The Cape of Shame

Today is day three of a forty-five day quarantine.* It looks like it will be a long month and a half.

The Cape of Shame

Mother’s Day was beautiful – 70s, sunny, enough breeze to keep away the bugs. I was enjoying myself sitting out on the deck for the first time this season and painting. Someone let the dog out so he could enjoy it too. We all, humans and animals alike, have had a serious case of cabin fever after such a relentless winter. Then – zoooom – the dog launched himself off the deck to go chase something furry. What can I say? He’s a terrier.

I kept on painting and sipping my wine until his barks switched from “I’m the boss and you’re in my yard” to “I’m in trouble, but that doesn’t matter cause I’m still going to get you”, punctuated with yelps of pain. We all dashed down and found our Jack Russell Terrier had taken on a raccoon. There was a lot of racing under and around the wood piles, with lots of barking and growling. We couldn’t really reach them, and even if we could have, no one wanted to get between the two combatants. Finally my husband managed to separate them after Oliver had grabbed the raccoon by the back of its neck and given him a vicious shake. I took off my work shirt and wrapped the dog with it since he was covered with dirt and blood and who knows what. He was also crazy out of his little walnut sized brain with the excitement of the hunt.

Shawn came up to the house to bathe Oliver while I called our town’s animal control officer. By the time the ACO arrived Oliver was ready for round two and the raccoon had crawled back under the wood pile. The officer decided not to dispatch the raccoon in part because he didn’t have a clear shot and in part because he felt the raccoon wasn’t acting all that strangely. We knew we’d have to get Oliver a rabies vaccine booster and figured that was that. Our Mother’s Day dinner would be a little late, but we’d all move on.

Turns out it’s not that simple. Yes, if your pet is up to date on their shots, they do need a booster, but they also get put under house arrest/quarantine for 45 days. In the house, with only short leashed walks (by an adult), for a month and a half. Did I mention we have a Jack Russell Terrier?

Also because my husband and I had both touched Oliver we too needed to get rabies shots.  A lot of them. Starting with five given at the ER, followed by several more at our doctor’s office over the next three weeks. It is a serious pain in the ass, and I mean that literally since that is where many of the initial shots go. As my sister said via text:

Super bum-mer! Pun intended!!!

 

Cape of shame indoors

So I made Oliver a cape of shame. His very own necktie with a hot pink Q on it for quarantine. Think The Scarlet Letter meets Wishbone. My god-daughter suggested the orange and pink color combination after a favorite pair of sandals she had last summer. I hope Oliver likes wearing it for the next few weeks.

A short walk with the cape of shame

After my Easter disaster and now the Mother’s Day debacle the nurses at our local ER cannot wait to see what I do for Memorial Day.

*From some of the emails I received I realize I need to clarify that the 45 day quarantine is for the dog, not my husband or myself. Though if we start foaming at the mouth and acting all crazy I believe we will get our own special quarantine in a hospital somewhere.

9 Comments

Filed under In between

The Frugality of Angel Food Cake

Angel Food Cake with Strawberries and Cream

One of the biggest challenges I faced when switching from being a chef to food styling was the waste. Not the oh, this is moldy let’s throw it out waste, but this strawberry is too darn big or that bun has a little dimple on one side or the pith of this lemon is a quarter of an inch too thick or this slice of swiss cheese doesn’t have enough holes to read as swiss cheese. Some of these defects you can change or manipulate. Not enough holes in the swiss cheese? No problem, get out your trusty plain pastry tips and cut a few more holes. If the bun is dimpled on one side swivel it so the dimple is away from the camera’s lens. But a strawberry that is too shaped funny? There is not a lot you can do about it. You can’t send it to the gym or carve it into the right shape the art director wants. Instead you buy lots and lots and lots of strawberries. The rejects – those that are too big, too small, too light, or who might have a slight bruise - get used as stand-ins or nibbled on as we work with the perfect ones. If we have the time we’ll try to arrange for a food bank pick up at the end of the day, but it’s not always possible. A chef, on the other hand, buys what they need. They minimize waste. It does need to look good, but it also has to taste good, and food costs have to be kept in mind. As a chef I would use all of the strawberries below. As a food stylist I would reject all but the bottom one, and even that one is a bit iffy as a hero strawberry.

