Thursday, May 31, 2007

To Chew Or Not To Chew

Well, Coffee Mates, how's that for a primo photographic example of artisan bread -- in this case, our recently discussed no-knead bread? Gorgeous, innit? Still hot in that pic, and smelling like heaven on a stick.

Looks can be SO deceiving.

I don't mean the bread was a bust. It really does smell -- and taste -- lovely, and that's the whole point, I guess. Trouble is, I do not personally care for the heavy-duty chewy crust you get with this method of baking. Even after generously slathering it with olive oil and keeping it in a plastic bag, it's still very chewy a day later. [sigh]

Also, I really should have left it to cook a bit longer. You may have noticed the tutorial suggested cooking with the lid on, then cooking some more with the lid off. Leo, in the video, simply cooked it 30 minutes with the lid on. I'm used to having my bread done in no more than 30 minutes at a much lower heat so this extremely high temp had me worried. While the crust is lovely, the innards are not quite up to snuff. A wee bit too moist but acceptable -- barely. It definitely could have done with some more time, no doubt about it. [sigh]

I knew I wasn't going to get along with this particular bread back in the rising stage. The flour-to-water proportions simply don't seem right. My pan de agua recipe calls for 3 cups flour and 1 cup water. This calls for 3 cups flour and 1 1/2 cups water. That extra half-cup makes a huge difference. I should have worked in a lot more flour after the first rise, that's what. But I was making myself stick with the recipe and didn't add nearly enough. Which left me with a sticky blob of dough from hell. [sigh]

On top of everything else, I fell asleep early last night, missed putting up this post altogether, and woke up at 5:30 this morning just like I knew what I was doing. Well, if I'm going to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before the sun is even over the hill, you'll just have to put up with me tossing this post into the pot, all out of synch with any kind of schedule at all. I vote we all get another cup of coffee and try to put this experience behind us. You, of course, may have an entirely different result if and when you make your no-knead bread. I hope you succeed beyond your wildest dreams. Truly, I do. As for me, I'm going back to my pan de agua. It doesn't make me chew so furiously that I burn up more calories in the process of eating than I'm taking on in the contents of what I'm eating.

Wait. I'm saying that like it's a bad thing.

No, never mind. With my luck, I'd just end up with skinny jaws. [sigh]

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Leo Turns Me On

If there is a Mrs. Leo, I sincerely hope she understands the crush I have on her husband is purely platonic and I think she's blessed to have a fella who knows his way around the kitchen like he does. And dang! He picks the music with the bounce, does he not?

Oh. This is a Looooosee-'splain-yourself moment. What it is, is, for your dining and dancing pleasure (really!), I have embedded a YouTube video at the end of this post. I will warn you not to have your speakers turned up too loud if you're at the office or if it's the wee hours of the morning and you don't want to wake the baby. Otherwise, let 'er rip. Because Leo is going to take just over three quick minutes to show us how to make no-knead bread and you get to dance to the music while you watch.

Before breaking out the popcorn to view the video, however, you will find it worthwhile to go to this website for a really good photo-studded tutorial on the subject. It gives you explanations and important information you won't get in the video. Okay? Trust me on this. As much fun as I had dancing with Leo, I still bookmarked the tutorial to keep for my own future use.

So far, every site I've checked that mentions this no-knead bread (and several of the YouTube videos) all refer back to a New York Times article that introduced it. The curious thing is, although the measurements are slightly different, the basic four ingredients are identical to my favorite pan de agua -- the Latin American water bread. Another difference is the long slow rise. This is to develop more of a sourdough flavor and there's sure nothing wrong with that. Also, baking the loaf in a covered pot gives you a whole different crust.

Am I going to try it? Of course I'm going to try it! And I'm not even going to add the sugar and shortening I always add to my pan de agua to give it longer shelf life. The only thing I'll do different is the liquid will be some of the whey I saved from the homemade cottage cheese. It worked really well in the last loaf of bread and there's enough left for this one. If all goes well, I'll have a photo of the results tomorrow, okay?

