Post #521 Some More Flour Stuff

January 16, 2017 at 11:56 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Last night, I was thinking about morning breakfast.  Partner/Spouse was working overnight and would be home around 8am.  The dogs usually got me up between 6:30 and 7.  I just received the replacement blade for my food processor and wanted to use it to break it in.  We had a fresh, unopened package of our favorite bacon in the fridge.  I wanted to make biscuits!  Fresh biscuits and fried bacon would be perfect!

I know the basic biscuit recipe but I’m always looking for the new twist, something that makes the result unique, or the process easier.  So I hit the ‘net and spent a pleasant hour late at night with a glass of wine reading recipes and looking for a gem.

Didn’t find a gem, but I did find a little puzzle.

Turns out, there really isn’t a new twist on biscuits.  It’s simply fat combined with flour and leavening that’s wetted down and cut into shapes then baked at a high temperature for a short time.  The proportions all remain the same.  Sometimes the temps are different and the bake times change for that.   And other flavors are added in the form of herbs, cheeses, extracts, fruits, etc.

So here’s the recipe I used this morning:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cold butter cut into cubes
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup cold milk (I used water)

Mix all dry ingredients together, then rub the butter into the flour until it resembled coarse crumbs (I used my food processor, pulsing the mix about 15 times.)  Add the milk/water and combine until a soft dough forms.  Set on a lightly floured surface and knead about ten times until the dough is smooth.  Pat or roll out to 1/2 inch thick.  Cut the shapes out using round cutters, or a knife if making other shapes.  Place on lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 450 for 12-15 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool two minutes, then brush with melted butter.  The most important thing to remember in biscuit recipes is DO NOT OVERWORK THE DOUGH.  Be quick and efficient.  If you want to reuse the scraps from cutting out the biscuits, treat them very gently.

Just a basic flour and water recipe, right?  But something kept tugging at the back of my brain.  I just couldn’t grasp it right away.

So Partner/Spouse comes home in the middle of cutting out the biscuits and is surprised and delighted.  His own breakfast plans were incorporated and a good time was had by all, including the dogs.

This is all that’s left of the eight biscuits I made:

biscuit

 

As I was patting out the dough prior to cutting the biscuits out, I could see lumps of butter and my mouth watered thinking about how these were going to turn out.  So good!

Then it hit me.  I went on a journey of discovery not long ago which I shared with the readers of this blog.  I wanted to learn how to make scones, that uniquely British baked treat full of jam, thick cream, and butter.

Want the basic recipe for scones?  Just substitute the word “scone” wherever you see the word “biscuit”.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cold butter cut into cubes
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup cold milk (I used water)

Mix all dry ingredients together, then rub the butter into the flour until it resembled coarse crumbs (I used my food processor, pulsing the mix about 15 times.)  Add the milk/water and combine until a soft dough forms.  Set on a lightly floured surface and knead about ten times until the dough is smooth.  Pat or roll out to 1/2 inch thick.  Cut the shapes out using round cutters, or a knife if making other shapes.  Place on lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 450 for 12-15 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool two minutes, then brush with melted butter.  The most important thing to remember in biscuit recipes is DO NOT OVERWORK THE DOUGH.  Be quick and efficient.  If you want to reuse the scraps from cutting out the biscuits, treat them very gently.

They’re the same thing!  However, here in the U.S. , we don’t treat our finished biscuits quite the same.  We do put jam on them, but we seldom use thick cream.  We also sweeten them up by pouring honey or syrup over the top while good salty butter melts inside.  We put slices of ham or bacon inside them and treat them as a breakfast sandwich, even going so far as to add a fried egg and cheese to it sometimes.

Then there’s the king of the biscuits dinner, Biscuits and Gravy!  (Imagine a full orchestra chorus in the background.)

Ground sausage fried up and turned into a thick milk gravy that holds the essence of the sausage flavor.  Two or four giant fresh biscuits lovingly cut into two with a wedge of butter in between, and a full cup of sausage and gravy poured over the top, served hot.  I can feel my arteries hardening just thinking about it.  I can barely make my way through one biscuit, much less two or four.  But I’ve seen people (my father was one of them) who could pack away four biscuits, two cups of gravy, two fried eggs, and a mound of fried potatoes, burp slightly, then reach for toast!

