Project Updates

Some updates for you. I don’t do a lot of personal blogging here, but in order to catch you up, I need fill you in, because other projects are making it difficult for me to do any food blogging.

First up, the cookbook. What’s 4 Dinner Solutions: Spring Edition is all put together and at MacIan Publishing, with someone who is familiar to anyone who reads the blog regularly, see: Kirk makes an announcement.

Unfortunately, there’s been a bit of delay, but we will keep you informed of the status as it’s known. See: Kirk takes a tumble. You can leave well-wishes in his comments there, I’m sure he’d appreciate it.

When I started talking with Kirk, well over a year ago, about publishing a cookbook based on the menu service that morphed into this blog, it felt too big and time consuming to pursue. When he decided to start a micro-publishing company, it seemed like fate was saying, “time to actually finish up the cookbook” I’d started two years ago. His first recommendation was to split what was a huge book into four seasons, since it was written in a seasonal format originally. That one suggestion made the whole project possible in my mind. As soon as it’s ready, I’ll do an entire post on its contents and what makes it unique.

That’s brings us up to the project I had to put on hold in order to get everything ready for the cookbook (it is actually one of two projects I’m working on, but the second is still in chrysalis form, not ready for sunlight).  This one is fiction, and I’m having a dickens of a time refocusing my attention to it, so I had some insane idea that I’d put the first chapter online and somehow that would help me get my groove back.


I’ve been writing since, well forever.  I used to write my Gram long, newsy letters when I was a kid and lived half a country away from her. Friends got long, humorous ‘diaries’ describing my many adventures as I traveled crossed-country as a young adult. I’ve played with scripts, written a ton of marketing materials for various business and email, facebook and twitter opened up an entire new avenue of short, quick opportunities for humor.

But this is my first time putting a novel together. An idea that rolled around in my head for about a year before I wrote the first chapter. I’m well into it now but, like I said, a little stuck. I’m putting the first chapter online and I hope it gives me a new burst of energy to continue. I’m also going to use the blog to post photos, bon mots, music and ideas I’m playing with for character development.  Kind of like a living, breathing vision board for the book. Mostly for my own personal vision…but…

…I’m hoping you’ll take a look at the first chapter. It’s not for everyone. It falls in the category of books I enjoy, a bit of murder, a bit of mystery with a sassy, strong female lead, and a touch of romance.

Here’s where to start if you’re interested:  Run Aground (in progress)


Kirk Spencer’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

A busy day for me, but I thought I’d take a moment and post a recipe from Kirk.  He says this is a family favorite, so I thought we needed share his post.  Because, really, how can you go wrong with Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies?  From Kirk:

The original recipe was one of the peanut butter cookie recipes I’ve got laying around. It made peanut butter cookies that were, well, okay. The peanut butter taste was a bit on the subtle side. I had a bag of chocolate chips around, and one day tossed them in the next batch just as a boost. That made a huge difference. The mild PB works great at making the chocolate chips stand out. They’re pretty close to being our favorite cookie.

No pictures. Make a batch and take your own instead. Trust me, you’ll prefer the result.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Cream together:

  • 1 cup butter or (good) margarine
  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar

Beat lightly and add to creamed mixture:

  • 2 eggs

Sift together

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt

For the complete recipe, click here:  Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

On Gumbo: Kirk Spencer

After reading my plea for a good gumbo recipe,  friend of blog, Kirk, came through again:

I’m not going to give you a recipe. In part it’s because there is no such thing as a perfect recipe anyone can share.  There are a lot of good recipes you can make perfect for you, but that’s a wee bit different.

It’s also because I’d like to concentrate on a couple of critical elements to making a great gumbo.  The first, and the cornerstone, is dark roux.

Good Eats had a decent technique for making dark roux, but I’ve still burned it going the oven route.  I’ve instead got a couple of tricks that work for me which I’ll share.

The first is to start by making a dry roux.  That is, you cook flour, dry, till it’s the color you want.  Now you’ll see this recommended as a ‘low fat’ technique, but I don’t go that way — gotta have my fat. What I do is add the fat near the end, about the time it’s chocolate but not yet brick.  (Chocolate is dark brown.  Brick is darker brown with just a somewhat reddish tint, and it goes to burned pretty soon after that.  In a perfect world you want brick.  In most worlds you settle for something between chocolate and brick.)

The second trick is to add mass near the end.  In other words you’ve got your roux going and it’s become chocolate.  You add your mirepoix and keep going.  The additional mass helps slow the heat going to the roux.  The risk here is that your addition will have enough moisture to kick the roux into its thickening process.  Because of this I tend to add as close to brick as I can while still short of that point.

By the way – cast iron is not good for dark roux unless you’re using the mass trick, and even then you can expect it to go bad a time or two.  It’s the cast iron advantage of being a heat sink working against you this time.

I said I’d share some more things.  The next thing is file’.  This might – unless you’ve had it before – be your special spice. File is dried and ground sassafras leaves.  If you bought it in a store there’s a very good chance it wasn’t really file — a lot of commercial companies doctor it with some thyme and bay and, well, a few other things. If it’s right it is green and smells very similar to but not exactly like coriander.