Unphotogenic Strawberries

 

As much as I am a food stylist with an eye for the most gorgeous, I am also a former chef who is frugal down to her bones. And the later is why I love to make Angel Food Cake because the former chef in me cannot throw away an egg white. If I make a batch of my Grammy Thompson’s Scandinavian Cookies or whip up my Mom’s hollandaise sauce to dip some steamed artichokes into I always slip the leftover egg whites into the freezer.  Yolks won’t freeze, but the whites freeze beautifully. Every time I open the freezer door I eyeball my stash of frozen whites, judging if I have enough to make an angel food cake. I’ve twiddled with Jasper White’s recipe over the years and have found that two cups is the right amount for this classic dessert.

 

Small Angel Food Cakes

I think this cake would be a wonderful cake to make for Mother’s Day. So if you don’t have a stash of frozen egg whites waiting for you then cook up a load of eggs benedict or something else that uses egg yolks and then get ready to whip up an angel food cake.

Egg Whites Soft Peak and Stiff Peak

 

Angel Food Cake before-after

Angel Food Cake

1  1/3 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups egg whites, thawed to room temperature if they were frozen

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1  1/3 cups sugar

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. You’ll need a 10″ tube pan with a removable bottom. Cut out a parchment paper liner for the bottom of the angel food cake pan since this cake will want to stick otherwise. I usually trace a circle around the insert, then fold the circle in quarters and snip the pointy end so it will look like a giant doughnut and shimmy down the center tube. Do not grease the pan.

Normally I am not too much of a stickler about sifting flour, but for this recipe it is imperative. You sift it before you measure it, then sift along with the salt two more times. You want light, fluffy, aerated flour so your angel food cake can almost take wing.

Then it’s time to beat the egg whites. My stand mixer is on the fritz so I did this with a sturdy hand-held mixer. It took almost 15 minutes so be prepared if hand-held is all you have. It should be slightly quicker if you do have a good stand mixer. I cannot begin to guess what whipping this by hand would take. Start by putting the egg whites,  cream of tartar, and vanilla into a large mixing bowl. I used my stand mixer bowl since I knew it could hold the volume. As the mixture starts to get foamy slowly dribble in the sugar a few Tablespoons at a time while you continue beating. Keep going until you have stiff, glossy peaks. Do not overbeat.

Sift half of the flour/salt over the egg whites and with a large spatula or your hand (remember to take off your watch first) fold it in. Lumpy is ok. Sift the remaining flour/salt mixture and loosely fold that in too. It is a delicate dance of incorporating the dry mixture into the wet while at the same time not loosing too much volume from all the whipping.

Bake 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove and if your pan has “legs” (3 short prongs riveted onto the top edge) turn the cake upside down on these. If not slip it onto an empty glass bottle.

I have some small angel food cake pans which required me to find some tiny things for them to rest upside down on as you can see in the picture. Why does the cake need to cool upside down? I don’t know, but it does.

To remove it from the pan once it’s cool simply slide a very thin paring or butter knife around the outside edge of the pan, with the knife blade slightly angled toward the pan rather than cake. Do the same around the tube in the middle. With a little jiggling the cake should come out and you can peel off the parchment paper.

Accompaniments are endless. Macerated* fresh berries and a dab of whipped cream. If you’re making this recipe in late June enjoy a slice of cake served with the Holy Trinity of Fruit. My friend Rick Ellis adds a little powdered ginger to his angel food cake then serves it with peaches which have been tossed with sugar and a shot of bourbon. I personally love a ladle full of stewed rhubarb and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Whatever you serve it with remember that angel food cake needs to be torn or pulled apart with two forks. If you’re very gentle you can saw slices with a bread knife. A regular knife will just squash it.

Angel Food Cakes cooling

*Macerating simply means adding sugar to let the juices come out. If you have strawberries rinse, slice, and toss with a few spoonfuls of sugar. With self-contained berries such as blueberries or raspberries you may need to smush a few in order for the juices to run.

Macerating Strawberries

4 Comments

Filed under 50 Recipes

What To Do When You Can’t Cook

I had several things I wanted to make and post before Easter – my Bunny Garden Carrot Cake, my sister Heather’s Flan, and a great rub for Grilled Lamb which I was planning for our Easter feast. Then I blinked and Holy Week seemed to blur by in a high-speed blip from the Bishop’s visit on Palm Sunday to the wonderful Agape meal on Maundy Thursday to Easter morning. I didn’t get a single post written, though I managed to buy some groceries and scribble a few notes. On Saturday Isabelle, Russell,  and Mary helped me make several dozen rainbow-colored peeps to take to the Easter service at our church. In my pathetic slacker mode I planned to at least post the Angel Food Cake I was going to make for our Sunday dessert on Easter Sunday.

