Monday, February 19, 2018

the quotidian (2.19.18)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


And then my husband said, "Do not ever buy pasta from the store again."


Stromboli!

 
Mid-week satisfaction: fresh bread and roasted veggies and sausages.


The balance of marriage: On Feb 14, my husband bought me candy; I made him a pot of steelcut oats.


Oh, shhhh....ugar.


Recuperating from surgery and stitches after somehow tearing up the inside of her leg.
(The cone of shame freaks her out, so we've compromised with the shirt.)


On his morning to-do list: Put away the toilet paper.
So he made himself a pair of chaps.  



And then I found this on my camera.

 
To better visit with our daughter...



...who is sending us lots of photos of beaches and horses.


For about two minutes, we had snow.


Dogs, a still life.


Chop.

This same time, years previous: Thursday thoughts, Jonathan's jerky, in the last ten months, almond cake, chocolate pudding, in the eyes of the beholder, Shakespeare in church, just stuff, coconut pudding, odd ends, creamed chicken with cheese biscuits.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

kitchen sink cookies

The other day I found myself at Panera in the afternoon rather than the morning, so instead of buying a piece of baguette to go with my coffee, I splurged on a Kitchen Sink Cookie. Thick and chewy, and packed with caramel, chocolate, and pretzel pieces, the enormous cookie was a meal unto itself. I ate only half (or a little more than half, maybe). Back home, I broke the remaining half into pieces and fed it to my children, like the good mama bird that I am.

And then I became obsessed with recreating the cookie for myself.

It turned into a bit of an undertaking. After finding a copycat recipe, I had to track down the caramel bits and flaky salt, the large chocolate chunks and the correct type of pretzel. Unable to find the salt and caramel anywhere, I finally ordered them online and, now that I've experienced their magic firsthand, both are staples in my kitchen.

The caramel bits have tremendous power to elevate ordinary desserts — toss a handful into brownies, blondies, granola bars, cookies, rice krispy treats, etc, and the end product is just that much better — and the salt is like magic fairy dust.

The crystals, some as large as lentils, crumble easily between your fingers, and, sprinkled on top of cookies, cakes, and pastries, they add a delightfully salty-sweet crunch.



I wasn’t terribly impressed with the dough from the copycat recipe  — the texture of the finished cookie was too airy-crisp, the flavor shallow — so I blended the recipe with my tried-and-true chocolate chip cookie dough, adding some ground oats for chew, using a mix of both baking soda and baking powder, and increasing the brown sugar.


The second time around, the cookies were chewier and tastier — and in a blind taste test, all of the children said they preferred the one with oats — but now the dough was so stiff it was nearly impossible to shape into balls, argh.


The Panera cookies are perfectly round and evenly thick, but mine tapered at the edges, the caramel bits melting out the sides to create uneven, lacy edges (which, even though it might make for some great snitching, it’s not ideal). Also, my edges browned too quickly. I mostly solved the problem by mounding the cookies around the edges, and pressing down on the middles (and then filling the cavities with more caramel bits and pretzels), and then severely underbaking the cookies, but still, I never got the uniformity I was after, or the perfect Panera cookie chew.


Oh well. They’re still good. Great even. When our supply ran out, my older son actually scolded me for not having already made more.


Kitchen Sink Cookies
A mash-up of my regular chocolate chip cookie recipe and The Cooking Actress's recipe. 

This is the recipe that I followed the second time, the one that we all preferred. However, next time I’ll reduce the flour to 2 cups and the oatmeal, pre-whirled, to 1, in hopes that the cookies will still be chewy but the dough will be a little less stiff. I’ll keep you posted.

2 sticks butter
1¾ cups brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
2 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla
2½ cups flour
1½ cups quick oats, ground fine in a blender
1 teaspoon each baking soda and baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups caramel bits
1 cup chocolate chunks
¾ cup pretzel snaps, broken into pieces

To garnish: flaky salt, and more caramel bits and pretzels

Brown the butter in a saucepan over medium high heat. Measure the sugar into a mixing bowl, add the butter, and beat well. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour, ground oats, baking soda and baking powder, and salt and mix to combine. Add the caramel, chocolate, and pretzels and mix until combined. If desired, refrigerate the dough.

Scoop the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets. The bigger the cookie, the better (mine were nearly ½ cup of dough each), so expect to fit only 6-8 cookies per tray. Shape each dough blob into a disk, pushing down on the center part just a bit. If desired, stud the top of each cookie with a couple pieces of caramel and some pretzels (chocolate pieces stay soft, making for messy eating, so I stopped sticking them on top), making sure to push them into the dough. Sprinkle with flaky salt. 

Bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, depending on size. The goal is to underbake them. Like, really underbake them. The edges should be just beginning to brown, the centers puffing up nicely. When I pull them from the oven, I whack the trays on the counter to make the cookies deflate. Let the cookies rest on the tray for five minutes to firm up — they will continue to bake a little — before transferring to a cooling rack.

Because of the caramel, these cookies can turn hard, even at room temperature, but 10-20 seconds in the microwave and they are chewy-soft again.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (2.13.17), it gets better, colds, busted knees, and snowstorms, the quotidian (2.13.12), the outrageous incident of the Sunday boots, mocha pudding cake.

Monday, February 12, 2018

the quotidian (2.12.18)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


Just for fun: yet another mac and cheese.


Smoked sirloin tip roast: still pink, yessss!


Weather tasting.


Breathing from the stomach: the stools  his idea  are to hold his shoulders down.


Letter writing: oh, the agony.


Glittered lids.


Friday evening, through the raindrops.

This same time, years previous: bits and bobs, chasing fog, a taste, one-pot macaroni and cheese, and then I turned into a blob, how we do things, a round-about compliment, potato gnocchi, potatoes with roasted garlic vinaigrette

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

good morning, lovies

Good morning, lovies.


The rain is pattering on the roof. The air outside is white. Inside, candles are flickering, the fire is warm. The children are silent: the boy writing a thank you letter and the girl sewing a hole in her pants. Granola is toasting in the oven.


It’s my day off from writing. I had exciting plans to sleep in but I woke soon after five, my mind racing. Downstairs I made coffee and and then curled up on the sofa to talk with my husband. Kindly, he closed his book and listened to me.

For breakfast, sourdough pancakes, eggs, hot chocolate, whipped cream, more coffee.

*** 

Last week my older daughter left for Florida with her employer, and her employer’s horse and dog.


They’ll be there for a month, living in a camper at a barn; the employer will be taking riding lessons and my daughter will be helping out wherever. While I was chatting with her on the phone this morning, she got a text telling her to go pick coconuts.

I guess she’s not in Virginia anymore.

*** 

After years of reading about flaky salt, I finally bought some.

I can’t believe I waited so long. Sprinkled on cookies before baking, it’s a game changer. (Also new to my kitchen, caramel bits, yummm.)

More about both soon, pinky promise.

*** 

When my mom told me I needed to read In Shock by Dr. Rana Awdish, I ignored her for a bit — a book about a doctor turned patient didn’t sound all that fab — but she persisted so I finally checked it out of the library, promptly inhaled it, and then bought a copy of my own to boot. I want my older son to read it, since he’s interested in medicine, and my husband, too, and anyone else who interacts with the medical system. Which is everyone.



Nutshell: our approach to medical care is screwy. Doctors are pitted against patients. Patients aren’t seen as people. And this doctor, through her harrowing story, experiences these problems up close and then makes changes accordingly.

Read it.

*** 

This afternoon I’ll check my daughter’s math and make sure my younger son practices his music. I’ll write a chatty email to a friend and probably start another blog post. I’ll drink coffee and vacuum the floors.

Maybe I’ll take a nap, or maybe the kids and I will watch another episode of The Great British Baking Show, or maybe we’ll start a new read-aloud.

There will be potato soup for supper, and I’ll go to bed early.

xoxo

P.S. One more thing: this music video from last summer's Peru trip.

This same time, years previous: crispy baked hash browns, eight, gourmet chocolate bark, chai-spiced hot chocolate.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

twelve

On Saturday, we celebrated this boy's twelfth birthday.


The main order of business: food. The kid can really pack it away.



Breakfast: bacon, eggs, hash browns, toast, and orange juice.
Lunch: shrimp scampi, broccoli, and cake.
Supper: pizza, veggies and dip, and rootbeer.

The cake was kind of a disaster.


Actually, the idea (from Aimee's blog Simple Bites) was great. Brilliant, really. Individual pans of ice cream, each one a different flavor (in our case: vanilla, cookies-and-cream, coffee, chocolate dipper), frozen separately and then stacked, along with a layer of brownie.


The bottom layer of ice cream had a chocolate cookie crust (so yum), and the whole thing got iced with stabilized whipped cream (a teaspoon of gelatin sprinkled into a cup of whipping cream). For the top layer, mounded scoops of assorted ice creams (first frozen into a pan and then, once frozen solid, unmolded onto the top of the cake). Mini chocolate chips, swirls of ice cream, and sprinkles finished off the whole thing.


