Co-op ‘Til You Drop

Dear Carolyne,

Firstly, where did the summer and fall go? Especially here in the hinterland, people are kind of freaking out because the nice weather is rapidly deteriorating and no one has recovered from last winter.

I don’t even know what I did this summer, aside from visit Seatlle and eat my weight in Chickpea Salad (tomatoes omitted because ugh gross).

I feel like I have been cooking a lot, partially because I have acquired a few new cookbooks. I picked up the How Sweet It Is cookbook, since I’ve had pretty good success with the recipes from her blog. However, the cookbook is called Seriously Delish, and that makes me gag so much that I had to buy it for my Kindle so no one would know my shame. In honesty, I used to not care much for this blogger’s writing style (and it is all a hair too cutesy for me still), but I tweeted about making one of her recipes once and she tweeted my back and was really sweet so now I just feel bad that I hate everything all the time.

Self portrait, courtesy of the internet.
Self portrait, courtesy of the internet.

I also picked up The Beeroness’s new cookbook (titled simply The Craft Beer Cook Book).  She is another blogger whose writing style doesn’t do a lot for me, but her recipes are legit and I used a bunch of them when I hosted Thanksgiving last year. I had a misstep recently when I tried to make her Porter Chorizo Black Bean Soup. I tried to make it vegetarian by using Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo, with which I am obsessed. I also made the mistake of trying to make this on a weeknight. I feel like the chorizo got a little charred, and even though I kept adding liquid, the beans never got cooked all the way. Drew loved it, though, so perhaps I am judging myself too harshly. I just find that when a meal bombs, I say to myself, “I can do better. I AM BETTER THAN THIS.”

Drew thinks I am nuts.

Lastly, I have been really enjoying the Thug Kitchen cook book, which surprises me because it is a low salt, vegan cookbook. They totally got me, actually, because I was too busy enjoying all the swearing to notice that was the case. I’ve made a few recipes out of the book now, and they have all been gems. However, as is often the case, I find that I’m happier if I at least double what they recommend for spices. I made their Pumpkin Chilli this weekend in the crock pot, and I definitely added double the chilli powder and probably quadruple the cumin.

I’m glad that you are getting to know your new city and that you have found a place with good pulled pork. I’m also glad that you’ve gotten so much use out of Going Solo in the Kitchen. That book taught me to poach chicken breasts, something for which I am eternally grateful.

Not much else is new here. I have been playing with Drew’s bread machine and using up old mixes that predate me by several years. I also joined the co-op where Dave and Linnea work. This has been fun, because I often see one or both of them when I grocery shop, and they have a great bulk section that contains things like beeswax and french green clay in addition to your usual flours and spices. Would that I could make such a place magically appear closer to you, so as to spare you further disappointing Kroger visits.

My personal Hell is Sam’s Club. Being in charge of the grocery shopping means that I have to stop there once a week and pick up a few things that Drew can’t seem to live without (mostly lunch meat). I did score 300 coffee filters for under $6 one day, though, so it is not always a total bust.

Love and chickpeas,

Anne

Corn Forever

Dear Carolyne,

First and foremost, congratulations on your new job! I am very excited for this new chapter in your life, though I will miss receiving postcards featuring busty opera singers.

Now her breasts are talking to God.
Now her breasts are talking to God.

While you are busy moving many states away from your current location (but also many states closer to me!), I made a pilgrimage to the motherland. That’s right. I went home to Iowa.

Well, not home exactly. I went to north eastern Iowa for my aunt Linnea’s 60th birthday celebration, then on to the river to stay with some friends. The celebration was lovely, even though my mom forgot the dates and couldn’t be there and I only saw Grandma Pat for a few minutes. We mostly drank beer and sat around a campfire, which it 100% cool with me.

While home in Iowa, I made it a priority to buy (of course) corn, which is in season. I am 100% a corn snob. I won’t buy it up here in Minnesota, claiming it is simply not as good (it’s not).

The essentials.
The essentials.

Okay, I did get some elote recently from the Sonora Grill, and it was good purely because it was smothered with all kinds of stuff. The corn itself still did not match up.

Alotta elote.
Alotta elote.

So anyway, I brought corn back with me to Minneapolis and cooked it up tonight. My original plan was to eat a few ears, save a few ears for Drew, and then use the rest in this bacon corn salad recipe I found. However, I’ve already eaten half of what I bought and Drew’s not even home yet.

Tempting.
Tempting.

Do you remember the first time you realized you didn’t have to eat how your parents ate? To this day it is one of the happiest things about adulthood I can name. Not that we ate poorly or anything, but it’s just so nice to realize that you don’t have to do anything a certain way because that’s how mom did it or whatever. Also, I never have to eat boiled dinner (kielbasa and new potatoes boiled together with, like, no seasoning) again. I hate you, boiled dinner.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is that of course it is fine and delicious to just put butter and salt on your sweet corn. BUT YOU DO NOT HAVE TO.

Instead, tonight I made a pesto compound butter and sprinkled my corn with pecorino romano. I have no pictures of this because I inhaled it.

For the pesto butter, I used about a 1:1 ration of pesto to butter, and added in about a half tsp of cayenne for subtle heat.

This picture is not attractive, but trust me, this stuff was delicious.
This picture is not attractive, but trust me, this stuff was delicious.

I am now corned out until next year, and I seriously doubt there will be leftovers once Drew gets home.

I hope your move goes smoothly! I can’t wait to hear about your new city and new job.

Love and sweet corn,

Anne

Can we do it? Yes, pecan!

Dear Annes,

To address the issues in your  most recent letter:

1. Car accident?! Why didn’t you tell me sooner!? I would have sent cookies.  (I still might.) Also, I’m glad your car is fine and you are relatively unscathed.

