a new contender

This chocolate chip cookie recipe from the New York Times seems to be getting a lot of play on this particular series of tubes lately, and I’m curious to try it.

A few things about it that interest me:

  • first, the mix of cake flour and bread flour is interesting to me… it seems like you should be able to get the same gluten ratio (which is I assume what they are trying to fiddle with here) by using all-purpose flour and adding cornstarch.
  • the 24hr chill is something I’ve heard recommended for all cookie recipes, even the sub-standard Toll House.
  • I like that it is sized for big-assed cookies, though I wonder how it will bake up for the smaller cookies (tablespoon sized drops) that I usually go with.
  • I condone their use of bittersweet chocolate — what is the point of putting milk chocolate in cookies that you are going to eat with a glass of milk anyways, I ask you?
  • sprinkling with sea salt == sweet + salty == brilliant!

I won’t guarantee that I’ll get around to trying these out this weekend (I’m learning how to splatter my brains across the pavement ride a motorcycle) but I’ll let you know as soon as I do. And if you’ve already tried this recipe, please let me know what you think!

what happens in duluth

…gets a long and rambly write-up.

This past Saturday was Nerd 2’s birthday, and given that we’ve been a thing (’scuse me while I puke a little) for a little while now, but hadn’t really ever traveled anywhere together (he goes to Iraq, I go to Vegas…it never seems to line up), this seemed like a good time to do something about that.

Duluth seems to be the default place to go for Minnesotans who don’t really want to have to plan their roadtrips too thoroughly, and I hadn’t really ever seen the city so the location was fairly easy to decide on.

We drove up Saturday morning (thereby skipping the mad rush that I assumed Friday evening would have been) and made pretty decent time. On the way, we stopped at Tobie’s for caramel rolls that I told myself I wasn’t going to eat right away, but ended up devouring half of one before we even got back to the car. We checked into the Inn on Lake Superior a little early in hopes of upgrading our room (no joy, they were full up with weddings) and headed out on the town. It had slipped my mind that Fitger’s Brewery was based in Duluth, so it was a pleasant surprise when we drove by it in search of something to eat. The food was unexpectedly good, and the beer, well, we maybe walked out of their with 4 growlers (damn those samplers!). After dinner, we made a feeble attempt to work off the calories by walking around the Canal Park — including feeding the seagulls, the Army Corp of Engineers shipping museum, and walking under the lift bridge — and we ended up at the Duluth 10 theaters just in time to catch a showing of the latest Indiana Jones.

Post movie, we headed back to the hotel and partook of our first round of s’mores on the banks of Lake Superior. When I was researching hotels, I’d noticed that the Inn on Lake Superior did a little s’mores thing every evening (they have a couple of gas firepits in their “backyard”, and they basically lay out all the fixin’s and let you go at it) and I thought that it was going to be a total cheesefest. Well, it was a total cheesefest, but it was kind of awesome because everyone there knew that it was cheesy, and we were all having a great time, because hey…s’mores.

Sunday dawned rainy, and we took our time getting down to breakfast. Another cheesy-yet-awesome gimmick of the hotel: make your own belgian waffles. I didn’t believe that they could possibly be worth standing in line for, but after Nerd 2 brought me one I was sold (and planned out a better strategy for the following morning’s meal). After breakfast, we pondered driving up the north shore (too rainy) and ended up just tooling around town garage saleing for a while before we hit up the aquarium.

Fact: seahorses are kind of awesome.

Post-fishies, we lunched at Hell’s Kitchen North (possibly more awesome than the downtown incarnation) and then came a well deserved period of hard core nappage, which I reluctantly awoke from when I started getting text messages asking if I was ok. This confused me a lot until I got on the interwebs (I’d forgotten about them) and realized that tornadoes and hail of various sizes had been reported in my neighbourhood. I spent 20 mins or so trying to find someone in Blaine who would answer the phone and tell me that my house was still there, eventually reaching a neighbour who assured me that there was no reason to come home a day early. This obviously called for celebration, which we did with more s’mores, margaritas from Little Angie’s, and a swim in the outdoor-pool-which-was-really-more-of-a-large-hottub.

