On the uniqueness of (personal) libraries

Photo showing part of a narrow bookcase with three shelves, containing a variety of reference works

Some of my books


What’s the minimum number of books required to positively identify someone by their personal collection? For me, at least, I’m willing to bet that it’s two: if anyone else has both the late Dick Golembiewski’s Milwaukee Television History and Eugene Holman’s 1984 Handbook of Finnish Verbs, seen at opposite ends of the center shelf in the photo at left, I would be very surprised. Of course, some people own no books at all, and a great many people own only books a great many other people also own. But it occurred to me the other day that this bookcase (you’re looking at the top 3/5 of my reference library) is about as close as anything to summarizing the sort of things I’m interested in — although computer networks, my nominal day job, are notably missing (as indeed that subject is from the rest of my non-fiction collection as well). I generally don’t care to buy technical non-fiction as it tends to be obsolete before it even makes it into the distributor’s warehouse.

Prof. Holman (then and I believe still today at the University of Helsinki) shared with me his program FINNMORF, a BASIC program which implemented all of the morphology of Standard Finnish, nouns and adjectives as well as verbs, which was an outgrowth of his work on the verb book. I made a desultory effort at rewriting it in C, but never got as far as a working example; today you’d probably use a more sensible language. I was in Finland as an exchange student in 1988–89, which made the matter of Finnish morphology rather more than an academic question for me.

Writing this caused me to spend a rather unproductive hour playing with Google Street View trying to see if I could recognize any of the places I had been 25 years ago. Helsinki railroad station I thought I recognized, but the YFU offices are long gone from Vironkatu 6, not that I would necessarily have recognized the building anyway. (YFU, the Youth For Understanding exchange agency, was located on the second floor, stairway “A”, room 11.) I couldn’t recognize either of the schools I had been in, and I’m pretty sure that there were no Subway sandwich shops overlooking the market square in Turku back in the summer of 1988. I was able to find the place I lived for most of my time in Finland, but as it’s at the end of a long wooded driveway I wasn’t able to see the building itself. Finland has more freeway now than it did back then, and the European “E routes” have all been renumbered. (The highway from Helsinki to Turku was the E3 back in the 1980s, but is now the E18; similarly, national highway 5 was the E80 and is now E63.)

Posted in Books, Language, Transportation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Chocolate chip cookies two ways

A few weeks ago, I made chocolate-chunk cookies from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook. I was disappointed, since I had had these at the actual Flour bakery numerous times, and mine weren’t nearly as good. I discovered two significant issues. First, the explanatory text calls for 65% cacao chocolate or thereabouts, but the recipe itself says “semisweet”, and that’s what I used — few people would consider 65% to be in that category; in the supermarket, anything over 60% is normally “bittersweet”. Second, the recipe says to drop the cookies in ¼-cup balls — i.e., a #16 disher — but these are actually much too large to give the specified yield of the recipe. I queried Chang on Twitter about this, and she said that in the bakery, they actually weigh them, with the proper size being 60–65 grams (or about 2 ounces). By comparing the actual and predicted yield, I figured that the correct size was either a #20 or a #24 disher. (Disher sizes are measured in scoops per quart, so a #32 disher holds one fluid ounce, a #16 disher holds two ounces, and so on. Cookie dough is significantly denser than water, so 2 fl. oz. of dough weighs rather more than 2 oz. avoirdupois.)

Chang admits to being influenced by the Default Recipe — i.e., the Toll House recipe — and I suspect most Americans who have been baking for any length of time both have that recipe memorized and also have their own variations. Chang’s recipe deviates from the standard in a number of ways: she mixes in chopped milk chocolate in addition to the dark chocolate chunks, she swaps out some of the all-purpose flour for bread flour, and she bakes the cookies longer (18 minutes) and at a lower temperature (350°F). Like many modern bakers, she recommends resting the cookie batter in the refrigerator overnight. She doesn’t specify the actual chocolate she uses, but in the bakery the cookies are clearly labeled as using TCHO, a California-based company which makes many different chocolate blends (including, as I understand it, custom flavor profiles for large wholesale customers).

Photo showing six cookies on a wire cooling rack

This is how the Flour cookies came out when I tried to make them. They are about a third too large.


