Category Archives: failure

Pieless

failed cherry tart

Here’s the hard truth: I don’t like cherry pie. I do like pie itself, and I adore cherries, but hot cherries encased in crust defy the concept of summer, because when they’re wet and gooey like that, they’re very hard to eat out of your hand, the way you’re supposed to. If the logic followed, I would also dislike blueberry and blackberry pies, but neither is the case. The pop of hot blackberries makes me swoon, but warm cherries always seem too meek to be pleasurable. There’s just no snap to them, first of all; in a crust, if you want that good gooey fruit gel, the fruit, by nature, sags a little. Unless you use real tart pie cherries, which are both more difficult to find and priced more astronomically, the balance between sweet and tart just isn’t there. Not for me, at least. So while the rest of the country sits idly by, smug in their relationship to cherry pie (and by extension with their identity as Americans), I twiddle my fresh-picked cherry stems in my hands, and go pieless.

Life is just a bowl of cherries

It’s a good thing, then, that pie is infinitely flexible. Last weekend, we trekked out to Curlew, WA for our (now) yearly weekend of fun and adventure. It’s essentially a potluck that lasts 3 days, so instead of bringing, say, some pork, one might bring an entire pig. One woman brought a savory tart unlike any I’d ever tried. It was made in a tart pan, but it had both a top and bottom crust. Inside, she’d tucked sautéed greens and onions, and there was something about raisins as well. I clearly don’t remember the particulars (to be honest, I didn’t taste it because I got distracted carving up a pig), except that the crust was made with eggs and olive oil, and that she said she picked the crust recipe – which browned extremely evenly – because it advertised complete forgiveness. (It was dairy-free, but she’d brushed the top with butter, for good measure.) I decided I’d love to be a human as forgiving as a good piecrust.

Jean's savory tart

As we wound our way back through the state last night, more or less oblivious to the holiday after celebrating it, once again, at the Chesaw Rodeo, my friend’s nicely tanned little tart kept peeking back into my thoughts. I decided that if I could make an interesting, flavorful tart crust for this here pie party and fill it with cherries—but somehow differently, avoiding the soggy cherry problem—then I might change my mind about cherry pie. Chuffed, I plotted a cherry tart with an emmer flour and olive oil crust, and a blended cherry filling that had all the flavor of a good cherry pie but none of the textural issues. I’d pile fresh sliced cherries and whipped cream on top, and I’d get the snap of summer and whipped cream and that good, flaky crust all in one big fantasy cherry bite.

cherry tart with olive oil crust

But today didn’t start the way I expected. Today started with a two-year-old with a 103-degree fever, and mountains of laundry, and snuggles, and tears, and real life where there might have been more time for cherry pie-ish things. I set aside lofty goals of productivity and decided my single task for the day was this tart. Sure, I had a sick kid – but I also had our nanny to myself for the day. She and I took turns stirring while the other doled out a fire hydrant’s worth of liquid hug, until somehow, part way through the day, a tart entered the oven. Chuffed, indeed.

Then it came out. It looked nice, I think. The crust was patted beautifully into place, and the filling – just the perfect amount, I might add – baked up beautifully. I let it cool with more patience than I characteristically have, and cut into it mid-afternoon, thinking I’d have the perfect snacking slice. But it wasn’t perfect. There wasn’t enough cherry to balance out the crust, and the emmer flavor overtook the cherry flavor, and dammit, people, I didn’t like the taste of the cherry filling, even though the texture was so much better.

I’m not sure what to say. I just wanted to make a pie today, a good version of cherry pie that would make me feel like an honest Washingtonian, and I failed. I don’t like cherry pie. I will never be anyone’s cherry pie. I don’t ever really want to make cherry pie again, and for some reason, this makes me feel incredibly guilty. I’m not always the Debbie Downer of the pie party, I promise – see, I’ve even texted my sister, who’s coming for dinner, and asked her to bring a pie, because I do like pie sometimes, I promise. Just not this one. Forgive me?

