Archive | December, 2009

Holiday Hiatus

23 Dec
Merry Christmas from PMAT

Merry Christmas, all!

Well, friends.  PMAT is signing off until the New Year.  We’re off to visit friends and family in and around Charlotte, and we’ll be Hosting Visitors here through New Year’s.  I hope everyone’s 2009 was wonderful and that 2010 will be even better.  I look forward to catching up with everyone then.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you guys.  Thank you so much for taking the time to swing by my Corner of the Hinternet; it means A Lot.

PS Let me know what you’re interested in, topic-wise, and I’ll put them in the queue.  Next up:  Puff Pastry.

Creamy, Dreamy, Spicy Fudge, and Not a Jar of Marshmallow Fluff In Sight.

17 Dec
ancho-cinnamon fudge

My yummy, spicy fudge plated with ancho chile powder, Himalayan pink salt and a swoosh of adobo. Nice!

I might make a couple of enemies around here with my next statement, so get ready:  I think that fudge made with marshmallow fluff is Cheating.  Fudge is all about achieving a very singular texture through temperature and crystallization control.  The only safety nets one should have when making fudge are 1)a thermometer and 2)a little bit of invert sugar to hedge ones’ bets.  I think that using something that has gelatin in it makes it a)non-vegetarian and b)not real fudge.  That’s why they call it Fantasy Fudge.  Fantasy as in Opposite of Real.  It might be tasty, but it ain’t fudge.

With nothing but my Thermapen, a wee dram of corn syrup, some spices and two tries, I have made what I humbly assert might be the Best Fudge Ever.  It is soft-ish with just a hint of chew.  It is creamy and wonderful.  It has a subtle fruity spiciness from a bit of adobo sauce, ancho chile powder and ground cinnamon.  The flavor sparkles because there is enough salt in it to balance the sweetness of 66 oz of sugar. I will now ‘splain how I made it so that you can make it, too.  If you want.  And you should, because it is Scrumptious.

This fudge is based on one that I used to make at the restaurant for mignardises.  I had always thought that that fudge was a little bit hard, and now I know why.  I had always used my (not so) trusty candy thermometer, and when I used the same one a couple of days ago and then checked its accuracy with my (very) trusty Thermapen, I realized it runs about 5-7 degrees cool.  That might  sound like Not A Lot, but when working with sugar, it can be the difference between soft ball and hard ball, or hard ball and soft crack.  Lesson learned.

I made this recipe twice over the past two days.  The first tasted amazing, but it never set up as firmly as I would’ve liked.  I’ll tell you why in a minute, but for now, let me just say that that batch won’t be wasted.  I’ll be giving it out as spiced fudge sauce for ice cream.  Waste not, want not.  And it will be fantastic on vanilla or coffee ice cream.

Based on the failings of the first attempt, I tweaked the recipe a bit, and the second attempt was pretty close to perfect.  I am Very Pleased and Full of Fudge.  And I even have a little left over to give as gifts.

When I made the first batch of fudge, which called for 32 oz of half and half, I foolishly poured in a quart container thinking that it would be 32 oz.  Wrong.  Try 34 oz.  I also cooked the fudge to 234F and used 6 oz. of butter.  For attempt #2, I made sure to weigh everything (like I always tell you to do.  See, my feet are made of clay).  I also reduced the butter by 2 oz (I just thought it was a little too buttery the first time around), reduced the vanilla by about 1/4 (because I wanted to let the spices shine through), and I cooked it to 236F so the sugar would set up a bit more firmly.

Okay, now that that’s all out of the way, I give you My Fudge.

Creamy, Dreamy, Spicy Fudge
Spice this in whatever way you deem appropriate.  You could add some espresso powder, cardamom, curry powder–whatever strikes your fancy.  You can also leave out the spices and just make a fabulous chocolate fudge.  Stir in some nuts, crushed coffee beans, cocoa nibs and/or dried fruit right before pouring it into the pans.  Focus on the technique, and you really can’t go wrong. I quadrupled the original recipe, and it made 2 9″ and 1 6″ pans and I got a grand total of 228 pieces of fudge, not counting trimmings and the three pieces I’ve already eaten.

