Post #699 What I Used to Hate

February 26, 2020 at 9:51 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

It’s no surprise to anyone that over time their tastes change.  A shirt you bought when it was in style looks awful after you’ve owned it a while.  Think leisure suits.  And if you don’t know what those are, google it.  I used to think the legs of boxer shorts sticking out below the cutoff jeans was the worst thing ever, until the recent style of wearing pants so low your entire underwear was showing.  Those tastes have changed too.  For me, though, the biggest change in taste involves food (since my clothing style gravitates to the classic “jeans and t shirt” look).  So I thought I’d tell you about some of those.

When I was growing up, my reputation for disliking potatoes had reached epic proportions.  There were only two forms of potatoes I’d eat: French fries, and potato chips.  Any other form was terrible and I wouldn’t do it.  Mashed potatoes never crossed my lips while hot.  I was in my teens before I knew what hot mashed potatoes tasted like.  Mom was 100% Irish so we had potatoes at nearly every meal and in nearly every form.

We ate baked potatoes, fried potatoes, mashed potatoes, au gratin potatoes, hash brown potatoes, potato soup, potato soufflé, potato casserole.  We had instant potatoes, frozen potatoes, dried potatoes, canned potatoes, but mostly fresh potatoes.  For a long time, the question wasn’t IF we were going to have potatoes, but HOW we were going to have potatoes.  And it was always russet potatoes; never any other variety.  She loved them, and dad loved them.  My brother and sister liked them.  I hated them.  In my late teens, things changed and I started tolerating them.  Now, in my sixties, I’ve found that I do like them.  I think what I was objecting to as a kid was the overabundance of them.  Now, one of my favorite ways to eat them is Potato Boats.  Take two cups of cold mashed potatoes, add one egg and half a cup of flour and mix them all together.  Spray a baking sheet with vegetable spray and make four mounds of potatoes of a half cup each.  make a large divot in each mound but do not go through to the baking sheet.  Fill the divot with leftover meat and vegetables, add gravy to fill, and sprinkle cheese on top.  Bake at 350 until heated through, and the cheese is melted and golden.  Serve hot, but use a metal spatula large enough to support the entire boat to move from baking sheet to plate.  Pretty tasty.

Onion and I never got along until I was in my thirties.  I found them to be too highly flavored for my comfort level.  Then I discovered there was more than one kind of onion!  See, my mom also loved onions and her favorite was the Spanish, or yellow onion.

This is the one that causes the most tears when you work with them.  It’s highly flavored with no subtlety at all.  If it’s in a dish, you know it.  Mom preferred them raw, but would eat them any way she could get them.  Every time we had tacos, I had to dice up half an onion for her to put in hers.  Salads had to have a ton of them.  Oddly enough, she never cared for fried onion rings.  When I was finally able to eliminate them from my life, I was so happy.  But after a decade or so, I found I was missing them, and then discovered that those recipes where they were supposed to be there were improved by their presence rather than their absence.  Now, I prefer to use fresh onion when I use onion, but dried or powdered onion will do in a pinch.  One thing I still won’t touch is onion juice.  Call me crazy, but it doesn’t sound good to me.

Chili con carne was one of mom’s go to meals that she learned to make in California when we lived there.  It’s where I was born, so I don’t remember this time period, but it shaped my mom’s cooking a little bit and introduced us to tacos, and chili.  My brother and I didn’t like it.  Mom put way too many hot peppers and onions in it.  Spicy hot on top of temperature hot was not pleasant.  As Paula Deen put it “I don’t like food that hurts me.”  Mom always served it with saltines (California could only go so far) so my brother and I would break up crackers to soak up all the broth, wait for it to get stone cold, then quickly eat the resultant sludge.  Mom also put way too many onions in it for my taste.  Now, I eat it all the time.  I spice it to our tastes and add more than one kind of pepper to it to give a more complex flavor.  I also use other types of meat than just the plain hamburger my mom used.  Sometimes pork, sometimes chicken, but most often I’ll use a slow cooked fork tender beef roast.