Since I wasn’t especially happy with my attempt at making Chang’s recipe, I figured I would go back to my own recipe, also a variation on the Toll House theme. This is a slight variation on a recipe I’ve had on my Web site for some time. I usually don’t specify brand names of ingredients in my recipes, but in this case I’m going to be very specific. Here’s the recipe, as I made it most recently:

Ingredients:

Dry ingredients
170 g KAF organic unbleached all-purpose flour
100 g KAF organic unbleached white whole-wheat flour
1 tsp table salt (you can use less if you prefer)
1 tsp baking soda
10 oz (280 g) bag Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet baking chips
120 g toasted walnuts, chopped (optional)
Wet ingredients
½ lb (225 g) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
160 g India Tree dark muscovado sugar
145 g granulated sugar
2 large Country Hen organic eggs
1½ tsp Nielsen-Massey pure Mexican vanilla extract

Procedure:

  1. In a food processor, pulse together brown and granulated sugars to break up clumps and mix thoroughly.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together the flours, salt, and baking soda. Stir in chocolate chips.
  3. In a small bowl, beat eggs and vanilla together using a fork.
  4. Using a stand mixer with paddle beater, cream together butter and mixed sugars on medium speed for 3–5 minutes, stopping half way to scrape down the bowl and beater. Add egg mixture and beat for another minute or until smooth, then scrape down bowl again.
  5. With mixer on low speed, slowly add flour-chocolate mixture and stir until combined, scraping down bowl one more time. Fold in nuts, if using. Transfer to an air-tight container and refrigerate overnight.
  6. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Set oven rack in middle position.
  7. Scoop out balls of dough using a #20 disher onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, 5 inches apart on center. (Nine cookies fit on a standard standard baking sheet; eight on a standard half-sheet pan.) Cover the sheet with plastic wrap or waxed paper and flatten the balls with the palm of your hand.
  8. Bake for 10–12 minutes, until the edges of the cookies just start to turn golden. Let rest in the pan, on a cooling rack, for another 5 minutes, then remove to a separate cooling rack until completely cool.
  9. Store in an air-tight container.

When I made these last, I divided the batter in two and only added walnuts to half the batch — I have a coworker who is allergic to walnuts and she makes a sad face whenever I bring something in that has walnuts in it. The yield and nutrition information below, however, are based on putting walnuts in all the cookies. I was pretty unhappy with the performance of my #20 disher (by Oxo); although it measured the right amount of dough (verified by scale), I found it very difficult to get it to release the dough ball intact. I let the dough warm up for about an hour before forming the cookies; I’m not sure if that helped or hindered. (When the batter is left in the refrigerator overnight, the butterfat recrystallizes, making it quite stiff and very difficult to portion.) Maybe next time I’ll try lubricating the disher with baking spray. In any event, here’s what mine look like out of the oven and mostly cooled:

Photo showing twelve chocolate-chip cookies on a wire cooling rack

The chopped walnut pieces are clearly visible in these cookies, which isn’t always the case.

The chocolate chips take a long time to recrystallize, and are often still liquidous by the time I’m ready to clean up the kitchen and put the cookies away, as shown in the following photo:

Photo showing the bottom of a chocolate-chip cookie

This cookie, shown bottom-side-up in my cookie jar, was made without walnuts, and was also slightly underbaked. It’s not uncommon for the chocolate chips to end up denser at the center than at the edges, resulting in a liquid chocolate center that is difficult to lift with a spatula, thus the hole.

Note that my cookies are actually quite flat, and do not have the layered structure that the Flour cookies do; I’m not sure what the reason for that is: it could be chips versus chunks, whole-wheat flour vs. bread flour, or even differences in the leavening. It might even be due to the fact that I let the dough warm up a bit before baking, or that I used the traditional time and temperature rather than Chang’s lower, slower procedure. Lots of things to play with here; it would be fair to say that my cookies never come out exactly the same, since I’m constantly fiddling with the procedure or the ingredients. In any event, I actually really like the layers in the bakery version, but on the other hand, I also like the deeper color and extra molasses-y punch of the dark brown sugar in my recipe.

