Kit Bakes Everything: Double Chocolate Muffins and Chicken Pot Pie Cobbler

This seems to be the way to get me to actually post here, doesn’t it! We got whomped with a snowstorm, and in between hiding from my roommates (I, ah, don’t get on with my roommates) and reading, I managed to get into the kitchen long enough to do some baking. Posting here about it seems to be getting me to bake more, and baking more seems to get me to actually post here. Well, that’s a fun productivity feedback loop!

I started with Double-Chocolate Muffins. I think my turbinado sugar got left at my partner’s house, so I used what was left in the bag here and then some brown sugar, and I used semisweet chocolate chips instead of brown sugar. They came out pretty nice– they’re dense and chocolatey and tasty, especially right from the oven when the chocolate chips are still melty. It’s a pretty simple recipe to make, but muffins are supposed to be. You mix dry ingredients, you mix wet ingredients, you combine. And then you add extra liquid because you’re using an egg substitute. They didn’t poof like I picture muffins doing, but that may have been the lack of egg.

My coworkers thought they were great.

I now have a general curiosity about whether homemade muffins as a whole don’t poof. Is this because I’m using an egg substitute? Is this just a particularly dense recipe? Or is the poof with cap we usually associate with muffins a product of food additives?

I guess I’ll have to make more muffins to find out. How terrible for us all. (But seriously, there’s a whole bunch more muffin recipes in this book, all of which I will eventually get around to making.)

Next up was Chicken Pot Pie Cobbler. I’m not sure whether to count this for “Chicken Pot Pie” or “Chicken Cobbler with Corn and Chiles”. It’s listed as a variation under the cobbler, but it’s essentially a combination of both recipes: you make the filling from the Chicken Pot Pie and then you follow the cobbler recipe the rest of the way. I’ll probably count it for cobbler, since that was the broad technique and there are other interesting-looking variations under the chicken pot pie where there aren’t under the cobbler.

Anyway, the point of this project is to level up my baking skill, and that I am succeeding in. I cut up actual raw meat, y’all! (I know, that doesn’t seem like it’s a high-level skill, but I have wicked OCD.) This was easier than rolling out pie crust would have been, and it’s pretty tasty. It’s another one where I followed the recipe only in the general sense, since I can’t have carrots or onions. So I did it with broccoli, eggplant, and potatoes. Also I didn’t have thyme so I used herbs de Provence. (And really, Mark Bittman, who has fresh herbs lying around all the time? Who has the money to be constantly buying fresh herbs when no one ever uses one of those whole packages before they go bad? Why don’t all these recipes say “or X amount of dried herb,” since potency varies between fresh and dried? Not that I’m going to stick to the amount of seasoning the recipe says anyway, but still! Anyway, where were we?)

You cook all of the above in chicken broth on the stove and then once it’s cooked down you put in a casserole dish, put the biscuits on top, and bake. It came out a little thinner than I like my chicken glop, closer to a very thick soup with biscuits on top. I might put more flour in next time, or cook it down more on the stove. It thickened right up in the fridge overnight, though, and when reheated it was just about the right consistency. My day started with shoveling out my car, which I got clear right when I had to leave for work, so post-shoveling lunch was jerky and chocolate muffins eaten in the car. After work and then the trip home, it was lovely to come home to Real Food which could just be reheated with no actual effort involved.

Incidentally, I told my mother about all this baking– though not about the blog– and she asked if I had considered writing a cookbook. I pointed out that I bake by adding things until it looks right; I often end with no idea of the precise amount of half the ingredients. Also, I’m ostensibly doing all this from a cookbook.

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Kit Bakes Everything: Buttermilk Biscuits 3 Ways and Cranberry Gingerbread

We went to a New Year’s party! And that means baking. I did 3 variations on the Buttermilk Biscuits recipe, all told, and Gingerbread with cranberries. Now, I’ve made a lot of buttermilk biscuits, but they’re usually the recipe from a cookbook called Ladle, Leaf, & Loaf, which I actually used to have memorized because I did it so often. (I don’t anymore.) I make fake-buttermilk for this, to deal with the cow-casein-allergic partner: a cup of almond milk mixed with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar gives you a cup of buttermilk. Similarly, I use Earth Balance or Smart Balance in place of butter. Those two substitutions are almost automatic for me at this point.

