Stuff and Nonsense: February 2012


2.29.2012

A Mix A Week(ish): King Arthur Flour's Vermont Cheddar Biscuit Mix

First off, I have to warn you that you can't buy this biscuit mix anymore. I don't know when King Arthur Flour stopped selling it, but I can tell you I bought my biscuit mix in 2008 ... and it's "enjoy by" date was December 16, 2009. (Yes, yes, shame on me). Despite being years out of date, these biscuits baked up really fine and I enjoyed eating them. I've always had a great weakness for cheddar crackers and these biscuits tasted exactly like Cheez-Its. Soft, slightly doughy Cheez-Its. Add a little bacon and, I swear, it you would have biscuit-shaped pieces of heaven.

Cheddar Drop Biscuits

These biscuits were extremely easy to make. I used the drop method, because I wasn't interested in pretty so much as fast, and I add the optional cheese (1 cup Trader Joe's Vintage Reserve Cheddar) and hot sauce (1 teaspoon Huy Fong Foods Sriracha). The biscuit mix already contained powdered Vermont cheddar so the finished biscuits were plenty cheesy and good.

(I feel I should point out that The Husband did not like these biscuits at all. He couldn't get over them tasting, to him, so much like cheddar goldfish crackers while their texture was all soft and biscuit-y).

Wordless Wednesday: A Good Night In

IMG_3050
Brand-new jigsaw puzzle, tea, and hobnobs ... happiness.

2.28.2012

Manga: Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 6

Chi’s Sweet Home: Volume 6 by Kanata Konami (Vertical, 2011)

Chi is now completely comfortable in her new home and, without anything to curb her enthusiasm, her curiosity keeps getting her into scrapes! Like cat owners the world over, the Yamadas are both exasperated and amused by Chi's shenanigans. She tracks mud into the house, eats a houseplant, ruins a birthday, destroys handicrafts, tries to eat a neighbor, and makes a new friend.

It all feels just a little too twee at times -- especially as Chi remains completely oblivious to the trouble she causes and the danger she places herself in -- but I think the last section is setting the story up for a bigger, maybe darker, adventure. Well, as dark an adventure as a ridiculously cute cat in a ridiculously cute cat manga can have!

2.23.2012

Greygallows: A Cracking Good Read

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a gentleman, finding his estate heavily in hock, must be in want of an heiress -- the more easily gulled, the better. And so it is in Greygallows.

Lucy Cartwright, orphan and heiress, has been taken from school by her grasping aunt and thrust into the heart of the marriage mart. Lucy is willing to look for a husband as she knows she has no future but as some mans wife, but she isn’t keen on any of her suitors.

And then the handsome Baron Clare (of mysterious and possibly unsavory heritage) crosses Lucy’s path. He wants her. He woos her. She isn’t sure about him. Yes, she’s thrilled by his attentions, but don’t they seem a bit mechanical? Not that it really matters as Lucy has developed a most unsuitable tendre for her music teacher, the mustachioed Fernando, and attempts to elope with him. Needless to say, the elopement goes awry and, after a terrible illness, Lucy finds herself married to Clare ...
At first I thought it was my morbid imagination, but matters had grown steadily worse. Indifferent to begin with, he was now actively unkind. He could hardly bear the sight of me, and my touch made him shrink with repugnance. Twice he had spoken sharply to me before Mrs. Andrews. She was too well trained to comment, but I had seen in her face the extent of her surprise. His reprimands concerned my carelessness; he accused me of forgetting errands and things he had told me to do. It was true that I felt drowsy and muddleheaded all the time. I had tried to explain that I did not need, or want, the nightly dose of laudanum.
Oh, Greygallows was a cracking good read overflowing with some of my favorite Victorian tropes -- class conflict, women as legal nobodies, secret marriages, widowhood by way of murder/ madness, and those “dark Satanic mills.” Lucy wasn’t the strongest or most vibrant of heroines and the novel’s resolution required far too much exposition, but ... oh, it was fun.

I read Greygallows all in one go, which is probably the best way to do it (I find if I stop and seriously think about a romance while I’m reading it, I lose my ability to suspend disbelief and become very dissatisfied).

