Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Very Liebster Morning

Earlier in the month, Linda Cassidy Lewis presented us with the Liebster Blog Award. 

Linda says "Liebster" is a German word for dearest or beloved.  Blogs awarded the Liebster are to pass it along to five blogs with less than 200 followers each (something we can't really know, so we ran with it).

Since there are three of us here at Writing Up an Appetite, we thought it would be fun to each choose two, coming up with a total of six. There's plenty of cake for everybody.

Lisa awarded the Liebster to a mother and daughter team:
      Hannah Voss of Alimental
      and Stephanie Voss's photo journal 

 Christi chose Savvy Housekeeping. Christi says of Savvy, "... this Savvy gal always pulls together links to great projects or dishes or desserts name it." 

Christi also awarded Celiac in the City who appeared here in October with her recipe for "Pumpkin Spice Cookies with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting". I made them. They are so good.

Finally, I couldn't help but point your attention to Jean Guidone Wyse, a self taught artist living down the road. To me, art and Jean are one in the same, and I covet the charms she sells on Etsy. (See that? My name is even on this one.)

For a laugh, check out Annie Off Leash. I guess she's already gotten the Liebster once before, but one night she made me laugh so hard I could barely read through the tears in my eyes. That deserves some extra loving, don't you think?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pulling Summer From the Oven

Strawberry Shortcake Snake from Disney's Family Fun

At the end of June, the Masons make strawberry shortcake. Three long tables line the east wall where buckets of sugar strewn strawberries, crates of cake and barrels of whipped cream are presided over by women in plastic gloves. Four dollars a plate for a heaping mound of summertime.

Families sprawl across the lawn, their bodies curled over clam shell boxes, dipping plastic spoons like sea birds diving.

In my January kitchen, I unpack high priced, organic strawberries from a green bag and stuff them between the bread and portobello mushrooms. I shouldn't have spent the extra money, but winter is long in Wisconsin and fruit is just so good.

When morning comes, my daughter begs for berries in her cereal. I can't bear to toss them in. We have apples, after all.  We have pears and mango. Strawberries are meant for bigger things.

We barter, my "later" hardly matching the passion of her "please."

"Later," I say. "For dinner. I'll make something special for dinner." Then I'm stuck inside a promise I can't unglue.

An hour and a half before dinnertime, I'm reminded of my half-awake word.

Thank you, Universe, for the internet!

I scoop flour and baking powder into a bowl, cut in butter and tablespoons of sugar. I fold and mound and kneed, but I don't overwork. I pat. I biscuit cut. I brush with milk. I bake.

I make some delicious strawberry shortcake.

When we eat, all I hear is, "Mmmm."

What is your favorite thing to do with strawberries? 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Guest Post by Nina Badzin: Grandma Suzie’s Brownies

We are happy today to feature a guest post by Nina Badzin, a published writer whose delightful and informative blog reflects her writing life, her take on parenthood as a mother of four, social media tips, and whatever else she feels like discussing. Enjoy!

Read and Subscribe to Nina Badzin's Blog:
Follow Nina on Twitter: @NinaBadzin

Grandma Suzie’s Brownies
by Nina Badzin

I'm going to ruin every other brownie for you. Those cake-like brownies; the frosted ones; the busy ones with nuts, caramel, marshmallows, or cream cheese—you won't stand for any of those chocolate charlatans once you've tasted Grandma Suzie's Brownies.

Ironically, my Grandma Suzie (of blessed memory) was not known for her cooking. She didn't fit the stereotype of the Jewish mother or grandmother busy cooking up feasts and sneaking schmaltz into meals. My mom tells of her mother forgetting about food in the oven until it burned. Of my grandmother's entire cooking repertoire, my mom remembers a rice dish "that was decent," the occasional turkey, and the now-about-to-be famous brownies. I only remember the brownies.

In my mom's words, her mother was unlike any of the other mothers. Grandma Suzie (originally from Buffalo, New York) was an artist who majored in illustration at Syracuse University in the early 40s. She did mechanical drawings as part of her program and was a tool designer in Syracuse until she had children and moved to Rochester, New York. In later years, she dabbled in sculpture and painting. I'm proud to have one of her more abstract pieces hanging in my house. Grandma Suzie was an excellent seamstress, too. My mom remembers receiving a handmade wardrobe for one of her dolls including a coat with a fur collar. And whenever the synagogue put on a play, Grandma Suzie took charge of the costumes and make up.

