29 January 2011

Recipe Wrap up - 28 January 2011

I go through many blogs and a few magazines each week to find recipes that interest me. This all got me to started thinking about how I filter things out because it's easily possible to be overwhelmed ... especially when you're hungry. So what makes the cut? I'm going to try and document it so I see what I think looks good and what I end up making. This will be an interesting experiment. 
28 January 2011

Bacon & Gruyere Scones
A Cozy Kitchen dished up something, that to me, is only slightly less than an amazing thought. Bacon and Gruyere Scones that seem to die for, but how do you limit the things that you can make in a weekend? It's just too hard - I need more time to cook/bake apparently. Need to stop working and start cooking (more). Once again wishing I did not have to limit my list.
Mac n Bleu Cheese
Pro Bono Baker -- love that name and the blog banner fits  -- has actually come up with a mac & cheese that will make me do something different from my mom's recipe. It seems like a perfect dinner - Macaroni and Bleu Cheese with Figs and Rosemary. Sounds amazing lovely. 

Oreo Cookies & Cream Cheesecakes
Oreo Cookies & Cream Cheesecakes from gimmesomeoven.com.  This is on the list for this weekend since the Boy loves all things cookie and cream. Hopefully, he'll like these (no doubt really), but I also have the advantage of taking snacks to the office, where things mercifully disappear.
Lemon Pie Cookies from Claire Robinson. I'm not a huge fan of much on the Food Network lately and end up deleting most shows without watching much, if any, of them. This episode of 5 ingredient fix was an exception and I'm looking forward to making a few dishes from "Truck Stop Gourmet" despite myself this weekend.
Choc Chunk Cookie

Baking Bites - Yet another sweet addition to the list is a variation on the chocolate chip cookie that uses only brown sugar. From Baking Bites, may I present, Brown Sugar Chocolate Chunk Cookies. If you are interested in baking in general, this is a great site to check out. 

Polenta cakes
It's a Canadian site and I suppose you can't hold that against someone, but some how... Either way this did coincide with my fixation on polenta which has recently appeared out of no where. So here is the simple way to do it. 

Another savory bit of excellence ... from one of the funniest food bloggers I read. Thursday Night Smackdown is just the best. Most of the recipes look so complicated, but this must be a total improvement on what I've done in the past. Yum. Hummus. 

Baked Ziti
Finally for the week, one of those labor intensive recipes from America's Test Kitchen. I love them, don't get me wrong, but I need someone to do the dishes after I'm done, but I don't have, um, anyone to help in that department. Either way, this recipe - Baked Ziti - was so interesting that it will be part of the menu for the upcoming week (it's worth it to join for the recipes and everything else). 

28 January 2011

Recipe Filters

I just saw a recipe that made me think, hm, that's interesting, but I'm not sure how that would look. I often have these thoughts come into my head, strange though it may be. The recipe was a roasted vegetable salad and I liked all the ingredients, it didn't seem difficult to make, and it might be an interesting platform to start with and tweak a bit to add other things I like. That said, then I saw what the salad looked like..... Um, No. Thank you. It's interesting to me how seeing a visual representation of a recipe can just make you  uninterested  - I'm even hungry right now, so that's no excuse because damn near everything looks good when I'm hungry, excepting cauliflower. I guess this need to see the visual end product can be based on being a visual person, like I am, or seeing what you should be working towards while making the recipe, or just not being a words/instructions person. This makes me think I need to work on my photos more. I do my best to self-edit, but sometimes ... well, you go overboard. I just don't want to include any photos that make me later think, um, No. Thank you. 

Words can put you off an otherwise interesting recipe as well. If there are too many words or if they are too detailed in the language they can set you against a recipe that sounds good, looks good, and includes ingredients you like, but appears to be too much work. I am often put off by a recipe full of overly wordy phrases. "Bring the pot to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium," in my mind should be "Bring to simmer, reduce to medium." Let's just get to the point succinctly. I also don't care for pithy parenthetical comments like, (Enjoy!) - blech.

think our reading style, as a whole, has changed so much in recent years. Hardly anyone reads newspapers in full, magazine articles are shorter, with some few exceptions, the web is based on bullet points and not paragraphs - which I happen to prefer - I think recipes should be less verbose too. Oh, and I don't need the steps of a recipe numbered - just write them down in order that will do - no numbers required. 

Of course there are some filters for recipes that seem to be a given, but for me are not. Filter = I don't like the main ingredient = sure, but if you could change the main ingredient and still use the method and other flavors ... so is the main or any ingredient a deal breaker? I don't think so. 