I’ve never seen a scone treated that way.  Scones have blueberries in them, or chocolate chips.  Jam and honey aren’t foreign to a scone, but having a scone as part of a bacon sandwich is.

So, I’m happy that my lifetime of baking biscuits prepared me for learning about scones.  I’m just as happy that I can turn two cups of flour and 1/2 cup of butter and water into something light and delicious.

Enjoy

Post #520 Veggie Stuff and Updates

January 14, 2017 at 3:22 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

So it’s just after the first of the year and as in years past, I’m going to write about food trends I’ve noticed over the past year(s), and add my two cents to them.  At the end of the blog, I’ll bring you up to speed on some things going on in the household.

I’ve noted before that we’re the world’s worst vegetarians.  I love vegetables, much more than I like fruit.  The trouble is, I also like meat.  And while I whole-heartedly support the theory of eating nothing but vegetables in various forms, I’ve never gone more than three days without eating meat.  And usually, at the end of those three days, I binge eat more meat than I ordinarily would have in those three days.  I’ve been known to polish off a three pound roast in one sitting.

But I do like vegetables.  I love the crunch of fresh vegetables, and I love the flavors of vegetables in various preparations.  When I was about 8 or so, one of the neighbors had a vegetable garden and in summer, she let me sample all the fresh veggies I wanted as long as I helped her clean all the weeds and grass out of the beds.  It started a lifelong affection for brushing dirt off of sun-warmed tomatoes and green beans and popping them directly into my mouth.

So today’s talk about trends is about veggies.  I’ve noticed over the last several months some things going on.

Cauliflower, for instance.  I like cauliflower a lot.  One time, an older man was wandering up and down the streets of my apartment complex hawking fresh veggies.  For a dollar, I bought a four pound head of cauliflower and a friend and I spent the rest of the afternoon listening to music, talking, and eating raw cauliflower and cheese.  But lately, you can’t turn around without seeing cauliflower in some form or another.  It’s being smashed into an addition to smashed potatoes.  It’s being pulverized into soup.  It’s being riced into something resembling rice but isn’t.  Some people are acting like it’s the secret to eternal youth.  It’s not, folks.  It’s good.  It’s cheap at certain times of the year.  It’s versatile.  But it’s not the only veggie available.

Kale is another thing that’s exploded on the food scene.  Trust me, you can live without it.  I had a customer at the store berate me because I said I preferred something else, I don’t even remember what.  She continued to lecture long after I had walked away.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like kale, and I like the things you an turn it into.  I just don’t think it’s the holy grail.

One veggie I don’t like that everyone else in the world seems to think is the reason for eating is avocado.  I know it’s an acquired taste (they tell me) but with all the other veggies out there, why should I?  I don’t even care much for guacamole.  I’ll eat it if I can’t scrape it off, but good lord people!  You can have Mexican food without it.

I also want to tell every steak house in the country that you don’t HAVE to put mushrooms and asparagus next to every steak you grill.  I like both of them.  I like all three of them.  I don’t need to have them together every time I sit down to a steak dinner.  One time, I got into a small tussle at a restaurant because I told them to hold all the sides, serve my steak alone, and let me make a trip to the salad bar.  It wasn’t until my dinner companion said, “Trust me, he’ll be much happier.” that they left me alone to enjoy my meal.  Even the manager got involved on that one.  They even tried to get me to have the sweet potato fries.  I had to bite my lip to keep from telling them they can do other things to the sweet potato besides turning them into fries.

One vegetable I’d like to see take off in popularity is the parsnip.  I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t eaten the parsnip any other way than roasted.  But lord how it shines when it’s perfectly roasted!  Even when it’s imperfectly roasted.  It has such a nice sweet flavor and I plan to investigate its other properties in the upcoming months.