Now, don't let me keep you. Go ahead and dance with Leo.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cabbages and Cobens

Something that has always fascinated me is the way cabbage coils and ruffles itself into the most amazing convoluted contortions as it grows. While preparing some red cabbage for drying, I think I spent more time just gazing at the patterns of the slices than I did with getting them ready.

This was supposed to be yesterday's post, you understand. That it turns out to be today's offering is all Harlan's fault.

Harlan Coben, that is. I hope you've had a chance to read his work. If not, I hope you find something he's written real soon because it will be a treat. The man does write a dandy story, indeed he does.

I got caught up in his Just One Look, something I'd read previously but enjoyed just as thoroughly the second time through. Before I knew it, the book was finished and so was Saturday. Too late for a blog post. Ah well.

The thing about Coben isn't just that he knows how to plot and pace a rockin' good yarn, he populates it with authentic folks who pique your interest, whether they're the Good Guys or the Villains. Not only that, he has that enviable talent for being able to mix heart-thudding suspense with wry humor in just the right balance. And here's a most excellent skill -- Coben knows how to feed the reader just the right amount of information, a little at a time. Enough to both illuminate and raise more questions, requiring you to turn pages to find more illumination.

You know how different public figures appeal to you (or not) in different ways? You would like to meet this person for one reason, that person for another. Coben strikes me as someone I'd love to meet and a big part of the lure is his sense of humor. It can be wickedly funny but never cruel. That's how I know Coben is a nice guy. Well, okay -- that and the fact that he can't help but reveal his nice-guyness in his writing. And I just figure he'd be fun to hang with because you could laugh your ass off without hurting or humiliating anybody.

And maybe if I hung out with him long enough, I could figure out how he does that twist thing he does so well. You know -- you're reading along in one direction, figuring stuff out and, boom! He gives the plot a twist. Whoa! Okay, now we're going in another direction and we're just starting to get that figured out when, blam! Another twist. And he keeps it up, cackling with unrepentant glee, until you're begging, "Stop, Myron! Just stop!" but you don't want him to stop because you're having too much fun and you can't believe he just twisted you yet again ...

It's a bit like when the Walrus and the Carpenter invited the oysters for a stroll along the beach and the Walrus said, "The time has come to talk of many things: of shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings." And you are amazed at what a learned fellow that old Walrus is -- until you realize, with the twisted climax, he and the Carpenter have gobbled up all those naive young oysters.

So I can flash the cabbage shot at you all day long but if you want a good oyster feed, hang out with King Coben. You'll find him here, at his official web site.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Easily Amused

This will give you an idea of how easily I can be entertained. See that little gadget over there? That's a handy-dandy, super-duper olive/cherry pitter, made in China for an outfit in Washington state and blessed with, I'm assured, "handsome European design." (blink blink) I don't know what constitutes European design, handsome or otherwise, but I'm willing to accept the statement as fact.

Having never owned one of these remarkable inventions, I can't tell you how thrilled I am at the sheer wonder of it. See that little round cup thingy on the upper left, the one with a just barely visible hole in it? You set the olive or the cherry in that, stem end up. See that skinny shaft thingy that pokes through a matching round thingy? When you squeeze the handles together, the shaft thingy stabs the fruit and pushes the pit out through the hole in the bowl thingy.

I had youngest dotter, Patti, pick it up for me so I'd be able to efficiently pit the sweet cherries before consigning them to the dehydrator. She and Roger dropped it off for me on their way to their Memorial Day weekend campout. Unfortunately, I have no cherries with which I can break in this nifty invention. The sweet California cherries are in the stores now but they're also way too spendy. I'll wait until the price gets down some more.

In the meantime, I just happen to have a jar of gourmet olives that I haven't paid too much attention to -- because the olives aren't pitted and it just annoys the living daylights out of me to gnaw the meat off the pit while olive oil and wine and herbs dribble down my chin. Aha! I said to myself. I'll just breeze through those puppies with my fast draw pitter and fix that situation for good.

Okay, I'm willing to concede it might do a better job on the cherries, which are softer and pretty much all the same size. It didn't do so okay-swell on the olives. The littlest ones just got skinned and the biggest ones refused the pitting process entirely. The in-between size worked okay but that still left me with some gnawing to do. So I gnawed the rejects as I placed the successfully pitted olives back in their gourmet brine and told myself I really only wanted the pitter for the cherries anyway.

