Friday, August 22, 2008

Kneading & Needing

See that measuring cup piled with brown sugar? I just wanted to show you that making your own brown sugar produces an end result that is just as fluffy-light and moist as a bag of freshly opened brown sugar bought at the store.

See, I was about to embark on a cookie-making gig and it required half a cup of brown sugar. Oops! I'm out of brown sugar. I had heard you could add molasses to regular granulated sugar as a substitute -- and I do have molasses. Didn't recall measurements so a quickie Google run ensued. There are variations on the measurements but what I used was 2 tablespoons of molasses to 1 cup of granulated sugar.

The source of this particular recipe said to mix with a fork and store extra in a resealable plastic bag. Another source said to just add the molasses to the wet ingredients in the recipe to save the extra mixing. Since you have to pack brown sugar down firm when you measure it, I thought that latter method might not be as accurate so I opted for the mixing. I'm sure a fork -- or even a pastry cutter -- would do the job faster but I put a cup of sugar in a resealable sandwich bag, added the molasses, made sure it was sealed up tight and then just kneaded the bag until the sugar was evenly blended. Next time I'll use the faster method but it was fascinating to watch the sugar slowly transform as I worked the bag.

Here's the irony: this brown sugar "substitute" isn't really a substitute at all. All these years I thought brown sugar was simply sugar that hadn't been refined as much as the white. For certain categories of "natural" sugars, that's true. But the brown sugar we buy in our grocery stores is most likely to be the end result of granulated sugar that has had molasses added back in. Exactly like what I just did with my handy-dandy sandwich bag!

Which means I scratched brown sugar off my grocery list and added molasses. Heck of a deal.

So -- on to the cookie gig. On July 9th, the NY Times printed an article and accompanying recipe about and for chocolate chip cookies. It spread like a happy virus across the food blogosphere so you can't hardly check into a foodie site without seeing mention of these scrumptious goodies. Although I didn't follow their particular recipe, I did pay attention to the "secrets" they revealed in the article, such as a very light sprinkle of coarsely ground sea salt on top of the dough just before baking. Also, although I baked a dozen of the cookies right away, the rest of the dough will be kicking back and relaxing in the refrigerator for a day or two to see if the resulting cookies are indeed as superior as they claim. I figure it can't hurt -- and, for the first time, I don't feel guilty about not baking up the whole batch of dough in one fell swoop. Yay!

The recipe I sort of used is from Smitten Kitchen and she posted some luscious photos, too. I'll copy it here more or less as she laid it out because she's nice enough to provide amounts in grams for those of you across the Pond. You'll want to check it out at her site too, though, because I tweaked it a bit here.

Tweakable Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) (115 grams) unsalted butter
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla (she called for 1 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons plain yogurt (optional -- for moistness)
1 1/4 cup (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt -- or 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (200 grams) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup (130 grams) walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped fine

Put rack at upper third level in oven and preheat to 300 fairy height, 150 centipede.

Mix butter and sugars until smooth. I melted the butter instead of cubing it cold like she did. Mix in the egg, vanilla, baking soda and, if using, yogurt. Stir together flour and salt, mix into batter. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. After the little mounds of dough had been placed on the cookie sheet, I put a light sprinkle of coarsely ground sea salt on top of each mound. I have one of those little bottles with its own grinder top that works perfectly for this.

Using a small ice cream scoop or 2 tablespoons, plop mounds of dough on a lightly oiled cookie sheet (or use parchment paper or a silicone mat) and bake for about 15 minutes. Everyone's oven seems to be a bit different so you might want to watch closely toward the end of the baking time. You don't want to cook them too crispy in the oven or they'll get horridly hard on you when they cool. Let them rest for a minute or two on the cookie sheet when you remove it from the oven. Then put them on a rack to cool completely.

I usually do just one pan of cookies at a time, in case I feel the need to tweak the dough for some reason. The first half-dozen cookies were fine but I thought they needed something. Aha! I grabbed 1/2 cup of my beloved dried cranberries, chopped them to little bits and folded them in. Believe me, cranberries share the same "marriage made in heaven" quality with chocolate as raspberries. The second half-dozen cookies were an improvement, with the delightful little flavor bursts from the cranberries.

There may be a bit more tweaking in the future of this batch of dough. I'm wondering about the flour. You know that some days, depending on the humidity, you need more or less flour than what is called for. Also, that 2 tablespoons of yogurt I added may have made the dough a bit looser than it should be. Keeping it in the refrigerator between batches helps but these cookies, though tender crispy outside and soft and chewy inside, tend to spread a bit more than I'm used to. Tomorrow I may add about 1/4 cup more flour. We'll see.

