Still Life, With Cats

This content shows Simple View


Light as air

Do you know what today is? It is February 28th! That means it’s the last day of Thingadailies.

We started the month with chocolate, in the form of baked Alaska, so I suppose it’s only fitting that we end the month with chocolate as well. Conveniently, today is National Chocolate Souffle Day. I hope you all pulled out the whisks and celebrated appropriately.

Souffle is one of those fussy sort of recipes that I’ve tried in the past (in both sweet and savory forms) with varying levels of success. If you’re not careful, you end up with something that tastes overly eggy, or lumpy with bits of cooked egg. It’s also not a food that I get excited about in general, so it’s not like I’ve spent much time trying to perfect it. Nevertheless, I figured I’d give it a shot. Considering that chocolate souffles were a Technical Challenge on one season of Great British Bake-off, I went into this with a bit of trepidation.

I used this recipe. It calls for two six-ounce souffle dishes but we’re not that fancy around here, so I used two tiny little Pyrex bowls that are 5 ounces each, and hoped for the best.

It’s a recipe with several fiddly steps – melting chocolate and then stirring in butter, whipping egg whites, and then carefully combining the two mixtures together in such a way that you minimize the loss of any volume you just whipped into the egg whites. The dishes are buttered and then sugared, and then filled to the brim, and then they get stuck into the oven on the lowest rack for fifteen minutes.

We kept careful watch on the oven as the souffles cooked and both of us gave a little cheer when it started to puff up over the sides of the bowl. When the timer went off I pulled them out, and then hurriedly poured the creme anglais over the top so I could take a picture.

It’s not very impressive-looking, I know, but it turned out really, really well. Shockingly, I managed to make two perfect little souffles. The inside was smooth and literally just melted in the mouth, with no little bits of egg, or graininess from the chocolate. I even managed to do justice to the creme anglaise, which was smooth and sweet and a nice accompaniment to the chocolate.

Definitely nice to end this year’s Thingadailies on a high note.

A satisfying crunch

Today is Tortilla Chip Day. Obviously the quickest way to make tortilla chips is to go buy some tortillas, cut them into wedges, and cook them. But you all know me well enough by now to know that that just wasn’t going to cut it – at least not on a weekend day when I actually have time to do more.

So first thing this morning, when I got up, I made some tortillas. I know that technically tortillas are either flour *or* corn, and this recipe combines them, but it sounded interesting, so I figured why not.

You mix up the dough and then divide it into 10 balls and let them sit for half an hour to rest. This gives the cornmeal time to soak up some of the moisture.

Then you roll each little ball into a roughly 8 inch circle. My circle-rolling skills are not fantastic, but I did my best to get them reasonably well shaped.

They are, by the way, rolled *extremely* thin, as you can see.

Next you cook them in a hot, ungreased frying pan for about 45 seconds per side. Of course, then while putting them into the pan, they had a tendency to wrinkle up, and lose their shape, so my inability to roll things into a perfect circle didn’t really have much bearing in the grand scheme of things anyway.

A pile of finished tortillas.

These aren’t a flexible tortilla (I’ve made flour tortillas before, which turned out soft and pliable); they’re more a bit stiff and slightly rubbery. I suspect if I’d cooked them a little less per side they’d still have been soft, but that’s okay, because soft isn’t the ultimate goal for today.

Once the tortillas were all done, the next step was to turn them into chips. I cut each into 8 wedges, then spread those out on a baking sheet, gave them a quick spritz with some nonstick spray, and a liberal shake of salt, and tossed those into the oven to bake until crispy.

And what better way to enjoy my slightly lopsided homemade tortilla chips, than with some nachos! We pulled a bag of pulled pork out of the freezer and topped it with some cheese and salsa and sour cream, and then dug in.

Verdict: These were absolutely delightful. They’re a bit more fragile than the ones you buy at the store, possibly because they’re baked and not fried. The chips were crispy, but still had that slight grit that you expect from a corn tortilla chip, while crumbling nicely in the mouth.

Would I make them again? Maybe. It’s a bit of work to do all the steps, and we don’t actually eat chips all that often, but I’m not ruling this out, next time I have a couple hours to spare and we have the urge for something with a bit of crunch.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Not fur me

Today is National Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day. I’m not entirely sure why we’re supposed to appreciate them, but whatever, I’m just here for the baking of weird things.

Since I don’t have dogs, but I *do* have cats, I decided to fudge it a bit and instead of making dog biscuits, I made cat treats instead.

There’s lots of recipes online for how to make treats for your particular variety of furry companion, but I used this one. The ingredients list is short – a can of tuna, an egg, some flour, and for some bizarre reason, parsley (I skipped that one). You whisk it all together in a food processor or a blender, then roll it out, cut it into tiny little shapes, and bake them.