Doing a cookbook this way is causing me to spot some of its quirks: Mark Bittman is very light on add-ins by my standards. I made his gingerbread recipe, which was moist and gingery and spiced and perfect. It has a variation in which you stir in up to half a cup of cranberries, so I stirred in half a cup of cranberries and it was wonderful. It made lovely, lovely gingerbread that was very popular at the party. People were vocal in its praise. But everybody said it could have stood to have twice or three times as many cranberries as it did. I think it could have done that too; the acidity of the cranberries nicely balanced the heaviness of the gingerbread. (This is a very dense bread. I did it in the flat square pan instead of a loaf pan, and it did not take the half the time it says it should when you do that, which suggests that if you do it in a loaf pan it takes even longer than the stated 50-60 minutes, and is probably heavier.)

For the biscuits, I did three variations. The first one was half flour and half sweet potato flour, because we had run out of AP flour. Unfortunately, we had also run out of baking soda, which I discovered after I had already started the mix, so my partner had to run out for baking supplies, which included picking up AP flour, so I could have done these right if I’d read the whole recipe before starting. Then again, I maybe would have assumed we had it; baking soda is one of those things I consider a pantry staple. Let this be a lesson about checking to make sure you have everything before you start! (A lesson I have learned this way several times before and will probably learn this way again. This is one of the ways I got so good at substitutions.)

The second variation was one that was straight-up gluten-free and vegan but otherwise followed the recipe– I used Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 gluten-free baking flour. I didn’t try one of these, and they came out kind of… cracked and dry… but the gluten-free person at the party seemed grateful they were there. Either there weren’t as many gluten-free people at the party this year or this isn’t as good a recipe as the hypoallergenic bread I got from modifying a drop biscuit recipe in a different cookbook– the year I brought that to the party it was gone by the end of the night! I suspect it’s both, actually; one of the principles of substitution is that the fewer structural ingredients you have, the harder it is to substitute one of them and the closer the substitute needs to be to the original. What I did today is a very simple biscuit recipe; the other was a more complex one, which means there were more ingredients to take up the slack for the lack of gluten, and it was a drop biscuit recipe, which means there was more liquid in it to keep it moist. (I suspect the gingerbread would work well gluten-free; the batter was very thick but still very wet, which implies the flour is not the primary thing holding it together.)

The third variation I made this morning (New Year’s Day!) for today’s party, and it’s full-flour but one of the listed variations in the book: sausage, goat cheese, and parsley are mixed in before adding the “buttermilk”. There was another weird quirk related to mix-ins with that one, as it says to remove the casings from 3 or 4 sausages and use the meat. Now, “sausage” is not actually a standard size, and the sausages we got were so large there was definitely more meat in them than was a good idea. My partner suggested that by “sausage”, Bittman probably means the 12-to-a-pound kind, and what you actually want is the 8-to-a-pound kind. (Ours were 4-to-a-pound.) This is borne out by comparison with the cheese and the parsley, which he actually did give concrete amounts for: a quarter of a cup of each, which is not enough. I don’t know how much I put in exactly, because I looked at it as it was added, went “that’s not enough, and the meat’s too much”, and just kept adding things until it looked right. We used grated goat cheddar instead of the crumbled goat cheese the book recommends, and the one I tried right after they came out of the oven was just absolutely delicious. (My partner’s roommate also approves.)

Time to head out to the party and see what reception these get. Happy New Year!

Kit Bakes Everything: Brownies, Pretzels, and Bao

Hey guys! Long time no see. Which is fine, I suppose, since no one actually reads this anyway…

Anyway, I had this thought during my bout of All The Baking over the holidays. I should do Mark Bittman’s How to Bake Everything Julie-and-Julia-style, doing all the recipes in it at least once and blogging about it! I will note that I’m not handing myself any kind of time limit on this one, although I am going to try to post more often than I have been. It’s a massive cookbook with more than a thousand recipes. This is probably going to take me longer than a year. I’m also not going to stop my other blog posts– don’t worry, this isn’t suddenly becoming a cooking blog! I’ll post here about writing and my adventures in herbalism and whatever other strangeness I get up to.

General rules: I’m not going to stick 100% to the recipes. I often cook for people with food allergies, and I have many myself, so I do a lot of substitutions. I’m also a good enough baker that this actually works out okay as a general rule.