Given my grandmother's passion for art and design, it's no surprise she always set a gorgeous table, but paid little attention to the food. The only guaranteed delicious treats to come out of her kitchen were those brownies. And they were perfect. According to family legend, she got the recipe from a childhood friend she only saw in the summers at the family lake house in Canada.

The ingredients for the brownies are simple and the directions are delightfully specific. Be sure not to overcook them, and you'll end up with a brownie with just the right amount of gooey-ness. They won't have the too-cake-like properties I find in other brownies. They're rich, but not too rich. Fudgy, but not too-fudgy. I'd describe the texture and taste as fudge's cousin. My husband's cousin, Andrea, and her husband, Jacob, who live in Iceland, made the brownies recently and swear I'm not exaggerating. We're talking international seal of approval, folks.

As for the ingredients, I'll share one piece of advice straight from my mother's mouth: "If you're not going to use real butter, don't bother messing up your kitchen."

I give you Grandma Suzie's Brownies. You can thank me later.

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 9 squares bitter chocolate
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 11 x 15 jelly roll pan

Exact directions as handed down from Grandma Suzie (Special thanks to my sister, Lisa, for sending me the recipe card in our grandmother's handwriting):
Melt butter and chocolate together over water on low heat. Mix flour, sugar, and salt in large bowl. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Pour in butter/chocolate. Mixer is nice, but not necessary. If using mixer, stop and scrape sides and bottom of bowl at least once. Spread in well-buttered and floured jelly pan. Bake about 20-25 minutes in 350 degree pre-heated oven. Remove from oven while still slightly under baked. Cool completely before cutting into squares. Keep in fridge or freezer. This is a big batch!
My mom's addition to the directions: "I bake mine for 22 minutes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Proof of What Matters

by Lisa

Perhaps no food is as ancient, humble, sustaining, valued, adaptable, or taken for granted as bread. Bread is the staff of life. We break it, cast it upon waters, leave it as a trail of crumbs when pursued by witches. We eat it plain, with butter, as sandwiches, in salads, as puddings.

Bread is a cultural identifier as well: think of the Mexican tortilla, Middle Eastern pita, Jewish Challah, Irish soda bread, French baguette, Native American fry bread. We use bread to celebrate, to praise and to mourn. In Mexico, Pan de Muerto—“Bread of the Dead”—is shaped into skulls to mark the Day of the Dead.
“How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”
Julia Child

When I was young, our small town grocery store offered one kind of packaged bread: sliced, white, fluffy and tasteless. Even so, my brothers and I thought it was delectable, especially toasted golden brown and topped with butter and cinnamon sugar. Sometimes we would squish it together and roll it with our fingers into firm tiny bread balls. The wonder was that an entire slice of bread was reduced to the size of a small marble.
The town bakery sold less processed loaves than the grocery stores, but the varieties were limited to white, rye and, as the 1970s ushered in a more health-conscious approach to food, the occasional whole-wheat. For many years, we were all fooled into thinking that the phrases “whole-wheat” or “multi-grain” ensured a fiber-rich, healthful alternative to white bread. Now we know that a very good white bread—made with unbleached flour and no unnecessary additives—may be a better choice than heavily processed, caramel colored “wheat” loaves.
Today when I shop for bread, I stand in awe before the choices. I can choose from honey wheat, Asiago, pesto, country rye, seven-grain, and dozens more varieties. I can buy wheat-free bread, sugar-free bread, salt-free bread, and fat-free bread. The kinds of sourdough alone are too many to remember, and new bakeries that specialize in high quality breads seem to be in every neighborhood.
To learn more about bread making, I talked to Tim Thomas, owner of The Panary: An Artisan Bread Shoppe, a European-style sourdough bakery in West Bend, Wisconsin. The Panary’s breads are edible works of art, made from carefully developed recipes and with simple, natural ingredients.