Maundy Thursday Agape Meal

I got up early to revel in the quiet and peace that only seem to happen when everyone but me is sleeping. It always makes me smile to hear the snores and turnings of everyone as I tiptoe to the kitchen. Since I am the only one who is conscious it feels as if I have the house to myself. The sunrises have been glorious of late plus the trees are just on the cusp of budding out. Being the first one up allows me to absorb all of that whispered, early morning beauty. I put the kettle on to make myself a cup of tea,  part of my wake up routine every morning, and as it comes to a boil I start doing some dishes left over from the night before. I like doing dishes. Dunking my hands in the warm sudsy water I can simultaneously loosen my joints – scrub – think – as I slowly enter into full consciousness. Doing the dishes is my drifting time. I can look out the kitchen window and watch the birds flit from branch to branch as I plan out my day. And let me tell you in case you don’t know this, you can do quite a lot of dishes in the time it takes for the kettle to boil.

Spring sunrise

You can also, in the time that it takes for the kettle to boil,  have an accident, which in my case came in the form of a glass breaking in my hand as I twisted the sponge. The circular movement of my hand carved a horseshoe flap off my knuckle. If I’d been going any faster I probably could have managed an entire oval. I sank to my knees and grabbed the paper towels to stop the bleeding then screamed. I wanted the whole house to wake up – I wouldn’t have minded if the whole neighborhood woke up since I needed someone to drive me to the hospital. Easter baskets, breakfast, Angel Food Cake, and the broken glass were left behind as we sped off to the emergency room.

You would think going to the ER at 7:30 am would be fairly quick, but apparently, according to one of my nurses, Easter and Thanksgiving are when most people visit the ER.  For church it’s  the Chreasters (people who attend church on Christmas and Easter), but for the hospital it’s Thanksters (Thanksgiving and Easter). So I waited (still holding the paper towels on) until Dr. T. could look at my X-Ray and decide there was no glass in the wound and then finally, after several shots of numbing stuff, was able to sew me up. No holiday colors of thread to choose from, it was a choice of black or black. I chose black.

Flowering Easter Cross

Five stitches later Isabelle and I dropped Shawn off at church so he could usher in his pajamas (he had thrown on a pair of jeans but he was unshaven, sported a stunning bed head hairdo, and hadn’t brushed his teeth). I had the presence of mind to get a replacement for myself on Altar Guild while we were waiting at the ER. Belle and I zoomed back to the house, changed in less than 5 minutes, and somehow made it back to church with Russell, Mary, and the peeps in time for the end of the sermon. Shawn later joked that all the Chreaters who came to church dressed in their Sunday finest probably thought we had a very embracing community ministry since our church apparently allowed homeless people to usher.

When we got home I realized Easter dinner needed to be significantly truncated since I wasn’t going to be able cook. Turns out I didn’t have to lift a finger other than to feed myself left-handed. Everyone pitched in. I did manage to play my role as the one-handed (one-paw?) Easter bunny once Russell helped me out by bringing up all the baskets and Easter grass. So despite all the drama we had a lovely meal and I got out of doing any more dishes for a while.

Not having the foresight to become ambidextrous my kitchen time will be somewhat curtailed until I heal a bit. Obviously I can type, but gripping a knife or hefting a heavy pot aren’t things I can manage right now. So I’m catching up on some reading and watching a few of my favorite movies again. The good news is the Easter season is six weeks long so I have time to work on those recipes.

Until then here’s what I’m enjoying:

Do you have any recommendations?