The cookies came out more of a caramel brown than pale golden. That's because I only had 1/2 cup of chocolate chips but I had a cup's worth of a solid semi-sweet chocolate bar I chopped up. The chopping reduced some of the choccy to powder which, of course, went into the dough just like the bigger chunks. And that's how come these cookies have a better tan.

And there you have it -- my Friday session of kneading (the brown sugar) and needing (a choccy fix). Do I know how to head into a weekend or what?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Not Your Mother's Noodle

Question: When is a noodle not a noodle?

Answer: When it's a zoodle!

Have you tried them yet? Zoodles, I mean. Coffee Mates, this is so cool, so tasty and SO fun, you've just got to give it a shot. Take yourself a nice firm zucchini and, by one method or another, cut it into julienne strips. You can even just slice off flat strips with a potato peeler. I used my trusty V-slicer mandoline with the small julienne blade for the results you see above. At first glance, the strips look just like the square Chinese noodles.

You can use this treatment on other veggies, too but the ubiquitous zucchini seems to get the most attention, perhaps because they end up flexible like cooked noodles rather than rigid like matchstick french fries. Which leads me to another question ... if julienned zucchinis are called zoodles, wouldn't julienned potatoes be called poodles? I'm just asking.

Anyway, you can use your zoodles pretty much any way you'd be inclined to use pasta. You can have them raw -- as I did in the salad pictured above -- or you can cook them as I did with the Sorta Spaghetti you see below.

I zoodled one zucchini that was something like 6 or 7 inches long. Should have picked up more zukes but how did I know? Anyway, I threw some of the zoodles in a salad bowl and added finely grated carrots, chopped smoked turkey, chopped tomato and a glob of the dilled yogurt mustard from yesterday. I forgot to add some minced onion but it didn't matter. That was my lunch and it was lovely.

By the way, about grating the carrots? What I had was baby carrots. Do you know how fast you can shred your knuckles when you're trying to grate those little old baby carrots? It's shocking, folks. Just shocking. Since I was not terribly enthused about shedding blood today, I thunk and thunk about it -- and came up with a brilliant solution. Got a good grip on the base of each baby carrot with my trusty needle-nose pliers and whizzed right through the grating session just like I knew what I was doing. When the carrot got reduced to what the pliers were gripping, I had myself a nice little nubbin to munch while moving on to the next carrot.

The balance of the zoodles went into my Sorta Spaghetti. "Sorta" because I didn't have the makings for spaghetti sauce so I made a quick batch of Whatever-It-Is in a small sauce pan on LOW heat. I mixed a cup of tomato-chipotle bouillon, 1/2 cup of yogurt and a cup of grated colby/jack cheese, stirring until the cheese was melted. Oh! I also added a half-teaspoon of Realemon juice because I read somewhere that vinegar or lemon juice prevents the melted cheese from getting stringy. It works.

On the other burner, I had sauteed some diced onion and chopped smoked turkey in a bit of olive oil. When the sauce was ready, I poured it over the onion/turkey mixture and let it simmer just a bit. Then I threw in the rest of the zoodles and let everything cook for maybe another couple of minutes. The zoodles were still crispy-tender when I turned off the heat.

Dang, I said to myself. I do believe I've made twice as much sauce as I needed. Then I had a second thought. Actually, the sauce was just right. I simply needed more zoodles. Ah well. We live and learn, don't we? I had all the zoodles for dinner -- bliss -- and tomorrow I'll add the bowl of leftover rice to the leftover sauce and, shazaam! More bliss. See how these things work out?

Just so you can doodle a bit with the zoodle gig, here's a link to the Health Discovery website and one of the forum pages. The Spirooli they're talking about is a kitchen gadget that spiral cuts veggies and fruits and is often used for making zoodles. Scroll down the page a bit to entry #8 and read the loooooong list of zoodle ideas offered by Aspire. I printed that part off for future reference for myself. Lots of good stuff there.

On a more serious note, our friend Bonnie went into the hospital today so they could do something about the painful problem she's been having with her back. Let's send plenty of healing mojo (aka prayer) her way. She's just been way too miserable for far too long. Time for fixin'!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Midnight Snackless

Well, I'm just having fun with all kinds of new stuff. For one thing, I'm discovering that terrific yogurt mustard from yesterday is very versatile, according to the seasoning you mix into it. Today, for instance, I gave it a good shot of lemon-dill seasoning with most excellent results. I also used the last of my red wine vinegar to make this batch so that item went on my shopping list for the next market run.