I have one filter and it's still not a deal breaker. I'm seriously allergic to seafood - yes, all of it. Seriously - as in turn blue, stop breathing, die, allergic ... or is it stop breathing, turn blue, then die ... either way, dead is dead. But that doesn't mean I don't look at seafood recipes to see what I could do with veg or chicken instead of crab or flounder (or some other fish, since I know zippo about fish).

With the growth of food blogs, some professional, most not (um, including mine w/all the Miss Austen, beer, Ms. Heyer, and complaints and stuff), and the proliferation of recipes that include photos of everything from the ingredients to the end result and all manner of shots in between, it's probably a good thing that there are filters on my thought process for recipes. Otherwise, I would have lots of recipes and no time, and possibly not much inclination, to make anything.

26 January 2011

Sense & Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge (2011) - The Three Weissmanns of Westport

Synopsis: Betty Weissmann's husband of 50 years decides to divorce her for a younger woman, so at 75 years-old Betty takes a house in Westport Conn., and her two grown daughters move in with her. Betty decides it's best to consider Joseph dead while he drags out the details of their divorce, "May he rest in peace." Both daughters have had their share of life and love, but handle things entirely differently. Annie is stable, worried about their steadily decreasing funds, and might be in love with the intelligent writer who is the brother of her father's new "friend." Miranda's publishing company is falling apart because she's published memoirs that were entirely made up (ring any bells) and she, again (!), falls head-over-heels for someone she's just met. Can these three women survive together and make a new family out of what is left?

Comments: Oh, the frailty of man - it makes for a universal study of how people act, interact, over react and cope with the changes, mostly unexpected, that life deals you. The Three Weissmanss of Westport was an interesting character study of a limited number of people most with very specific self absorbed motives. Loosely based on the themes of Sense & Sensibility, if you know that story there are some things that you see coming, but the book does not slavishly following the S&S story line so there are divergences along the way. There are some absolutely charming secondary characters, most especially Cousin Lou and Roberts, and some truly despicable characters, but I won't mention them by name as to avoid ruining some well written scenes of pettiness, peevishness and simple immaturity. The language to describe Westport and environs is clear and well conceived at least to the mind of someone such as myself that has no understanding of the coast unless it's on the western shore of England or the Gulf Coast of Florida. Perhaps someone with more intimate knowledge of the area would differ, but I get a sense of the place and that is important to me.

One description of the book calls it "the best tearjerker finale you're likely to read this year," (Publishers Weekly via Amazon), but I find that earlier parts of the books are way more tragic in a human way than the end. Sure the ending is sad-ish in a way, but no where near as devastating as the cruelty that befalls Betty, Annie and Miranda during the course of the few months of the divorce. This book is a journey for three women and those who interact in their lives. I enjoyed it greatly and highly recommend it whether you've read Sense & Sensibility or not. 
If you would like to see my posts while reading, please check out this post, this one, and this one.

Downton Abbey Episode III (The Great Matter Episode)

Summary: The fair has come to town, and with it comes romantic hopes for several Downton Abbey inhabitants. In a triumph of the absurd, Violet asks a baffled Matthew to use his legal acumen to dissolve the entail — the very document by which he is to inherit Downton Abbey. Matthew's findings and his hopes for Downton cement his growing closeness with Robert, and a new warmth suffuses his encounters with Mary. But Mary's thaw doesn't extend to her sister Edith, as their competition becomes crueler. Cora simply wants Mary married, but newly circulating rumors may hinder that aspiration. Meanwhile, Violet's power struggle with Isobel Crawley moves from the hospital grounds to the annual flower show as Isobel casts her democratizing gaze upon Violet's prize-winning roses.
A kind gesture by Bates is not lost on Anna; but he cryptically professes to not being capable of more. Sybil discovers the politics of gender and class, with the help of the socialist chauffeur, Branson, and Carson discovers that several valuable bottles of wine have gone missing. The vulnerable kitchen maid Daisy, under increased pressure and ire from a fretful Mrs. Patmore, possesses a dangerous secret that she learned upstairs. Synopsis PBS.