Salmon patties were another thing my mom loved that I didn’t.  It was for the same reason, though.  All I could taste in her salmon patties was onion.  When I first moved out, I decided to try my own salmon patties because I do like salmon.  I left out the onion, and suddenly they were good!  I haven’t made them in a long time because Partner/Spouse doesn’t like fish, and also because they aren’t a driving force in my culinary career.  But I no longer turn my nose up to them.

Mayonnaise.  I didn’t like it.  I didn’t like the consistently.  I didn’t like the flavor.  I didn’t like the smell.  I also didn’t like the other forms of mayonnaise that weren’t mayonnaise.  Then I grew up.  I found out that real mayonnaise didn’t come from a jar; it wasn’t white; and it wasn’t fluffy.  What it was was a tangy delicious spread designed to enhance food.  I don’t use it much.  Mostly because it’s just not on my radar.  However, I no longer refuse to eat it or anything it’s touched.  It’s so easy to make that it’s a wonder everyone doesn’t just do it.  I make it by hand, but it’s just as easy to use a blender or food processer.

You start with one egg yolk for half a cup of mayonnaise.  Make sure it’s at room temp, and that no white it present.  Add a pinch of salt, and a very small pinch of black pepper.  Add a small squirt of lemon juice and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard.  Using a wire whisk, blend everything together.  Then add half a cup of a light oil a few drops at a time.  I use canola oil, but you could use a light olive oil if you like.  Fair warning:  if you use olive oil, your mayonnaise will take on a greenish color.  Whisk the egg and oil thoroughly before adding a few more drops of oil.  It’s important not to add the oil too quickly at first.  You’re trying to create in emulsion of the yolk and oil.  Once the emulsion occurs, you can add the oil a little quicker, but don’t over do it.  If you’re using a machine, blend the yolk and other ingredients, then with the machine on add the oil slowly in a thin stream.  You’ll get about a half cup of mayonnaise that’s nothing like what you see on the supermarket shelves and is infinitely better tasting.

When I was a kid, I preferred vegetable to fruits.  But apples I would eat anytime I could get them.  When we lived in upperstate New York, we used to pick apples right off the trees.  When we moved to Arizona, fruit off the trees meant citrus and nothing else.  Most citrus fruit is on the sour side, but tasty so we got a lot of vitamin C.  I wasn’t enjoying apples like I did when we were in NY so I gradually stopped eating them.  Then decades later we landed in New Hampshire.  We found a farm stand that always had fruit off the trees and I rediscovered a passion for apples.  Then we landed here in Vermont and during the season apples are the fruit of the gods.  I can’t get enough of them.

There’s one food that mom made because she and dad liked it and she thought it was good for us.  Liver and onions.

Usually with fried potatoes.  Nowadays, I like fried potatoes, and I like fried onions.  You can’t force me to eat liver.  I will go hungry before I’ll eat that stuff.  As a kid, knowing that if I didn’t eat what was on my plate I’d be hungry, I found ways to eat things I didn’t like.  Ketchup was a god send for liver.  Enough ketchup on liver and you don’t taste liver anymore.  Just ketchup.  Nowadays, I don’t eat as much ketchup because I don’t eat liver.  At all.  I don’t believe my tastes will change enough for me to eat that stuff.  Apart from the taste, Partner/Spouse, who’s been a nurse for most of his adult life, puts it succinctly “I refuse to eat another animal’s poison filter.”

Another thing I’ve disliked all my life is bell peppers.  It’s a flavor thing.  It just doesn’t taste good to me.  I try them every once in a while and still don’t like them.  Milk is another one.  I don’t mind cooking with milk, but I won’t drink it.  It doesn’t taste good to me.  I used to drink it as a kid because you were supposed to.  Somewhere around age 11 I decided never again.

So, what’s some things you hated as a kid but eat all the time now?  Or vice versa, you loved as a kid but can’t stand now?  Share and let us know.  And feel free to share the post far and wide.