Monday morning, we braved the cold at breakfast for a better view of the water, and reluctantly packed up our things for the drive back to the cities. There was lots we didn’t see or do, but hey, that just leaves something to come back for, right?

Final thoughts:

  • Duluth, on Memorial Day weekend, during an unseasonably cool spring, is effing cold. I was pretty prepared with long pants and sweatshirts, but there were definitely some other tourists there who though that shorts and t-shirts would be sufficient. They suffered.
  • Canal Park, for a totally artificial tourist zone, is actually pretty nice. It probably helps that it’s right on the shore of a Great Lake, and the planners used that proximity well with the lakewalk and other attractions.
  • Staying in a hotel whose backyard is Lake Superior is far more amazing than I had expected. Even living in Toronto I never had such close access to the lake, and that view has me longing to go back.
  • The Tobie’s vs. Hell’s Kitchen Caramel Roll taste off will have to wait until next trip.
  • And yes, my house was still intact when I got home.

caption competition

doyoureallywannaknow_small.jpg

OH HELL YES

please note the lack of vegetables So, the sun might have gone away by the time we got home with the charcoal, and this wind might have been a touch biting, but godsdammit it is grilling season.

verdict

Yeah, Amber put it best in her comment on yesterday’s post. Nothing really would have been adequate preparation for the trippy-dippy adaptation of Peer Gynt that we saw yesterday. I’m fairly certain that I grokked it. I’ll even go as far as to say that I think I liked it (even with distracting floor-moving action). Would I recommend this particular production of this particular play? I don’t know yet…I sort of need to ponder it a little more.

This weekend, my goals include:

  • Getting my financial house in order: bills, budget, plus tax return if I get ambitious (prudent)
  • Playing a lot of DDR (hedonistic)
  • Not leaving the house on Saturday (logical, given the forecast – anytime the NWS shows the high for the day with a little down arrow next to it, I like to stay indoors).
  • Finding a use for the copious amounts of leftover frosting I have from last weekend’s aborted cupcake experiment (probably messy).

i knew i didn’t imagine it!

There is another craft sale happening this weekend in Minneapolis. The Handmaidens’ Craftmas (yeah, I know) will be this Sunday (December 9th) at the VFW on Lyndale and 29th. Here’s the info.

My second order of business today is to remind everyone that my Breast Cancer 3-Day homies and I, Team Boobylicious, are having our Holiday Cookie fundraiser again, and sales are going on RIGHT AS WE SPEAK. The line up has changed a little this year, so the choices are:

  • Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Peanut Butter Blossoms
  • Iced Sugar Cookies

They’re only $6/dozen, or $25/5 dozen, and 100% of the proceeds will go to Susan G. Komen for the Cure in support of research to eliminate evil titty-threatening diseases. We’ll be baking up the cookies next week*, so please get your orders in soon. Local delivery is free, and shipping to anywhere in the US is $6. But I’ll tell you what, if you order 5 dozen or more cookies for shipment outside of the Twin Cities, I’ll personally pay the shipping for you (just mention TPH in the “how did you hear about us” box). Because I’m cool like that.

*Those of you who have seen my food decoration skills will be pleased to know that I will not be involved in the baking/icing of the sugar cookies. It’s really best for all involved.

i understand what the fuss is about

I think it was last year around this time that everyone (and by everyone I mean the few blogs and magazines that tend to have the most influence on my spendthrifty side) was in a tizzy about “aztec” hot chocolate. People were up in arms about Starbucks over-the-top Chantico (something about the 400 calories in a 6oz serving), I’m pretty sure Lynne Rosetto Kasper interviewed some dude who was extremely militant about the virtues of true hot chocolate, as opposed to the hot cocoa “abomination” that we’d been taught to drink. Drinking chocolate, sipping chocolate, chocolate the way the ancients liked it, ad nauseum. They were even talking about chocolate having terroir, for Xenu’s sake.

