Comfort food

After all the sweet stuff the last week or so, it was a bit of a relief to check the calendar and see that today is both Chili Day and Cook a Sweet Potato Day (hey, I don’t name these things; I just cook ’em).

I love sweet potatoes, in almost any form, so I was happy to see this day on the calendar. Plus, chili is a delightfully versatile vehicle for a whole lot of different things, so I knew it wasn’t going to be hard to find a good recipe that combined the two.

Luckily I found this recipe, which combines sweet potato and black beans into something that sounded delightful. You start off by chopping up an onion and a sweet potato and throwing them into a pan to cook. Next you stir in some garlic, and a bunch of spices. The recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of chili powder, which sounds like a lot, except that you have to remember that sweet potato is, well, sweet, and the extra spice is necessary to help keep that sweetness from overpowering the rest of the dish.

Next you add some water and let everything simmer until the sweet potato chunks are cooked through, and finally you add in a can of diced tomatoes and a couple cans of black beans, heat that up, and then serve.

With a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of cheese on top, this was a delicious, homey bowl of goodness, which is something I really needed on a day like today when I’m battling a winter cold (ugh). We’ll definitely be making this one again, especially since all the ingredients are pantry staples.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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Sugar bomb

Today is both Pancake Day, and Sticky Bun Day.

What, you say, but wasn’t Pancake Day earlier?

Yes, but that was religious pancake day. And also there is yet *another* pancake day coming up later this month, on the 27th, because 2 Pancake Days apparently weren’t enough. Clearly all these National / International food day calendars need to coordinate better. Or maybe I wrote this one down wrong when I was making out the plan for the month. Who knows! Who cares! We’re doing pancakes again!

But I digress. These are two foods that are easy to combine, if one goes by not only the recipes on the internet (all hail the repository of all information no matter how obscure or weird), but also the fact that several restaurant chains actually have a Sticky Bun Pancake on their menus.

The concept is pretty simple. You make up a basic pancake batter and pour some onto a heated, prepared skillet. Then you squeeze a mix of melted butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon on the top, in a swirl.

That cooks for a bit, and then you flip it over and try to avoid making a giant mess, since the swirl mixture, as it heats up, gets all liquidy and is highly prone to splattering everywhere.

When it is done you have a giant pancake that sort of vaguely resembles a cinnamon roll.

And when I say ‘giant’, I mean that one pancake takes up most of the plate. I’m used to making much smaller pancakes, but this recipe only makes four of them, which should give you some idea of how big they are.

But wait, this can’t possibly be the end, can it? No, no it cannot! It’s not remotely over-the-top sweet enough yet! Because once the pancake is on the plate, then you add the final touch, which is a generous drizzle of cream cheese glaze.

There. Now it looks more like a (strangely flattened) sticky bun.

Verdict: They were tasty, for a ginormous cinnamon roll/pancake sugar bomb, but we both agreed they were far too big, and much too sweet. In fact, I didn’t even bother making the remaining two pancakes in the recipe, to save for later, because we really weren’t interesting in having them again.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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Today is both Muffin Day and Cherry Pie Day. Richard loves anything to do with cherries, but I most decidedly do not, and we really didn’t need me to make an entire pie for just one person, considering all the *other* baking I’ve been doing this month. So this morning I made muffins with pie filling inside them, in an effort to combine the two.

I used a pretty basic muffin recipe (from the red-checked Better Homes and Gardens cookbook I have on my shelf), but added about a tablespoon of filling to each. The cherry pie filling is from a can, because there are limits to how much time and effort I’m willing to spend on this challenge, especially for something only one of us is going to be eating. The apple pie filling, however, which I added to half the muffins instead of nasty cherry glop, was the last of a batch I canned a year or so back, so at least there’s that.

The muffins turned out about what one would expect for a straightforward muffin with nothing added but a dollop of pie filling. Richard reports that his cherry pie muffins were delicious, and I was quite happy with how the apple filling worked out in mine.

I had originally planned that just being the end of it, but there was a *lot* of filling leftover. So I pondered some more and eyed those tiny tart pans that have been so useful so far this month, and decided that I might as well do some tiny pies to try to use the stuff up.

So when I got home from work I threw together a pastry crust dough and I stuffed that in the fridge to cool, and then after dinner I made two tiny pies – one for Richard, with the cherries, and one for me with the apples.

