Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Basic Bread Method with the Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

1 cup warm water (between 110-110 degrees, 1 minute in the microwave is usually about right)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil (veg for sweet breads, olive oil for savory or Italian)
3 cups flour
1 ½ tablespoons yeast

Combine warm water, sugar, salt and oil in the mixing bowl. Add flour and yeast. Beat on the lowest speed until dough forms a ball. Continue adding flour a bit at a time, until dough no longer feels sticky to the touch. Remove from mixing bowl and knead the dough a bit until it feels like a baby's bottom (nothing kinky here, folks, but that is the same texture I was taught to look ages ago when making bread by hand. If anyone must be blamed, it's probably Laurel Robertson).

Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel or piece of plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Turn dough out onto a clean surface and punch down to remove air bubbles. Work in a little more flour, again until dough no longer feels sticky. Form into desired shape and allow to rise again, about 45 minutes.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Homemade Jam Pastries

I ran across the recipe for these today at Space & Thyme and was immediately intrigued. Of course anything homemade and still warm from the oven is going to be better than something that's been sitting in a warehouse 6 months and these wonderful pastries are no exception. Calling for 1 cup of butter may seem decadent, but it's the same amount you'd get in any 2-crust pie (not counting the filling). Plus, this yields 9 servings, whereas a pie would give you 6 or 8.

Flaky Homemade Jam Tarts

The buttery crust is rich and flaky, the mixed berry jam I used as filling provided a nice complement. Homemade cherry or apricot pie filling or preserves would also work nicely! While the golden pastries cooled, I made a glaze from powdered sugar and the juice from some leftover maraschino cherries.

My son, his friend and Daniele proclaimed them far superior to those nameless toaster things in the box.

And I just realized that although very similar to my grandmother Minnie's legendary fried pies, these actually have less fat because they are baked instead of deep fried.

Thank you for posting this, Monica!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Paula Deen's Reckoning

For a psychotherapist, Dr. Cheryl Pappas seems to be rather willfully missing the point and indeed, the very reason for the backlash against Ms Deen in the wake of revealing her diabetes diagnosis. While I cannot speak for others, I'm happy to give her my opinion.

 I don't see anyone “celebrating” Deen's diagnosis. I do see people criticizing her for promoting a severely unhealthy way of eating while proudly proclaiming “I'm your cook, not your doctor,” and now she is cashing in on it. There is no rejoicing that I've seen, only the realization that the inevitable has come to pass. Call it karma. Since Deen's ascension at Food Network, she has made millions turning herself into a caricature. She has endorsed everything from cookware (logical enough, I suppose) to ham, frozen pies, bed linens and patio furniture. Oh, and don't forget the new line of plus-size clothing.

I've long been a critic of Food Network specifically because they present much of the work of their talent as “healthy” and “figure friendly” when it is anything but. When asked to provide nutritional information on their recipes, Food Network demurs, retreating behind a claim of providing only entertainment. Through this criticism, however, I've cut Deen some slack because unlike others in the Food Network stable, she never pretended that her food was good for anyone. I couldn't bear her over-the-top dirty old lady persona (Foghorn Leghorn is a more realistic Southern representative), but I suppose that is a matter of personal preference.

Of course, Deen's medical situation is her personal business and she has no obligation whatsoever to share it with others. The fact that she chose to do so now, I believe, has much more to do with explaining away her endorsement deal and protecting her brand – and her millions – than any altruistic motivation. Viewers are left with a sense that Deen would sell her own grandbaby if she could make enough doing it.

Paula Deen
I've not seen a single post where people blamed Deen for making them diabetic, or claimed that she force-fed them anything. The simple fact of the matter is that Deen and Food Network have overplayed their hand and their audience and now, Kardashian-like, must deal with the fallout. Paula needs to take her lumps like a big girl and stop whining that a few million people less are now her fans. Television and the public marketplace is no place for the thin-skinned.

To Ms. Deen, I would suggest that rather than attempting to re-define her brand by her son Bobby re-working her oeuvre into something people could actually eat, Deen should take her empire and millions and retire. The chasm between what you have been and what you need to become to survive is simply too great. The damage is done and in my opinion, it is not reparable.

While I am no sort of medical or social authority, I do have some experience with these issues. My younger son, now 18, was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age 7. It has been a Sisyphean struggle to get him to manage his diabetes in even a marginally satisfactory way, and I have multiple ER visits under my belt to prove it. Additionally, I spent most of my life being morbidly obese and even though I managed to lose large amounts of weight several times, it always came back. Until my gastric bypass surgery in 2005. At my top weight I was larger and looked even more like Baby Huey than does Deen in the photo that accompanies her confession.

Oh, and Dr. Pappas, speaking of “practicing the art of mean,” you'll notice that my headline does not call anyone “stupid.”

Friday, February 3, 2012

Caramel Apple Cake

As a teenager, I had 2 horses. The first, Sparky, was one ornery bitch and I shared her with my older sister (also an ornery bitch, but I digress). We lived at  an old farmhouse that had many apple, pear, cherry, plum, hazelnut and walnut trees on the property.

