Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Brownie Antidote

I see our cousins across the Pond are now settling in with their brand new Prime Minister. Good luck, mates! We, of course, have 16 months before any dust can begin to settle over here and it's looking to be a long season. Already the nastiness is getting thick on the ground and one has to step carefully to avoid the steaming piles.

But fear not, Coffee Mates! There is guaranteed relief for the Campaign Dyspepsia which is predicted to sweep the country in epidemic waves. Even the toxic-tongued pundits can't compete with the soothing healing power of truly decadent brownies. Trust me.


1/2 cup butter, melted -- 1 cup white sugar
2 eggs -- 1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup all purpose flour -- 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder -- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tablespoon coffee liqueur

In large bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. (You can do half white sugar and half brown sugar if you wish. Very nice change of flavor pace.) Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add vanilla and coffee liqueur. (You can skip the liqueur if you prefer and just add a tablespoon of strong coffee.) Combine flour, salt, baking powder and cocoa and add to egg mixture, beating until smooth.

Optionally, you can add chopped nuts or chocolate chips or minced dried fruit (NOT candied fruit!). A really scrumptious addition is about 1 cup of frozen, whole raspberries. Make sure they're still frozen when you fold them in. Trust me -- the result is orgasmic.

Grease an 8" x 8" baking pan and spread batter evenly. It should be thick but still pourable. If it's too thick, add some hot coffee, just a tablespoon at a time, until the consistency is right. If it's too runny, add flour, a tablespoon at a time. Place in 350 degree fairy-height (175 degrees centipede) oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool before cutting.

You can spread some kind of topping on it if you wish -- either a frosting or a sprinkle of chocolate chips or whatever snaps your garter -- but I find these brownies to be so rich and moist and endowed with utterly voluptuous sensuosity that more of anything would just be greedy. As it is, we have the five major food groups represented here: chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, sugar and fat.

Well, okay -- a glob of ice cream couldn't hurt. Even whipped cream. Just be prepared to defend your share because chocoholics have no shame. But you knew that.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sometimes You've Gotta Laugh

Please do not be alarmed when you see how my eyeballs keep rolling around in their sockets. That is merely a temporary (I sincerely hope) effect of too much concentrated research in the bewildering political wilderness.

I must confess an alarming degree of ignorance concerning politics, not because I don't care but because it's so damned hard to figure out what's really going on. On the one hand, the advent of the World Wide Web allows me easier access to far more information than I could previously attain. On the other hand, more information requires spending more time just trying to figure out what is valid and what is spin. On the third hand, by the time I think I have a handle on any given point or person, a new perspective bobs up from the bubbling muck and I'm back to Square One. On the fourth hand, much of what I discover is not only disheartening, depressing and downright disgusting, it's enough to make me want to sit in a dark corner with a dull blade and sing bawdy limericks until the jug is empty.

Why am I torturing myself this way? Well, gee, sometimes I'm not sure. Mostly, though, I think it's important to have a clue. Any clue. A quotation I ran across might explain it somewhat. "Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right, when wrong, to be put right." Carl Schurz 1829 - 1906. The trick, of course, is agreeing on what is "right."

That's one of the things that is bothering me in my hunt for clarity. All too often, folks seem to feel those who disagree with them about what's right are either unpatriotic or burdened with the I.Q. of a retarded centipede. It goes downhill from there, with the attacks turning personal and hateful and totally removed from the issue in question. And that doesn't even begin to cover the limited-but-pungent vocabulary used to express displeasure.

I've noticed an alarming number of folks have lately been labeled as "pure evil." Not just plain evil or thoroughly evil or even incorrigibly evil. Pure evil. If you define "pure" as "without sin," doesn't that make pure evil an oxymoron? Which is just an aside, having nothing in particular to do with anything. Except, perhaps, to indicate how dippy I get after a session of research into the world of politics. Here there be dragons. No, wait -- here there be politicians. That's worse, by far, than mere dragons.

I spent several hours today, cruising through assorted articles on political mayhem and the comments sections that went with them. Forget the polls that are constantly being thrown at us. Just browse through the comments offered by John and Jane Q. Public for an eye-opening taste of what is going on in the hearts and minds of the citizenry. Hooboy.

