27 April 2011

Don't Panic and bring Tea

A short while before this Arthur had set out from his cabin in search of a cup of tea.  It was not a quest he embarked upon with a great deal of optimism, because he knew that the only source of hot drinks on the entire ship was a benighted piece of equipment produced by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.  It was called a Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer and he had encountered it before.

It claimed to produce the widest possible range of drinks personally matched to the tastes and metabolism of whoever cared to use it. 

When put to the test, however, it invariably produced a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

I feel very proper when I drink tea served on a saucer.
There are some books so great that you always keep a copy, dog eared and smelling of doritos and coffee, it's stuffed into a creaky bookshelf, precious and irreplaceable.  This isn't one of those books, only because it has been continuously in print and you never have to worry about finding another copy.

I think when the British mention tea with biscuits, they are talking about a cookie or a cracker.  I'm not sure and can't authenticate the matter (too tired and lazy), but I'm pretty sure that these oat and maple biscuits would pass in a pinch.

Maple Oat Biscuits

1 cup oat flour (put one cup plus two tablespoons of oats into your blender and grind it to a flour-y consistency)
1-1/4 cup all purpose flour
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 egg
1/3 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

1.  Cut the butter into the flours, salt, sugar and baking powder until the dough is crumbly, use a pastry cutting thingy, like this:

2.  Mix in the liquid ingredients; maple syrup, egg, vanilla and milk.

No, not enough maple syrup!  I guess I could use honey, sigh.
3.  Mix the sticky dough and turn it out onto a floured surface.  If your dough is too wet, feel free to add flour until you can handle the dough and gently knead it for two to three minutes.

4.   Now for the fun part, rolling and cutting.

5.  Once all the biscuits are cut, put them in the freezer.  I don't know why, it must have something to do with the butter, but biscuits and scones turn out lighter and flakier when they've been frozen before baking.  Fifteen minutes should do it.

6.  Preheat the oven to 425.  Bake the biscuits on parchment paper, an inch apart for 10-14 minutes.

Eat these with lots of sweet butter and jam.  Go ahead cutie, you have my blessing.

26 April 2011

Erma Bombeck's Fuzzy Brownies

One evening at a jewelry party, one of the brownies I was serving dropped on the carpet.  I reached over, picked it off the floor, popped it in my mouth, and said, "A fuzzy brownie never hurt anyone."

A woman I knew only as Nicky looked deep into my eyes and nodded knowingly.  "Only a Pisces on the cusp would say that."

I asked her how she knew.  She said certain traits belonged to certain signs.  According to my birthdate, I was born on a rising sign which made my destiny special.  I was a wonderful homemaker, excellent cook, and fine seamstress.  That wasn't a destiny.  It was a sentence!

from Aunt Erma's Cope Book: How to Get from Monday to Friday . . .in 12 Days

by Erma Bombeck

My son took this picture for me, that's why it is so much better than all the others.

I've read every Erma book at least twice.  When I was pregnant with my son I devoured the books like they were the last chocolates on earth.

I had copies of What to Expect When You're Expecting, The Baby Book by Dr. Sears and Natural Childbirth, the Bradley Way.   But, I barely skimmed these books, tossing them aside in favor of Erma Bombeck.

Her writings were the equivalent of a memoir from a soldier in the trenches.   She knew, man.  Who needs fusty old Dr. Sears when I could read about someone who tried to save money on groceries by making chicken necks, tied together like a raft and set afloat on a sea of blue colored rice! Now that is Hall of Fame worthy!  Speaking of, there should be a Housewife's Hall of Fame, dontcha think?

Anyways, this recipe for cocoa powder brownies has been floating around the internet for a while.  I first read about them on Smitten Kitchen about a year ago and was struck by the look of the brownies, almost black and impossibly fudgy.

I had a tried and true recipe using baker's chocolate (the recipe was on the inside of the cheery orange box) and I had a hard time imagining a brownie that could be as good as one that uses tempered (fancy schmancy word for melted) chocolate.

But these brownies are soooooo good.  Imagine the best brownie in the world and then double it.  A little bitter and densely chocolately in a way I've never experienced before.  Like a flourless chocolate cake (in fact these do have just 1/2 cup of flour) spliced with a salted chocolate truffle, an intensely bittersweet chocolate experience that makes you crave just one more (I ate four and feel a little bit ill now, actually.  Ohhh, my poor tummy).

So here they are, the best brownies in the world. 

