Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Dog Ate My Cookbook (and Other Excuses for Not Baking)

I really intended to do the Summer Fruit Galette TWD assignment this week (selected by Michelle in Colorado Springs). Honestly, I did. Not like last week, when I pretended to be disappointed that my social schedule and rhubarbaphobia kept me on the sidelines.

As soon as I saw galettes described as "rustic," I was committed. In my mind, when you call something "rustic," you may as well be saying, "If it's tidy, you're doing it wrong." In other words -- my kind of activity.

But then a large box of tomatoes appeared on my carport courtesy of the Saint (aka Mom) that had to be canned. So by mid-afternoon Saturday, I had exhausted my culinary attention span (but I had 8 1/2 quarts of tomatoes to show for it).

Oh, the carnage... after all the peeling and smushing required to prepare the tomatoes, my kitchen looked like the beach from the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan.

Also, the Golden Spouse got me a "Studio in a Box" set, complete with halogen lights and backdrops, so I can get sucked further into the seedy world of food porn.

I call this shot "Tomatoes Noir." All I need is Fred McMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and an ankle bracelet to complete the recipe for a dark vegetable narrative to make even Michael Pollan shiver.

After losing my Saturday to canning tomatoes and drying figs (that's another post altogether), the galette was postponed to Sunday. "I have all the stuff," I reasoned. "I'll just go for a nice bike ride in the morning, which will give me the energy to bake in the afternoon."

But the "nice bike ride" ended up being 17 miles in 95 degree heat and included this:

Sunday afternoon became all about lying on the couch, whimpering.

This weekend, I shall attempt to execute a flawless TWD double forward flip and produce not only the Summer Fruit Galette, but also next week's Black and White Banana Loaf. Here's hoping I can stick the landing.

(Okay, so the dog had nothing to do with it. But isn't he cute?)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

TWD: Failure to Launch

Today's Tuesdays With Dorie challenge was Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler, selected by Amanda at Like Sprinkles on a Cupcake.

Ahhh, rhubarb... how very southern. Rhubarb pie... rhubarb jam... frost on the rhubarb... how could any self-respecting Suth'n girl pass this one up?

By having an weekend that's already filled up with an overnight retreat, an art opening, and a cocktail party. That's how.

So yes, I bailed on the TWD assignment this week. In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn't looking forward to it and may not have attempted it anyway, even if there had been time. I'm just oddly intimidated by rhubarb. I've never tasted it -- but I can't get past the fact that it looks like red celery.

So instead -- I'll respond to my very first meme!

MacDuff of Jon and MacDuff in Boston tagged me last week. I immediately went out and bought a whole new wardrobe, because this clearly elevates my status in the blog world, and my apparel must reflect this change. I now blog in satin jammies instead of flannel. I would personally thank MacDuff, but I'm now too cool to correspond.

(That was a joke -- in all honestly, MacDuff's was one of the few TWD blogs for which I set up an RSS feed, even before I was tagged. It is consistently a real pleasure to read.)

Here are the rules. For those who have been following my TWD mishaps, you'll be relieved to know that I didn't follow these instructions to the letter, either.

1. Link to the person who "tagged" you. (see above)
2. Post the rules on your blog. (see..well, right here)
3. Write six random things about yourself. (see below)
4. Tag six people at the end of your post. (see note)
5. Let each person know that they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog. (see note)
6. Let the tagger know your entry is up. (will do as soon as this is posted. really)

NOTE: I have learned over the years to totally embrace my neuroses. It has served me better (and with fewer pharmaceuticals) than trying to actually fix them. One such neurosis is my pathological avoidance of "imposing" on other people -- which pairs well with the equally pathological perception that everything I do is an imposition. That's why I didn't tag anyone else. No, it doesn't make any sense, since I don't feel like my own tagging was an imposition, but that's another neurosis altogether. And if I carry this part of the post any further, I'm going to have to pay each of you the going hourly rate for therapy, so let's just move on.