Seriously needing a break from the seriousness, I clicked over to one of my favorite blogs, Naked Authors (you can find the link to your right in my link list). Bless them, they had just the right light-hearted posts to bring a grin back to my battered psyche. I would especially point you to Paul Levine's post for today's date, describing an event touting Dave Barry for President. That is followed by Patricia Smiley's Monday post full of marvelously Photoshopped pictures of political fellows in drag. It was interesting to note Rudy Guiliani was not one of the men thusly displayed. Perhaps the author of the mutated photos figured Rudy already had enough -- errrm -- exposure in that venue.

I'll tell you what ... if we're going to get through the next couple of years without all of us going banana-crackers, we're going to need a lot of off-the-wall humor to leaven the angst. There's so much in this tired old world that is good and hopeful and miraculous but it's overshadowed by too much that is ugly and dangerous and out of control. Sometimes a good hearty laugh is all that gives us the courage to deal with it.

Hmmm ... I wonder if Dave Barry for President isn't actually an excellent idea.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Lotsa Mozza

You can't see my face but trust me when I tell you there is a grin that is stretched across from ear-bone to ear-bone. The inspiration for such delight lies in the successful production of (Yay!) my very first batch of genuine, authentic, for real mozzarella.

I have yet to find a source of fresh whole milk so I fell back on dried milk laced with a couple of cups of half and half cream. As you can see, it worked like a champ.

There was a bit of time there when I thought the whole process was going to be another disaster, though. I was convinced there was no way those loose curds were going to meld together to form the cheese. Not possible. Uh-uh. Any fool could see that. More out of desperate stubborness than any real hope, I kept working the curds as directed, pressing out the excess whey and kneading the bits and pieces ever more closely together.

Then came the fun part. The curds went into the microwave for a minute and came out for some more whey separation and kneading. Then back for 35 seconds. Less whey this time and the texture was starting to come together like real cheese. I kneaded in the salt and put it back in the microwave for a last 35 second session and pulled it out.

Hot damn! I mean, it really was hot. Almost too hot to handle. But this was the stage where the cheese started stretching like taffy and I wasn't about to miss out on the fun of that. Muttering, "Ow, ow, owie," I wiggled the cheese and let it stretch from its own weight, then doubled it back and wiggled it some more. Almost before I knew it, the mass had turned smooth and shiny and ready to shape. It was magical. Astonishing.

I must confess that I gobbled up a couple of slices before I thought to weigh the durned thang so I can't tell you for sure what I ended up with. When I put what was left on the scale, there was almost 10 ounces so I figure I must have gleaned maybe 12 ounces of mozzarella out of the gallon of milk. Not too bad. I get the impression that the amount of cheese you end up with has to do with the quality of the milk, itself, but I don't know.

If you're at all interested in seeing the process from start to finish, you can go here at the web site for the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. They are wonderful folks with whom to do bidness, let me tell you. That's where I got my mozzerella kit.

Another excellent source for information and supplies for home cheesemaking is Leener's. They have kits for all kinds of things but if you go to their cheesemaking section, you can view a video of a fellow making mozzarella.

You know what I'm thinking about right this minute? I'm thinking I ought to smack myself for not picking up some tomatoes at the store today. I am picturing a slice of homemade bread with a layer of sliced 'maters, sprinkled with some minced basil and drizzled with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, then a layer of the fresh mozzarella and a brief session under the broiler. Ahhhhhh ... it's on my To Do list for tomorrow, that's what.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Waffle Art Thou, Romeo?

Oh please. Stop with your groaning over my title pun. I am merely commenting on the romance of the glorious waffle. And it IS romantic. Pancakes are everyday but waffles are for special occasions. Crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside. Slathered with good butter and decadent syrup of choice or piled high with fresh fruit and whipped cream. Or inundated with a rich gravy full of shredded turkey or chicken or sausage. Or serving as a unique sandwich bread, with generous dollops of cream cheese and containing tomatoes and onions and mozzarella cheese.

Excuse me. I had to pause for a moment because the first paragraph made me lightheaded. I'd have fainted dead away but I just finished a dinner of toasted waffle sections spread with beans and rice with chicken bits so I was resistant to the sensory overload. Your mileage may vary.