And before I finish this post, I just want to respond to something Mage said in the comment section of the waxwing post -- Parrots? You have feral parrots flying around where you live? Wow! That is so kewl, Mage. Pictures. We should probably have some pictures, don'cha think? (wicked smile)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Scratch and Sniff

It's just too bad we don't have Scratch and Sniff web pages because the above dianthus smells heavenly. Mind you, I'm not a great fan of cloves but, somehow, the clove scent from the carnation-type flowers is so waykewl that I just keep inhaling and smiling.

What's going on here is I'm experimenting with the Ronco food dehydrator. It was something Mom had and I scooped it up with the vague idea of doing something with it -- and then forgot it was there. Well, it was stored in an anonymous box so it was easy to forget. The other day, while looking for something else entirely, I peeked in the box to see what surprise was hidden therein and said, "Hooboy! That looks like fun. Let's see what we can do with it."

And it has been fun. I'm drying assorted veggies with the idea of having stores of future soup ingredients tucked away. So far I've begun bagging up tomatoes, carrots and celery. There is also a nice bagful of bread cubes. Haven't done any fruit yet but that's next, for sure. In the meantime, the dianthus smells so good I decided to see how it handled itself in the dryer. Might make a nice addition to a potpourri mix. You never can tell.

Even if it doesn't work out for the potpourri, I can tell you the kitchen sure smells great right now. So much so that I'm thinking the next things to dry should be orange and lemon rinds. Now, there's a plan! And if I can locate my favorite marinade recipe, can jerky be far behind?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ode to a Pear-Shaped Bird

Living upstairs gives me an entirely different view of our fine feathered friends than heretofore enjoyed. Sitting at the dining table, I can look out the window and down on some of the trees. For the rest of them, I'm able to catch a good gander at the tops, rather than the bottoms. I'm also front and center for the busy flight patterns of all the birds.

There's a pretty good variety to watch but I'm now fortunate enough to be gifted with a species that is completely new to me. Although the Pacific Northwest is supposed to be part of their year-round range, I've never before seen the sleekly handsome Cedar Waxwing. They first came to my attention just last week and have been intriguing and entertaining me ever since.

The little photo above has been "borrowed" from here just so you'd have an idea of what I'm talking about -- in case you've never seen them either. For some really terrific photos, go here. Go ahead. I'll wait. I want you to see why I'm so impressed with these little guys.

I'm steering you to these other photo sites because, so far, my own efforts to capture the waxwings leaves a lot to be desired. Until today, I only saw a couple of them at a time but this morning a flock of about 16 suddenly fluttered down and took a coffee break in one of the birch trees across from me.

As you can see, they're a bit too far away for detail if you don't know what you're looking at. It's like viewing a crop of fat pears that are inexplicably wearing Mardi Gras masks. Watching them in person, however, is a lot more rewarding than this photo would indicate.

For one thing, the waxwings seem to be very laid back birds. The wrens and sparrows are constantly twitching and hopping about. The gold finches are busy working seeds out of the spruce cones. The swallows never light anywhere because they're constantly doing aerial acrobatics while nest building and raising families. But the waxwings kick back and enjoy the sun. They know how to stop and smell the roses, by golly. And they do it long enough that I can lay the binoculars on them and study every little detail for a long time.

I sure hope this group isn't just passing through because they're sure fun to have around. Nature gives us some of the most remarkable gifts sometimes, doesn't she?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Easy Cheesy

There really are other things to talk about but I seem to have become a sorta, kinda strange alien form of the Cheesehead variety -- and I'm not even a Green Bay Packer fan! Scary, huh?

It's this homemade cottage cheese quest, you see. I browsed through countless recipes, none of which sounded any better than the one tried in the previous post. Until I stumbled across the web site for Cooking With Kurma. If you go there, click on the recipe link on the left. Then scroll down the resulting page until you find the recipe link for homemade cottage cheese.

