Best Banana Bread I Ever Made

Banana Bread

Baking becomes a bit of a challenge for me in the summer, since I don’t care to turn on the oven for long periods of time and heat up the house on a hot July day. This year, however, has been a bit strange weather-wise. Monday offered temps in the 60’s… I had six bananas that were heavily speckled with brown spots… and a lack of Candy Crush lives.

I really liked how this  turned out. Most of the time banana bread is dense and mushy. This recipe (from America’s Test Kitchen) solved that problem by removing and reducing the moisture in the bananas. It may take a few minutes longer to make than other recipes, but it’s worth it! The sugar sprinkled on the top caramelizes the banana slices and gives the loaf a crispy crust. You can add 1/2 cup of chopped toasted walnuts to the batter before putting it in the loaf pan… if you like that sort of thing.

 

8.75 ounces all-purpose flour (1 3/4 cups)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon table salt

6 large very ripe bananas, peeled

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

2 large eggs

5.25 ounces light brown sugar (3/4 cup packed)

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

 

  • Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.
  • Place 5 bananas in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents. Microwave on high for 4-5 minutes until the bananas are soft and have released a lot of liquid. Strain the bananas in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and allow the liquid to drain, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. You should end up with somewhere between 1/2 to 3/4 cup of liquid.
  • Transfer the liquid to a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the banana liquid is reduced to 1/4 cup. Place the microwaved bananas in a medium bowl, add the reduced liquid and mash with a potato masher until fairly smooth.
  • Whisk in the butter, eggs, brown sugar and vanilla. If your bowl of bananas seems particularly hot after mashing, let it cool for a few minutes so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs in your batter (ewww).
  • Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Do not over mix.
  • Spray a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with vegetable oil spray and scrape batter into the loaf pan. Even it out with a spatula.
  • Slice the remaining banana diagonally into 1/8 inch thick slices and shingle the bananas on top of either side of the loaf. Make sure you have at least 1.5 inches of space down the center of the loaf to ensure an even rise. It should look like this:

Unbaked Banana Bread

  • Sprinkle the 2 teaspoons of sugar evenly over the entire loaf.
  • Bake at 350 degrees in the center of the oven for about 50-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Start checking at 50 minutes.
  • Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then remove from the pan and finish cooling on the rack.

This is truly best the same day it’s made, but you can wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store it on the counter for up to 3 days, however once wrapped it does lose some of the crispiness on top, but it’s still delicious!

Baked Potato Soup

Baked Potato Soup

This is not something I normally make during the summertime, however last week we had two unseasonably cool days, so I was willing to heat up the house a bit. This soup is thick and creamy… and with some bread or croissants, you can definitely make a meal out of it. It should be noted that this is not a quick meal, you will need a couple of hours to make this, but it’s not all active cooking time. Here’s what you’ll need:

4 large russet potatoes

1 pound thick cut bacon

1/2 cup unsalted butter

3 Tablespoons bacon fat* (see note below)

2/3 cup flour

8 cups milk

6-8 green onions, thinly sliced

2 Tablespoons minced fresh chives

8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon table salt

1 Tablespoon fresh ground black pepper

 

*If using bacon fat in the soup weirds you out, you could substitute more butter instead. Using some bacon fat really gives the soup a full, well rounded, bacon-y flavor.

 

