Friday, October 31, 2008

October highlights

My most significant food-related highlight of October has to be gorging on fun-size Midnight Milky Ways. Okay, I’m joking. I do adore the dark chocolate and the stiffer, less caramel-tasting fondant of this Milky Way version, but I only ate one, which absolutely does not count as gorging. Unless you’re on the Sonoma Diet.

Hambone and Spice, each feeling a little tubby of late, decided to stop casting fate to the wind and follow an eating plan with the goal of losing weight. A few years ago I bought the book, The Sonoma Diet (SD), a low-carb, high-protein diet. It was appealing to me on a few levels. One, it's not as austere as the South Beach Diet (though I get a kick out of SD’s precisely calculated snacks, e.g., 11 almonds). Two, I thought it had decent-looking recipes, with ingredients and preparations that seemed familiar and accessible that could easily find a way into our repertoire.

For a few weeks of October, we were sort of on the Sonoma Diet. I tried really hard to follow the plan, but it didn’t take long to realize the absurdity of dieting. Besides, we were eating so many eggs and the cuts of meat were expensive and I could go on (and on) about how despicable I find prescribed diets. But dear Hambone has better results following a diet and thought SD would be a good way to establish portion control and to focus on healthy, limited snacking. He wasn't wrong. I’m pleased to report that, chez H&S, we each shed a few much-needed pounds.

Consequently, though, blogging suffered. Not that we’re about decadence or restaurant-quality-only food for every meal, but I struggled a lot with how we were eating and didn’t feel like airing my frustrations here. I just don't find them that interesting. In retrospect, our meals were less interesting. We cut way back on the amount of wine we were drinking, and many bottles went to waste as we’re not accustomed to deoxygenating them for longer life. And, I didn’t take any photos of our meals—just didn’t feel like it.

Suffice it to say, we’ve put the diet into perspective, focusing on grains, tons of vegetables, and lean protein for our meals. Isn’t this the way we’re supposed to be eating anyhow? We certainly feel better for it. Maybe you’ll hear about some of the repeat-worthy recipes in future blog posts.

Nonetheless, I made two discoveries this month about which I’m pretty excited. The first discovery bears mentioning in this post: broiling. Many living situations ago (1891 Grand and 2010 Marshall, respectively), we had old gas ovens with broiler drawers. The broiling element was under the main cooking chamber, in the spot where many ovens have kickplates. And, instead of a heated coil, the broiler utilized a flame for cooking at high temperature. We broiled steaks a fair amount when we had ovens with broilers on the bottom. Our current oven has a broiler, comprised of heated coils, at the top of the oven, and I have never seen fit to figure out how best to use it. Just this year, I learned how to comfortably broil fish without setting it on fire.

When the SD asked us to grill various dinner entrees, I decided, since we’ve already stored the grill for the winter, that I would, once and for all, master the broiler. We made a fantastic spice-rubbed flank steak this way, as well as sirloin-cherry tomato-mushroom kebabs, and maple-soy–glazed salmon fillets. The key is to turn on the oven's light and watch. If the food starts smoking and has nice browning, move the rack down a notch and finish cooking there for a few more minutes. Your broilables will still get the full advantage of high heat without being so close to the heating element as to ignite. I think I’m about ready to tackle butterflied pork tenderloin, as well as other fish varieties.

The month wasn’t a total wash, after all.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

and why not?

For my birthday this year, I baked myself a cake. It just seemed the right thing to do since I have a little extra time on my hands. I also have a big, fat file folder of desserts, many of which are tempting layer cakes, but I’ve needed a good opportunity of bake one. And, what better opportunity than one’s birthday?

When faced with such an opportunity, how to begin narrowing down the choices? A few days before my birthday, I pulled out the dessert folder and looked at every single clipping, selecting those that most piqued my interest. Cheesecake-Marbled Brownies. Pumpkin-Spice Bundt Cake with Buttermilk Icing. Flourless Chocolate-Hazelnut Cake. Chocolate-Ginger Cake with Bourbon Sauce. Double Chocolate Layer Cake. Spiced-Pumpkin Cake. To name a few candidates.

Then I conducted an informal survey on my Facebook page, asking friends to cast a vote for chocolate, pumpkin spice, or red velvet. Many weighed in for red velvet; one friend suggested I make all three, which I would if I had the time or could afford the calories. In the end, the season dictated baking Spiced-Pumpkin Cake, promising warming flavors and a sweet cream-cheese frosting.

I found the recipe a year ago, in Bon Appetit, and it has waited patiently in a burgeoning file folder. Cake batters are easy to whip up, and this one was no exception. In addition to the typical cake ingredients—flour, sugar, eggs—this recipe has abundant spices, including ground ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and a full tablespoon of cinnamon. In addition to pumpkin puree, the cake gets a flavor boost from raisins and coconut. I’m sure they contributed additional moistness and a little toothsomeness, but I omitted the raisins—too sweet.

Learning: I used two cake pans, as the recipe suggested. However, there was enough batter for three pans, and I would do that next time to avoid the fat layers I had with two. Also, three layers would help to use every last bit of the delectable, bourbon-laced frosting.

It should go without saying that the house smelled amazing as the cake baked. And, I think the next time the house is feeling stuffy and smelling a little musty, I’m going to bake a cake for instant air freshening.

Happy birthday to me, indeed.