Monday, February 27, 2012

Cookbook Challenge

When I moved to my new place, I transported at least nine huge boxes of books.  Most of them were cookbooks.

I have been buying and collecting cookbooks for years.  Large coffee table books.  Books by "celebrity" chefs.  Restaurant cookbooks.  Books about International, modernist, regional American, and local Minnesota cuisine.  Church cookbooks with recipes contributed by their respective congregations.  There are a few children's cookbooks I purchased from my "Weekly Reader" days in elementary school, and even some oddball promotional cookbooks from local TV stations and insurance companies.  I have a variety.  

Sources of inspiration
It recently occurred to me that I don't really use most of my cookbooks.  They serve mainly for reading purposes - to learn about new foods and places, to be inspired, and to get new ideas.  It isn't all that often that I will just grab a cookbook with the intent of preparing a specific dish as written.
I've decided to liven things up and issue myself a weekly "cookbook challenge."  At least once a week, I am going to pick a different cookbook from my library and cook a dish from it.  Then I will post some commentary and impressions about the book and tell you about the dish I made.  

No rules other than that.   It's really just an excuse to try different dishes, utilize my cookbooks, and to commit to blogging more often than I have been.  I am not sure of the exact total number of cookbooks I own, but I could easily do this weekly challenge for over a couple of years with no repeats.  This should be fun.

I plan to get started this coming weekend.  It could be anything from The French Laundry Cookbook to the Peanuts Lunch Bag Cookbook.  You just never know what will be in store, so stay tuned!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

Recently I found this recipe for sourdough cinnamon rolls.  I decided to put "Hope" (my sourdough starter) to good use and try to make myself a batch. 

My only variations to the recipe - I used all-purpose flour entirely (did not have whole-wheat pastry flour on hand), and I baked these rolls at 375 F and found they were done in about 20 minutes (your oven may vary).  Also, I made a quick icing with 1 cup of powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon of water, and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and applied it to the rolls using a plastic sandwich bag as an impromptu piping bag.

Here is a photo essay showing how it went down:

"Hope" - a batch of risen starter, ready to go

The dough mixture after rising in the oven overnight - it easily doubled in size

The dough, rolled out, covered with brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter.   From here, it is rolled up into a log and sliced into individual cinnamon rolls.

Out of the oven

Glazed with icing


This was a delicious recipe, and it was not hard to make.  You just need to do some advanced planing to get your starter going and let the dough rise overnight.  But the resulting dough was very easy to work with.  I filled one pie plate with seven rolls and added five more to another pie plate for an even dozen rolls. 

All in all, a very successful a tasty product.  The rolls were light, sweet, and had a slightly tangy flavor from the natural starter.  I am very excited to have found another application for "Hope." :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Good run, interesting sights, and West Texas Asado

Saturday was gorgeous.  I treated myself to a nice 15 mile run.  It went much better than last Saturday's soul-sucking run in the sub-zero wind chill.  See below:

Saturday, February 11th - the aftermath of a 13 mile run at -15 win chill.  Frosty!
This Saturday was wonderful by comparison - 18 degrees, hardly a breeze, and clear skies.  Now that's a little more like it.

I started my run before sunup.  In my neighborhood there is a place where wild turkeys roost for the evening.  I ran past the area and stopped to count twenty gobblers up in the trees.  They were just waking up, some of them flexing their wings and tails, a few were talking.  It was fun to see the turkeys awakening from their slumber to start their day!

Other interesting bird observations: the chickadees and cardinals have been singing like crazy lately.  And for the first time this season, I heard the "kwirrrr!" of the red-bellied woodpecker.  These guys are usually pretty quiet in the winter, so when the red-bellied's start talking, spring must be around the corner.  Either that, or they just think it's spring with the nice weather we've been having.

There was one other truly odd sighting.  I saw another runner - a lady - wearing nothing but tights, a jog bra, and an iPod.  No sleeves, no gloves, no stocking cap.  Now, I said it was a nice day, but it was 18 degrees!  I had frost all over my beard, for crying out loud.  I'm all for dressing down to run, and I will freely admit having pulled off (and even enjoy) wearing shorts in the upper 30's.  But really, this is just plain 'ol dumb.  What was she trying to prove?  She was running on the other side of the road, so I couldn't ask.  Of all the days to leave the camera at home!

Dinner this evening was a good one.  I recently bought the Homesick Texan's beautiful cookbook.  I've been following her blog for years and have tried some of her recipes in the past.  Tonight I prepared something new to me; her "West Texas Asado" - pork simmered in a homemade ancho chile sauce.

Homesick Texan's West Texas Asado and some fixings
Absolutely delicious!  I had this on tortillas, which is the perfect vehicle to shovel asado into your mouth.  The pork was unbelievably tender, and the ancho chile sauce had a wonderfully complex, fruity sweetness with a little hint of spice (not at all hot).  So, so good.

Plated up taco-style with refried beans, cilantro, and cotija cheese
I'm looking forward to cooking my way through this book.  There are a few other recipes that I can't wait to try!  I will definitely be making this one again, that is for sure.

I almost feel like I should be tracking down that lady who was running in her "skivvies" today to bring her some leftover asado.  She looked like she could have used a hot meal to warm up. ;-)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The strange winter continues

This is one of the most peculiar things I have ever seen in the winter.  I took this picture during my run on Monday, February 6th:

Woolly Bear!
That would be a woolly bear caterpillar that I found crawling across the trail!  You might recall I spend my time in the fall saving these fuzzy bugs from certain doom.  Monday was a spectacular 46 degree, bright, sunny day, and this little guy came out of hibernation.  Unbelievable.  It was February 6th!

I took a couple of pictures to document this unusual occurrence, and then I tried to tuck him back into some leaves for insulation.  Hopefully he went back into his slumber to emerge when spring really arrives.  But man, this is a weird winter.

Definitely a great winter for running, though.  Much better than last year at this time.


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