Friday, December 30, 2011

squeaky wheels and shiny round things

It's a thing of beauty, isn't it?
That, friends, is the All-Clad d5 Stainless Steel 4-qt Saute Pan after which I have been lusting for the better part of 18 months (at least).  I've had a longing in my heart for All-Clad cookware since I was planning my wedding (you'd better believe they bought full-page ads in every bridal magazine published in the Northeastern part of the USA).  That yearning only grew more intense as I watched my mother-in-law preparing sauces and roasts and whatnot with her All-Clad cookware - now I could see how beautiful it is in real life and what a pleasurable cooking experience it appeared to offer.

If you clicked the link, you know that All-Clad is definitely not a bargain brand.  One of my favorite past-times has become asking Mister if he'll buy me a $4,000 27-piece set of All-Clad for Christmas, my birthday, Valentine's Day, or Tuesday.  (Hurry! It's on sale!  Only $2,800!)  I've made comments, half-joking to Mister, my mother, my father, Angst, and anyone else who will pretend to listen to me, just so everyone possible is aware that I would be eternally grateful if anyone ever felt like blessing me with at least a piece of this cookware.  That's right - just one item, because that would be enough to know if the "hype" is true.

If you've been reading for a while, you've had the privilege of seeing multiple snide remarks directed toward my faithful but insufficient CuisinArt 3-qt Saute pan, which has helped me make dinner since I got it for our wedding 4 years ago.  Actually, it was piece of a cookware set that I got on sale and I got what I paid for, so 4 years later, we're down to about half the original set and I've been replacing pieces bit by bit as needed.  I shared my initial dilemma here, where I was trying to decide whether to dig a deeper hole of debt to get a nice cookware set or just buy nice pieces as I was able.  Actually, looking up that post made me realize I've been complaining about my 3-qt saute pan for over two years.  On with the show!

For Christmas this year, Mister got me.....

Not All-Clad.  But he did get me a new cookbook, which is awesome, since I'd run out of creativity with my old ones (one of the many reasons I've been so neglectful in my posting).  I've been cooking from it all week, but tonight's meal was particularly colorful and attractive: Vegetables Provencal on basmati rice.

Why am I posting this after completely ignoring pretty much all month that I cook and eat dinner on a nightly basis?

The answer is very simple and even more gratifying.

My mother reads my blog.  On Christmas, she asked me what my inaugural meal would be...

in the All-Clad 4-qt saute pan she got me for Christmas...

I am a happy and very blessed lady.

The pan is a lot heavier than my "old" saute pan and I'm having trouble figuring out exactly where it's going to live.  It was so easy to cook with and it's so beautiful it makes me smile involuntarily.  I knew the real test would be washing it.  I haven't had stainless steel cookware since my generations-old RevereWare bit the dust, but I remembered that being a huge pain in my butt to scrub clean.  Since we have nonstick cookware, we don't have a scrubby thing.  I accidentally got too wrapped up checking Facebook and looking at happy pictures and let the pot sit on the stove with leftover tomato-based sauce for about an hour.

Washing it felt like petting satin.

So, ask and ye shall receive, eh?  My 1-qt sauce pot is starting to show its age....


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

sweet and simple success

So, despite last night's relative failure (not really, but it didn't live up to my hopeless perfectionism, so...) I strapped on my holiday-appropriate red-n-white striped apron again.  I guess it's kind of like getting right back in the saddle after being thrown?

Well, maybe not as painful, although you may find it painful to observe my "clashing" stripes.  By pure lucky coincidence, I happened to be wearing horizontally-striped socks and I thought it was a funny combination with the vertical stripes of the apron.  If you disagree, remember what your mother taught you about what to do if you don't have anything nice to say.

I have plenty of nice things to say tonight - we'll start with the cookies.

My first "nice" statement is to point out how lucky my colleagues are that I am a woman of my word (and that by telling them I was baking I created built-in accountability).  Mister and I each had one small cookie to test their quality and were completely impressed.

In addition to being attractive on the outside, these cookies are "charming and delightful" and a pleasure to be around.  I do not expect them to last very long tomorrow - they are just the right amount of sweet, aided, in part, by the cinnamon sugar in which I rolled them before plunking them down on the baking sheets.  However, the generous amount of Earth Balance that began the batter contributed to an incredibly buttery taste and texture - you could liken these to a combination of those Dutch butter cookies so much like shortbread, and honest to goodness sugar cookies.