As always,

 

Post #698 Everything’s in Place

February 23, 2020 at 8:35 AM | Posted in Basics | 1 Comment

Years ago, just after graduating college (and trust me, this really was years ago) I had friend who loved to make stir fry.  He and his wife’s favorite was cashew chicken.  It always turned out good, but there was always a mad scramble and rush as they were heating the wok and cooking to get everything ready to go into the pan.  I was a guest so I usually stayed out of the way.  I was already familiar with process and technique of stir fry.  My mom had bought me an authentic wok a few years before and I’d memorized the tiny cookbook that came with it.  It said that all vegetables and meats should be ready ahead of time.  You needed to cut them up, measure them out, have them at hand in order of cooking before heating the wok since stir fry was at very high temps and there wouldn’t be time to do chop an onion or stalks of celery once the cooking started.

My mom had a similar idea.  She said prep the meal before you start made things go easier.  She’d open cans, wash potatoes, season meats, all while the oven or skillet was heating.  Once the prep work was done, the oven or pan would be ready and she could start.  It was a habit that I took with me, even though I didn’t follow it as consistently as I should.

Then I noticed while watching cooking shows the chefs always had their ingredients at the ready.  I figured it was to save time on the air, but it made sense to have things ready.  Based on what I knew and experienced, having it ready was easiest.  There were a few recipes that I had made some so many times (chocolate chip cookies, various cakes, fudge (see the trend here?)) I could make them in my sleep so didn’t usually do any prep except to have the ingredients on the counter.

One of our favorite cooking shows is Worst Chefs on FoodNetwork.  We get a kick out of the confusion of the cooks learning on the fly, but we get a bigger kick out of the hosts trying to impart knowledge to these worst cooks.  Anne Burrell is the primary host, and she’s very much a basic, nuts and bolts style of cook.  It was from her, years ago that I learned what food prep was called, and exactly how important it is.  Mise en Place, pronounced Meez On Plawss.

Mise en Place is a French term that means “everything in place.”  It means exactly that.  Before starting any recipe, measure out the ingredients and set them in bowls or small plates in the order you’re going to use them.  This is most important when the cooking style is quick, or intense, or exact.

Stir Frying is a fun and fast way to make dinner in an Asian style.  As I mentioned above, stir frying requires a high heat so the risk of scorching is high.  The secret to success in this technique is to keep the food constantly moving.  So there really is no time to do the prep during the cooking.  You can have a stir fry ready in a matter of minutes, after a half hour of prep.  You don’t actually need a wok, but a large skillet will work.

When making a risotto, you’re standing at the stove constantly stirring the rice to create the sauce, and prevent scorching.  I’ve stirred until my shoulder ached.  You don’t have to stir quickly, but you do have to stir constantly.  The only time you stop stirring is when the damned thing is done.  So there isn’t time to prep while the rice is cooking because you can’t stop stirring.  You have the barely simmering stock to one side to add as needed; you have the butter and parmesan on the other side waiting until the risotto is done.  All the veggies are done and in the risotto at the correct times.  Everything is added when it’s needed which can’t happen if they aren’t ready.  I love risotto, but it is certainly a labor of love.

The place where mise en place is a must is in baking.  I can’t tell you how many times I’m scrambling for something I know I have but can’t find in the cupboard.  Baking is not an art; it’s more a science.  Measurements have to be exact and timings and temps have to be perfect to get the same result as the picture.  I try not to substitute ingredients unless absolutely necessary.  There’s a Dilbert cartoon where he wants to make gazpacho but doesn’t have all the ingredients so he starts substituting things.  By the time he’s done, he’s made a cake out of cheese.  Mis en place will let you know if you have all the ingredients and in the right quantities.  I’ve found it’s immeasurably easier to dump something premeasured into a bowl than to hunt for ingredient and then hunt for a clean measuring spoon, or wash one and dry it thoroughly to make sure the measurement is exact.

Making a salad is not an exact science.  Mise en place isn’t strictly necessary.  But I still find that I pull out all the things that are going in my salad before I start.

When I make chocolate chip cookies, I know ahead of time if I have all the stuff, and where it is.  I can measure it almost by sight.  When I make one of my two favorite cakes, I can do the same so mise en place isn’t strictly necessary either.  If I’m making something I don’t have memorized, or making for the first time, mise en place is essential.