Onions.   What else needs to be said?  Comes in so many varieties and cook up in so many different ways.  I used to hate ’em.  Now I love ’em.  And some day I’m going to figure out how to deep fry them without making my kitchen look like a disaster zone.  My total favorite recipe for onions I’ve shared here many times.  Beef and onion soup.  It’s the nectar of the gods and I can eat it six times a week.

Told you, I’m the world’s worst vegetarian.  I have a friend who used to say “I’m a vegetarian not so much because I love animal as I hate plants.”  Not me.

Enjoy

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Life Update:

Things have been hectic and the blog has suffered because of that.  I took an unscheduled, unannounced, and unanticipated break from writing and work altogether.  Partner/Spouse was a rock of support, even though he was dealing with his own issues.  We both came through it all and I’ve got a renewed sense of purpose.

My focus is again on writing.  I’ve got several projects in the offing.  One of the priorities involves this blog.  By the end of February, the print edition of the e-book based on the blog will be available for sale.  Unless it isn’t.  I still have a ways to go on it.  I’ve also committed to publishing 3 more e-books this year, the first in March some time.  All three are fantasy based in small or large part.  Additionally, I will be self-publishing some short fiction (long short stories or short story collections) for free at inconsistent intervals.

I’ve also become involved in some social advocacy writing which will start soon (I hope).  I have little control over that since I’m not the person heading it, but will let you know what’s going on once it starts.

I’ve also added an author’s page on Facebook for the blog and the e-book.  If you haven’t already, I suggest you head over there and like the page.  I will be putting in updates and links there on a regular basis.  The FB page is titled the same as the blog so searching it out will be easy.

So that’s some of the things that have been going on.  As always, feel free to comment on the blog or on the FB page.  Send an email any time you like.  And Enjoy!

Post #519 Merry Christmas Feasting!

December 25, 2016 at 12:14 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

hol2

Merry Christmas!  I hope everyone is enjoying a splendid festive holiday.  For a week now I’ve been wanting to write about our upcoming plans for the feast day which we enjoyed yesterday due to Partner/Spouse’s work schedule.  There is so much left over, we’ll be eating it again and again, and maybe again.

To start, I roasted some baby carrots and Brussels sprouts.  I love roasted veggies, particularly carrots, and am usually pretty successful with them.  Lately, I’ve been branching out on my own testing different cooking methods with . . . . mixed results.  Last weekend when a friend was here for the weekend, I did a mixed veggie roast to go with the round roast I was fixing.  All the veggies turned to leather.  The green beans were black and crispy, tasting like charcoal.  We tried to eat them, pretending to like the flavor, but after the initial few bites, we all put them down and filled up on salad and roast beef.  And bread.  So I was determined to do these right.  And didn’t.  I cooked them with high heat, but left them in too long.  The outsides were completely black, and the insides of all the veggies were mush.  I’m gonna keep playing with it, because I know there’s a way to do this.  So I put the pan in the microwaved to get it out of the way and turned to the ham.

We had a gigantic spiral cut ham from the store.  It was on sale a couple of weeks ago and we bought it then.  I was so tempted so many times to open that sucker and slice a few pieces off, but held off.  So now we have this gigantic ham for one feast for two people.  Luckily, ham stores well.  And we both love ham sandwiches.  I made a glaze out of honey, brown sugar, yellow mustard, chili sauce, and pineapple juice.  It tasted so good!  The ham turned out perfectly so once it was out of the oven, it sat on the back of the stove awaiting its moment of glory.

Then I turned to the star of the feast.  Partner/Spouse makes a dish he learned from an old Polish woman about 50 years ago called Kugelah.  It’s a potato dish whose primary ingredients are shredded potatoes, shredded onion, eggs, and cooked bacon with the grease, plus a little flour and a little farina.  He’s made it for us a couple of times, and it is so GOOD!  He printed out a recipe and asked me to make it since he’s sleeping the daytime these days.

This is pure comfort food from the get go.  The recipe I followed called for five pounds of potatoes!  So not doing that.  Two gigantic onions.  Nuh-uh.  So I cut it in half, and it still made enough to feed a family of 8.