The problem was the brownie layer. I’d suspected a layer of frozen brownie might be hard to cut, so I emailed Aimee to find out what kind of brownies she used. I didn’t hear back from her, however, until after I’d gone ahead and made a pan of brownies — she’d used a mix, she said.

Oh. Also, oops.

Before serving, we let the cake sit at room temperature to the point of melting. But even then, the brownies were impossible to cut through. My husband tried everything: soaking the knives — a variety of them — in hot water, heating knives on the stove, using an electric knife (and nearly overheating it). The poor cake looked like it’d been through a war.

None of this fazed the birthday boy, of course. And actually, we all had fun with the cake despite the problems. Food adventures are the best.


Notes for next time, because there will be a next time — it's a good cake:

*more cookie crumb layers
*perhaps some caramel sauce between a couple of the layers
*in place of the brownies (because rockhard chocolate, no matter how delicious, does not belong in an ice cream cake), thin layers of cake
*only a total of four layers. Five layers, plus the ice cream-scoop topping, was a bit ridiculous.

For our son's main gift, my husband and I went out on a limb and got him something new to both him and us: an Arduino kit.



Actually, I still don’t know what it is, really. Circuit boards and LED lights and wires and connectors and stuff. But the kid is entranced.


He spends hours figuring things out, and already he’s squirreling aside cash for another kit. Something to do with a self-driving car….

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (2.6.17)object of terror, loss, timpano!, a Wednesday list, cheesy bacon toasts, itchy in my skin, chocolate mint chip cookies, seven, wheat berry salad, travel tips, the perfect classic cheesecake.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

chicken and sausage gumbo

At the library last week, I snatched the entire stack of Cook’s Illustrated magazines and ever since I’ve been happily sifting through the recipes, making grocery lists, tracking down unique ingredients, and experimenting. For supper a couple nights back, I made chicken and sausage gumbo. It was delicious — spicy, rich, meaty, and flavorful — but the thing that I was most excited about was the sauce. Or rather, how I had thickened the sauce.

The recipe called for toasting the flour — a whole cup of it — in the oven until it was the color of cinnamon and then adding it to the broth to flavor, thicken, and darken the sauce. I’d never heard the likes, so of course I had to try it.


Not knowing what to expect, the process felt touch-and-go. While the flour toasted, I hovered, afraid it would scorch, but I needn’t have worried — the flour browned slowly and steadily. Then, adding the broth to the flour, the paste turned lumpy even though I had been steadily whisking the whole time. I ran my immersion blender through the paste — problem solved. And then, immediately after adding the flour to the liquid, the sauce tasted grainy, like a Nicaraguan corn drink, and I nearly threw in the towel. There was no way I’d get this by my family’s noses.

But then, after simmering the sauce for another 20-30 minutes, the weird texture completely disappeared, leaving the sauce smooth as silk. Dark, nutty brown, and lusciously rich, it reminded me of an adobo sauce (never mind that I’ve never made an adobo sauce) — it had depth.


I’m still scratching my head about the flour, though. Any other time, adding a cup of flour to four cups of liquid would yield a horribly gelatinous paste, so why not in this case? Does flour lose its thickening properties after it’s been toasted?


Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
Adapted from the January and February 2017 issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.

The recipe called for two pounds of chicken, but since there was plenty of sauce, next time I’ll use three pounds.

As for the sausage, andouille is expensive and sort of hard to find, and after eating it, I think any spicy sausage would work well here. Next time I'll probably use kielbasa instead.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 green pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon each smoked paprika and dried thyme
2 bay leaves
¼ - ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used chile coban)
4 cups chicken broth, divided
2-3 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
8 ounces andouille sausage, sliced in half lengthwise and then in crosswise in quarter-inch pieces
salt and black pepper
6 scallions, sliced thin
1 teaspoon white vinegar

to toast the flour:
Put the flour in a sided baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes, stirring every five minutes. When the flour is the color of ground cinnamon, remove it from the oven and transfer to a bowl to cool. The flour can be made ahead and stored in the freezer.

to make the gumbo:
Saute the pepper, onion, and celery in the oil until softened. Add the garlic, thyme, paprika, bay leave, cayenne, and a bit of salt and pepper and saute for another minute. Add 2 cups of chicken broth. Nestle the chicken into the broth in a single layer (don’t worry if it’s not completely submerged) and cook on medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, until it’s cooked through. Remove the chicken to a plate to cool and then shred with a fork.

Slowly whisk the remaining 2 cups of broth into the browned flour. If the paste is lumpy, use an immersion blender to smooth it out. Increase the heat under the vegetables and slowly whisk in the flour-broth paste. Add the sausage. Simmer uncovered for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chicken and scallions to the gumbo and heat through. Remove the bay leaves and season with salt and black pepper. Remove from heat and stir in the vinegar.

