Monday, June 29, 2009

Turtle Time

Oy vey. I can't decide if my brand of slow is more like the turtle or like the snail on his back. Either way, I have not been particularly efficient today and nobody would accuse me of trying to pass for Speedy Gonzales. Just one of those easy-going, amiable sort of days, you know? No big deadlines. That's probably the problem. I find I tend to get less done when I have lots of time to do it.

In any case, I ended up getting totally distracted with a John Grisham book, "The Broker," and didn't even notice the sun had gone down until I finished the last chapter and looked around to see where I'd left my coffee mug. Ooops.

Well, see, that means there are several things on today's To Do list that I have to slide over to tomorrow's To Do list. Which means I'll have less time to do the stuff than I had today -- therefore, according to the theory, I should be able to manage to get 'er done.

Or not. In any case, I think I'd better hurry up and post this before the day is completely used up. Then I can see about programming myself to catch up on all the things I missed doing today. In the meantime, hope y'all are having a perfectly super day. Or night, depending on the time zone. Don't trip over any turtles.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dust to Dust

I'm pretty sure I laid this one on you somewhere back there in previous blog posts but this seemed to be a good time to -- uhmm -- dust it off and bring it out again. Remember, last night I promised to tell you about Magic Dust. Yes, I know this cartoon is about happy dust but little green Miss Thang is a funnier illustration than a photo of a pile of mixed spices. Trust me on that.

Mike Mills, billed as a champion BBQ pit master and restaurateur, came up with this blend of spices and shares the recipe with the rest of us. The neat thing about it is its versatility. Often used as a dry rub on fish, fowl or red meats, it works equally well on just about any vegetable you can name and is a handy seasoning for all sorts of casserole or combination dishes. As noted yesterday, I like to sprinkle it on melted cheese -- and it doesn't much matter what the cheese has been melted on, the seasoning enhances it.

1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup kosher salt, finely ground
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons mustard powder
1/4 cup chili powder
1/4 cup ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
1/4 cup granulated garlic
2 tablespoons cayenne

Mix all the spices together thoroughly and store in tightly covered container. If you want it hotter, add more mustard and/or black pepper, 1 tablespoon at a time, up to 1/4 cup each. Personally, I found the above measurements to be just warm enough for general purposes -- although I am using the extra hot Coleman's mustard powder. I stored the bulk of the mix in an empty Kraft ground Parmesan container and filled a smaller glass spice bottle with a shaker top for table use.

I've learned a couple of things since starting this kick of making my own assorted mixes. For instance, I'm getting pretty good at saving plastic and glass containers, especially if they have shaker tops, for possible use as homemade mix storage. I've also learned to keep a roll of scotch tape handy to stick labels on the containers once I fill them. That's because, to my dismay, I have discovered some mixes look so much like each other that I don't have a clue which is what. I have a couple of mystery mixes in the kitchen right this minute -- mixes that I was blissfully sure I'd be able to identify with one eye tied behind my back. Hah!

The good news is, I can always offload them in a soup without doing any damage to my taste buds. The bad news is, if I really, REALLY like the result, I won't know what I have to mix up to do it again. Back to the drawing board, Igor. Yes, master.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Revelations -- Sorta Kinda

Well, Coffee Mates, I just know you can hardly wait to find out what the mystery object really is. Your guesses were really quite astute and even Kate's speculation about its possible use as a bubble wand is probably not that far off. I mean, why not? I bet it would work. We'll have to give Bill (aka The Old Guy) the gold star, though, for cleverly figuring out to mouse over the photo to see if it was labeled in an enlightening way. And it was. And I even thought of changing its file name but it was getting late and I thought, nah, nobody will think to look. Heh, heh.

So, yuppers, that artistically twisted wire and wood thingamajig is officially known as a Danish Dough whisk. Made, I'm told, in Poland. It's apparently not yet well known on this side of the pond but you can get it online at several places like King Arthur's Flour or the Breadtopia website. I got mine at FGPizza, a friendly place run by Frankie and Gail, who want to save for their daughter Natalia's education. Not only do they offer the best price for the whisk, they also have the lowest shipping and handling charge. Works for me. Besides, I watched the video where Frankie and Natalia mixed some cookie dough with their whisks and she's such a cutie, how could I resist, right?

