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My first foodie experience was not in the kitchen. It was with a book, which is appropriate. Long before I ever became interested in food, I was interested in books, and the first time food really interested me was when I read Little House in the Big Woods. It was all so fascinating, how involved everyone was in the making of the food, how it took up such a large part of their lives. I was no more than ten years old, and food only interested me insofar as what appeared on the table at dinner. I was a child of very simple tastes, but Wilder’s descriptions of where their food came from and how it was made enthralled me.
Obviously, food has its place in fiction, but it’s more prominent in some works than in others. The “Little House” books were my first introduction to fictional food. The “Anne of Green Gables” series offered other selections, most notably the raspberry cordial that Anne is so proud to serve to her friend and turns out to be much stronger currant wine instead. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe introduced me to Turkish delight, which I, for many years, thought Lewis had made up. Tolkien gave me lembas bread. The Harry Potter series (which I admit I have not read and have no plans to read) may not have interested me with the story, but who can ignore such culinary entertainment as butterbeer and pumpkin pasties? Most recently, The Hunger Games trilogy practically made food another character, showing just how important it was to the lives of so many in the dystopian world.
And, oh, the cookbooks that abound for each of these various universes! A few weeks ago, Geordie came home with The Little House Cookbook, and a little idea grew in my head. I went searching for recipes from other stories, and they are certainly out there, in abundance. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to give some of these recipes a try.
So, here we go, a mini-feature for the blog to give me something to write about. It probably won’t be a weekly thing, but my goal is to do at least one fictional food a month.
I decided to start with Laura Ingalls herself, with something so basic that it formed a major part of the Ingalls family’s diet: cornbread. And it is a very simple recipe that can serve as a basis for so many different types of meals, savory or sweet. I made cornbread to be served with white chili for a cold winter night.
The cornbread that the Ingalls ate would have been bare bones by necessity, and the recipe reflects that. Plain yellow cornmeal (about three cups of it) and a bit of salt is mixed up with enough boiling water to make a soft dough. And that’s all there is to it. It doesn’t make for a very flavorful bread, but, as the author of the cookbook points out, even plain cornbread is better than nothing to eat at all. The dough is formed into two semi-circles, which are placed side-by-side in a greased cast iron skillet. It goes into the oven until the bread becomes dry and a bit crusty. It’s then cut into wedges and served any number of ways.
For the chili, I crumbled some cornbread into my bowl and ladled the chili over it. A good idea, because the chili ended up being thin and uninteresting on its own. The cornbread added a nice texture to it, and the corn flavor contributed to the overall flavor of the chili.
Since then, the cornbread has served nicely as my lunches. Broken up and soaked in warm milk and maple syrup, it’s a fairly decent little meal. Simple and sweet, almost like a throwback to childhood. I imagine it would be even better with buttermilk.
I also guess it would be pretty decent with some gravy, or broken up to make a stuffing for poultry. A versatile bread, a useful staple indeed. I’ve had good cornbread that could stand nicely on its own, but this works in a pinch when you need a blank canvas to match with whatever you’re intending to serve.
Personally, I think it was a nice introduction to the world of fictional food (though I suppose this is more historical than fictional, but still). I’ve got a list of foods I want to try, from any number of sources, and I’m eager to see how they go. I’m also open to suggestions!
They’re actually supposed to be something known as a Paris-Brest, a particularly special variant of a cream puff.
It all started with a bicycle race called the Paris-Brest-Paris (named after its route), which began in 1891 and is still run today, although not as an actual competition apparently. This celebratory version of a cream puff was created to commemorate the race, because everyone knows that pastry cream is exactly what you need when you’re riding a bicycle for 1200 kilometers (roughly 745 miles).
Traditionally, the Paris-Brest is a cream puff that is piped into the shape of an 8-inch ring, cut in half after baking, and filled with an almond-spiked pastry cream. It’s said that the ring shape mimics the shape of a bicycle wheel, which I suppose is true enough considering that they’re both circular. The dessert can be quite impressive to look at and undoubtedly requires some pastry-making skill.
I like to think I have some pastry-making skill and could make a Paris-Brest if I had the time and energy to do so. But, I have a two-month old baby, and time and energy are in short supply. I decided to simplify things and just make cream puffs.