First, you shred 2 pounds of potatoes.  I left the skin on, but found out later, you should peel them.  I used the food processor to do this and it took no time at all.  (And, yes, I’ve already ordered my new chopping blade from Cuisinart and it will be here when the fine folks at Cuisinart deem it appropriate.  The rest of the machine is perfectly safe to use.)  Partner/Spouse said to get the shred to the right degree of fineness, once it was shredded, it had to be shredded again.  Ever try to spoon shredded potatoes into the hopper of a food processor?  I invite everyone to try it sometime as an exercise in patience.  Once that was finally accomplished, they potatoes have to soak in cool water to release any starches.

Once the potatoes are ready, grease or spray a glass baking dish, and set your oven to 375.  Drain the potatoes and squeeze out as much water as you can.  Use a fine mesh strainer (but don’t use a plastic handled one that’s five years old.  Mine went to pieces and cut the ball of my left thumb pretty badly.  Luckily, I live with an ER nurse.)  Cut half a pound of bacon into large bits and fry them crisply.  Set aside to cool.  Shred one large onion so you have at least half a cup of onion and onion juices.  Beat 4 whole eggs with 1/4 cup of flour, one tablespoon of farina, 1 to 1 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp of pepper in a bowl or mixing cup.  I should say here to some recipes call for a 12oz can of evaporated milk (NOT sweetened condensed milk) to be included at this point, but most do not.

Put the potatoes in a large mixing bowl and stir in the bacon with all the drippings.  Add the egg mixture and stir till well combined.  Pour into prepared baking pan (I used an 8×8 sized dish and it fit perfectly.)  Bake for 60-90 minutes until it’s golden brown on top and cooked in the center.  If the top turns too brown, cover with foil for the last 30 minutes or so.

When Partner/Spouse makes this, he always cooked longer at lower temps.  Since this is basically a potato pudding, I don’t think it really matters as long as you find the process that works best for you and the dish is cooked thoroughly.

This dish is from Lithuania and like so many regional dishes, it’s as individualized as the people making it.  Each family has their own recipe for it, so once you have it mastered, play around with it and make it uniquely yours.  Next time I make it, I’m adding grated cheese.

kugela

I wish I had taken a picture of what I made before we hacked into it because all the pics I found on the ‘net did not do it justice.  Oh, well.

After the feast, I discovered I’d forgotten to run the dishwasher when I wanted to so clean up had to wait a while.  Then, during the small gift exchange, my thumb started bleeding all over creation again.  The only bandaids I could find immediately were from Frozen so I still have Elsa smiling at me from my left hand.  Probably why I’ve been humming “Let it Go” incessantly.

Hope your holiday is wonderful!

Enjoy

Post #518 Two Stories About Customer Service

December 14, 2016 at 1:38 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I just went through one of the worst Mondays I’ve endured in many years.  It started a few weeks ago with a cold/flu something, segued into a back spasm that won’t go away, and ended on Monday with a broken computer, misdirected online order, and a spilled glass of wine.  All put together, Monday was an impossibly ridiculous day where I ended up in giggles rather than tears.  However, there were two incidents that stand out, both of them involving customer service.

Partner/Spouse is one of those unfortunate people whose birthday is treacherously close to Christmas.  He spent his life trying to determine which event to open that single present for.  His family always made a point of celebrating both events independently of each other.  It’s a tradition we carried on as well.  This year, we chose not to do the Christmas gift exchange for personal reasons (work issues, energy levels, etc.), but I wanted to make certain we did his birthday right.  On Dec 5, I went online and ordered some gifts for him, but I used my personal Amazon account so he wouldn’t see what I’d done.  I haven’t used that account in years because with his account we have the Amazon Prime free shipping set up.  I was supposed to receive the gifts this past weekend, but I didn’t.  I wasn’t too worried, assuming I’d see them soon due to the holiday rush.

Monday morning I get up and get on my computer only to discover that there is a major mechanical problem with it.  For the first time in decades, I contacted tech support for a computer issue.  I did an IM chat with a very nice woman and we determined that direct contact with tech support was in order.  By the time this was decided, it was pretty late in the afternoon, and I needed to find proof of purchase to see if the computer was still in warranty (it is.)  When Partner/Spouse woke up, I had to have him find the original emails.  During this, I had wanted to make a cake, but that didn’t happen since my focus was somewhere else.