Serve the gumbo over rice.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (2.1.16), stuck buttons and frozen pipes, how we got our house, taco seasoning mix, advice, please.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

vindication

Tuesday morning, the older two kids said they wanted to go snowboarding that evening. I hesitated. Snowboarding increased the likelihood of an injury, and I wasn’t too keen on complicating my week of single parenting with a hospital trip. But, I told myself, there was no point in making choices based on fear. (I didn’t drink any wine that evening, though, just in case.)

Several hours later when I got the call from my son saying that he’d taken a tumble and thought he broke his wrist, I laughed. But of course.

“The guy here says I should get an x-ray.”

“Fine,” I sighed. “But your sister drives, not you.” And then I curled up in front of the fire with a book while my children took themselves off to the ER.

The x-rays came back negative, much to my son’s dismay. “I know it’s broken,” he said. “It hurts.”

I rolled my eyes. “Don’t be a wimp."

"No, the doctor read the x-ray wrong! I'm sure of it."

"Listen, hon. They took x-rays. You can think whatever you want, but that doesn’t change the facts.” I was mad at myself for letting them go the ER without coming home first. The kid was such an alarmist. Next time, I'd make him wait a couple days before we went running off to the doctor.

Three days later, the phone rang. “I’m calling from the ER,” a woman said, “I'm so sorry, but the radiologist who reviews the ER's x-rays says that your son’s wrist actually is broken.”

I burst out laughing. “Oh, he is going to love this,” I said.

“We’d like him to come in and get it wrapped, if he can.”

“Well, he's on a 12-hour shift with the rescue squad right now —”

“Oh, perfect!” she interrupted. “Next time they bring a patient in, can he just stay a few minutes longer so I can wrap it?”

I hung up the phone and then called my son. "Congratulations," I said. "Your wrist is broken."

"I knew it," he shrieked. "I TOLD YOU." And then he added, “Actually, my wrist feels fine — I even lifted a patient out of the ambulance all by myself — it's my head that hurts now."

“Your head?” I was confused.

“Yeah, I tried to jump into the ambulance, but I misjudged and cracked my head on the doorway.”

Oh yeah. Of course he did.

This same time, years previous: omlettey egg bake, through my lens: a wedding, the quotidian (1.26.15), the quotidian (1.27.14), what you can do, housekeeping, grumble, grumble, thoughts.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

what kind of stove should we buy?

When we moved into this house, we installed a large underground gas tank for the hot water heater (although now we've partially switched to solar) and for the gas stove I’d be getting. But then costs piled up, as they are wont to do with building projects, and a friend offered to loan us an old electric stove he had in one of his rentals.


Now, twelve years later, that sweet little stove is on its last leg. The burners keep slipping down under the metal liners, turning the burners dangerously wobbly. The big one — my most-used burner — lost a screw (or something) and started swiveling out over the stove top. “Remind me to fix that,” my husband said. “I don’t want anyone to get electrocuted.” (And then he fixed it, so at least that’s no longer a problem.) Because I don’t want to be forced into an impulse purchase, and because the stove’s demise is imminent, I’ve finally started stove hunting.

Thing is, I can’t for the life of me figure out what kind of a stove I should get. All the options make my head swim. For a little bit there, I’d thought I’d settled on a stove (this one), but then we read the consumer reports and thought better of it — the oven was horrible, people said. (But then a friend told me she'd just bought that stove and it worked great, so, argh!)

“You need to do a blog post about it,” my husband said. “Get your readers to help out. They’ll know.”

So now, because my husband thinks the world of you, here I am, asking your advice. What kind of stove should I get?


My main question is whether to get a stove with a gas oven or an electric oven. My gut says gas — I can bake when the power goes out and it just feels more wholesome — but my husband says gas ovens leak more heat which would be a real pain come hot summer weather. Plus, we both wonder if electric ovens are more accurate. Also, how important is convection?

Several stipulations:
*The gas stovetop must have solid gridwork so pots and pans can easily be moved around and little kettles don’t get tippy.
*The oven must be well-vented so veggies properly roast.
*The stove must be under a thousand dollars (and preferably between six and eight hundred).

I wish there was a local appliance store — the kind where the employees can actually hold informed conversations regarding the products they sell — but there are none in our area, at least that I know of.  So it's up to you! What other important criteria am I forgetting? Is there a particular manufacturer that you trust more than others? Or one that I should absolutely avoid?

Thanks, y’all. xoxo!

This same time, years previous: the blizzard of 2016, rocks in my granola, five things, corn tortillas, pink cupcakes, movie night, baked Brie.