Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mid-Week Musings

Image courtesy of Ryan Snook

The text lacked the import of Morse's "What hath God wrought?" or the directness of Bell's "Mr.Watson - come here - I want to see you." It was nonetheless a first. I texted Rosie, a fellow blogger, a message from my TracFone, the first I've ever owned. I wanted to keep it simple until I got the hang of texting, so I settled on, "What's cookin' Rosie?" Once that was done, I turned the phone off and threw it in my junk drawer. About an hour later, Rosie called me on my landline. She was irritated that I hadn't replied to the message she had sent me. The word "dumb" was never uttered,  but I swear I could hear her thinking it. While I've repeatedly explained my reticence to enter the world of instant communication, she's never understood it and thinks I'm a dinosaur.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Kitchen Keeper Original - Cran-Apple Cream Cheese Pound Cake

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...While we have another warm spell ahead of us, fall is here. Its first signs appeared in late August when the angle of the sun changed and we no longer had direct sunlight on our deck. Summer's passing caused a momentary sadness, but my nesting instinct kicked right in, and rather than mope, I headed out to stock fresh supplies of cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. I've been so busy that we missed the cranberry harvest in Bandon, but thanks to the u-pick orchards outside of town, I have apples and pears and sugar pumpkins in a quantity that would feed a small third world country. The cake I'm featuring tonight is a personal favorite and it will be made several more times before our rains begin in earnest. It is a pound-type cake, but it has a richness that eludes most cakes of its type. It is a moist, fragrant cake that has a fine crumb and texture that is velvety on the tongue. Save for the chopping, it has the added virtue of being simple to make. I do have one caution to share with you. Pan size is important here. Whatever pan you use, fill it no more than 2/3 full. You have been warned. I used a bundt pan tonight, but my preference is to use a long pullman loaf pan when I bake the cake. Unfortunately, my favorite pan is on loan this weekend and I had to make do with a 12 cup bundt pan and a small bread pan to hold overflow batter. The choice and my preference is aesthetic and has nothing to do with the taste of the finished cake. I prefer neat slices of equal size because I think it makes for a prettier presentation at the table. You may prefer to use a bundt pan. I do hope you'll make this one. It is drop dead delicious and will have your socks going up and down. Really! Here is how it's made.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Mid-Week Musings


Last weekend Bob and I helped celebrate the birthday of a friend who is woman of color. Her 4 year old grandson was sitting with us and listening intently to the grownups at the table. When his aunt commented that her mother was tickled pink, the little guy took a hard look at his grandmother, shook his head and let everyone at the table know his grandmother was black, not pink. I wanted to laugh, but I caught myself for fear I'd hurt his feelings. I remember another four year old whose feelings were hurt when folks laughed at her very literal conclusions. I can still recall her looking first to my right side and then to my left when I told her I was "beside myself." This same child extended her hand and expected payment any time she heard the phrase,"A penny for your thoughts." I tried to avoid idioms until she was old enough to understand the difference between literal and figurative expressions, but her dad and I had a (literal) belly laugh as she mastered the vagaries of the English language. I'm here to tell you she was "a tough nut to crack."

Normally, those recollections would again retreat to memory, however, I was at a contentious meeting this morning, and to save my sanity, I withdrew from the conversation and started to mentally play and doodle with idioms. The first that came to mind regarded the circumstances in which I found myself. "The ball is in your court," and I "think you are barking up the wrong tree," came immediately to mind. They were followed directly by the suggestive duo, let's not "beat around the bush," you know it's time for us to "get back to the drawing board." Some things are best held "close to the vest," so I moved on and started to think about dinner and the creation of food related idioms. As it turns out, there are a ton of them. Here are the ones I came up with. If you have more, enter them in the comments section and I will add them to the list.

1) apple of one's eye

2) (have a) bun in the oven

3) bad egg

4) big cheese

5) bread and butter

6) bring home the bacon

7) butter someone up

8) (have one's) cake and eat it too

9) carrot top

10) cheesy

11) cool as a cucumber

12) cream of the crop

13) (don't) cry over spilled milk

14) cup of joe

15) (not my) cup of tea

16) freeze one's buns off

17) full of beans

18) gravy train

19) (have something) handed to someone on a silver platter

20) hard nut to crack

21) hot potato

22) in a nutshell

23) nuts about something, someone

24) out to lunch

25) one smart cookie

26) peach fuzz

27) piece of cake

28) put all of ones eggs in one basket

29) souped up

30) sell like hot cakes

31) spice things up

32) spill the beans

33) take something with a pinch (grain) of salt

34) use your noodle

35) butterfingers

Food Idioms Sent By Friends

Bean counter

A piece of cake

The icing on the cake

Cook the books

Egg on

Egg on one's face

Something fishy

Sour grapes

Bought a lemon

A couch potato

...and here are a few more that came in later

Cut the mustard

Over egg the pudding

Gravy train

Walk on eggshells

Pie in the sky

Food for thought

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Kitchen Keeper Original - Limpa-Like Rye Batter Bread

