Thursday, December 24, 2009

From the Desk of Russell Brand

"And in 33 years you're going to? Nail him to a what!? But we get chocolate eggs for that. I see. Where's my hammer I'll do it now."


beautiful, ridiculous genius.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The Finish Line

Today is my last day off before Christmas (well, I guess I do have Christmas Eve day too...which I will most likely spend wrapping presents and maybe making some scotch eggs to take to dad's place) and I am trying to make the most of it.
I got up at 6am thinking I would go in to work anyway to make sure things were running smoothly, but then after I shook off the sleep I said "F that!" and changed gears.
It was so slow yesterday that by the time I left the boys in the kitchen were ACTUALLY CLEANING THINGS. So today should be easy and they don't need me. Hopefully they'll clean some more things.
Instead I decided to make truffles at 7:30am. I had not had enough coffee to think to take pictures of the process, but really it's so simple that you can totally visualize. In fact, it's so simple that I can write down the recipe from memory:
8oz chocolate (chopped--I used 61% dark from Mon Amiee Chocolat) put it in a metal bowl
2T unsalted butter (put it in the bowl with the chocolate)
3/4c heavy cream (heat it to just barely bubbling in a heavy pan)
Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Wait a few minutes and then whisk it to melt.
That's it! Then comes the fun part...deciding what flavors to put in.
I went out to the parlor and grabbed a bunch of liquor bottles. (oh--procedural note: I made 2x the recipe, and divided each batch into three, so I had six different small bowls of ganache) I ended up doing 1)cognac 2)bacon! 3)peppermint 4)cointreau 5)goldschlager 6)baileys. Now they need to firm up in the frige, and then I get to roll it into little balls and coat them in stuff. I have some things planned (cocoa for the cognac ones; raw sugar for the bacon; crushed candy canes for the peppermint; crushed red hots for the goldschlager) So I have to made a decision still on the baileys and the cointreau. I might just see if I can get some candied orange peel at the fancy market on Walnut street today for the cointreau ones, and then just do the baileys ones in powdered sugar. We'll see.
So yeah, today's adventure will be a trip to Walnut street to finish up the shopping. I am pretty certain I can get all the rest of the things I want to get there, and I am pretty sure I can do it without visiting any of the chain stores on Walnut street. I really only go to Walnut Street at Christmastime, and I get kind of a kick out of only shopping in the local stores. Might be tempted by Sephora though.
Aside from the shopping and then truffles, I plan to bake another batch of Cherry Bombs and get my holiday letter and cards done. Then when Rebby gets home we'll wrap presents and put up the tree and drink a ton of Pennsylvania Dutch Eggnog. I bought a big handle jug of it for $14.99 yesterday. Bliss.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Small Batch Artisanal Tortilla Chips

Turns out kick off isn't till 4:15pm today (I thought it was at 1) so we've got a couple more pre game hours to get some things done. Rebby is shoveling the steps, and I decided to make these, to go with some chile cheese dip and the rest of the chili I made yesterday. Football food.
This process is a huge pain in the ass, let me be clear....but the results are so worth it. I don't know if you've ever had a tortilla chip fried in lard (I think most restaurants have switched to vegetable oil) but it's a completely different experience from "healthy" oil fried chips. And miles away from even the best thing you would get out of a bag.
I started by thawing out about 30 corn tortillas in the microwave. I keep big bags of tortillas from Reynas in the Strip in the freezer and peel off a stack when I need them. They thaw in the micro in about 2 minutes.
Then I melted some lard in my cast iron mini cauldron. It would certainly be less of a pain in the ass to use a larger pot, but I didn't want to go through too much lard at one time. That stuff is semi solid gold around here. That being said, it is probably wasteful of me to use my fine leaf lard for frying---I should really save it for pastry and render down some of the back fat I have in the freezer for frying. That will be next week's project.
Anyhow, While the lard was melting and the tortillas thawing, I turned on the exhaust fan and set our big kitchen king floor fan in the hallway. This is crucial because despite the fact that we have a (kinda lame) exhaust hood, just about any frying will set off the smoke alarm on the second floor. It drives me insane. But I've figured out that if I have the fan blowing into the kitchen it keeps the smoke from getting out of the room. Some day I'll have a ceiling fan in the kitchen and then hopefully it will be a non issue.
So, the arena is set. I snipped the tortillas into triangles with kitchen scissors:
and then scooped 4-5 at a time into the very hot fat. It is at this point that I always remember the nice big mesh skimmer I have actually is in the restaurant kitchen, not the home kitchen, and curse myself yet again. This happens more than I care to admit---thinking I have a tool in one place when it actually lives in a different place. So, I have to use a slotted spoon to fish them out.
The slotted spoon method is pretty wasteful because invariably a decent amount of fat ends up on the stove or the paper towels in transport. I need to remember to get me one of those skimmer things.
The chips fry for about 40 seconds---just till they start to get some color. They'll get darker as they cool. Skim them out and transfer to paper towels to drain slightly.
Then I toss them in a big bowl and sprinkle salt over every third or fourth batch.
The whole thing actually took me less than half an hour though it seemed like an eternity. Still, worth every second.

