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Susan’s Month

January 8, 2013
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I resolved in 2013 to keep a Martha-like calendar, so I took the liberty of tweaking hers a bit to fit my life. I crossed out things that didn’t apply to me, and altered some other items to be more realistic. I feel more organized already!

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Birds of a…

December 3, 2012
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[Editor's Note: I drafted this three weeks ago but forgot to publish, because FALL IS CRAZY AND NO ONE CAN ENJOY IT PROPERLY.]

In November, Kevin Sharkey recommended stuffing some stray feathers and nuts into a bell jar to decorate for Thanksgiving, like so…

Feather Centerpiece

Cut to my dining room sideboard, which sported a VERY SIMILAR feather ‘n glass thing long before Sharkey’s piece.

My Feather Centerpiece

Bell jar. Wine carafe. Whatever. The thing is too heavy for me to lift, so it gets feathers (apologies to Mike and Ritsuko. It’s still a great gift!)

Point is, Sharkey and I – in addition to using the same skin care products – are basically related.

Gluten is bad; Brownies are good.

October 18, 2012
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Last night, Someone Who Will Remain Nameless (whose name rhymes with Romenick) hollered, “Gluten is the Devil!” as I reached for a mini biscuit at a fancy event that rhymes with Mystery Makers, to which I replied, “I just made gluten free brownies this weekend, so back off bub and pass the cheese balls!”   And those brownies were damn good. Possibly because they contain loads of sugar and cornstarch, but not ONE IOTA of gluten. No sir.

Romenick meant well. He really did. I forgive him. Make these today and get in on this gluten hate-fest.

Gluten-Free Fudgy Pecan Brownies

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for pan
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch (spooned and leveled)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup chopped toasted pecans

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides. Whisk together cornstarch, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. In a large microwave-safe bowl, microwave butter and chocolate in 30-second increments, stirring each time, until melted and smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in sugar and vanilla. Stir in eggs, one at a time, until combined. Add cornstarch mixture and stir vigorously until mixture is smooth and begins to pull away from side of bowl, about 2 minutes. Stir in pecans.
  2. Pour batter into pan and smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 35 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Using paper overhang, lift cake out of pan and cut into 16 squares.

The Kitchen Is Back!

June 16, 2012
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I’ve been taught a lesson about blaspheming Martha. 

After all my chastising of Living for veering away from food in recent years, hold onto your whisks, everyone… April 2012 contained the perfect recipe. And I would have posted about it in the elapsed time between now and then, but I’ve been too busy making it over and over again. Guys, I may never make anything else ever again! 

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It’s a game-changer!

The magazine section involved seems to be a mad, mad mash-up of the old Cooking 101 and the (I GUESS) old What’s For Dinner, since I suppose we have to accept that the pull-out card section is now an entertaining feature. The new section is “Cooking. What’s for dinner?” or, more accurately, “COOKING what’s for dinner?” I can only surmise that the all-caps is meant to draw you in while the italics emphasize the giant hole in your heart where the good old days used to be.

 

I must admit, my bitter tears did nothing to water down my instant interest in this new Cwfd? section. Pasta is my favorite favorite comfort food, and I would happily lie atop a bed of angel hair at night and then eat the entire thing in the morning for breakfast. This article, “Rethink Your Pasta Routine” outlined the method of cooking pasta that sticklers for genuine Italian cooking insist upon: boiling it while you make the sauce, then finishing it in the sauce skillet so that the pasta can absorb the flavors (bonus: no colander washing and you can spoon pasta water directly into the sauce from the pot instead of throwing tap water in because you forgot to save some of it before you drained the pasta, which I would NEVER do, Martha).

All of the recipes looked good,* but the showstopper was Bucatini with Red Clam Sauce and Hot Pepper.

 Here is a metric I never knew existed until recently: This dinner takes less time to make than it will take your spouse to feed the baby and put him to bed. Wait, wait, let me go one better. This dinner takes less time to make than it does for your very capable spouse to put the easiest baby on Earth to bed. I speak the truth! I actually had to slow down my cooking process so that this delectable dish wouldn’t be ready too quickly.

 BUT CLAMS! Gross, right?

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That’s a lot of clamz

 Not at all! What’s more, they come in a can and are inexpensive, and if they’re on sale, I recommend stocking up. Because you’re gonna want to make this again. Bucatini (or perciatelli) is just like hollow spaghetti, which is good for a runny sauce like this because it allows the sauce to collect. But if you can’t find it, regular spaghetti will have to do (peasant).**

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Garlic and friends!

 Here’s my rundown:

  1. Sauté garlic and oregano in olive oil/boil pasta
  2. Add canned tomatoes, their juice, and juice from the canned clams
  3. Add clams and capers
  4. Add pasta
  5. Dunzo

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Saucin’.

Literally anyone can do this. And when I say “anyone,” I mean “It’d be cool if someone made this for me once in awhile although I guess I’m actually not all that resentful since it takes no effort.”

 Anyway, I’ve made it thrice, per my husband’s request (a rare and wonderful thing, as he cheerfully accepts everything I put in front of him and doesn’t give too much feedback).

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Like I said, dunzo.

In conclusion, I have clipped this recipe and added it to my binder of “recipes I would make again,” which now contains three recipes. You win this round, Martha.  

*I did try the Fusilli with Bacon, Onions, and Mushrooms, which was satisfying yet bland.