  • 66.5 oz. granulated sugar (10 level cups, if you don’t have a scale)
  • 32 oz. half and half (half cream/half whole milk)
  • 2 oz. corn syrup
  • 1 pound good quality semi-sweet chocolate (I used 8oz each of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips and bittersweet chunks)
  • about 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • about 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
  • about 1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chile powder (the first batch used cayenne.  Use whatever sounds good)
  • 4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 Tablespoons vanilla extract

How to Make It

Butter the bottoms of your pans.  Line them with parchment or magical Release foil cut to fit the bottom of the pan and up the two sides.  Apply a very thin coat of butter to the paper or foil.  Set aside.

fudge ingredients

This was the measurement of vanilla for the first batch, 4 T, or 1/4 cup. In the second batch, I only used 3 T.

Cut the butter into pieces and measure the vanilla.  Set aside.

Weigh the sugar, half and half, corn syrup and chocolate into a large pot (I used my 5-quart Dutch oven).
making fudgeStir in the salt (go a little light to begin with, and then add more if you need it) and spices/adobo sauce.
fudge before boiling

spices in fudge

See all the wee specks of spice? This doesn't affect the texture, so don't worry agout that.

Stir until all the chocolate has melted.  Taste it before it gets too hot, and adjust salt/spices as necessary until you love it.
cooking fudgeContinue stirring until the mixture comes to a boil.

Slap the lid on the pot and let boil for three minutes to wash any Errant Sugar Crystals off the sides of the pot.

cooking fudge to the right temperature

Check the temperature frequently; you don't want it to get too hot, or your fudge will be too hard when it cools.

Remove the lid and let boil until the mixture reaches 236F.  Take it to 240-242F if you’d like a firmer fudge.  I like mine a little softer, so there you go.  It only took about twelve minutes for the mixture to reach 236F, so watch it carefully.  If you don’t have a Thermapen I strongly urge you to get one.  They are Exceedingly Responsive and Accurate, which is very important when working with sugar.
cooling fudgeWhen the mixture has reached 236F, turn off the heat and move the pan of bubbling fudge off of the burner.  Put the butter and vanilla in, but don’t stir it in.

Let the mixture cool until it’s about 125F.  Mine was 120F near the edge of the pan and about 132F in the center.  The average was close enough.  Many recipes tell you to cool the fudge to 110F, but I don’t think that gives you enough time to really work the fudge before it sets up too firmly to deal with.  Oh, by the way, if you make a mondo batch like I did, it’ll take about two hours or so to cool to the correct temperature.

Once the temperature averages around 125F, start to beat the fudge with a wooden spoon.  I used a whisk for a little while, but its tines got all wonky, so just stick with the spoon.
stirring fudgeStir and stir.

It will take a little while for you to incorporate the butter, and there might be some wee rafts of milk solids on top of the fudge.  This might cause you some Concern, but worry not.  It’ll all blend in.  This is another reason to start beating the fudge before it gets to 110F–you’ll have plenty of time to get the butter well incorporated.  I also pulled up big spoonfuls of liquid fudge and let them run back into the pan from about 18″ up.  Partly ’cause it was fun, and partly to aerate and cool the mixture more quickly.
fudge getting thicker

thickened fudge

It's hard to see in the picture, but while the fudge is still glossy (mostly from the sheen of the liquid butter), the underlying texture is matte-satin. This is when you can add your mix-ins, if you're using any.

panned fudgeOnce the fudge gets very thick and turns from a shiny gloss to a satiny gloss (about 105F or so), pour into prepared pans and let set up for several hours.  I refrigerated mine overnight before cutting it since it’s a bit on the soft side.

And that’s how you make fudge, no marshmallow fluff needed.  I bet you want to know why you can’t stir until it reaches a certain temperature, right?  Well, sugar is a crystal.  When you melt it and then cool it again, the crystals dissolve and then reform.  You can encourage crystallization by stirring.  If you start stirring before the mixture is cool enough, the crystals will be large, and large crystals equal grainy fudge.  Starting to stir at around 125F encourages the formation of wee tiny crystals, and wee tiny crystals give fudge its satin-matte finish and creamy mouthfeel.

