Counter Action: Sweet potato dinner rolls

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Sometimes I feel like I have a good grasp on this adult thing.

I go off to work in my suit and nametag (or to class in nice jeans and a cardigan). I pack lean protein and leafy greens for lunch. I work at a standing desk and swig water all day. My gums, my joints, my weight, and my professional profile are on my mind. Cat hair on my clothing legitimately worries me.

And then I get home and all bets are off. Cookie dough leaps from the fridge into my mouth of its own accord. I still read YA fiction. Cat hair is of no concern. Given a slow holiday weekend, I’ll watch several episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a row with no remorse. A couple of weeks ago, I realized that the church where I attend Evensong also offers a free yoga class right after Evensong … so I could conceivably wear my yoga pants to church?? Is this real life?

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These rolls are a bit of both worlds. They’re the kind of thing you could serve at a fancy dinner party or your in-laws’ Thanksgiving. Or you could make half a tray for yourself and eat them with turkey and cranberry sauce, cackling to yourself as you watch your fourth straight episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s a flexible recipe, really.

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Sweet potato dinner rolls

(barely adapted from an AllRecipes.com recipe)

  • ½ c. warm water
  • 2¼ tsp. dry active yeast
  • 4 T. brown sugar, divided
  • ½ c. sweet potato purée (½ of a large sweet potato, sprayed with cooking spray, microwaved under plastic wrap for 3–4 minutes, and mashed thoroughly)
  • 3 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, beaten slightly
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3½–4 c. flour
  • 1 T. butter, softened

Directions:

  1. Combine warm water, yeast, and 1 T. brown sugar. Let sit 5 minutes.
  2. Add rest of brown sugar, butter, eggs, salt, and sweet potato purée. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Add flour slowly until dough is kneadable and not too sticky.
  4. Knead dough until it is smooth and elastic, and passes the windowpane test. Place in warm greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and tea towel. Let rise in warm place (like an oven that’s been turned on for a minute or two) for an hour.
  5. Punch down dough and roll into balls a little larger than golf balls. Cover again with plastic wrap and tea towel and let rise in warm place for an hour.
  6. Bake rolls at 375°F for 10–12 minutes. Brush tops with softened butter and continue baking until golden brown.

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EDIT:

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Counter Action: Overnight artisan bread

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Taking food pictures is always fraught with danger.

My roommate has three cats, all aggressively friendly and as stubborn as tiny mules. Last night, for example, they all curled up in my room, intending to spend the night there. I had different plans. I’ve mediated enough of their nighttime spats and picked up enough fallen books to banish them to the living room.

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The kids: Salem at the top left, Bandersnatch Cutiebutt opposite, and Crookshanks supervising from below.

Salem was on board with this right away — she can take a hint. The Bandersnatch was displeased but eventually deigned to leave. And Crookshanks … oh, Crookshanks. The guy is either a seriously deep sleeper or a seriously good actor. After I’d spent several minutes nudging him, blowing in his face, and clapping my hands, he finally rolled over onto his front, where I could pick him up and haul him out.

It’s a similar process when I want to use the cats’ obstacle course — a.k.a. the kitchen table — to take photographs. I can’t turn my back for a second, or else they’ll be on the table sniffing my setup. I have to get everything together in one trip, then snap pictures wildly, pausing only to clap my hands several times or blow in the kids’ faces.

Is this food photography or jungle photography? Sometimes I’m not sure.

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The dough for this bread can be thrown together in five minutes, dumped in the fridge, and forgotten for up to 18 hours. When you’re ready to bake it, just pull it out, plop it on a preheated pizza stone or dutch oven, and bake until golden brown. There’s no kneading, no proofing, no waiting around for the dough to double twice. It’s that easy, and that delicious: soft and flavorful on the inside, with a thick, crunchy crust. If you want to tell your dinner guests how you made it, feel free to amaze them. Or let them think you’ve spent weeks nurturing the perfect pâte fermentée. It’s your choice, really.

