Shameless Self Promotion

Remember that moment at the end of Steel Magnolia’s when Spud surprises Truvy with a second beauty salon and she exclaims “I’m a chain!”?  Thanks to Etsy, I’m having my very own Truvy moment.

See, after my chardonnay and stress induced meltdown about the state of our finances in relation to the adoption process, I decided that I could either w(h)ine about it or I could try and do something about it.  I guess you can figure which choice won out.

My shop is officially open for business over on Etsy where you can purchase custom note cards featuring original images used here on BAH as well as some of my favorite non-food photos.

I won’t try and sell you on the idea that buying from my Etsy shop is going to stimulate the economy.  Sure, your order means that I will continue to purchase supplies and materials from other vendors, thus feeding the economy like a hungry sourdough starter.  But that’s a cheap sales tactic.  I am hoping that the images speak for themselves.

Seriously, look at the baby goat staring at you up there?  Doesn’t that face just make your heart melt?

I never said I was above emotional sales tactics….so click on the link above, the Etsy badge on the sidebar, or bookmark http://www.etsy.com/shop/bonappetithon.

Ina’s Brownies

I had to hide this recipe after making Ina’s brownies once or twice.  They were outrageously good.  But when I made them this time, they weren’t what I remembered.  I rememeberd them being tall and cakey.  What I have on that plate up there is neither tall nor cakey.  It’s still outrageously good, but in a different way.

The beauty of the brownie is that it can be underbaked and still be a success.  Just call them ‘fudgey’ and people will think you meant for them to be that way.  I personally thought they improved after sitting uncovered for a day.

Ina’s Brownies

Adapted from Ina Garten

BAH Note: Don’t go down this road unless you can commit to making a LOT of brownies.  Or if you are willing to bust out a slide rule and figure out the math to scale the recipe down.  It would be a good idea to lay out a large sheet of aluminum foil on the rack under your pan just in case the batter ‘escapes’ from your pan.  I tell you this from my own experience…cleaning charred Ina’s Brownie batter from the bottom of the oven is no fun.

  • 1 pound butter (no, not a typo.  i told you this makes a LOT of brownies)
  • 1 pound plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 6 extra large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups flour, divided
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and line a half sheet pan with aluminum foil.  Butter and flour the foil lined pan or spray lightly with cooking spray.

Melt the butter, 1 pound of semi sweet chips, and unsweetened chocolate on top of the stove, stirring frequently.  Allow the melted mixture to cool slightly.

While the butter and chocolate melt, mix the eggs, instant espresso, vanilla and sugar in the workbowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. In a separate bowl, combine 1 cup of flour, the salt, and baking powder, and set it aside.

Slowly add the melted chocolate mixture to the eggs and stir until combined. Stir the flour mixture into the batter.  Combine the remaining 1/4 cup flour with the 12 ounces of chocolate chips and stir into the batter.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top with an offset spatula, and bake for 30 minutes or until a tester just comes out clean. Rotate the pan halfway through cooking.

Allow the brownies to cool for 30 – 45 minutes in the pan before carefully removing the foil and cutting the brownies into small squares.

{printable recipe}

Flashback Friday – Book Report

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 4/13/09 at Exit 51.

Book Report

On our first date, SFC asked me what I like to do.  My answer could have doomed the relationship before it even got started.  I said, “I like to read”.  I’ve always been a reader, as long as I can remember.  Books take me to places filled with color and life, interesting people, and grand adventures.  They take me outside of myself.

book

My earliest literary memories are of my grandmother reading stories about Abercrombie, Benjamin, and Christopher or Babbar the Elephant at bedtime.  Once I could read the words on the pages for myself, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Nancy Drew, and Judy Blume all followed.  It is my opinion that Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret should be considered the official adolescent girls’ handbook.

Even now, I can be transported back to points in time just thinking of certain books.  There was my obsession with Stephen King from about 7th to 10th grade.  The Talisman?  Could not put it down.  Christine?  I started reading it in the afternoon and did not go to bed until I had finished it around 3:30am.  The Shining?  Scared the bejezzus out of me in a way the movie could not.  In fact, I scared myself so bad reading It that I could never bring myself to watch the movie.  Ever.  Put a Stephen King book in my hands now and I’m once again a 13 year old with feathered hair, sitting in my bedroom with purple as far as the eye can see, the obligitory unicorn artwork, and a rockin’ Steve Perry poster.  What can I say, 13 was a period of transition for me.

