Soggy Bottoms: Recipes That Worked for Us

May 7, 2020

Soggy Bottoms - a Bookish Journey through Technical Bakes with a floury spoon, a rolling pin, and eggshells on a slate backgroundWe’re taking a slight detour with this month’s Soggy Bottoms. Instead of one recipe, we’re sharing the ones that have worked well for us recently!

Sarah: I’ve been trying to include one new recipe a week in our menu plans, along with extremely delicious family favorites, so let me share an old favorite, a new favorite, and a dessert.

Cashew Chicken, from The Bitten Word via Martha Stewart Everyday

I make this once a month, though once the chicken and sauce are done, I add a handful of snow peas or sugar snap peas at the very end to warm them a little. It’s easy and delicious every time.

Last week we made this: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Polenta with Tomatoes

It made a LOT, and it was fiddly and delicious.

But that’s meals, and Soggy Bottoms is about baking. Can’t neglect the baking! Last weekend we made Stella Parks’ Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie.

A slice of skillet cookie

A few notes: first, I didn’t have malt powder, but I substituted buttermilk powder and it was just fine. We also used a mix of dark chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and chopped up milk chocolate Hershey’s Kisses, because that’s what we had. It worked great because the chips left big pockets of chocolate and the tiny pieces of the Hershey’s Kisses melted into the batter. The top of the cookie got a little darker than we would have liked, so I might cover it with foil if it’s browning too much, but the texture of the rest of it was outstanding. We ate the hell out of that cookie. If we make it again, and I can find malt powder, we’ll try the recipe as written.

Lara: When it comes to baking, there is one woman I trust: Alexa Johnston. She wrote a series of recipe books in which I have not found a single recipe that disappoints. I can whole-heartedly recommend these recipes as simple, easy to make and utterly delicious.

Lemon bars: Tart, sweet and more-ish

About the only thing Easter-related that I engage in… these delicious Easter Biscuits.

If you’ve not entered the world of cream cheese pastry, these Apricot Crescents will be a revelation.

Claudia: During this pandemic I got two email “chains” from close friends who are not habitual email-chain followers or initiators, and interestingly enough one was for poetry and the other for new dishes to cook!

I’ve been making our own cultured butter for a while, and have built quite a stash in the freezer during the pandemic because initially butter was hard to get in our area but cream was plentiful. The recipe with detailed instructions is here.

I am also fully on the bread-baking bandwagon, and have kept a sourdough starter with some degree of success. My favorite websites for all things sourdough are King Arthur Flour and The Perfect Loaf. I’m trying to keep a smaller starter to cut down on the discard that it generates, and trying new recipes to use up that discard.

There are a ton of recipes out there, but I came up with a use I hadn’t seen before — as part of a fish-fry batter. It was delish and made it slightly puffy and light without any additional leavening. For about two pounds of fish, you need about a cup of batter. Use about ½ cup of sourdough discard, add ½ cup of flour, and enough beer (you don’t need much, drink the rest!) to make a pancake-y batter, not too thick, not too runny, and you are in business. I don’t mind deep frying in the house but one of my tricks to contain splatters is to cover anything in the vicinity with newspaper, kitchen floor included, to make cleaning a little easier.

I have added Serious Eats Chicken and Rice to my repertoire and it has been a hit that reminds me of New York City. By the way, I love Serious Eats and it’s a trove of reliable recipes. You can make this one as written and it will be amazing but on days that I am pressed for time I make it all in my Instant Pot by browning the chicken first then adding the rice and cooking them together, and it’s still amazing. I’ve also added snow peas, sugar snap peas, or cut-up green beans to make it a truly one-pot meal.

Other than that, I’m on even more of a mission to conserve food and to come up with novel ways to repackage our leftovers, and a recent hit was baked ziti with yesterday’s meatloaf. Super easy and fast: break down the meatloaf leftovers in a pan with a bit of olive oil, add marinara sauce, let the flavors meld for a bit. It could work as a simple meat sauce for any kind of pasta, too, but I had some mozzarella cheese left over from sourdough-discard pizza night and it was one big circle!

Finally, I was recently thumbing through a 1944 edition of The Settlement Cookbook owned by a relative who has died a long time ago, and we are doing a little sentimental project baking the most splattered recipe on a held-together-by-scotch-tape page in that book, walnut kipfels (yeast cookies, it looks like). It feels like a connection we need through these times.

Shana: Sadly, I am not a stress baker so my baking output has plummeted in the last month.

One of my go-to favorites is this step-by-step explanation of how to make croissants. They’re perfect for pandemic times because you do a little rolling, and then get to go lie down for a few hours in between steps. The recipe is at the bottom of the page.

On the other end of the time spectrum, I love these quick Flourless peanut butter cookies. We made these last weekend and they’re one of my family’s favorites. If you’re having trouble finding flour, these are gluten-free, delicious, and very forgiving if little hands make them larger or smaller than what the recipe calls for. I actually prefer extra wide cookies! They call for turbinado, or raw sugar sprinkled on top but if you don’t have it, it’s fine with regular granulated sugar or no extra sugar. Emeril’s version adds chocolate chips.