I did three recipes out of HTBE over my days off. The brownies were most excellent, although they came out more the consistency of fudge. It was a very thick batter, although I’m not sure how much of that is that my homemade egg substitute isn’t as liquidy as an actual egg. The resultant brownies were also very thick. I combined several of the variations into one– I put pecans in the batter, as one of the variation suggests, and drizzled caramel over the top. The pecans worked out very nicely. I think next time I’m going to put the caramel as a layer in the middle of the brownies rather than on top, because the edges puffed up as it baked and all the caramel fell down into the middle. I wonder if that might also have to do with why it was so fudgy in the middle. Not that there’s anything wrong with a fudgy brownie, although with praline Almond Dream over the top and caramel sauce over that I think there was a bit of sugar shock. (Seriously, that dessert is something right off a fancy restaurant menu, eaten at home for way less money. It can be done! Fancy brownie sundaes are not only the stuff of restaurant dessert menus that nobody ever eats a whole one of.)

The pretzels also came out pretty nice. I was somewhat hampered in this instance by an insufficient space to roll out my pretzels into a snake, so they didn’t get that nice pretzel shape when I shaped them and they came out more like oddly shaped rolls. However, they tasted good. I think next time I may double the recipe–there was plenty of boiling water left, and there’s no point wasting baking soda and malt powder when I could be using that water to boil up more.

I am, however, becoming extremely suspicious of some of the occasions in which this book calls for bread flour. The pretzels would have been softer and tasted even better with AP, I think, but they were mostly fine– but the bao were an absolute disaster.

First thing’s first, it does not take four hours largely unattended. It takes four hours if you completely discount the time spent working on the dough in between each rising and you have a very large steamer. It has multiple risings, and you have to manipulate the dough fairly heavily between each one, and then you have to steam each batch for 6 to 10 minutes while not crowding the batches in the steamer, and the recipe as written makes 30 buns which you then have to shape and steam. It took me ten hours, all told, from start to finish, and then the bao were awful. I choked one down for dinner, but most of the tray was tossed.

Full disclosure: I did not have actual bread flour, and I used a little white whole wheat mixed with AP. This has worked before in place of bread flour just fine (it was fine in the pretzels!). There’s no reason it shouldn’t have worked here. Except, of course, that bread flour has no place in bao in the first place. Having since looked up several bao recipes online, none of them call for bread flour, and one had a discussion about Asian versus American bread flours; apparently Asian bread flour is a very different beast, and most American flours are too high in gluten to properly make bao. If it’s a food product that explicitly doesn’t want high gluten (and the consensus of the internet is that it indeed doesn’t), the recipe has no business whatever calling for bread flour– it doesn’t say anything in the book about Asian bread flour versus American; just calls for regular bread flour. If I’d known anything about bao, I’d have known to be suspicious of the recipe right there.

I may well try to make bao again, but not from this book and not while my partner is around. (He’s understandably burned out from the ten hours of holiday spent on this. Also, I have a proper steamer and he does not.)

I suppose two out of three ain’t bad. And so very much more cookbook to go…

Apothecary Chronicles: A is for Anise

Wow! It’s been a long time since I did an Apothecary Chronicles post. I decided I was going to do this project to get me in the habit of posting and then then totally didn’t get in the habit of posting. For a while this had to do with the difficulty of finding anise lying around, but then I found some anise and it’s been sitting around waiting for me to get to using it.

I finally did last week. The anise being discussed here isn’t star anise, but the kind of anise often referred to as “aniseed”. There actually weren’t really any recipes given for it, but some uses were listed. It’s apparently mostly useful for mothers and babies, as it brings on mother’s milk and relieves colic. So… not so much useful for me, though it would have been good to have on hand before my friend’s baby grew out past the infant stage. (Really need to start doing these more often!)

The closest it got to a recipe for this chapter, which I did make, was a “sleepytime toddy” involving steeping anise in warm milk. I substituted almond milk because I am lactose intolerant, and it tasted nice enough, I suppose. It didn’t do anything for my cough. But if you like anise it’s not a bad thing to have late at night.