Richard provided assistance for this one, in the form of distracting the cats, first with the juice from the can of tuna as it was drained, and then while I was rolling out the dough, in case any of the cats came over to investigate. Luckily the cats were sated enough with the tuna juice to leave me and my dough alone.

One recipe makes a *lot* of tiny little treats, by the way. A *lot*.

Some of the cats were interested, at first.

From left to right, Sherman, Azzie, Rupert.

But Azzie was the only one who actually ate the treat and yelled for more. Nutmeg, naturally, wasn’t interested because in her eyes, anything that isn’t kibble is Not Food (weird cat). Sherman and Ruby just nibbled on theirs and then left the slightly gummy mess on the floor and looked at me as if to say ‘why should we care?’ Ingrid sniffed it and then gave the cat equivalent of a shrug and walked away, while Rupert ate one but slowly, and without much enthusiasm.

The recipe didn’t call for the size of tuna can, and I wonder if I was supposed to use the larger one, and not the smaller one, because I had to add a bunch more flour to make the dough stiff enough to roll. Richard and I tried them (because why not?) and they’re kind of….bland. Sort of like a cracker with the barest hint of tuna flavor, and not much else.

Ah well. The cats will just have to settle for all the other treats in the house. Poor neglected things.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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.


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.

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.


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.


Today is National Peppermint Patty Day. So naturally I had to make peppermint patties, because why not.

I admit, that until this challenge, peppermint patties were not a thing that ever crossed my mind one could make at home. But it turns out they are shockingly easy!

This is the recipe I used, although there’s lots of varieties out there on the internets. Hooray for the internets!

First you stir together a large quantity of powdered sugar with some sweetened condensed milk and some peppermint extract. An electronic mixer is going to be your friend here because basically you are actually making your own fondant and it is *stiff*. Taste it at this point, to see if you want to add more peppermint extract or not.

Then you dump it onto a powdered-sugar-covered surface, and roll it out.

Do not skimp on the powdered sugar, by the way, because otherwise this stuff will stick like *crazy*. Also a bench scraper is totally your friend if that happens. Possibly I speak from experience. Mayyyyybe.

Next you cut it out into little circles. I happen to have a set of circular cutters, one of which was the right size, but you could easily use the top of an appropriate-sized jar, or you could roll the stuff into little balls and flatten them with your fingers, or you could just cut them into any shape that isn’t round. Go crazy!

Those go into the fridge to chill, and also to give you time to get the chocolate ready, which is just baking chocolate (or chocolate chips if you prefer) melted and mixed with a dash of oil to keep it from being too thick.

Once the little discs are chilled, then you get to make a ginormous mess. Um. I mean, you dip them in chocolate, and unsuccessfully avoid getting it everywhere. Or maybe that’s just me.

Those go back into the fridge to chill, and when they’re done, you have peppermint patties!

Verdict: These are delicious and taste just like a York Peppermint Patty, except that they’re more…uh…rustically shaped. They should be stored in the fridge, so the chocolate doesn’t melt.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.


Today is National Cream Cheese Brownie Day, but I’m not actually going to talk about that, because there won’t be any of those in this house. Not that I have any issues with Cream Cheese Brownies – they are quite tasty – but because today was this month’s #BakingSisters day, so instead of doing the National Day thing, we made mini Swiss rolls.

Originally we were going to use this recipe, which was used in a Technical Bake in the most recent season of Great British Bake Off, but then I went a-Googling, and found some other options, and so instead, I used the cake from this recipe, and the filling and ganache from this one. I do love peppermint and the thought of peppermint cream inside tiny little chocolate cakes sounded delightful but that was going to end up as an awful lot of peppermint for the weekend (spoilers!), so I went with peanut butter instead.

My pastry-chef-by-training sister recommended that a sponge would be a better option than the cake we’re more familiar with in America, so we started with that. You mix eggs and sugar over a double boiler until the sugar is dissolved, and then decant that into a mixer and whip until it’s pale yellow and fluffy. Then you carefully fold in a mix of flour, cocoa, and salt, and also some melted butter.

I was *so* careful when folding (I’ve seen enough people on GBBO fold too quickly and lose all their volume) but my batter still shrunk a lot by the time I was done, so maybe I didn’t get the egg and sugar mix whipped enough to start with. Who knows!

Next you spread the batter out into prepared sheet pans (covered with parchment paper and then greased and sprinkled with cocoa powder). Here is mine.

It looks kind of sad. My sisters was a much lighter color and filled her sheet to the rim, so clearly one of us had a misstep, and considering which of us has had prior training, I’m guessing it was me!