Sunday Sunday

Rebby made it home at about 8am this morning. She is not sure how long they were stuck on the road (at least 4 hours before she passed out) but she ended up driving the last leg of the trip from Breezewood starting at about 5am. I can't even imagine what it must have been like to be stuck in snow on the road with no where to go and no idea how long you would be there. I have to not think too much about it because I get all kinds of claustrophobic. She's got some funny pee stories, at least, including one where her two bosses (both dudes) had to hold a blanket out so she could pee at the side of the van (after a rather tragic attempt to pee in a vitamin water bottle.) I'm relieved to have her home and safe and made biscuits and gravy to celebrate. Now she's chillin on the couch watching a BIO about Ron Howard. I'm cleaning up the cookie arena and getting ready to start wrapping presents!
We're gonna watch the Steelers game(pirates don't abandon a sinking ship!) and put up the tree and eat some chili and enjoy the beautiful snow from safe inside our warm house.
Starting to feel like happy holidays at last!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ginger Snap Mountain


These Dudes

Salty Oat Cookies with Chocolate Chips, and Cherry Bombs.

Toffee Bars


This is a recipe I got out of an old old Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.
It's similar to this but instead of spreading the batter in an 8 inch pan, I was instructed to pat it into the bottom of a 15x10 inch jellyroll pan. I was very incredulous but man oh man--this is almost more candy than cookie. So good.

Back to the Cookies

Here's my first major cookie fail:


My rosemary shortbread cookies were just TOO BUTTERY and spread together. I managed to salvage the last pan but this pan and the second one are probably going to break into crumbs when I try to take them off the pans. Oh well. Still incredibly yummy!

Getting Snowed In Chili

We interrupt this cookie baking madness for the following chili recipe:

Butternut Squash Chili
1T vegetable oil
1 lb lean ground beef (or substitute soysage for vegetarian, or leave it out!)
2 onions finely chopped
4 cloves garlic minced
1T cumin seeds toasted and ground (or just use already ground cumin!)
2t dried oregano
1t salt
1/2t black pepper
1 cinnamon stick (or 2t ground cinnamon, but the cinnamon stick gives it a nice flavor)
1 28oz can diced tomatoes in juice
3 cups cubed butternut squash (peeled, one inch cubes)
2 cups canned kidney beans rinsed and drained
2 dried new mexico, ancho or guajillo chilies
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Add beef and onions and cook stirring until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper and cinnamon stick and cook for 1 minute. Add diced tomatoes with juice and bring to a boil.
Place squash and beans in a 5 quart slow cooker and cover with sauce. Cover and cook on high 3 to 4 hours or low 6 to 8 hours, until squash is tender.
Half an hour before its done, soak dried chiles in boiling water for 30 minutes in a heatproof bowl. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid. Discard stems and chop the chiles coarsely. Add to slow cooker with cilantro and stir well. Cover and cook on high 30 more minutes until hot and bubbly.

I'm not following the recipe exactly today cuz I don't have all the ingredients and I certainly am not going shopping! It looks like we've got at least 4 inches already and it's still coming down! But as my journalism mentor Mrs Bigglestone told me: you have to know the rules to break them. I've made this recipe at least 4 times and it's consistently delicious. Try it!

Here goes:
First, we cut up some squash. I have a bunch in storage from the garden---butternuts which grew by themselves out of compost (score!) and sunshine kabocha squash which have developed REALLY hard skins over the last couple months. This is good news for long term storage, but bad news for my knives.
Here you can see the dark orange of the sunshine squash and the paler golden orange of the butternut. Orange vegetables are super good for you! Beta Carotene, baby.
Gather all the other ingredients:
I started with a couple tablespoons of olive oil in the dutch oven, then added the onions to wilt. Meanwhile, I thawed a pound of grassfed ground beef from Harmony Hill Farms in Evans City. Grassfed beef is a lot less fatty than factory beef so the extra oil is helpful. Plus, you don't need to drain anything off!
So I'm not normally a recipe person---I like to read them, but I rarely cook from them. As I said I've actually followed this recipe several times, and one thing I learned from it is to add the garlic AFTER the onions are nice and sweated. My years of vegetarian cooking conditioned me to add onions and garlic at the same time, and invariably the garlic would get crispy before the onions were nicely done. Now I follow this method and the burnt garlic is a thing of the past!
Anyway, while the beef browned, I toasted all of my spices together in a cast iron pan. Instead of using whole spices I used ground cumin, cinnamon, oregano and chimayo chile powder. This is a major deviation from the recipe in several steps but hey, I wanted this to come together quick and easy!
In goes the toasted spice mixture, and the squash and plenty of salt.