It was during this time, that I’d read a few gushing review about MarieBelle’s Aztec Hot Chocolate. I assumed that it was just another case of a fancy five-dollar-a-truffle shop wanting to cash in on the latest craze. Having tried Chantico (come on, weren’t you curious to know how they got 400 calories into 6 ounces?), I had decided that drinking melted chocolate bars wasn’t really my thing, and scoffed at MarieBelle’s $20/10oz price tag. That ended recently however, when Nerd 2 was foolish enough to allow me to enter Kitchen Window on a particularly spendy kind of afternoon. In all this time, I hadn’t seen a tin of MarieBelle in the flesh (not saying that I tried at all), but when I walked into KW and saw a little display, I remembered my previous curiosity. “It’s research,” I rationalized. With xmas coming up, a nice tin of fancy chocolate is a good default gift for when you can’t be super thoughtful…so long as it tastes good.

So, I ponied up the money (easier to do since I’d saved even more than that using my super l337 haggl0ring skillz at the shoe store just previously), and brought the tin home. And, in a bout of insomnia at 3am that night, I decided that I wanted to try some of this stuff (I was looking for something warm to help me sleep, and it was just sitting on the counter, staring at me). Reading the directions, and deciding that the “American” version with it’s just boiling milk would obviously be superior to the Europeans and their namby-pamby water, I reached for the jug, and found it rancid (ewww). Ok, lets try the water thing (I’d rather use the kettle than the microwave anyways). It wasn’t until I was pouring the water in that I realized that the instructions were calling for a 1:1 chocolate to water ratio. And it wasn’t until I’d heated and stirred it twice to dissolve every last chocolate chunk that I realized just what I was getting myself into.

Like with Chantico, the MarieBelle dripped in globs off of my spoon but while Chantico reminded me of drinking Godiva bars, the latter tasted, well, it was like the best parts of chocolate liquified. Not like something melted, but like a mousse or torte just made to be liquid, never intended to be set or baked. Like something that you would order at a fancy dessert place, as dessert, and not feel stiffed if they brought you half an espresso mug full. And, given that even a chocolate fiend like me could be satisfied with a 1/4 cup serving, all of a sudden, that 10oz tin looked worth every penny. This stuff was good.

A little experimentation has proved that, at least in this wussy 2% milk drinking household, the european version is superior. This kind of chocolate can really only be stood up to by a nice fatty cream, and if I had that, I’d be making whipped cream to put on top anyways since this is not something that you want to be drinking everyday.

So yeah, if you’ve got a chocolate lover on your [insert winter solstice derived holiday here] list (even if that someone is yourself), know that MarieBelle’s Original Aztec Hot Chocolate is worth the price – I can’t speak for the other flavours, though (the spicy looks interesting, however).

slowing it back down

I started making my own stocks well before I’d heard of anything called “slow food”, and when I still though that slow-cookers (which were all Crock Pots) were only for potlucks.

Having finally moved into my own apartment, working a real job, and feeling that subsisting on student food was no longer acceptable, I stumbled down to Barnes and Noble in search of a cookbook that would teach me how to cook, well, everything. I found it, btw. As Mark Bittman baby-stepped me through things like stir-frying chicken, baking banana bread, and roasting a whole bird on a weeknight, he kept referring back to one strange activity. Why on earth would anyone want to make homemade chicken stock? Isn’t that the stuff that comes in cans?

But I tried it, and it was easy, made the apartment smell awesome, and, well, it was good. So I became one of “those” cooks. Scoffing at bouillon cubes, looking down upon those who stooped to prepackaged chicken broth (regardless of how low-sodium it might be). Real Stock or Bust was my motto… Until I bought a house. And started grad school. And found myself not cooking at all due to a lack of good stock. Which was silly of course, so I opened my mind a little. Found a broth or two that I didn’t mind. Maybe purchased a case of the stuff at Costco. Lost the art. I haven’t made a stock (with the exclusion of the neck+giblets mini-stocks for Thanksgiving gravies) for well over a year.

