Friday, August 29, 2014

Happy Birthday!

Forty-nine years ago this month I went to the New York State Fair with my mother and my sister, as we always did.  Maybe it was forty-nine years ago today, because today is my sister's birthday and that would have been a nice way to celebrate.  But anyway.

At the fair we succumbed to the spiel of one of the vendors in the crap-for-sale building.  We each bought what was described as a Magic Knife, which could cut effortlessly through frozen food, copper pipe, solid granite, etc. not to mention bread and tomatoes.  I seem to recall that we paid $3 apiece for the knives.

It did in fact do pretty well on the frozen food, although these days I don't even own frozen green beans so I don't need to cut a package in two. It did really well on the bread and tomatoes, and it followed me to twelve different homes on two continents.  It's never been sharpened.  In one of those homes it had a mishap involving direct heat and got a little melt mark on its handle, which hasn't slowed it down.  And it's still cutting, but my husband thinks not as well as it used to; the magic is wearing off.

I don't know who inherited Mom's Magic Knife when she died but unfortunately it wasn't me.  Every time she and I bought identical things at the same time, mine would fall apart much faster than hers.  So if I had her knife we wouldn't be complaining about it going dull.

Meanwhile it still cuts bread pretty well, if not really well.  And I have no intention of ever parting with it.  So happy birthday to Bethany and to M.K.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Watermelon dud

Ever seen a watermelon this pale?

No, it isn't a new variety, just a regular seeded melon that was picked way too soon.  The texture was excellent, cool and crisp -- but it tasted of water, not of melon.

This is the first time I've ever encountered a totally unripe melon in decades of consumption.  But after we suffered through a week without watermelon, at the next market day the farmer gave us a free replacement.  She had no clue as to why the melon was unripe.  The new one is fine -- a happy ending.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

No-knead bread -- not there yet

During our family reunion week in July, my sister-in-law whipped up a batch of bread dough, as has been her hobby for the last couple of years.  It tasted so good -- and looked so easy -- that Zoe and I decided we needed to try it at home.

In the early years of my marriage I made all our bread, but the old-fashioned way, with kneading.  I always thought kneading was the best part of breadmaking; I liked the zen and the rhythm and feeling the dough change under your hands.  But in the last couple of years I have been reading about the new approach, in which you don't have to knead at all.  This recipe originated with Jim Lahey, a New York baker, and was made famous by Mark Bittman in the New York Times.  And it's the approach that my sister-in-law has been using to huge success.

So we decided to try the recipe.  It calls for only a quarter-teaspoon of yeast (compared to more than 2 teaspoons in my old faithful recipe) but you let it rise overnight, at least 12 hours and preferably 18.  Hardly any work to stir up a batch of dough and set it aside on a corner, and sure enough, the next day it had little bubbles all over, just as the recipe said.

But then our paths diverged.  The recipe said, "using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball."

That sounded like a quarter-cup or less of flour would be plenty, so we put that on the counter and turned the dough onto it.  Zoe was elected to "shape the dough into a ball."  It was kind of like "shaping" chocolate pudding into a ball.  We sprinkled more flour onto the dough and over her hands but it took five minutes to scrape the goo off her hands and back into the dough.

Next we were supposed to turn the dough onto a tea towel to rise.  This would allow us to use the towel as a support to flip the dough into a covered pot to bake.  Two problems: the dough didn't rise very much, and when we tried to "flip" it into the pot, it stayed stuck to the tea towel.  We pulled out our trusty butter knife again to scrape the dough off the towel (which incidentally put holes into the towel).

The bread turned out quite nice, although it wasn't as good the next day as it had been straight out of the oven.

I think I'll give this method a few more tries, but with serious modifications to the process.  For instance, I think I'll eliminate the tea towel and put the dough into a greased bowl for its second rising, just as I used to do with my old-fashioned kneaded bread.  That way it can be turned into the pot with a flick of the wrist.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Per directions?

When you buy Italian sausage to put into red sauce for pasta, it's going to simmer gently all afternoon, so you can feel confident that it will be cooked through by dinnertime.  But sometimes you just want to slap that sausage onto a plate as soon as you can, and it might be helpful to know how long that should take.

No such luck with this package.  On the front, not a hint.  On the back, a recipe that calls for the sausage to be cooked (so I infer that it isn't cooked already), and helpfully directs you to cook it "per directions" -- which are nowhere to be found.

I grew up in the days when pork had to be cooked a long time, and I have always been hypersensitive to that issue because when I was a kid, some people we knew became extremely ill with trichinosis, not even from eating pork, but from eating hamburger; the butcher had put their beef through the grinder without cleaning it properly after some pork.  

According to the CDC, trichinosis has been almost wiped out, because pigs no longer eat raw meat scraps (that's now illegal), but you do have to cook pork to kill salmonella and E. coli bacteria.  And how long might that take for your Italian sausage?  The Johnsonville people are no help.

Thanks a lot.  Don't worry if you come to eat at my house, because I always cook pork forever, but some people may regret the lack of info.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Most adorable airline souvenir

So here's my nomination -- a tiny plastic airplane!  You turn the propeller to shake either salt or pepper.  What could be cuter?