Photo Credits:

Maundy Thursday Agape Meal by our Deacon Eric Elley

Sunrise by Shawn Allen

Flowering Cross by someone at St. John’s Episcopal Church

6 Comments

Filed under In between

Allison’s Brisket

I’m one of those people who, when surrounded by a strong accent, will start to unconsciously mimic what I hear, which is ironic (or pathetic, depending on your point of view) since I am not a very good mimic. When I lived in Scotland my speech became peppered with “Och aye” and “A dinnae ken” and my pronunciation for words like aluminum and vitamin changed. My American family thought I’d developed a serious Scottish accent, though the Scots were not fooled one bit and referred to me as the wee American lassie. It happened again when my husband and I took our kids down to Louisiana to help with hurricane Katrina recovery. Despite being a lifelong Northerner, I developed a bit of a southern accent while we were there. Yes, it is embarrassing when I find myself doing it, but it really is subconscious. At least it doesn’t happen after watching tv or I might have to give up Downton Abbey on Sunday nights.

Just as my ear is swayed by a dialect I am immersed in, I’ve noticed my cooking goes through changes depending on what I expose myself to. It could be the cookbook I am currently reading, a food styling shoot I was recently on, the people I live with, or the city I find myself in. I’d never tasted spätzle until my husband, who’d lived in Germany for a year, introduced me to it. Now it’s a regular at our dinners. Seven years in Brooklyn gave me a fluency in Bialys, baklava, knishes, and egg creams. While my friend Allison (who is Jewish and Italian) introduced me to Matzah Balls, Borscht, Chopped Liver, and Brisket.

Beef brisket, carrots and potatoes

Allison’s Brisket (she has more than one, but this is my favorite) is something I make infrequently because it is so melt-in-your-mouth delicious you tend to keep eating until eventually you find yourself in a  catatonic lump on the couch. You can adjust the soporific effect of this dish by eating it with heaping spoonfuls of horseradish. With winter ever so slowly giving up its hold on us (yes, I still have a few patches of snow in the yard) I decided to make brisket last week. It might make you sleepy, but it is one of the ultimate comfort foods, and guaranteed to take the chill out of winter.

Brisket ready to braise in the oven

For those of you who are uninitiated in the ways of brisket here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Allison suggests using the First cut. Second cut isn’t second-rate, it just has more fat.
  • You don’t need to brown the meat, but you can if you want to.
  • Pay attention to your liquid levels – too much and it’s soup, too little and it’s dry.
  • Brisket is always better the next day, it really is.

Adding vegetables to brisket

If you want to know more about the dos and don’ts of brisket cooking you can read here or get Stephanie Pierson’s  The Brisket Book. A Love Story with Recipes. In my original recipe I was told to use “tons of onions”, hmmm tons. I love onions so I use a lot (though not quite a ton). It depends on the size of your pan and your tastebuds. So without further ado:

Allison’s Brisket

2-3 pounds onions, peeled and sliced

6-8 pounds Brisket, first cut if you want it a bit leaner

16 ounces beef broth

16 ounces water

1 bottle chili sauce  or  1 cup catsup and 1/2 cup horseradish

1/3 cup Worcester sauce

1/3 cup Dijon mustard

14 medium size carrots, peeled and cut into short lengths

8 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes

Preheat the oven to 325°F. I had two pieces of meat and used a long shallow pan. Since I didn’t have any chili sauce I subbed in catsup and horseradish, which tasted fine. Basically you add everything in the ingredient list, in the order they are written above, stopping when you get to the carrots and potatoes. I wasn’t using a lidded pot so I covered it all with a sheet of parchment paper and then crimped a huge piece of aluminum foil on top. If you have a lidded braising enameled cast iron pan you can use that.

I did sear the meat first, but when I talked to Allison she later said she doesn’t bother with that step any more, so it’s your choice. Bake for three hours. Add your carrots and potatoes, recover and bake another hour.

At this point you have two choices. You can dig in, but you won’t get nice, pretty slices, or you can be patient, let it all cool down, slice the meat across the grain when it is cold the next day, and reheat the pretty slices. To be honest I do not have the patience nor self control.

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under 50 Recipes

Mazel Tov Mexican Wedding Cookies

J.D. and Sara got married last weekend. I was so excited I made a giant batch of Mexican Wedding Cookies to celebrate. Of course I should preface this by saying I was not invited to the wedding. Since the groom and I haven’t seen each other for thirty-five years and I have never met the bride it’s about what one would expect. I was just so tickled having watched the relationship unfold on facebook that I wanted to wish them well from my kitchen.

Mexican wedding cookies

I knew the groom in high school. He was a year younger than me, very smart and sardonic, in a Dorothy Parker sort of way, and it was clear to most of us, even back then, he was going to be a writer. He had an impish smile, a ready (if snarky) wit, and had a headful of hair. But soon after I left for college we lost touch.