Nutrition

Well, nobody ever accused chocolate-chip cookies of being good for you. This is for mine; due to the measurement issue mentioned up top, I don’t have useful numbers for the Flour cookies. Reducing the size further, to a #24 disher, would reduce all of these numbers by about 17%, and should make about 26 cookies. (The target weight would then be 50–55 g.)

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 cookie (about 63 g uncooked dough)
Servings per container: about 22
Amount per serving
Calories 279 Calories from fat 155
% Daily Value
Total Fat 17g 26%
 Saturated Fat 6g 30%
 Polyunsaturated Fat 3g
 Monounsaturated Fat 1g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 39mg 13%
Sodium 171mg 7%
Potassium 20mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 29g 10%
 Dietary fiber 1.5g 6%
 Sugars 18g
Proteins 3.5g 7%
Vitamin A 6%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0%
Iron 4%
Posted in Food | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A useful trick when photographing food in the kitchen

Always buy plain white paper towels. When you want to photograph something you’re preparing, just crumple up a paper towel and make sure you get it in the frame. Then you have an accurate reference for white-balancing your photograph, without guesswork, and you can always crop it out in processing.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged ,

Jeff Smith’s “Serbian Pork Seasoning”

People my age or older who have been cooking for a long time probably remember Jeff Smith, the Methodist minister known as “The Frugal Gourmet” in PBS television series and related cookbooks. He was perhaps the last of the “old-style” (non-celebrity) TV cooks to have his own series on PBS, back when PBS was the only venue for such shows, and when he was accused of improprieties with children, he quickly vanished from the airwaves. According to the Wikipedia article, no criminal charges were ever brought, and he and his accusers eventually reached an out-of-court settlement, but it ended his television career. Smith died in 2004, but later TV cooks have acknowledged his influence, which helped to keep the genre alive during the 1980s when Julia Child was not making television. I’m no chef, TV or otherwise, but I certainly remember watching The Frugal Gourmet avidly, and my mother owned (still owns) a number of the spin-off cookbooks.

One of the recipes in The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors was labeled “Serbian Pork Seasoning”. I have no idea if it’s actually Serbian in origin, or how authentic it is, but it has long been a family favorite, and I and my parents still use it as our standard rub for pork chops.

Two pork chops are coated with the seasoning on both sides

Two pork chops are coated with the seasoning on both sides

I don’t have the cookbook (my mother still has it), but I recall the formula as being something like this: four parts fennel seed, two parts black peppercorns, two parts salt, one part sugar. Stick this in your spice grinder and let it rip until everything is ground to a fine green-grey powder, shown above rubbed onto two pork loin chops. I’ve tried numerous variations in the cooking method for the pork, with brine and without, and I think I like my most recent attempt the best (which is not to say it can’t be improved).

After cooking, the two pork chops rest in a plastic storage container (although anything not at oven temperature would be fine)

After cooking, the two pork chops rest in a plastic storage container (although anything not at oven temperature would be fine)

Ingredients:

  • Bone-in pork loin chops, 10 oz. each
  • Pork seasoning (1 tbl per chop)
  • 1/2 tbl vegetable oil

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place oil in a 9-inch or larger cast-iron skillet.
  2. Using a sharp knife, make two slits in the fat side of each chop, evenly spaced, just deep enough to cut through the membrane between the fat and the lean.
  3. Rub seasoning onto chops, 1/2 tbl per side, and allow the chops to sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.
  4. Heat skillet until the oil just starts to smoke, about 400°F.
  5. Put chops into skillet and sear one side for 3 minutes.
  6. Flip the chops onto the uncooked side and move the skillet to the oven. Let roast until the internal temperature in the thickest part of the chop reaches 145°F, about 10 minutes. (My first attempt was for 12 minutes, and the chops were slightly overcooked.)
  7. Immediately remove the chops from the skillet and allow them to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Because the proportions are inexact, I can’t provide nutrition information. (In my diary, I simply recorded the 10-oz. pork chop, since I’m not tracking sodium.) This procedure should actually work with pretty much any pork rub you please, so long as it does not contain too much sugar. Don’t use thin-cut pork chops; they are a crime against the noble hog.