Here are some pictures that illustrate how I “de-panned” my fudge and cut it.  You can use whatever method you like, but this worked for me.

de-panning fudge

First, I put a long piece of plastic wrap over a board large enough to hold the slab o' fudge.

de-panning fudge

Then I warmed the bottom of each pan on the stove for maybe 15 seconds--just enough to melt the butter and release the foil.

turning out fudge

When the butter releases, just gently pull up on the foil/parchment to release the fudge and turn it out onto the plastic-lined board. Peel off the foil/parchment.

cut fudge

I used a serrated knife to cut the fudge into small rectangles.

And here is another picture of the plated fudge.  Ain’t it purty?
plated fudge

Sunday Suppers (Monday Evening Edition): In Which We Visit Spice Mecca, Pretend We’re Back in College, and Make Some Curry

14 Dec
Penzeys Spices

I just barely restrained myself from pressing my nose against the window. Besides, it was open, so we just walked right in.

Hello, friends!  It has been quite the Whirlwind the past couple of days.  Do you guys remember Cindy?  You know, my friend from college who gave me the recipe for Miss Patsy’s Pound Cake which then morphed into Van Halen Pound Cake?  Well, The Beloved and I drove up to Richmond to attend her Annual Christmas Shindig on Saturday.  We left around 12:30pm on Saturday and got home around 4pm on Sunday.  It was a Very Fast Trip.

Friday evening, The Beloved and I were engaging in our normal Pre-Sleeping Activity.  No, not that.  We were Perusing Catalogs.  I like to look at them to a)get Ideas and b)make fun of them.  The Beloved comes along for the ride.  We are a Very Happening Couple, indeed.  Anyway, we were perusing the Penzeys Spice Catalog.  (There is no apostrophe in Penzeys.  I checked). I don’t know if you guys know the Penzeys folks, but we’ve been getting their catalog for years.  They have almost every spice known to man, including some stuff that I’ve never heard of, let alone Played With.  We’ve always wanted to make a Pilgrimage to Spice Mecca, and when we lived in Orlando, we always talked about making a day trip to Jacksonville (2 hours away) to visit the Penzeys there.  That never happened.

When we moved here, we were all “We’re even farther away from a Penzey’s now.  Sad.”  But then, once we had decided to go to Miss Cindy’s Christmas Shindig, The Beloved realized that there is a Penzeys Right In Richmond.  Hooray!  With the help of our Google Maps friends, we found out that it was only a short 25 minutes from Penzeys to Cindy’s house, so we made sure to leave plenty of time to visit there before heading to her place.

Now, I shall back up a moment and tell you A Little About Penzey’s.  They’ve been around, in one form or another, since 1957.  Bill Penzey, Sr. opened a spice store with his wife, and their son, Bill Jr, spun off the mail-order business when he was in his 20s.  The Penzeys people seem to me to be that unique mix of down-t0-earth meets exceptional quality.  And that’s a very good thing.  If you’d like to read more about the history of Penzeys, here you go.

Back to the store.  They have over 250 spices and dried herbs for sale in their retail stores.  What’s more, you can smell all of them because they are nice enough to put a jar of each spice or herb Right There on the Shelf so you can smell before you buy.  Hooray! We did a Very Lot of smelling on Saturday, and here’s what we came away with.

Spices from Penzeys

Look at what we got! Including the peppermill. There's chili seasoning "Chili 3000," Italian seasoning that has fennel in it (!), black cardamom, which I will show you a picture of in a minute, Tellicherry peppercorns (ditto), Dutched cocoa powder for making Chocolate Syrup, Balti seasoning (which I will also show you in a minute) and some other good stuff! Plus venison seasoning for our neighbors Chuck and Susan. Chuck and Jackson (11) went hunting on Saturday, and Jackson killed his first deer. Go, Jackson! Venison tenderloin, here we come!

We also purchased a gift box of 4 spices for Cindy, our hostess.  As an aside, Cindy lives 25 minutes from Penzeys and works 5 minutes from there, and She Has Never Been There Before!  Shame on you, Cindy.