That was until my classmate Jerry Eisner decided our class should have two 30th high school reunions – one in our old stomping grounds of central New York and another online via Facebook. The physical reunion was a whirlwind of fun. Forty-eight hours of eating, drinking, pulling out pictures of kids (and in some cases grandkids), catching up with each other’s lives and life paths. It was difficult to see everyone in such a compressed space of time, and many of our classmates were unable to attend for one reason or another. In comparison the virtual reunion (as I think of facebook) has been quietly going on now for six years. It includes a much broader group – people who were a year ahead or behind of our graduating class, siblings of friends, friends of siblings, folks who moved before graduating. A true reunion. It’s a smörgåsbord of  life stories and pictures (some of which I maybe didn’t want to know, but hey) and better than the annual holiday card. It was through this virtual reunion that J.D. and I reconnected.

Grinding nuts with sugar

Turns out he has written some books, is into yoga, plays the guitar, and has a lot more face than in the old days. Along the way he met Sara and I watched as his status updates moved them from “in a relationship” to “engaged” and finally to “married” this past weekend. So Mozel tov to you both, I wish you a very happy marriage.

Mazel tov Mexican Wedding cookies ready to bake

 

This recipe is from the inimitable Nancy Baggott‘s book The International Cookie Cookbook. Nancy suggests using pecans, but I’ve used walnuts when I didn’t have pecans on hand and the cookies are just as delicious. I’ve also come across variations which used almonds and were called Russian Tea Cakes. I will put out a warning that these cookies are so buttery they almost crumble in your hand, plus the powdered sugar gets all over everything. Unless you’re wearing black you won’t care about the powdered sugar as you reach for another.

Ready to powder with confectioners sugar - Mexican wedding cookies

Mazel Tov Mexican Wedding Cookies

1  2/3 cup pecans or walnuts

1  1/2 cups unsalted butter (use really good butter)

2/3 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3 cups flour

2-3 cups more powdered sugar for coating

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spread the nuts onto a jelly roll pan and bake 7-10 minutes, shaking the pan every so often. Take out and cool before grinding. You may not want to do this step (or you may forget) but trust me you will like the cookies made with toasted nuts sooooo much more. They have a nutty flavor that hits your taste buds in all the right places.

If you’re good at multi-tasking cream the butter while the nuts are toasting. You can do this with a mixer. The batch I made for Sara & J.D. I creamed by hand and those cookies were especially wonderful. So consider skipping your trip to the gym and beating the butter by hand. When the nuts are cool pop them into a small food processor along with the powdered sugar or some of the flour. You want to grind them into a powder without turning them into toasted nut butter. The sugar (or flour) helps keep them nuts. Cream whatever sugar you didn’t use in with the butter, then add the vanilla. If you ground your nuts with the sugar mix that into the butter. Fold in the flour and salt.

Roll the dough into 1″ balls and place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Adjust your oven rack so it is in the top third of your oven. Bake the cookies 10-12 minutes, swiveling the baking sheet 180º mid way through. The cookies don’t brown too much, but may have some color along the bottom edge.

When you take them out of the oven let them sit for a minute then carefully move them from the cookie sheet to a cooling rack. Let cool for 5 minutes. In order for the powdered sugar to stick to the cookies you need to put it on while they are still warm. The problem is if you put the cookies in powdered sugar too soon they will melt it. So warm, not hot and not cold.

I sift a layer of powdered sugar into a small lasagna pan and gently place the cookies in. Then I make it “snow” powdered sugar. I take them out and let them finish cooling on a rack. When they are all cooled I put a thin layer of powdered sugar into the box I’m keeping them in and sift a bit more on top.