And thus both National Food Days have been celebrated appropriately and deliciously (and we shall not discuss the fact that there’s *still* more pie filling lurking in the fridge for later).

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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Didn’t we do this already?

Today is Chocolate Mint day which seems a bit redundant, since earlier this month there was also Peppermint Patty day. But then I guess there’s other things you can do with chocolate and mint, so eh, whatever.

It being a Monday, which means very limited time for me to make anything, what with work and rehearsal, I went for something quick. I used this recipe, since it makes only two, but instead of adding in chocolate chips, I chopped up the last of the peppermint patties and mix those in instead. I do not own tiny skillets (nor do I foresee a need for me to own tiny skillets), but I *do* own tiny tart pans, so I just baked the brownies in those.

Verdict: This is a very delicious brownie (although I question the ‘for two’ designation, since each one could easily have been shared between two people on its own), but alas, the mint flavor didn’t really come through. Ah well. I think at this point, we’re a bit minted out anyway, so it wasn’t any great loss.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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Today is Pluto Day, which left me a bit stumped as to what to do for it (I mean, besides play this a few times).

But then I remembered that earlier this month there was a food day I didn’t actually celebrate, and also, thanks to the Tim Tams, I now own a key ingredient, so today we are celebrating Bagel and Lox Day (which was February 9th), except without the lox because neither of us is a fan.

I have tried bagels a couple times before, with minimal success. In theory, they should not be difficult, because it’s really just a fairly basic yeast dough, only you boil it for a bit prior to baking it. But previous attempts have turned out sad, flat discs that only resembled bagels in color, but not much else.

However, King Arthur Flour has a recipe and over the past few years I’ve learned that if I want to try baking something new, I should check on their website first, since pretty much every one of their recipes I’ve tried has turned out delicious. This particular recipe calls for, you guessed it, malt powder. Gosh, what a lovely coincidence!

The dough is pretty straightforward. I mixed it up and stuck it into my usual winter proofing space (microwave, after heating up a couple of those rice-filled heating pads, so that the interior, once the door is closed, stays at a nice, cozy temperature that yeast really likes). The recipe calls for cutting the dough into 12-16 pieces, but I actually did 24, because we wanted slightly smaller bagels. Forming the bagels is kind of fun, because basically you stab a hole in the middle of the dough ball and then spin it around on your finger to open it up.

Next, the rings get a short water bath in a mix of boiling water, malt powder, and sugar. This is what gives bagels their characteristic chewy outer skin. And finally, once they’re boiled, they go into the oven, and a short time later, you have bagels!

Unlike previous attempts, these turned out fantastic. They are chewy on the outside and soft in the middle, just like they should be. Some of them did turn out a little flatter than they should have been, but that was totally my fault – pro tip, don’t boil your dough rings until right before you are ready to stick them in the oven, or else they’ll start to deflate!

I’ll definitely be adding this to the regular bread-making rotation, and malt powder is now going to be a pantry staple. Yum!

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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Today is Random Act of Kindness Day, so I hope you all were nice to other people for no reason at all. But that’s not a food, or a thing that I can make (and an act of kindness done deliberately for a blog post doesn’t seem like it should count anyway).

Luckily, today is also National Indian Pudding Day, so hooray, we have a food thing to try.

I’ve heard of this thing before, but have never, as far as I can recall, tried it. A quick query to Google suggests that it’s called Indian Pudding because it’s made with cornmeal which was made from what they were calling, at the time, Indian corn, and that the colonists who came over to America used that because that’s what was available, to make foods similar to what they were used to eating back in Britain, and not because it is a food made by Native Americans. It’s still a bit of an uncomfortable name, but I didn’t find any good alternatives out there, so….Pudding-With-Inappropriate-Name, it is!

Anyway. The recipe seemed fairly straightforward. You start by boiling 3 cups of milk, and then whisking in a *very* small amount of cornmeal until it’s thick. Then you stir in ginger and cinnamon and various sweeteners (the recipe I used called for both molasses and maple syrup). There was a small part of me that enjoyed the fact that I was making this using only ingredients that the colonists might have had on hand (okay, I don’t know if that’s accurate when it comes to the spices, but the rest of the stuff works). Next you pour it into a baking dish and you stick it into the oven and bake it for half an hour, and then here’s where things got really weird. You pour in another cup of cold milk, and stick it back into the oven and it bakes for 1 1/2 to 2 hours more, until it has turned into something that *isn’t* strangely molasses-scented soup.