They are, in a way, sugar cookies - The recipe, filched gracefully from is for Brown Sugar Drop Cookies but my increasingly OCD self couldn't deal with the ugly little deposits of dough on the sheets, so I rolled them into buttery little balls and then dunked them into cinnamon sugar before pressing the down a little onto the sheet.

Time to pack them up! Before Mister and I eat them all...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

in pursuit of the perfect brownie

I know you're not expecting this, but OMGMyHomeSmellsSoGood!

'Twas the week before Christmas
and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring
'cause Angst killed the mouse

I suppose I could probably rewrite the poem to be clever, but why mess with something that time-honored. Besides, I've got brownies to wax poetic about.

Thanks to Isa and Terry, I've got vegan cupcakes and vegan cookies down, but brownies continue to be that impossible-to-replicate baked item.  I have a few recipes and I've gotten some decent feedback on them, but to me, they've fallen short of "the real deal;" dense, fudgy brownies with the crinkly top.  When I stumbled on this new post from a fellow Prodigal Blogger, I decided this recipe would answer all my prayers - after all the post's title is "The Best Vegan Brownie You Will Ever Eat."

I hope that's not true.

To be fair, it is the best vegan brownie I've eaten so far - so in a way it is true.  However delightful it made my kitchen (and therefore, entire apartment, possibly the better part of the building) smell, and no matter how crinkly the top was, and regardless of the fact that this is the first vegan brownie I've had that's resulted in me chugging soymilk to settle the sweetness, it's still not all that I wanted it to be.

It's very chocolatey.  It's very sweet.  It's the closest I've been to the moist, dense, fudgy brownies I remember from the not-too-distant past, but it fell just a little short.  My main grudge against vegan brownies is that they crumble.  Brownies are not meant to crumble - we'll leave that to shortbread and biscotti.  Brownies hold together by the sheer weight of their fudginess.  You could, conceivably, eat a brownie without a plate.

When I was mixing the wet and dry ingredients together, I thought it would be fun (and a little extra decadent) to include a handful of peanut butter chips (and it was).  As I was "pouring" the batter into the prepared pan, I found that I had to "spread" it to the corners - not a quality I usually look for in brownie batter, but the recipe did state that the batter would be thick.  It certainly was.  I kind of think that if I hadn't pushed it into a perfect rectangle with my spatula, it would have been perfectly content to be a little oblong brownie.

That's another thing.  I don't know what's up with all these "brownie bites" you can buy in grocery stores, but brownies are square or rectangular.  They are not round.  When you pour brownie batter into a mini-muffin pan and bake it, what comes out of the oven are mini-muffins, not round brownies.  There is no such thing as a round brownie.  Are you listening, Superfresh?

Okay, back to tonight's baking adventures.

So, my intention was to make these incredibly dense and moist and fudgy brownies, spiked with little bits of peanut butter, and then carefully pack them between layers of wax paper and deliver them to colleagues tomorrow so they could ooh and aah and exclaim their surprise about how fudgy and perfect my vegan brownies were.  I'm not sure they'll make it in and it's not necessarily because Mister and I can't keep our hands off (though they really are very tasty).

My brownies are crumbly.

I feel like I should have known that when I was forcing the batter into the corners of the pan.  At least three times before I put them in the oven I thought, "maybe I should add a little more liquid?"  Because the flavor is so good, I may make a second attempt and follow my heart on that, but it's too late tonight.  No brownies for you, faithful and persevering colleagues, or at least not tomorrow.  Tomorrow night will find me in the kitchen again "after hours," either perfecting this recipe or making cookies.  I guess you'll have to stay tuned to find out...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

glitter and good will

If you look back over posts from Decembers Past, you'll find I don't usually have time to enjoy The Most Wonderful Time of the Year due to working like a maniac.  Since I find myself working a retail position this holiday season, I figured I would once again miss out on the fun due to a busy schedule.  It has been plenty busy but since I am now in the city from the moment I wake up until I fall asleep again, I still have enough leftover time and energy to enjoy the holiday - how welcome a relief!

I hope you found my last post more inspiring than depressing or mean.  I expect this one to be of a far more light-hearted nature.

