Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Of Gasless Ovens and Home Warranties

You will probably note that this post doesn't contain a lovely, if slightly moody, picture of a TWD Two-Fer pie. You may even think, "There goes Kelly, slacking again. Loser. Stupid Donkey."

As usual, my intentions were good. But there is one critical ingredient that I am missing in order to pull off this Thanksgiving dessert coup.

That would be.... a working oven.

The Golden Spouse tried to heat up some leftover beef on Saturday. Turned the oven on. Put the beef in. Came back in twenty minutes. The beef and oven were still cold (and may in fact have been colder than when he first put the food in.)

You are now thinking, "You probably just need to re-light the pilot light." I know that's what you're thinking because that's what everyone I have complained to about this has said. If there is a pilot light on this oven, I'll be damned if I can find it. And you know what? I'm not going to stick my head in the gas oven waving a flame around trying to find it. (Moot point anyway since we don't smell any gas.)

And yes, all of the other gas appliances in the house are working. (That's the second question everyone asks.)

Our assessment, based on a rigorous ten minutes or so of internet research, is that something has gone wrong with the starter doohickey. Please don't make me explain it beyond that -- just trust me. I'm a researcher.

So here we are, two days before the National Day of Gluttony, and I have no oven.

I called the Home Warranty folks yesterday morning, who politely and cheerily told me that they would have the service guy (Kevin, I assume, from Kevin's Appliance Repair) call me. They even gave me his number in case he didn't call me fast enough (what are the odds...).

Didn't hear from him by this morning, so I called the number they gave me. I got those three tones you hear before learning that the call could not be completed as dialed, I should check the number and try my call again.

I called the warranty company back. They politely and cheerily assured me that they would find another service person to call me. I reminded them that Thanksgiving was upon us and I needed my *&^%$ oven and they should light a damn fire under SOME service guy (regardless of the status of his starter doohickey).

As usual, the hostile approach gained me nothing. Tuesday afternoon, 4:45 -- no word from anyone about fixing my oven.

We expect to spend the rest of the evening learning the intricacies of baking on an outdoor grill.

UPDATE: We are now T'giving Minus 24 Hours. No call from contractor, on interminable hold with warranty company.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Staying in the Kitchen (in Spite of the Heat)

I was ambivalent about this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie assignment (Arborio Rice Pudding, selected by Isabelle at Les Gourmandises d'Isa).

Not because the recipe was complicated (it’s not – it’s very simple) or required special ingredients (it doesn’t – I had them all on hand). It’s not even because it required 20,000 hours of preparation (it doesn’t, unless you count the six hours of chilling, and I don’t).

No. The anxiety was there for a different reason.

Arborio rice.

Now, stay with me. Arborio rice = risotto. I like risotto, and I make it at home occasionally and am happy with the results, but only because I don’t have to share it with anyone other than the Golden Spouse, who loves me and is well-versed in handling those arcane situations in which I am unnaturally fragile.

Still not clear? You’re going to make me go there, aren’t you? The explanation for my deep-seated fear of risotto? Okay.

It’s because every time I make it – frantically stirring and obsessing over whether or not it’s absorbed enough of the liquid to add more – I hear Chef Gordon Ramsey screaming in my head. “What are you doing?! This is inedible!! Do it again!!”

Sometimes… he calls me a donkey. A stupid donkey.

GS knows this, and will occasionally come into the kitchen to pet me. It helps. He then assures me that although he likes my risotto, it would be okay with him if I never, ever put myself through that kind of abuse again. He’s a good man.

But I’m trying to redeem myself from my extended absence in October, and after missing the Kugelhopf (bless you!), I didn’t think I could miss another week.

So I persevered -- and it felt good. Really, really good. First-time-you-ride-your-bike-without-training-wheels good. First-time-you-go-off-to-college good. First-time-you-….. oh, but let’s not go there. (Hi, Mom!)

Except for.... well, we'll get to that.

I read the P&Q more closely this time, so I knew to extend the time on the stove to 45 minutes. Then I added a few magic Kelly-touches to ensure a successful outcome, which I will herein reveal because I am generous and non-territorial when it comes to sharing my cooking secrets. (You're welcome.)

While I was standing at the stove, staring at the sugared milk and willing it to boil, GS mentioned that we were going to have our first freeze that night.

(Simmer down, Northeasterners. Yes, we get into November before we get our first freeze. But remember, we also have mammoth mosquitos, rebel flags, and fried twinkies. And we overwhelmingly supported McCain/Palin and enacted the legal position that the only people worthy of adopting or fostering children are married heterosexuals. Our average temperature may sound enticing, but in other areas, we completely suck.)

My first thought was that it was time to switch from white wine to red and from rum to bourbon. My second thought was that there would be no more fresh-picked basil for a while. My third thought was something along the lines of, “There’s a smudge on the refrigerator. Cool.”

Eventually, it occurred to me that there were still about a dozen bright orange habaneros on the lone surviving plant in the garden that I should probably harvest. So I grabbed a bowl and went out to get them.

The disaster you are expecting did not occur. I did NOT come back in to discover the milk boiling over. I rinsed the habaneros, halved and seeded them, then put them on a cookie sheet to freeze.

Then I went to the bathroom. THAT is when the milk boiled over. (“Yes, Chef! I suck, Chef!”)