** JK. Kroger’s “Private Selection” makes perciatelli for like $0.99. It’s not the Rockefeller pasta or anything.

Martha Crosses Potomac; Signs New Cookbook

April 26, 2012
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Gas up the car, Central Virginians. Our hero will be in Leesburg, Va, this Saturday signing her new cookbook, “Martha’s American Food.” I’m thinking Mother’s Day gift.

Book Signing Details

At a Costco, no less. Don’t they have Williams and Sonomas in Leesburg?

The cookbook, which is her 77th book (I had no idea), contains 200 recipes for food that “all Americans love to eat.” Arranged by region, the TOC promises chowder, ribs and fish tacos, as well as more Martha-grade dishes such as Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Meyer Lemon, Arugula, and Pistachios, all with sidebars explaining the relationship of the dish to the region from which it hails. I can’t wait to see what she picks for Virginia. Please don’t let it be something related to ham.

 

Meringue Madness: A Cake That Uses All Your Eggs

April 22, 2012
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The night before Easter, I had a dozen eggs and a choice: dye them neon per Martha’s suggestion in the April issue or use them in one of her egg white dessert recipes, also in the April issue. I didn’t have much use for a bowl of fluorescent-hued eggs except to make the world’s brightest batch of egg salad, but desserts are always welcome in this house, so Raspberry White Cake it was!

(Also, I friggin’ love raspberries.)

I had never made meringue frosting before and when I realized that this is basically the cake version of a Tastykake Jelly Krimpet, I considered bagging the frosting altogether because Krimpets rule. But frosting exists to a.) remind us why sugar and eggs were invented and b.) to cover up ungraceful cakes made by inattentive bakers like me. I used two different types of cake pans, so the layers look ridiculous, and went way overboard on the raspberry preserves between the layers. SHOOT ME. I was high on Easter candy.

I would still eat this as is.

But I had all these eggs just dying to be de-yoked and beaten within an inch of their lives, so I went for it. Five egg whites later, the result was not quite as elegant and bright white as Martha’s, which I think is because I heated the corn syrup a few degrees too high and burned it slightly. (That stuff heats up quickly!) I also think I beat the egg whites for a little too long so the stuff was a little fluffier than it should have been. It was like trying to ice a cake with a cloud. Meringue is a strange, strange thing.

A very tasty cloud though! In spite of my rookie mistakes and its less than perfect appearance, this cake tasted really, really good. At the behest of my mother, who conveniently showed up in time to help frost the cake and lick the beaters – a signature Howson move – I scrapped the coconut topping in favor of raspberries and lemon rind, but in hindsight I would keep the coconut.

Admittedly, the frosting was a good idea.

You're saying all the right things, cake.

Verdict: Marthable, but pay attention to the damn corn syrup!

Irishing Up Blondies

April 9, 2012

I learned something this year on St. Paddy’s Day – it’s not cool to wear green anymore. That is, I know people who actively avoid the color on this, the Day of Many Beers, because they don’t want to be mistaken for one of the drunk jerks who amble around with neon green leprechaun hats on, enjoying the beautiful spring weather by throwing up on an azalea bush.

But this strange and wonderful holiday — during which we celebrate a country not our own — doesn’t have to be this way. Martha understands this. The Chewy Irish-Coffee Blondies in the March issue of Living are a classier alternative to typical Emerald Isle-inspired treats like, say, cupcakes topped with kelly green icing and a piped belt buckle in the middle (although, actually, if you’re making them, lemme go ahead and just sample one of those. No sense wasting food.)

The blondies are straightforward enough: mix up some dry ingredients, mix up some wet ingredients, combine. Then pour into a pan, sprinkle sliced almonds over, bake, and drizzle with a whiskey-spiked glaze.

A pan of deliciousness (pre-glaze)

The result is intensely flavored with coffee and whiskey. In fact, they’re almost overpoweringly coffee-whiskey flavored. Actually no, not “almost,” just plain overpowering.

But this could be because I screwed up. For some reason, I read “3 tablespoons of freshly ground coffee” as “3 tablespoons of freshly BREWED coffee.” So I dutifully French-pressed some joe (that’s what you coffee drinkers call the stuff, right?), but realize now that Martha may have meant to add just the grounds. My palms are a little sweaty with anxiety that she’s up there in Bedford sitting atop a horse, holding up a hand to signal Kevin Sharkey to quit his endless prattle, and sniffing the air attentively. “Somebody,” she says to Sharkey. “Somebody has sullied my name by brewing coffee instead of scooping it directly into blondie batter.” She and Sharkey then catch, skin, and cook a rabbit over a fire before kicking back under a pink-feather tree and taking a quaint little nap. MY APOLOGIES, IRELAND. I READ THE THING WRONG.

In retrospect, the brewed coffee could have intensified the flavor – and probably did – but the blondies were nice and moist in the end. When it was glaze time (confectioner’s sugar + whiskey), I followed instructions to a T, but nothing would drizzle. It would only pour. So I poured it and spread it all over the blondies like a proper glaze. Nobody noticed the difference.

Drink up!

The blondies were a big hit with whomever came across them, but we discovered that an extra day of chillin’ at room temperature in plastic wrap was just what the flavors needed to mellow out. I no longer felt like I was simultaneously going to (whiskey) and recovering from (coffee) a St. Patrick’s party gone terribly wrong.

So put these on your list of more mature, more subtle St. Patrick’s Day treats for next year. You’ll need them for sustenance while you cower inside your home, hoping your azalea bushes will survive until March 18.

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