When you read it, you'll understand why I had to try this. How can I possibly pass on a recipe that suggests I cook it in a waxed cardboard carton? That's just too kicky-kinky to ignore. And a one-ingredient come-on is too tempting to turn down. You know how I love recipes that are easy, fast and tasty.

So I got a quart of buttermilk. This took a certain amount of blind trust in Kurma because I don't DO buttermilk. Never. A stand-up comedian of my youth, Shelley Berman, said it wasn't the taste of the buttermilk that was offensive -- it was the way the glass looked after you drank it. I tend to agree with him and have cheerfully abstained from buttermilk my whole life. I may have to reassess that position.

As you can see above, the quart carton fits nicely inside my big kettle. Keeping Kurma's instructions for a gentle boil in mind, I brought the water just barely up to boiling and then immediately turned it down just enough to keep a few steady boil-bubbles rising to the surface. The carton began to puff up like the cheeks of one of those old drawings of the wind god so I wasn't going to allow a vigorous boil to encourage the expansion. Even so, I kept my distance, convinced that carton was going to breech and blow like a cavorting whale at any moment. I was hugely relieved to turn the heat off after the required 30 minutes and plop the lid down to contain matters. From that point, it was just a matter of leaving everything alone while the contents of the carton incubated.

Kurma suggests a 12- to 18-hour wait. I thought about that. Gee. That's a 6-hour term of variance, folks. How do you decide where to end the process? If I stop at 12 hours, will the curds be too soft? At 18 hours, will they be too tough? It might help if I knew the deciding factors but I have no clue.

When in doubt, split the difference. I decided to open the carton at the midpoint of the extra 6 hours. As it happened, the 15-hour mark fell right at noon today.

First I lined my strainer with a paper towel and wet it down so it would hold its position when I poured off the whey. Then I set the strainer over a bowl because I want to save the whey to use for liquid in the next loaf of bread. Then I carefully opened the carton -- not an easy task with one's fingers crossed.

Oh my! Will you look at that beautiful hunk of cheese! Not only does it look good, it smells wonderful. A quick taste test had me grinning -- even before adding seasoning, this batch of cottage cheese is a flavor winner, absolutely. I should also note, the curds are not rubbery like the previous recipe, but have a nice just-barely-springy tenderness.

I pressed the chunk of cheese a bit with a fork to get out more whey, then transferred it to a bowl. A quick sprinkle of kosher salt and a few generous cranks of the pepper mill, then a good forking to break up the curds and mix the seasoning. Another taste test. Oh. MMMM. Yes.

I could dress the curds with a spoonful of sweet cream so it would be more like the store-bought stuff but it's nicely moist as is and the flavor is too good to mess with.

For the record, I ended up with 1 1/2 cups of cottage cheese from the quart of buttermilk. That makes it a little cheaper than the store-bought but even if there were no savings in price, the flavor is worth it -- to me, at least. Would I do this again? You betcha britches, Buckwheat! This method is so close to magical, I'm beginning to feel like David Copperfield. When my voice starts changing, please shut me off.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cottage Industry

This morning my friend, Wolfie, mentioned she was going to make homemade Chicken Pot Pie. Oh my. I looked out the window. Overcast. Gloomy. Perfect weather for comfort food and we all know chicken ANYthing is comfort food, right? So I'm thinking Chicken Pot Pie would go very well in my home, too.

Except I wasn't really in the mood to do pie crust. The delicate, flaky crust is half the fun of Chicken Pot Pie so if I wasn't going to do that part, there was no point in doing the other part.

But! Maybe a tasty Shepherd's Pie would suffice? You know -- the one with assorted veggies and meat in a gravy, with a mashed potato topping. So I Googled the subject (of course) and discovered that if the Food Police are hovering, it's only Shepherd's Pie if the meat therein is lamb. Any other meat requires it to be called Cottage Pie. Okay-swell. I can live with that. Cottage Pie it is.

In the meantime, I also wanted to check out another cottage-type adventure. Found this recipe for homemade cottage cheese that was so simple and basic, it was just begging to be done. The recipe as I got it requires 1 gallon of 2% milk, 1/2 cup vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt. I only had one envelope of Carnation non-fat instant milk, which would make a quart. [sigh] Okay. Whuddahey.