The other new "stuff" -- new to me, that is -- was learning to poach a chicken breast. I must probably be the last person in the world to poach anything. Don't ask me why. I've just never done it. Not even an egg. Now that I've tried it, I'm thinking, "Gee, how did I manage to miss out on such a neat way of cooking chicken?"

And it is. Earlier this evening I poached one chicken breast in a mixture of water, white wine and assorted spices like onion powder and chipotle and cumin and I don't know what all. It came out tender and juicy and very tasty. Cut it in slices, tossed it with some sliced tomato, topped it with a big glob of the dilled yogurt mustard and served it with a side of rice that had been cooked in tomato-chipotle bouillon. Made for a light but totally satisfying meal. But there is one thing wrong.

I don't have anything left over for my midnight snack.

Oh! Before I forget, John, did you catch the comment from Anonymous after the post about Swaptree? Just in case you missed it -- and that goes for the rest of you on that side of the pond -- go to Read It Swap It. It looks like very much the same sort of setup. Anonymous, whoever (whomever?) you may be, thank you for the tip!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

All Wrapped Up

I love this photo. There's just something about widdle bunnies, isn't there? Even when they're happily devouring your garden, they're cute about it. In any case, I hauled this little guy into service because I want to express applause for a recipe I got out of Rosie Daley's book, "In The Kitchen With Rosie," which I featured yesterday.

First, I need to tell you this is a most excellent recipe book. Full of chatty stuff and good tips, all as bonus items behind some of the most dynamite healthy recipes you'll find. What's neat to note is that the book was published back in 1994 -- and it isn't even a minute out of date. I can hardly wait to try some of her other goodies but I am sufficiently stuffed at the moment to be willing to wait.

Being in the mood for wraps -- which I think is just a yuppie name for a type of sandwich most often made with tortillas -- I scored a package of flour tortillas at the market today. Unfortunately, there was only one package left and it was of those monster 12-inch fellers and that is not a resealable bag! Good thing I have plenty of duct tape.

Anyway, I ended up making two of those big boys -- the tortilla wraps, I mean. One is waiting in the refrigerator for later nom, nom, nomming. Half of the other is covered and standing in the wings for my usual midnight snack. The missing half is currently distending my happy tummy. And for those of you who are being careful about what you eat, this wrap stuff is so healthy it ought to be criminal. Consider: one 12" flour tortilla -- 360 calories. Divide that by 2 because I wimped out at the halfway mark so -- 180 calories.

Okay, I don't have a clue about the calorie count of what I put inside the wraps but I think it was probably quite reasonable -- one slice of smoked turkey, half of a caramelized Walla Walla onion (no sugar to caramelize it, just patient, slow cooking of thinly sliced onion rings over medium heat), several thin slices of a vine-ripened tomato, half of a thinly sliced small zucchini that has been sauteed to tenderness in a bare teaspoon of olive oil and seasoned with Mrs. Dash chipotle seasoning and a final layer of shredded colby jack cheese.

Okay, the cheese probably has as many calories as everything else put together but you can leave that out and still have a fantastic sandwich. But there is one other item that puts this concoction over the top -- and that's what I got from Rosie. (I hope I'm using only a respectful amount from the book and not breaking copyright laws. What they call a reasonable quote, I guess.) Anyway, this is the dip she serves with artichokes and she says there's only 63 calories per serving, including the 'choke (recipe serves 4).

Rosie Daley's Yogurt Mustard

1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1/8 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallot (1 small shallot)

Rosie suggested running the ingredients through the blender until smooth but I just stirred everything a bit with a spoon and put it in the refrigerator until I was ready to use it. Also, I didn't have any lemon pepper so I crumbled in one of my little chipotle cubes, which is supposed to equal one chipotle pepper. Didn't have a shallot either but 2 tablespoons of dried onion flakes plumped up just fine by the time I hauled the dip out for action.

What I did was slather some of it in the middle of the tortilla before laying down the slice of smoked turkey. Then, after everything else was stacked up, I globbed a bit more on as dressing and rolled the whole conglomeration up nice and neat. The finished wrap looked like a burrito on steroids, all bulked up and ready to kick sand in somebody's face.

I cannot TELL you what an amazing difference that sauce makes in the sandwich. If I'd had any left over after building the two wraps, I'd have used it for dip while eating them. Note to self: double Yogurt Mustard recipe next time. Correction: triple recipe next time.

