Monday, November 28, 2011

Sugar, Sugar

Version 1, with syrup on bottom.
Because I didn't stuff myself quite silly enough over Thanksgiving weekend, I made these as soon as all the pumpkin pie was gone.

When I was a teenager, my mother subscribed to Center for Science in the Public Interest's monthly magazine, which ran exposés on all the artery-clogging restaurant foods in existence. One of which were Cinnabons, which in my opinion are the best non-food food at the mall. Not that I ever eat them. Or go to malls. That's just what I've heard.

One of the obscure flours I mentioned in an earlier post that has been waiting to be used is oat flour. I found a recipe for Double Oat Morning Buns, which I hoped would be like cinnamon rolls. Or snails. Or Cinnabons. Except with cardamom. And because I found the recipe on the Bob's Red Mill website, I figured it'd be relatively healthy, if not downright dull.

I figured wrong.

I realized my wrongness as I started Step 1, which is to combine just three ingredients for the sticky mixture that gets caramelized all over the place. The ingredients were sugar, maple syrup, and butter.  Delicious, for sure. But not even a little bit healthy.

Then in Step 2 I figured I'd even out the butter-sugar chaos with some fiber-licious oat flour. I did, but I also had to add more butter, more sugar, some eggs, and a cup of milk.  Which has calcium and protein and whatnot, but still.

Step 4 brought-- yes, that's right-- more sugar. Oh, and a tiny bit of rolled oats to up the fiber count. And cardamom. I love cardamom. If you don't, you can substitute cinnamon, with maybe a little allspice or cloves.

I started this recipe last night, because I knew the dough needed to be refrigerated for a bit, and I thought popping these in the oven first thing in the morning would be just like a Folger's commercial, only with baked goods. There is a non-refrigeration option, so I put the odds and ends of the dough in the oven last night with a little of the sugar-syrup mix on the bottom of the pan, as directed. But the buns I got were dry on top, and could have used more butter after baking. Furthermore, the sugary mix on the bottom got all overcooked and one corner of it almost burned. No good.

This morning, I decided to put the sugar mix on top of the buns and bake, letting it all run down the sides. You know, like at Cinnabon, but without the cream cheese icing. This did the trick-- soft, almost spongy dough, texture from the almond-oat-cardamom filling, and sweetness from the syrupy mess on top. All this amounts to the perfect way to start the day: in cardiac arrest. Just like at Cinnabon.

Version 2, with syrup running down the sides

Double Oat Morning Buns
adapted from
makes 18 buns-- cut recipe in half if you can't use that many

For the sugar mixture:
1/2 C maple syrup
1/3 C packed brown sugar
1/4 C butter

For the dough:
1 TBSP active dry yeast
1 C oat flour
3 to 3 1/2 C AP flour
1 C milk
1/4 C granulated sugar
1/4 C butter
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 TBSP butter, melted

For the filling:
1/3 C almonds, toasted and chopped
1/4 C packed brown sugar (you can probably use about half this much and get good results)
1/4 C rolled oats, toasted (you could double this amount for more texture)
1/4 tsp cardamom (I used 3/4 tsp)
1 TBSP butter, melted

I've changed the order of the steps, because the sugar mixture doesn't need to be made until just before these go in the oven. However, it can be made ahead and kept at room temperature until needed. 
1. Combine 2 cups of AP flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer.
2. Combine milk, granulated sugar, 1/4 C butter, and salt in a saucepan over low heat until just warm and butter is melted (115-120 degrees F).  Add to flour mixture, and stir to combine. Add eggs. Beat at low speed for 30 seconds, and then scrape down sides of bowl. Beat 3 minutes at medium-high speed. Using a spoon, stir in the oat flour and as much of the remaining AP flour as you can. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface.
3. Knead in enough of the remaining AP flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (6-8 minutes, total). Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to coat. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (1 to 1 1/4 hours).
4. Combine filling ingredients EXCEPT butter in a small bowl. Coat a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan with cooking spray.
4. Punch down dough and divide in half. Cover dough and let it rest for 10 minutes. On lightly floured work surface, roll one half of dough into 9" x 6" rectangle. Brush top with melted butter.  Sprinkle half of filling mixture over melted butter on dough. Roll up jelly-roll style. Cut into 1-inch rounds and place cut side down in prepared pan. Repeat with remaining half.
5. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or overnight.
6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Remove buns from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. If any surface bubbles have formed, puncture with greased toothpick. Combine mixture ingredients in a saucepan, and stir over low heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. DO NOT BOIL. Coat tops of buns evenly with mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Woman, where's my dinner?

Many years ago, I dated a man from a rather, um, patriarchal culture. He expected a meat-centric dinner, piping hot, whenever he stayed at my house. Note I didn't say he helped me prepare a meat-centric dinner.

My cooking skills were still under development at that time. (In truth they always will be, but they have improved tremendously.) I knew which flavors I liked, and which ingredients I was willing and able to use, but didn't always have technique perfected, nor did I have much patience for dishes that needed to simmer for hours on end. Those simmery dishes, though, are the ones that are usually filled with meaty bits and starchy bits, good for filling this man's professional-athlete appetite and quieting his inquiries as to the status of his next meal.

I remembered my mother making beef stew many times, which she usually served over egg noodles. She also used the terms 'beef stew' and 'bouef bourguignon' interchangeably, at least as far as my adolescent ears could tell. I knew she put some wine into the dish, and carrots and maybe celery, but I didn't know how to make it, exactly. Or if there were some small but important distinction to be made between stew and bourguignon, besides that Julia Child made the latter and we Irish made the former.