(The crust, though. You’ll see this crust again.)

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Meet Darla

Sausage and summer veg strata 2

It’s the same sort of day as most of the other days here in Seattle, I suppose. I’m sitting at a coffee shop, next to a woman who appears, at a brief glance, to be editing a Swedish-Chinese dictionary.

I’ve started working again, three days a week. Sitting down at Herkimer, my body remembered all the right moves—sidling into a seat before getting coffee because the line was long, shyly sneaking my yogurt snack into the corner of my little bench seat, tuning into Basia Bulat. I even remembered my favorite barista’s name.

It all seems amazingly simple: I had a certain life. Then I had a child. Now I have a different sort of life, and I also have a child. Life’s changed, but then again, it hasn’t.

I can’t imagine anything better, for me, for now.

At least, I couldn’t, until we got a new dishwasher.

Darla

A new dishwasher, people, really does change a life. It’s not that we didn’t have one before. We did. It was white and dirty, rusty inside and cranky. It didn’t clean dishes particularly well, and our dinner plates didn’t fit inside. I consider myself neither a dishwasher snob nor a connoisseur, but clearly, fitting one’s dishes inside and getting them clean should be two of a dishwasher’s top attractions.

I actually learned a few things in the buying process:

a) a dishwasher should wash your dishes for you, not after you

b) putting rinsed dishes in the dishwasher with abrasive soap leads to cloudy glassware

c) with a new energy-efficient dishwasher, you really only need about a tablespoon of soap

The new one is named Darla. Yes, I named it. I mean her. But only after some thorough testing. She had to earn her keep, you see.

It turns out that the guy I bought our new KitchenAid from, Joe, has an appliance blog. Yes, he blogs about dishwashers and refrigerators and washing machines. When he told me, I tried to stifle a laugh. But then he challenged me: Try everything, he said. See if you can stump your dishwasher. Then tell me what happens.

So I did. I baked blueberry crisp, ate half of it, and reheated the leftovers, so the purple scrapies on the bottom burned right into the pan. I left the empty pan in the sink overnight, untouched, and Darla cleaned it right up.

Cranberry goop

Then I made Thanksgiving. I know that sounds crazy. It was mid-August and 85 degrees outside, but I was working on some recipes for a November issue, and I didn’t see any way to avoid it. Darla took on the sticky cranberry sauce ring, and a  challinging kale gratin dish, and boy, did she shine.

Hand tarts, assorted

Next I made little hand tarts. I let the fruit bubble up and over the cornmeal crust, right down into the baby brulee dishes I baked them in, and plunked the dishes right onto the top rack, berry crusties and all. The first time, they didn’t come quite clean, but once I moved them to the bottom rack, where the real business gets done, she came through.

Hand tart mess

Finally, I gave her cheese. I made a sausage- and vegetable-studded breakfast strata, and baked it until the top layer of cheese – the cheese leather, Jim calls it – was good and brown. We ate a third of it for breakfast the first day, then a third the second day, and the last of it on yet a third day, reheating it in the oven each time and cementing (at least we thought) layers of cheese to the dish’s topsides. Again: clean.

Strata to bake on

Darla darling, we love you for your cleaning ability. Joe was right. You can do anything.

Now, if you could only figure out how to dry the dishes, we’d be much obliged. Joe said you might not like our eco-froofroo dishwashing detergent. We switched to something that looks much more environmentally harmful, but you’re still not happy.

Darla. Oh, Darla. What should we do? We’ll have to call Joe again.

Sausage and summer veg strata

Sausage & Summer Vegetable Strata (PDF)

It’s easy to fold summer’s best produce into lunches and dinners, but I think we too often forget how good the garden tastes first thing in the morning. Here’s a make-ahead strata that shines with bright cherry tomatoes and zucchini. You can buy a baguette just for the occasion and let it sit out overnight, to dry it out, but I love to use up all the old bread heels that somehow end up congregating in the corner of my freezer.