Posted in Food | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

On canned tuna and tuna salad

Canned fish is an odd thing in general, a relic of a previous era when there was no practical way of transporting highly perishable foods over long distances, so it had to be preserved (by drying, salting, or smoking) or canned just to get to market at all. Tuna salad, as we know it today, is one of the few home-prepared foods the main ingredient of which can only be canned. But there are a lot of varieties of canned tuna, and many different ways of preparing tuna salad. What I present here is the “tuna salad snob’s” way of making it.

Foodservice tuna salad is nearly always disappointing: pasty at best, soupy at worst, with finely ground tuna and vegetables, usually with an overly-sweet dressing reminiscent of Miracle Whip. (Full disclosure: when I was little, the only way I would eat tuna salad or indeed cold-cut sandwiches was with Miracle Whip, on squishy Fassetts “Italian Sourdough” bread. I got over it.) Some varieties add herbs, but very few have a pleasing texture. Even at Whole Foods, the tuna salad often sits around, both in pre-pack containers and in the display case, until it exudes an unappetizing brown liquid. (I also have been unable to get Whole Foods to tell me where their tuna is sourced from, which leads me to believe it comes from the same Thai and Vietnamese factory ships as the “industry leaders”.)

Homemade tuna salad is not without its pitfalls, either. For a start, the FDA “standards of fill” for the standard tuna can (nominally six ounces) do not require that it actually contain six ounces of tuna, even when labeled “6 oz.” Most commercial “solid white albacore” canners put only a small chunk of pre-cooked tuna into their cans, and fill out the rest with a glutamate broth (listed as “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” on the ingredients list but often “spring water” on the principal panel of the label) and a mush of processing-line scraps. These commercial varieties are cooked twice: once as a whole fish, which makes it easier to separate the loins from the skeleton of the tuna, and then again after canning to kill any bacteria that made it through the processing line. The manufacturers of these products have engaged in a systematic, lock-step reduction in the label weight of the tuna as well: the 6-ounce can of my youth now holds barely more than 5 ounces. (The FDA standard of fill only requires a bit more than 3 ounces solid matter in a 6-ounce can, but the requirements for label weight are different.)

For a long time I despaired of ever getting decent tuna salad again: the cans I could buy had barely enough tuna for 1 1/2 sandwiches’ worth, and the prepared tuna in the deli case was disgustingly wet and pasty. (I always suspected that they were preparing it in a commercial food processor, which must be much cheaper than flaking the tuna by hand.) But about five years ago or so, it became possible to buy canned tuna that was only cooked once, in six-ounce cans that actually contained nothing but a single six-ounce tuna loin section, no added water or glutamate. I buy “American Tuna” brand tuna now, which is line-caught by U.S.-registered boats and landed and canned at U.S. ports. It’s fairly pricey compared to the stuff from Thailand — $5 to $6 a can — but when you consider that one can makes two or even three sandwiches, rather than one-and-change, it seems like a good deal to me, particularly when you also take into account the reduced frustration. There are other brands available now, and even the “big three” tuna brands are getting into the act with various “premium” cooked-only-once offerings (which I haven’t sampled, but the folks at the Test Kitchen did).

So here’s my recipe for tuna salad:

  • 1 6-oz can American Tuna or similar solid white albacore (salted or unsalted according to preference)
  • 2 tbl mayonnaise (I prefer Delouis Fils, from France; sometimes I use their aioli instead)
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped fine
  • 1/2 celery stalk, chopped fine

Empty the entire can, liquid and all, into a high-sided flat-bottomed container (I have an old Glad brand reusable plastic container that I use for this). Using a fork, flake the tuna until only small pieces remain. All of the remaining liquid should be absorbed by the tuna flakes. Add chopped onion and celery, and stir until well combined. Then add 1 tbl mayonnaise and stir; if the mixture still seems a bit too dry, add the rest of the mayonnaise. The completed tuna salad should have enough mayonnaise to form a cohesive mass, but show not leak any liquid when pressed with a fork. Makes 2 servings.