We had friends over, who were all warned that they were going to be guinea pigs for this recipe (none of them had ever had it either), but thankfully they’re all the sort who are game for trying weird things. I kept checking it and checking it but the center never really seemed to set. When I pulled it out of the oven, finally, the top was browned, as per the recipe instructions, but the middle was still a bit on the soupy side, and I wasn’t really sure if it was ever going to change, since it had looked the same for the past half hour in the oven.

Nevertheless, we all gave it a try.

The flavor isn’t bad. The molasses comes through, which is good because I am a fan of molasses. But the texture is a bit like eating molasses-flavored polenta, except not necessarily in a good way. It was a bit gloopy. I began to wonder if maybe the recipe itself was the problem.

Mm. Doesn’t *that* look appetizing!

A quick Google search brought back lots of variations on the recipe, but in all of them, the ratio of cornmeal to liquid is roughly the same. In some it was clear that the pudding had cooked down to something more resembling a soft cake; in others, the pudding was a bit more on the ‘gloopy mess’ side of the equation, suggesting that I’m not the only one who’s had this same problem.

It’s possible that this should be only done using whole milk, or cream, as that might help bind things together more. It’s possible that a little more cornmeal is needed. It’s possible there’s other ways I could redo this recipe to make it less of lumpy soup, but eh, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Let’s just say that I’m glad we’ve come a long way from the time when this was what people had to look forward to for dessert, and leave it at that.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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Today is National Tim Tam Day. Apparently these are a really big deal in other countries, but here in America they aren’t a grocery store staple like Oreos, so most of us have never had them. I, myself, am not entirely sure if I have ever tried an actual Tim Tam, although from pictures, I know it’s some kind of cookie that’s covered in chocolate. But will that stop me from trying to *make* them from scratch? No! No it will not!

I found this recipe, which seemed like a good one to follow. Basically you make a chocolate cookie dough, and you freeze that for a bit, and then cut it up and bake it and then set those aside to cool.

Yes, I know, Tim Tam purists, these are square and store-bought Tim Tams are rectangles, but the square cutter was a lot easier than trying to measure and cut these all by hand.

While the cookies are cooling, you mix up the filling, which is made with chocolate and malt powder. I would like to note, for the record, that I went out and bought malt powder specifically for this recipe. It’s not an ingredient that’s part of my normal repertoire.

Once the filling’s all mixed up and fluffy, then you assemble the cookies by putting a big dollop of filling on top of one cookie and put another cookie on top of that. Then you melt up a big bowl of chocolate and dip the cookies until they’re completely covered. Then those get chilled in the fridge until the chocolate sets, and poof, you have Tim Tams, or some vague approximation thereof.

Verdict: It’s….an awful lot of chocolate in one bite (dare I even say too much chocolate), and it’s a bit time consuming for what ultimately ends up only about a dozen cookies. Not sure it’s worth making them again, although if I did, I’d try a different filling (perhaps a lovely salted caramel instead? Or peanut butter?), and also find a way to make the chocolate coating a *lot* thinner.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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Today is National Gumdrop Day. Are you as thrilled as I am? Or not?

There are a bazillion recipes on the internet for how to do these, that use unflavored gelatin as the stiffening agent. However, I didn’t have any unflavored gelatin in the house and didn’t have any time to swing by the store. I *do* have, however, pectin. And the internets obliged with some ideas.

So….following the directions (which I’m not going to link here for reasons which will become clear shortly), I first cooked sugar and corn syrup until it reached the softball stage, meanwhile also cooking pectin, orange juice, and a little baking soda until it was all foamy. Then I mixed the two pans together and added a little food coloring so they would actually look like the orange flavor, and poured that into a pan to set, and stuffed it in the fridge to chill, and went on my merry way.

When I got back tonight, we unmolded the candy onto a cutting board and I cut off a small piece and handed it to Richard to try. He made a face. Sour. Hmm. Okay. Well, gumdrops are typically rolled in sugar, so I did that next, with a dozen or so pieces.