Overnight artisan bread

(Taken from The Baker Chick)

Ingredients:

  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2–1 tsp. yeast
  • 1–3 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/2 c. warm water

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge.
  2. Eight to 18 hours later, remove dough from fridge. Place pizza stone in oven, with baking tray below. Preheat to 450°F.
  3. Form dough into ball and place on hot pizza stone. Pour 1–2 c. water into hot baking tray and immediately close oven door.
  4. Bake 40–45 minutes, or until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped from underneath. (If you like, open oven door 2–3 times during baking to spritz more water on the pizza stone. Alternately, to avoid the hot water method, bake bread inside dutch oven or other covered ovenproof dish. With this method, bake covered for 30 minutes and uncovered for 15.)
  5. Cool, slice, and enjoy. Bread is best the day it’s made. Alternately, store in sealed container for 2–3 days.

 

 

Counter Action: Focaccia with plum and rosemary

Here’s a word snapshot of my new apartment:

There are three cats and a turtle. I moved in while my roommate was away, so I didn’t know the cats’ names for a few days and I made up my own. Sometimes I still call them Crookshanks, Salem, and Bandersnatch Cutiebutt.

My roommate and I aren’t really into decorating. The kitchen features a string of red pepper lights and quite a lot of rooster-patterned things; my room is decorated with fairy lights, a donated red curtain, two mismatching lamps, enormous amounts of books, and some old black-and-white prints of Paris, courtesy of Ikea. In short, we’re not as concerned with things matching perfectly as we are with being warm, comfortable, and surrounded by things we love.

It’s like living in the middle of a Kodak moment, but with a smaller budget and more cat hair.

All three cats love to snuggle. You know that urban legend that says you’re never more than ten feet from a spider? In my apartment, you’re never more than five feet from a cat. Doesn’t matter if you’re trying to eat, study, clean, sleep, take a shower, whatever. You’ll always have a buddy.

My roommate works at some local farmers’ markets. At the end of the day, sometimes the produce vendors go around with bags of tired produce, giving them away to their fellow stallholders. When I moved in, the fridge was filled with kale and chard. It now holds bags of tomatoes, corn, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, and green beans, as well as a fancy sack of moldy dirt that I suspect is mushrooms or truffles.

Anytime someone wants to leave this kind of truffles on my kitchen counter is fine with me.

If anyone would like to leave a sack of these truffles on my kitchen counter, that would be A-OK with me.

We haven’t wound up with much fruit, but yesterday I did sink my teeth into the juiciest plum I’ve ever met. It made me remember this recipe I threw together a few summers back: a pillowy focaccia topped with rosemary for depth, sea salt for savour, juicy red plum for an unexpected seasonal note, and brown sugar to keep it celebratory. This would be an excellent side for a thin soup — cream of asparagus, perhaps. Or let it be the star of its own show, accompanied by a variety of hard cheeses, apples, pears, and nuts. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

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Focaccia with plum and rosemary

(Inspired by this Smitten Kitchen recipe)

  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 package (2-1/2 tsp.) yeast
  • 1 c. warm water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 c. flour
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 plum, pitted and diced
  • 4 tsp. fresh rosemary (or 2 tsp. dried)
  • 3/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 T. brown or demerara sugar

Directions:

  1. In medium-sized bowl, combine white sugar, yeast, and warm water. Let stand 5 minutes.
  2. Add salt and 2 c. flour. Combine and knead until smooth, adding extra flour if needed.
  3. Place dough in greased bowl. Cover and let rise for 45 minutes.
  4. Punch down dough and divide into two balls. Shape into flat loaves. Use fingers to dimple loaves. Cover and let rise 25 minutes.
  5. Drizzle olive oil over loaves. Top with plum, rosemary, sea salt, and brown sugar.
  6. Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes, or until browned. Keep in sealed container at room temperature for 2–3 days.

Ideas for variations:

  • Skip the brown sugar, and caramelize the plums before adding them on top.
  • Mix the rosemary into the dough at step 2.
  • Add slivered almonds or pine nuts to the topping. (For bonus points, try toasting them first.)
  • Swap the olive oil for the same amount of browned butter.
  • Swap the plums, rosemary, and brown sugar for pitted Bing cherries and finely grated Gruyère.
  • Replace the listed toppings with chopped pear, blue cheese, and hazelnuts (either raw or caramelized).

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Photo credit: Christmas scene from PublicDomainPictures and truffles from juttazeisset on Pixabay.

Counter Action: Rosemary challah rolls + an announcement!

rosemary rolls

Yes, these are the uncooked rolls. Don’t worry.

Summer!

Summer summer summer!

It’s been a long time since I could wear shorts or eat super-fresh tomatoes. I think it’s going to my head.