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...Bread is an addiction of mine, and the number of recipes I've featured for it over the years is proof of my weakness. What may be surprising is my decision to include this super simple batter bread as the first loaf in my Kitchen Keepers collection. Here's why. It is fast and easy to make and nearly impossible to spoil. Batter breads are no-knead yeast breads that are made with all-purpose or bread flour. They are beaten just until the gluten in the batter is developed, considerably reducing the time needed to make them. The consistency of the dough makes it impossible to knead and shape, so the form of the finished loaf depends on the pan in which it is set to rise. This recipe is scaled to make a single loaf, which is great for those of us who would love, but shouldn't have, a second loaf sitting in the bread box. Limpa is a light Swedish bread that's set apart from other seeded loaves because orange zest and cardamom are added to the dough to heighten its flavor and fragrance. Believe me, one whiff of this bread will convince you that Limpa smells every bit as good as it tastes. Whenever possible, that means I have it in the pantry, I use bread flour to make Limpa. If I don't have it readily at hand, I'll use all-purpose flour. Bread flour has a protein content that helps to create more gluten and a higher rise in yeast breads, but all-purpose flour is a more than adequate substitute. I tend not to stress the ingredients I use to make this bread. I've been known to use honey and caraway seeds if that will save me making a trip to the store. It takes about 10 minutes to get this dough ready for its first rise, and you can have it on the cooling rack in 2 hours. It is nearly effortless to make and the only thing you have to avoid is allowing the dough to rise for too long a period of time. If you allow it to do that, it may collapse on itself. Stick to the times suggested in the recipe and you'll be fine. Here is how this ultra-easy loaf of Limpa bread is made.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Mid-Week Musings

Photo Courtesy of Tangerine Drawings

My cookbooks, most of them anyway, have moved on to a more deserving home. Their departure wasn't planned, and the decision to unload them was incident driven and came about by accident. You know how one thing can lead to another? Well, that's what happened here. Unlikely as it may seem, the books' departure was triggered by a much-loved pair of red suede shoes and a cleaning spree that was more thorough than originally planned. I must admit it got out of hand. I live in a relaxed community and the dress code here can best be described as informal. Anything can be worn for an evening on the town or services on a Sunday morning. Most of the folks who live here came from more formal places, but the sanctioned urge to dress down strikes quickly and with killer force. I call the syndrome going native. I'm no different than the others who have found their way here. I love the informality of this place, but deep down in my core, I know that God and country rely on me to uphold the standards of the empire. So, back in the recesses of my closet you find a collection of rarely worn shoes and a dress or two that are worthy of a New York restaurant. They will also help explain the sad tale of my red shoes.

Bob, known to most of you as the Silver Fox, invited me, and I'm using his words now, to "dine" with him. Not eat mind you, "dine." I went to my closet and pulled out a sophisticated sheath with clean lines. Paired with my pearls, I knew it would be perfect for our evening out. I also pulled out my red suede heels, choosing them and a matching clutch because I knew they would give my outfit the perfect pop. I slipped on the dress, and to my horror, it hung on me. I had no better luck with the shoes, though the problem was different. My feet, it seems, have grown as my body shrunk. Actually, I think both problems can be attributed to my current lifestyle. I'm a walker, and these days my feet enjoy the freedom of Rockports or Birkenstocks. Heaven knows they both are roomy and make for happy feet, but those feet no longer know how to behave in more civilized shoes. I grabbed a few more things and it quickly became obvious that the treasures in the back of the closet needed to be reassessed. Closet space is at a premium here and once identified, anything that can't be worn, beautiful or not, has to surrender its territory. By the time I finished, no high heels remained in the shoerack and I had not a cocktail dress left to my name.