TIME: 15 minutes prep time, plus 30 minutes baking time

MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

4 large eggs

3/4 cup half and half

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Butter (for the pan)

1/2 day-old baguette, cut into 1” cubes (or 4 cups cubes of assorted bread)

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 small zucchini, chopped into 1/2” pieces

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

1 heaping cup cooked, crumbled sausage (from 1 large sausage, about 1/3 pound)

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Whiz the eggs, half and half, milk, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper together in a blender until well mixed. Butter an 8” x 8” casserole dish (or similar), and arrange the baguette chunks in an even layer in the dish. Scatter the feta, zucchini, tomatoes, and sausage evenly over the bread, then pour the egg mixture over everything, turning and scooping so that all the bread pieces are moistened. Top with the cheddar. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

Before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the foil and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the top layer is toasted and melty. Serve warm.

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Filed under bread, Breakfast, commentary, failure, kitchen adventure, pork, recipe, vegetables

A Two-Dog Pie

Sour Cherry-Rhubarb Pie

I baked my little heart out today.

First it was blueberry muffins, to fuel a morning at Workimer, and the most absurdly easy macaroons. Then banana bread, for the freezer. (We have eight friends coming next week.) Then sour cherry pie, my first with real pie cherries.

pitting sour cherries

I’d never actually tried sour cherries, come to think of it. Smaller and softer, they’re so much more feminine than a Bing. At first, they taste like cherries in a bitchy mood, but after I got used to their punch, I decided I love them. And indeed, when I broke into them with my fingernails, pitting them all by hand without the use of a knife or a pitter, I felt a little more feminine myself. My fingernails are finally long enough to be good for something, I thought. I smugged inside, and thanked the steroids.

I’d made the nicest crust. I planned to have friends over for pie, and pretend it’s something we do all the time on a Sunday afternoon. On Friday, I stayed up late with my crust, with two whole sticks of butter, and the patience to add water until the dough clung together just enough. I even tied the two sections of dough together. (Who was it that told me once that it works, that a double-crusted pie bakes happier when its two halves sleep together in the fridge overnight?)

Nestling pie crusts

Oh yes, I did all the right things. I bought instant tapioca, because I’d never thickened with it before, and even folded my rhurbarb patch’s midseason surge in with the cherries.

Sour cherries and rhubarb

Then a friend called, just when I was about to roll the crust out. I turned my back, and in the time it took me to put a measuring cup in the sink, my dog stole about twenty percent of the dough. Right off the counter, in front of me, like I wasn’t even there. Just took a bite, and chewed thoughtfully, which is unusual – she’s a gulper, through and through. I’m sure that if she could speak, she’d have said Why yes, Jess, this is a fabulous crust. I can’t wait to taste it later.

We had a discussion, and she was exiled to the porch.

But really, it wasn’t that big of a deal – the skimpier crust forced me to roll the dough thinner than I’d have normally dared, and when I draped the last part of the lattice over the top, I almost shrieked with excitement. I brushed it with cream, sprinkled it with sugar, and tucked it into the oven with a twirl and a dance I’m glad no one got on film.

After it had cooled, I tapped my fingernails on the crust, and it made the hollow, almost tinny sound crust only makes when it’s impossibly flaky. I clapped, pushed the pie into the corner of the counter, where I knew my dog couldn’t get it, and texted my friends with a cherry pie invite. I ran out into the yard to clip flowers for the patio table.

A few minutes later, Scout, the Golden Retriever we’re watching this weekend, pranced down the deck stairs with my red oven mitt in his mouth. He was all wag.

Scout ate my pie

Scout ate my pie.

For the record, I didn’t cry. I didn’t get straight to work on another crust, either, which is surprising, because I wanted nothing more than to put him in one, all chopped up.

I screamed and shouted at him, and mourned for what seemed more like a masterpiece with every passing minute. Scout thought it was all a fantastic show, and wanted to know, Would perhaps a tennis ball help us enjoy my fit? My husband came home, and I wailed into his shoulder.