When I sit in a restaurant and watch the kitchen, I can see the way they cook quickly is to have all the prep done ahead of time.  I’ve watched servers who had some down time core and slice pounds strawberries for later use.  Mounds of veggies are washed and sliced and diced.  When I was working fast food back in my teens, I’d be at the restaurant an hour and a half before it opened getting things ready.  Flat top grills were turned on to heat evenly.  Fry baskets were filled and waiting.  Pancake batter was mixed and hydrating.  Butter was melting slowly in a cool corner of the cooler grill top.  Eggs were in crates getting to room temp.  All utensils were washed and double checked for cleanliness.  Sometimes I’d get so involved in prep that I’d forget to clock in.

So, mise en place.  How about you?  Do you have any fun stories to share about it?  Holler back if you want to.

And as always,

Post #697 What’s For Dinner?

February 19, 2020 at 9:45 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’ve started working and I’m now standing for about 8 hours a day.  I get my normal breaks, but it’s been a long time since I’ve stood for so long, and I’m reminded constantly about that fact.  Since I’m now on shift work, my schedule and my hours are no long static.  So we’re adjusting to the change in the whole dinner dynamic.  Yesterday, for instance, I got off at 7pm.  It’s a half hour drive home which isn’t bad, but it was snowing hard, so we were driving slow.  Partner/Spouse picked me up, and did some shopping for dinner before I got off.  It was nearly 8 by the time we got home and settled.

So what do you make for dinner that’s quick, appetizing, and sort of nutritious?  Partner/Spouse thought on his feet while shopping, and we ended up making hero sandwiches.  When you do them right, a big sandwich can be as healthy as any other meal.  So let’s break it down.

First of all, what’s supposed to be in a “healthy” meal.  Ostensibly, it’s supposed to be a good mix of protein, starch, and veggies.  The protein should be a good lean one to avoid excess fats, and shouldn’t be too processed because of the amount of salt in them.  Beyond that, it’s limited only by your imagination.  Second, for the starch, well that’s obvious.  Most of the time it’s bread.  However, recently people have been making sandwiches between leaves of lettuce.  And corn tortillas are great too.  To keep the amount of carbs down, you can also you flat breads and make wraps or pockets.  Third, the veggies.  Once when I was in Ireland, I was asked if I wanted salad when I ordered a sub sandwich.  I said yes, and took the bundle home.  I found they had put an entire salad on my sandwich.  There was lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber, olive, pickle, broccoli, bell pepper, and a host of other veggies, covered with oil and vinegar and herbs.  It was great.  Fourth, condiments.  If the condiment you want to use is fatty (think mayo or butter) use it sparingly.  If it’s not (think ketchup and mustard) use all you want.  Oil and vinegar you can use to taste if the oil is olive oil or canola oil.  Just remember with oil and vinegar, the more you use it, the soggier your bread will get.  Lastly, there’s cheese if you like that sort of thing.  I do.  A lot.  Partner/Spouse is fond of saying that for me a sandwich is simply a vehicle for cheese.  Cheese has a load of fat in it unless you use low-fat cheeses.  I don’t like

So last night, I had a lean and spicy roast beef sandwich.  I actually had two of them because the buns were about the size of a baseball, but slightly bigger.  (That brings up a memory from my twenties.  I was finished with college and living with my parents.  Mom had developed a sandwich spread with canned chicken, boiled eggs, shredded cheese, celery, onion, sunflower seeds, mayonnaise, and some other stuff.  She got round rolls, cut them in half, scooped out the insides and filled them with the chicken spread.  They’re size and shape gave them their name: baseballs.  We loved them and had them all the time.)  So I squirted yellow mustard fairly thickly on one side; placed a slice or two of the beef folded on itself to fit the bun; sliced a tomato fairly thickly and placed on top; set a pickle to the side and closed up the sandwich.  So good!  And when they’re chilled, even better.