Add sunlight and sprinkle with fresh basil, and this is roughly how I feel.

There are so many lovely things going on this summer, I hardly know where to begin. There’s Shakespeare in the park and cultural festivals and street food fairs. There’s concerts and hikes and races and parades.

Granted, I won’t be participating in all of the above, but it’s still lovely to know that they’re going on. It creates an atmosphere of community investment.

And speaking of communities … let’s alight briefly on the topic of fandoms.

Pixabay: "No results for 'fandom'. Did you mean 'fado'?" Me: "Aaarrrg, no --- oh, heck, why not."

Pixabay: “No results for ‘fandom’. Did you mean ‘fado’?”
Me: “Aaarrrg, no — oh, heck, why not.”

Fandoms, I’ve found, are like moles: Most people have at least one, even if they’re not always willing to discuss them in public. I technically belong to the fandoms for SherlockDoctor WhoStar Wars, and Marvel movies, though not to the extent that I’ll create fanart, write fanfic, or debate my theories passionately online. I just love the complexity of the stories, characters, and settings, and I love being one of millions of people who share that love.

I’m a scoche more invested in the Harry Potter fandom. And by “scoche”, I might mean that I own a house scarf and take great pride in having been sorted into Ravenclaw on Pottermore.

(At this point I’d like to point out that my roommate, a legitimate grown-up with a corporate job and a fiancé, has all four house scarves, owns a wand, has visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and periodically cooks recipes from The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. So, clearly I have a ways to go before I am a True Fan.)

One thing I love about the Harry Potter fandom is how dedicated it is. Any other readers might have lost patience with a series that went years between installments. Not so the Potterheads — at the next midnight release, they were there, ready and waiting, wearing robes that got a little shorter every time. There are precious few fictional worlds as magnificently detailed, intensely beloved, and universally appealing as the world of Harry Potter, and that’s something that deserves celebration.

Lasers optional but highly recommended. (A good motto for life, I've found.)

Lasers optional but highly recommended. (A good motto for life, I’ve found.)

So here’s the announcement: The week of July 20, this blog will be one massive Harry Potter tribute. If you’d like to be a part of this project, please let me know. I’m looking for the following:

  • Fanart
  • Fanfics
  • Personal essays describing what Harry Potter has meant to you
  • Critical essays on various aspects of Harry Potter (feminism, politics, economics, class dynamics … go for it)
  • Themed recipes you’ve developed
  • Themed songs you’ve written
  • Original crochet patterns for house elf ears
  • In short, virtually any creative endeavours inspired by Harry Potter.

If you have something you want me to consider for the final lineup, either send it to me via private message or post a link to it in a comment below. Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors. Let’s make the week of July 20 one big joyous celebration of all things Potter.

Caution: Topical whiplash ahead.

Caution: Topical whiplash ahead.

And now, to finish off, here’s something completely different.

Rosemary challah rolls

(a combination of recipes from Jewish Recipes and The Pioneer Woman)

Ingredients:

  • 1¼ c. warm water
  • ½ c. sugar
  • 1 packet (2¼ tsp.) active dry yeast
  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ tsp. salt
  • 3/8 c. oil
  • 3–4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2–3 c. whole wheat flour
  • ~3 T. melted butter
  • ~1 T. kosher salt
  • ~1 T. rosemary

Procedure:

  1. Mix warm water, sugar, and yeast in large bowl, and let stand until yeast is dissolved.
  2. Add eggs, 1½ tsp. salt, and 3/8 c. oil. Stir well.
  3. Add flour 1 c. at a time, mixing well, until dough is kneadable. Turn out onto floured board and knead until windowpane is achieved. (For more about the windowpane test, check here.)
  4. Set in oiled bowl and let rise 1–3 hours or until doubled in size.
  5. Punch down and form into rolls a little larger than golf balls. Place in oiled pan and let rise 1–3 hours or until doubled in size.
  6. Brush tops of rolls with butter. Sprinkle with rosemary and salt, then brush again with butter.
  7. Bake at 375°F for 30–40 minutes, or until golden brown.
  8. Brush again with butter, pull apart, and enjoy. Makes about 24 rolls.

 

Photo credits: Concert from beeki, fado player via dunyazade, laser show from Logga Wiggler, and crash test dummy via Nemo on Pixabay.