It's snowing powdered sugar on top of Mexican Wedding Cookies

 

 

Snowball cookies

P.S. to J.D. & Sara – These cookies aren’t the best travelers since they are so buttery and crumbly but if you two want to taste them email me your address and I’ll pop a box of them in the mail

 

Pecan Mexican wedding cookies

3 Comments

Filed under 50 Recipes

Our Daily Bread

I’ve been reading Jennifer Reese’s book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter and if you somehow missed it, or were just too busy to put it on your reading list when it came out a few years ago, I suggest you get yourself a copy. One of the reasons I am enjoying this book so much is Reese is willing to try making anything from scratch. From Croissants to Nutella, Goat Cheese to Potato Chips. She makes her judgements with her own highly personalized algorithm of how much the actual ingredients cost vs. how much time and effort/hassle you need to spend making a recipe of something you’d otherwise buy, then factors in how it tastes. Make your own vanilla extract (I have) but buy the Pop-Tarts, and of course as her title suggests you make the bread but buy the butter.*

Homemade bread cooling

With this winter-that-will-not-end we have been making a lot of bread recently. Years ago, when I still bought the New York Times every Wednesday because of Wednesday was food day,  I came across Mark Bittman’s recipe for No Knead Bread which he got via Jim Lahey. You can watch Lahey show Bittman make it here if you want a time compressed visual. I’ve been making this bread, and a myriad of variations of it ever since. While I miss the kneading you get with more traditional loaves of bread like I’ve written about here and here, I cannot argue that the loaf made from this recipe is superb. If I were to buy it I’d be shelling out $6 or more per loaf.

There are a couple of caveats you should keep in mind with this bread –

  1. You cannot be in a hurry
  2. You need to own cast iron or enameled cast iron cooking pots with lids
  3. You have to not be afraid of smokin’ hot pans

Homemade bread hot out of oven

Taking into account caveat #1 we always make two loaves and in our house they are both gone within 24 hours. It is no wonder that after this long winter and many loaves of this bread I am starting to look a little dough-y myself. The pans are what makes this recipe doable at home. You could use glass or baking ceramic, but they would need a lid, and I don’t actually own anything which would work in those materials (plus the thought of what would happen if it slipped and broke is unimaginable in my mind). I do own lots of cast iron and enameled cast iron with lids and they are perfect even though the colors of the enamel start to shift when they get so hot. The third caveat is something to think about. The printed recipe (and how I myself make this bread at home) calls for a 450ºF oven. That is HOT. Seriously people, one slip and you will loose skin, with or without an aloe plant at hand. The oven temperature is another reason why I rarely make this bread in the summer months. I just can’t contemplate having the oven on at that scorching temperature when it is 100ºF outside. So if you do make this bread use oven mitts not pads or as Lahey does in his video dish cloths.

As for variations here’s what we’ve tried:

  • A medium handful of Rosemary
  • Cup or so of pitted Kalamata Olives
  • 1/2 – 1 cup roasted garlic cloves
  • 1/4 – 1/3 whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose

I’m sure you can come up with some stellar ideas and I’d love it if you let me know them in the comment section.

Homemade bread

No Knead Bread

6 cups all-purpose flour, you can also use bread flour

3 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon yeast

3 cups and a splash of water

cornmeal or wheat germ or extra flour to keep dough from sticking

Mix the bread, salt and yeast in a bowl, swirling everything together with your fingers. Pour in the water and finger-stir until just mixed. Cover and put in a warm-ish place for 14-20 hours. Scrape dough onto floured surface, separate into two blobs, then in 4 folds or less shape into two balls. If you’ve made bread before you will be tempted to knead it – DON’T. Plunk dough blobs onto well floured or wheat germed or cornmealed kitchen towels, flour the tops, then cover and let rise 2+ more hours.

After 1  1/2 hours put your pans in the oven with their lids on and preheat to 450ºF. When the pans have preheated and your dough has had its second rising carefully remove one pan at a time and dump one dough blob in, give the pan a shake, then put the lid on and slip it back into the oven. Repeat with second loaf. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove lids and bake another 15 minutes. When done plop your loaves onto a cooling rack. Your house will smell glorious. You will be tempted to open a bakery. Bask in your ability to make artisanal bread at home then pass the butter.

Sliced homemade bread

*I hope I can meet her someday, sometimes you read someone’s cookbook and you just know you’d hit it off.