  • Bake the potatoes as you normally would for a dinner side dish. I usually pick out the 4 largest potatoes I can find at the grocery store, poke them a few times with a fork (to release steam… you don’t want a potato explosion in your oven, do you?) and bake them at 350 degrees for about 75 minutes. Sometimes they take a little longer. I usually start checking them after an hour. I wish I had a better way to describe when the potatoes are done, but I don’t. It’s when they “feel right.” I suppose if you’ve never baked a potato before, this recipe probably isn’t for you. No need to oil the skins or salt them or anything. You’ll be removing the skin later. Allow the baked potatoes to cool on a cooling rack for one hour.
  • Cook the bacon until crispy. You can do it in a frying pan on the stove, but I prefer to do it on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper in the oven. The bacon cooks much more evenly. You want the bacon to be fairly well done (but don’t burn it!). Once you add it to the soup later, the bacon loses some crispiness as it absorbs soup liquid, so if you start with undercooked, fattier bits, they’ll be really rubbery in the final product – not good. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat and set aside.
  • Chop the cooked bacon into bits and set aside.
  • Peel the potatoes with your hands. It will be easier than you think, but may take some time. Cut potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes. If you want bigger chunks, that’s fine. Do whatever you want. I just like smaller bite sized potato pieces in my soup. Set aside the cubed potatoes.
  • Add the butter and bacon fat to a large pot or dutch oven. Melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and whisk together to form a roux. Cook over low heat about 5 minutes, until bubbly.
  • Slowly add the 8 cups of milk, whisking constantly. Do your best to not form lumps of roux within the milk. If your roux seems to be clumping, just keep whisking. It’ll all work itself out. Once all of the milk is added, turn the heat up to medium and continue whisking constantly until the mixture starts steaming and begins to thicken, but isn’t simmering yet.
  • Once it starts to thicken slightly, add the potatoes, onions and chives. Stir with a wooden spoon constantly until the soup comes to a simmer. During this time it will get significantly thicker. Be sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pot while you’re stirring. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add the bacon, stir to combine.
  • Add the shredded cheese, 1/2 cup at a time. Stir each addition until completely melted. If you add all 8 ounces at once, you risk the cheese not melting properly, and you certainly don’t want to ruin your soup at this stage.
  • Add the sour cream, salt and pepper. Stir until sour cream is melted into the soup.
  • Add additional salt and pepper to taste.
  • Garnish with additional cheese, bacon and chives.

Strawberry Mojitos

With the holiday weekend approaching, I thought I’d post one of my best adult beverage creations. Miss Gillette can attest to their awesomeness (after much discussion, we have determined Hermione would not be an appropriate title, and so Miss Gillette was conceived).

This is a pretty fabulous cocktail. While it may take a little more work than most, your patience will be rewarded. Here’s what you’ll need:

Strawberry Mojito

  • 6-8 mint leaves
  • 1/2 of a lime
  • 1.5 oz. Bacardi Limon
  • 1 oz. strawberry simple syrup (recipe below)
  • club soda
  • ice

First, you’ll need to make the simple syrup:

Strawberry simple syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups strawberries, quartered

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the strawberries. Boil gently until the strawberries are mushy and the mixture becomes thick, about 10 minutes. Keep an eye on it, because it can burn or boil over. You may need to adjust the heat as the mixture reduces and thickens. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Strain the remaining berry solids through a fine mesh strainer and discard the solids. Put the syrup in an air tight container and refrigerate until use. I like to put mine in this salad dressing shaker,

 

B-Bones photo bombed this one.

B-Bones photo bombed this one.

 

  • Place mint leaves in a mortar and pestle, and sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of sugar over the leaves. Muddle the leaves until bruised (the bit of sugar helps to make quick work of this process). If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use a small bowl or custard cup and the back of a spoon. This step is important, as it releases the oils in the mint leaves.
  • Add mint leaves to a tall glass.
  • Juice half of a lime, and add the juice to the glass.
  • Add the Bacardi and strawberry simple syrup.
  • Add ice and fill the rest of the glass with club soda.
  • Stir gently and garnish with sliced strawberries, limes and mint leaves, of desired.

If you’re having a party, you can multiply this recipe by 10 or 20. All you need to do make a whole bunch of the cocktail base, which is everything but the ice and club soda. Keep the cocktail base ready in the fridge (I usually put mine in a juice pitcher). When your guests are ready for a cocktail, fill a glass with ice. Pour the cocktail base over the ice until the glass is about 1/3 full. Fill the remainder of the glass with club soda and stir gently.

You can play around with the proportions of the ingredients to your liking. If you want it sweeter, add more syrup… and if it’s too sweet, add less.

Strawberry mojito

Enjoy!

Death of the Chain Restaurant – No, I’m not a “Hipster”

I grew up in the suburbs of the Twin Cities, where typical big name chain restaurants are in abundance. These days (and for the last six years), I live less than two miles from the center of downtown St. Paul, where it’s pretty difficult to find a national chain other than fast food. I’d have to drive back into the suburbs to eat at a TGI Fridays, Chili’s or Olive Garden.