Comments: Has Lady Mary learned a lesson? We'll see.
Matthew & Mary
Mary is trying to get to know Matthew Crawley, but is this the best idea for her. I am sure she is still looking around to see if she can come up with someone else that will suit her better, but expectations still exist on many sides for this match.
Isobel Crawley is still busy "helping" people, but is bested by Violet. I do just adore Violet, she can't stand Isobel, perhaps because they are so much alike. Isobel is bugging Molesly because he has a rash, but it's Violet that recognizes an allergic reaction to a local (rue) grass.
Mrs. Hughes goes out to the fair to meet an old friend. She's just so lovely that you want her to be happy, but she also doesn't put up w/any crap from anyone, esp. that cow O'Brien.
Violet visits Matthew Crawley to try to hire him to break the entail that will allow him to inherit Downton Abbey and all that goes with it. What an odd choice of attorney to go to for assistance. Violet really has the best lines ever ...
Violet: "Good heavens what am I sitting on?"
Matthew: "A swivel chair."
V: "Another modern brain wave?"
M: "Not very modern, they were invented by Thomas Jefferson."
V: "Why does every day involve a fight with an American."
So. very. funny.
Carson is reviewing the wine ledger - dear lord, did the servants try to make work for themselves? My checkbook doesn't have that much information in it. Thomas (aka the tool) is at it again, but I'm expecting Bates has his number and won't let anything get past him. I so want the tool to get his.... they better not disappoint me.
Mary and Matthew have a little fun at the fair while Matthew tells Mary that his cousin Violet came for a visit. They discuss "The Great Matter" - now is that their potential marriage or the entail - or could it be either. One of the most telling scenes in episode three:
Mary: "Women like me don't have a life. We choose clothes, pay calls, work for a charity and do the season. But really we're stuck in a waiting room until we marry."
Matthew: "I made you angry."
Mary: "My life makes me angry, not you."
Robert, Lord Grantham
Matthew and Lord Granville are growing in respect for each other and even coming to understand their differences. Both actors are so well cast for the roles. I'm very impressed with their characterizations and the nuances of the personalities of the characters.
Robert: "Are you beginning to see a future here?"
Matthew: "In a way this latest business has forced me to see that I do want Downton to be my future."
R: "I'm glad."
M: " You must have thought me an awful prig when I first arrived." 
R: "Not a prig. Just a man thrust into something he never wanted or envisaged." 
Matthew Crawley
I honestly can't decide which one of them I like more, but I think my heart will always be with Lord Grantham (and his puppy).  I even think Mary might be growing on me, but I'm sure that will change - it's just a matter of when.
21st century ignorance alert: Housekeepers are always called Mrs. - even if they are not -- no one told me that. Hell, I thought there were a bunch of widows out there doing these jobs. Shows what I don't know. Mrs. Hughes is such a contrast to that hateful creature O'Brien
- who is giving the new chauffer a hard time on his second day - she's just such a total buzz kill - she and "The Tool" deserve each other. 
Anna's not feeling well and is resting when Bates comes by to bring her a meal -- on a silver tray* -- with! Flowers! Love him, but is this really proper? Would this have happened? Not sure - considering I didn't know about the Mrs. rule for housekeepers, I'm now wondering what else I don't know. Mrs. Hughes remarks to her potential future boyfriend (what did they call boyfriends back then - gentleman callers?) when he asks what will happen if the property changes hands "suppose there is a tidal wave, suppose they die of plague, suppose there is a war."  Foretelling is a ominous thing.
Daisy disses poor William at the fair for the tool (ie. Thomas, if you haven't gotten that yet) and Mrs. Hughes "friend" proposes -- I think. After their time at the fair, I think Matthew might be feeling something for Mary, but she'll probably ruin it. 
Matthew: "It's very difficult Carson, for her (Cousin Violet), for Lady Mary, for everyone."
Carson: "It is Mr. Crawley, but I appreciate your saying so."
Everything, no ... everyone is SO intertwined. 
Lady Sybil and Gwen
Bates takes The Tool to task and I so love it... sigh. Bates is aggressive - rather unexpected, but much appreciated by those of us who love Bates and hate The Tool (Thomas) and his friend (O'Brien). Daisy seems to annoy me more, but perhaps it's because she's questioning herself and her insecurity is making her life, um, pretty much miserable. Sybil continues to help Gwen -- you know the girl Sybil wants to be, but never can be. 

Mary talks to her father about why he won't help set aside the entail.  He states, rather plainly and honestly, "My fortune is the work of others." I think had he earned his money, instead of inheriting, it might have been different.  