You heat the milk to 190 degrees fairy height (or until just before it boils), then remove it from the heat. Add the vinegar (1 ounce for a quart of milk) and let cool. The curds form immediately, in bodacious big clumps. After it's cooled, line a colander with a paper towel and drain. Then dump the curds in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and fork the heck out of 'em to mix in the salt and break them up. You can add some cream to make it look more like regular cottage cheese but I wasn't worried about that. It tasted fine -- sort of like a very mild feta. Maybe I should have used regular vinegar instead of wine vinegar. And 2% milk would surely have tasted richer. Ah well. Next time. [shrug]

While all that was going on, I had three nice Yukon Gold 'taters cooking and, when barely tender, cooling, so I could grate them. See, I decided I wanted grated potatoes for my pie instead of mashed potatoes. This cottage was going to be fitted with a thatched roof, don'cha know?

Somewhere in the middle of all the other activity, I opened a package of frozen mixed veggies and shook out a couple of cups to thaw. This particular mixture consists of good stuff like red and yellow bell pepper strips, julienned carrots, baby corn, water chestnuts, onions, snow pea pods and mushrooms. Any mixture that suits you, of course, will do just fine.

After the 'taters were grated (I ended up with about 2 quarts-worth), I melted a tablespoon of butter with an equal amount of olive oil and fried half the 'taters on medium heat until the bottom was nice and crispy-golden. Then I slid the whole pan full into my baking dish. We'll call that a bottom crust.

While the 'taters were crisping up, I cut one nice big boneless, skinless chicken breast into little bite-sized pieces and, once the frying pan was freed of 'taters, squirted in some more olive oil and stir-fried the chicken until there wasn't any pink left showing. The veggies joined the chicken and everything was tossed around until the veggies were hot. I looked it over and thought, hmmm, I wonder if ... and tossed the entire bowl of homemade cottage cheese into the works.

Then I mixed two heaping tablespoons of flour with one tablespoon of granulated chicken boullion and sprinkled that over the contents of the frying pan. When I'd mixed it in enough so that everything was lightly coated, I added one cup of hot water and stirred until the gravy thickened. Then the whole danged thang was spread over the hashbrown layer in the baking dish.

A quick wipe of the frying pan, another glob-glob of butter and olive oil, and the remaining shredded potato was tossed until lightly coated with the buttery oil. I covered the veggies with the 'taters, making the top crust -- a double-thatched cottage, so to speak. Then I sprinkled sweet Hungarian paprika over everything and put the baking dish in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Here's what it looked like coming out.

Ah gee. This is Good Grub, Maynard. Oh yes indeedy. In spite of the fact that the overcast had disappeared and there was bright sunshine by the time I sat down to eat, I was still mightily comforted with my Chicken Cottage Pie. It is even more comforting to know there is plenty more to eat because that's a BIG pie.

The cottage cheese? Didn't hurt the flavor at all but didn't help, either. Just too bland. I'll have to experiment a bit more with that particular culinary adventure. And get some 2% milk, for heaven's sake. If any of you have suggestions, don't hesitate to yell 'em out, okay?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

His Fluffiness Foiled

Sometimes Ralph is just too smart for his own good. Like today.

A little bit of setup, here -- lined along one wall of the carport is a row of three beat-up metal garbage cans and two nice plastic garbage cans. Or maybe it's two metal and three plastic. Whatever. Anyway, I store Ralph's big bag of cat chow in one of the plastic cans so neighboring cats and visiting raccoons can't get into it. When it's feeding time, I just whup off the lid, scoop out the designated portion and plunk the lid back down.

No problem.

Until today. Normally I get downstairs a lot earlier to put out his feed but, with one thing and another, didn't meet up with His Fluffiness until after six this evening. That's when I knew I wouldn't have to worry about him starving if I ever forgot to trot downstairs and fill the food dish. Ol' Ralph is quite capable of helping himself if his staff is behaving in an unsatisfactory manner.

The garbage can was laying on its side, lid flung free. The feed sack was pulled completely out of the can. Two ragged holes had been chewed in the bottom, although the top was open and accessible. Apparently he was making sure he got every last bit.