I'm going to reveal something to you now but you've got to promise not to tell anyone because it's a major secret. It isn't really a dough whisk. What it really is (looking around carefully and lowering voice to a whisper) is a rug beater.


They aren't really manufactured in Poland, either. They're put together in the Shire. By Hobbits. That's why they're smaller than the rug beaters our grandmothers used. Hobbit rugs aren't as big as human rugs. I'm not making this up. Look at my face. Is this a face that would lie? No, it is not. Creatively embellish the truth, perhaps, but never lie.

Anyway -- does it work as a whisk? Yes indeed! The whole idea of the open design is so one can efficiently mix stiff doughs without a great deal of effort. It makes sense. Think of the difference in effort needed to sweep your hand through water with the fingers close together and then with the fingers spread apart. The dough whisk easily -- and thoroughly -- cuts through any heavy mixture like dough or meat loaf without putting any strain on the one doing the mixing. And if Uncle Arthur has been messing with your shoulder joints, believe me, the whisk is a blessing.

Just for the fun of it, I whupped up a batch of English Muffin dough with my rug beater today. I used a tweaked version of Alton Brown's very good recipe but I had to get really creative with the cooking part. See, his method allows you to cook the muffins in a pan on top of the stove but you need rings to contain the dough in an orderly shape as it cooks. I don't have any rings or even empty tuna fish cans, as suggested for substitutes.

For that reason, I didn't use quite as much liquid in the dough as Brown did. I ended up with dough (see above) that was almost as thick as biscuit dough but still very wet and sticky. I lightly sprayed the frying pan with olive oil, flopped in a heaping big spoonful of dough and put the lid on. It took a couple of experimental sacrifices before I finally got the correct combination of heat and timing. I ended up with the heat on medium-low for about a minute-and-a-half on each side. The resulting muffins were fat and fairly free form. When they had cooled and I was able to slice them in half, the interiors were done but nicely moist and the flavor was great.

I think I got around ten muffins out of the batch of dough. After inspecting the surfaces of each to make sure I hadn't baked on a religious image I could sell on eBay, I loaded the two halves of one muffin with some cheese and gave it a turn under the broiler. Nom, nom, nom. Most excellent. Just because you don't manage to cook up religious images doesn't mean your eating experience can't be considered a spiritual thing.

What? Oh, the red stuff sprinkled over the cheese is something called Magic Dust. It's pretty cool. I'll tell you about that tomorrow, okay?

Oh. If any of you are skeptical concerning my revelation about the true nature of the whisk, I refer you to the following photograph showing a sampling of some of the many designs rug beaters took. I rest my case.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Chagrined -- With Fingernails

There's a certain type of photo puzzle that can be hugely irksome sometimes. You know the ones -- where they take a photo of some perfectly ordinary object but they get sneaky about it. The picture is either an extreme closeup or at an angle that is confusing or distorting. The maddening thing about it is, if you can't figure out what the object is, as soon as you get the answer you just want to slap yourself silly because you knew that. Of course you did. You just didn't know you knew, that's all.

Well, brace yourselves, Coffee Mates. I'm gonna lay a photo puzzle on you this very minute. But I'm nicer than those other people. This is not a trick photo. Nope. Uh uh. See that thingamajig over there on the left? That's the real deal. No sneaky stuff. Instead of an unusual shot of an ordinary object, this is an ordinary shot of an unusual object. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, [cue theme music from Mission Impossible] is to identify the mystery object. I regret to say there are no fabulous prizes for having the correct answer. On the other hand, the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you're right is in the general vicinity of fabulous. Unless you're wearing your bunny slippers again. That's a different sort of warm and fuzzy.

Speaking of Mission Impossible, remember that tv show from the sixties and early seventies? Peter Graves, Greg Morris, Martin Landau, among others. And Barbara Bain, who played Cinnamon Carter with such elegance and style. I had to look up her character's name just now because I don't really remember details about the silly show. Just that they always had these cool adventures every week and managed to ace the challenges in slick and totally unrealistic fashion each time -- but you happily went along with the gag because it was so much fun.