We had a fantastic time at the party, what with the wine and all the fabulous food that Cindy makes all by herself for about 100 people.  Oh, and did I mention the wine?  There was A Lot of wine there, and I drank it.  Plus I ate the snacks, drank some water to stay hydrated, and drank more wine.  It was lovely.  We didn’t have to worry about driving ’cause we were staying at Cindy’s.  When we finally looked at the clock, it was 3-ish am.  So we drank some more and visited and Caught Up, and then went to bed at 4:30.

This is Unlike Me.  I love to sleep, and I’m generally in bed before midnight, even on weekends.  I guess the whole college thing came back to us and we decided that it was 1986 instead of 2009 and we were Young and Vigorous and Didn’t Need Sleep.  Foolish, foolish us.  I’m pretty sure it has never been more difficult to get out of bed than it was yesterday morning.  I felt fine, thanks for asking, except for the Extreme Lack of Sleep.  We took a nap when we got home yesterday afternoon and are planning a Very Early Night tonight, too.  Cindy, you throw a great party, and we are Thrilled to be back in touch.

Okay, all of this serves as Preamble to Today’s Dish.  I went to the store today and bought some fairly random Food Items, plus a bag of food for donation to the local Food Bank.  If you have such a program at your local grocery, I encourage you to buy a bag or two for donation.  They are all pre-bagged with the contents and the price on the label.  My bag contained jarred spaghetti sauce, peanut butter and several other things that that folks can certainly use.

I brought my goodies home, put them all away, and then ignored them until 4:50pm, when I realized that The Beloved would be home in an hour or so.  And get this:  he seems to think that I should Feed Him.  Hmmph.  Anyway, I decided to get all Creative and make something with some of the Penzeys seasonings.  Here’s what I used from my Penzeys stash:

Balti seasoning

This is one of Penzeys Indian curry mixtures. There are lots and lots of spices in it, including some that I've not heard of. We bought it because, of all the curry mixes we smelled, it smelled the most wonderful. It's a little spicy, but not over-the-top at all.

Tellicherry peppercorns

I never buy ground pepper, and I was happy enough with my little peppercorns (on the left), until I saw these babies--Tellicherry peppercorns. The king of all peppercorns. My peppercorns smell sort of dark. The Tellicherry ones smell like in-your-face pepper. Really nice.

black cardamom pods

Here are the black cardamom guys I told you about. They had cardamom seeds, green cardamom pods, expensive white cardamom pods, and the black cardamom at the Penzeys. See why I love it there? All the other cardamoms smelled cardamom-ish to one extent or another. The black cardamom smells like a campfire. Like a dark and mysterious campfire. The label said it is used frequently in African cooking but can be subbed in Indian cuisine. It added a nice, smokey background note to the curry.

Keep in mind that I didn’t have any particular dish in mind when I went to the store.  I just bought stuff that sounded good and that I knew I could make Some Sort of Meal from.  Sorry about that preposition at the end of that last sentence.  Shoulda gone with “from which,” but that just sounds Too Stuffy.

Here’s With What I Came Up.  See, it just doesn’t work.  Here’s what I came up with, using the following:curry ingredients

curry ingredients

Ode to Penzeys Chicken-Chickpea Curry
Disclaimer:  This is not any sort of traditional Indian food.  Or Thai food, for that matter.  It’s just a spicy Indian-inspired stew that I threw together and served over spiced brown rice.  So, no ghee here.  I just went with olive oil.  Consider it Fusion Cuisine if it makes you feel better.