Then it goes into the oven and bakes for 6 minutes, and as soon as it’s out, you immediately dump it out of the pan onto a clean kitchen towel that’s been sprinkled with cocoa powder. Hah. My sister was frantically warning me ‘cut the corners!’ so the cake wouldn’t stick to the pan, but, uh, see above for why that was not remotely an issue for my cake.

After it’s onto the dish towel, you roll it up right away, apparently so that the cake then has the ‘memory’ of the roll once it’s cooled. Which sounds really really weird to say but totally works.

While that cooled on the counter, then we made the fillings. My sister made two fillings – one peanut butter and one caramel, but I stuck with just the peanut butter filling, which is really just peanut butter buttercream. It is, by the way, insanely delicious and I was a Very Loving Wife when I let Richard lick the whisk attachment after I was done instead of keeping it all to myself, even though I was VERY VERY tempted.

So once the cake is cooled, then you unroll it, *carefully*, and fill it. Because we were making tiny rolls, we first cut the cake into quarters, and then filled each one individually and rolled those up. I did not, for some bizarre reason, take a picture of them pre-rolled, but here they are, after being rolled up, and before going into the freezer to chill.

I am quite pleased to report that there was minimal cracking on any of my rolls! I know this is an issue because every time there is a rolled cake challenge on GBBO, someone has a massive cracking failure, so hooray for the lack thereof! Also, if some pieces fell off the ends, well quality control is important and the cake tasted quite fine.

After the cakes were chilled enough that the filling was firm inside, then we cut them into pieces.

Aren’t they pretty? I totally didn’t make sure to turn them all so that the nicer side face the camera, nope, not at all.

The final step was ganache, so we heated up cream (or in my case half and half, because that’s what I had in the fridge) and poured that over chocolate and corn syrup, and whisked that together until it was smooth and lovely, and then poured it over the little cakes.

The recipe called for dunking each cake individually but that seemed like a lot of hassle, and I was worried there would end up being too much chocolate and the peanut butter flavor would be lost. So instead I just spooned it over the tops of mine, so the pretty swirls were still visible (well, except for a few drips), and then sprinkled them with chopped peanuts.

Also when one is the baker and there are trimmings and leftover filling and ganache, one *has* to do more quality testing. Many yummy noises were made on both sides of the camera. So many.

Here we are with our finished rolls! This is from my sister’s side of things, because I had to use both hands to hold up my tray, and she was thus the only one with an available hand to work the camera.

And how, you might ask, do they taste?

SO VERY AMAZING. The peanut butter filling is very light and fluffy and really helps counteract the dark chocolate of the ganache and the cake. Five stars, would totally make again some day when I have lots of hours to spare and don’t mind turning the kitchen into a cocoa-powder-coated disaster zone again.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

If the moon hits your eye

Today is National Pizza Day, which is a lovely thing to happen on any day, because pizza encompasses two of the basic food groups (bread and cheese).

I’ve made pizza a bazillion times over the years, because as much as I love delivery pizza (especially if they have a garlic sauce), there is something special about making it yourself.

Pizza dough itself is pretty simple – it’s just flour, water, yeast, salt, and olive oil. I guess you can stir in other stuff if you want, but I’d rather do all my extras on the top, instead of burying them in the dough. It should be a soft dough, but not sticky (if you do it by weight, you’ll likely get a perfect dough every time; if you do it by volume, like most American recipes call for, you’ll likely have to make adjustments to the amount of water and/or flour you use, each time you make it). I always make mine in the morning and stash the bowl in the fridge, so it rises slowly over the day.

I’m a pizza purist – plain cheese pizza is always going to be my favorite – but I also do like other toppings from time to time. I’ve got a pizza stone, which is a lovely way to bake your pie because it provides the best amount of heat to really cook the bottom through, but I also have tiny little individual-sized pizza pans for when there’s a crowd over and we need to get a whole pile of pizzas set up quickly, or if we’re making up a batch to keep in the freezer for lunches or quick dinners later in the week.

I also make my own sauces, because I can (and often am able to end up using my own canned tomato sauce to start with). I prefer a minimal amount of sauce if it’s red, because otherwise the acidity of the tomatoes starts to really take over (and also that way the cheese can really shine, because let’s face it, pizza is a really good excuse to eat more cheese. Mmm. Cheese.)

Tonight, since it was just the two of us, we decided to use the pizza stone instead of the tiny little pans, so the pizzas look a bit rustic. I decided to do one with garlic sauce (make a roux, add garlic and cream or milk, cook until thick)…

…and one with red sauce (which got a little overcooked, oops, because we weren’t paying attention).

Both are topped with exactly the same thing – mozzarella, a sprinkling of cheddar, and some turkey sausage crumbles we had leftover in the freezer. And both were quite, quite delicious.

Also, it turns out leftover orange/peach frozen yogurt goes shockingly well with molasses bars. In case you were wondering.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.