I was working on my desktop, which was sitting idle since I switched over to the laptop.  During some point in the tech support process, I noticed something that caught my attention.  When I had a couple of minutes I went and looked.

I’d sent all of the gifts I’d ordered to the wrong address!  They went to an address we’d lived at six years ago.  I felt sick to my stomach.  The one day a year I tried to make him feel special and I’d chucked it all up.  After about 45 minutes of beating myself up, I sent emails to each of three vendors explaining what happened and asking what my options were.  Almost immediately, Amazon answered back and credited my order back on a gift card so I could reorder immediately “due to the unusual circumstances of the situation.”  An hour later, another vendor emailed back with basically the same response.  Ta da!!  90% of the gifts have been corrected in moments.  I felt great and went to make dinner for myself, Partner/Spouse already having left for work.

I poured a glass of wine which I promptly spilled all over the couch, and mismanaged the homemade fries which didn’t turn out too terribly bad, and spent the rest of the evening cleaning the couch, etc.

Tuesday I got up and made a cake!  A close friend had a birthday on Sunday, and his favorite cake is my Boiled Chocolate Cake which I’ve written about in this here blog before.  Every year, I wish him a happy birthday and tease him about the fact that he didn’t get a cake this year either.  So I made the cake with every intention of taking a picture of me eating it and sending it to him.  A light, moist, densely chocolatey cake with a fudge frosting.  Yum!

boiled-chocolate-cake

I always make this in a sheet cake, but I think my next time, I’ll make it as a layer cake and see what happens.

Then I followed up on my tech call for the computer.  I got a wonderful, intelligent, charming young lady whose name I cannot spell who spent the next 75 minutes with me fixing the problem on the computer and getting back up to blazing fast speed.  So by 1pm, my well ordered world was restored, and there was cake!

That was the customer service success part of the day.

Then I received an email from the final vendor basically saying since the error was my fault, they were under no obligation of any kind to recompense me so I should suck it up and get on with my life.  Basically.

I thought about it for a few minutes and replied.  I said, “I understand completely your response and the reason for it.  As a business, you must watch your profit margin and bottom line.  Just a heads up, all the other vendors involved in this mix up have replaced the items at little or no cost to me.  I’m disappointed in the decision and will likely not use your company in the future.”

To be honest, their response was what I expected to hear from all of the companies involved.  I was fully prepared to be disappointed in all of them and figure out some other way to make Partner/Spouse’s birthday special.  (Mind out of the gutter, Audra!)

They wrote back and said Thank you for your understanding, yada yada yada, then said God Bless.

And I saw red.

I’m not against anyone being religious, or wish me a good God Bless, or Merry Christmas.  But don’t hide behind your sanctimony when you’re making a purely business decision.  But I didn’t reply to that email.

Later, I was doing my reviews and rating of the other companies, and I rated them a 1 star.  If I could have done zero, I would have.  Then I gave an honest assessment of why taking full responsibility for the initial error, but also letting people know that they chose not to work with me in any way when many others had.

Here’s where things get fun and interesting.

They emailed me back asking me to re-evaluate my review and rate them higher.  I sat back and thought long and hard about it.  Then reviewed my review.  So I wrote back and said it was an honest assessment of what I considered had happened.  Just as I had to take responsibility for my actions that led to the situation, so must they take responsibility for their decisions afterward, and my opinion is just as valid as theirs.

So they emailed back and agreed that it was an honest assessment, and they had discussed their response among themselves, and if I agreed to take down my review, they would give me a refund for the full amount.

Buy my silence?  I’m a writer.  I don’t like censorship.  Of any kind.  Any.  Kind.

So I wrote back and said no, a refund wasn’t necessary.  They’d made their position quite clear, and while I was disappointed, I certainly did understand and accept their original decision.

And I left the review alone.

A little later, the head of the company emailed me and said if I’d give them the correct shipping information (which was in the original email), they would send out the item immediately at no cost.  He said he realized they’d failed at customer service in this case, and had mandated that all future situations of this kind would err on the side of the customer, not the company.