I LOVE to eat out. In fact, it’s probably what I spend more money on than anything else (well, other than cigarettes, but don’t worry. There’s an “I Quit” post not too far in the future. *sigh*). I don’t try new places often, probably because I am a creature of habit, and once I’ve found something I love it’s comfortable to keep going back. There’s a small ring of three or four places I frequent because of the good food, comfort factor and decent service… but none of them are chains. I realize that ragging on chain restaurants will make a few of you think I’m some sort of “hipster.” I assure you, that could not be further from the truth. I don’t drink PBR, own a pair of aviator glasses, or smoke American Spirits.

This weekend, I was willing to accept some adventure when my husband suggested a place he had recently checked out called Ward 6. What really caught my attention was his mention of “adult milkshakes.” Haha… no. Your dessert doesn’t come with sex toys, but this little gem on St. Paul’s east side crafts an excellent combination of ice cream and alcohol. The menu was small, but I’m ok with that when your offerings include poutine, lemon parmesan risotto, and a burger delicately placed between two grilled cheese sandwiches. In addition, they had a list of fun cocktails (not all of them were “girly”) and the service was great. If the waitress can’t give a menu recommendation, you’re in the wrong place.

And this is why I rarely find myself a patron of the following establishments:

Dennys

Nope. I don’t ever recall entering this establishment sober either. In fact, it would seem there is a prerequisite of either being drunk or elderly in order to enter the building. God forbid you end up here on a Tuesday, when kids eat free. Nothing makes an already questionable dining decision more enjoyable than having a random four-year old crawl under your table. Everything on the menu is one Grand Slam after another, or the latest gimmick advertised. Seriously, WTF is a Hobbit Meal? The last time I went in here I remember being seated, but having to wait for menus because they had run out. That was at least ten years ago. I can’t imagine a situation in which I’d find myself in a Denny’s again. Even after six beers, I know the result will be a toilet full of regret a few hours later.

OCB

Buffets are a hit or miss. OCB is ALWAYS a disaster. Last time I found myself here was during an epic hang-over midway through my college years. I recall picking over the selections, wondering if perhaps I could concoct a bloody mary out of the pickles and olives in the salad bar and the fifth of vodka in my trunk. Maybe that’s what they need to bring to the table. If OCB stayed open late and served booze, I guarantee a bunch of college kids would pack this all-you-can-eat dumpster and consume mass amounts of gelatinous mac & cheese. Instead, I keep seeing advertisements as to how they’ve “improved” their menu in an effort to bring in new clientele. I’m sure if I walked into OCB again, I’d still be confused as to whether it’s a buffet or a diabetic support group.

Ruby TuesdayApplebee'sTGI-Friday-Logo

Is there a difference between these three places? They all have the same shitty burger/salad/pasta selections. They try to revamp their menus by adding something they consider “exotic”… like putting pineapple on a burger, or strawberries in a salad. Then, they advertise the hell out of their “original” creation like it’s never been done before. The number of Applebee’s have drastically diminished in recent years, and I only know of one Ruby Tuesday within driving distance. There still seems to be a large quantity of TGI Friday’s in my area, but I’m still leery every time I order a drink… after that debacle in which they were busted for passing off low-end booze as top shelf liquor (you can read that story here).

logo_Red_Lobster

Here is where everyone makes the Cheddar Bay Biscuit argument. Did you know that you can buy those in the grocery store and make them at home? Now you don’t have to eat sub-par seafood to get your biscuit fix. I must admit, the “Endless Shrimp” promotion is a guilty pleasure of mine. What really grinds my gears is getting your check and realizing that the shitty margarita you ordered was $9, yet you somehow managed to drink three of them. The service is always slow here too (at least at the location near me). The last time I was in here, it wasn’t at all busy, yet I only saw my waitress once after someone else brought our food. Maybe she was trying to help me avoid ordering another shitty margarita.

chili-large-logo

This place has electronic devices secured to all of it’s tables. While these things allow you to play games on them (I think you have to pay, although I’m not sure), I happened to notice that the device allows you to pay your bill as well. This is probably a good thing for a place like Chili’s, since their service is almost as lacking as their boring menu. In fact, I read an article recently that focused on Chili’s and other similar establishments using tablet computers to essentially replace the wait staff. I’m sure this is in an effort to streamline their operation, but it won’t be long before a Cylon is mixing your watered down six-ounce margarita and spilling it in your lap instead of a pregnant seventeen year old. At least the margaritas are 2-for-1.