My taste in books expands and contracts over time.  Some, like Atlas Shrugged, will always be a favorite and have a permanent place on the bookshelf.  Others, like  The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love, or the latest Vince Flynn thriller, fill a momentary void and are soon passed on.

So books and me, we go way back. Cooking, on the other hand, is relatively new in comparison.  Before I met SFC, cooking wasn’t really on my radar.  My meals consisted mostly of Lean Cuisine this and spaghetti that.  It just wasn’t a focus.  When I did try and cook, the results were not what I would call successful.  I still have not recovered from my first attempt to cook a ham.  No matter how long it stayed in the oven, that thing just would not get done.  Hours later, when the thermometer still refused to get to 160 degrees,  it was a lost cause since it had been pretty well ingrained into me that you don’t eat undercooked pork or chicken.  So when a recipe tells me to cook for so many minutes per pound, I move on to the next option.  This is why at our house there is no turkey on Thanksgiving and no ham on Easter.  Just so you know.

I would have to say it was after SFC and I started dating that my inner foodie surfaced.  Yes, I wanted to impress him with mad cooking skills.  I also wanted to stop eating out of boxes and cans.  So I rolled up my sleeves and got cooking.  If someone were to ask me now what I like to do, I would have to say that I like to read and I like to cook.

Usually, most cookbooks don’t make for enjoyable reading.  And most novels don’t add to your recipe collection. But sometimes, those two interests intersect.  When they do, I’m all over it.  Take A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg.

You’ve heard me talk about Molly.  She’s the woman behind the curtain at Orangette.  I can’t remember how I found her blog.  But it was the first food site that I ever bookmarked.  Before Food Network and before The Minimalist even.  Sorry Ina, Alton, and Mark.

Molly’s blog is full of stories from real life.  Her real life.  The exciting days and the ordinary ones.  But there is  joy and beauty in even the most ordinary day that comes across in her stories.  And passion.  Passion for the people she loves and passion for the food that they share.   For me, reading her is like talking to an old friend.  Even if I don’t come around to visit for while, we pick right up where we left off like not a day has gone by.

In her book we are an angst ridden teenager.  We spend holidays with her family. We leave college and move to Paris.    Later, we move to Seattle and start a blog.  We meet our future husband courtesy of the blog.  We also lose our father, an aunt, and an uncle.  We get married.  And we cook.

Each chapter in the book ends with a recipe.  While I’ve never had a pickled carrot before, reading about how it was only natural for Molly and Brandon to make homemade pickled carrots for their wedding, I could almost taste them in my mouth.  Here, I’ll let her tell you…”…spindly and sweet, as small and delicate as a lady’s pinky and just the right height to stand, shoulder to shoulder, in a quart sized Mason jar.”  As soon as I find two Mason jars, I will be trying the recipe on page 290.

Each recipe tells a story and each story holds a recipe.  Molly brings the two together in a way that will make you cry as much as it will make you laugh.  Don’t be surprised if you find that this book calls out for a permanent spot on your bookshelf.

Advantium Wrap Up

there's no advantium hiding in this graphic. i just really love the image.

Over the last three months I have discovered that the Advantium really has helped me do more in my kitchen.  Do you mind if I review some highlights?

I used it to Speedcook an entire chicken in 45 minutes.  My first attempt showed me the importance of finding the proper cookware to get the most benefit out of Speedcook.  Thanks to a bit of internet searching and researching, I finally came up with a solution to that challenge.  Emile Henry has a line of microwave safe dutch ovens that work as beautifully in the Advantium (on all its various settings) as they do on the stove top or in my gas oven.  The 4.2 quart fits perfectly and rotates freely in the Advantium and it has easy to grab handles AND a lid.  Best of all, because the Emile Henry isn’t cast iron, it doesn’t weigh a ton like my other dutch ovens do. Oh happy day.

I harnessed the power of the Warm setting to keep my canning jars at a perfect temperature.  Never again will have I have to juggle jars in and out of a wee water bath two and three at a time to keep them ready for canning.  I can prep all of my jars at once and trust that the Warm setting will take care of the rest.