Best Cocoa Brownies
From Smitten Kitchen, adapted from Alice Medrich's book, Bittersweet 

The recipe says it makes 25 small brownies, but in my house this batch made just sixteen

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter (I used half salted, its all I had)
1 1/4 sugar (I used almost all raw sugar, too lazy to go out and buy other sugar, plus it was super cold and the grocery store is sooo far away!)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup walnuts or pecans

Preheat the oven to 325 and move your oven rack to the middle.  Prepare an 8x8 pan by lining it with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Don't worry if the parchment wrinkles and doesn't entirely fit your pan.  Jut plop it in with enough hanging over the sides for you to grab onto and pull once the brownies are baked (clean up is so easy).

1.  In the top of a double boiler, or a clean glass bowl set over a bowl of slowly bubbling boiling water, melt the butter.  Add the cocoa, salt and vanilla and stir until some of the grittiness subsides.

2.  Remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat of the stovetop and carefully stir in the eggs, one at a time.  Now add the flour and nuts (if you are using them, if not forget it). 

3.  Once this is all mixed, pour, or rather plop the whole mess into the prepared pan.  These brownies are thick, almost like a bread dough instead of a batter.

4.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  If the brownies don't spread out, with flat even tops when they are done, don't stress yourself, as long as they pass the gooey test (a butter knife slid in comes out with fudgy crumbs and not slick, undercooked chocolate) they are done.  Mine turned out kinda ugly this time, probably because I didn't use the right kind of sugar, but they tasted just as wonderful as always.

5.  Cool the brownies for as long as possible (I stuck mine in the freezer for twenty minutes) before carefully slicing them into squares.  Drop them on the floor for fuzzies or not (I didn't).


09 April 2011

Fairy Pizza

"Faeries like pizza?" I asked.
"Oh, Harry," Toot said breathlessly. "Haven't you ever had pizza before?"
"Of course I have," I said.
Toot looked wounded. "And you didn't share?"

From Storm Front by Jim Butcher

I looooove this book.  I love it so much I've read it three times.  I love it so much I want excerpts read at my funeral.  I want to rip pages from the book and line the walls of my bedroom with them like one of those creepy television villains.  Okay, maybe not that much, it sounds like a lot of work and would put too many little holes in the walls.  Anyway, you know where I'm going with this.

A wizard for hire, a nasty string of dead people with exploded hearts and fairies.  What's not to like? 

Anyway if you like your gumshoe mystery with a supernatural slant, you must try this series.

Oh, also, it has pizza.

I like pizza.  I like it so much that I make it a couple of times a month.  But the big sticking point is the dough.  I've tried  almost a dozen pizza crust recipes, none of them are perfect but this one is the closest yet.

It has a weird ingredient, I like weird ingredients.

Okay, so before you start this I should let you know a few things.  First, I don't have a stand mixer.  Lots of bread recipes list this useful appliance in their directions.  I really hate that.  It smacks of bread elitism (yep, chip on shoulder the size of a challah).

Soooo, if you have a stand mixer, good for you, use it.  This recipe is adapted for making dough the old fashioned pre-industrial revolution way.

Pizza Dough with Wine and Honey
From Simply Great Breads by Daniel Leader and Lauren Chattman

3 cups flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour (this is a slight change from the recipe, but it still turned out pretty tasty)
2 Tablespoons instant yeast (I know it sounds like a lot, but trust me, it works)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cup water, very warm
1/3 white wine (Isn't that crazy weird?!  I slipped and probably tipped in an extra tablespoon, oops)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon honey


1.  In a small bowl mix the very warm water with the honey, sprinkle the yeast on top and set a timer for five minutes.

2.  In a bigger bowl mix the flours and salt.  Once the timer dings, dump the water-yeast-honey mixture into the bowl.  Add the wine and the olive oil and mix the dough until it looks like this.

Looks kinda raggy, right?
3.  Dump the raggedy mess onto a floured surface and knead the heck out of it.  I can't give you an exact time, I kneaded it through the last few minutes of an episode of Camelot, so like seven minutes?

4.  When the dough looks more like dough.

Like this.

Plop it into an oiled bowl, not metal, and cover it with cling wrap or a cloth and place this into a warm spot for two hours (I put mine into the microwave after heating a cup of coffee).

5.  Take the dough out, punch it down and slip it into a ziploc bag and toss it in the refrigerator until tomorrow.

6.  When you are ready to make pizza with it, remove it from the refrigerator about an hour before you add toppings.