  • 2 dark meat chicken quarters (or whatever sort of chicken you have.  That’s what was in the freezer, so I went with it)
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons, Penzey’s Balti seasoning (roughly–I didn’t measure)
  • 1 black coriander pod, whacked with the flat of my knife
  • 2 tablespoons red curry powder (not from Penzey’s.  I already had some, and ditto about the amount)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin (double ditto)
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 can of chickpeas, water and all
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth or stock
  • 1 bag frozen stir-fry vegetables (onions and peppers; they were on sale)
  • 1 large-ish Russet potato, cut into 1-inch chunks

For the rice:

  • brown rice
  • water
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 whole clove
  • some red curry powder
  • couple of splashes of olive oil

Here’s what to do:

  1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a pan to Pretty Hot.
  3. Add some oil, and sear the chicken on both sides.  Remove the chicken to a plate.seared chicken
  4. Add a bit more oil to the pan, and throw in the onion.
  5. Saute/scrape up the brown chicken bits from the bottom of the pan.
  6. Add the garlic and the spices and cook the spices in the oil until very fragrant and a couple of shades darker than when you started.
  7. Toss in the chickpeas with their liquid to deglaze the pan.
  8. Add the veggies along with some more salt and pepper.  Add the stock.
  9. Put the chicken back in the pan, nicely nestled down in the veggies and liquid.chicken curry cooking
  10. Cover and bring just to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through.  I turned the chicken once after about 20 minutes.
  11. Once the chicken in cooked, pull all the meat off the bone, shred (the meat, not the bones), and return to the pan.chicken curry
  12. Taste and adjust seasonings.  Serve over the rice.

How to cook rice:

  1. Put however much rice you want to cook in a pot.how to cook rice
  2. Pour cold water/stock/whatever liquid you want (within reason) over the rice is covered by about 3/4″.  I measure this with my pointer finger.  The water comes to just below my first knuckle.cooking rice
  3. Add spices, etc.
  4. Taste for seasoning, bring to a boil.
  5. Cover and turn the heat down to a low simmer for 40 minutes (this is for Brown Rice Only).  It’ll take only 15 minutes for white rice.  After 40 minutes (15 minutes), turn off the heat, fluff the rice up with a fork, and put the lid back on.cooked brown rice
  6. Leave the pot of rice on the burner (which you have turned off, right?) and let sit for another 10 minutes (5 minutes).
  7. The end.

We ate at 7:00, but we could have eaten at 6:30.  That might be a little outside the realm of possibility on a weeknight, but keep it in mind for a weekend.  It was Very, Very Good.  Oh, here’s what the whole thing looked like:curried chicken

Poll Results: Everyone Loves Cookies, but Not the Kind in a Jar

8 Dec
cookie mix in a jar

Okay, they're good, but I propose Something Better...

So, I’ve recently started running some polls over on PCO.  Partly for fun, and partly because it helps me figure out what you guys want to know about/like/dislike/etc.  I asked what people think is the best homemade food gift.  One third of folks who responded said Cookies.  I guess that’s not too weird, but 0%–that’s right, nobody–thought that cookies in a jar was a good gift.  Do you guys know what I’m talking about?  It usually comes layered in a Mason jar–flour, brown sugar, chocolate chips and stuff–topped off by some sort of Decorative Ribbon Affair.

Personally, I kinda think that Cookies-in-a-Jar is a cool present. I know a Very Lot of people who think baking cookies means slicing off pieces from a tube of dough or spooning out some dough from a tub or breaking squares of dough apart and placing them on baking trays. I’m just saying that it does not take a baker to pull apart squares of dough.  I bet you don’t even really need Opposable Thumbs. Anyhow, friends, if you don’t introduce your Other Friends to real ingredients, they might never know that you can make some Excellent Cookies with just a handful of ingredients.  Only you can prevent Ingredient Ignorance.  Don’t you owe it to your Scoop-N-Bake friends?

Here’s the problem with lots of cookie mixes in a jar.  They’re based on some sort of baking mix, like Bisquick.  And Bisquick contains hydrogenated fats.  I know, because I looked it up for you.  Another issue with these recipes is that everything is all layered together, so you can’t really work the whole Creaming Method, since the sugars are all mixed in with the flour and other dry ingredients.  To get around this Issue, I propose changing the Gifting Vessel from a Jar to a Basket.

Watch and marvel as I take my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and turn it into Cookie Mix In a Basket right before your very eyes.  Make some for your buddies, who I’m sure all have opposable thumbs, and then make some straight up cookies for yourself.  Or make some for yourself first.  You are Altruistic, and you Deserve Cookies.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 4 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 10 oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 sticks/8 oz butter
  • 8 oz. dark brown sugar (or light–whatever you have)
  • 3.5 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Regular directions.