In years past, as in, those that came before full-time jobs and adult responsibilities, I used to love the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Everyday I would open my eyes in anticipation of a snowfall that usually didn't come.  At night I would decorate the envelopes in which I would send off treasures - Christmas cards and sometimes invitations to a grand party.  One year, I even managed to have a formal party - I wore a full, floor-length gown of midnight blue georgette and satin!  I was the most dressed of all my attendees, but they did humor me and dress to the nines.  Although I'm not yet back to the point of being able to host a lavish, gilded soiree, I have decorated my home for the first time in many years and tonight I covered myself and my dining table with the glitter that fell from the Christmas cards I was addressing in my finest script.  It feels good to have a box full of treasures for mailing!

In the hopes of pulling you into my Holiday Spirit, let's have a Picture Parade!

Here is a tiny ceramic nativity scene.  It seemed like the best place for it was beneath the tree, since I do consider the birth of my Savior to be the greatest gift of all.  Despite that truth, I will probably have to move it when I start putting presents beneath the tree (which I hope will start happening this weekend!).

Anyone remember Beanie Babies?  This is my angelbear beanie - its name is Halo II (good name for a friend, right?) and we share a birthday (even if we are 22 years apart).

I have a lovely angel ornament who is currently too big and heavy for my little Charlie Brown tree.  Fortunately, this year we have a mantel and a fireplace and I think she looks just lovely suspended there, just beyond the tree.

Santa's keeping a close watch over my watercolor of Lake Tahoe (I think he'd rather locate his toy shop there).

Initially, I thought I'd clear off the mantel completely and put up green garland, maybe with some lights and ribbon, then weave some candles and other Christmas decor (like my tiny nativity scene) in, but then I looked again and saw what a beautiful job Mister had done, arranging one of my favorite wedding photos amidst some candles and other works of art created specifically for us, and I thought I would rather just augment his work.  So, I added another Santa.

Eleven months of the year, this guy lives inside the santa box above.  He's a painted ceramic snowman lantern.  Think about that.  A snowman lantern.  It's a little twisted, don't you think?

"Hey, what should we set on fire?"

"How 'bout this snowman over here?"

I mean, really?  What thought process goes into making a snowman lantern?

Nevertheless, I love it and will keep him burning as long as I keep finding tea-light candles.

This is a little pewter nativity scene candle.  Again, with the irreverent things to set on fire, but anyway... my father-in-law gave me this little token at my first Greek Christmas.  He did so because he didn't know if the hostess, Yiayia (Greek for Grandmother), would have included me in the gift-giving and he didn't want me to feel left out.

So I love it.

That's a little tin pail, painted up to resemble Santa.  It appears Santa is like the Beans-n-Rice of my decorating world - can't have too many versions, can I?  This one makes a great candy holder, so there are individually-wrapped peppermints in there right now.  Candy canes may or may not be next.

Angst was feeling a bit uncertain about the decor changes.

In fact, he was pretty sure he wanted nothing to do with all these sparkly, lit-up things.

 Oh.  Wait.

Dangle-y things?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

grinchy mcscrooge

What is up with kids these days???

Yes, I've become one of those stodgy old geezers that says things like that.  Hear me out, though - in the "olden days," stodgy old geezers were called by a different name - Elders - and people showed them reverence and respect simply because they had managed to live long enough to get gray hairs.

I work with a bunch of people who are, on average, 10 years younger than me.  While this is usually something we don't notice, I can't help but wonder if it is a generational difference that allows me to love Christmas in all its trimmings - the music, the food, the scents, the decorations - and that causes them to adopt an attitude of apathy at best and downright mean-spirited, steal-your-sunshine hatred at worst.  I don't know when this happened since I was too busy to enjoy Christmas the last two years, but it seems that without exception, my colleagues display a total bah humbug attitude toward the holiday season: while I look forward to the isolated 4 weeks each year that I get to listen to Christmas music, they hate it and complain relentlessly about having to listen to it.

I've had it.

What happened to holiday cheer?  Where is the "most wonderful time of the year"?  Why doesn't anyone "buy into" that anymore?

I think most people are quick to blame the heinous over-commercialization of the holiday for all this Anti-Christmas sentiment.  I can understand how it must feel like Toys-R-Us opening at 9pm on Thanksgiving and the ads for holiday shopping season starting right after Halloween can take away the charm and sentimentality of Christmases past.