The Six Random Things:
  1. Every morning, I wake up with a random song in my head (this morning, it was Sting's "When You Love Someone, Set Them Free;" yesterday, it was Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man"). It's only been in the past year or so that I've started to realize that it doesn't happen to everyone.
  2. For my son's (the Golden Child's) eighteenth birthday, I took him to get a tattoo. He got the mitsudomoe (please don't make me define it, it was hard enough to spell it right) on his back between his shoulder blades. At the same time, I got two small Kanji characters on my left wrist that mean "pumpkin," which is what I called GC when he was a baby (and still).
  3. If anything should ever happen to the Golden Spouse, I will become the Crazy Cat Lady of the neighborhood in two weeks flat. (For the record, though -- he brought home a rescued goldfish.)
  4. The only reason I haven't used my Nintendo Wii Fit board in six weeks is that I know it will scold me for my absence, and I'm not emotionally prepared for that.
  5. I travel with a small yellow rubber duck. I have pictures of him in lots of places, including Winter Park, CO, and Alcatraz.
  6. I don't know how to make pictures appear side-by-side in blogger.

I know that my #6 is cheating, but considering how much I revealed in the note above, I figured you'd be looking for a respite.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In Which Chocolate is Melted, Divorce is Threatened, and I Ask My Dog How Many Fingers I'm Holding Up (TWD)

Pudding is not funny. Nor is it photogenic. You've been warned.

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie assignment is chocolate pudding. I don't really like chocolate desserts (please don't send me to Gitmo), but the Golden Spouse does, so this effort was really for him. It's a good thing, too -- he spent a good chunk of time cleaning the kitchen and threatened me with divorce if I didn't leave it exactly as I had found it. Distracting him with some chocolatey mouthjoy might make him overlook my half-assed counter-wiping.

I wish I had read the other bloggers' comments before getting started. If I had, I would have been prepared for the fact that my food processor isn't big enough to mix as much liquid as we had to deal with. I poured the mix in, switched it on, then turned back to the stove to check on the melting chocolate.

When the frothy liquid started leaking out and dripping off the counter, ever-alert Jack the Beaglador was there to lick it up.

I panicked a little bit. Chocolate is toxic to dogs. Sure, the mix didn't have a lot of chocolate in it at that point, and it was just cocoa powder, but I have no idea how much chocolate was too much. I got down in Jack's face, staring intently for any evidence that he was losing consciousness. I even waved my hand in front of his eyes: "How many fingers am I holding up?"

He looked at me like I had lost my mind, then went to lie down on his bed. (Here he is, with a newly-nicked houseshoe. SEE what I have to deal with?! Is it any wonder he's an undisciplined mess? How can you scold THIS FACE??!!)

The other problem I caused for myself was in the heating of the liquid once it was mixed. You're supposed to stir it constantly over medium heat while it thickened -- so I did. But it never got any thicker, and I certainly didn't see the little bubbles popping on the surface.

It turns out that I left out the "medium heat" part. I thought I was turning off the flame under the double boiler in which the chocolate was melting, but it was still on. Ergo...

Once I turned the heat back on under the pudding, it thickened and bubbled up nicely.

(Did I mention that I had to use semi-sweet chocolate instead of bittersweet? Yeah. I did. Because I can never seem to do anything the conventional way, at least not on the first try. Relax, I reduced the sugar and it was fine.)

I'd have to say that the end result was a resounding success -- I guess. I don't really like ...well, you know. GS loved it (and Jack wanted more).

I don't think it will make it to the menu for the Groggy Dog, though. This may be blasphemous to say -- but it was a lot of effort for very little payoff (i.e., not that much better than recipes that leave fewer implements to clean).

Forgot this part: This week's recipe was selected by Melissa of It's Melissa's Kitchen - check it out, she figured out how to make the pudding look pretty!

Next week: Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler.

(Uh. Whut?)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Parenting the Canine Teenager

Jack has officially left the terrible twos and crashed into adolescence.

