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Archive for July, 2009

A wee problem…

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We have a wee problem.  It’s the corners.  There are only four.

Do you remember back when Seinfeld was in it’s heyday? And do you remember the Muffin Top episode?  And do you remember that real-life stores (not fake, TV-world stores) actually started manufacturing pans that made Muffin Tops?  I had one.  It was all a ploy.  Tops have bottoms.  And bottoms have tops.  That’s all there is to it.  ‘Twas a sad day when I realized that the Muffin Tops still had bottoms.

Well, back to reality.  I’m thinking that someone should invent a brownie pan that only makes corners. Because see, that’s where my wee problem lies.  In case you didn’t already know, Scott and I are kindred spirits.  And the reason that I know this for sure is because we both love the brownie corners.  Yes, yes, the side crust is great, but the corner consists of two side crusts, and that….that is where heaven is.  The intersection of crust and crust.  Hmmmm.  But there are only four.

Well, like I said earlier, back to reality…We seem to exist in a world where pans are either round, or have four corners.  And so it is here that we must survive.  But when I dig my knife into the warm pan of brownies to serve up the first two pieces, I always give him the corner piece because after all, he is a kindred spirit.  And kindred spirits deserve their own little piece of heaven!

The Best Fudge Brownies, this side of heaven adapted from King Arthur Flour
Yields 16-20 brownies

  • 4 ounces unsalted butter
  • 1 cup, plus 2 Tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons dutch-processed cocoa
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup (3-1/8 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (6 ounces) chocolate chips

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and place the oven rack in the center position.  Lightly grease an 8×8 baking dish.

    Gently melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.  Allow to cool slightly, then place over medium heat to re-warm, stirring.  (The second heating helps to dissolve more sugar, resulting in a shiny top-crust.)  Transfer to a mixing bowl and cool slightly.

    Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, and vanilla.  Add the eggs, beating with a whisk until the batter is smooth.  Add the flour and chocolate chips, and stir until smooth.  Pour the batter into the greased pan and use a spatula to coax it to the edges.

    Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and cool completely before cutting.  (Pshaw!)

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    Southern Belle

    P7200001I just love taking a stroll through the garden and suddenly spying something so lovely that I just can’t stop looking at it.   That’s what happened the day I found this okra flower hiding bashfully beneath the canopy of leaves above it.  I imagined it cooing to me with the accent of a Southern Belle, “Good heavens darlin’, its a trifle warm out here…”

    (What, you don’t give your plants personalities?  What’s wrong with you!)….

    (Hmmm, maybe that’s why I have such a hard time ripping them out at the end of the season…)

    (Perhaps that childhood movie, Babes in Toyland, had a more profound effect on me than we all thought…)

    (Or maybe I’m the last one coming to this realization and the rest of you already knew I was crazy….)

    (Note to self: Stop admitting that you talk to your vegetable garden…)

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    chicken bake #1Another fun “find” from my beloved Mr. Oliver.  I love finding ways to use a variety of veggies in one dish, and chicken thighs are practically a staple around here ’cause they’re so darn cheap and delicious.  This was so good the first time around that I promptly called my parents to suggest that I bring it over for the upcoming Birthday Extravaganza-part deux (Laura, Dave and a belated Father’s Day).  And happily, they accepted.  It’s a great one for dinner parties because it can be fully prepared earlier in the day and then popped in the oven at dinner time.  We served it with thick slices of bread to sop up all the extra juice.  Yum.

    Baked Summer Chicken Stew adapted from Jamie at Home
    serves 4

    • 2 pounds new potatoes, washed and partially peeled (I like a little skin!)
    • 4-8 each, boned, skin-on chicken thighs, depending upon their size
    • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, stemmed, cut in half, and drizzled with olive oil
    • 1 medium heirloom tomato or 1/2 pint plum-sized tomatoes, cored and scored on their bottoms
    • 1 medium hand full green beans or yellow wax beans, trimmed
    • 4-8 sprigs oregano, leaves plucked
    • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
    • Salt and pepper

    Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

    Trim the chicken thighs of excess fat and slice each thigh into 3 strips.  Preheat a saute pan over medium heat, and brown the chicken, skin-side down until golden.  Set aside.

    Place potatoes in a medium-large pot of cold, salted water, and bring to a simmer.  Cook until they can be easily pierced with a paring knife.  They’ll need about 20 minutes to cook, depending upon their size.  When they are done, remove them from the water, and set aside. While the potatoes are cooking, you’ll prepare the rest of the veggies….

    Dump the heirloom (or plum tomatoes) into the simmering potato water  for 5-10 seconds, to loosen the skin.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. When cool, remove the skin and discard.  If using a large heirloom tomato, you’ll need to dice it.  Leave plum tomatoes whole.

    Dump the beans into the simmering potato water and cook until tender.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

    By this time, the potatoes should be nearly done.

    In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Set aside.

    Choose a baking vessel that will easily hold the stew ingredients in approximately one layer. First add the potatoes, crushing them lightly with a spoon, then add the chicken, skinned tomatoes, beans, and oregano.  Drizzle the vinaigrette over, and toss everything very gently with your hands, distributing it evenly in the baking dish.

