top of custard. Remove second frozen custard layer and place on top of cheesecake. Place domed second half of soaked chocolate cake on top. Frost cake with whipped ganache, thickly on sides and thinly on top. Press cooled toasted almond slices into sides. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes or so. Check unwhipped ganache; refrigerate longer or warm up to achieve desired consistency. Pour unwhipped ganache over top of cake, spreading and letting drip down sides as desired. Decorate top with almonds as desired. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours to allow custard to thaw.

Slice, serve, and ENJOY.

Epic Cake

This cake undoubtedly represents the pinnacle of my culinary endeavors. I really need to think of a name for it. Photos only, for now; I'll post the recipe later.


Everything was absolutely wonderful! Liz decorated the dining room with festive cloth and candles, we loaded the table with goodies, and Jacob supplied Martinelli's and egg nog, which we sipped from champagne glasses.

A few prep photos...

Happy friends!

Clockwise from top:

Roasted rosemary carrots
Mashed potatoes with yam, garlic, parmesan, and fresh parsley
Steamed broccoli
Box stuffing with caramelized onions and a celery/apple/mushroom/chestnut saute
Pan-fried tilapia with a ginger-fennel-orange cream sauce


Potato rolls! From a great recipe I found online. Wonderful flavor, though the dough didn't rise much. 

Stay tuned; The Cake is getting its own personal entry.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thai Fried Rice

Asian stir-fry is the perfect solution to leftover rice.

No time for details; on to Thanksgiving! However, did you know that if you put the bulbs of scallions in a jar of water after you've used the green part, they'll sprout up again for you? Eternal scallions! Awesome!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Well, it's finally snowing.

And though I'm sad to see autumn go, I'm grateful that it lasted as long as it did. I walked to WalMart and back on Friday, and thoroughly enjoyed it. That's pretty amazing. For Rexburg.

Saw Julie and Julia last night with Liz and her mom, and adored it. Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci are absolutely delightful. And the food -- ! I'm totally revved for Thanksgiving. It's Epicake Time.

Speaking of gratitude and Liz, I want to express how much of the former I feel for and toward the latter. I so admire her gentleness, brilliance, and generosity. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ghetto Delights, Take Two

I realized today that 24-Hour Salad is to me what macaroni and cheese is to so many other people. Except that it contains eight varieties of vegetable. Yeah, that's right. You eat mac 'n' cheese; I eat veggies. Judge me now, why dontcha?

Anyway, yes. 24-Hour Salad. It's cool, creamy, crunchy, and full of fat. (Oh, did I forget to mention the full cup of mayonnaise, up there in that self-righteous first paragraph? How silly of me.) It's total comfort food. One of the most blissful, satisfying meals I ever ate was a bowl of slow-simmered hambone soup, with a warm slice of homemade whole wheat bread, and a side of 24-Hour Salad. 

Notes: The original recipe calls for dressing the salad with straight mayonnaise. I prefer to gussy mine up, but it works just fine on its own. Be sure to layer the dressing between the chopped veggies; somehow this infuses the whole salad with flavor. If you have any way of keeping the salad from sitting in its liquid, such as placing a wire rack at the bottom of the bowl, or putting the whole thing in a salad spinner, do it. And yes, you must wait the whole durn 24 hours. Or at least 20, anyway. ;)

24-Hour Salad

1 cup mayonnaise
good dollop sour cream
bit of lemon zest and juice
black pepper and paprika to taste 
(dill might be nice, too)

1 head iceburg lettuce, chopped, rinsed, and dried
2 large carrots, grated
3 celery stalks, sliced thin
3-4 mushrooms, sliced thin
~1 1/2 cups frozen peas (still frozen; they'll thaw in the fridge)
2 scallions, sliced thin

1 large tomato, sliced
5 eggs, hard boiled, peeled, and quartered
salt and pepper

Combine dressing ingredients in small bowl and set aside. Place half the lettuce in large serving dish (a glass bowl is really pretty). Mix the carrot and celery and arrange evenly over lettuce. Spread half the dressing over the carrot/celery, sprinkle with half the sliced scallion, then add the peas. Add the rest of the lettuce, top with mushrooms, remaining scallions, and second half of dressing. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours, arranging egg quarters a few hours before serving. Add the tomatoes immediately before serving. Season with salt and pepper. Be sure to scoop deep to get all the layers.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Just one more question for ya, ma'am..."