I urge you to try this. It's astonishingly delicious, quick and easy and I'm thinking it's incredibly versatile. Imagine all the things you could dip in it -- without guilt. Now that's worth a serious round of clappity-clappity.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Swappin' & Grinnin'

No, I'm not advertising the book -- although it is a very good one. I popped the picture up there because it's the first book I scored from a terrific online site that specializes in the good old-fashioned art of trading. If you love books as much as I do, I think you'll want to check this place out.

It's called Swaptree and it's set up so members (the membership is free) can trade for books, DVDs, CDs or games and all you pay is the postage for sending off the item you're trading. They make it easy for you, too. All you have to do is enter the ISBN number or the barcode number and they'll pop up a cover picture of the item, plus basic information about it -- such as whether a book is hard cover or paperback, year published, author, etc. Then you rate the condition of the item and explain any dings or wear it may have.

As soon as you've entered the information on your Have list, signifying it's something you want to trade, you're told how many items are available to choose from. Sometimes you enter an item and, for that moment in time, there isn't anyone looking for it. Not a problem. It will happen, sooner or later. On the other hand, if you happen to enter an item lots of folks are lusting after, you will find yourself wading through hundreds of choices. The more things you have on your Have list, the more possible trades there are available.

But you don't stop there. You can browse through all the categories and click on anything you might want and it will be placed on your Want list. Now Swaptree can start working its magic, matching traders with each other. It can even set up three-way trades, which is pretty cool. Or maybe you see something you want right now. You don't mess around with the Want list. You click on Get Now! By the way, you aren't limited to category trades. If it's available, you can trade a book, for instance, for a DVD. Or whatever.

They have a rating system like eBay so you have a pretty good idea whether the trade partner will be okay or not -- and you'll have incentive to earn good ratings yourself. Swaptree encourages you to ship out traded items fast -- and they make that easy for you, too. They set it up so you can print off already addressed shipping labels right from the site, on regular printer paper, and will bill your credit card once a month for all the postage you use the previous month. Even with the $1.00 fee they charge at billing time, you still pay significantly less postage than you would if you ordered a used item from Amazon -- and the traded item itself is free! (You can opt to do the postage thing yourself if you want to.)

At first you're limited to 2 concurrent trades but that changes as you participate. I've only made 3 trades and they've upped my limit to 5 concurrents -- and there hasn't even been time for ratings yet. But I'm glad they're holding me down. I start browsing the available books and it's like being turned loose in a chocolate factory. My Inner Greedy Gertie tries to take over and she would put me in the poor house in a hurry if there wasn't some kind of damper on her enthusiasm.

If you will excuse me, while you're checking out the Swaptree playground, I'm going to distract Greedy Gertie by making her help me find a fantastic recipe in the new book. When one must accommodate greed, one can profit from re-ordering priorities.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Art of Productive Avoidance

It's been one of those days. The sky kept hugging the tops of the hills outside of town and the thunder kept rumbly-rumbling and it sprinkled every now and then just for kicks and giggles. I had a whole big To Do list to work my way through and I was really, really gonna do it. Really. I was. But somehow I managed to zig when I should have zagged.

I'm not sure how it happened, actually. I went online to check my mail and catch up on the general news scene and somewhere in there I ran across a reference for making flowers out of ribbons. And I thought, hey! A few years ago, in a fit of dubious creativity, I bought myself one of those gadgets that is supposed to make it Incredibly Easy to make Incredibly Gorgeous bows for packages. Along with the gadget, I grabbed a few spools of pretty ribbon. That turned out to be a bad idea. Never could figure out how to work the gadget and the only Incredible produced was the ensuing mess. I ended up giving the gadget away but the ribbon has been safely stashed, presumably for the next bout of dubious creativity to strike.

Which was today. What made it all work for me was the fact that three of the four spools of ribbon were the type with wire along the edges. Well, one of them actually had wire. Another had lightweight nylon fishing line and the third one I'm pretty sure just had a thicker thread along the edge.

See, what you do is, you cut off a length of ribbon and tease out the wire from one edge. That's the hardest part but once you get that little sucker out where you can grab it, you're in 'em. You get a good grip on the wire and then carefully, slowly, scoot the ribbon along the wire, gathering it up toward the center -- or the other end -- just as tight as you can squeeze it. I found it worked well if I went from both ends toward the middle.

The ribbon will spiral like a son-of-a-gun and when you have it about as bunched up as you're gonna get it, you tie off the wire and pooch and poke and fluff and shape until you're happy with the result. Some folks sew or glue fancy buttons in the center but I just took another length of ribbon and folded it in the middle, then poked the middle up from the bottom. The fold forms the center of the flower and the rest of the ribbon makes those nice dangly tails.