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/2 recipe (3 oz. cooked tuna)
Servings per container: 2
Amount per serving
Calories 274 Calories from fat 176
% Daily Value
Total Fat 20g 30%
 Saturated Fat 3.5g 18%
 Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 35mg 12%
Sodium 400mg 17%
Potassium 73mg 2%
Total Carbohydrate 3.5g 1%
 Dietary fiber <1g
 Sugars 1.5g
Proteins 20g 40%
Vitamin A 1%
Vitamin C 4%
Calcium 1%
Iron 0%
Posted in Food | Tagged , , , ,

Fun with SQL: The U.S. city with the most AM stations

A friend asked me a radio trivia question with a surprising answer: what U.S. city has the most licensed AM radio stations? (This question had apparently stumped him when a friend asked him, and now he was trying to stump me.) But since I have the contents of the FCC’s Common Database System loaded into a convenient PostgreSQL cluster, it was actually a pretty simple question to answer — albeit requiring some gnarly SQL. Here’s what I came up with (I wanted to see which were the top 10 communities, not just number one, which would have been easier):

SELECT * FROM (SELECT RANK() OVER (ORDER BY COUNT(*) DESC),
                      COUNT(*), comm_city, comm_state,
                      string_agg(fac_callsign, ', ' ORDER BY fac_callsign)
                  FROM facility
                  WHERE fac_country = 'US' AND fac_service = 'AM' 
                      AND fac_status IN ('LICEN', 'LICSL', 'CPOFF')
                  GROUP BY comm_city, comm_state) AS a
    WHERE rank <= 10
    ORDER BY rank, comm_state, comm_city

The aggregation function string_agg() is a PostgreSQL extension, as far as I know, but the rest is fairly standard SQL. Here’s the surprising result:

rank count comm_city comm_state string_agg
1 17 HONOLULU HI KGU, KHCM, KHKA, KHNR, KHRA, KHVH, KIKI, KKEA, KLHT, KNDI, KORL, KPHI, KPRP, KREA, KSSK, KWAI, KZOO
2 16 NEW YORK NY WABC, WADO, WBBR, WCBS, WEPN, WFAN, WINS, WKDM, WLIB, WMCA, WNYC, WOR, WQEW, WWRL, WWRV, WZRC
3 12 LOS ANGELES CA KABC, KEIB, KFI, KFWB, KHJ, KLAC, KMPC, KNX, KSPN, KTNQ, KWKW, KYPA
3 12 ATLANTA GA WAEC, WAFS, WAOK, WDWD, WGKA, WGST, WIFN, WNIV, WQXI, WSB, WTZA, WYZE
3 12 CHICAGO IL WBBM, WGN, WGRB, WIND, WLS, WMBI, WMVP, WNTD, WRTO, WSBC, WSCR, WYLL
3 12 SAN JUAN PR WAPA, WBMJ, WIAC, WIPR, WKAQ, WKVM, WOSO, WQBS, WQII, WSKN, WUNO, WVOZ
3 12 SAN ANTONIO TX KAHL, KCHL, KCOR, KEDA, KKYX, KONO, KRDY, KSLR, KTKR, KTSA, KZDC, WOAI
3 12 SEATTLE WA KBLE, KFNQ, KIRO, KJR, KKDZ, KKNW, KKOL, KLFE, KNTS, KOMO, KTTH, KVI
9 11 PHOENIX AZ KASA, KFYI, KGME, KIDR, KKNT, KMVP, KOY, KPHX, KSUN, KTAR, KXEG
9 11 FRESNO CA KBIF, KCBL, KEYQ, KFIG, KGED, KGST, KIRV, KMJ, KWRU, KXEX, KYNO
9 11 SAN FRANCISCO CA KCBS, KEAR, KEST, KFAX, KGO, KIQI, KNBR, KSFB, KSFO, KTRB, KZDG
9 11 DENVER CO KBJD, KBNO, KGNU, KHOW, KLDC, KLZ, KNUS, KOA, KPOF, KRKS, KVOQ
9 11 JACKSONVILLE FL WBOB, WCGL, WFXJ, WJAX, WJNJ, WNNR, WOKV, WQOP, WROS, WYMM, WZAZ
9 11 ALBUQUERQUE NM DKDEF, KABQ, KDAZ, KIVA, KKIM, KKOB, KNML, KRKE, KRZY, KSVA, KXKS
9 11 PHILADELPHIA PA KYW, WDAS, WFIL, WHAT, WIP, WKDN, WNTP, WNWR, WPHT, WURD, WWDB
9 11 HOUSTON TX KBME, KCOH, KEYH, KILT, KLAT, KMIC, KNTH, KPRC, KSHJ, KTRH, KXYZ