2. Jobs New and Old: You quitting your old job is probably a damn good thing because I know how much you didn’t like it. Also, what is your new job? You leave me with such cliffhangers? I’ve decided you’ve joined a knit-bombing team, and that’s your new job.

3. I’m glad you approve of Wesley, because I certainly do.  I think the two of you would get along swimmingly. Hopefully, you’ll be able to meet at some point.

4. Soups are the best. It’s getting colder up here in the hinterland, which mean soups galore.  I’m definitely going to have to try that chicken and wild rice soup.  You’re not the only one who likes a thick soup, and has a tendency to not be able to make a thinner soup.  Fortunately, most of the soups I’ve made in the past couple months have been curry based, so I can easily turn them into sauces.

5. Pumpkin bars?! I do not recall pumpkin bars being in my life. I’ll definitely have to make those as well.  Who can say no to pumpkin? No one.

Okay, so for Thanksgiving, I headed to Chicago to spend some quality time with my real parents aunt and uncle.  I was asked if I had ever made a pecan pie, which I had not.  So, I decided to experiment with pecan pies last weekend.  I did some research on pecan pies, and discovered they are traditionally made with corn syrup.  While I really appreciate a good ear of Iowa corn, I’m a little apprehensive about using corn syrup.  It’s just so controversial these days, and frankly I was not willing to serve controversy pie.  I did a little more research to see if there are like minded individuals in the world.  As it turns out, one can make a pie sans scorn syrup.  My game plan:  make 1 pie with corn syrup and make 1 pie without.  Thankfully, I had a ready and willing group of friends to taste test these pies.  Full disclosure, in the interest of time, I used pre-made pie crust.  Normally, I would have made my own.

Pie 1: Scorn Syrup

Pecan Pie
I don’t always take food pictures, but when I do, I try to make them artistic.

I used The Pioneer Woman’s pecan pie recipe.  I’ve always been a big fan of her recipes.  She’s on Food Network now, which could be interesting; I’ve not yet watched her show.  Anyway, the Pioneer Woman crushes/chops her pecans, which I did not do because I am more in favor of a beautiful pie rather than one that is more easily cut.  This pie says to bake for 50 minutes, the first 30 covered with foil, and the second 20 without.  I found that it took about 70-75 minutes to bake, but the Pioneer Woman did mention the baking time depended on the oven.  Due to some brunch reservations and some poor time management, the pie was undercooked by about 5 minutes, which meant the filling wasn’t as solid as I would have liked.  Overall, still pretty good.

Pie 2: Maple Syrup

Pecan Pie
Oh, so artistic.

For the second pie, I used Delightful Repast’s recipe.  This recipe calls for maple syrup instead of corn syrup.  This is something I could get behind.  This pie should have only been baked for 50 minutes, but I got a little concerned and ended up baking it for about 5 minutes too long.  Still good.

Let’s compare and contrast.  Pie 1 was sweeter and creamier than Pie 2.  However, Pie 2 highlighted the pecan flavor better.  Both pies were good, but the general consensus was the texture of Pie 1 was better, but the flavor of Pie 2 was preferable.  So, next time I will try to marry the two.

When my aunt and I started cooking for Thanksgiving, she already had a pecan pie recipe picked out from Cooking Light.  It appeared my research was rendered mostly useless.  However, I was able to explain to my uncle why the pecans are put on the bottom of the pie dish and how they make it to the top.  Scientific & Knowledgeable Carolyne was scientific and knowledgeable.  This recipe used brown rice syrup and maple syrup.  I was not a fan.  I could still taste the brown rice syrup after baking, and I’m not a big rice fan.  However, everyone else liked it, so that’s good.

Anne, can I tell you a story about my bread mishap at the Thanksgiving?  Okay, so on Thanksgiving my aunt and I realized we didn’t have any bread for the meal later that afternoon.  I suggested we make ciabatta bread since it’s relatively easy to make, and it’s delicious.  This is one of those “mostly in my head” recipes, but I have the actual recipe on hand, just in case.  Seeing as how I was in Chicago, and not the good old Coop, I had to rely on my memory and then call my mom to double check.  Well, my mother was eating Thanksgiving with my family because they wanted to celebrate before Kelsey went to work, meaning my mother did not answer, leaving me on my own.  So, I did what I thought was right, which turned out to be wrong (yay me).  I didn’t have enough water, so I thought I could fix it by adding the amount of water I needed.  Wrong again.  I ended up with a soupy mess and a bruised ego.   Fortunately, we had enough of the ingredients to start over.  My aunt rightfully did not trust me to do this correctly this time, so she hovered around to make sure we had the proper consistency.  On a positive note, the bread turned out perfectly, and my aunt made me a sandwich with the bread for the plane ride bake to New York.   I will leave you with the ciabatta recipe.

Ciabatta Bread

Yields 2 loaves

Ingredients

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 packet of yeast

pinch of sugar/honey for yeast

2 cups warm water

2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

1. Dissolve packet of yeast in water with sugar.  Wait 5-ish minutes.

2.  Mix flour and salt in big bowl.  (Make sure to actually mix the salt into the flour.  Salt kills yeast. Learned that from the aunt this weekend.)

3. Add oil and water to flour mixture.  Mix for 10-ish minutes. (Dough should be very sticky, but not soupy.)

4. Let rise for 30 minutes.

5. Flop. (aka scrape dough onto a board, fold one side to the other, fold once more)

6. Put dough back in the bowl. Let rise another 30 minutes.

7. Flop again.

8. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

9. Cut dough in half.  Form two loaves. Place loaves onto cookie tray(s).  Let rise while oven preheats.

10. Bake for 30 minutes, or until bread is golden brown on top.  Bread should sound hollow when tapped.

Love and Giblets,

Carolyne