Greygallows by Barbara Michaels (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1972)

2.21.2012

Manga: Bunny Drop, Volume 1

Bunny Drop, Volume 1 by Yumi Unita (Yen Press, 2010)

Daikichi is a thirty-year-old single man doggedly grinding away at a life. When he returns home for his seventy-nine-year-old grandpa's funeral, he discovers that his grandfather has left behind a secret six-year-old daughter, Rin .Who is the mother and where is she? No-one knows that, either! And no-one, it appears, seems to care very much. It's bad enough the old man had a child at his age! Let's not think about his secret lover!

Daikichi's family spends the funeral ignoring Rin (as if she were some sort of embarrassment to them rather than a small, lonely child who just lost her dad) and when they finally must come to a decision about her, they all have "good" reasons why they can't take her in. Horrified by his family's lack of feeling, Daikichi steps forward and announces that he'll take Rin in.

I really enjoyed this manga. Despite the many touching moments, Bunny Drop didn't try to be cutesy or aim for cheap laughs about how men don't know how to raise kids -- much of this volume revolves around Daikichi's search for a daycare center that can accommodate his work schedule and, when he can't find one, he asks for a demotion. The situation is very realistically dealt with, but the manga stays up-beat and, yes, heartwarming.

Currently, there are seven volumes in the series and I look forward to reading them -- at least the first four, anyway. There's a ten-year jump between Volumes 4 and 5 and that makes me nervous as it seems like Bunny Drop might become one more high school manga about exams and dating. Won't know until I read them, though.

2.20.2012

Cleaning out the cupboards with ... cookies!

Just like soup, cookies are an excellent way to use up a bunch of odds-and-ends. Last week, faced with multiple open bags of chocolate baking bits, I made a batch of Crisco's "Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies" and there was much rejoicing from The Husband who still thinks that he isn't getting enough cookies. Sir, I have now baked five kinds of cookies since New Year's! That is exponentially more cookie-baking than ever before.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Anyway, to make these cookies I used a combination of Nestle semi-sweet mini morsels, Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips, and Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value white chocolate chunks. The total amount of chocolate was the same as what the recipe called for -- just broken down along different lines. It would have been just as easy to sub in butterscotch chips (had any remained from the Scotchie Experiment) or walnuts. I don't recommend adding more chocolate than the recipe calls for unless you want chocolate studded with cookie instead of cookie studded with chocolate.

These were pretty good cookies -- crisp on the outside, tender in the middle, and (surprisingly) very chocolaty without being very sweet. Were they the "ultimate" chocolate chip cookies? While they were an order of magnitude better than Chips Ahoy, they're can't hold a candle to the Jacques Torres French Kiss Cookies I made in July ... big, buttery, bittersweet, yum!

I still have a ridiculous amount of baking chocolate left on hand:
  • Hershey's unsweetened baking bar
  • Baker's semi-sweet baking chocolate squares
  • Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips (partial)
  • Nestle semi-sweet mini morsels (partial)
  • Nestle semi-sweet chunks
Bake moar cookies?




2.19.2012

Eating the Alphabet: B is for Beets

Have you heard about Eating the Alphabet, hosted by the redoubtable Meal Planning Magic? Each month participants share recipes highlighting fruits and vegetables that start with different letters of the alphabet and it just looks like a lot of fun. Eating the Alphabet 2012 started February 15 with fruits or vegetables starting with the letter A or B. Of course, I came to the party late and am officially joining on for March ... but that doesn't stop me from posting an A&B dish now!

I fully intended "A is for Apricots" and make Crisco's "Apricot Angel Cookies," but didn't quite have the time to bake cookies between today's appointments and worries (worry is a giant time suck, you know). I did have plenty of time to throw a salad together, though, so I ended up with "B is for Beets" by making "Beetroot and Pea Salad." I've had the recipe bookmarked for weeks now as I looked for ways to use that thrice-damned seemedlikeagoodpurchaseatthetime bottle of salad cream in the pantry challenge and now seemed like the perfect moment to give the recipe a whirl.

Lunch!