I should mention the little sorta-rose flower was done slightly different. Tied a knot at one end and gathered the ribbon down to that end, then spiraled it in and tied it off at the knot.

The big red and white flower? That was the easiest of all. Five sheets of Kleenex stacked together, pleated accordian style, then belted tight in the middle with a twist-tie. Then each layer is VERY gently teased out and fluffed up. It looked so plain, I had at it with a felt tip marker. I think that was a valid improvement. (The original instructions were for making that flower with squares of toilet tissue but, uhmmm ... no.)

If I've inspired you to give this project a shot, you won't be stuck if you don't happen to have ribbon with wire edges. Just run a line of gathering stiches along one edge with needle and strong thread for the same effect. It really is a lot of fun. Really. I would not lie.

I don't have any links for you because I grazed in many different pastures and the instructions sort of all digested together. Just Google something like "how to make ribbon flowers" and then start clicking different links.

So. Now you know how I managed to avoid dealing with my To Do list today. Didn't get any of it done. On the other hand, next time I wrap a present, I will be SO ready.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


This picture seemed appropriate for sharing tonight. Because I've been pondering recipes that some of you on diets can enjoy. And I was thinking how really terrific lentils are. I can't believe I've been ignorant of such a fabulous food all these years -- but I'm trying to make up for lost time, you see.

Anyway, I decided to Google for nutritional info on the lovely lentil -- and accidentally fell into the most marvelous site that I just have to share with y'all. Or all y'all. Whichever is correct. (Insert smile.)

The name of the place is Nutrition Data and it's probably the most informative site of its kind that I've run across. It takes a little fooling around to get the hang of how everything works but the learning curve is short and there's an excellent help section.

Just to give you an idea, here's the page that comes up when you pick lentils cooked with salt. I chose that option because that's how I cook 'em but you can choose without salt, too. The page not only gives you the usual nutritional info, it shows you things like the estimated glycemic load and the inflammation factor. And it throws in neat charts with purty colors.

And you can even click on a link to Epicurious for recipes with lentils! For the record, there are 141 of 'em. How cool is that?

Please excuse me now. I must scoot over to Epicurious and ponder me some recipes.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hot Pretzels, Cold Beer

Boy, I had such a picture for y'all tonight. Caught some of the Cedar Waxwings hangin' a bit in the birch trees outside the window. "Hooboy!" I yelled as I grabbed the camera and tore around the table to score the "money shot." (That's intrepid photographer lingo.)

I barely had time to focus on one of the waxwings who seemed almost bright yellow in the sunshine. Then, before I could try for another shot, they all flew away to another destination. No problem, I thought to myself. At least I got the one feller and the light was really good.

So when I uploaded the pictures to the computer, the first one out of the chute was the waxwing photo. Almost drooling with anticipation, I zoomed in on the yellow spot in the branches of the tree. And I blinked. And I backed out of the zoom and looked frantically around the picture. Leaves. Nothing but leaves. All of them green -- except the single yellow one which, in my haste, I had taken to be my feathered target.

It was a nice leaf photo, though. As leaf photos go. (insert sigh)

There was somewhat more success with a cooking adventure today. I have no idea how I happened to decide it might be fun to make some soft pretzels but after browsing twenty-eleven recipes, I had to give it a shot. I chose the recipe I found at Sugarlaws, mainly because it produced a small batch -- plenty enough for experimental porpoises. (Those porpoises will get greedy if you let 'em.)

You will need to go to Katy's site if you want to see the original recipe and a couple of excellent photos of her pretzels. Because you know I'm gonna mess with the ingredients, don't you? And I did the soda water thing a bit different than she did so I could get a browner pretzel.

On the other hand, if you want a good chuckle, you can just look at how my pretzels turned out. In my own defense, I've never made pretzels before. Or if I did, I sure don't remember doing it. Because you'd think I'd have figured out how to make the pretzel twist stay in place. That one in the upper right corner sort of got all relaxed and crossed its legs and there wasn't a durned thang I could do about it. Except eat it, of course.


2 teaspoons yeast and a pinch of sugar dissolved in
1/3 cup warm pale ale
Let it sit for about 10 minutes until it's nice and foamy.

Add 1 1/4 cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil.
I also added 1 tablespoon chipotle/tomato bouillon and 1 tablespoon onion flakes.

This won't take long -- just dig in with your hand and start mooshing everything together. It may seem too dry but keep at it until the dough cleans the bowl. Trust your instinct -- add a tablespoon or two of warm water if you think you need it. Turn dough out on very lightly floured surface (if you have a silicone pastry mat, you won't need extra flour) and knead for a couple of minutes. Grease the bowl and put the dough back in. Cover and let rise for an hour or so.