There is one detail I do remember, though. Ms Bain's fingernails. Yup. She had these incredibly impressive fingernails. There was almost always some scene where she had to manipulate some gadget that was crucial to the success of whatever sting they were running. The thing was, her fingernails were so long, you couldn't understand how she could do that complicated stuff without chipping the polish or -- gasp! -- breaking at least one of the darned things. Listen, I'm sure everybody was thinking the same thing because the cameras always moved in close so you could watch with awe and amazement. But, hey, Barbara was a pro. She made it look easy. And classy. Hooboy. Impressed the hell out of me.

What? The mystery object? Oh. Sure, I'll reveal its identity.


Feel free to offer your best guesses between now and tomorrow evening. And I'll tell you this right now -- if I find out all of you already know what that thingamajig is, I am going to be SO chagrined. CHAGRINED I tell you.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hooky, Hepburn & This Must Be Heaven

Well, durn my hide. When I play hooky, I don't mess around, do I. Or, put another way, I mess around entirely too much. Thank you, dear Coffee Mates, for checking up on me. My apologies for taking so long to respond. There has been absolutely nothing wrong around here and I've been having great fun with assorted projects and family stuff. But doing anything on the computer except checking mail and researching aforementioned projects just wasn't happening. I think it's called burn-out. Big time. I thought about posting blog entries, really I did. But then I'd lie down and the thought would go away.

I can make it up to you, though. I have just discovered what has to be the absolutely best brownie recipe I've ever blissed my way through. I thought Katherine Hepburn's brownie recipe was pretty darned good but -- sorry, Kate -- the one that follows is even better. I found it on the ever-helpful Recipezaar site, recipe #32204, titled "Whatever Floats Your Boat" brownies. A few other folks agree with me -- when I checked today, there were 750 reviews, almost all of them positive. Here's a shot of the batch I just baked, basking in the afternoon sun. They're really darker than they look here and, oh! The flavor is even darker and richer and deliciously decadent -- which is what a proper brownie should be.

If there is anything I've learned while researching brownies, it's that there are sharply varying standards about what a brownie should be. This is not scientific but my impression is that most folks prefer moist, fudgy brownies rather than drier, more cake-like concoctions. Interestingly, there seems to be even more disagreement on what constitutes the right level of "sweet" and even the right degree of chocolate intensity.

Two things I've learned: don't overmix the batter and don't overcook. The toothpick test will keep you on the right path. Stick it in the middle and pull it out. If there is still liquidy batter on it, it's not done yet. If it comes out clean, you've overcooked it. Apparently the perfect result is to see a few moist crumbs clinging to the toothpick. Keep in mind that ovens vary. Check for doneness at least 5 minutes before suggested time. This recipe calls for 25 minutes but, in my oven, it was perfect at 20 minutes.

Here's a handy trick for you: fold a strip of cooking foil so it's the same width as your pan (I used an 8" x 8" glass pan) and line the pan so each end of the strip drapes over the edges. Grease the foil and the exposed sides of the pan. You can do another strip and lay it in perpendicular to the first but I don't think it's necessary. The idea is, when you bring the finished brownie out of the oven, you can use the ends of the foil strip as handles to pick it up and set the whole thing on a rack to cool. The brownie will be much easier to cut when the time comes. Oh! A pizza cutter works wonderfully for that, by the way.

It will be worth your while to take the time to skim through the various reviews because you'll get all kinds of ideas for variations, including ways to cut calories. My "boat float" for this batch was a big handful of dried tart cherries. Dried cranberries would have worked as well (which is very well indeed) as would about a cup of frozen raspberries folded in. Sometimes I'm in the mood for chopped pecans. Other times I venture south of the border with touches of cinnamon and chili pepper. Cha, cha, cha!

Go ahead and whup yourselves up a batch. You know you want to. It doesn't take hardly any time at all and you've probably got everything you need because the recipe is so basic and simple. And you'll be in good company. This might be only a devilish rumor but I've heard this is the brownie recipe approved by 9 out of 10 heavenly hosts.