Sorting Hat Chats: Library Wars

I’m very fond of the Sorting Hat Chats. Their system divides houses into primary and secondary houses. Primary houses are why you do what you do; secondary houses are your methods, the how. They’ve got big essays over there on each house’s qualities for primary and secondary. I like them a whole lot, and they haven’t put up any new sortings lately, so I’m going to sort Library Wars. (This is based on the manga and a fan translation of the original light novels; I haven’t seen the anime, and I only saw the live-action movie once and haven’t been able to find a version with subtitles again. Also, while the live-action movie was awesome, it necessarily left out a lot.)

Unsurprisingly, the Library Force has a lot of Gryffindor in it.

Iku Kasahara is a Gryffindor primary. She knows intuitively that censorship is wrong, and so she’s going to fight it. She decided that very suddenly in high school after her first run-in with the Media Betterment Committee, and having decided that, she immediately devotes her life to doing what is right. That moral certainty is the real reason she’s the first woman assigned to the elite Library Task Force, because while they can (and do) train the bookwork skills into her at least enough to be up to par, they can’t train the devotion to the ideals into her. She finds the world very black and white– no matter how many times Dojo and Genda tell her “We’re not heroes”, she persists in believing that they are supposed to be heroes. Often enough, when she’s flinging herself against reality like that, reality is the thing that ends up shattering.

She’s also a Gryffindor secondary. When confronted with another bookstore in need, her first impulse is to go charging straight in without any awareness of what her actual authority is, because if censorship is wrong, it must be stopped by the most direct means possible. She breaks the Library Force’s rules without a second thought if it means doing what’s right, and when she’s prevented from doing so she rails against the injustice and insists politics should play no part here. We see her Gryffindor charisma pulling everybody else in behind her– Dojo takes punches for her, Komaki breaks his strict radical honesty with a lie of omission to protect her, and Shibazaki, who decided long ago never to have real friends, wants to be her friend. Even Tezuka, who initially can’t stand her, also can’t stop thinking about her. She’s rapidly acquired an army of people who will follow her lead, to the point where Dojo is willing to take risks that nearly get him killed rather than let the impossible odds against them stop them from doing what’s right, all because she’s inspired him.

Dojo is also a Gryffindor primary with a Gryffindor secondary. Like Kasahara, he knows intuitively what the right thing to do is. Censorship is wrong, and while we don’t spend a lot of time in his head, we do know what was going through is head in the bookstore– hurting a high school girl over a book is also wrong, and most of the people advocating censorship are brutes. Unlike Kasahara, though, he’s buried his Gryffindor/Gryffindor under a Hufflepuff/Hufflepuff model. He tries to base his actions on his loyalty to the Library Force as a whole rather than the broader intuitive “censorship is wrong”. He tries to accomplish his goals via working hard at his assigned duties, training the recruits, and being the best Task Force member he can be. Part of the problem he has with Kasahara is that she calls out to his buried true nature, and by the end of the fourth book he’s choosing to rewrite the plan on the fly so they can complete the mission in the face of impossible odds– and he nearly dies doing so, and doesn’t regret it, even when by regulations he should probably have gone back to base. Together, Dojo and Kasahara kind of become Gryffindor squared, and no reality cannot be bent to their will if they try hard enough.

Hikaru Tezuka is also a Gryffindor primary! He has that same intuitive sense that censorship is wrong that Kasahara and Dojo have. It’s just Tezuka expresses it differently, because for him, it’s personalized in the context of his brother. He never cites any reasoning the way a Ravenclaw primary would when arguing with Satoshi– it’s just “You are wrong because censorship is always wrong and you’re manipulating me which is also wrong, and also you’re hurting our parents!” He’s willing to turn to Satoshi when it serves the ultimate cause by finding out where Komaki is, but he won’t try to get Satoshi to stop coming after Iku– because he knows the price for that would be “betray all your ideals by helping me”, and even to save a friend he won’t betray his ideals. (This is, in fact, Tezuka’s core problem with Satoshi: Satoshi ostensibly has some kind of complex plan to accomplish the same goals, and Tezuka’s straightforward Gryffindor nature sees this as unworkable. You know what’s right, and you do it; the very idea of a ten-year subterfuge is ridiculous and will never work.)

Tezuka’s secondary is Hufflepuff. He lives his ideals by joining the Library Force, excelling at both the bookwork and the training, working hard, and trying to live up to the family name.