Actually, although the sack was getting low, there was still quite a lot there for one cat to handle, even a cat nicknamed Greedy Guts. Maybe he threw a party and shared with fellow frivolous felines. Maybe they were all down there, gettin' it on, gettin' down, and I missed the whole thing.

Whatever happened, Ralph was letting me know he was ready for another serving and kept pacing back and forth between me and his dish, making his demands in firm declarative sentences. I tipped the garbage can back in place and checked the feed bag.

Empty. Emptier than a pan after a pie-eating contest. Emptier than a hatched egg shell. Emptier than a politician's promise.

"Well, Ralph, you've messed yourself up tonight, ol' boy."

"Mwrrowrrr?" he asked, honestly perplexed.

"You ate your dinner stash and the store is closed so I can't get you any more until tomorrow."

"Mwrrrrorrr!!!" He was shocked. Stunned. Gobsmacked.

"I know," I sympathized. "Why don't we just consider the next 14 or so hours as an unannounced health fast?" He leaped into my lap for a cuddle, causing me to wince and mutter, "It really wouldn't hurt you, old boy." Considering the lounging weight of the beast, I'd say there's no immediate danger of Ralph fading away.

No, I'm not going to fix him any people food to tide him over. About the only people food he'll condescend to eat is chicken ... and then, only if I cut it up tiny for him. And I don't happen to have any chicken at the moment. Don't worry. He'll be fine. He still has his Mighty Hunter badge, I think. He can flash it amongst the local mouse population. Shake 'em up a bit.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Going Postal

You notice they started with the new postal rates on a Monday? Guess they figured folks hated Monday so much already, the pain wouldn't be as bad.

That might have worked -- if they had just managed to control their overzealous fiddling with all the possible ways in which they could confabulate the issue. Some rates went up and, surprisingly, some rates went down. The trick is to figure out which is what, when. And why.

For instance, it will now cost 41 cents to mail a 1-ounce letter -- if it's a perfectly prim and proper 1-ounce letter. Any deviation from the standard will tack on a 17 cent surcharge. What characteristics turn a prim and proper letter into a wild child? Pay attention. I'm gonna lay it on you.

Square letters are wild. Letters that are too rigid are wild -- they have to bend easily. Closures with strings, clasps or buttons are wild. An address parallel to the shorter dimension of the envelope is wild. Contents that cause the surface to be uneven makes it wild. These are all characteristics that, apparently, render the envelopes "nonmachinable." Is it our fault their damned machines are so flippin' picky?

As usual, I'm caught with numerous stamps displaying the old rate and I'll have to buy some little guys to make up the difference. If I ever get rid of all of those, maybe I'll invest in the Forever Stamp because they claim, even though you pay 41 cents for it now, it'll still be valid the next time the rates go up and you won't have to buy fill-in stamps. Which sounds really neat. And then you realize they've just promised you more increases down the road.

It's not really horrible for the average person, I guess, but it's got to be a major headache for small businesses. Not the price increase so much as the convoluted size and shape rules. I also had to wince when I saw the 50 cent increase in the standard postage and handling rates for used books when ordering online. That's going to hurt.

I'm afraid to find out how much it's going to cost for a shipment of TimTams the next time I feel a jones for them. There's only so much a person can bear, you know. It doesn't help to realize I still wistfully remember penny postcards and 3 cent stamps.

Dayum! I wonder if anyone has done a study to see if blood pressure rates rise in synchronization with postal rates?

[Please note: my usual gratitude to Jon Wagner, Maxine's creator, with the usual disclaimer that he is not responsible for the words I put in her mouth.]

Sunday, May 13, 2007


What you see here is a platter of my Mommy Day project -- a flat out fun kind of thing. Waffle Iron Brownies is the official name but these are not quite brownies and they're not quite chocolate waffles. Closely related to both, by ingredient and form, these cousins of the clan have their own interesting personalities.

The batter is thicker than either waffle batter or regular brownie batter -- more like cookie dough. In fact, when it comes time to cook these little goodies, you grab a couple of teaspoons just as though you were making drop cookies. Plunk down a walnut-sized chunk of dough in the middle of each waffle iron section and drop the lid. Although the recipe says to spray the waffle iron first, I only did that the first time. There's enough butter in the dough that the little guys wouldn't dream of sticking, bless their little hearts.

