21 February 2012

Vermont Ruminations; Adapted Cottage Pancakes

I recently returned from a quasi-vacation in Vermont - I sampled the local coffee shop-and-laptop culture for a few days, but the rest of my week was spent relaxing, sightseeing, and spending time with E's family. Not counting a few-hour layover in Newark for an international flight some years ago, this marks the first time I've visited a state in the East (Columbus, Ohio being my previous record, narrowly beating out Detroit). My liberal, snobby, San Francisco-yupster opinion of the place? In one word: cool. In more words:

Have you ever seen Portlandia, more specifically the song "Dream of the 90s" which opened the pilot? Well, Vermont was a bit like that, except instead of the dream being that of the 90s, it is that of San Francisco farm-to-table obsessives. The atmosphere is libertarian - taken to mean personal freedoms and self sufficiency, not whatever cable news has decided it means this week. There are co-op grocery stores with an embarrassingly large local produce section, restaurants striving for local ingredients, and plenty of land with which to fish, farm, hunt, harvest, and otherwise get the good stuff. Cast iron pans were everywhere, which one should take as a sign of an advanced culture. The meal's host would casually mention the wonderful farm/friend that provided ingredients, a spiritual opposite of the name dropping one finds on Kanye albums. That isn't to say everything is good - the restaurants that aren't trying to source local fare are not trying just as hard as other greasy spoons in other states. The diners are just as diner-y as elsewhere; the population density isn't quite high enough to support artisan coffee ($4.50 for a 8oz cup of drip and the sultry attitude when you ask for sugar and they say they only have simple syrup which you'll find next to the compostable napkins though, oddly, not near the compost bin for said napkins which doesn't exist).

I came back from the trip, then, with two cravings. The first was for good, not drinkable, coffee. The second was for pancakes. A home-cooked brunch featured a yeasted waffle recipe, complete with blue corn freshly ground that morning. And 101 Cookbooks posted the Cottage Pancakes recipe I've been dying to try. I don't have the recipe yet for the yeasted waffle/pancake batter, but I did bastardize the cottage pancakes.
I very much toned them down, taking only the idea of putting cottage cheese in pancakes and scaling it to a single serving (as I prefer). My batter was 1 egg, 1/4 cup oat floar, 1 tbsp cottage cheese, 1 tsp baking powder, and about a thumbs-length of crushed/pureed banana. I would up the cottage cheese but otherwise leave that alone and call it a success. Maybe change out the oat flour for something more standard (all purpose) or less standard (spelt/rye/etc mix).

I also wanted to cook some more simple, flavorful creations, so I made what you can see below. A recipe is left as an exercise to the reader. As a hint, the central part of the dish features roasted parsnip in a mushroom/onion "gravy" (a bit of butter and a helping of water). The only spices were cayenne (on the asparagus), rice vinegar (dressing for the arugula salad), and herbes de provence (in the gravy).

07 February 2012

Ethnically Challenged "Latkes", and a Twist on Rosemary Loaf

Continuing a theme of amazing weekend weather, we had another one. A somewhat hectic schedule led to me eating exactly 2 meals at my apartment the entire weekend, Friday included. One of which was a simple breakfast. Now, some of that was warranted. A truffle-making class Saturday morning gave me the opportunity to take E to Sightglass coffee. Her comments were mostly "I can't believe your drip cost more than my latte", "this is pretty good", and "yeah, you were right, this place is pretty awesome inside". Lets consider that a glowing endorsement. The truffle class was wonderful; I feel like I can make truffles at home. Some cooking classes I've been to and heard of are more like a dinner party; the instruction takes a back seat to drinking wine, socializing, and doing (but not being instructed in) prep work. Not this one.

The lack of cooking finally caught up to me on Sunday; not wanting to go to the grocery store I settled on quinoa and apple. Not the most exciting meal, but spruced up with a little bit of earthy pu-erh tea in the water, pan-toasted almonds, and a light mirin-cayenne finish it was a nice grounded meal after a weekend of heavier fare. It also put me in the mood to do something Japanese; I wanted tempura but didn't want to deep fry something. So I made latkes, except Japanese. Both those words should be in air quotes, by the way.
A recipe would do no good, but the thought process was such: latkes are a starch + egg/flour (binding) + flavor. Replace the shredded potato (starch) with sushi rice (also a starch) and move the flavoring away from the normal (onion, sour cream) to something Japanese (shitaki, seaweed, edamame) to get a new dish. It worked, impressively. 2/3 cup cooked sushi rice, 2 eggs, enough corn flour that I felt it was binding, and far too many hand-extracted edamames later, I had something that would form into patties and cook in a bit of oil. For a bit of final flavor, I also added a tad of furikake to the batter, a pre-cooked shitake pressed onto the top of each, and served on a piece of dried seaweed. Pre-cooked mushroom is important to get all that moisture out. I served it with a bit of raw kale and cucumber salad, with cooked kale just because I love kale so much. The only lack was wasabi, which I left at E's when we made latkes in the past.

I also found the time to toy around with bread - I think my loaves are doing well flavor-wise, but the visuals are sometimes lacking. With this last loaf, I was going for a tiled pattern, with raised, flour-coated tiles separated by rivulets of cheese tween them. You can see how that turned out:
In short, there was a bit of flooding. I think my problem was a too-short rise; given the temperature of my apartment and my impatience, this is unsurprising. What I attempted to do was make a cold-fermented loaf (that is, mix the dough at night and let it rise in the fridge) with a bit of rise time before it went to sleep for the night, and putting it to bed pre-shaped. I gave it 1.5 hours on top of the 45 minutes of mixing + stretch and fold, then another hour in the morning before going in the oven (instead of 2 hours). I'm unsure if it needed a longer night rise or a longer morning rise; the Tartine bread gets exclusively a night-time rise and has an amazingly crispy crust so that leads me in the direction of more pre-ferment proofing.

The pattern was made by coating the top in flour then scoring a grid on the loaf. Finely-grated hard cheese (like asiago, for instance) was carefully sprinkled into the cuts, making sure it didn't spread out of the lines. I did the scoring immediately after bringing the dough from the fridge; pushing this off until cook-time might be preferred, which is less of an issue if it doesn't have a morning rise at all.