My first sour cherry pie. My perfect crust. How could he?

And was Bromley in on it? Did they plan the one-two punch, step by step pie ruination?

We salvaged two pieces out of the edge Scout didn’t touch. The crust was perfect. (Of course I can say that now that you can’t taste it, but really, it was. I promise.) The tapioca gelled the cherries together, and the filling sang with flavor.

Jim scraped what remained of the top half of the pie into the garbage, and saved the bottom crust, and its clingy bits, in a rosy heap in a Tupperware container.

“We’ll bake it again in the morning, and it’ll taste delicious,” he said. His optimism failed to cheer me.

I may find the ingredients again, because I may have been converted – sour cherries are worth their price, I know that much now. I may type the recipe out, so you can make it too.

But for now, I need a serious pout.

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299: A pumpkin loses its pizazz

Searing sweet-fleshed pumpkins seemed like a good idea, after the fennel. I told Kathy about my plan, and she agreed they’d be delicious, and recommended a splash of balsamic vinegar at the end.

I found a baby sugar pumpkin that weighed a pound and a quarter:

Sugar pumpkin

I cut it in half, scooped out the seeds, and sliced it into thin wedges, only about 1″ thick at the fattest part. I tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and seared them in a hot skillet (arranged all pretty):

Pumpkin cut for searing

for four or five minutes on each side, until they got nice and brown. I added a quarter cup of balsamic vinegar,

Caramelizing pumpkin

and watched it bubble and hiss as it reduced and eventually coated the pumpkin slices with a deep mahogany crust of flavor.

Caramelized Pumpkin

I tried one, I really did. I liked it at the time.

But by the time our friends came over for dinner, and I’d reheated the pumpkin in a 400 degree oven for a few minutes, the pumpkin had lost whatever pizazz I thought I’d recognized earlier, and we all played with them, pushing them around our plates, focusing things we liked better, coating it in the sauce from the pork, for more flavor.

Maybe they weren’t meant to be reheated. Maybe they were meant to be deep-fried, like the gorgeous kabocha tempura I had with Sarah and Hilary in Japan. Or maybe they just weren’t meant to be.

Finally, someone said it out loud. This pumpkin isn’t my favorite.

Mine neither.

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Boiled fingers and hot sauce

Slow cooked pork, just out of crock pot

I peel the mesh covering off the slow-cooked pork shoulder and place the pork on a cutting board. I’ve seared it good and brown, and it doesn’t take more than a nudge to get the meat to start flaking off in fat, juicy strips. My heart does that little pork dance, and I preheat the oven and set out corn tortillas and cheese in anticipation of a Top 10 Spicy Enchilada experience.

Slow-cooked pork

The pork has been braising all day in a mixture of various hot peppers, chicken stock, garlic, and limeade (work with me here, it was in the fridge), and the meaty, spicy scent had me checking the clock all morning long. After I take the pork out, I add a few peaches, for sweetness, and blend the whole thing into a greenish liquid with the consistency of tomato soup.

Then the night’s success screeches to a halt.

I try the sauce. It’s so spicy I can hardly breathe for a few minutes, like when you put your head under water in a too-cold lake and everything feels like it’s caving in in in. My capacity for spicy food is admittedly challenged, but this is – to me – unpalatable. My husband comes upstairs, so I hand him a soup spoon full of the stuff, which by now I’ve put on the stove to boil down, in the event that he can actually eat it. (If a food nearly kills me, I almost always immediately hand it to him. I realize this and wonder if it says something about us. Or just me.)

His eyes light up. “You made hot sauce!” he says. “That’s so cool!”

This is why I married you.