  1. Melt chocolate in the microwave in short bursts.  Cool.
  2. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together very well.
  3. Cream the butter until soft and smooth.
  4. Cream the sugars in on low speed.  You’re not looking for light and fluffy–you’re not making a cake.  You just want a smooth paste of sugar and butter.
  5. Mix in the vanilla.
  6. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing on low and scraping bowl.
  7. Add the melted and cooled chocolate.
  8. Add in dry ingredients and mix on low for a few seconds.
  9. Mix in the chips.  Finish mixing by hand.
  10. Space rounded tablespoons of dough about 2″ apart on parchment-lined cookie sheets.
  11. Bake 1t 400F until set on the tops but still soft, about 12-13 minutes.
  12. When cool enough, put in face.

Cookie Mix in a Basket Directions for you, the Giver and your friend, the Givee.

For the Giver:

  • Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt and put in a baggie–seasonal, if you can find them.
  • Wrap the unsweetened chocolate in some plastic wrap or in a baggie.
  • Do the same with the 8 oz of chocolate chips.
  • Mix the two sugars together and put them in a baggie, too.
  • Label the baggies so your friend knows what’s in them.
  • Get a Cute Holiday Basket and line it with a seasonal kitchen towel and/or oven mitts.
  • Nestle the four Attractive Baggies in the basket.
  • Wrap with some of that colored plastic wrap and tie a Jaunty Bow around the whole thing.
  • Affix the whole recipe and the givee rules, thusly:

For the Givee–Here I am just suggesting wording, mind you.  Say it how you want.

“(Almost) instant cookies.  Just add 2 sticks of softened butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 eggs.

  • Array the four baggies in front of you.
  • Take the unsweetened chocolate out of its baggie, and melt it in the microwave on medium power.  Let cool.
  • Cream the butter until smooth.
  • Add the baggie of sugar and cream all until smooth.
  • Mix in the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time, mixing well.  Scrape bowl.
  • Mix in the cooled melted chocolate.
  • Pour in the dry ingredients and mix for a few seconds.  Scrape bowl.
  • Pour in the chocolate chips and mix in by hand.
  • Space heaping tablespoons 2″ apart on greased or parchment-lined baking sheets.
  • Bake at 400F until puffed and dry on top but still a bit soft.
  • Cool on the cookie sheets.
  • Put in face.

Whether or not you plan on making Baskets O’ Cookie Fixin’s for your friends, you should seriously make these cookies.  They are Very Very Good.  I based my recipe on one from Rosie’s Chocolate-Packed, Jam-Filled, Butter-Rich, No-Holds-Barred Cookie Book, by Judy Rosenberg.  Pretty much all the cookies in her book are Awesome.

And this concludes the first installment of Poll Results.  There are still two more polls up if you’d like to swing by and vote.  I’ll be changing the polls every three-four weeks, so check back and help me come up with some topics.  Have a lovely day.

For the Love of Mike, Sur la Table, I Am Not Made of Money!

3 Dec
baby chicks

Take your savings and buy these cute little guys for someone who really needs them.

Seriously, who doesn’t like to look at a shiny catalog full of Goodies for cooks and bakers?  I certainly do.  But, sometimes I just have to draw the line.  You might recall how I had a Right Tantrum over those cads at King Arthur a few months ago.  I thought I was all Been There Done That.  Until now.  The Beloved and I were perusing the pages of the latest Sur La Table catalog, and we began thinking that if we were to purchase everything they said we needed, we wouldn’t be able to afford la table, let alone notre maison et les chats.  Sheesh.