So today, Partner/Spouse had to drive to the southern part of the state for a couple of days and I was on my own.  I had the day off and although there were a few things I needed to do, I decided to just relax.  But I wanted to make something for dinner that would be easy, set for one, and deeeelicious!  I decided on tacos!  Cuz, you know, it’s tacos!  I used ground beef, but once it was cooked and drained, I added about a half cup of spicy salsa and cooked it in.  It made the ground beef taste spicy and flavored with tomato and onion.  Partner/Spouse calls my tacos Tacos a la Joe because they’re so standard and generic.  Corn tortillas fried crispy for him, and soft for me, filled with spicy ground beef, cheese, tomatoes, and iceberg lettuce.  He uses salsa in his, too.  We sometimes

Tomorrow, I’m working kind of late, until 8pm.  That means I’ll get home around 8:30 and have to take care of the dog, and get comfy, etc before thinking about dinner.  So what to make?  I think the answer if pretty obvious, at least to me.  Any guesses?  Taco salad with all the leftovers.  I’m so clever.  That leaves just Friday night to figure out.  My guess is that I’m going to be tired enough on Friday night to just eat a couple of cookies with hot chocolate and go to bed.  We’ll see.

So what about you guys?  What was dinner for you this week?  Share and let us know!  Speaking of sharing, feel free to share the post if you want to.

As always,

Post #696 Chocolate Covered Whatever

February 12, 2020 at 2:35 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two days before Valentine’s Day, whee.  I’m not a big fan of this day and never have been.    I won’t go into why I think it’s the most superficial, jaded celebration ever.  However, there is one thing about this day that “they” got right.  It’s also a celebration of chocolate.  I can’t imagine how much is spent every year on boxes of chocolate and chocolate novelties.  Not even a guess.  But, I like making my own chocolate treats and I’m going to tell you how.

First of all, you have to decide what kind of chocolate treat you want because the varieties of chocolate get more numerous every week.  I’ve hear about two new versions called Rose (or Pink), and Golden.  I remember when the choice was nuts or no nuts.  Not anymore.  My favorites in no particular order are dark, bitter(or semi)sweet, and milk.  We won’t go into white chocolate.

Once you decide what kind of chocolate you want to work with, you need to decide what treat you’re going to make.  There are incredibly simple but elegant sweets, and there are some that are so technically challenging I won’t even read the process for them.

Once that’s worked out, you have to make sure you know what to do with the chocolate, and that you have all the necessary equipment for making the treat, sweet, candy you want.  Luckily, for most of the simple ones, the equipment needs are also simple.

So, in the interest of having this ready for Valentine’s Day, I’m going to talk about the simple treats.  The first treat is going to be chocolate covered cherries.

Don’t confuse these with cherry cordials.  My mom was addicted to those and every Christmas as a kid less than 10 years old, that was my present to her.  Of course, back then a one pound box of cherry cordials cost about a buck so it was a great gift all around.

First, you need to select the cherries.  They must be ripe.  They must have no bad spots on them at all.  They must have a stem for easy dipping and eating.  They must be a visually appealing as any cherry ever grown.  Select one or two pounds.  Wash them to make certain there aren’t any pesticides or waxes on them.  Then allow them to air dry, or dry them by hand with paper towels, whatever you prefer.  Once the cherries are ready, melt 8 oz of your preferred chocolate in a double boiler.  For instance, I would use bittersweet chocolate so I would use the standard Nestles chocolate chips.  You could also use bar chocolate, but break it into smaller pieces first.  Do not be tempted to melt the chocolate in a microwave because this can burn the chocolate which makes it taste nasty.  Think burned popcorn and you get the idea.  Once the chocolate is melted, remove it from the heat and add another 6-8 oz of chocolate.  This will help temper the chocolate make it more appealing.  Now it’s time to set up an assembly line.

Place the bowl of cherries on your left, then set the bowl of chocolate next to the cherries.  Set a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper cut to size to cover it next to the chocolate.  Then simply take a cherry by the stem and dip it into the chocolate and swirl it.  Pull the cherry out and set it immediately on the tray.  The chocolate will flow down the cherry a little forming a small base so the cherry will stand upright.  Do this for all the cherries.