When Sparky decided the riding session was through, it was through. Her favorite trick to end said session was to run under a low hanging branch on one of the apple trees. She would knock me off and I would suspend in the air for a moment, just like Wile E. Coyote, before landing on my butt in a big, mooshy pile of rotten apples.

Fast forward 40 years.

Both the fridge and pantry are getting a bit bare, as Daniele has been taking the car to school lately. Yah, I could take the bus, but what with the arthritis and all, don't feel much like going anyplace. Or getting up off the couch, for that matter.

Gravenstein Apples
So, casting about for ways to attack that sudden sugar craving, I decided to throw a cake together.
For those poor schlubs who do not live in an area where Gravensteins are available, sorry, my heart bleeds for you. Granny Smith will suffice in a pinch.

Note: we are NOT “apple pickin' people,” we are “picking apples up off the ground people.”

Caramel Apple Cake

2 ½ c flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ c butter, softened (10 seconds in the microwave does the trick)
1 ½ c sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ c milk
2 Gravenstein apples, grated

Combine flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside. In the mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla. Add dry ingredients and milk alternately, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Stir in grated apples.

Grease and flour the bottom of a 9” x 13” baking pan and pour in batter. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or so...until golden brown and starting to pull away from the sides. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Caramel Frosting

½ c butter
1 c firmly packed brown sugar
¼ c milk
3 c powdered sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract

Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add brown sugar and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Raise heat to medium high and add milk. Continue to cook until mixture comes to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar and vanilla. If necessary, add a few drops of milk so that the mixture is spreading consistency. Spread over the cooled cake.

12 servings.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Rachael Ray's "healthy" School Tacos

First Lady Michelle Obama Launches Nutrition Guidelines
I think it is a wonderful thing that the USDA recently announced changes in the components of school lunches. I still can't get over being shocked back in the Reagan administration when, for the purposes of school lunches, catsup was deemed to be a vegetable.

First ladies traditionally have a special cause to advocate, and Michelle Obama has chosen better childhood nutrition and exercise habits. Her advocacy has done much to raise awareness of this pressing issue, and I applaud her efforts. To announce the new nutrition guidelines, Mrs. Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Food Network cook Rachael Ray launched the guidelines by lunching at Parklawn Elementary School in Alexandria, VA. The menu was a purportedly healthy dish of turkey tacos with corn, black beans and ranch dressing -- one of a handful of recipes Ray developed for the program.

I well understand that this was a high profile event and in order to increase awareness of the issue, partnerships are formed which, which, when placed under the microscope, do not fare particularly well. My issue with Ray has always been that she calls her recipes in general "figure friendly," but never bothers to explain what that means. A typical Ray recipe will provide double portions of meat and pasta, so despite her claims to be leading the cause against childhood obesity and diabetes, at least one of the recipes she developed does nothing that I can see to further it. I suppose I could crunch the numbers of the rest of Ray's recipe's for this program, but with names such as "Mexi Mac and Cheese," I will leave it to the reader's imagination.

So I looked more closely at Ray's Turkey Tacos recipe and sure enough, not only is this recipe not particularly healthy for children, it isn't particularly healthy for adults, either. My methodology is to compare a recipe's main ingredients against the food database at I add up the numbers for calories, fat, carbohydrate, fiber, protein and sodium (cholesterol and fiber are subsets of fat and carbohydrate, respectively), then divide by the recipe's stated number of servings.

My calculations are, if anything, quite conservative. I would encourage anyone, particularly stakeholders, to double-check my figures. This dish is part of a purportedly "healthy" meal being recommended at the highest levels as a positive addition to school lunches. Really? In the linked recipe below, the calories are about half the daily Recommended Daily Intake for an adult, with 55 grams of fat and 70 of carbohydrate. The school meal also includes a serving of brown rice, which is not taken into account here.

School nutrition is certainly a worthy cause but I wish First Lady Obama and Secretary Vilsack had teamed up with someone who has more credibility than name recognition. Weren't Jamie Oliver or Ellie Krieger -- an actual Registered Dietician, by the way --  available? Especially now, in the wake of the scandal of Paula Deen revealing a 3-year old diabetes diagnosis at the same time she endorses a diabetes drug, Food Network and its on-air staff need to pay more attention to the substance of their content.

And one more thing: at the risk of appearing to be mean, Rachael Ray does not have children. I have 30+ years experience as a parent and cannot fathom kids eating most of this stuff.

Turkey Tacos with Black Bean and Corn Salad and Yum-o Southwest Ranch

I've re-done the numbers for the tacos and they don't seem to be as bad as I thought at first. Calories are slightly lower but sodium still seems pretty high. Carbs are high but fiber and protein are decent. Apologies to all for previous calculations.

I still can't imagine kids eating this, though. The rest of the meal was a side of brown rice, milk and, I believe, a fruit. Was there any sort of measure for waste afterward?

Calories: 931
Fat: 49g
Sodium: 1631mg
Carbohydrate: 72g
Fiber: 15g
Protein: 52g