I wiped up the mess and added the parboiled rice, set a timer for 45 minutes, then settled onto the couch to commune with Facebook. About half an hour into the process, I rubbed my itchy nose and immediately realized that I had not washed my hands after cleaning and seeding the habaneros.

Oh. My. God.

Imagine the California wildfires overtaking your nostrils. I went to the bathroom to blow my nose, turning it into a flamethrower and singeing the cat. My nose was running like mad, so I kept blowing through the “this must be what it’s like to breathe in Hell” pain, thinking I would eventually expel all of the capsaicin. Then I rubbed my eye. (“You stupid donkey!”)

In between blowing flames out of my nose, pressing a cold washcloth against my eyes, and scrubbing my hands – the timer went off on the rice pudding.

I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe, but I stumbled into the kitchen and turned the burner off under the pudding, noting through the tears that it had thickened quite nicely.

I must have stirred in the vanilla and stuck it away in the refrigerator with a tidy plastic-wrap cover. I don’t remember doing it, but that’s where I found it the next morning – and it was delicious (although I don’t really know what the rice brings to the table in terms of the pudding experience as a whole).

There you have it. Maybe it was the milk boiling over in the early stages, maybe it was spending the last fifteen minutes of cooking in a distracted panic – but my rice pudding had the right consistency and tasted great, which I gather from the posts of my peers is a rare thing.

Too bad I can’t prove it. Needless to say, there were no pictures taken of the experience. They may have come in handy should we have to file my disability claim.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


This week's TWD assignment, selected by Yolanda at The All-Purpose Girl, sounds like a sneeze to me. (Kugelhopf. Bless you!) But I wasn't deterred!! After my brief sabbatical, I was anxious to get another completion under my belt. This week was going to be two in a row.

I couldn't wait until baking day (Sunday). I reviewed the P&Q comments. Okay, skimmed the comments -- just well enough to notice the warning to read the entire recipe first.

I figured this was because there was an odd ingredient I wouldn't have in my pantry -- so I vowed to read the recipe before going to the grocery store so as to not get caught without Portuguese crystallized ginger or whatever.

That was the plan. After my Sunday bike ride, I would read the recipe, make a careful list of ingredients, go to the grocery store, then come home and bake. I even had a contingency plan for the fact that I don't have a Kugelhopf pan (I have a monkey bread pan that would surely work just as well).

My bike ride was delayed a bit, but that was okay. I usually go at about nine, but I had to wait until after noon because I had to stop by the bike store first to replace the CO2 cartridge that I would need in case of a flat.

(On my ride last weekend, I ran across a woman pushing a two-child stroller that had two flat tires, so I gave her my CO2. Really! I know this sounds like something I'd invent to make myself look good -- I altruistically helped fix a stroller so babies could ride comfortably -- but it really happened. )

So I started the ride at about 12:30, returning at about 3:00, and opened up the cookbook. You all see where this is going, right? The dire warnings about reading the recipe first? Had nothing to do with an odd ingredient.

No no.

It had to do with the fact that there is SEVEN HOURS WORTH OF WORK TO DO before the dough ever even THINKS about seeing the inside of an oven. SEVEN HOURS of mixing, rising, and punching.

I'm sure Kugelhopf is very tasty. Everyone else's pictures look wonderful. Maybe someday I'll know this firsthand, and I'll have pretty pictures, too. Who knows, maybe I'll even have a Kugelhopf pan.

But not today.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Return of the Prodigal Baker (TWD)

I'm about to tell you something that you, as a reader of this blog and probably several others, already know.

Technology ROCKS.

I don't know how I managed in the pre-Internet days. The days when you needed a stamp to send a letter. You had to wait until 5:00 to get the latest news. And you never would have discovered that the guy you had a crush on in junior high went on to perform in a nationally touring drag show under the highly Googleable stage name of Lola Puffybuns.

Back then, if I wanted to know how to pronounce something that I wasn't sure I had ever heard, I would've looked it up in a dictionary, stared at the phonetic spelling, and wished I had paid more attention when we were being taught what those squiggly lines and accents meant.

But not anymore! Thanks to Al Gore, I have the internets! And the internets have given me www.dictionary.com. And www.dictionary.com has given me this: an audio recording of someone saying "rugelach." (Turns out it does NOT sound like "arugula." My bad.)

I can now talk about this week's Tuesdays With Dorie treat, because I now know how to pronounce it. So feel free to give me a call -- I've been practicing (especially the throat-clearing at the finish).

This is a fantastic cookie that comes together much more easily than it would seem, given how fancy they look. The dough has no sugar, so it relies on the filling to give it the dessert quality - which means that you can control the sweetness and complexity by changing up the filling.

There were a few tense moments while rolling the dough when I thought I was about to tear it, but it held up in spite of my enthusiasm. I refrained from tossing it like a pizza crust after the Golden Spouse gave me a shockingly loud look of disapproval.

In my defense, loading the dough was a lot like loading a pizza before baking. Unfortunately, there were shiny things in the kitchen when I assembled the first batch, so I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have been -- and I inadvertently used too many of the chocolate chips, which left me short for the second batch. I liked them better without as much chocolate, so I thought I was on to something -- but then GS raved about the ones that were chocolate-heavy.

Something for everyone, I suppose.

One thing I know for sure -- a dozen tasty rugelach and a tall glass of cold milk ease the trauma of finding Lola's online portfolio.

(This week's recipe was selected by Piggy at Piggy's Cooking Journal -- read about her Rugelach experience and that of the other TWD bakers in the blogroll.)