File, in addition to being a spice, will also thicken the gumbo.  But don’t add it during the cooking.  If you do it has a bad habit of  threading.  Instead, add it after you pull the pot from the stove. Alton Brown recommends either/or for okra or file thickening. I instead recommend using okra to get it slightly thickened during the cooking then file at the end to make it rib-sticking thick.  But I like thick soups, so again your mileage may vary.  As a last note, some very good cooks can add file while the stove is on the fire and not get threads.  Once more, ymmv.

Finally, a clue.  Gumbo is a thick stew that uses a dark roux as the critical spice.  Everything else is an option. Venison/beef/mutton/seafood? Turnips? Kale? No problem, really.  Make a dark roux, add some chunks and liquid, add more chunks of what you like, spice to taste, thicken it with okra and/or file, enjoy (usually over rice).  Really and truly, there is no true gumbo.


Thanks Kirk, I can always count on your for the real stuff…

Kirk Spencer’s Chicken Paprikash

Friend of blog, Kirk Spencer takes a dish that sounds like the punchline to a good joke and breaks it down for us:

Chicken Paprikash is one of those simple dishes that gets re-discovered every once in a while because it’s amazingly good. At its heart it’s braised chicken. Its soul comes from paprika and sour cream – LOTS of paprika and sour cream, when you get right down to it.

You cut up a chicken, optionally dredge it in flour, brown the pieces in oil or butter, and set them aside. Now you take a couple of onions that you’ve cut up (prettily into thin rings, or quickly into medium chop, your choise choice), put them in the pan you pulled the chicken from and cook them till they brown. You add a small amount of water, broth, or wine, and deglaze (yes, with the water onions in), at which point you add a tablespoon of paprika and a teaspoon of salt and stir it in. (Yes, you read the measurements correctly). Put in the chicken pieces and toss and turn them till they’re covered with this flavorful mix. Now add enough liquid to come to between 1/4 and 1/3 up the chicken, bring it to a boil, bring it back down to a very low heat, cover it, and let it go for half an hour to 45 minutes.  (there’s more)

For the rest of the recipe, head on over to his blog:  Mental Meanderings.  If you’re looking for a new and intriguing flavor for dinner, this sounds like the dish to try.

Kirk Makes Apple Butter Sound So Easy

How did he know?  Over at Kirk’s place, he posted the steps to make your own apple butter.  Apple butter is my weakness.  He makes it sound so easy, I’m going to have to try it.  Take it away Kirk:

Look, let’s make an easy batch of apple butter. It will not be the best possible, but it’s going to give you a hint of what you can expect further down this road. We’re only going to make a fairly small batch instead of canning jars and jars of it (this time).

Now in decades past a butter meant hours of time at a stove. Today just about every kitchen has the perfect tool – their crockpot. You need a crockpot. You need natural (unsweetened) applesauce. You need sugar. You want some spices – in this case we’ll keep it simple with a classic apple pie mix of cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.

Here’s the simple overview. You’re going to put applesauce in the pot. You’ll add the other stuff. You’ll turn it on low, and let it go 8 to 12 hours – all day long – till the sauce is reduced by about half. Knowing this will help you make more sense of the more detailed instructions.

In a perfect world you only want about a cup of apple butter open at a time just to slow you down in eating it. The big thing that’s going to drive you, however, is your crockpot. You want at least a couple of inches in the bottom so it comes together correctly. If you’ve got a standard 5.5 quart pot, you’re going to want at least a quart of applesauce in the bottom. It wouldn’t hurt to have an extra pint standing by. Though you’ll adjust to your taste in later batches, you want to stir in 1/2 cup of sugar for each quart of applesauce in the pot. Yes, this means if you’ve got a pint standing by you should have a quarter cup of sugar around as well. Finally you’re going to add the spices. In this case I’d go with a teaspoon of cinnamon and a quarter teaspoon each of cloves and allspice – feel free to adjust, of course.

Turn on the pot, put on the lid, and…

For the complete recipe, head here and be prepared to say yummy.  I’ll try and remember to document my try with photos.  No promises though.  I’m usually half way through a recipe when I remember I meant to take photos.

Guest Recipe: Potstickers

Kirk Spencer and JeffreyW seemed to be on a mind-meld the other day.  Not the exact same recipes, but in a similar vein.  I wanted to cross-post Kirk’s recipe because I learned something new from his technique for making potstickers (one of my favorites!) and I wanted to share it with you.  From Kirk:


This is one of those dishes that I call “fake fancy”. That is, so many people think they’re fancy and difficult giving SO many ego-boosts, yet in reality they’re dirt simple. How simple? Well, let’s start with the cooking instead of ingredients first.

You need a heavy skillet with a decent fitting lid. Get it medium hot and add a tablespoon or so of oil. Add the dumplings and let them sit – NOT stirring – for a minute. Add a quarter to third of a cup of water, quickly put on the lid, and set the timer for one minute. When the timer goes off, remove the lid (carefully, there may still be steam), take the pan from the heat, and use a spatula to unstick any dumplings that need it before moving them to the plate.

