Category Archives: baking

Cooking Challenge the Second

Before the lamb there was a different challenge, one that my heart was definitely in, but my head a bit reluctant to take on:

The Traditional Clootie Dumpling

(distantly related to the great haggis, which is hunted each fall in Scotland)

So why clootie dumpling, you ask? Why not flapjack (a delicious treat bound with honey I discovered courtesy of Mull Magic) or a proper baked bread like the Selkirk Bannock? Why choose a fruitcake-dumpling hybrid that needs to be half-boiled, half-steamed, then dried, all with equipment that looks like foreign instruments of torture (this may be a slight exaggeration, but the unfamiliar can be terrifying)?

Well, that’s what you’d be asking if you already knew about my weakness for British sweets. If you didn’t yet know about that, welcome. Have a look around the place.

Actually, I can pinpoint the source of my determination to make Clootie Dumpling: my visit to the Culloden Visitor Centre cafe, one cold August day in 2011. (P.S. I tried those haggis crisps on my most recent visit, verdict: tasty, but not habit-inducing)

Problem Ingredients: Suet & Sultanas

I did a fair amount of research (read: hemming and hawing) before actually committing to making it by buying ingredients. There was the issue of suet, for one. What was it, and was it necessary? After reading through a goodly number of British pudding recipes, I concluded it was. No messing about with Italian olive oil, French butter, or American margarine. You can read about the animal fat and its uses here. Also, what about sultanas? They seemed to be another elusive ingredient States-side, at least going by the local co-ops and natural foods stores.

A question to a Whole Foods employee was answered with the fact that if they were golden raisins, they wouldn’t carry them because the processing of drying grapes for raisins darkens their color, and any chemical means to stop this process for a golden color would not be allowed by their store. Whoo-ee! Well it’s an answer, anyway.

mise en place clootie dumpling

The pound or so of suet was divided into cup-size amounts and frozen. It was very different to handle, kind of like a malleable candle wax that was stuck in cheesecloth. The cheesecloth part of course was some fibrous netting of muscle fibers or something, but I didn’t look up the physiology to be able to tell you what, exactly. Sorry/ you’re welcome?

Now for the recipe. I had plenty of possible ones to choose from, Scottish cookbook hoarder as I am, the question was which one to use?

I ended up going with the common elements in each, and improvising along the way as to cooking times. The dough seemed to come together in a ball well enough, so I floured up the cheesecloth and plonked it into the boiling water.

dumpling before clootie

Problem Process: A Heatproof Plate

Here’s what was supposed to happen in the large pot. Turn a heatproof plate upside down in the water so the dumpling will have something to rest on, and not come into direct contact with the bottom of the pan. Plus, don’t tie the cheesecloth too tightly, as the dough will expand a bit.

There, in two instructions, lay my undoing. I didn’t have a plate I wanted to risk breaking, since I was none too sure about the heat conducted by air in the oven and that conducted by water in a pot. I went for a ramekin as the sturdiest item I did have, but the ball of dough was already too big to sit nicely on that. Curses!

‘Not too tightly’ then turned into ‘not tightly enough’ as the rowdy bubbling of the water made the ramekin pitch and toss and turn the ‘clootie’ this way and that, loosening the tie and letting some of the sugar and spices leak out to color the water, as you can see. (Maybe if I had a sailor to show me how to tie knots?)

Afterwards I went to ask the staff at Kitchen Kaboodle about the heatproof question, and two ladies both thought any plate that worked in the oven should work in boiling water. Hmph! All that , and I should have just asked sooner. Well, now YOU know!

And by the way, ‘clootie’ comes from the Scots word for cloth: ‘cloot’ which was used to tie up the dough. You didn’t think you’d be learning this much from this post, did you?

trouble in the pot clootie dumpling

You can also see my attempt to prevent the chaos from continuing, the long wooden spoon balanced on top and piercing the knot to hold the open part up and away from the water. However, the roiling, boiling water was too much and ended up pulling the spoon down into the pot too, many times over the several hours needed.

It reminded me of the adventure in canning tomatoes, actually. I took a class for it, then made a successful attempt at canning some glorious tomatoes from DC’s harvest last summer. They are still in my cupboard, waiting for the right moment. (Now that I’m moving again, that would have been last week, but oh well. We do what we can, right?)

I finally settled on putting a cloth over the pot lid, both to keep the steam in better (since the spoon let it out), and provide some friction to prevent the spoon from falling, but I had to keep tending to it every 15 minutes for almost three hours. This was the reveal moment:

unveil of clootie dumpling

And it was none too pretty, so I didn’t take a photo!

But down below is when I got it into a low-heat oven to ‘dry.’ This was traditionally done in a basket or pot by the fire. (Not in Portland, OR though)

roasting clootie dumpling

Verdict: Delicious

Finally! The pale, mushy outside could have been due to either the water getting in or not drying it long enough in the oven, or both. It did NOT look like the pictures of clootie dumpling that I’d seen, with their smooth, dark surfaces, so I do have that to aspire to next time.

However, the inside was very good, with the fruity flavor of raisins and currants mixed with sweet dark notes of sugar cane.

finished clootie dumpling

It even worked well as leftovers, heated in a microwave with water-speckled paper towels as is my wont, and drizzled with cream, since I couldn’t be bother to knock up a custard (see first definition here, for all you Americans with dirty minds).

I look forward to being in my own kitchen and trying this one again, as it was one of those food memories that demands satisfaction.