But honestly some days all I can manage is a microwave mug cake. On those days I turn to this recipe. It’s egg-free, which makes the measurements easier. The cake is fluffy, but densely chocolatey. And it only uses two spoons and a cup, for less dishwashing!

Amanda: I feel like I don’t have a ton to contribute, because I’ve been making a lot of big crockpot meals that give me a lot of leftovers that can be frozen. They’re nothing special.

I also had the craving for homemade pasta sauce and meatballs, which I made one Monday afternoon. So worth it! But you know how it goes with family recipes; everything is super secret.

A big pot of pasta sauce with the caption 'sweaty and ready for spaghetti'

However, I have one recipe that is fantastic and uses mostly pantry staples!

I saw this recipe for a Chocolate Stout Brownie Bread retweeted by my local craft beer store. It uses basic baking ingredients with some stout. I have a beer fridge and love dark beers, so I always have a stout on hand. I used a milk stout for this one, though I suppose you can go wild with other flavors. I had a cannoli stout in my beer fridge but I didn’t want to sacrifice it.

The only change I made was the dark chocolate chips for what we had on hand, which was butterscotch chips.

The “bread” isn’t too sweet and I’ve been having it for breakfast after warming it up in the microwave. I’m somewhat tempted to use it for French toast once it starts going a little stale, if it even lasts that long.

Tara: One of my coworkers said she’s doing a cleanse right now because she’s not leaving the house, so she’s not as tempted to cheat. More power to her, because that’s not me lately. However, I did at least commit to eating more vegetables. Pan frying them with some shrimp and noodles is the easiest way for a quick lunch between meetings, but I started getting bored of having them with oyster sauce all the time. Thank goodness Sneezy came to the rescue! She told me to make a sauce with some peanut butter (even better if it’s crunchy), lime juice and soy sauce. It’s super simple, but sooooo good. Sometimes I throw in some curry powder or cilantro if I want to change it up a little.

In terms of baking, this has long been a go-to recipe and I make it every time we have some bananas go bad (which is all the time, because we have good intentions and bad follow through). I literally took a photo out of my friend’s cookbook, which she’s clearly been using for years and years.

I also highly recommend this chocolate chip cookie. I stumbled across it more than a decade ago and it’s a huge hit with friends and family.

Catherine: So I’m a bit of a manic baker who is constitutionally incapable of following a recipe without changing it, and working from home is making me very sad because I can’t do a proper baking frenzy when I have no scientists to feed my goodies to. And I got a Magimix for my birthday, so right now I’m excited about yeasted buns and things, though I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered them yet, especially as my yeast is suspiciously slow-working just now and probably mostly dead. (But there is no yeast on the supermarket shelves…)

Anyway. Since I don’t follow recipes at all well, I have a food blog where I record what I actually did do, just in case I want to repeat it sometime. And I am gratuitously sharing recipes from there.

I love this lemon, ricotta and raspberry cake, because it takes about five minutes to assemble (no creaming of anything!), and then another five minutes to make the syrup, and the oven does the rest. I was making this about once a week for a while there.

I have a lot of vegan friends, and I don’t see why they should miss out on yummy food, so I’ve come up with a lot of vegan cakes over the last few years. But the one I make again and again is this chocolate coconut and raspberry cupcake, because it’s again super fast and easy to make, and so good that the omnivores will try to steal it.

I have about a thousand gluten-free biscuit recipes which are all variations on the theme of 200g almond meal (or other finely ground nut meal, or even sub in some coconut or cocoa powder), 1 egg, 50g sugar, and flavourings of your choice, roll into balls, put on a tray, and bake for 15 minutes at 165°C. My favourite is the one with strawberry gum, but that’s hard to get even in Australia. I’m also very fond of doing a sort of jam thumbprint version of this biscuit, with half almond and half pistachio, and apricot jam in the middle. Add a very tiny amount of orange flower water too, if you like. I’ll usually make several batches of these with whatever random nuts I have in the house and do different flavours – hazelnut and chocolate, walnut and cinnamon, almond and coconut macaroons with glacé cherries, whatever, until I run out of nuts.

…and now you see why I need a food blog, because I could keep going and going and going and going with this end never come to an end…

Ooh, actually, randomly, and perhaps everyone in the US knows this already, but just in case you didn’t, did you know you can just put a whole turkey into a slow cooker with a little water and herbs and a halved lemon and onion or two, and maybe some butter and garlic under its skin, and ignore it for 10 hours or so, and it comes out all delicious and tender and surprisingly moist and you have the whole oven free for your very important roast potatoes and other goodies like for example gratuitous cake baking? This is the best thing I have ever learned. You do need a large slow cooker, though. And a small turkey. And if you want crispy skin, this is not your recipe.

What have you been cooking and/or baking during this time? What recipes are your go-to favorites?

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