It’s not like I’m saying I hate these places (well, except for Denny’s and OCB), but I only end up at any of the above mentioned when I’m out with my suburban living family members. It won’t be long before at least one of these chains end up going the way of other failures like Don Pablo’s, Bennigan’s, and Ground Round. And when was the last time you saw one of those?

Double Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies – Resistance is Futile

Double Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

What do you do when you have a craving, but can’t find a decent recipe to satisfy it? You make one up, cross your fingers, and hope for the best.

Thankfully, last night it did not result in disaster.

I’ve watched enough Good Eats and America’s Test Kitchen to get a fairly decent working knowledge of food science. I am by no means an expert, but I can hold my own.

Last night, I had a PB/Choco craving. These two are a perfect union. Anyone who says they don’t like peanut butter and chocolate together is either lying, or they’re a Cylon. I had some chocolate chips, some Reese’s PB Chips… and while I first considered just eating handfuls of both straight from the bags, I decided to give creativity a go. I must admit, I wanted to add either melted chocolate or cocoa powder into the cookie dough as well, but I figured the more I invite to the party, the less of a chance this will turn out edible. These turned out equivalent to a gravy so good you’ve licked your plate.

I’ve specified Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Chocolate Chips because not only are they my favorite, but you need something darker to cut through the sweetness of the cookie dough and PB chips (plus, the way this chocolate melts is amazing). I guarantee no amazing-ness should you stray from my directions. Spend the few extra pennies for the good chocolate. This recipe made about 16 cookies.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter (I used Skippy)

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 & 1/4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1/2 cup Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips

1/2 cup Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Chocolate Chips

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat the butter, sugars, and peanut butter until creamy and “fluffy-ish” (I say fluffy-ish, because the peanut butter is really dense, and it’s not going to look quite like things normally would when you’re just creaming butter and sugar together).
  • Add the egg and vanilla and mix until fully incorporated. (It should look much more fluffy now)
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.
  • Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir until blended.
  • Add the PB chips and the Chocolate chips. Stir until combined.
  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Drop cookies about two inches apart in rounded spoonfuls, about two tablespoons each.
  • Put the baking sheet with cookie dough on it into the freezer for 5-10 minutes (I know this might seem strange, but the dough is really soft. By doing this, it helps the cookies not overspread, which means you won’t have overdone edges before the center is baked).
  • Remove the baking sheet from the freezer and bake one sheet at a time, about 14 minutes, or until edges are light golden. Don’t forget to rotate the baking sheet halfway through to ensure your cookies bake evenly. Do not over-bake. This is a common mistake most people make.
  • Cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes, then move to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Buttermilk Biscuits

Warm and buttery, these flaky biscuits are great with sausage gravy for breakfast or a little jam for a quick afternoon snack.

I’ve been making biscuits and sausage gravy for years, long before I was married. My old roommate’s now husband used to request this now and again when he would stay at our place. It’s taken years for me to perfect this. I’d tried using different amounts of butter, adjusting how much baking powder I added, and even fiddled with oven temperatures and baking times. For some reason, the bottoms always came out tough.

Eventually, I turned to shortening. This is the one and only recipe in which I will use the product. The flavor of butter is much better, but unfortunately did not produce the soft biscuit bottom and tender crumb I was seeking on it’s own. After much trial and error, I think I’ve adjusted the butter to shortening ratio and quantities to my satisfaction. Here’s what you need (best part is most of this will already be in your pantry and fridge):

  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 8 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • 8 tablespoons (one stick) very cold butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons very cold butter flavored shortening cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 cups buttermilk

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt

Add your butter cubes to the flour. Once I cut the cubes, I typically put the butter and shortening into the freezer for 10 minutes to make sure it’s well chilled. This is especially true on a warm day. The key to making your biscuits flaky and tender is to have the butter very cold when it hits the hot oven.

The butter and shortening should be cut up like this.

The butter and shortening should be cut up like this.

Cut the butter into the flour. I like to use the pastry blender pictured below. Before I had one, I found the best tool for this job is two hands. Just get in there with your fingers and rub the butter and flour together until it looks like wet sand. There will still be many pea sized butter pieces, but that’s ok.

Love this pastry blender.

Love this pastry blender.

This is what the mixture looks like once the butter is cut in.