The waffle I ingested was one of those pictured above but I couldn't tell you which one, exactly. I tossed 'em all in the freezer the other day and raid the supply whenever the urge hits. A minute or two with the toaster and I'm good to go -- in whatever direction available food takes me. Hot waffles are good with peanut butter for midnight snacks, in case you haven't tried that version yet. Or with a scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of hot fudge.

This particular recipe came from a fellow waffle lover named Sheryl and you can find her here. She has other waffle recipes but I followed the one on the linked page, called Even Easier Crispy Waffles. This is a yeast batter recipe and is mixed up the night before you want to make the waffles, then put in the refrigerator to slow-rise overnight. I like it because you don't have to deal with the extra step of beating egg whites and folding them in. The batter is light as air just the way it is. I didn't have any beer handy or I would have used it as a liquid instead of the milk. Man, those waffles would have floated to the table on their own if I had!

Hmmm. Maybe I'd better copy her recipe here -- just in case. But I urge you to check out her web site for the other recipes, too. Anyway, here we go:

Even Easier Crispy Waffles
2 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 stick melted butter
2 cups warm milk (heated to about 110 degrees)
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

The night before:
Combine and whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl: flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Combine the melted butter and milk. Add the mixture to the dry ingredients. Whisk eggs and vanilla together in a separate small bowl. Add the egg-vanilla mixture to the other mixture, and whisk until well-combined. Cover with plastic wrap and stick in the fridge until tomorrow morning.

The next morning:
Prepare waffle iron as usual. Stir the batter to deflate it (it should be puffy and frothy). Add to waffle iron the same way you would other batter, keeping in mind that this batter will rise more than batters that use baking powder instead of yeast. Eet smakkelijke!

Thank you, Sheryl! Waffle on!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Now Where Was I?

With so much discussion about Alzheimer's out there, it's no wonder we all worry a bit about that dire fate as we grow older. I can't think of much that is more frightening than to be in the beginning stages and know you're sliding down a slippery slope with no brakes to a destination beyond your ken. That's not even considering the anguish of the loved ones who have to cope as you forget who they are.

As a column-writing doctor pointed out a few years back, we tend to be over-sensitive to memory problems as we age. He stressed that our memory is probably NOT any worse than it has ever been -- we're just noticing the lapses more. I take comfort in that attitude because my memory muscle has never been all that well developed. I'm always tucking things away in a safe place and then forgetting where the place is. I usually find the missing item when I go looking for something else entirely.

When I was tending bar, I managed to train myself pretty well to remember the names of customers, although I found I could remember their regular drinks even better. In the beginning, though, glitches occurred in the most disconcerting manner. I remember a pair of truck drivers who used to come in for lunch all the time. Rocky and Kirby. Okay, I said to myself, that's easy. Rocky Road and Kirby vacuum cleaner. Got it.

Next time they wandered through the door, I cheerfully greeted them with, "Hi, Rocky! Hi, Hoover!" When I saw the jaw-dropped expressions on their faces, I knew I'd called up the wrong vacuum cleaner...and in my frantic attempt at recovery, all I could think of was Electrolux.

My most mortifying memory lapse, however, happened when youngest dotter was freshly hatched and home from the hospital. My neighbor, Lucy, called one day and said she and hubby were dying to see the latest addition and why don't I trot over for coffee and show and tell? That sounded good so, her older siblings in tow and Patti snuggled warm in blankets, off we went a-visiting. It was a lovely afternoon and much was made of the baby. Lucy's husband, a softy all the way, had taken charge of Her Infantness and wandered into the other room, cooing and conversing with her while Lucy and I caught up on the affairs of the neighborhood.

Suddenly I noticed the time and jumped up from the kitchen table. "Oops! Gotta get home and fix supper!" I grabbed the kids and off I went. There I was, flitting about the kitchen, trying to shake off an uneasy feeling that something just wasn't quite right. And it wasn't. About then, Lucy arrived at my door, holding Patti and sporting a wicked grin. "Are you missing anything?" she innocently asked.

Things like that can get you kicked out of the Good Mommy Club. Fortunately for me, other mothers have assured me they've committed the same lapse so I guess it's forgivable. As long as you don't try to move out of the state before the kid is returned.

This little jaunt down Untrustworthy Memory Lane didn't come out of the blue. A friend (thanks, Glo!) shared this delicious find from YouTube, featuring Tom Rush singing The Remember Song. To one degree or another, I suspect all of us can identify.