And let’s not forget that Speedcook took my tenderloin filet from raw to medium in less than 20 minutes.  For. Real.  No preheating.  No splattered cooktop.  It was a thing of beauty.

But those aren’t the only things I’ve been cooking up in the Advantium.

I’ve used the Quickcook preset for frozen pizza rolls to perfectly brown homemade meatballs before finishing them off in a pot of sauce.

I’ve also become well acquainted with the frozen waffle-fry preset.  And I have begun devoting space in my freezer to bags of frozen sweet potato fries because of this.

Most recipes that require baking now get put in the Advantium on the Convection setting instead of my big oven.  Those bran muffins were just the first of many sweet (and savory) dishes that have done time in the Advantium.  Winter squash, braised pork, and raspberry oatmeal bars are recent additions to that list.

Now that I have had time to become more familiar with the Advantium, there are some things that I wish it did better.

If you have a toaster or toaster oven, I don’t think the Advantium is going to take it out of commission.  Toasting in the Advantium is different…in order to get both sides of something toasty brown, I have to carefully reach in and turn it over.  It took me a while to figure that out.  I kept wondering why my bread was as pale after three minutes as it was when I first put it in.  A quick investigation showed me that the browning happens to which ever side is in contact with the metal cooking tray.  And the toast setting isn’t as user friendly as it could be.  With a toaster or toaster oven, you set it on a light to dark continuum; with the Advantium you set it for a cooking time.  I still haven’t figured out how to convert the light/dark settings into cooking times.

In a perfect world there would be a single cooking tray for the unit that could be used in all cooking modes.  It’s a struggle, especially in a small kitchen, to have to store a second cooking tray but to also have it be easily accessible at all times.  In addition to the issue of finding a place for the tray that isn’t in use to be stored, there’s the matter of having to switch trays in order to change cooking modes.  Say you want to do something as routine such as going from braising a pork roast on Convection to cooking a side serving of vegetables, to go with that braised pork, on Microwave.  After you’ve taken your hot dish out of the Advantium and set it somewhere to rest you have to reach in to the hot oven,  carefully remove the hot metal cooking tray, find a place to put that so it can cool, get the glass tray from wherever you’ve stored it, and install it.  A single cooking tray would simplify this greatly.

The wire cooking racks, used in the Convection mode, do not slide in and out of the unit like the racks in my big oven.  This means that it is imperative for me to remember to put my cake pans and muffin tins on baking sheets before I set them in the Advantium.  Otherwise, especially since I am reaching up into the unit, I struggle to securely get my oven mitt on the pan in order to pull it out of the oven.

Would it be wonderful if GE were able to refine the Advantium further to make it even more user friendly?  Absolutely.  Would it benefit the home cook to have even more preset cooking options factory programmed into the Advantium…especially ones for cooking things other than frozen convenience foods?  You betcha.  Would it be less intimidating to figure out how to take recipes users already have and make them Quickcook friendly if some type of conversion guidelines were available?  Without a doubt.

But like I said a few hundred words ago, the Advantium has allowed me to do more.  It has given me confidence that I can overcome some of my biggest cooking challenges (yes, I’m looking at you bread).  I never imagined that a kitchen appliance would increase my self esteem…lord knows enough of them have chipped away at it…but that’s exactly what’s happened.  I doubt I will ever be fearless in the kitchen but I now have a powerful tool in my arsenal.

I am still giddy beyond belief to have had the opportunity to work with GE.  My sincere thanks go out to all the folks involved with the project for allowing me to help tell the Advantium story.  It truly has been a pleasure.

Disclaimer:  As part of my partnership with GE, I received an Advantium oven.  All opinions posted about my Advantium experience are my own.

Advantium Rolls

not my actual roll...for illustrative purposes only.

You may recall that I spent Christmas 2010 with Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Bread Bible recipes for dutch baby and dinner rolls.  Both recipes were so successful and made the day feel like a holiday should that I decided that Rose should be part of Christmas 2011.  Specifically, I wanted to make a batch of cloverleaf dinner rolls so that I could give the Proof setting on the Advantium a whirl.