 

*Please note these are affiliate links to Amazon.com. This means if you click through and purchase something from Amazon, I receive a tiny percentage. Thanks for supporting those pursuing their dreams in any way possible! :-)

A Portland Character Sketch

I thought y’all might like to see a bit more of Portland, my new home. I haven’t posted anything on it specifically since Tax Day, so here’s a bit more on its character, and why I’m still thinking it’s a great place…

William Carlos WIlliams

So Much Depends… a red wheelbarrow on NE Alberta St

Art. Is. Everywhere.

dutch baby

Lemon-anointed Dutch Baby at Helser’s on NE Alberta

So is good food. It’s pretty much a playground for foodies.

Ken's artisan pizza

THE famous Ken’s artisan pizza

After many months of wondering, I finally tried a Ken’s pizza (Pizza Night at the Bakery is every Monday night, and it gets a bit crazy). Delicious.

sandwich from Biloxi

A pulled-pork po-boy mash-up from new restaurant Biloxi on N. Mississippi Ave.

This fine sandwich was even served alongside the chance to view the entire crew of Portlandia chowing down on N. Mississippi Ave. Those are julienned fried pickles, folks. Someone takes themselves seriously…

peach panna cotta serratto

Peach panna cotta at Serratto in NW

This panna cotta at a local Italian restaurant almost made me weep, it was so good. I’m not usually a plain-cooked-milk person, but the vanilla, the peak-of-perfection local summer stone fruit- made me eat more than I should have.

bacon sandwich Radio Room

PT’s Breakfast Sandwich at Radio Room on NE Alberta St.

This one I discovered while meeting a friend at the Radio Room, a restaurant that has defied the trend and NOT become a McMenamin’s. Its style and personality do it credit, as you can see from their site. Also, this breakfast sandwich was amazing, and I did manage to have leftovers from that colossus.

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The spread at Olympic Provisions has to be my favorite by far. They specialize in salumeria–curing, spicing, and drying their own meats–but if you had given us only their vegetable dishes or their chilled roasted shrimp masterpiece, we would have been just as happy. Everything was done to the highest standard and with the most vivid imagination for flavor combinations, and they worked! Amazing place in inner SE Portland.

hush puppies and pulled pork at bite of oregon

This was a find at the Bite of Oregon festival: hush puppies that rivalled those found in the heart of Virginia, if you can believe it. Crisp and dark on the outside, moist and flavorful corniness on the inside, with peppers and red onion. Scrumptious.

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Another local NW Portland place that I’d heard about long before I actually got to go: Smokehouse. Definitely takes it smoking seriously. We were there mid-way through the evening and they were out of their smoked chicken, so I’ll have to wait on that (I’ve only had it once before in my life, but it was just about perfect), but in the meantime, their pulled pork made for 4 meals, and their sides–baked beans and braised greens–kept up for two leftover meals.

Lovejoy chocolate tart with lemon and raspberry

Finally, just to show I’m not completely biased toward Ken’s, here is something I came across at Lovejoy Bakers, another sandwich/ bakery place in NW. Their sandwiches left me a little cold, but this, a chocolate tart shell with lemon curd and raspberry coulis inside? Bliss.

 

 

 

And of course, there is also the bizarre, hipster side of Portland, as advertised… (Collage has awesome-sounding craft workshops for $5, 10, 25, which I’ve been meaning to try out…)

vintage german doll legs

Doll legs to be had, along with a lot of Dia de los Muertos-themed items, at Collage

Couldn’t resist this juxtapostion…

catholic church and pbr beer truck

PBR, Beer of Hipsters Everywhere

 

…so those have been some of my adventures! Largely spurred on by visits of lovely friends from around the country, but also by great recommendations from new-found Portland friends. (Thank you.)

Yep, Portland and me, we’re like two peas in a pod.IMAG5058

Disagree? Got any sizzling tips to add to this list? Jump in to comment, Portlandians!

When in Doubt, Part 5: Bake for the Office

Part 5 of the “When In Doubt, Do Everything At Once” series on Taste Life Twice. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

This series of “When In Doubt” posts will deal specifically with how to get happy when you feel like you’re drowning in more questions than answers. I have frequently been in dips like this, as you can see from many of my posts. Sometimes I work out a problem on the blog here with you, but often it is expressed in activity in another sphere. Here is where I’m showcasing those other activities, and how I deal with uncertainty every day.

cupcakes in the office

Baking

Baking is one of the activities that used to show up here more often, but hasn’t features prominently of late, because I’ve been focusing on life hacks and confronting challenges. Baking. How does baking fit in with self-improvement, going after your dreams, pursuing your passion, etc? you ask. Ah.

Well, it has a lot to do with the subjects of two recent posts: my most recent guest post on being alone, and one here about just trying something. I am a definite lover of sweets and baked goods, but a few years ago when graduate school ended, with its free-cookie-mentality, I was on my own for meaningful food experiences, something which I had taken for granted.

That is when I started cooking. And baking. It was convenient that I then found a job with an office where people appreciated baked things, because it became a ready experimental forum for my creations: a captive audience! There were plenty of things in my life at that point that were uncertain, annoying, boring, BUT I did have time, and I did have a kitchen, and I used that time and that kitchen to learn how to make stuff, and to share it. Hmm…

Treading Water

So I guess what I’m offering here is the thought that even if you don’t yet have a clue which direction you want your life to head, there’s always something you can do to tread water and keep your mind in training for its next mission.

Cooking and baking led me to food blogs, and some great restaurants, and the world of DC farmersmarkets. Food blogs led me to happiness blogs, which led me to self-improvement, productivity, and other fascinating themes. And now I’m headed out into that great blue yonder myself, chasing after the dream of running my own business, doing things I love! So you see how things start.

start small, but start

In what ways are you treading water? What activities have you started in the past that led to surprising results?

And in case you want to see what I have been baking lately, check out these crispy oatmeal laceys or this cranberry gingerbread (more like a red wine than a sweet treat!). Have fun baking for the holidays, and merry Christmas!

Photos via CookingChannelTV and MarketingDeviant