Lady Mary
Mary does seem to have a redeeming quality, "I'd never marry any man I was told to." Can't say that I blame her for that one, but she shouldn't refuse Matthew out of hand because of that ... dumb girl. All the while Sybil is getting friendly/political with Mr. Branson and wearing spiffy outfits that he, though no one else, approves of -- pants -- sort of. 
Poor Patmore is trying to explain to Daisy why The Tool isn't for her. "He's (Thomas, aka The Tool) not the boy for you." - Um, wink wink say no more. 
Mary is still hateful to Cora and for that I have a hard time thinking well of her even if her situation is difficult - which it really isn't.
Mrs. Hughes is so nice to William, who deserves it more than most ... it's like the boy she never had. Still am in shock over the the fact that Mrs. is part of a housekeepers name. Damn. No one told me. 
Flower Show
The flower show is an enlightening part of the 1913 life style -- and Violet, god bless her, is finally a generous soul -- I knew she had it in her to do the right thing (because it was someone "beneath" her. She would never do it for someone she considered an equal ie. Mrs. Crawley) because Mr. Wm. Molesley's roses were astonishing. 

Cora and Mary have some conversation that perhaps no parent wants to have. 
Cora: "Some how there is a rumor abroad that you are not virtuous." 
Is the door open, um, really... in this house -- MISTAKE!
Mary: "The world is changing."
Cora: "Not that much and not fast enough for you." (implication - you're too fast)
Geez - imagine that Edith is listening at the door - astonish me. She's really terrible. 
Sir Anthony** is invited to Downton and Edith does her best, but Mary illustrates how easy it is for her to "manage" a man - though this backfires since Matthew doesn't appreciate the illustration.
Mrs. Patmore
In a really important situation -- as opposed to those upstairs - it becomes apparent, despite blaming Daisy for everything that goes wrong that Mrs. Patmore is going blind. Poor creature - Carson is so generous and I know everyone will do the right thing.
Robert: "Mary can be such a child. She thinks when you put a toy down, it will still be sitting there when you want to play with it again."
And in another romance:
Bates: "I'm not a free man."  What the frig does that mean??
Mr. Bates & Anna
Anna: "I love you Mr. Bates**. I know it's not lady like to say it, but I'm not a lady and I don't pretend to be."
*Silver tray w/flowers, swoon. sigh. What a nice guy.
*Does she know his Christian name or not?

25 January 2011

Vanilla Bean Caramels w/Fleur de Sel

Cut Caramels
I realized I had two recipes for Fleur de Sel Caramels that were almost identical and a third that used much more sugar. This made me nervous. I have made Vanilla Taffy (from an old family recipe) all my life, and several different toffees, though none this winter so far, but never have I made caramels. The idea of a salted caramel was enough to get me in gear - that and having all the ingredients on hand - including the vanilla bean (so there). 
That said, how to sort out the discrepancies - the biggest one being the amount of sugar. One recipe suggest 1/2 c granulated sugar -- really, for a caramel? That didn't seem right and then I found the recipe below. I'm a girl to give credit where it is due. These are wonderful and that's no reflection on me, but on those who have tackled (although this isn't really hard once you get down to it) this recipe before me. Comments below.

Recipe: Vanilla Bean Caramels with Fleur de Sel
From: Annie's Eats via mybakingaddiction.com Yield: 64 caramels
1 cup heavy cream (8 oz)
5 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean pod, split lengthwise and scraped
1 tsp. fleur de sel, plus more for sprinkling
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
Cream Mixture
Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper. Lightly butter the parchment. In a small saucepan, combine the cream, butter, vanilla extract, vanilla bean seeds, pods, and fleur de sel. Heat over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and set aside. 
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling the pan occasionally, until the mixture is a light golden caramel color.

Light Golden Brown Syrup
Remove the vanilla bean pods from the cream mixture and carefully stir the cream mixture into the caramel – the mixture will bubble up, so pour slowly and stir constantly. Continue simmering the mixture until it registers 248˚ F on a candy thermometer. Immediately remove from the heat and pour into the prepared pan. Let cool for 30 minutes, then sprinkle lightly with additional fleur de sel. Continue to let sit until completely set and cooled. Cut into 1-inch pieces (a buttered pizza cutter works well). Wrap the individual caramels in small pieces of wax paper, about 4-inch squares.