P.S. Oops! I almost forgot -- check the comments in the last post. Ralph came up with the perfect C-words for whiskey and sex. (grin) Thanks, Ralph!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Strawberry Lemonade

Lest you ding me for false advertising, I hasten to point out this post is NOT about making lemonade with strawberries. Rather, I've called on that slogan: If Life Hands You Lemons -- Make Lemonade. It is that principle that has salvaged a less than pleasing batch of berries into something with possibilities.

The photo will give you an idea of how much white flesh made up the content of the berries -- and it was virtually flavorless. The dehydration process worked minor wonders, however. While certainly not as intense in flavor as decent berries would have been, these specimens will suffice for munchies. The sweet strawberry flavor did indeed concentrate as I had hoped and brought the flavor quality up a notch.

As I sat there chewing on one of the slices, I contemplated the fate of those remaining. Here's what I think -- I think I'll dice up some of the slices and rehydrate them in hot berry liqueur and then add them to a good brownie batter. Yes?

Which reminds me ... I need to restock my supply of baking cocoa. Running out of baking cocoa is almost as bad as running out of coffee. Gadzooks and other similar expressions of alarm.

I am so embarrassed. After assuring Texas-residing Bonnie that summer had indeed arrived in my own more temperate location, this day dawned overcast and proceeded to stay that way. Adding insult to injury, it has mizzled off and on for the whole duration. Made it a wee bit chilly in the kitchen, where I keep a window open to catch fresh breezes. Had to put on a light sweater to survive the fresh air.

In the meantime, it was perfect weather for a good old-fashioned veggie soup. A cup of tiny seashell pasta in six cups of chicken broth and an addition of a couple of cups of frozen mixed veggies soon had the kitchen smelling wonderful.

Which reminds me of my only gripe about the assorted mixed veggie packages. I don't mind that they put broccoli in the mix. I happen to really like broccoli. What I frown at is the tendency to load the batch with big honkin' chunks of broccoli. Well, I know how to deal with that, by golly. I toss the veggies in a colander and run a bit of hot water over them -- just enough to start the thaw. Then I take my kitchen shears and snip all the broccoli clumps into smaller pieces, fit to play in polite company with others.

Once the soup was done, I filled myself a bowl and sat down with high anticipation. A few judicious shakes of the Tabasco bottle and my lunch was ready. Hot soups and stews always make me warm, both psychologically and physically. The additional thermal effect from a generous addition of chili pepper sauce could cure hypothermia. In this case, I soon found myself shedding my sweater and enjoying the cool breeze coming in the window. Capsicum has to be one of God's better inventions. Not far behind coffee and chocolate, I think.

Hmmm ... I just realized how so many of the Good Things in Life begin with the letter C. We might have to change the way we spell whiskey and sex.

Anyway, good work, God. Thank you.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Missing My Gruntle

You see that? That's how we look when we're disgruntled. The definition of disgruntled is "to make discontented." If that's not a discontented cat up there, I ain't never seen one.

Gruntle, on the other hand, means "cause to be more favorably inclined." The source I checked also added this quote: "quiet the dragons of worry and fear". I like that. Quieting dragons would certainly get you back your gruntle, don't you think?

Speaking for myself, my personal gruntle seems to have gone someplace to indulge in decadent activities or something. It was here earlier this afternoon when I picked up my mail and my eagerly awaited mozzarella cheese making kit fell into my hot little hands. Well, that was just plumb exciting. Full of beaming gruntle, I hurried up to the market and grabbed a gallon of milk and, on impulse, a container of fresh strawberries that looked mighty fine.

Once home, I carefully read the directions (very simple) and laid out everything that would be needed. I had been careful to get milk that was pasteurized, NOT ultra-pasteurized. That's because the ultra version ruins the milk for cheese making -- and for nutrition, too, come to that. About all it really does is add shelf life. I mention this because I soon discovered, to my dismay, the dairies don't necessarily mention the ultra part on their packaging -- nor are they required to, as subsequent research showed. Turns out this was the dreaded ultra version and my nicely setting curd collapsed into useless sludge.

Okay, not totally useless. It's a mess for cheese but will be great for bread making. Nevertheless, I am DISGRUNTLED.