His favorite attention-seeking behavior is to steal things (i.e., socks, slippers, the remote control). Even when he's in a different room, we can always tell when he has something he knows he shouldn't -- he prances.

It's just so hard to be stern with him when he looks like this.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tuesdays with Blueberries

I successfully completed my second Tuesdays with Dorie baking assignment. I'm two for two!! If only my commitment to regular exercise and getting enough sleep had lasted this long.

This week's recipe, selected by Amy of South in Your Mouth, was the double-crusted blueberry pie. I now love Amy. Amy is my new best friend, except without the regular communication, hanging out, knowing-each-others-last-names part of it.

I love pies -- I'm a Suth'n Gal, too, after all -- but I have a love-hate relationship with pie crusts. Specifically, I love Pillsbury and hate making them myself. The day Pillsbury started packaging their All-Ready Pie Crusts in rolls instead of folds -- I admit it, I cried. I'm not proud. It made it easier to pass the crusts off as homemade when I didn't have to explain the crease in the middle.

But I wasn't about to cheat in my TWD participation. Of course not! At least, not in Week Two! So I took on the crust, too.

Good Lord... the butter... I could have sculpted the Pieta with the amount of butter this recipe called for. But it rolled out like satin and tasted like cookie dough, so Dorie must be on to something.

In fact, after I assembled the pie and loaded it up into the oven, I decided to see just how similar to cookie dough it was.

As you may recall, my first TWD experiment (way back in the... well, last week) almost ended tragically when butter dripped from the lip-less pan onto the floor of my oven (okay, so it wasn't all that hazardous, it could have been). Having learned from that experience, not only did I put the pie on its own cookie sheet before sliding it into the oven, I put a bigger sheet on the lower rack just in case the blueberry juice got out of control.

After that, it made perfect sense to me (given the length of my attention span) to form the crust scraps into little disks, sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar, and slip them onto that extra baking sheet to test the cookie theory.

You're all much more alert than I am, so you've undoubtedly already caught on to the flaw in this plan. As the "cookies" heated up, the butter seeped out.... the cookie sheet (same one as before) had no lip... yadda yadda yadda.

Fortunately, I caught on before the butter trickled off the pan, making me the next Darwin Award nominee.

Just LOOK at that crust. You can see the bits of butter.

Forty-five minutes later (I didn't need the entire hour the recipe recommended), I pulled the finished pie out of the oven and left it to cool. After the recommended thirty minutes, the pan still felt warm. Even after an hour, it was warmer than I would like, but darn it, I wanted some PIE.

The Golden Spouse came out of his Man Cave long enough to get the first piece, then quickly retreated lest he miss the shortstop spitting or the second baseman denying rumors of infidelity. He came back even before I got the second piece out -- to tell me how wonderful the crust was.

If GS is willing to separate himself from the Yankees-Red Sox game when they were tied 4 - 4 and about to head into extra innings just to tell me how much he likes the crust -- that's got to be a pretty special crust.

And it was. I'll never go back to Pillsbury. I've already broken up with them on their MySpace page -- I'm THAT serious.

The main thing I learned from this assignment was that nifty trick of adding a layer of breadcrumbs before pouring in the filling in order to keep the bottom crust from getting soggy. Several comments on the main site talked about substituting a sweeter crumbled cracker or cookie -- that made sense to me, especially since the only breadcrumbs I had were seasoned, so I added a layer of brown sugar instead.

Yep. You read that right. In my continuing subconscious effort to maintain my reputation as inept but enthusiastic, I layered brown sugar instead of the graham cracker crumbs I thought I was using. (They are both stored in vacuum-sealed mason jars. They look a lot alike. I was tired. There were shiny things off to the left.)

Fortunately, I discovered the mistake before pouring in the blueberries, so I was able to dump most of it out and get the layer of graham cracker crumbs in place. So there.

This pie is as tasty as it looks. It's quite a testament to Dorie's recipes that even *I* could pull this off.

I think this recipe would make it onto the menu of the Groggy Dog -- but we'll leave the pie crust cookies off.