Tim opened The Panary when he was “downsized” after 22 years of work in the telecommunication field. Rather than look for another telecommunications job, he decided to embrace the opportunity to follow his lifelong passion: food. He says simply, “I decided to do what I want to do.” Although he hasn’t always made a living from baking, he has always “dabbled in the culinary arts.” During college he participated in an apprentice program with Chef Louis Szathmary of the famous “The Bakery” restaurant in Chicago. His interest in bread began in earnest during travels to Eastern Europe and the Middle East, where he “saw many cuisines and learned a culinary vocabulary.”
Years later, the seeds of The Panary were sown when Tim made his first traditional sourdough bread: an olive rosemary loaf. Speaking of it, his blue eyes widen with child-like delight and he rises taller with excitement. “The smell was intoxicating,” he says. “From there I began experimenting, devouring, practicing with my family.” He eventually created about 25 bread recipes of his own, all using the sourdough process.
“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.”
M. F. K. Fisher

For Tim Thomas, making bread is no less than a passion, as well as an ongoing pursuit for perfection and a synthesis of art and science. On the day I visit, he frowns at the “bloom” (decorative slashes) on the tops of some of the loaves (loaves that, to my untrained eye, looked flawless), and explains that if the bread is underproofed, the dough breaks out the sides of the loaf during baking. Each day he evaluates and modifies his baking process, based on his careful observation of the breads’ bloom, the shapes and sizes of the air holes inside the loaves, and many other factors. “It doesn’t matter to anyone else,” he says, shaking his head, “but it matters to me.”
When asked which of his breads is his favorite, he looks puzzled. “That’s hard to say. It’s like asking who is your favorite child.” He does say that he eats only the whole-wheat and rye loaves, and admits that the whole-wheat recipe has been the hardest to perfect.
Baking with rye is also a challenge, because rye flour lacks a component for proper gluten formation (making rye bread a good choice for people with gluten intolerance) and needs a strong “sour” (mixture of starter, flour and liquid that ferments overnight). The right proportions are also important. Tim uses about 60 percent rye and 40 percent wheat flour in his German rye, and he mixes the sour very stiff.
The Panary’s Whole Wheat Sourdough, Potato Bread, Peasant Bread, Olive-Rosemary and Alsatian Herb Breads all require overnight fermentation before the loaves are shaped and baked. This process reduces the breads’ acidity and, because the long fermentation is a precursor to germination, improves the nutritional value and digestibility.
Although I’ll never turn down a slice of warm, fresh-from-the-oven bread, the joy of baking bread lies more in the process than the product. There is something comforting and ritualistic in the time necessary for yeast to work, dough to rise, loaves to bake. We can artificially speed things up with quick yeast or shortened rising times, but, in the end, the product suffers. A good loaf of bread reminds us that in our culture of downsizing and outsourcing and instant results, some things in life just can’t be rushed.
The following video shows how to create artisan-style bread shapes in your very own kitchen:

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What's New in Your Kitchen?

2012 CalendarWhen the calendar flips to another year, it's difficult to resist tossing out the old and zooming in on the new, whether we're replacing last year's favorite book bag or a worn pair of gloves or even the preferred kitchen gadget that grew rusty after too many cycles through the dishwasher. Bring on January 1st, and I want all things shiny and clean and in tip-top shape. New. But, if you think about it, "new" is a relative term. Sometimes, the one thing that's been sitting around a while, gathering dust, proves just as exciting.

Take my copy of Cook's Illustrated Special Collector's Edition All-Time Best Recipes. Given to me last year, I admired it from a distance for, well...months, flipping through the pages here and there, but still not breaking the binding. But last week, I decided I would attempt the recipe for "Soft, Chewy Molasses Spice Cookies." Finally.

I love Cook's Illustrated (if I could slip in one day and hang out a while in America's Test Kitchen...oh the joy!). The articles inside are written in such a way that I don't feel snubbed as a novice chef, nor do I feel overwhelmed. I learn from them every time, like with the cookies. When the recipe says to use butter that's "softened but still cool", there's a reason for that. Don't brush over a simple word like cool if a Master Chef mentions it. Butter that's too soft makes for flat cookies. Butter with a slight chill promises a full-bodied cookie just like the one in the picture. I made this recipe twice: the first time I hit gold, the second time I got sassy, poo-pooed the "cool", and ended up with molasses pancakes. They still tasted good, mind you, but they didn't look as pretty.

My point here is not so much about my rise and fall in the kitchen, but that, in a world where almost everything is disposable, so much is worth keeping. And, worth trying again. We've talked about it before; remember those old cookbooks with the yellowed pages? I bet you have a gadget in your kitchen that marks the ages but still works like a charm.

What do you think? Did you revisit an oldie but a goodie this Holiday Season and make it new?

* Photo credit: Calendar image by danielmoyle on