Determined to show his chauvinistic self I could do it, I called my best friend and begged her to tell me what to do. I knew she'd know, since she'd had more than one live-in boyfriend and was adept at cooking for them.  She told me to cook it for a while, which I thought I did, but apparently not long enough. It never came out quite right, and the wine flavor was never quite tame enough. He always gave me his full, unabridged critique.

Years (and relationships) later, I have finally learned to be patient with meat. I cook my stews long enough to create depth of flavor, and really tender meat. But I hadn't made a real bouef bourguignon until now. Julia Child made it famous, but Ina Garten made it simple: Barefoot in Paris contains a recipe with an introductory note specifically saying how un-fun it is to cook this dish all day long. To which I say, Amen, sister!

I leave the skin on the potatoes for a bit of added color and texture.

I was skeptical about using two different kinds of meat in one dish. To me, that always seems like flavor confusion, since each meat (e.g. beef, pork, chicken) has its own unique flavor. Well, maybe not chicken, since everything tastes like chicken, but beef and pork certainly do. Nevertheless, I seared the beef in the bacon drippings, as directed, and then coated the vegetables with all that fat and a few herbs, too. The wine went in early on, and combined with some broth and a little roux at the end to create a rich, flavorful gravy that could stand alone over mashed potatoes. 

Ina Garten suggests serving the dish with some country bread that has been toasted and spread with a bit of olive oil and garlic. My neighbor just happened to make a loaf the same night I made bouef bourguignon, so I ate it with both bread and mashed potatoes. I'm sure Julia Child and the entire nation of France would be horrified, but if ever there were a bowl full of Man Food, this is it.

Mia's cooking: 1, Patriarchy: 0

Bouef Bourguignon
adapted from Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten

**I started with 1/2 lb beef and 1/3 bottle wine, and adjusted the rest of the ingredients accordingly, since I made this for myself and not for the entire Russian army. I also cooked mine on the stovetop, not in the oven, since I don't have a Dutch oven.

1 TBSP olive oil (I omitted this, since the bacon will render off plenty of fat)
8 oz bacon, diced (I used applewood-smoked bacon)
2 1/2 lbs beef stew meat
1 lb carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks 
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 C Cognac or brandy (I omitted this)
1 (750mL) bottle dry red wine
2  to 2 1/2 C canned beef broth (I used low-sodium vegetable broth)
1 TBSP tomato paste
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (I used dried)
4 TBSP unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
3 TBSP all-purpose flour
1 lb frozen small whole onions (I omitted these)
1 lb mushrooms, sliced (I omitted these)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees, if using a Dutch oven.
2. Heat a Dutch oven or other large pot. Add bacon and cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove bacon from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. 
2. Sprinkle beef cubes with salt and pepper. In a single layer (work in batches if necessary), sear the beef in the bacon fat 3-5 minutes, until brown on all sides. Remove beef cubes from pan and set aside with bacon. 
3. Toss carrots, onions, some salt and pepper (I added thyme here too) into fat in pan and cook over medium heat 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are lightly browned. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add Cognac if using, STAND BACK, and ignite with a match to burn off alcohol. Return meats to pan, along with juices from the plate. Add wine and enough broth to almost cover the meat. Add tomato paste and thyme, if not already added. Bring to a boil and either cover with lid and put in oven for about 75 minutes, or simmer over low heat for 75-90 minutes with cover just slightly askance. Meat and vegetables should be very tender when pierced with a fork.
4. Place the stew on the stove top, if not already there. Combine 2 TBSP butter and the flour with a fork and stir into the stew. Add frozen onions, if using. 
5. In a medium pan, saute the mushrooms, if using, in the remaining 2 TBSP butter over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned, and then add to the stew. 
6. Bring the entire stew to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Season to taste. 
Serve with sliced country bread rubbed with garlic, or mashed potatoes, or egg noodles.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


 "Occupy! Occupy! What kind of pie? Occupy!" 

 This catchy little chant has been stuck in my head for days. A man at a non-Occupy protest I attended last week kept shouting it during lulls in the action. As I listened, I was food-inspired. Though I wondered, What's in Occu-pie, anyway? 

Apples, of course. Apple pie is quintessentially American. So is the right to assemble, peacefully, and voice one's discontent with the status quo. I used three kinds of apples: Jonathan, Braeburn, and Granny Smith. Sort of like the apple version of a melting pot. 

But regular old apple pie wasn't enough to qualify as Occu-pie. It needed something more. Something slightly out of the ordinary, but not all hippie-like and beyond the mainstream. Maybe something with a little kick to it. 

Bourbon. For liquid courage (symbolic, of course, since the alcohol burns off) in the face of police throwing flash-bang grenades and tear gas, and maybe a little warmth on cold nights in tents. Having a non-existent hard liquor cabinet myself, I borrowed a few tablespoons from my neighbor. Who then borrowed some white wine I'd just opened for a recipe she was making. This sort-of-barter system suits us just fine, helping us ensure we use up what we have, saving us a few fossil-fuel-powered trips to the store, and creating a little mini-community of food and ideas that is the antidote to the Every Man for Himself attitude that fuels the Occupation.

Even though I made 25% more crust dough than I did for my Bolinas Blackberry Pie, I still didn't have enough to make a full lattice. So I threw flour, unmeasured, and butter at the wrong temperature into the food processor to make more. I chilled the dough, which I realized later was missing sugar, for one-fourth of the time I should have, and got a very pretty lattice that tasted like Play-Doh. This hasty fix for my pie was a gentle reminder that, like dough, change happens slowly.

While statements from protesters such as, "I have a Master's degree and I can't find a job" or "Big Banks foreclosed on my home" allow individuals to connect to the larger movement, #Occupy Wall Street isn't about getting those people's houses or jobs back. At least, not directly. It's really about changing a system that is totally out of balance, and is totally unsustainable. This MoveOn video, featuring Elizabeth Warren, sums it up nicely.