So the brilliant idea to reduce the braising liquid to make a green enchilada sauce sort of fizzles, because eating it would mean frying my taste buds and the majority of the soft tissue lining my throat. But I think it’s salvageable. I blend up a giant can’s worth of diced tomatoes, intending to add some of the green monster to the tomato puree until I get a flavorful, palatable concoction thick enough to use as enchilada sauce. But halfway through pouring a cup of the (now simmering) spicy stuff into the tomatoes, I zone out and pour liquid green magma across the top two sections of all four fingers on my right hand.

Instead of marching to the freezer right away for the trusty bag of peas I keep frozen just for moments like these, I muffle my scream and finish making a pretty good – for patchwork – enchilada sauce. Tito figures out that something is Not Right – because I’m still ignoring my hand but my body language must show I’m pissed – and begins to ask how he can help, grating cheese, etc. I manage to wrestle six too-dry corn tortillas around my random mixture of the pork, cheese, and some of the sauce, and plop them unceremoniously into a pan and top them with sauce and cheese before shoving it all in the oven, setting the timer, and heading for the peas.

Meanwhile, Tito senses my impending collapse, and finagles the remaining ingredients into another pan: He layers the tortillas, meat, cheese, and sauce into a sort of Mexican casserole, the way he’s seen Kelly do it when she makes her mom’s amazing Mexican Lasagne (which, for health purposes, should be avoided, simply because I really believe it’s made with equal parts meat, cheese, and sour cream, with perhaps a sauce or a tortilla somewhere in there as a garnish). He takes my ripped, sad-looking enchiladas out of the oven because he knows we don’t need both dishes, and because his dish looks better (though not much). He wraps them up properly for freezing (my, he’s learned some things), first with foil, then with plastic, then bustles about, reporting cheese melting, cheese bubbling, cheese browning, etcetera. I give up on reading, because I can’t hold the peas on my hand and hold my book at the same time, and I try to take a shower, but the water’s too hot for my hand to stay in long. I put on pajamas, and refuse to brush my wet hair. Crankiness spreads to every cell. I’m pouting over the sauce that could have been so beautiful, and my boiled fingers.

Then dinner is ready. I hobble to the table (somehow the burn on my fingers has affected my lower body as well), and the casserole is warm, perfectly spicy, and heinous to look at. But the meat is perfect, and there’s a giant pot of really good hot sauce on the stove.

And it occurs to me, with a surfable wave of relief, that we had planned to have company for dinner.

Today, I’m sprouting little blisters along the tops of my fingers, and a few of my knuckles actually appear bruised, which I can’t figure out. And we now have a healthy supply of hot sauce.

I’m not sure how to give you this recipe. The pork is delicious (and really only slightly spicy) on its own, but the intended enchilada sauce should probably not be used as such, as is. Below is what I actually did, so you can make pulled pork and homemade hot sauce – if you want to make enchilada sauce, combine a blended 35-ounce can of diced tomatoes with enough of the blended green sauce to give it the heat you like (but watch your hands). That should give you roughly enough sauce to make two (11×7 )pans of 6 enchiladas each, mixing them meat with a little of the sauce and a few big handfuls of shredded cheese for filling.

It’s clear that the slow cooker and I are not meant to be working together right now. More in cooler weather.

Pulled Pork lasagne

Pepper-Braised Pork and Homemade Hot Sauce (PDF)
(AKA Failed Spicy Slow-Cooked Pork Enchiladas)
Recipe 256 of 365

Pile juicy, moist pulled pork into sandwiches, burritos, or quesadillas with cheese and anything else that strikes your fancy, and serve with the hot sauce for dipping.

I used Newman’s Own limeade. (“Made with tart virgin limes,” it says. As opposed to what other kinds of limes?)

TIME: 45 minutes active time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings, plus lots of hot sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (2 1/2 pound) pork shoulder roast, patted dry, tied with string (most come tied)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Anaheim chilies, tops cut off and cut into round slices (with seeds)
2 serrano chilies, tops cut off and cut into round slices (with seeds)
2 jalapeno chilies, tops cut off and cut into round slices (with seeds)
1 small red onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups limeade
3 cups chicken broth
2 large peeled, pitted peaches, chopped

Heat a large, heavy pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, and swirl to coat the pan. Season the pork with salt and pepper, and cook the pork for 4 to 5 minutes per side, until well browned on all sides.