One of my readers asked what size pots I used. Here is a photo (and a motley crew they are) of my no knead bread pots. They range from 3  3/4″ – 4  1/2″ tall (just the base measerment not including the lid) and 8″ – 9 1/2″ wide.

pots for no-knead bread

6 Comments

Filed under 50 Recipes

Toaster vs. Toaster Oven

For many years my friend Jessica collected toasters. They were fun and often inexpensive to buy, plus toasters seemed to satisfy the curator in her since they were objects where form followed function. I grew up with a toaster, or rather a series of toasters. I even had a toaster when I was first married, but years ago I traded in my two slot chrome classic for a toaster oven.

toaster oven

The thing about toasters is you have to put them somewhere. Certain kitchen appliances can be cleverly stowed. I remember my sixteen-year-old mind being blown the first time my friend Marisa pushed a button in her Mom’s kitchen counter which triggered the mixer to majestically rise up from somewhere below. It was as if Judy Jetson and Marcella Hazan had designed a kitchen together where space age met Italian American. It was beyond cool.

For most of us we have to choose. Food processor up or down? Stand mixer tucked into a corner or sitting on a shelf in the pantry? The decision often follows this equation –

How often you use it + How much the dang thing weighs = Where it lives

My husband and I don’t drink coffee anymore so all our coffee paraphernalia is tucked away. We do not own a microwave (which I’ve been told is somewhat un-American of us but I really don’t feel the need) so that is not a contender for the limited amount of counter real estate. However our toaster oven is a major appliance in our daily lives so we gave it its very own counter.

Honey & toast

I love this toaster oven. In fact it is so great that in conjunction with a two burner hot plate I once made a lovely Easter dinner of asparagus, creamed potatoes, and a tiny glazed ham the year our kitchen was being remodeled. Toaster ovens take up more space than a regular two slot toaster but in my opinion the added functionality more than makes up for their larger size. I can reheat a bit of last night’s lasagna, toast a thin slice of bread as easily as a bagel half, or make my favorite late night snack of toasted bananas and cheese. Not having to worry about possibly electrocuting myself as I extract a burning bagel which wedged itself too tightly in the slot is a bonus. Think of a toaster oven as the Easy Bake Oven for grown-ups.

I was introduced to toasted bananas and cheese when I was living in Scotland. There were many things I loved about Edinburgh – getting mail twice a day, incredible scones, milk delivered in glass bottles to your doorstep, the smokey peat of single malt whiskey, haggis (yes I really do love it), hard cider on tap, plus the proliferation of tiny stores for various edibles. Without a car I almost never went shopping at a big chain supermarket, instead doing my shopping by foot. There was a fruit and veg store a few blocks away, several good bakeries, as well as a fish shop for swimmy things, plus a lovely Italian store on Leith Walk which had a delirious assortment of pastas as well as regular shipments of fresh ricotta and mozzarella. Two things that didn’t seem to exist back then were central heating and large fridges, at least not in any of the apartments/houses I lived in. The lack of central heating meant I drank gallons of tea plus found myself acquiring an extensive selection of jumpers (sweaters). Meals were planned on a daily basis to accommodate the limited amount of fridge space.

Cheesey bananas on toast

On nights when we’d go out to the pub we’d walk back home after last bell and if we were feeling peckish but didn’t have enough money to stop for fish and chips we’d go home and make ourselves something to eat. Between the teeny dorm size fridges and our limited income we often didn’t have much more to work with than part of a loaf of  bread, the end of a chunk of cheese, and some bananas. I just had no idea the three could be combined.

The first time my friends Alan and Sid offered me one of these late night sandwiches I was pretty sure it would be disgusting. Toast topped with banana slices and cheese melted on top? Ick and double ick, but I knew after my first bite I was wrong. It is good, in fact better than good. Put away your prejudices (if you have them) and try it. I truly can’t remember if we made these in an oven with a broiler or not, but they are perfectly suited to a toaster oven. In less than ten minutes you have a crunchy-melty-sweet-savory late night snack. Good before going to bed but you don’t have to save them for when the moon is out, they’re also yummy in the morning.

Bananas and cheese on toast

Toasted Bananas and Cheese doesn’t really need a recipe. You toast a piece or two of bread for each person, then top each piece of toast with slices of half a banana, and slivers of some sort of melty cheese – cheddar works a treat. Once you’ve piled everything together pop it into a toaster oven (on a small tray or piece of aluminum foil) and bake until the cheese starts to melt and drip down the sides. Take it out then wait a few seconds so you don’t burn the roof of your mouth when you gobble it up. I’m pretty sure you’ll want more. You may even decide to get a toaster oven just so you can make these.

Photos – Toast and Honey by Jim Scherer

All others by Cynthia Allen

3 Comments

Filed under 50 Recipes, Favorite Tools