Honestly, you can tell me if it’s just me.  I can take it.  Read what they Expect of Us first. Ahem:

  1. **D’Artagnan Organic Free-Range Turkey Now, I generally only buy birds that I know were able to stand up on their own, peck about on the gorund and enjoy a happy life before dying to feed me.  That means that I buy my poultry at our farmer’s market and that it’s all happy and free range and organic.  It is NOT, however, $110 for a 14-16 pound bird or $125 for a 16-18 pound bird. $7-$8/pound?!  No thanks, guys.  A quick search of the Hinternet tells me that I can find organic turkeys starting at around $2.50/pound and going up to about $6.00/pound.  Of course I’d go with the less expensive happy turkeys, so I’m saving around $70-ish.  I could go and give that money to Heifer International and fund 3 1/2 flocks of chicks for people in the developing world.  Or, I could just get the D’Artagnan turkey and feel good about myself because it drank spring water while it was alive.  **Oh, and listen to this.  I just got back from the D’Artagnan site, and I can buy a special organic turkey straight from them for about $5/pound.  And now I’m even more upset with Sur La Table.  I shake my poing at you, messieurs et mesdames!
  2. Skybar (TM) Wine System allows me to keep three–count them, THREE–bottles of wine at the correct, varietal-specific temperature for up to ten days.  All this for the Rock Bottom Price of $999.95.  You read that correctly, just one nickel shy of a cool grand.  Awesome.  So, for $333.31-ish per bottle, I don’t have to strain myself by Lifting the Bottle to Pour.  Gee, thanks guys.
  3. For the Bargain Basement Price of $44.95, I can own a Mini “Slider” Burger Gift Set.  Wait–can I own a gift set, or do I have to give it?  Well, regardless, I’m pretty sure I–or a hypothetical giftee–don’t need a mini burger press.  I’m pretty sure I can manage to shape a wee burger for free.
  4. You guys know about those Shun knives, right?  They are Very Cool–we even have an Shun 8″ Santoku knife that I gave to The Beloved (myself) for his birthday (just because).  Well, now a dude named Bob Kramer has designed some Stunningly Beautiful yet Ridiculously Expensive knives for Shun.  The paring knife alone costs 5 cents shy of $150.  I could splurge and get the whole set for 5 cents short of $1500 with free shipping.  I’m pretty sure we’d rather pay the mortgage.

Friends, I’m not saying that these Items are not worth the money in any sort of objective way.  We all have different budgets and different priorities.  I’m just saying that for me, there is no way I’d spend this much money on any of those Items.  Sorry, Sur La Table.  I’m sure you’re all lovely people, but the world isn’t exactly rolling in disposable income these days.

If you’re looking for useful items that you won’t have to spend a bajillion dollars on, you can go and check out my recommendations.

If this is the year that you want to give to a charity or non profit organization in honor of someone else, consider these worthy causes:

Heifer International
Donors Choose
Kiva

Deep Fried Peanuts and Spiced Pancakes or Hooray for Birthday Weekends!

2 Dec

It has been awhile.  Let me assure you, friends, that I have been Very Busy making all the pages on PCO beautiful and useful.  I’m all the way to the “D” pages.  It sounds not so great, but there are a Very Ton of  “A” and “C” pages.  Today, I hope to get through to the “L” or even “M” pages.  So, I sidled up to Ye Olde Computer, fully intending to Get On With PCO, but then I realized I have been neglecting PMAT.  And that is bad.  Besides, I need to tell you about the birthday weekend in Georgia.

As has been Firmly Established, I am not a very prepared blogger, so I don’t have very many pictures.  Sorry, but I really don’t want to exceed your expectations and set the bar higher.  Way too much pressure.  Anyway, The Beloved and I drove down to lovely Dahlonega, GA the Saturday before Thanksgiving.  Our favorite part of the drive by far is the Gaffney Peach.  Oh, the Gaffney people were probably so proud to have a large and life-like peach hovering over their portion of I-85.  The peach veritably bursts with verisimilitude–shades of orange and yellow, the glistening leaves, the life-like…um, crack…down the center.  The peach is life-like, alright.  Like twin glistening, gargantuan gluteus maximi.  Yes, friends, Gaffney, in an attempt to capture the very dew on the fruit, has actually overshot their goal and given us a Giant Ass on a Pole.  Behold:

Gaffney peach

Breathtaking, n'est-ce pas?

Yes, it’s the only thing I took a picture of on the six-hour drive.  I mean, how do you top something like that?