Transfer the pork to a slow cooker, add the remaining ingredients except the peaches, plus a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, and cook on low heat for 8 hours, turning over once during cooking (not crucial, but preferred).

When done, transfer the meat to a cutting board, remove the string, and shred with a fork and knife. Use as desired.

To make the hot sauce, carefully puree the cooking liquid, along with the peaches, in a blender or food processor. (This is best done in batches, unless you have an immersion blender, in which case you can whirl everything together right in the slow cooker.) Transfer to a large saucepan, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until sauce begins to thicken. Let cool to room temperature, then store in airtight containers in the refrigerator and use as needed.

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209: A very pretty salad I’ll never make again

Beet Caprese 1

I’ve been a little frustrated recently in the recipe department, not because the ideas haven’t been flowing, but because at some level I do believe food is best at its most simple, and dipping into summer’s best produce – the first heirloom tomatoes bathed in olive oil and sea salt, for example – pretty much beats anything, anytime. But nooooo, I have to do something different. What a slap in the face for Mother Nature. Really.

Last week I came across a recipe in Sunset Magazine for a peach and mint caprese salad with a curry vinaigrette; it turned me back to caprese. I crossed it with an idea from a book I tested recipes for, which had a star of a recipe featuring tiny beets layered into a tower with rounds of goat cheese, and decided I’d try a beet and mozzarella caprese tower, a stack of big chiogga beets and fleshy mozz with mint leaves and the more traditional balsamic drizzle.

The beets turned out to be all different colors on the inside (they’d all been sold as chiogga, and the skins had been roughly the same shade), which made for a great color. I broke out the good balsamic, all .5 ounces of it, and the good olive oil. I stacked and drizzled, and ooh, was she pretty, sliced right down the center:

Beet Caprese halved

But when my husband and I sat down to eat, the excitement fizzled. It turns out that a good Caprese relies as much on the textural similarities between tomatoes and mozzarella (or peaches and mozzarella, I hope) as it does on their affinities for each other flavor-wise. In my first bite, the firm, sweet roasted beets clashed with the moist, soft mozzarella. I tried again: still wrong. Even the mint was too thick – slightly fuzzy, compared to basil’s silky leaves, and too assertive for the mozzarella and delicate olive oil.

I separated the beets from the cheese, ate the beets, then used the mozzarella to mop up all the salt-kissed balsamic and olive oil.

Back to the chopping block. I made a more traditional caprese with the remaining mozzarella, a good tomato, and a scoop of pesto. I realized how sad I was about the beets not working out when I compared the caprese ingredients I’d slapped onto my plate:

Jess' caprese

to my husband’s carefully crafted presentation:
Tito's caprese

I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. Time for tomatoes with olive oil and salt.

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Red State Scones, or, I think I lost my mojo

A long, arduous process for a short recipe with time-dependent success:

My friend Michaela sent me an email that went something like this:

You have to try these biscuits (and then tweak them the way you do):

4 cups bisquick
2 tablespoons melted buttah
1/4 turbinado sugah
12 oz cheap beer (use Bud, it’s the best for this.)
Mix all together, and plop into well greased muffin tins. Bake at 400 for 12-15 minutes.

Now, I trust this person. And I thought hey, couldn’t you just plop the dough onto a baking sheet and essentially get scones?

But after once writing an article which required testing enough recipes to use more than two boxes’ worth of Bisquick in a day, I can’t look at the stuff. “Real buttermilk?” Not so much. Real buttermilk is liquid.

So I played with her recipe, the way I do, substituting Bob’s Red Mill‘s wholesome multigrain pancake mix. And I’d recently received a windfall of Dry Soda (the best soda in the world, by the way), and had been meaning to try cooking or baking with it a bit. Plus, this is not a Budweiser household. My husband is a beer snob, and proud of it. So I substituted Dry’s lavender flavor for the beer, envisioning easy, fluffy scones with a hint of lavender.