Here's the recipe: melt 1/2 cup butter and place in bowl. Add 1/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa powder, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon water and 2 eggs, beaten. Then mix in 1 1/4 cups flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt. (I had intended to substitute vanilla flavoring for the tablespoon of water but forgot.)

You can add chopped nuts if you want, or chocolate chips. Halfway through the batch, I chopped up some Ghirardelli bittersweet baking chocolate and mixed it in. Made for some righteous results, that's what.

The original recipe suggests dusting the finished product with powdered sugar. Personally, I loathe powdered sugar on anything. Incredibobbly messy, don'cha know. Had I been in the mood for any kind of coating, I'd have grabbed a small paper bag or a plastic freezer bag and tossed in a mixture of granulated sugar and cinnamon and I'd have shaken the freshly cooked morsels in that. I might have even added a pinch of cayenne to the shaker mix for that Aztec touch.

I didn't keep track but I think I ended up with two dozen or so of the beautiful beasties, 4 at a time. Not so many that I got impatient and started whupping up Texas-sized extravaganzas to get it over with. That would have made 'em look like waffles and, really, they are NOT waffles. And, in spite of the name, they are not brownies. A little bit of both, not quite either, something somewhere in between.

I hereby dub them Tweeners. Because I can.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Last Word First

I don't know who gets the credit for this cute photo but I thank you for the grin. I share it now because it just struck me that the caption I've added will go very well tomorrow, when everyone is going around saying, "Happy Mommy Day!"

When the people conversing are both mommies, the one who gets beaten to the quip can fall back on the captioned response.

Just to be sneaky, I'm going to take unfair advantage and get the last word in first. Or something like that. So here's me, grinning a big goofy grin and saying to all you mommy-types, HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!

Please note, the above sentiments need not be limited to expression on only one day. Rather, the concept can be freely and extravagantly bandied about every day of the year. The same goes for Father's Day, of course. Parenthood can be so overwhelming as to need uninhibited encouragement on a regular basis.

Please note further, while praising parents on a regular basis is a lovely thing to do, it certainly can't hurt to make occasional generous donations of really good dark chocolate.

I'm just saying ...

Friday, May 11, 2007

Faux Brioche

Hello. My name is Dee and I'm a breadoholic.

Okay. Let's not pretty it up. I'm a hot bread slut. Yes. Can't seem to help myself. Just look at this picture. What you don't see is the slice I scored right after taking the photo. I could show you that, too, except I already ate it all up ... and loved every bite. Unadorned. Bare, nekkid, nude. Good stuff, Maynard.

Oh. I just re-read that last paragraph. It was the bread that was bare, nekkid, nude, not me. Okay? We're into sublime food, not Fright Night.

You understand, I wasn't going to oppress you with yet another bread recipe. Really, I wasn't. I was just going to whup up something to do justice to my newfound skill at producing luscious homemade mayonnaise. Yeah. Right. You know how one thing leads to another ...

Well, I stumbled across this recipe for brioche. Okay, it's a sort of easy-peasy brioche. I've never done it before and from what I've been reading, those who have seem to consider this variety of bread on the same plane as religious epiphanies. That works for me. I'm fairly religious about food. I can identify.

The thing about brioche is that it's egg- and butter-rich. And I got to thinking that the mayo is something like 95 % fat and what would happen if I substituted mayo for butter? I can't say my measurements were precise but when I plopped all the ingredients in the bread machine pan, there was roughly a half-cup of freshly homemade mayo in the mix.

The recipe goes like this: in the bread machine, place 1 cup milk, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 cup mayo, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon salt, 3 cups flour and 1 tablespoon yeast. Run it through on the dough cycle, then turn out into greased pan, pat down and let rise again. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Before baking, you can brush dough with an egg wash to give it a glossy, dark brown finish but I'm low on eggs and decided to pass on that touch.