    Place baking dish in the pre-heated oven and bake for about 20 minutes.

    Carefully remove from the oven and sprinkle the cherry tomatoes over the top.  Return to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened and the chicken is cooked through.

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    Day of Lunacy

    It’s just a Saturday thing.  I call it my “crunch” day.  It’s the day with the fewest free hours and the most projects.  I do this to myself.  I know I do.  And I seem to be unstoppable.  It’s a problem.  Really.  But I do get a lot done!  And I rejoice in that!

    See, I work Friday nights.  I don’t get home until 1 AM and rarely will you find me asleep before 2:00.  But then I’m up by 8:00 for a little coffee pow-wow with my curly-haired lover-boy.  Then, a trip to the farmer’s market, hoping to get there early for a good parking spot.  A trunk-full of restaurant-bound produce later, and totally inspired by the bounty, I plan the next three hours.  And somehow I manage to pack more into those three hours than I can normally do in a full day.  Really, I’m not sure how it happens.  But as I drive across the Bay Bridge, reflecting on my morning, I find myself wondering how I possibly managed to weed the vegetable patch, bake cookies, scrub the bathroom, wash dishes, vacuum, and take a 30 minute nap in only three hours.  (The nap is key!)…

    And then it hits me.  I’m almost at work, then sun has warmed and lulled me and I realize that, despite the 30 minute  nap, I’m really tired.  And I’m about to stand in a hot, high-energy kitchen for nine hours making snap decisions and trying to remember lessons I learned in Psych 101 to get seven different people to produce what I need.  And I know that the night will be long.  But there’s a reward, you see.  (Well, many actually.) Because I was smart enough to make cookies!!  And, “no there aren’t any nuts”, and, “yes, there are enough for the bussers too”, and, “WHO LEFT THE SLICER RUNNING?!!”, and, “what?  Oh, well, I’m glad you like them!”

    And so it goes.  My Saturday.  My Day of Lunacy.  And tomorrow’s Sunday, which will probably be about the same, except that we seem to have run out of cookies…

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    Crisp and Salty Oatmeal Cookies adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
    yields 24 cookies

    • 1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
    • 14 Tablespoons (7 ounces) unsalted butter slightly softened
    • 1 cup (7 ounces) white sugar
    • 1/4 cup (1-3/4 ounces) packed light brown sugar
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 2-1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the oven rack in the center postion.  Line 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper, and set them aside.

    In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt.

    In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugars.  Beat on low speed until  combined, then turn to medium speed until it becomes light and fluffy (about 1 minute).  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the egg and vanilla, and beat on medium-low speed until thoroughly combined.

    Turn the mixer back down to low speed and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the flour is just incorporated.  Then add the oats and mix until they are fully incorporated.  Finish the last few stirs by hand.

    Using a #30 cookie scoop or a 2-Tablespoon measure, scoop the dough into round balls and drop them on to the cookie sheet.  Each cookie sheet should hold 8 cookies, with 3 cookies along the long sides of the pan, and 2 cookies in the center rows.  Using your fingertips, gently flatten the balls of dough so that they are 3/4-inch tall.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt evenly over the tops of the cookies.

    Bake one sheet at a time for 14-16 minutes.  Remove from the oven when the cookies are golden brown with crisp edges and the centers yield to slight pressure when tested with your fingertip.  Place the cookie sheet on a baking rack to cool, but leave the cookies on their baking sheet.

    Enjoy your moment of peace and serenity.

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    Memories

    When I was eight, I preferred to eat my corn smothered in ketchup.

    P7150002Thank God I got over that.

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    Okay, well…maybe not roses and daffodils.  I don’t actually have any roses, and as you can see, the daffodils are done.  So maybe everything’s comin’ up okra and yellow wax beans.  But that makes me just as happy!

    budding okraimmature grapes

    yellow wax bean harvest

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    Smiling Down on Us

    Do you ever have those weeks where you feel like someone must be smiling down on you?  Well this was one of those weeks.  It was full of great food, great friends (with babies to play with), more great food, family, and …..a rainbow! We saw a rainbow!  A huge rainbow!  It was a complete half circle that seemed to completely encapsulate our little house.

    Around 8pm on Saturday, we looked out of our living room window to find the evening light tinted golden.  It was such a strange color.  So we walked out the front door to get a better look.  The light truly had a golden-yellow hue.  It made me want to dance around on my tip-toes and wave my arms around.

    Then we turned around and saw it.  From our front yard, the rainbow seemed to be hugging our house.  And then I realized that it was a double rainbow.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of it, so I just stood in the driveway oooh-ing and aaah-ing as the evening light changed from golden to magenta.  It became almost glittery.  Like the rainbow was throwing little sparkles down on us.  Magical, I say!  Magical! I’m sure that it was a huge, upside-down smile (not a frown, mind you!).  There was magic, and happiness, and luck in the air.  Lovely.  Just lovely.  And then the sun went down, and the rainbow disappeared into thin air, and the light changed back to it’s normal dusk color…but its magic lingers on…

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