Yeah, re-read that. Heat the pan, add a bit of oil. One minute, add water and lid, one minute, remove and serve. Hard? snicker.

OK, let’s go to the second easiest part, the shell. The batch you see above is one cup of flour, 1/3 cup of water, about a quarter teaspoon of salt. Knead it till it’s firm, wrap in plastic and put in the refrigerator for half an hour to fully hydrate. Use a pasta roller or your rolling pin to get it as thin as possible. (If the dough is sticking to anything other than itself, dust with a bit of flour and continue.)

Now when I work this, I separate the dough into three or four pieces and roll each of them to the final thickness. It keeps them manageable.

Click here  for complete recipe.

TaMara here. I have a favorite dipping sauce for potstickers: mix soy, ginger and chopped up green onions.  Spicy goodness.

Old Fashioned Lemonade, Kirk Style

Photo by JeffW

Kirk Spencer thought he could post a lemonade recipe and I wouldn’t notice.  But I most certainly did and that’s why I’m reposting it here in continuation of our summer of refreshing beverage recipes.  Take it away Kirk:

An old fashioned sports drink

I speak, of course, of lemonade. No, there’s no salt in the basic recipe. But there is a host of electrolytes from the lemon, lots of water, and sugar. At first, it seems to not be a perfect sports drink. As a summer thirst quencher, however, it’s pretty good.

Let me start with the classic recipe. (Yes, I’ve got this in my grandmother’s book, but I’ve seen it in civil war period recipe collections as well. I suspect we can chase it further back than that, but I’m not going there right now.) The classic is simple: six lemons, six cups of water, one cup of sugar. (My grandmother’s recipe: juice of six lemons, equal part sugar, another six parts water.)

First things first – this is too sweet for me. My very first change is to reduce the sugar to 3/4 cup. I also add a quarter teaspoon of salt.

When I make this, I make a simple syrup of the sugar and one cup of water. As soon as the water’s dissolved, I add the lemon juice. (Another side note – I don’t usually use fresh lemons. I’ve discovered that unless I keep the pulp and use some of the zest, nobody seems to be able to tell the difference in a blind taste test.) Once the juice is added I pour it over two cups of ice. (I fill pint containers with water and keep them in the freezer for this and for iced tea making as it cools the hot liquid down FAST.) Once the ice has cooled the liquid I add another three cups of water, stir, and serve.

Now, I’m going to take the rest of this post in two different directions. First, I’m going to play with variations for taste. Then I’m going to pursue this as a sports drink, noting its strengths and weaknesses. So go with the part that interests you.

As I said, I add that quarter teaspoon of salt. Nobody seems to be able to taste the salt itself, but it plays its catalytic role quite well. I’ve used both cloves and peppers for this as well, and while they both work they also get noticed more than salt.

Wait, peppers? Yep. ONE jalapeno, seeded, crushed, and added to the sugar and water while making the syrup. Add the lemon juice, remove the pepper. Along with the bit of heat (that seems to unlock the taste buds for everything else) you get this hint of a fruitiness.

I’ve also used an addition of a bit of ginger and cinnamon sticks and mint leaves. Partial (or full) replacement of lime or grapefruit also works. If you add a touch of grenadine to the regular lemonade you get “pink” lemonade – yes, it’s that simple. You can use a bit (or a lot) of milk for part of the water. In Brazil, sweetened condensed milk is used in place of the simple syrup. If you have it, try using a cup of coconut milk in place of a cup of the water. Maybe a juice (cranberry? peach? mango?) as partial swap for the water could be tried. The point is there is no reason to be wedded only to lemon and sugar. It makes a great base — don’t be hesitant to try something different. Remember that in the end it is YOUR taste buds that matter.

Here’s the big deal, though, and why it works so well. First, it’s cold, it’s wet, and it tastes good, which means people are willing to drink it and drink a lot of it when their hot and sweaty. Replacing the water lost through sweat is The Big Deal. But lemonade does a bit more. Yes, we’re headed into sports drink regions.

Read more….

Please note, Kirk has an addendum here and while you’re at it, check out his whole blog.

Rocky Mountain Oysters, Pt. 2

I promised Kirk that if he blogged about testicles in his Ugly Bits series, I would proudly link to it.  He actually makes them sound pretty good:

Today’s ugly bits are testicles.

sigh. Ok, when you get over your giggle/gagging fits I’ll go on. No double entendres, no puns — at least, none intended.

The testicles with which I’m most familiar are beef. I’ve had goat testicles once so I’ll touch on that before I quit.

If you buy them whole, you’ll discover they look a lot more like a thick sausage than a ball. They are pretty much pure protein. (No, not a bad joke.)

Taste and texture wise… ok, texture first. Think of a veal tenderloin. mmmm, smooth, buttery, melt in the mouth. Now think even smoother. Tastewise it depends on the age. Testicles from calves are, well, like that veal tenderloin. There’s a beef taste but it’s very mild and mellow. If you get them from a bull, however, they’re a lot gamier. Not bitter or salty or nasty, just kill that thought right there. More like the difference between wild and farmed salmon, or older wild game. It’s a stronger, definite beef flavor.

For the rest of the article, go here