Next you want to decorate the chocolate.  If you want to add sprinkles or chopped nuts or coconut to the outside, sprinkle all that on as soon as the cherries have been dipped.  Or you can melt a small bit of contrasting chocolate (think white, or dark for this if you’re using milk chocolate or bittersweet.)  Pour the melted and cooled chocolate into a small zip lock bag and snip the tiniest bit off a corner.  Drizzle the chocolate over the dipped cherries.  You can also use a spoon or fork for this, but the result can be messy.  Another thing you can do is dip the cherry completely in one chocolate, and once that has set, dip it half way in the contrasting chocolate so you get a two toned effect.

Once the cherries have all been decorated (or not if you prefer) allow them to cool completely in the tray and NOT in the fridge.  Chocolate loses its shine when it gets too cold.  After they’ve been cooled completely, place them on a plate or in a nice looking box, then throw your face into the middle of them and graze.

Another way to make these that’s less messy is to use small paper cups.  Dip the cherries and place them into the cups.  Add any decorations and let cool.  The cups will keep the chocolate contained and the ridges will look nice.

There are all kinds of things you can dip into chocolate so don’t think just cherries.  I personally have had all these dipped in chocolate:

  • Strawberries
  • Bananas
  • Pound Cake
  • Angel Food Cake
  • Marshmallows
  • Caramels
  • Mint pillows
  • Potato Chips
  • Pretzels
  • Fudge
  • Coconut Macaroons
  • Grapes

The only thing I wouldn’t try is anything wet.  I wouldn’t try melons or mangoes or pineapple or citrus, although those flavors can be added to chocolate in other forms and taste wonderful.

You follow the same process, but you might need to use a fork or a special candy dipping tool to keep your fingers clean for some of these.  So if you’ve got time, and want to make a chocolate treat for someone special whether it’s Valentine’s Day or not, this idea will put you in the money.  Unless the other person is allergic to chocolate.  In which case, never talk to them again.  You can do without that kind of negativity.

As always,

Post #695 The Latest Ice Age

February 9, 2020 at 12:02 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So, it’s no surprise that it’s cold up here.  Overnight temps have plummeted to several degrees below zero, while day light temps hover in the teens.  We had a two day snow storm that ended a couple of days ago which I haven’t been able to dig out from because the temps cause it to freeze.  And we’re waiting for another two days of snow to arrive in another day or two.  I’ve kept ahead of the shoveling a little bit by going out whenever the sun is shining and scraping away at what’s there.  I’ve been thinking of it as the Winter Workout.  I spread some snow melt but it doesn’t seem to be doing anything.

The best part of this whole process is coming inside where it’s warm and smelling delicious food cooking.  Fresh bread or biscuits baking, cookies in the oven, a warm pot roast with potatoes and carrots, it’s all about comfort food to add to the atmosphere.

So earlier this week, I made banana bread.  I used the standard recipe, but I added stuff cuz that’s what I do.  One of these days I’m going to have to stop calling it banana bread and figure out a different name for it.  Since I don’t keep milk in the house, I used water, but added some powdered milk to the dry ingredients.  Since I wanted the baking soda to have something a little acidic to activate it and provide lift, I added a splash of vinegar.  Since I wanted to added a splash of flavor, I made the vinegar a balsamic to get an earthy flavor.  I like mixed nuts so added walnuts, pecans, and shredded coconut.  I like seeds so there were sunflower seeds in it.  And because nothing is complete without chocolate, I added bittersweet chocolate chunks.  The batter turned out light, and a little runny because milk is thicker than water and I forgot to remove some of the water.  I decided to let the cake bake a little longer because of that.  It turned out great!  There were a couple of oddities however.  The sunflower seeds reacted with something in the batter and turned blue.  They tasted fine and added a dash of color, but looked strange.  And the chocolate chunks were heavy and sank to the bottom of the batter so there was a layer of chocolate at the bottom and none anywhere else.  And the extra bake time gave the entire loaf a dark, thicker crust which was fine.