I was hoping for a Christmas miracle to be honest.  My luck with getting bread dough to rise is spotty.  I follow directions, I use water that is neither too hot nor too cold, I use high quality yeast, and I try my best to surrender my fears to the bread gods.  Maybe our house is a bit on the chilly side.  Or maybe I have evil spirits in the air taking all the mojo out of the yeast.  Or maybe I just needed the Advantium to banish those evil spirits and unleash my bread baking super power.

The first rise of the dough was glorious.  When I took it out of the Advantium, it had grown as though any other outcome was simply inconceivable.  I deflated the dough, gave it a turn or two, and set it back in the Advantium on Proof for the second rise expecting that my good fortune with the first rise must have been a fluke.

Not so.  The second rise was as perfectly executed as the first.  I then portioned the dough, rolled each portion into balls, and set three dough balls into each cup of a muffin tin.  While the big oven heated, the dough went back into the Advantium for the final rise.

Once the dough had achieved about 3/4 of the final rise, my impatience got the best of me.  I brushed melted butter on the top of the rolls, gave them a generous dusting of kosher salt, and set them in the oven to fulfill their cloverleaf destiny.  If I had a been just a bit more patient on the final rise, my rolls would have achieved maximum lift when they hit the intense heat of the oven.  But I wasn’t.  And they didn’t.  And in spite of that, they still emerged golden brown and I eagerly pulled one apart to enjoy its salted, buttery deliciousness.

Is there anything better than bread, still warm from the oven?  The correct answer is no.

The rolls that we didn’t eat with Christmas dinner were carefully wrapped in plastic and stashed in the freezer.  I think they lasted all of two weeks before we had picked the last one off.  Which means that I am long overdue to set a bowl of flour, yeast, and water in my Advantium and harness the super power of the Proof setting.

Want the recipe that I used?  Click here to jump back in time.  The only thing I did differently this year, besides proofing the dough in the Advantium, was letting the starter develop in the refrigerator overnight.  Yes, it added even more time to an already lengthy recipe but it wasn’t like I was doing any more work.

Disclaimer:  As part of my partnership with GE, I received an Advantium oven.  All opinions posted about my Advantium experience are my own.

Jen’s Chewy Graham Cookies

I need to make a disclaimer…this post has been influenced by chardonnay and stress.

I had a meltdown this afternoon.  Walking through the produce aisle the reality of the last few months came crashing down on me like a wall of bricks.  I don’t mean the reality of trying to understand life after my parents’ death.  I mean the reality of diving head long into the adoption process.

For months The Mistah and I have been quietly filling out forms, scheduling inspections, and writing checks, all in the hopes of adopting a child.  Now that we are a single form away from being able to submit our application, and a check that equals our monthly mortgage payment, to our adoption agency,  the stress of what lays before us is starting to sink in.

In case you’ve never met me in real life, by my own admission I am a worrier.  And  a planner.  And an obsesser.  Which means that I tend to get fixated not on the big picture but on the smaller pieces that make up the big picture.  This is one reason why The Mistah and I work so well together…he looks at things with a macro perspective while I look at all the little details.  Between the two of us, there is balance.  But left to my own devices, I’m a hot freaking mess of worry.  Which gets me back to the produce aisle.

I was looking for garlic and apples and lemons, but all I could see was dollar signs.  And please forgive me for sounding dramatic, but until you’ve been in this place, you may never understand it.  Adoption does not come cheap.  There are fees.  And expenses.  And fees on the expenses.  It’s not like buying a car. You can’t get a cheaper interest rate from your credit union and they’re aren’t any 0% interest offers.  Not only do you pay, but you pay a premium for not being able to do what a majority of the rest of the population takes for granted…having a child.

There are grant programs but they require you to be affiliated with an organized religion and/or to demonstrate financial need.  I haven’t gone to church since I was 12…and the last time I checked The Universe was not a recognized congregation.  And through hard work, and the help of The Mistah, we have paid off all of our debt with the exception of our mortgage.  So on paper, we are not financially needy.  But if you look closer, what we have in savings just about equals what an adoption would cost.  So if we were to empty our savings account in the name of adoption, it would leave us one paycheck away from financial peril.  And for once, I am not speaking grandiosely.  Adoption costs would leave us with no savings.  No safety net.  Nothing to fall back on in the event of a job loss in an uncertain economy.  Mortgage refinancing isn’t an option since we owe more on paper than our house is worth.  So because we do our best to act responsibly and not carry consumer debt, but don’t have an excess of liquid assets available, we don’t qualify for grants to offset adoption expenses.  How the hell does that make sense?