Star Trek. Warner Brothers. The Lion in Winter. I, Claudius. David Attenborough. My Fair Lady. And Columbo. These are the movie and television staples on which I was raised. (Oh all right; and Murder She Wrote. But that's not as cool.)

Netflix recently made available for Instant View almost all of the original 1970s Columbo episodes. Being an indolent leech on the flank of society has its advantages; I've gotten through twelve episodes so far. It's so much fun to rewatch these as an adult.

Columbo is unique among murder-mystery series in that the viewer knows from the beginning whodunit -- most episodes open by actually showing a character (usually played by a semi-famous guest star) plan and execute a murder. This allows the show to be unusually psychological and character-driven; any suspense one feels is felt in identification with the killer, as Columbo lays his traps and pokes and prods and manipulates. 

Peter Falk is shrewd and endearing in the part. One of the main draws of the show is seeing what sort of rapport Columbo will develop with the murderer, who is sometimes very charming and likable, sometimes guilt-ridden, sometimes perceptive enough to see right through Columbo's strategic bumbling and bold enough to call him on it. The quality of the acting also varies from the unashamedly melodramatic to the surprisingly genuine. Overall, I find the series much more natural and subtle than most of the slick, shiny, over-produced television of today. 

And of course, much of the fun comes from the "period piece" factor. Bad suits, strange soundtrack choices, "cutting edge" camera techniques, shag carpet, and sexism abound -- not to mention delightfully smarmy guest stars like George Hamilton and Jack Cassidy! What's not to like?

Some of the very best (IMO) eps are, sadly, not available. But here are a few recommendations from among those that are:

Season 1:
Death Lends a Hand
Suitable for Framing

Season 2:
A Stitch in Crime
The Most Dangerous Match
Double Shock

Season 4:
An Exercise in Fatality
By Dawn's Early Light

Season 6-7:
Old Fashioned Murder
How to Dial a Murder
Try and Catch Me
Murder under Glass
Make Me a Perfect Murder

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Let Them Eat..."

I'm being haunted by a hypothetical cake. It is tall, dark, elegant -- 
and totally epic.

Sigh. Someday, neglected sweet tooth, restless cakesmith. Someday.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Potato Flatbread

So, I happened into the possession of a half-empty bag of russet potatoes the other day (looong story). I tend to fall more on the waxy side of potato preference, so I didn't much relish the thought of roasting, baking, or mashing these spuds. I remembered that baked goods usually call for starchy potatoes like russets, so I set about finding me a recipe. I considered pierogi, latkes, and potato rolls, but ultimately what caught my fancy was the idea of potato flatbread -- like the potato cakes I enjoyed with my traditional Irish breakfast this spring. But with punched-up flavor, naturally. Darn Brits and their inveterate blandness.

Notes: I worked off of a recipe I found online, but I made so many alterations to it (including translating it from grams into cups) that I don't feel obligated to credit it. So there. The yeast I added only caused a slight rise, but I believe it really improved the texture of the dough; it was very workable after resting. Next time I'll try doubling the amount of yeast and see if that increases the rise. I cannot overemphasize the importance of SEASONING to this recipe. Think about it; you're working with potatoes, flour, and dairy -- flavor-deadeners, every one. Use lots of salt, lots of pepper, lots of flavoring. I really recommend the fresh parsley. I dunno if it was the sweet potato flavor that really complemented it, or if parsley mellows with age or something (cuz this was some ooold parsley -- though apparently it keeps for, like, EVER). Anyway, this parsley had the most wonderful fresh, earthy, carroty flavor, and was just perfect, and really pretty.

Potato Flatbread

russet potatoes (about 3 small), sliced into quarter-inch disks
sweet potato, yellow or orange, sliced into quarter-inch disks
(you want enough potato to make 2 generous cups mash)

1 scant cup flour

1/3 - 1/2 cup butter, melted
salt and pepper
spices/flavorings as desired (I went with an Eastern European approach: a clove of garlic, plenty of onion powder, some allspice, some dried rosemary, a pinch each of nutmeg and white pepper, and about a half-cup of finely diced fresh parsley. Some smoked paprika would have been awesome, too.)