The same day I made the banana bread, I made homemade chicken soup.  I thawed out a package of boneless, skinless thighs and used them.  I wanted a light colored broth, so I didn’t brown anything.  I started with 10 cups of water, a large chopped onion, four stalks of celery cut on the bias, a handful of baby carrots cut in half, and a heaping tablespoon of dried garlic since I didn’t have any fresh available.  I also added some bouillon to kick up the flavor.  Once the water was boiling, I reduced it and added some oregano and the chicken.  I got it boiling again, then reduced it to a simmer.  I let it simmer for about two hours then tasted it.  Once I stopped screaming from my burning tongue, I added a little salt and pepper.  I let it cook for another half hour, then removed the chicken.  I strained the broth and shredded the chicken.

Just before I added the chicken back to the broth, I added some more garlic and some dried cilantro.  I originally wanted to add noodles to it, but Partner/Spouse volunteered to make dumplings so that’s what we had.  So good and so comfy, and such a good way to battle winter.

The next evening, we had tacos because, well, tacos!  Not much else to say there.

A couple of days ago, I made shortbread cookies.  I had a new recipe I wanted to try and it turned out so well.  I wasn’t sure about it at first, but it did great.  A short crust, or shortbread, or shortcake is one that relies primarily on fats, or shortening, to bind it together rather than liquid or eggs.  In most cases these days, it’s butter, but in years past it was lard, or suet, or vegetable shortening (think Crisco.)  In this recipe, you blend four cups of AP flour, and one cup of sugar.  Cut in an entire pound of cold butter until it’s the size of bread crumbs, then work it together into a ball of dough.  Spread the dough out evenly on an ungreased 9×13 rimmed baking sheet.  I used my standard half-sheet.  Bake at 325 for thirty minutes.  Remove from oven and wait 10 minutes.  Cut into two inch squares while warm, then cool in the pan completely.  Remove from pan onto a plate, then serve.  NOW, let me tell you what I did, because you know I didn’t follow that recipe to the letter.  First, I put the flour in the bowl, the whole four cups.  At this point, I realized that if I wanted any flavors in the cookies, now would be the time to add it.  For instance, cinnamon or nutmeg would make these cookies an amazing Christmas treat.  We get a powdered lemon, or lime, or orange seasoning that would be good.  I even considered removing half a cup of flour and putting in a half cup of cocoa.  But I wanted vanilla flavored cookies for something else I had in mind.  So I put the one cup of sugar into a jar with a tight fitting lid and added a teaspoon of vanilla to the sugar.  I closed the jar then shook the hell out of it to blend the vanilla flavoring throughout the sugar.  This was for two reason.  First, it spread the vanilla flavor to anywhere the sugar was.  Basically, the whole ball of dough.  Second, it kept the vanilla from adding any moisture to the dough, keeping it short and crumbly.  I put the sugar into the flour and used a whisk to blend the two completely.  Next, I cut the butter into chunks of two tablespoons each.  I used my pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour.

That was a workout.  Next time, I’ll start with half the butter and keep adding as it becomes workable.  When I thought it was ready, I grabbed a handful and squeezed.  It held together like dough so I knew I could work it.  I put it all on my counter and kneaded it a very short while, about a minute, until it came together.  Then I put it on my baking sheet in four equal pieces.  I used my knuckles to press it down and spread over the baking sheet.  Then I used a half-cup measuring cup with a flat bottom to even it out and smooth it out.  Then I sprinkled a half cup finely chopped walnuts evenly over the dough and used the measuring cup to press them into the dough.  I baked them and cut them, and then we ATE THEM!  The pic is an old one because I didn’t get a picture of the current batch before they were gone.

Last weekend, we cooked a small whole turkey.  We love turkey.  More specifically, we love turkey gravy if it’s made right.  The next day, after it was cooled, I pulled all the meat off the carcass and bundled it up into quart sized zip locks and froze it.  Last night, we defrosted a bundle, and Partner/Spouse made lemon pasta with turkey and asparagus.  And I got crispy fried mushroom, too!  Fresh garlic and onions and lemon zest and lemon juice and some olive oil.  Man, was it ever good!  And hot and carb heavy and perfect for a cold winter evening.

So that’s how we’ve been battling the newest Ice Age.  How about you?  What are some of your ways to battle the winter blahs?  Share with us; we’d love to know.  And feel free to share the post if you like.

As always,

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