Okay, now comes the fun part. First, set your oven at 425 degrees fairyheight. Divide the dough up into 6 equal parts (I only did 4.) Roll each piece into a long rope and let the strands rest while you fix the soda water. In a nonreactive kettle, mix 2 quarts of water and 5 or 6 teaspoons of baking soda. Stir until soda is dissolved and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.

Go back to your dough strands. The dough will have relaxed a bit so you can roll it out even longer. Twist each strand into a pretzel shape -- or any old shape that you fancy. What the heck. They're your pretzels, right? Now slip 2 or 3 pretzels at a time into the simmering water and let them cook a bit. This is what gives them the "skin" so they'll turn that lovely dark brown in the oven. Here's where I found a rather wide variance from one recipe to another. Some folks only boil the pretzels for about 20 seconds, some insist on a couple of minutes. I split the difference and let them boil for 1 minute.

Lift each pretzel out of the water with a spatula or slotted spoon and lay on an oiled cookie sheet (or parchment paper or silicone baking mat). Now is a good time to grind some coarse sea salt over the dough, while it's still wet from the water bath. Slip the pretzels into the oven on the top rack (I raised the rack one setting up from the middle) or the bottoms might get too brown. Cook 8 to 10 minutes. Eat them as soon as you think you can avoid blistering your tongue. Serve with mustard, or maybe jalapeno cheese sauce, and cold beer.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Why I Didn't Take Photos

I don't seem to have a picture for you tonight.

Didn't have my camera with me when I went to the post office so I didn't get a shot of the blackberries that are starting to ripen. But I did take some of them to Gary, the postmaster.

Guess I could have taken a picture of my brand new Forschner boning knife that just arrived today. It's pretty sexy for a mere knife. Oh. Slap my mouth. Forschner knives are never "mere." Sorry about that. Anyhoo, I've waited a long time for this little guy. It so happens nearly all my knives have serrated blades which, for the most part, work just fine for about anything I need them to do. But there are simply some things that require a regular blade. Like boning out a trout or a chicken. That kind of thing.

The only other knife I have that has a regular blade is really ancient. It's a paring knife that my great grandmother used and it's been sharpened so many times, it's practically a wisp of its former self. Doesn't matter. It works perfectly for a kajillion different things. But I've never been able to use it with quite the skill Gran Dee had. I remember watching her assemble an apple pie. The very last things she put in, just before laying on the top crust, were circular lemon slices, cut so thin you could read a newspaper through them. Maybe it's just wistful memory but I swear hers were the best apple pies I've ever tasted -- and I'm convinced it was because of those tissue-thin lemon slices.

The other thing I could have taken a picture of was the result of turning my Inner Mad Scientist loose on concocting the perfect lentil burger. I'm saving that photo shoot for a later time because Her Looniness hasn't got it quite right yet. I can tell you the mixture involves, besides the lentils, onions, carrots, 'mater juice, lots of spices, potato flakes and corn meal. And I baked them. They turned out good, I'm not complaining about that, but some things really need to be fried in a little bit of olive oil. Really. Although they're nice and moist inside, the outer shell was a bit dry. Not a Good Thang.

So I'll be working on that. Later. It has to be later because, even though I had three small ones for dinner, there are eight big ones left for later meals. (sigh) Mad scientists tend to leave that sort of residue around. And then they leave the cleanup for me. I know one thing -- I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want to see a picture of that.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Soup & Crackers Day

I was going to fix myself some soup and crackers today because it's a soup and crackers day. Overcast, hinting at some form of wetness and just at the south end of a comfy temperature. So, yeah, soup and crackers. Except I didn't have any crackers.

Wait. Why not (gasp!) make my own crackers?

Have I mentioned how much I love Google? It didn't take long to browse abundant cracker recipe links and find an absolute gem of a recipe, one that handily meets my F.E.D. principle. (Fast, Easy, Delicious) If you go to Orb's website, in the food section you'll see the aforementioned recipe titled Orb's Homemade Crackers. I point you there because she deserves the visit and besides, I took certain mild liberties with her recipe so you might want to make comparisons. What follows here is my version of her version, so to speak.


1/2 cup grated cheese
1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons water
seasoning to taste

In a small bowl mix cheese, flour and seasoning. I grated the cheese at the smallest size, the one that looks like angel hair, figuring it would blend better. I did not put salt in the mixture because I wanted to sprinkle the dough with salt before baking. What I did do was sprinkle in a light touch of cayenne pepper but you can use any seasoning you fancy -- like onion or garlic or rosemary or whatever.