Comments: Just a few notes as I put these together - How long will it take until your sugar mixture is a "light golden caramel color?" Longer than you think, but keep your eye on it very closely from about 260˚. When it approaches 280˚, you're almost there - at least in my experience. The sugar mixture can go from perfect to a disaster in a millisecond. Really. Just when the sugar starts to color, it's time to add the cream mixture. 
248˚ F is also 120˚ C which is much easier to read on the thermometer. 
I needed to put my salt Fleur de Sel on the caramels before 30 minutes were up - they didn't stick as well as I would have like. I used Fleur de Sel de Guerande from The Meadow
Nicely wrapped caramels
Buttering the parchment is easy if you fit the parchment into the pan first, then remove it and butter the parts of the parchment that will be exposed to the caramel  - worked like a charm, first time out of the box. 
I needed a chef's knife to cut the caramels, but did not need any butter or cooking spray to help. Pizza cutter was a non-starter. 
These were a huge hit at home and at work ... I loved that it took a bit for everyone to realize that the secret ingredient was simply ... salt. It makes all the difference.

24 January 2011

Lovely New Present

I knew I loved the MotH* when he purchased a set of Johnson Brothers Old Britain Castles (pink) for me. Since then, his lovely parents have added to my set to include all kinds of serving bowls and this year from my dear dear mother-in-law, a beautiful trivet. The trivet features Windsor Castle - it's great and I'll be leaving it out. 
You should always use your good china - why keep it hidden away? 
* Man of the House

23 January 2011

Red Velvet Cookies

Red Velvet Cookies
I found this recipe  following a link to Buck Bannister's great site sugarpiesfood.com for something completely different. The recipes there are so like the things I grew up with - having parents from central North Carolina, the sand hills, even though I grew up in a large city in Florida. I have never made red velvet anything, but have had red velvet cupcakes once, but the ratio of frosting to cookie in Buck's red velvet cookie recipe seemed to me to be a better fit. I can't help it - I love cream cheese frosting on almost anything, if that's a failure in my character, well, that's just too damn bad. Buck was kind enough to let me reprint his recipe here, but if you like real southern food, take a look - his website is great.
I had fun shooting photos of these cookies. The natural light seemed to cooperate and so I just worked with what I had. I did wonder how you would know when a red cookie was finished, but the recipe is correct - you can tell. My comments/notes, etc. below the recipe.

Red Velvet Cookies
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1-2 tbs. red food color
sprinkles for decoration
Cream Cheese Frosting (see recipe that follows)

Red Sugar Crystals (or other decorations)

RVC Ingredients
Preheat oven to 375°. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment cream together butter, shortening, and sugar until fluffy. Add egg, sour cream and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Sift together flour, soda, cream of tartar, salt, and cocoa. With mixer on
slow speed add to wet ingredients in bowl of mixer just until combined. Add red food coloring and beat on medium speed until a uniform red color is achieved. It should be a deep red color.

Drop dough by tablespoons (or use a 1 1/2 tsp. cookie scoop for best results) on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes or until cookies spring back when lightly touched. Allow to cool 5 minutes on baking sheet then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Frost with Cream Cheese Frosting and sprinkle with red sugar crystals.

RVC Frosting Ingredients
Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 pound confectioners' sugar

Mix the cream cheese, butter, lemon zest and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until just combined. Add the sugar and mix until smooth.

Lovely Cookies
Notes: It must be mentioned that I'm not a huge fan of chocolate ~ heresy I realize ~ but these had a solid rich chocolate favor that I really enjoyed. They are rich, so don't plan to eat a plateful, but they are a wonderful treat.
The batter becomes pretty stiff when the flour/cocoa mix is added - don't worry, it works fine. I only used 1 tablespoon of red food coloring because that's all I had, but I think it works well. I used a batter scoop to make the cookies the same size which lead me to wonder how to know what size batter scoop it was since it's not marked and I don't remember what it's supposed to be. Either way, I like using something that helps makes the cookies a consistent size. I purchased a new container of cocoa powder and I'm glad I did - the other ones were painfully expired - yes, there were two that were thrown out.
I did add about a teaspoon of lemon juice to the cream cheese frosting, but I like things lemony and I thought it contrasted well against the chocolate flavor of the cookie. An offset spatula was very helpful in frosting the cookies and I enjoyed using just a few sprinkles to hightlight the red color of the cookies.

RVC: photo: MotH
The final hurdle was bringing some of these to the office. I have some serious food-driven colleagues and they have a bigger experience with red velvet items than I do. To a person, these cookies were praised for the great frosting with the densely flavored chocolate cookie. There is nothing like cookies for breakfast that makes for an interesting staff meeting. Total score!
Music to cook by: Jews with Horns - The Klezmatics