Then, drained and rinsed kidney beans, fire roasted diced tomatoes, and one tomato can worth of water.
You know about the tomato can of water, right? This is a frugal depression era grandma thing. Instead of ever measuring water for chili or soup or anything really with tomatoes, you just fill up the can. That way you don't miss any of the delicious tomato sauce from the sides. Plus, you've rinsed your can for recycling without wasting any water! I guarantee that just about any recipe you are adding canned tomatoes to you will be adding an equal amount of water.
So now it's just going to simmer on the stove for an hour or so. I'm doing it on the stove because there are way too many things on the counter from cookie production to drag out the crock pot (and because I am hungry NOW and didn't plan ahead for 5 hours of slow cooking!) but I can vouch for the crock pot method. I'll follow up later.
Oh! Let me just add that if you are shopping for ingredients for this chili, the cilantro really does take it over the top (unless of course you are a cilantro hater. I know you're out there. ;) I really need to plant some in a window so I have it available for chili making over the winter.
Once the squash is tender and everything is all blendy, I am going to serve this to myself with some sour cream and buttered tortillas. I can't wait.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009



I made my bizcochitos star shaped because I was listening to Adam Glambert at the time, but I realized while I was dusting them with cinnamon sugar that if I had been listening to Mercyful Fate instead they could totally be pentagrams. You can see goathead in these, right?

Chocolate Love

Chocolate Love
Chocolate Crinkle Cookies from a Hershey Cookbook.
I added chimayo chile powder and used Ghiradelli ground chocolate instead of Hersheys.
They are shatteringly crisp and incredibly delicious. The spice is very subtle and compliments the chocolate perfectly. Win!

It Begins

It Begins

I did a naughty thing....

So, I'm in the midst of a Christmas cookie baking frenzy. Last night I mixed up dough for Chimayo Chile Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, (I used that recipe but added in some chile powder and substituted Ghiradelli ground chocolate for the Hersheys cuz I am a big pimp) Bizcochitos,(I resisted the urge to use lard and went with butter, but I was super psyched about the brandy!) and Salty Oat Cookies with Chocolate Chips(instead of cranberries. again, pimp.) Those are all chilling in the fridge to be baked today. Then I baked some Lemon Basil Cookies, but used actual flour and stuff instead of cake mix. And dried blueberries instead of coconut and nuts. And fresh basil instead of dried. They spread more than I would have liked, but are still delicious. I also baked a New Orleans Fruitcake in my new IKEA long skinny bread pan. I love that thing. I had bought a container of glace fruits for the fruitcake and then planned to use up all the bits of dried fruit I had in the pantry to round it out. (no nuts!) Turns out lots of my dried fruit in the pantry had evidence of grain moth visitation, so it's a bit less fruity than the recipe calls for. I managed to get some dates and figs and cranberries in there, though. Then after two hours in the oven I poured about a pint of Captain Morgan over it and wrapped it up in wax paper. Oh yes. I plan to unwrap it and pour some more over today. Can't be too rummy if you ask me.
This morning I got something of a bacon bee in my bonnet. As in, I wanted to make some chocolate covered bacon, but not a whole pound of it. So there's a bunch of bacon left over. What to do? I could just eat it, but since this year's Christmas baking theme at Cafe Mayflower is Salty and Sweet, I decided to put it in a cookie. I also needed to find something that would not be ruined with white whole wheat flour instead of white pastry flour, and dark brown sugar instead of regular sugar (cuz I am running low on both and it's still too cold to go out in the world for supplies)
I searched and found this Martha recipe. Basically, I took what was already a very sexy cookie and made it sexier with the addition of bacon, and earthier with the substitution of whole wheat flour and brown sugar. If I am not careful, I will seriously eat all of these before I start packing my cookie boxes. Right now I have them hidden across the room in a cake holder but I know when I stand up to get the laundry out of the dryer they are going to call to me. Martha give me strength!

welcome to the newness!

So since the advent of facebook, I haven't been blogging. At all. And while on the one hand it has been somewhat freeing, on the other hand I kinda miss the opportunity to be long winded and self absorbed. And I have to admit that I have a hard time remembering what I did last week without a handy internet based record of my every move. Or at least the important ones.
However, I feel a bit like I am such a different person, with such different obsessions, from the person who started the blog, that I need to make a new start.
So here I am. This blog will hopefully focus mostly on cooking and gardening, with some home improvement thrown in (if all goes according to plan.) I am sure I will be unable to keep myself from gushing about Adam Lambert or posting cute pictures of my nephews and nieces, but I'm gonna make an effort to be focused and disciplined.
Ready to give it a shot?