1/2 tsp dry yeast

Cover russet slices in cold, salted water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and add sweet potatoes. Cover and simmer until potatoes are fork-tender, 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, measure out flour. Melt butter and stir in all flavorings except fresh herbs.  

When potatoes are cooked, scoop out 3 TB of hot potato water and, when no longer steaming, add yeast and let stand for 10 minutes. Drain potatoes and stir over heat for a minute to dry. Mash very thoroughly or send through a ricer. Stir in butter mixture and fresh herbs. When no longer steaming, stir in water/yeast mixture. Gradually stir in flour. 

Form into a dough ball and knead on floured surface until elastic and homogeneous -- about ten passes. Place dough in lightly oiled bowl, cover, and set in warm place to rise for 60 minutes. 

Push down dough, knead a few more times on floured surface, then divide into balls (whatever size will fit your skillet) and roll flat into quarter-inch thick circles. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.

Heat heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook flatbread on each side until spotty golden brown. Serve warm. Makes about 10 six-inch flatbreads. 

Serving ideas: I ate mine with sour cream and jarred applesauce, which was delicious, but it'd be even better with sour cream and a homemade chutney of caramelized onion and sauteed apples. Mmm. Or use that onion/apple chutney as a filling for a quesadilla-type thing, with cheese -- ooh, Stilton and Swiss! YUM! Also, check out this cool see-through effect.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Odds and Ends

1. Tarted Up

Had two separated egg yolks languishing in the fridge, so when I got a loaf of cranberry quickbread from Great Harvest, I decided to whip up some curd to go with it. I used half orange juice and half lemon juice. It was a little softer than expected, and lumpy because I don't have a mesh strainer, but still tasty.

2. Red, White, and Green...ish

Insane sales on fresh mozzarella and ripe, juicy tomatoes today. So I made a modified caprese with dried fennel seed instead of basil and smoked oysters on the side. I smashed up the fennel seeds and then let them soak in the olive oil for a couple hours. Arrange the sliced mozz and tomatoes on a plate, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with oil, and voila. Yummy, pretty, and satisfying.

3. Do You Like Greens, Eggs, no Ham?

Dinner the other night. Toss broccoli and cauliflower with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, arrange in baking dish (cut-side-down, as much as possible), cover with tin foil, roast at 400 degrees for fifteen minutes, remove tin foil, roast to desired done- and brown-ness. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

Food Dreams

"Dreaming is an act of pure imagination, attesting in all men
 a creative power, which if it were available in waking, 
would make every man a Dante or a Shakespeare." 
~H.F. Hedge

Sometimes, just as I'm falling asleep, strange recipes come to me. 
Last night I came up with Soft Square Salad

The idea is to combine cubed, roasted butternut squash, still warm...

...with fresh cubed peach-flesh...

...ripe, cubed avocado...

...and cubes of some sort of soft, nutty cheese -- like fontina or livarot.
(My sleep-brain seemed to think that if you heated a very lightly oiled pan
to medium-high, tossed a bunch of cheese cubes into it, and immediately
took it off the heat and let it cool completely, they'd come away easily 
and you'd get cheese cubes with one side deliciously brown and crunchy. 
Dunno if that's true, but it sounds friggin awesome, and perfect for this recipe.)

Season with salt and pepper, naturally, then add 
some toasted pine nuts and diced bell pepper for crunch.

Finally, drizzle with some warm, homemade vinaigrette -- which I envisioned would consist of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, some reduced cherry/redcurrant/cranberry preserves, juice from a roasted onion, a hint of cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, and cayenne, and a fresh chopped herb -- my sleep-brain said sage, but now I'm thinking oregano.

Toss all ingredients gently so as not to damage Soft Squares, 
and serve warmover grilled salmon. Obviously, this would be a stunner, 
visually.But the flavor combo? I can't decide if it would be absolutely 
delicious or just plain weird. I guess I'll have to try it someday.