And then we both tried one. The look on Richard’s face made me laugh hysterically, only because it was likely mirrored on mine. So in case it wasn’t obvious, the reason I haven’t bothered to link any recipe is because these things are *nasty*. The texture was off-putting, the flavor was off-putting; really, there wasn’t any redeeming quality about them at all except that visually, they at least *look* like a gum drop.

Ah well. They can’t all be winners. Tomorrow’s Thing will hopefully end up a lot tastier.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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It’s the thought that counts

Today is Valentine’s Day, if you’re the type that celebrates it. Richard and I decided early on in our relationship that we weren’t really into it (this encapsulates our thoughts on the matter perfectly), but well, we now live with someone who’s a bit of a romantic at heart (or at least, he was), so we knew we had to make at least some attempt. And it is traditional to gift chocolates on Valentine’s Day…..

…so it’s convenient that today is also Cream Filled Chocolate Day (seriously, who comes up with these things??). Of course, we don’t actually own any candy molds. But we *do* own a small selection of strange and unusual silicon molds for ice and/or cake, so those would have to do.

Making candies is fairly straightforward. You melt some chocolate, pour it into your mold, then pour it *out* again, making sure all the sides are well coated. Then you stick that into the fridge to chill, while you make your fillings.

Richard wanted peanut butter. I wanted something that satisfied the ‘cream-filled’ part of the equation. Plus there was still some ganache left from Saturday that I wanted to try to use up. I found this recipe after a quick search of the internets (you can find pretty much *anything* on the internets!), so we were both set.

And what molds did we pick to use? Why, brains, of course!

They’re a little big for chocolate candies, and also I suspect we didn’t let them chill long enough to account for the size, which is why one of the coffee cream ones had a catastrophic blow-out as I was unmolding it.

I attempted to do a layering effect with the peanut butter ones, but I’m not sure how successful that was. Also, the chocolate ganache kind of melted with the coffee cream.

But the intended recipient was thrilled, even if they didn’t turn out perfectly.

Verdict: I thought they were a bit too sweet, but Richard loved them. Might try making candies again, at some distant future time, but only if I have much smaller molds, and some different filling options.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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There weren’t any food-related National Days for yesterday. I suppose I could have made one up, but Mondays are notoriously busy for me, what with work and rehearsal, so I decided I’d just skip it instead. Ah well. Today sort of makes up for it, though, because you’re getting two Things instead of just one!

First, today is Shrove Tuesday, which is apparently when Episcopalians eat pancakes for some reason. I hadn’t included this in my plan for the month, but when Richard, who happens to be an Episcopalian, informed me, I shrugged and said, sure, let’s do pancakes for breakfast, twist my arm. So I made an oven pancake, which is basically just a slightly eggier pancake batter, that’s cooked all at once in a skillet in the oven. The result is a slightly puffed ‘pan cake’, that you can then just slice up and serve with whatever toppings you are in the mood for.

We had ours with some of my home canned apple butter, and a dollop of whipped cream, since that seemed appropriate somehow.

More importantly, though, today is Tortellini Day. I admit there was a small part of me that initially pondered just buying tortellini at the store and having my Thing be the recipe that incorporated it. But making fresh pasta has been on my list of of things to do for a while, and Tortellini Day happened to fall on a night when neither of us had anything planned. So tonight, we made tortellini. From scratch.

We have a pasta roller, but it hadn’t ever been used and needed to be washed, so instead I just rolled the dough out by hand on the kitchen island. Once the dough was rolled as thin as I could get it (not quite as thin as if I was making strudel, but thin enough), I used my largest ring cutter to cut out circles, and then put a small dollop of filling (a mix of cheese and herbs) in the center of each.

Next they get folded over and shaped. The majority went onto a sheet pan to be dried and then frozen for later, because if one is going to go through the process of making pasta from scratch, one ought to make enough for more than a single meal.

But the first set got tossed immediately into some boiling water. Five minutes later, they were cooked, and shockingly, not a single one unfolded, or otherwise sprung a leak in the water.

We had them with a simple herb butter sauce, and a side of steamed broccoli, and they were quite tasty. The entire process took far less time than I had feared (even with having to roll the dough out by hand), and was far easier than I had anticipated. So I think it’s safe to say we’ll be making fresh pasta again in the very near future.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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