This is what the mixture looks like once the butter is cut in.

Here you can see some pea sized butter pieces. That's good. That's where you want it.

Here you can see some pea sized butter pieces. That’s good. That’s where you want it. You can click on any of these photos for a larger view.

If the room is warm, or you used your hands, it would be a good idea to put this flour-butter mixture in the freezer for 5-10 minutes. You’d be surprised how quickly the heat from your hands can soften and melt your butter.

Next, make a well in the center of the bowl, and pour in the buttermilk. Stir until it JUST  combined. Do not overmix. You will be sorry.

Overmixing will result in a tougher biscuit.

Overmixing will result in a tougher biscuit.

Turn the dough out onto a well floured work surface, dust the top with flour, and knead 4 or 5 times to bring the dough together.

There's still some dry spots here, but it'll all work out with a couple quick kneadings.

There are still some dry spots here, but it’ll all work out with a quick kneading.

Once you bring the dough together (again, work it as little as possible), pat it out into a 1 inch thick round on your work surface. You may want to re-flour your work surface to ensure the biscuits don’t stick when cut.

You may want to re-flour your work surface once you knead. This stuff is sticky.

It doesn’t need to be a perfect circle. Just try to pat it out evenly.

Begin cutting rounds with a 2 inch biscuit cutter. Re-flour the biscuit cutter between each cut and place biscuits on a parchment lined baking sheet.

I neglected to re-flour my board, and a couple biscuits were sticking. They still turned out fine!

I neglected to re-flour my board, and a couple biscuits were sticking. They still turned out fine!

Line them up about 1/4 inch apart from eachother on the sheet like this.

Line them up about 1/4 inch apart from each other on the sheet like this.

Rework the scrap dough as little as possible, and pat into a 1 inch round again. Make cuts, and place remaining biscuits on the pan. Throw away remaining scrap dough. It will be too overworked if you try to make a third cut. Today I got 14 biscuits. Sometimes I get 16. It just depends on the day I guess.

Bake the biscuits in a 425 degree oven for 15-18 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through cooking time.

When the biscuits are GB&D (golden brown and delicious), transfer to a cooling rack and cool for 5 minutes.

Let them sit for 5 minutes so you don't burn your mouth.

Let them sit for 5 minutes so you don’t burn your mouth.

You can serve them once the 5 minutes are up, or cool them completely and store in a plastic container at room temperature for a couple days.

YUM!

YUM!

 

Summer Fruit Salad with Ginger Lime Reduction

20140510_163945

These sweet summer fruits combine with the spicy kick of ginger and the tangy zip of lime to create fireworks in your mouth!

This is a quick and easy recipe. You can use many different types of fruit. This works well with honeydew, cantaloupe, pineapple, raspberries, kiwi, strawberries… just use whatever you like (or what’s on sale, which is why I used pineapple and strawberries this time).

Summer Fruit Salad with Ginger Lime Reduction

  • cut fruit (at least 4 cups, up to 6 cups)
  • juice of 4-6 limes (you should end up with somewhere between 3/4 and 1 cup of juice)
  • zest of said limes (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 tablespoons of minced fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • pinch of salt

First, zest all of your limes. Don’t make a rookie mistake and juice your limes before zesting them. You will be displeased.

20140510_164951

Next, peel and mince your ginger. I know there are a lot of Americans out there who see this ingredient as a foreign object they have never touched let alone purchased before. Don’t be afraid. It will be tasty. Don’t worry too much about getting ALL of the ginger peel off. You’re going to strain this out in the end anyway.

20140510_165932

Set your lime zest and minced ginger aside, and juice your limes. Pour the lime juice and sugar into a small saucepan and add a pinch of salt. Turn the heat to medium and simmer until it becomes honey colored and syrupy, and has reduced to about 1/4 cup.

20140510_170645

Here’s the lime juice prior to heat being applied.

This is what it looks like about half way through. Bubbling away...

This is what it looks like about half way through. Bubbling away…

Here you can see that the bubbles are starting to stack up on top of each other, and the color is notably darker. You can also see a dark brown ring around the inside of the pan. Don't worry, it won't be a pain to scrub if you throw it in the dishwasher.

Here you can see that the bubbles are starting to stack up on top of each other, and the color is notably darker. You can also see a dark brown ring around the inside of the pan. My dishwasher does a good job, so this isn’t a pain to clean up.

After about 10-15 minutes, it will have reduced to this color and consistency.

After about 10-15 minutes, it will have reduced to this color and consistency.

An important note… keep an eye on this after the 10 minute mark. If you forget about this while you’re chopping fruit (which I once did), it will go from beautiful a lime syrup to a burned sugary mess in NO TIME. You have been warned.

Once your lime juice looks like mine in the photo above, add the lime zest, minced ginger and lemon juice. Stir, and steep for 1-2 minutes.

Add lime zest and ginger.

Add lime zest and ginger.

Stir and let steep.

Stir and let steep.

Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl or another vessel (I like to use this measuring cup), and strain out the zest and ginger, pressing on the solids with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. You should have approximately 1/4 cup of liquid (no worries if it’s a bit more or less. It’s hard to screw this up).

You can really see how much darker the juice is in this photo.

You can really see how much darker the juice is in this photo.

Ideally, you would have been chopping your fruit while the lime juice was reducing on the stove. As previously mentioned, KEEP AN EYE ON THAT SHIT! If you let your lime juice go too far, it is a nasty mess… and it doesn’t smell all too pleasant either.

The strawberries were on sale and looked great!

The strawberries were on sale and looked great!

I hate cutting a pineapple.

I hate cutting a pineapple.

Throw all that fruit in a bowl.

Throw all that fruit in a bowl.

Finally, pour the warm ginger lime syrup over the fruit and toss to coat.

Yummy!

Yummy!

Serve immediately, or refrigerate for a few hours.

This doesn’t last more than a day or two in the fridge, but you’ll likely eat it all before then, so no worries!

 

Smashed car mirrors and how to NOT make croissants, because I’m lazy-ish.

So on Sunday morning, Neil discovered that the driver’s side mirror on his ambulance dented Camry (yeah, he hit an ambulance once. That’s a story for another day) was busted. My immediate response,

“Punk kids.”

He was convinced otherwise, as no other vehicles parked on the street appeared to have suffered any damage. I guess it was pretty stormy on Saturday night, so it’s possible that it wasn’t the scum of the North End, but I’m still not so sure. I quickly remind him that driving without a driver’s side mirror is technically illegal. Good thing he drives up to the park & ride and then takes the express bus into downtown Minneapolis. Less chance for the donut monsters cops to discover his crimes.

As I’m making coffee this morning…

Neil: “I think I’m gonna try to fix the mirror myself. I looked online and the part I need is only $20 bucks, but the dealership is gonna charge me $200 plus labor.”

In my head I’m thinking, “Sure. Whatevs.” I was super tired still and the coffee was still brewing.

Wait for it.

Wait for it.

Neil: “But it’s going to require me to take the trim off the door, and buy a couple of specialized tools.”

OH LORD.

Now, my husband is arguably the smartest person I know… and I’m not saying that because I’m an awesome wife who has no job and doesn’t do shit all day. He’s actually a highly intelligent individual.

But he is not a “handy man.”

I’ll give credit where credit is due. The last time we had a car issue was this past January. I neglected to heed any warnings the meteorologists were preaching, and when the temperature dropped to -23 degrees (no, that’s not a typo, that’s a “negative” sign in front of that number), and my battery was 7+ years old…

Guess what?

My car wouldn’t start.

I had also parked in such a fashion that trying to jump start it wasn’t an option.

So I got a ride to work, bought a new battery, and after work Neil came home to help me swap it out.

Except it gets dark at 5:00pm in the Twin Cities in mid January. And it was about -17 degrees when Neil got home from work at 6:30.

It ultimately took us an hour and a half to complete this task. We’d never done this before, and it was difficult to maneuver little nuts and bolts with heavy gloves on in the middle of winter-pocalypse. Plus, we had to go inside and warm up every 10 minutes or so because it was so unbelievably cold out (I think the wind chill made it feel like -45 that day) my toes were tingling.

I just can’t see this going well. I did express my concerns about him attempting this task,

“Please don’t fuck up your car worse than it already is.”

But I’m still not sure if he’s going to do this himself, or let a professional handle it.

———–

As for yesterday’s croissant debacle….

Do you realize how many steps there are in preparing these? I kept taking pictures as I was making them, but it became frustrating, and the thought of adding all of these photos to a blog post in the morning with descriptions of how to made something that takes a minimum of ten hours…. it just seemed too daunting. So I kinda gave up 3/4 of the way through. They turned out alright, but the room temperature was definitely a factor. I don’t think I’ll be making these again in the summer time. I never did take a photo of the final product, but here’s a couple shots of them being made,

20140602_074618 20140602_110913 20140602_111019 20140602_111108 20140602_120615 20140602_121257 20140602_121529 20140602_181809

Maybe I’ll eventually post the recipe, but don’t hold your breath.

Living dangerously on a Monday (and I only know it’s Monday because Game of Thrones was on last night).

It is Monday, right? Cause since I’ve been out of work, I only remember which day of the week it is based on what the DVR is recording tonight (which is nothing, since it’s summer and there aren’t new episodes of ANYTHING).

My hair is getting ridiculously long. I don’t think I’ve had it cut since last June.

Shit. It’s June again. Guess it’s time for a haircut.

It’s not because I’m cheap, it’s entirely out of laziness. But the reason I’m thinking about it right now is because I’ve had a couple near misses with my hair and the gas burners on the stove in recent weeks.

Maybe today, but probably not. I just loathe sitting in that chair making idle chit-chat with someone I don’t know. The whole process is a little awkward. Maybe if I were one of those chicks who goes to a fancy Salon and has “Cindy” or “Sharon” cut my hair every time, it wouldn’t be such a thing.

But I’m not about to shell out $30+ for someone to take a pair of scissors to my mop. In the past, I’ve told myself, “I’m not gonna waste an hour on my day off just to get my hair cut.” Well, since EVERY DAY is my day off, this excuse doesn’t seem particularily valid anymore.

I still won’t be getting my hair cut today.

The husband and I are all caught up on Game of Thrones now. I’m not sure what we’re going to do in the evenings going forward as this has occupied a good portion of our time in the last few weeks. Now, instead of two episodes each evening, we’ll be anxiously waiting for Sunday night like all the other addicts out there. At least we have something to fill the void created in the absence of Mad Men. I could spend an inordinate amount of time telling you what I think is going to happen, what I loved/hated about previous episodes, but I don’t want to put any spoilers out there incase any of my readers aren’t caught up.

I bought everything I needed to make croissants again the other day, but haven’t had a chance since it’s been so freaking humid and warm outside. Last night I realized that the whole milk was going to go bad in a few days, so I HAD to make them today. It’s one of those recipes that requires Jupiter, Venus, Haley’s Comet and a slew of other celestial objects to all align perfectly with the Earth OR ELSE! Today I’m living on the edge, because I’m making these sans Venus. I’m not supposed to make these in a room warmer than 72 degrees, and my house is currently hanging out at 74. We’ll see how this affects the final product. If they turn out, you can expect a “How to Make Croissants” post tomorrow. If they don’t, you’ll get a “How to spend 10 hours on what will ultimately be a disaster because you didn’t follow directions,” post.

Well, after letting my dough proof for a half hour, it seems like it’s grown a lot larger than it usually does… leading me to believe the temperature of the room may play a more important role than I realized (or the “highly active” yeast I’m using is really living up to its name). It’s looking more and more like tomorrow’s post could be a disaster…

A recipe for disaster...

A recipe for disaster…

I said it was good… I didn’t say it was healthy

Remember when I did that blogging thing for awhile?

I’m bringing it back… and in most cases it will be in very food-centric ways. Let’s face it, I’ve got some TIME on my hands at the moment. One can only waste so many hours playing Candy Crush (Yeah, I’m outta lives. Send me one?)

Last night I made what is arguably one of my favorite weeknight meals. In all fairness, it began as an America’s Test Kitchen recipe. As with most recipes, I could not leave it alone and it has since been tweaked to my satisfaction.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Image

Sourdough bread, parmesan, provolone, pecorino romano and gorgonzola cheeses, penne, butter, cream, flour, salt & pepper.

You don’t have to use sourdough, any high quality bread will do… just don’t make the mistake of using store bought breadcrumbs, or you’ll be sorry. Don’t worry, they’re easy to make. Just take two slices of fresh bread, tear them into pieces and pulse 10-15 times in a food processor. It should look like this:

Image

Get about 4 quarts or so of water on the stove at this point if you didn’t do that already. You can heat that up while shredding the cheese, which is what you’ll be doing next. Don’t cheap out when you buy the cheese, and DO NOT try using anything like the Kraft pre-grated parmesan that comes in a can. You need to buy REAL parmesan and romano for this recipe. The couple extra bucks will be worth it (plus you’ll have a hunk of parmesan in your fridge and you’ll find all sorts of uses for that later).

Image

How much cheese? About this much. About 3/4 cup shredded parmesan, 3/4 cup shredded romano, 1 cup shredded provolone. You shoulda bought the gorgonzola already crumbled, this container is 4 oz.

All of you blue cheese haters out there can go home. Gorgonzola is pretty mild, and combined with the pungent flavors of the other cheeses, the final dish does not taste particularly “blue-cheesy.” The original recipe calls for fontina instead of provolone, but when the only fontina available at my local grocer is $11 for 4 ounces, I’m willing to substitute in provolone for a small fraction of that price. Take half of the parmesan and add it to your breadcrumbs, along with about 1/2 teaspoon of pepper (freshly ground, please) and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Toss it together with a fork.

ImageImage

Dump the remaining parmesan and other cheeses into the biggest mixing bowl you’ve got and toss them together (seriously, this’ll get messy later if you don’t heed my warning). I like this ginormous one that also gets frequently used as the “popcorn” bowl.

Image

Stop worrying about the gorgonzola situation. I already told you, it’s not gonna taste like blue cheese.

Now is a good time to open one of these,

Image

Let’s ignore the fact that all of the bottles in my wine rack are clearly empty.

because a watched pot never boils!

Image

“T-T-T-Today, junior!”

and occasionally you have to deal with unexpected visitors…

Image

B-Bones offers his assistance.

While you’re drinking your wine (and waiting for that damned water to boil) melt about a tablespoon or so of butter over medium-low heat. Add about a tablespoon of flour and whisk until no lumps remain. Give it another 30 seconds or so to cook out that raw flour taste and then slowly add 2 cups of heavy cream while whisking.

ImageImageImage

Can you multi-task? I hope so, especially with one hand occupied by a glass of wine. Hey look, the water is ready!

Image

Make sure you have a rolling boil going. Anything less can and will result in mushy pasta. Patience is a virtue! (but seriously, why can’t hurry the F$*! up be a virtue too?}

Throw in a pound of penne and cook until just shy of al-dente. Don’t choose another pasta. The tube shape and outside ridges are the key here. They help trap and hold onto all of the cheesy goodness. Hey! Don’t forget about that cream sauce you started. You turned up the heat to medium and have been whisking it every minute or so, right? Good. Once it starts to boil, turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for one more minute (it’ll have thickened up at this point). Add about a 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and a 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Whisk, remove from heat, cover and set aside.

When your pasta is ready, drain it but don’t shake off the excess water. You want it to be slightly wet. Dump the steaming hot pasta directly on top of the cheeses in your mixing bowl. Immediately pour the cream sauce on top of the pasta and cover with plastic wrap. Let it sit for 3 minutes to get the cheeses melting.

ImageImageImage

At this point, B-Bones had been fed and was no longer interested in dinner preparation photo bombs.

Once 3 minutes have elapsed, stir it up, making sure to scrape the bottom with a spatula to get all of the cheeses stirred in and melted.

Image

Image

Dump that deliciousness into a 9×13 baking dish. Nope, you don’t need to spray it or butter it or anything, just pour that cheesy mess in there. Make sure you use the spatula to scrape any remaining cheese mess from the bowl.

Image

Remember the bread crumbs we made earlier? Nope, you don’t need to pre-cook or toast them. Just sprinkle them evenly over the top and press down lightly.

Image

Throw this into a 475 degree oven for about 13-15 minutes. You did preheat the oven, didn’t you? If not, you’ll just have extra time to work on that bottle of wine. Slice up some of that sourdough, cause it goes really well with the pasta!

Image

The bread anxiously awaits the arrival of the pasta… and worries about a possible altercation with B-Bones…

Here’s the finished product. Ta-Da!

ImageImageImage

Let it sit for 5 minutes before serving. Try not to over-eat. Let me know how you liked it if you end up making this!