Once I started the paring down it consumed me. I next attacked the "prop" shelves that hold the dishes I use for blog photographs. They are kitty-corner to my only remaining bookcase, and, my now clear eyes could see they were jammed to overflow with books of one sort or another. I first stripped the novels and completed book club material. That made no dent in the accumulation, so I carefully went through the travel section, removing anything not related to our plans for the current year. The shelves still buckled under the weight of what remained, so I had to take a hard look at the books that were left. What remained were my favorite cookbooks. First, went the large "picture" books. I know there will be angst come January. Our winter weather invites a blazing fire, hot chocolate  and the turning of well-worn pages to help wile away the hours and fight the Oregon damp. Unfortunately, nothing is forever, and since  I've prepared all the dishes I wanted to make, it was clearly time to part with my picture books. I gave them a last look-see before putting them in the growing donation pile. Next, I sorted through the culinary memoirs I've accumulated through the years. The only one I saved was "On Rue Tatin" by Susan Herrmann Loomis. I read it at a time when I was still refining my skills and the direction my kitchen would take. I loved it then and now. Then came the books themselves. Julia and Ina went but I kept all my Patricia Wells' cookbooks. I also kept Gloria Bley Miller's encyclopedic Chinese cookbook, all of Mark Bittman and "The Gourmet Cookbook" that was edited by Ruth Reichl. Still remaining, but on borrowed time, are two volumes from the Culinary Institute and a copy of "The King Arthur Baking Companion." I actually can see the shelves of the bookcase now and have room to add any new purchases I might make.

Many of you have read Marie Kondo's book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up." I'd love to tell you that my quest to bring order to a chaotic world is based on what she has written, but that is not the case. I am, by nature, a neatnick, and save for personal weaknesses like shoes and cookbooks, I conquered clutter a long time ago. Not because I think that's virtuous, but I know it makes life easier and gives me more time to do the things I actually enjoy. For those of you who are still trying to tame clutter, this article from One King's Lane will will help get you started. It summarizes the principals Kondo outlines in her book. She advises, "Keep only those things that speak to your heart.Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle." Her advice may not change your life, but it certainly can do no harm. I do, however, have a final thought to bounce against the wall. Even if you love it and it brings you joy, make sure it fits.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Kitchen Keeper Original - Chicken Cutlets with Onions, Capers and Cream

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...I make this dish 10 to 12 times a year, alternating the use of capers with chopped Sicilian olives, depending on the preference of those who will be sitting at the table. Either way, it is a simple dish to prepare and the frequency with which it appears on my table is a clear indication that it's a family favorite. The chicken takes about 30 minutes to cook, but because I've added a brining step, it will take an additional hour of wait time before cooking can actually begin. If you are not held hostage by the clock, the chicken makes a perfect weeknight meal that is fancy enough to serve to guests, as well as to your family, who will sing praises to your name. If you consider brining to be wretched excess, you can, of course, bypass the step, but the downside of that is you'll never know how good this dish can be when the chicken is allowed to absorb the flavors of the brine. Osmosis allows the brining liquid to penetrate the tissue of the cutlets, improving their flavor and texture as the proteins in the muscle structure are broken down by the inward flow of salt water to the tissue. I also use a jaccard to tenderize the breasts prior to dunking them in brine. I can hear some of you thinking, "She thinks I'm made of time," but truth is small steps can make a huge difference in the quality of the dishes we serve to our family and friends. Years ago, I was a fan of Caprial Pence who used the jaccard on chicken she served in her restaurant. If it was good enough for her, it's good enough for me, and I've used the technique for over a decade now and no one complains about tough chicken.

You'll notice that I've used instant flour as a possible ingredient in the recipe below. This is another restaurant technique that I use in my own kitchen. The flour can be found in a canister in any large super market and it has become my favorite coating for meat and poultry that needs to be dredged before it is sauteed or fried. Instant flour - the best known brand is Wondra - has the consistency of baby powder, but, like cornstarch, it produces meat and poultry with a lighter and crispier coating than that produced by all-purpose flour. The coating helps prevent toughening of the surfaces exposed to direct heat. Lest you think the use of instant flour is something I've conjured from the miasma, you'll feel better knowing that Jacques Pepin, David Bouley, Eric Ripert and Mario Batalti are also fans of he product.

I'd also like to talk about the use of dry vermouth in this and other of my recipes. Overtime, this has become a convenience for me. The Silver Fox and I are not big drinkers. We are not prudes, but we've both reached a point in life where calories count, and we've made a conscious decision to chew rather than sip our calories. That means I rarely have a bottle of white wine in the refrigerator, and vermouth, which has a shelf life of 3 to 6 months, is a simple and obvious substitution for it. Vermouth is a fortified white wine that is mildly flavored with herbs, spices, and fruits. It is a lot less expensive than the dry white wines that are suitable for drinking, and while its flavor is a little different from a straight white table wine, it works wonderfully well when cooking savory dishes. I recommend you find a brand you like and stick with it when you cook. Flavor is not consistent from one brand to another and the balance of herbs and spices can throw off a recipe, so stay with what you know. Cook's Illustrated has recommended the use of Gallo Dry Vermouth. It is not too highly spiced, so its components won't go to war with the ingredients in your dish. It is also cheap! I do hope you'll give this recipe a try. Here is how the cutlets are made.

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