I think that's only part of a much bigger picture.  I've been thinking a lot about this because to me, Christmas is a joyful time of year - I love Christmas.  I look forward to it the way a child does, but not in anticipation of presents - rather, I linger on every sight and scent, I enjoy every single day.  I smile when I see the first snowflake decorations tied to the lampposts in Philadelphia and the sight of Headhouse Shambles and Rittenhouse Square all lit up for Christmas makes my heart swell.  I feel joy when I walk past a tree or window display of a storefront.  I actually love Christmas shopping because I know that I have all the excuses I need to "spoil" the people I love.  The only thing I really don't like about Christmas is the time that I have to wait between buying a gift and giving it because I love the joy a small token of love and friendship can bring to a person.

Why don't other people have that joy?

From looking around me and doing some serious thinking (who, me?), I think that a bigger part of this new "bah humbug" trend is the deterioration of relationships - relationships with your family, possibly your colleagues or friends, but yes, relationships.  Whether people admit it or not, I think that is why so many young people hate Christmas.  I know people who hate Christmas just because it means they have to see their family and deal with all the drama - when your family is built around dysfunctional relationships, it doesn't feel good to spend time together.  When we place all our worth on being in a romantic relationship, it "ruins" Christmas if that person dumps us before or around the holiday season.

Honestly, friends, what it comes down to is this: a lack of connection to, respect for, and relationship with the Savior whose birth Christmas celebrates removes any last vestige of holiday joy. [Before anyone reading feels the need to bring this up, I am very well aware that the Church strategically selected December 25th due to the celebration of a popular pagan holiday and that December 25th is not actually when Christ was born.  None of that changes the fact that this is the designated holiday to symbolically celebrate the miracle.]

This time of year you hear ads on the television and on the radio, reminding you to "keep Christ in Christmas" or remember the "Reason for the Season" and it's easy to roll your eyes and say it's hokey, but if we refocused the holiday and remembered why we celebrate it, we might find a joy that transcends holiday shopping madness (I freely admit to hating mall shopping during December, despite my love of buying gifts), gives us strength to put aside differences and hurt feelings and gather with our families at the table, and most importantly, gives us a worth that will never be matched by another human being's love.

So what's wrong with kids these days?  They were not raised in a Christian society, so Christmas has never been anything but a secular, universally celebrated, shopping holiday and another excuse for their family to make them miserable.  The songs that I love to listen to remind me of the incredible love God showed by allowing himself to be born as a human infant to poor, unwed parents so that he could live among us, as one of us, and ultimately give his life so that we would no longer be separated from him.  They remind me of the traditions my family has kept and the new ones I have adopted with the family I married into.  They evoke warmth and love and golden images of happy people being nice to each other.

The songs they hate have no meaning apart from reminding them how useless Christmas is now that they aren't children looking for something special under the tree.  As we [as a secular society] have successfully removed God from every facet of society that is not the cloistered halls of a church, we have lost our holiday traditions and the little things that can touch our hearts and make us remember that we have a lot of love to give.

I have a lot of love to give.  Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones from me and mine.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

somethin' in the works

Yes.... I know I suck at posting recently.  I'm sorry.  But you're tired of hearing me apologize for sporadic posting anyway, aren't you?

I could babble about why I haven't been posting but it comes down to this: I don't find it interesting to post about recipes I've made multiple times and if I don't have anything interesting or entertaining to say, I don't want to post just for the sake of keeping up the blog.

Stick with me, folks.  Not giving away anything just yet, but stay tuned - something's coming.



While we're waiting, though, why don't you page through some of my older posts?  I used to put together some fairly entertaining posts when I was still figuring out this crazy cooking thing!  Pick a post you enjoyed, then click on one of the tags for other posts like it.  Or, just pick a random past month to check out.

If you want to laugh at someone being completely random and scatterbrained, check out December of any year and January of 2010.
If you want to think deeply, check out October 2009 or the tag Operation Gratitude Attitude (November through December 2009).
If you like faerietales, read the posts I wrote about PIFA, either by using the PIFA tag or by going to April 2011.
If you want to know more about the information that led to my decision to "go vegan," check out my multi-part review of Skinny Bitch between August and October of 2010.
If you need a suggestion, leave me a comment with what you want to read about/learn and I'll point you in the right direction.

No food pictures because you've seen them all before.  How about an Angst picture?

How about his Greatest Hits?

See you soon!