I told him I appreciated his efforts but a refund or reshipment wasn’t necessary.  And I left the review alone.  It reminded me of the time a bar manager at a restaurant brought me “free” glass of wine filled to near overflowing (so full I would have spilled it if I’d tried to pick it up, or looked like a fool trying to sip it to the point where I could pick it up.  I didn’t let him get away with it either) when I’d complained about the amount of wine originally served to me.

Here’s what the whole fuss was about:

salt-and-pepper

Salt and pepper shakers worth less than $5.  I wonder how much goodwill they lost?

So, all in all, three examples of phenomenal customer service, and one example of not so great customer service.

And I got cake!

Enjoy

Post #517 Product Review – Autumn Spice

December 3, 2016 at 10:30 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’ve mentioned one of the groups I’m a member of on FB a couple of times called Food Interactive.  The remarkable lady who runs the group is not only a pleasure to talk to, but also has a bubbling intellect brimming with ideas she shares with anyone who will listen.  She has a rare and unique palate that creates flavor combinations that she loves which she spreads throughout the group.  She recently sent me a spice blend and I had to write about it.

Autumn Spice is aptly named.  It’s scent immediately brings to mind the harvest time of year with strong, earthy overtones.  Its flavor profile belies its earthiness, though, by being both light on the tongue and robust in the sinuses.  I received a 1 oz container just before Thanksgiving and it put me in the mood for the holiday.  It was reminiscent of pumpkin pie spice, but held a character of its own.  I let Partner/Spouse sniff it and we both liked it.  After looking at the container for a half a day, I finally chose the four tests I was going to put it to.

First Test:  Cream Cheese Dip.  We often have appetizer night dinners.  In keeping with that theme, often we will have appetizer desserts.  Basically, that means fruits, cakes, and dips.  The easiest dip is melted chocolate, but another that’s almost as easy is cream cheese, powdered sugar, and spice.  8 oz of cream cheese mixed with 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 tsp of vanilla, and your favorite sweet spice (think cinnamon or allspice) beaten together until fluffy.  Then, like a fondue, dip small pieces of pound cake, pieces of fruit, or even shortbread cookies.  Autumn Spice gave a depth of flavor that had eating the dip with a spoon instead of a cookie.

Second Test:  Snickerdoodles.  Snickerdoodles are basically a sugar cookie rolled in cinnamon sugar then baked.  Instead of cinnamon and sugar, I used Autumn Spice and sugar.  They smelled amazing while cooking, and tasted even better than they smelled.  I only made two dozen, but they didn’t last two days.  So good.

Third Test:  Chicken Bones.  It’s not what you think.  It’s a dessert appetizer.  Preheat your oven to 350.  Cut the crusts off twelve pieces of bread, and use a rolling pin to flatten them slightly.  Spread lightly with butter, then sprinkle a tablespoon of brown sugar over the butter.  Very lightly sprinkle cinnamon over the brown sugar, then roll the bread into tight rolls either diagonally or straight on.  Bake until golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.  Only this time, I used Autumn Spice.  Autumn Spice goes really well with brown sugar.  Really.  Well.  The chicken bones were amazing.

Fourth Test:  Simmering Potpourri.  During the times of year that the house is shut up (read that, any time the a/c or heater is on), our house is regularly spritzed with scents from automated plug-in deodorizers.  But “back in the olden days” they didn’t have automated stuff like that.  Fireplaces and wood burning stoves added a certain ambience from the wood smoke.  Cast iron steamers were used to add moisture to the air during a dry winter, and spices were added to scent the air.  I’ve done the same thing by putting a pot of water on the back of the stove with cinnamon and vanilla in it and letting it steam.  So I put in the last of the Autumn Spice and told everyone there were no pumpkin pies, gingerbread, or sweet potatoes cooking; it was just simmering potpourri.  Made everything smell like home.

Result:  It had a good beat and you can dance to it so I give it a 75.  Kidding.  I think she has a winner with this blend.  I’m not sure if she’s going to continue to make it and/or sell it, but if she does, she can count on my support!

Enjoy

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