Is it really better to spend every penny we have to adopt a child and then be left without any resources to weather a job loss or an unexpected major expense?  Is that the responsible choice?

So there’s the cost.  But the adoption process also requires you to open yourself up to the scrutiny of others.  References, tax returns, autobiographies.  It’s not for the self conscious.  Because let me tell you, no freaking stone goes unturned in this process.  In the simplest of terms, the application process is where someone else says whether or not you are a good candidate to be a parent.

Excuse me?  If third party approval were a requirement for being able to give birth, the world would not be in the middle of a population boom.  Forget about the fact that a third party has to give you approval in order to move ahead in the process.  The standard of care that a potential adoptive parent has to meet is ridiculous.  For instance, we failed our health department inspection.  No because our house was unsanitary but because we didn’t have thermometers in our refrigerator and because our hot water heater was set too high.  We also failed our fire department inspection.  Not because our house is a death trap but because we didn’t have enough clearance around our gas meter, the lock on our 3o year old storm door was not up to current code, and because the fire extinguishers in our house weren’t the right ones.  Who the hell comes to a pregnant couple’s home and looks at these things?  If I were to give birth to a child, nobody would scrutinize our home or our ability parent.  They would simply send me home with an infant, without regard to the conditions that child was being subjected to.

At this moment, I don’t doubt our ability to successfully raise a child.  I have always known that The Mistah would make a fantastic parent.  And with the death of both of my parents, oddly enough, I have somehow been freed from the assumptions that I had always made about my ability to unconditionally love a child.  And yet, there are so many obstacles in our way.

No amount of bake sales or etsy shops can bridge the financial gap that we face.  And selling off the few liquid assets that we have won’t make me stop worrying about our financial ability to meet this challenge.  So what’s left?  Other than petitioning to The Universe, I don’t know.

So I will say it here to The Universe, as I say it in my heart…we would give a child love and stability.  We may not be perfect parents but we would actively parent our child and do our best to see that our child has a loving heart, a strong sense of self, compassion for others, and a joyful and generous spirit.

Does the thought of bringing a child into our world scare the bejeesus out of me?  Hell yes.  But shouldn’t it? This. Is. Freaking. Huge.

Ok, so now that I’ve had this meltdown, I need some comforting.  And Jen’s Chewy Graham Cookies are just the thing to make to think about warm, chewy happiness instead of our second date with the Fire Inspector next week.  Tell me, which would you rather focus on…buttery, spicy cookies or Baltimore City Fire Code?

Chewy Graham Cookies

Adapted from My Kitchen Addiction

  • 1 1/2 sticks softened butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup cardamom sugar

Heat the oven to 375 degrees and line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, honey, baking powder, baking soda, salt, vanilla, and cinnamon.  Add the egg and beat until incorporated into the creamed mixture.

In a second bowl, whisk together the flours.  Add the flour to the creamed mixture on low speed and mix until just combined.

Place the cardamom sugar into a small bowl.  Use a small ice cream scoop to portion out the dough in 1 tablespoon servings.  Roll the dough into a ball, roll in the cardamom sugar, and place on the prepared sheet pans.

Bake for 9 to 10 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned and just set.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Flashback Friday – Bon Appetit

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 4/8/09 at Exit 51.

Bon Appetit

You knew it was too good to last right?  I mean my recent downsizing of the cookbooks.  It started innocently enough with the new Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.  But since I won that, does it really count?  And then there was Bon Appetit: Fast, Easy, Fresh.

ba_fasteasyfresh

I blame Molly of Orangette for this one.  If I hadn’t been so fired up to get her book, A Homemade Life, I would have never walked into the bookstore.  If I had never walked into the bookstore, I would not have come face to face with 700 pages of recipes.   If I had never come face to face with 700 pages of recipes, it would not be sitting on the dining room table right now.

I’m hopeful that some of these recipes will become old friends.  And I’m pretty sure there will be others that will never be invited back to the table.  How long do you think it will take to get through 700 pages of recipes?  I may never need to buy another cookbook again.  Right, who am I trying to kid?

And when the cookbook is not in use, it makes a lovely place for the cat to rest, don’t you think?

shadow-reading