Next week: Chocolate pudding!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

It Isn't Really Baking Until the Smoke Alarm Goes Off

In our five years of marriage, the Golden Spouse has had to learn to smile through gritted teeth at many an eccentricity of mine, especially the one that involves impulsively launching myself (and my checkbook) into new activities but losing interest as soon as any real effort is required.

Because of this, "we" now have a room devoted to storing avocational debris: a glass grinder and dozens of sheets of art glass; a dress form (named Peg) that has been wearing a half-finished skirt for about a year; a Garmin GPS with a copy of "Geocaching for Dummies," etc.

Then there are the kitchen gadgets.

When I realized the tree in the backyard would bear fruit (figs), I bought a food dehydrator. At harvest time, though, the figs didn't just fall into bushels on their own, so the dehydrator was banished to a closet along with the yogurt maker, vacuum sealer, and electric marinator. (I was vindicated on this one, however -- when the Golden Spouse's iPhone went through the laundry, the dehydrator played a key role in our futile attempts to resuscitate.)

This week marks my first foray into the world of Tuesdays With Dorie, a community of bloggers who are methodically baking their way through Dorie Greenspan's baking Bible one recipe at a time.

My first assignment: Apple Cheddar Scones. A key ingredient in Apple Cheddar scones: dried apples.

Ta-da!! The dehydrator has been elevated from its lowly status as "yet another one of Kelly's silly impulse purchases" to "a critical implement in the arsenal of the power baker."

So now we're at the REAL point of this post -- the experience of baking the Apple Cheddar scones.

I started out with three challenges. First, the recipe calls for one large egg. I buy my eggs from the local Farmer's Market, and although they are by far the best-tasting eggs available, they are small -- so I used two.

Second -- I also buy my cheddar cheese locally. It's very soft -- so much so that when I shred it, it tends to clump together rather than showering delicately and evenly on whatever I'm adding it to. I solved this problem, though, by putting it in the freezer for a while before shredding it.

And last-- the dried apples (dried 'em myself with my own dehydrator) had the texture of apple chips. The recipe called for a "fine dice," but mine were more like a "dusty crumble." They TASTED good (take THAT, you gadget naysayers!) -- they just didn't seem to have the right texture for the recipe.

The texture of the apples didn't hurt the final product, though. The cheddar flavor was wonderfully subtle and balanced throughout, and the chewy bits of apple provided a nice little burst of flavor.

The extra egg made the dough a little too moist, so rather than getting scones with a smooth top (like the picture in the book), they had the rough finish of buttermilk biscuits (only with a little more spread to them). Also, they didn't rise much (my baking powder may be too old), so they had the density of foccacia.

Another factor that could have hurt the airy quality of the final product (and here's where the smoke alarm comes in) -- during the baking, some of the butter oozed out and dripped onto the floor of the oven, which - duh - created a lot of smoke. I had to take the scones out, wipe down the oven, then put them back in to finish cooking.

Even with these mishaps (and I will continue to call them "mishaps" rather then "errors of inexperience" because it's my blog and I can cry if I want to, stop judging me), the scones were really quite good. I added a pat of butter because it makes for a prettier picture -- but they were plenty buttery without it.

So here's what I'll do differently before adding these to the menu of the Groggy Dog (the imaginary bed and breakfast we pretend we're going to open in New England):
  1. Use a pan with a lip to prevent kitchen fires and keep our insurance premiums down
  2. Leave a bit more moisture in the apple pieces (and make them bigger)
  3. Make sure my baking powder is fresh (although now that I think about it, the problem may really be the humidity since I've been having the same issues with my bread loaves)
One recipe down -- hundreds to go. Hopefully, upcoming baking activities will involve homemade yogurt, vacuum sealing, and intense marinating, so I can justify returning to my gadget-buying ways (I have my eye on a thumb-operated salt grinder).

NEXT WEEK: Double crusted blueberry pie!!! GS is excited about this one.