Note that I could have used ROW_NUMBER() instead of RANK() if I wanted exactly 10 rows in the output, but since there’s no way to prioritize one city over another with the same number of stations, this doesn’t produce meaningful (or consistent) results — and if I had wanted to do that anyway, using a LIMIT clause would have been much simpler. This way I got to learn the syntax of RANK(), and then when I had that working, I realized that I wanted to get a list of the stations, too, so I had to find out about string_agg() — and then I needed to learn about ORDER BY clauses in aggregation functions to get the results in a useful and stable order.

In case you were wondering, the city with the greatest number of licensed FM stations is Chicago, with 25, followed by Los Angeles and New York (20 each), then Anchorage and San Francisco (19 each). Philadelphia, Detroit, Las Vegas, Houston, Pittsburgh, Amarillo, and Seattle round out the top 10. For (full-power, digital) television, Honolulu is again the winner (12), followed by LA and Miami (11 each), then Phoenix, SF, Denver, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Atlanta, New Orleans, Albuquerque, Houston, and Milwaukee. The cities with the most FM translators are Kingman, Arizona, and Pocatello, Idaho, with 22 each; Lake Havasu City, Arizona, Ithaca, New York, and Grand Junction, Colorado, round out the top five. No city has more than five “class A” digital TV stations (Las Vegas), but St. James, Minnesota, has 24 regular digital LPTVs, and Lubbock, Texas, has 15 remaining analog LPTVs. All of these counts include stations that are currently silent, as far as the FCC knows; if silent stations (‘LICSL’ in the SQL query above) were subtracted, Honolulu would be tied with New York in the original trivia question.

You might wonder why Honolulu would have so many stations. It’s probably something to do with the fact that the entire island of Oahu is part of the city-and-county of Honolulu, and none of the other islands (counties in their own right) are close enough to Oahu to provide alternative communities of license for stations serving the Honolulu market. (Compare the Boston market, which is much larger in population, but has AM stations licensed to Quincy, Cambridge, Watertown, Revere, Lynn, Everett, Newton, Brookline, Dedham, and even-farther-outlying suburbs and exurbs. Once these were actual local stations, but they no longer serve any particular role in the communities they are actually licensed to serve.)

Posted in Broadcasting & Media, Computing | Tagged , , ,

PSA: How to make buttermilk from regular milk

My blog stats are showing a lot of people ending up here after searching for “how to make buttermilk from regular milk”. You can’t. Buttermilk — real buttermilk — is made from cream, not milk. You can only make a substitute for buttermilk from regular milk. However, there’s no law preventing cultured skim milk from being sold as “buttermilk”, and that’s usually what you find in the supermarket — not real buttermilk at all, which is the liquid left over after churning cultured cream to make butter. Since most of the butter made in this country is made from sweet cream, not cultured cream, there isn’t a huge supply of proper buttermilk. A few days ago, I described how it’s done, and you too can do it at home if you like. It will probably cost more than what you can buy at the supermarket. (Note that yogurt culture is not the same thing as the culture used to make crème fraîche and cultured butter!)

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , ,

Diane St. Clair’s Old-fashioned Spicy Gingerbread

There are two very different desserts going by the name “gingerbread” in this country. One is a stiff, rolled-dough cookie, which is commonly used around Christmastime to make gingerbread houses and other constructions. The other, far less common (at least in my family), is a spicy quickbread. I can’t speak to which one of these is properly “old-fashioned”, but Diane St. Clair calls hers “old-fashioned spicy gingerbread”, and at least on the “spicy” bit I see no reason to disagree. It is quite spicy — two tablespoons of China No. 1 ground ginger will do that — but that’s entirely necessary to keep from being overpowered by the strong molasses flavor.