I did all of this on Sunday morning, before my garden extravaganza, in about ten minutes, deciding at the last minute to add some cherries (okay, so maybe fifteen minutes, if you’re slow at pitting cherries). I took my scone out onto the porch, reading David Sedaris’s latest piece in The New Yorker and cherishing the blue early morning light.

A Good Morning

I enjoyed my scone, and then another, even though there wasn’t even the faintest hint of lavender to them.

There is a fine line between baked goods made more wholesome with whole grains and baked goods whose wholesomeness makes them no longer any good. These cherry scones were right on the line, but at the time, I thought they were pretty good, so I innocently doled them out to neighbors and passers by and, well, just about the whole neighborhood.

Whole Wheat Cherry Scones

Then sometime in the middle of the afternoon, I broke into one, only to discover that Bisquick’s preservatives, which presumably made Michaela’s similar baked goods last a day or two, had not been on active duty in my own hippie dippie version. I was now the proud owner of Cherry-Not Lavender Whole Wheat Hockey Pucks.

So. I did my best to put out of my mind the possibility that my scone victims hadn’t eaten them while still warm. I decided to classify them as a failure, and either try not to post the recipe or work on them again, when I had the emotional energy to face a Bisquick box or a class on pastry preservation.

Then this evening, on a day when I’d procrastinated my recipe writing to the very last thing, more failures: I bought cherries, intending to make a cherry buckle after tasting a deconstructed blueberry buckle at a restaurant event. But when I looked it up, I realized I’d confused a buckle (cake and fruit) with a slump (biscuit topping and fruit), and I was so disappointed that any combination of those old New England fruit recipes suddenly turned me off.

I dug out some parsnips from the farmers’ market, simmered them like carrots in water and butter and glazed them with port. Guess what? Yellow plus purple equals vomit color. Should have learned that in one quarter of art class in 7th grade. And mushy. They’re still sitting on the counter, waiting for their sentence.

Suddenly I felt like I had very little time before midnight and no real recipe plan, which is unusual for me. So I returned to the scones, becuase I’m stubborn like that (and I had the cherries). I bought Bisquick, cursing myself at the checkout counter. I made the scones with beer this time, a hefeweizen, ignoring the obvious oddity that I was essentially making beer scones, for breakfast, late at night. (Beer and cherries, isn’t that a traditional breakfast combination in . . .?) In went the cherries and this time, walnuts.

Oh my. They look so American, so Wonder Bread. Definitely not the drying British scone, more like a . . .well, more like a pancake with body fat and bad make-up, a good ol’ Red State scone. (A joke, of course.) And though I’m sure they’ll still be as squishy and delicious in the morning, the flavor they’re missing, dear reader, is that of real, whole wheat.

Bisquick cherry scones

With some trepidation, here is a recipe with many options – you be the judge. I’d say use the Bob’s Red Mill and the Dry Soda and just eat them hot.

Not such a good night in the kitchen. Sigh.

Recipe for Quick Americanized Scones with Cherries and Walnuts
Recipe 155 of 365

Though the origin of this recipe is uncertain, my friend Michaela sent me the basic proportions. If you prefer a muffin-shaped biscuit, bake them a few minutes longer, in well-greased muffin tins.

TIME: 10 to 15 minutes active time
MAKES: a baker’s dozen

4 cups Bisquick or whole-grain pancake mix
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup turbinado (raw) sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 1/4 cups beer or lightly carbonated soda, such as Dry Soda
2 cups pitted, halved cherries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with silicon baking mats or parchment paper, or grease a 12-cup muffin tin, and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the baking mix, butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and beer or soda until combined. (The dough will be fairly wet.) Fold in the cherries and walnuts, and drop by 1/4 cupfuls onto the baking sheet (or into the muffin tins). Sprinkle the tops with more of the sugar.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden.