After you've tossed the mixture a bit so the cheese shreds are nicely flour-coated, plop in the softened butter and the water. TWEAK WARNING: Probably cold butter and liquid would make the crackers flakier but warm is easier to mix. Your call. The crackers will be tender-crisp either way. Also, remember my pie crust the other day? The one with vodka? Yeah. I'm gonna use that stuff up one way or 'tother. My liquid of choice today was 2 tablespoons of ginger vodka. I'll bet you could use pretty much any liquid -- water, milk, beer, tomato juice -- you get the idea.

Anyway. Quickly mix the dough until it cleans the bowl and turn it out on a lightly floured surface. TWEAK WARNING: I have one of those silicone baking mats. Figuring the less flour, the better, I turned the dough out directly onto the mat and rolled it as thin as I could, using a light dusting of flour on top of the dough and on the rolling pin. I figured it would be a lot easier to handle the dough this way. If you don't have a baking mat, tear off a sheet of parchment paper to fit your cookie sheet or, if there are no raised sides on the pan, roll out the dough directly onto its lightly oiled surface.

When you've rolled the dough to your satisfaction, take a table knife or wheeled pizza cutter and lightly -- lightly -- score snap lines in the dough. I stress lightly because you don't want to cut your expensive baking mat! After you've scored (heh, heh), poke your dough with a fork -- again, gently -- to minimize puffiness during baking. Now, you could go to a lot of extra effort (and there may be times you'll want to) and patiently cut out little rounds of dough -- or whatever shape you want -- and place them individually on the cookie sheet. That's fine, too. It's just that it's a lot faster and easier to score the sheet of dough and break it up into individual crackers later. So mark your dough and then pick up the silicone baking sheet or parchment paper and lay it on a cookie sheet.

Okay. Now is the time to sprinkle whatever topping you want. I grated some coarse sea salt over the surface. You can go with various herbs or finely chopped nuts or seeds. Gently press the topping into the cracker dough by patting with your fingers. I made the mistake of trying to pass the rolling pin over it. Given that the rolling pin was wider than the cookie sheet (which had raised edges), I pressed unevenly and messed up my nice neat score lines. I'm trying to convince myself that gives the crackers a pleasant artisan look.

I baked these at 350 degrees fairy height for 15 minutes. You might want to experiment with temp and time. As you can see in the above photo, the sheet of dough did not bake evenly. What you can't see is that the darker part is just as delicious as the golden part. I think it's probably wise to keep an eye on progress after the 10-minute mark so the edges don't get too brown.

When you bring it out of the oven, let the pan set on a rack for a bit. When the crackers are cool enough to handle, snap them into individual little guys. They snap quite easily and it's fun to lick your fingers when you're done. You'll end up with somewhere between a cup and two cups of crackers, easily stored in a pint zip-type freezer bag.

I made the mistake of bringing the bag of crackers in here by the computer. And I keep nibbling. If I'm not careful, I'll be too full of crackers to have any appetite for soup. Self-discipline can be so pesky.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Feelin' Squirrelly

Squirrelly. Now there's a word to confuzzle one's spelling gland. First I tried it with a double-L and a single-R. Spell Check said "Uh-uh, fool." Okay. So I did a single-L and a double-R. Spell Check chortled and said "No way, nay." In desperation, I Googled and, lo! The word requires doubles on both the L and the R. Adding insult to injury, Spell Check still refused to recognize the corrected version but I fixed that, by golly. Added it to the dictionary. Take that, Spell Check! You've got to watch these software gizmos all the time or they get uppity on you.

Anyway, the word is used tonight to indicate my general state of mind. (I use that last word with reckless abandon.) See, I had carefully tapped out a second response to the rest of you who commented on yesterday's post but I must have clicked the wrong button because it never showed up. Sheesh. Sorry about that, folks.

For the record, John, I mentioned to you that your comment had me Googling for Spam fritter stuff and I found -- a bit different than the batter-dipped version -- a Spam contest winner that included green tomatoes. It's on the Spam web site, along with lots of other contest winning recipes. Fun stuff.