To soothe myself, I took out the strawberries and set about preparing them for drying. Dried strawberries are extremely tasty because the sweetness becomes concentrated. Uh oh. One slice and I was reminded of why I hate to buy strawberries in the store. The outside is a gorgeous red and the inside is as white as a watermelon rind. Phaaah! I sliced 'em up anyway and they are slowly drying as we speak. I'll be surprised if there's much flavor to be had when they're done, though.

I guess the standard line for a tale such as this is, "Do you want cheese with that whine?" But we know what happened to my cheese. Therefore, I will take a hint from the surly feline above and have myself some fine enhanced coffee. That should quiet a few dragons until my gruntle eventually comes dragging its sorry ass home.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Bring On Da Braid!

OhMAN! I feel like the 97-pound weakling who took lessons from the Pillsbury Doughboy (the baking equivalent of Charles Atlas) and now they don't dare kick flour in my face! That's because, as you can plainly see, I have braided my very first loaf of bread. Let me intensify the brag just a bit. I have done a SIX-STRAND braid. Hooboy.

That might not sound impressive to you more talented folks but I've never braided anything with more than three strands in my whole life. I don't even know how to French braid, that's how iggernut I am.

I can't take credit for any brilliance, however. All the gold stars go to a nice young woman named Tracey who has put a terrific video on YouTube demonstrating just how to do this. (Video at end of this post.) If you watch it a couple of times, you'll be able to do it, too. Actually, if you watch it a couple of times, you'll see how much nicer her braids look than mine but, hey, I figure she has a teensy bit more experience. Right? Riiiiight!

In any case, she does such a good job of demonstrating, the whole experience was great fun. You can't help but grin when you start rolling out those long dough snakes for the braid. The tricky part is trying to get them all more or less the same thickness and length. It's a bit disconcerting to get to the end of the braid and find you have some strands significantly shorter than other strands. Yipe!

I just went with the time-honored tradition of the fine art of fakery. You sqooosh up the long strands just a bit and tug ever so gently on the short strands and then you fiddle them all together like a nest of cohabitating snakes and call it good. I figured if it didn't work out, I'd just eat that end first.

Mage, I want you to know I was thinking about you all the time I was doing this. You've mentioned your love of braided bread so often, I figured you were probably the resident patron saint of such things. I know you're too kind to snicker at my efforts but a gentle chuckle is permissible.

So, okay, Coffee Mates. The gauntlet (aka oven mitt) has been thrown. If I can braid a bread, so can you. And you. And, yes, even YOU. Think of it as one of the fun things you can do with your clothes on.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Neat News

If you keep your eyes open, some days when you troll the news you can find some real gems. That is not to say you can always count on the veracity of these news items. Fact checking all too often falls by the wayside in these days of fast-breaking World Wide Web coverage. It's often advisable to simply keep an eye on an evolving topic because subsequent information is likely to be more accurate than what was initially given. It can also make the whole thing more confusing but we won't even go there today, okay?

One of the interesting things I found was the article about the chunk of melon found at an ancient site in Japan. Testing indicated it was 2,100 years old. It was speculated the reason it had lasted so long was because it was preserved in a vacuum-packed state. Makes me wonder if the folks advocating cryonics might be going in the wrong direction. Instead of freezing the body in hopes of thawing it out later, when science has come up with a cure for whatever ails it now, maybe they ought to be vacuum-packing folks. Or maybe not. That melon survived but it didn't look real spiffy.

In the category of "It's A Guy Thing," there's the item about the Aussie folks who are determined to market the ultimate aphrodisiac. They're feeding Viagra to oysters. I'm not making this up! The idea has caused drug company Pfizer to roust out their lawyers in protest but it seems unlikely the enhanced oysters could be sold over the counter anyway because Viagra is a prescription drug. And who knows what effect a drug like that could have on the oysters, themselves. Why, the poor little critters could end up brain damaged.

Nessie is in the news again. A brand new video has turned up that shows something cruising along at a smart pace in the Loch Ness waters. I hope it doesn't turn out to be somebody goofing around with some kind of scuba thingy. That would be such a huge disappointment. Me? I'm rooting for Nessie to be some kind of wonderful prehistoric survivor. Or maybe even a marine dragon. How kewl is that?