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Filed under Breakfast, failure, kitchen adventure

These muffins ROCK

A few weeks ago I had a most inspiring green tea muffin with azuki beans at Fresh Flours, a wonderful little Japanese/French bakery up here with me on Phinney Ridge. It reminded me that I bought a package of azuki beans at the Seiyu in Yokosuka, Japan with Hilary almost exactly two years ago. (Akk! Just found out Seiyu is owned by Wal-Mart!) They’ve been sitting quietly in my cupboard ever since (they even made the move with us). I’ve been meaning to explore with them a bit; they’re a staple in Japanese pastries and make a wonderfully sweet, earthy filling.

Anyway, when I had this particularly moist muffin, its interior had the unearthly flourescence that matcha gives almost anything. The beans looked like chocolate chips, and had a similar sweetness and mouthfeel, but obviously a completely different flavor. I vowed to recreate it.

Fast forward to last week, when I tasted Trader Joe’s boxed green tea muffin mix at an in-store sampling. It made my food memory spasm and triggered a must have response.

Green Tea muffin mix

I’m not usually into boxed stuff, but I had this wild fantasy of recreating the Fresh Flours muffin with minimal work and research, right in the privacy of my own home. (It might be worth admitting here that I walk my dog daily to a turn-around spot exactly one block from Fresh Flours; it would be quite simple for me to pick one up every day.)

So. I got out the azuki beans. This is what the package told me:

Azuki beans from SeiyuAzuki bean instructions

Very helpful. But instead of going to the trusty internets to find out how to cook them (I only knew they needed to be boiled with sugar), I logically decided that guessing blindly would be the quickest, surest way to success. So I soaked them overnight, which did not change their appearance or texture in the slightest, and cooked them for a few hours with some sugar. The plan was this: I’d make the muffins according to the package instructions, using green tea instead of water to boost the flavor a bit, folding in some perfectly-cooked azuki beans like you would with blueberries, and topping them off with plenty of turbinado-style raw cane sugar.

When the beans seemed soft enough, I did all these things. I put the muffins in the oven, and they came out beautifully:

Green tea muffins with azuki beans

Then I looked down at the liquid I’d drained out of the azuki beans. It wasn’t so much a liquid as a caramel: a deep mahogany-colored, bean-flavored caramel.

Azuki bean caramel

It was beyond delicious; I wanted to dip anything I could get my hands on into it, bananas, chocolate, anything. But there was a problem: the leftover caramel meant that I had in fact cooked the beans in a sugar solution that had cooked too far; the beans in the muffins would have a caramelized coating on the outside, rather than a soft, fluffy exterior that would allow a little muffin batter to soak in.

Sure enough, when I bit into the first warm, steaming muffin, I got a wonderful green tea flavor and a mouth full of rocks.

Back to the drawing board.

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Filed under bread, failure, recipe, Seattle

Moldy Zucchini

There is no truer judge of flavor than a full stomach.

Last night I roasted zucchini with a thin smear of white miso and a drizzle of sesame oil, in a hot oven unitl the miso browned a bit. My timing was a little off, so it came out of the oven after we’d finished the rest of our dinner. It looked like this:

Zucchini with Miso

Not bad, eh?

I like roasted green beans with miso and ginger, and I’ve been thinking miso-lemon sauce would be tasty on broccoli. But last night’s experiment was a total flop (which, if you remember the rules, does count).

I took one bite and pushed my plate to the side. My husband ate his whole zucchini half, chewing thoughtfully between bites. I thought he might actually like it, and I was beginning to lose faith in his palate entirely, until he turned to me, and with an expression of utmost concern, said “Jess. This tastes like moldy zucchini.”

But I don’t think anything was actually bad, except the basic flavor. This is all I ate:

This is all I ate.

We’ll count that as a failure.

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Filed under failure, recipe, side dish, vegetables