Bill, I snorted coffee, laughing at your punny comment. Thwapp! Ava, I use the same excuse when I indulge in the less healthy stuff. I say, well gee, I eat healthy MOST of the time. (smile) Bonnie, I think you have the right idea. Is the Spam turkey pretty good? I hope so because here's what I discovered: remember the regular Spam, 2-ounce slice, has 174 calories, of which 137 is fat. The turkey Spam, 2-ounce slice, has 80 calories, only 35 in fat! Quite a difference. I'm impressed. Now I'll have to see if I can get Lee to order it in at the market. And, Kate, I think the compulsion to name objects is a family trait. My sister once had a car she named Clyde and it was the same color as my cookware. What can I say?

Okay. Now we're all caught up. So let's discuss the state of being cool. That's "cool" in the slang sense rather than the temperature sense. I bring it up because a new search engine debuted this past Monday, as you probably know. Cuil, pronounced cool. I tried it out. Several times, in fact, trying to be fair and taking into account there are probably glitches to work out in the shakedown cruise. I really hate to downgrade something that I know people have worked long and hard to produce but, at this point at least, Cuil is not so cool I think.

Where Google shines by accurately providing pertinent links, most pertinent first, Cuil seems to wander all over the place. Sometimes it misses the mark entirely. The column layout is okay, although one doesn't get as many hits per page. I like the idea of a picture with each link entry but they're definitely going to have to work on that. So far, the pictures have little or nothing to do with the link and the same picture is repeated several times with drastically different links.

They're going to have to get a whole lot better -- and more accurate -- if they're going to compete with Google. Or even any of the other standard search engines, now that I think on it. Google, in my ever so humble opinion, is still the coolest. Even when I'm feeling squirrelly.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Mystery Meat & Papa Bear

You know about Mystery Meat, of course. That stuff nobody ever admits to eating but it somehow sells and sells and sells? Yeah. SPAM. Hormel's canned luncheon meat, which they like you to refer to in caps to differentiate it from the scourge of the e-mail world, lower case spam. (On a side note, the latter use of the word apparently stems from an old Monty Python skit wherein they chanted Spam! Spam! in mind-numbing repetition.)

SPAM has been around since 1937, making it (barely) older than I am. In the beginning, Hormel referred to it as "miracle meat" but I think that might be considered hopeful elevation. On the other hand, maybe not. How else can one explain its popularity in this health-conscious era when you consider its fat and sodium content? This is not a health food, folks. One 2-ounce portion contains 174 calories, 137 of which are fat!

In spite of that, I'm told it is one of Hawaii's favorite foods and the favorite way to eat it is as the SPAM musubi. That's a sort of sandwich made with layers of rice and SPAM wrapped in nori (seaweed). You can view the recipe here or watch it being made by the Single Guy Chef here.

That was far from the only SPAM recipe I found while merrily Googling away. It lends itself to an astonishing number of variations, limited only by the imagination -- and pantry contents -- of the chef. What I ended up making yesterday was an adaption of something billed as Spambalaya, drawing on Cajun-style cuisine. It's quick and easy to fix and the flavor of the finished dish is good enough to almost make you forget what you're doing to your arteries.

Because you will be cooking your rice in the same pan with everything else, you need either a large skillet or a 3-quart saucepan. Now, I never remember the measurements of my saucepans. In my mind they are simply sized as Baby Bear, Mama Bear and Papa Bear. The really big kettle that goes with the set, I just call Clyde. Anyway, I used the Papa Bear saucepan for this gig.

Splash a little olive oil in the saucepan and sautee 1 (12 ounce) can of SPAM that you've cubed all nice and neat, 1 cup of chopped onion and 2 cloves of minced garlic. You can also toss in chopped green pepper and celery if you have it. I didn't. (sigh) When the veggies are tender, add the contents of 1 (14-1/2 ounce) can of diced or stewed tomatoes and shake in, to taste, your favorite hot pepper sauce. (I used the Tabasco Chipotle.) I also had a small can of minced black olives that I tossed in. It's not necessary but seemed like a fun idea. This is that kind of recipe, you know.

The recipe I worked from also called for a 10-ounce can of chicken broth but I used Knorr's tomato-chipotle bouillon in the same amount. Bring the mixture to a boil and add 1 cup of long grain rice, turn the heat down, put a lid on it, and simmer for 20 minutes. Fluff it up with a fork, put the lid back on and let it sit for a good 10 minutes or so. You'll find the rice won't stick to the pot if you do that.

What can I say? This is really, really Good Stuff, Maynard. And you know what? The next time I make it, I'm going to add 1 small can of crushed pineapple, by golly. I'll bet that would work out quite nicely. I should point out that one need not use the high-fat SPAM when making this dish. It would work just as well with any other meat, like my beloved chicken, for instance. Don't you just love dishes that are that flexible? And when they fill the Papa Bear pan, there's plenty for everyone.