This is a Allrecipes UK recipe and the ingredient amounts called for didn't quite map to the product sizes in my US pantry so, even though I put my digital scale to work, I had to do a little bit of fudging. I also thought tinned peas in a salad sounded nasty and opted to use thawed frozen peas, instead.

Making Creamy Beets & Peas

Ingredients:
284g (10 oz) thawed frozen peas, thawed
425g (15 oz) can sliced beets, drained and diced into pea-size pieces
35g (1⅛ oz) chopped red onion
125ml (heaping 1½ cups) salad cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Making Creamy Beets & Peas

Put your beets, peas, and onions in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Making Creamy Beets & Peas

Add salad cream to chopped vegetables. It looks a bit like runny custard.

Creamy Beets & Peas

Combine all and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until well chilled.

How did it taste? Pretty darn good. Tangy, slightly sweet, and crunchy. I think it would have been better with freshly cooked beets, rather than canned, but it still made for a delicious Spring-ish light lunch.

Could you make this salad without salad cream? Sure, why not? Salad cream's sweet and runny so you'll want to substitute a sweet mayonnaise like Miracle Whip diluted with a little milk or you could use a regular mayonnaise like Hellmann's and add a little sugar or honey with the milk. Or you could be a real rebel, say "to heck with sweetness," and use plain Greek yoghurt or sour cream. Mind you, the vulgar foodie part of my brain keeps recommending ranch dressing so I wouldn't recommend listening to anything I say right now!

Amended 4:03 2012-02-19: Ohhh, even though I'm late, Brenda's allowing me to enter my beets for February's Eating the Alphabet! Thanks, Brenda! Looking forward to March.

2.15.2012

Wordless Wednesday: My Horrible Valentine

A Horrible Valentine from The Husband:



It reads:
Getting to know you was like crawling inside the bum of a tiger: dangerous at first ... but once inside, it took me places beyond my wildest dreams.
Yes, that is a head peeking out of the tiger's bum. I think I'm flattered.

2.08.2012

Wordless Wednesday: Human, This Is Our Chair!

2 Cats, 1 Chair
They like to roost on the back of my chair, paw my ears,
and head-butt the back of my head for attention.

2.04.2012

A Mix A Week(ish): Jacques Torres Chocolate Pure Bliss Fudge Brownies

It's been over a month since my last Mix a Week post! I tidied all my mixes away in early December so I would have room for holiday cooking and then just forgot about them! Whoops. Obviously, they popped up again when I inventoried my cabinets for the pantry challenge, but I chose to ignore them because I was doing a pantry challenge not a baking challenge. Then Taste of Hartford started up last week and the pantry challenge fell by the wayside so I had no excuse not to bake and every reason to -- especially as The Husband was making noises about how no-one ever bakes him cookies. To shut him up, I decided to bake the richest, most decadent thing I could think of -- Jacques Torres Chocolate Pure Bliss Fudge Brownies.

Jacques Torres Chocolate Pure Bliss Fudge Brownie Mix

I'd baked a batch of Jacques Torres Chocolate French Kiss Cookies last July using a mix I'd bought at King Arthur Flour and, as they were some of the best chocolate chip cookies I had ever eaten, I had high expectations for these brownies ... expectations which were met and surpassed. These were dark, decadent, unrelentingly chocolate-y brownies. Definitely not your every day glass-of-milk-after-school brownies. No, these were grown-up brownies.

And, like many adult pleasures, they took a little time and effort to bring off. I had to melt butter slowly and combine ingredients thoroughly, but gently, and then walk away for a bit. And then come back and add more ingredients. Then the baking. Then the cooling. Then the making of a glaze by melting ingredients and whisking them with other ingredients. Finally, I spread the glaze on the brownies and let them set overnight. That's right, these were next day brownies!

But, they were worth the wait! And I'm an adult so no-one can say boo if I had one for breakfast ...

Jacques Torres Chocolate Brownie

(According to the box, this mix makes 12 brownies, but I managed to cut the 9" square into 16 pieces and that was just about perfect for us. These are very dark, decadent brownies and I found we didn't need much more than a bite-size piece to satiate our chocolate cravings).