This recipe comes from St. Clair’s The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook (p. 162), but it’s hardly unusual to include buttermilk as part of the leavening formula in a quickbread, so one would not be surprised to see a similar recipe in any good baking cookbook. I used commercial buttermilk, rather than “proper”, since all of the latter that I had was wasted last night in the failure of my lasagna. There’s only half a cup, so it provides acidity and liquid, but doesn’t have much effect of the texture of the batter. The batter is constructed by the creaming method, with all brown sugar (I used dark muscovado), which is joined in the liquid phase by the buttermilk, eggs, and a whole cup of molasses. After combining the dry ingredients, just plop it in a nine-inch loaf pan and bake (350°F for 50 minutes), and presto:

Photo showing a loaf of gingerbread sittiing on a wire cooling rack

After cooling in the pan for 15 minutes, the loaf depans easily and must cool for another hour or so.

St. Clair claims that the recipe makes 8 servings. Those would be awfully large servings; I reserved two slices and cut the remaining slices in half to be a more appropriate after-lunch serving:

Photo showing four slices from a loaf of gingerbread. Two of the slices have been further cut in half.

Sliced and ready for storage (or eating!)

After seeing the nutrition data, you’ll understand why I think these slices are too large! (I’ve recalculated on the basis of cutting the loaf into 16 slices.)

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/2 slice
Servings per container: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 190 Calories from fat 55
% Daily Value
Total Fat 6g 9%
 Saturated Fat 3.6g 12%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 77mg 26%
Sodium 154mg 6%
Potassium 119mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 31g 10%
 Dietary fiber <1g
 Sugars 21g
Proteins 4g 8%
Vitamin A 9%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 8%
Iron 8%
Posted in Food | Tagged , , ,

A very frustrating day of (not) cooking

I had planned to post here tonight about two different recipes from Diane St. Clair’s The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook: a gingerbread and a lasagna. I never had time for the first, and the second was a near-complete failure. Here’s how it went down.

I started out thinking all I needed to buy today was more buttermilk. As I described last night, my butter-making project left me with only a cup, and the lasagna recipe required three cups, so I needed another pint. I went to my local Whole Foods, only to find out that they didn’t have it. (Well, they did, but only in quarts, and only from two brands I won’t buy.) So I went to the Whole Foods in Wellesley, which is the next-nearest, and usually has things that the Framingham Whole Foods doesn’t — but they didn’t have it either. I ended up going all the way in to Cambridge and found it there, but that whole process wasted the whole afternoon, so there was no time left for gingerbread.

The meat sauce that forms the base of the lasagna went just fine, although it’s a rather odd preparation, with four tablespoons of butter (just added to the sauce, not used for sauteeing or anything like that) and an onion simply sliced in half. It also required a half cup of red wine; luckily I was able to find a small (less than one cup) bottle in the liquor store — I suppose it’s supposed to be a “one-glass” package. I did find that I had misread the recipe and had to go back to the store to buy more canned tomatoes, making the actual lasagna preparation even later.

Then things started to go horribly wrong. First, St. Clair’s “buttermilk bechamel” preparation starts fairly oddly, with a barely-cooked roux, and things started to look wrong from the very start — I once again used my butter, and found that when it melted, there was far too much water-type liquid and not nearly as much fat as there should be. (This is probably an artifact of the excess agitation I described in last night’s post on butter-making — next time I’ll know better when to stop.) I pressed on, but the resuling “roux” didn’t thicken the dairy ingredients at all. I might have pressed on, making a second roux in the more normal way (it’s not like I haven’t made bechamel a dozen times before), execpt that I was trying to simultaneously cook the lasagna noodles, and they stuck together into a sorry mass, overcooked on the outside and undercooked on glued-together interior.

In short, I would have done better simply to follow the directions on the back of the lasagna box — or to try the Cook’s Illustrated recipe. I might try it again some time, but not without a lot more confidence in my butter. And this whole business with bechamel in lasagna is a new thing to me; when I was a kid I must have made lasagna a dozen times, and bechamel was never involved — we always used ricotta and egg, which the back of the noodle box informs me is “American-style lasagna”.

Since the meat sauce was just fine, I was able to salvage it by cooking up some other flat pasta (lasagnette, as it happened), and mixing the two together, then layering with cheese in a 9×9 baking dish and baking it up for 25 minutes to melt the cheese. But it wasn’t what I was intending. I expect to try the gingerbread later this week, if I have time, but just to be certain that my homemade butter isn’t the source of the problem, I’ll probably use commercial butter.

Posted in Food | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment