Sunday, October 15, 2017

We Are All the Caretakers of Our Language

Just because something gets repeated over and over doesn't mean it's true. 

It also doesn't mean that it's good grammar/style/usage. 

Here are two (well, three, really) of my current least-favorite turns of phrase: 

"ISO of" - as in the social media posting "ISO of plumber recommendations." Don't get me wrong - I'm all for getting good plumber recommendations. I'm just not in favor of using "of" twice in that phrase. Because, you see, "ISO" is an abbreviation of "in search of," so "ISO of" in that phrase translates to: "In search of of."

This is, obviously, closely related to the infamous "ATM machine," which, when broken out becomes "automated teller machine machine." I don't know about you, but I really don't need a machine which will give me more automated tellers.

A relatively new phrasing that has been showing up at the bottom of commercials is "Real people. Not actors." This has replaced such phrasing as "Real reactions from real people" or "Participants were not paid for their reactions" and comes alongside other disclaimers such as "Actor portrayal of real reactions." 

What gets me in this is that, in saying "Real people. Not actors." the assumption is to be gained that actors are not "real people." But I'm pretty sure actors are people. They may be paid to perform roles and become other people, but - at the most basic - they're people. Just like all four of the "one out of four doctors" are people. 

I know these are kind of weird little things. But, from a language perspective, they're pretty big - and important to the way we speak and write. 

After all, if we don't take care of our language, who will? 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Sandwich Prep Finale (finally!)

We’ve seen baby pictures…
Freshly home from the plant sale.
We’ve seen growing-up pictures…
About a month in.

About three months along.
And, finally, we have a grown-up, no-longer-green, red tomato picture:

Let’s discuss:

I feel like the momentous nature of this occasion requires me to go through all of the steps of a recipe, even though I really just want to go straight to the sandwich. So, here we go…

Ingredients:

Because it takes the longest, I start the egg frying...
The pan is a decent quality non-stick, but I still hit it with just a quick shot of spray, since I wanted to be able to flip the egg without issue.
If I’m having eggs just for the sake of having eggs, I usually take my fried eggs “over medium” – no longer runny, but not quite solid. For a sandwich like this, though, I like the yolk to be firm.
Covering the pan holds the heat (and the moisture) in so that the egg cooks faster, without having to crank up the heat and worry about burning.
While the egg is frying away, it’s time to turn to the star of the show. I almost felt a little bit bad cutting into it – but not that bad.

By the way... I’m a firm believer in using what is traditionally a “meat board” style cutting board for juicy vegetables. After all, I did not want to deal with having to wash dried tomato juice (which somehow always has one or two straggling seeds in it) off of the counter.
Though we don't often have garden-fresh tomatoes to cut, we do have a tomato knife. It's almost the same as a sausage knife, but the tomato knife has prongs on the end. I've been told that they're there so you can life the tomato slices without getting your hands dirty, but I also use them to poke around and remove anything that looks unsavory in the tomato.
With almost perfect timing, the egg was ready to flip by the time I had my slices cut.
See how the white is set up but the yellow hasn't really cooked, yet? That's what adds a little thrill to the flip.
I don’t have video of this, but I did actually flip the egg without the aid of a spatula. In the next photo, you can see the slight streaking of the white along the bottom/side of the pan – that’s because I didn’t quite stick the landing.

Assembly of this sandwich, for me, has a few steps.

First of all, I love doing this on English muffins, because they fit the tomato and egg so well. But since toasted English muffins can be a bit dry I start with a little bit of margarine (which melts in and softens everything).

Then I go for mayo. Yes, I’m one of those people who likes mayo – and although I’ve made it from scratch (which is so much easier than you might think), I am perfectly fine with it coming out of a jar for most applications.

I put the egg on the bottom, with the tomato on top for this one, but I don’t know that it really matters (though it does make for pretty pictures that way).

I think that if I were doing a more complex sandwich (like a club sandwich with a fried egg on it), I’d put the egg on top simply because I could make the rest of the sandwich while the egg was cooking. In this case, though, everything was done at about the same time, so I went for aesthetics.

How did this make me feel? Well, let's find out:

And, yes, this is what the plate looked like about 45 seconds after the camera was turned off. I honestly believe that it was worth every moment of the 5 months that I’ve been tending those plants.

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Have a fall recipe that you'd like someone else to try, first? Let me know! Or, if you're looking for a recipe for the Holidays, drop me a line and I'll see if I can find it. This time of year - even more than others - the kitchen is my happy place!


Friday, October 6, 2017

Smitten Kitchen Gooey Cinnamon Squares (finally!)

Alright, as I also say in the video, below, I'm going to cut to the chase and go right to the point of this post: Cinnamon Gooey Squares from a cookbook called The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook:

You can find her website, here, or search her out on social media under the name The Smitten Kitchen.
Instead of trying to type up my gushing about the cookbook, let's just go to the intro video:


Okay. I realize I may sound a bit biased going into the recipe. But that also means that I have very high expectations, so let's see how that all comes out.

I won't lie: I absolutely love reading her stories, but in this case I kind of wish that the people who did her book's layout had realized that we'd rather have the ingredients and the steps all on the same page - instead of having the ingredients next to her story.

I spent a lot of time flipping the pages back and forth, trying to figure out how much of each ingredient was being used at any given time.

Yes, this time the mixer is in the background on purpose (but you can ignore the blender...).

Since it was my first time with this recipe, I did follow the instructions fairly closely, including lining the pan with parchment paper (as you saw in the video, above), and whisking together my dry ingredients all on their own. 
That is never going to be an exciting photo.
The butter and sugar went in first (as they often do), followed by the milk (I used skim milk, because it's what I had on hand - I'm guessing that one of the "richer" milk products might yield a... well... richer final product.)

NOTE: This is what happens when you usually rely on natural light for your photos, but the sun has already gone down and there's no light source right above your prep table. (See also: my feelings of inadequacy when comparing my photos to those of The Smitten Kitchen.)
With all of the liquids in, it looks kind of like the first stages of any cookie dough.

And, frankly, that's what it looks like when you add in the flour - though it is a bit softer than most cookie doughs (more like the "cookie batter" we had when dealing with the sugar jumbles a few weeks back).

I love that the recipe says to "dollop" the bottom layer into the pan, and then spread it with an offset spatula. Unfortunately, we don't have an offset spatula. So, of course, I decided to go at it with my hands.

It was a bit of a challenge, because the parchment doesn't really want to stick to the bottom of the pan, so as the batter moves, so does the parchment. (I'm guessing this would not happen with the spatula, because it wouldn't all be getting stuck to your fingers - so this one's on me.)
Like, literally, on me.
With the base layer in the pan, it's off to do the gooey layer. And - five-year-old-kid at heart as I am - I was pretty excited to get to work with anything that calls itself "gooey."

As you know, I don't have a dishwasher, so I grabbed for the same bowl I used for the flour, earlier, to whisk my wet ingredients. It was a lot bigger than I needed, but it still worked out well. (Though, honestly, adding vanilla to milk and corn syrup did not yield the most appealing color.)

I'll admit that - bad person that I am - I used my dry 1/4-cup measure to measure the corn syrup. It's just so much easier to get in there and get out every last bit of the corn syrup.
Does anyone have a liquid measuring cup that really works well for corn syrup/honey/molasses?

Of course, there's the slight factor (for the blog, at least) that aside from the corn syrup and vanilla mixture, many of the other ingredients in this layer are almost identical to the first layer. Trust me, though: I verified that the following photos are from the second layer.

Butter, sugar, and salt, creamed - with the egg added in.

The next steps, where you alternate liquid and dry additions, are really reminiscent of making a cake batter. (I believe this is done so that the ingredients don't get overworked.)
The halfway point.
The final beatings changed everything from looking a lot like the base layer to suddenly looking all fluffy and almost frosting-like.
It never ceases to amaze me how small tweaks in ingredients can make such a huge difference to the outcome.
Now, I have to admit that the recipe does suggest that you need the base layer to be pretty smooth before moving on. So, before adding the gooey layer, I dug around in the cabinet and found a pie server that I was able to use as a makeshift offset spatula. 

The base was definitely much easier to work with, this way, and I got it to cooperate fairly well before dolloping on the next layer. 
Part of why it looks like this is the lighting in the kitchen, but - really - it is kind of two shades of beige at this stage.
A little pie-server magic, and voila! a nice, smooth, two-layer dessert bar ready to get snickerdoodled. (That's a verb, right?)

The recipe says that the mixture of sugar and cinnamon, when sprinkled on top, will be "thick." So when I got to this point, I wasn't sure I had done enough. How does it look to you?
One of the hard parts of "sprinkling" is trying to get it fairly even. I think I did okay.
And - with my hands smelling a-mazing from the cinnamon, I slid the pan into the oven and set the timer.

Initially, just as the sides started to puff, the sugar and cinnamon started to melt. It looked like it was going to get soupy, frankly:
NOTE: You really shouldn't open the oven during baking. Not only does it screw up your heat, it also lets out all of the moisture in the oven, so it can mess up the moisture in your finished product. Unfortunately, it's really hard to take "in the oven" photos through the window in the door.
About halfway through the baking, it really puffed up, which looked a bit odd and "jagged" in a few places.
Seriously. What did I just tell you? Stop opening the oven door to look! 
The recipe says that the bars should puff up and collapse in the oven, but mine didn't collapse until they had begun to cool. That could be because our oven temp has been wonky, but I thought I'd mention it so you wouldn't be surprised if it happened to you.

Once they came out of the oven and cooled on the counter, the middle did sink a bit, and - wow - such a perfect golden brown top!

Yes, this photo was taken post-cutting. So we should probably go to the video...
How did they turn out? I'm so glad you asked!



In case you're wondering whether they hold their shape, even with the gooey layer, here's how the pan looked after the cut was made: 
You can see that the layers all stay together - no mushing around.
Of course, the photo from the cookbook does them much more justice, though I can't imagine having the discipline to cut them into 1-inch squares. (I suspect that we'll be cutting them much larger when we're at my folks' this weekend.)

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Have a craving you want addressed? A recipe you've been searching for? Something you've heard of that you'd rather have someone else try before you do it yourself? Let me know and I'll see what I can do!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Writing 101: Working with a Thesaurus Can Be Scary

As we enter the month of Halloween, I'm sure you're already seeing all of the costumes available to help you change your persona for the holiday. In a way, a thesaurus is a costume for your writing. 

When you use a thesaurus, you're taking your usual words (your day-to-day persona) and turning them into something else. But - as with any costume - if you're not careful you can end up getting too much trick and not enough treat. 

To help explain, let's take a look at a basic sentence: 

The guard turned to open the door. 

It's straightforward, right? We probably all have the same basic image in our minds of someone in a uniform pivoting in some way to "un-close" a door of some kind. 

If we grab a thesaurus, we can move all sorts of different directions, though. For instance: 

The sentry twisted to unlock the gate.

Or possibly:

The guardian pivoted to unhinge the portal.

Each of those is evocative of a very different situation. (In my mind, we've gone from a possible prison situation in the original to something possibly medieval, to something that might be science fiction.)

But, if you're not really paying attention to your thesaurus and the parts of speech that the replacement words give you, it can get pretty bad. After all, "guard" can be a verb and "open" can be an adjective. This means that a bad trip to the thesaurus could result in:

The protect changed to overt the ingress.

or

The bulwark revolved to commence the aperture.

Neither of which is as successful as the earlier options. It's kind of like searching for a Halloween costume and instead of buying the Joker you get the Riddler. Or when you're shopping for a vampire costume instead of Dracula you end up looking like Edward Cullen (though, honestly, I'm not sure which is more terrifying).

Your thesaurus can be a great treat - just be careful that you don't get tricked. (And, if you're in doubt, ask an editor. We're here to help!)


**All photos from StockSnap.io.

Friday, September 29, 2017

A Cinematic Cinnamon Summary

So, who made Snickerdoodles last week? My batch went with us to a brunch on Sunday - I like to think of it as a nod to cinnamon rolls without the mess (and without taking up as much space on the brunch buffet, frankly).

I truly do have a very cool recipe I want to share with you that is a take on those Snickerdoodles, but before we get into that I wanted to talk about the most important thing in the recipe: the cinnamon.

It's probably best if I give up trying to type about this and just talk:



As promised above, here's the picture from the local food Co-op (Lakewinds Co-op in Richfield, MN):

Want a day filled with fall bliss? Come visit the co-op with me and we'll stand around sniffing the cinnamon-y goodness. (Do I know how to party, or what?)

And, happily, that also answers my question from the video! The four types of cinnamon (not including the blend) available at Penzey's (www.penzeys.com) are: Indonesian, Ceylon, Chinese, and Vietnamese.

If you have the chance to smell (and taste - and work with) the various varieties, you'll see why I think this is such an important choice to make.

See you next week, with a recipe I can't wait to try - and to share!

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Have a recipe you want someone else to try before you do? Or something you've tried and you're wondering why it turned out the way it did? Maybe you're on a quest for the perfect Thanksgiving side dish, or a good gluten-free dessert. Let me know and I might address it in a future blog post! (It could even result in a plate of cookies showing up in your mailbox...) 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Betty Crocker's 1950 Snickerdoodles

Happy Autumnal Equinox!

In honor of the day, I've been planning to finally put together the tomato sandwiches that I've been talking about for nearly four months. Let's take a look at how that's going:

NOTE: I know that the end of this video is pretty bad, cinematically, but I thought it was a nice shot of the tree above me still all green and summer-y looking.

So... yeah... Not quite time for the tomatoes, but totally time to start looking at fall flavors. (Typing that just now I started thinking about beef stew and warm bread, but since it's about 90 degrees out, I think I'll wait on those until the weather figures itself out.)


For today's foray into the warm spices, we're going to hop back to 1950, once again, for one of my favorite cinnamon-y cookies: Snickerdoodles!

I kind of love that the recipe starts out with "Fun to say . . . to sniff . . . to eat!" because, well, they are all of those things.

We've made a lot of cookies, lately, so you probably already know the basics of how this all goes together...
NOTE: No brown sugar in these, so we'll be getting cakier, less-bendy cookies.
I think I've mentioned in the past that I always cream the shortening (in this case margarine) and sugar before adding the eggs. Recipes like this one don't actually call for that, but it's a habit I've had for a really long time, and I think most recipes come together better because of it. 

I believe it has something to do with the sugar molecules bonding to the fat before the protein is added in. (As usual, if you want me to do some research on that, just let me know.)
I've heard people say that they prefer cooking over baking because baking is too technical and requires you to pay too much attention to details. The chemistry in all of the leavening can be particular, and one small misstep can make a flaky dough turn into concrete. And - believe me - I've had pie crusts do just that. 

But, on the other hand, there are some things that can be a little loose when it comes to baking. Take the salt, for instance. Salt in baked goods typically adds that certain something that really accentuates the flavors. (Don't believe me? Try baking something and leaving out the salt - it tastes weird.) But, because the salt is there (mainly) for flavor, I don't typically worry to much about the exact amount, and (unless I've already got a used measuring spoon around) I go by feel.
My closest guess is that this is about half a teaspoon - not including the little bit that goes over your shoulder to ward off bad luck.
I think I mentioned in the first video, above, that this is more of a cookie dough than a cookie batter (which was the case for the chocolate chip cookies). During the final stirring, you can really see the consistency. It's not as stiff as for, say, rolled-out sugar cookies, but it's much stiffer than the cookies we've made this month.
Yes. Doing it all by hand... again. 
Since we don't want these cookies to get tough, and we also don't want them to just "melt" on the cookie sheets, the dough heads for the fridge to chill. Typically, this is a "1 to 2 hours, or overnight" situation. You're trying to get the dough to relax, while also bringing it down to a lower temp and making it easier to scoop, later.

If you're ever putting something aside to chill, I recommend covering it (unless the recipe specifically says not to). This will do two things: it will keep the dough from picking up other flavors, and it will keep the dough from drying out. 
About an hour later, just before getting the dough out of the fridge, you can get out a small bowl and make your cinnamon/sugar mixture.
If you're thinking this looks like more than the 2T sugar and 2t cinnamon specified in the recipe, you're right. It's probably at least three times that - but it still may not cover all of your cookies.
I'm all for putting these together assembly-line-style. I'm right-handed, so I keep the scoop in my right hand, toss the dough in the cinnamon/sugar with my left, and then transfer it to the pan (also with my left). This keeps one hand clean at all times - which makes it possible to grab the pan and put it into the oven without covering everything in either dough or spice.


When you get to the end, you may need to make more cinnamon/sugar mix. Otherwise, it's possible that your final few cookies will look like the toner cartridge ran out of brown...
The dough is a little sticky, so if it doesn't get rolled in the cinnamon mix, it can look a little spiky.
In the oven, these will puff up a bit (as Ms. Crocker and her team of writers have warned us), and then they will flatten out and "crinkle" on top as they cool.
Unlike the other cookies we've been making, it's a little hard to see whether or not the edges and bottoms are browning on these. You're going to want to rely on your timer until you get a good feel for how the Snickerdoodles behave in your oven.
Because of the sugar on the bottoms of the cookies - and because the pans aren't greased - you're going to want to remove these from the pans pretty quickly after they come out of the oven so that you don't end up leaving carmellized crumbs stuck on the pan.

So, how do they taste?

Happy New Season(ing)!

Before you ask, this is a close-up of the cup and plate from the video. The set came from the drug store my parents had when I was growing up. I tried to google the company, but got a whole bunch of information on a castle in southwest England - no hot chocolate in sight.

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Is there something that you make that always reminds you of fall? Are you a cinnamon or clove or ginger fanatic? Or do you lean more toward hearty stews and chili in the Crock-Pot? Let me know if there's something you'd like to see me work on, and maybe it will show up in a future blog post!