We made it to Dahlonega around 3:00 and stopped at a wee store to get a snack and some beer for The Beloved.  North Georgia is Wine Country, so he wanted to be prepared.  Look what we found at the store!

deep fried peanuts

We had never seen these before, but how do you say no to Uncle Bud?

Shell and all!  Yup, Uncle Bud wants us to eat them…Shell-N-All.  So we did, and we shared with Fred and Mary Beth, too.  Fred and Mary Beth are our wonderful friends and owners of Cedar House Inn and Yurts.  I’ve told you about staying with them before.  Of all the places we’ve stayed, theirs is the only B&B that we’ve stayed at more than twice.  We love it there, and we love Fred and Mary Beth.  Anyway, back to the peanuts. They were somewhat spicy, deeply peanut-y and crunchy, and Surprisingly Good. At first, we felt Decidedly Odd about eating peanut shells, but the trip through the fryer ensured that they were crispy/crunchy instead of thick and tweedy. If you’re at all interested in trying these little guys, go take a look at Uncle Bud’s website.

Mary Beth makes a mean breakfast.  Sunday morning, we were treated to a quiche in a hash brown crust and roasted mixed vegetables.  Savory and yummy.  Then on Monday, for my birthday breakfast, she made a wonderful breakfast bread pudding-type deal with a sauteed apple sauce.  And check it out:  Mary Beth said that she normally would serve the pudding with a blueberry sauce, but that she had taken to heart my Sermon on Seasonality and made apple instead.  Go, Mary Beth!

Here’s “my” breakfast.  Sorry the picture is Kind of Crappy–I used my phone since the camera was in my car.  But really, what did you expect from me?

birthday breakfast

A wonderful Mary Beth breakfast--I ate every bite (except for the candle).

After enjoying a weekend of wine and friends and fun, we returned to the homestead so that The Beloved could work a Long and Arduous two days before Thanksgiving.  Then, we celebrated the long holiday weekend by doing yard work.  Sunday morning, I wanted to recall Mary Beth’s bread pudding.  ‘Cept I didn’t have fresh apples.  Or the Kind of Bread I’d Need to make the bread pudding.  I did, however, own buttermilk and dried apples, so here’s what I made.

An Homage to Mary Beth:  Apple Pie Buttermilk Pancakes a la Moi*
This batter is very thick and scoop-able.  Once I scooped some into the skillet, I shook it to get the batter to spread out some.  Still, these pancakes were about 1/2″ thick, very fluffy and Absolutely Fabulous.  This recipe made 6 pancakes about 4-5″ in diameter–perfect for the two of us.

  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apples, reconstituted in 1/2 cup hot apple juice (or water), well-drained
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoons (ish) salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons demerara sugar (you can use regular, but the large crystals provide a nice sweet crunch every once in awhile)
  • 1/4 teaspoon apple pie spice (a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cardamom)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon neutral vegetable oil

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and spices together very well.

Beat the egg and whisk together with the buttermilk, sour cream and oil.

Pour the wet onto the dry and then stir for about 3 seconds.  Mix the batter the rest of the way by folding.  It’ll be Very Thick and there’ll be lots of lumps.  Carry on.  This be The Muffin Method, folks.

Let the batter sit while you heat up your griddle or your cast iron skillet (which is what I used–two of them).  When a drop of water skitters across the surface of the griddle/skillet, rub the end of a stick of butter quickly over the surface of the pan and then scoop on about 1/3 cup of batter.  You should prolly do this with an ice cream scoop.

Shake the pan/skillet to spread out the batter.  Or, you could just spread it out a bit with an offset spatula.

Cook for about 3 minutes on one side, until the edges of the pancake are dry.  Flip and continue to cook until the edge of the pancake, which will now have poofed up to Pretty Thick, is completely dry. That way you’ll know it’s cooked all the way through.

Hold the pancakes in a 200F oven while you cook the rest of them.

Serve with real maple syrup.

Thanks for the inspiration and for the wonderful birthday breakfast, Fred and Mary Beth!

*For a reasonable approximation of what these guys looked like, go check out this post from Smitten Kitchen.  Mine were a bit bigger, but almost identical in poofiness to these.

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