I’ve made the pâte à choux before, long ago when the Doristas made the goat-cheese puffs in 2012. It’s easy to do, but – as I noted then – once started, they require full attention. Just like a baby! The pastry cream is pretty much the same type of thing, in that it demands full attention once it’s started. I made the pastry cream Wednesday evening while Geordie watched Hannah, and I was exceedingly pleased with it. It may be an involved process, but it’s a relatively short one, and one that ends with glorious results. One moment, the milk and egg and sugar mixture is all liquid and loose – the next, it’s lovely and thick and creamy. Very fine, indeed. The choux pastry I didn’t have a chance to make until today, in the afternoon. Hannah cooperated, for the most part; she woke up just as I was mixing in the eggs, cried a bit while I spooned out the puffs, and then pouted all the while they were baking. I think she’s just upset that she’s going to have to wait quite a bit before she can have one herself.
I’d pout too if I were her.
They’re not the prettiest little cream puffs ever made, but they’re delicious. I wish I’d made less of them, because I’m extremely tempted to make them my dinner. Much like the goat cheese puffs, I find these completely irresistible. The puffs are delightful enough by themselves, but the addition of the pastry cream puts them completely over the edge. Delicious doesn’t actually do them justice. They are beyond terrific. I want them all the time, except I also want to lose weight, so that’s right out.
I’ll be dreaming about these cream puffs tonight, that’s for sure. They’ll be haunting me for weeks. I can’t wait to make them again. Perhaps when Hannah is a little more autonomous. It certainly is a nice little treat I can’t wait to share with her in a few years.
To see some very lovely and proper Paris-Brest creations, check out the French Friday links. This seems to have been a popular dessert with the Doristas, no matter how the pastry came out. And no surprise!
I miss a lot of things about Japan, but in late March and early April, I really miss the cherry blossoms.
I also really miss all the sakura-flavored treats that can be found, in abundance. I could really go for a sakura frappuccino from Starbucks right about now. Oh, man, were those good.
It’s hard to find any kind of sakura flavoring in the States. I’ve looked. Many times. I’ve had other people look for me. The closest thing I had to any kind of sakura flavoring was some sakura sugar that I’ve had for who-knows-how-long. I know I bought it near Mt. Fuji, so I’m thinking I got it when Geordie and I took our New Year’s road trip in the winter of 2010/2011. In other words, I’ve had it for a long time.
And I decided it was about time to use it.
I actually couldn’t find any sakura-flavored cupcake recipes online. There are plenty of cherry-flavored cakes, but sakura isn’t the same as plain old cherry. I mean, I like cherries, but they’re not like sakura at all. It’s impossible to explain how sakura tastes. Very similar to how it smells, but then, it’s hard to explain that too.
It smells like spring.
It smells like . . . hope and magic and beauty.
It smells like sakura. That’s the best I can say about it.
What I found was cupcakes flavored with lavender sugar – the recipe is here at Not Quite Nigella. Interestingly enough, it is a recipe from Nigella Lawson.
I simply replaced the lavender sugar with my sakura sugar. The only problem was that I didn’t have enough of the sakura sugar. I had to supplement it with regular sugar. The proportions turned out to be about three-quarters sakura sugar to one-quarter regular sugar. I hoped it was enough to keep the sakura flavor prominent.
It was not.
There was the barest hint of sakura flavor to this cupcake. The barest. It was harder to detect with the frosting (I used the remainder of my vanilla bean frosting), but even by itself, the cake had such a subtle sakura flavor. It was hard to tell if I was really tasting sakura or just remembering what it tasted like.
Despite that, it did taste good. The cake had a very delicate crumb, light and spongy. I’m sure it’s quite tasty with the lavender sugar! And naturally, the frosting continues to be terrific. I can’t begrudge this cupcake its flavor. It’s fine. It’s a good cupcake. It’s a tasty cupcake. It’s just isn’t the cupcake I wanted.
Not what I wanted, but nobody complained. Geordie brought none of them home, though he wasn’t sure if anybody had actually tasted the sakura. Oh, well. Perhaps I’ll be able to try again in the future.