Komaki is the only one on Team Dojo with no Gryffindor in him. We don’t spend a lot of time in his head, but we do see that he’s consciously chosen a lot of his behavior, like the whole “I only tell the truth” thing, which he’s still willing to bend when faced with evidence that in this case it’s right to make an exception. He’s also the one who’s most rational and observational about everything– the one pointing that yes, Library Force politics do exist and we need to account for them, and quietly talking everybody else through their emotions with his rationality. (Even when Marie is hurt, he’s able to tamp down his rage and use it, and think to have Iku test his hypothesis about why Marie was targeted.) That makes me designate him Ravenclaw primary, one who’s decided on the values of the Library Force to guide his system.

Komaki’s secondary is Hufflepuff, but he expresses it very differently from Tezuka. Where Tezuka works hard at the curriculum and his duties, Komaki builds community with the other officers– he’s there to comfort Tezuka after the bear-killer incident and Iku after she finds out the identity of her prince, and more generally Komaki is usually the one explaining everybody to everybody else and quietly keeping the team stable. He’s not obvious about it, but he’s always there when it counts.

Shibasaki starts the story as a petrified Slytherin. She wanted friends, in middle school, but middle school was so awful for her that she cut herself off from the possibility and tried to care only about protecting herself. I say Slytherin and not Hufflepuff because she doesn’t feel guilty for not caring about the people around her; she’s just lonely and trying not to admit it. When she meets Kasahara, she gradually starts to un-Petrify and realize this is someone she wants for a friend, and then she pretty much wholesale adopts her, whether that means teaching the library classification system or openly sticking by Kasahara during the inquiry. Later on she adds Tezuka to her people. Pretty much all her actions after that point can be defined by her own personal ambitions (being a good librarian and rising through the ranks) or standing up for Kasahara and Tezuka.

Shibasaki’s secondary is Hufflepuff but with a solid Slytherin model. When push comes to shove, what she relies on is her community connections and the effort she puts into being popular, but she’s also quite adept at improvisation and manipulation. The combination is what makes her so good at being in the library’s intelligence division.

Genda is harder because we see him less often and almost never as a POV character. He could go either Gryffindor or Hufflepuff, or even Slytherin– I’m not sure if he’s charging into his ideals because those are his ideals, or if he’s loyal to the Library Force itself, or if Inamine and Origuchi are his and he’s loyal to the Library Force and freedom because those are their goals.

His secondary is Gryffindor, though. When it came down to the pressure moment, he stood up, blocked an artwork with his body, and dared the would-be censors to shoot him. We later find out that he was shot 23 times. How much more charging into things can you get?

Satoshi Tezuka is a Slytherin primary. First and foremost he wants power for himself, and he also wants his brother under his control. He’s got a somewhat corrupted version of it, though, because he puts the possessiveness before the caring– he doesn’t really care that he’s upsetting his brother; he just wants Hikaru to be his and he’s willing to set anything in train if that happens. He’s also got a Ravenclaw model, with his systems and analyses and examinations of the world– he achieved his views through study and examination, and he’s very smart.

His secondary is also Slytherin, improvisational, but with a strong Ravenclaw model. These two secondaries in combination result in Chessmaster tendencies, which he totally has. For most of the story, he’s operating on a long, complex plan that’s supposed to take ten years to play out, but when circumstances present him with a way to accomplish his goals much faster by allying with the Library Force, he’s quick to drop the old plan and pick up a new one.

Marie and Inamine we just don’t see enough of to sort, although Marie is possessive enough of Komaki that I would be unsurprised if her primary was Slytherin. Winning him seems to have been her driving motivation for most of her life.

Kit Does Filk: “My Favorite Things”

I’ve written another filk, everyone! This is for an old song, but a fun one.

Dances in ballrooms and manuscripts written,
Bright steampunk goggles and hand-knitted mittens,
Magic adventures inspired by kings,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Bear-armored doggies and times that were feudal,
Swordsworn and fighters in kit and caboodle,
Dragons that fly with the flames that they bring,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Books from small presses and tortoiseshell glasses,
Stories that leave tears against my eyelashes,
Imagining landscapes carried on dreams,
These are a few of my favorite things.

When the con bites, when I lose things,
When drama gets bad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don’t feel so sad!

New Publication!

I’ve sold another essay to Hoax Zine. This one is about how the queer community can be hostile to those who don’t fit into mainstream queer narratives. It’s on presale now; you can go order a copy here. This issue’s subject is “Feminisms and Spaces” and there are a lot of other great essays in there.

Go check it out!