Now, you can get fancy and turn out more or less authentic brioche thingies in their little fluted pans with the little round top knot. I don't happen to have the pans and the top knot would just get me into trouble because I'd be trying to see if I could spit it into a target bowl or something. I have no couth. I admit it. But if you are more refined, please feel free to expand your culinary horizons with this wonderful bread. You could even use butter instead of mayo but I'll bet it wouldn't be nearly as much fun.

I have to leave you now. It's time to build a brioche sammich -- involving homemade mayo, of course. Yes. More bliss.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Magical Mayo

Oh my.

Don't let anyone tell you miracles don't happen. You can see for your own sweet selves, right over here, photographic evidence of the Miracle du jour. Coffee Mates, I present to you, homemade mayonnaise, in all its glory and -- this is the important part -- apparently foolproof and virtually instantaneous.

Whew! Those are huge claims but I can back them up.

It all began with a couple of idle comments in morning posts on a mailing list of which I'm a member. The virtues of homemade mayo, compared to commercial. My immediate reaction was a curled lip and genteel snort. Yeah, right. I've tried the homemade version. You know -- the one where you have to dribble the oil VERY SLOWLY into the mix while maintaining your beating speed with wire whisk or mixer or blender or whatever. And I always fall short in the patience department and start dribbling the oil too fast. The recommended speed is one drop at a time at first. I am congenitally incapable of that speed of dribble. It's too much like the dreaded Chinese Water Torture. Consequently, I always end up with a hopelessly runny mass of oily substance I can only consign to the garbage can because it is not fit for consumption or even proper last rites.

Given that background experience, I really don't know why I started Googling homemade mayo, but I did. And ran across a most remarkable concept!

Do any of you own that under-appreciated little kitchen gizmo often referred to as a stick blender? I have an old Rival brand that sits by its lonely self on the shelf because I keep forgetting I have it. Today I was humbly grateful for its presence.

Here's the deal: you take a small jar -- a canning jar or a clean, empty commercial mayo jar, for instance -- and you grab your stick blender. For the record, my "jar" was a 4-cup plastic Ziploc container with a screw-top lid. What follows is a basic small recipe. I wouldn't make more than this at a time, my own self, because I think the homemade mayo has a much shorter shelf life than the commercial. Besides, with all the flavor variations possible, one doesn't want to commit oneself to a single flavor experience.

Have all the ingredients at room temperature. A refrigerated egg can be quickly warmed by immersing in hot tap water for a few minutes. You can use dry mustard or wet mustard. Your call. Fresh or dried herbs are welcome. Your imagination is in charge here. Different spices for different intended uses -- one sort of mayo for veggies, another for fish, still another for burgers. You get the idea.

Anyhoo, the very BASIC recipe goes like this: in the "jar" put one egg, 1 tablespoon wine vinegar or lemon or lime juice, 1 tablespoon mustard, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 cup oil. As far as the oil is concerned, some say do NOT use extra virgin olive oil, others insist that it's great, although you might want to mix it half-and-half with a more neutral-flavored vegetable oil. Whatever quivers your taste buds.

Now ... take your stick blender and place it vertically in the jar, right at the bottom. Turn it on. This is the amazing part. Almost immediately you will see the ingredients begin to blend together in exactly the right consistency, that glorious globby goodness billowing out like a benign cloud. Slowly bring the stick blender up, moving it around to get all the oil mixed in. OHMYSTARSANDGARTERS! In less than a minute -- YES! I'm not making this up! -- you will have perfect mayo. Perfect, I tell you. Ready to spread.

I do not believe I am ever going to buy commercial mayo again.

If you go here, you will be treated to an excellent photographic tutorial of the above method -- except he doesn't put the oil in all at once. (Be sure to read all the comments because they contain valuable information about food safety, among other things.) Then, click on this link for good ideas about all the different flavors you can add to your magical mayo. And don't forget to note how you can turn it into fantastic sauces for veggies or meats -- another advantage of doing small batches. Note also, if you are wary of mayo calories, you can alleviate the problem by mixing the mayo half-and-half with plain yogurt.

Now, if you will kindly excuse me, I have to make some bread so I'll have something on which I can spread my wonderful mayo. Bliss. Oh bliss.