That’s ending today. With a little advice from Mark, some pointers from Alton Brown, Harold McGee, and a swift kick in the pants from Anthony Bourdain (who is speaking at the Triple Rock at 1900 tomorrow, btw) I ventured into the depths of my freezer, and pulled out some chicken carcasses that I’ve been saving. I headed to the store and picked up another whole chicken to help augment it, and reached for some onions, shallots, garlic and celery that I had lying around. The meat and the olive oil tossed veggies roasted at 400F for an hour or so, ended up in The Big Pot covered with the coldest of water, and have been just barely simmering since about 1430 this afternoon. I figure I’ll give it until about 2200 – I’ve been told that you can tell a stock is done when you can snap the bones in half just by squeezing them with your tongs (and I’ve got pretty cheap tongs).

Simmering done, I’ll strain and chill (I’ve got weather and a garage on my side for an easy cool-down session tonight). And tomorrow? Some reduction if necessary, then Mexican Chicken Soup.

I haven’t been this hungry for tomorrow’s dinner in a while.

there’s too much confusion here…

Waking up at 10ish, doing…stuff, breakfast at Key’s, shopping at multiple stores that didn’t have anything on sale, dessert at Wuollet, curling up on a couch-like object to watch half a season of sci-fi…

I may be experiencing the best weekend ever.

schadenfreude

Those of you who don’t frequent the unfortunate expanse that is the bar district along First Avenue in Minneapolis, may not know about Bellanotte. From what I can tell, it’s your typical enforced dress code, skanky ladies skip the line, $10 martinis type of place at night, and apparently they serve food too. I, personally, haven’t been, but I can infer from the crowd I see outside (and from the coworkers I know who go there), so you can consider me an authority.

Those of you who don’t live in Blaine, and have never been paid to drink there, may not know about Bella, the somewhat more, shall we say, suburban, cousin of the original. And when I say suburban, what I might actually mean to say is that it’s in a strip mall. It’s an endcap, yes, but it’s still next door to Von Hanson’s Meats, and one door over I believe is Mansetti’s Pizza and Pasta (with lunch buffet).

Myself, resigned to my suburban home life as I am, have always actually liked that strip mall. Kitchen Party always features lots of cooking gadget porn for me to ogle, and Mei Wei has some pretty damn good strip mall szechuan chicken for the price (not to mention the military discount at Tournament Liquor). But a year or so ago, I found my simple life upset by an ominously glowing object that could have been a UFO, but appeared to have landed (seriously, the thing is lit up like a christmas tree, and the lights change colour in rhythmic sequence)… It seems that the yuppitastic Club West development with its DINKs and townhouses and Lexii had attracted some attention. Bella had landed. And it had valet parking.
Sure, it represented an offshoot of everything I hated when I lived downtown, and the sheer pretentiousness of valet parking in a strip mall defies belief. But hey, they were promising fancy food and silly drinks within walking distance. So I gave it a chance. And then I gave it another. After the third time, I realized that I’d actually rather eat at the Chili’s across the street — at least the crap was cheaper there (and the drinks are cheaper at the Blaine VFW).

So, I ignored Bella. Sure, it was silly, and misplaced and overpriced but not worth a mention here (except for maybe the fact that someone there knows how to buy gin). Until yesterday, when I drove by a new sign that the management had put up. A sign that inspired the poetry of yesterday (sorry). A sign that transcends explanation. But I must try.

You know those really cheap temporary signs? The ones with a black background and multi-coloured neon letters (with all different type sizes) — like these, but with brighter letters?. So, imagine the kind of skanky-fancy restaurant that I’m sure you now think of when you hear Bella or Bellanotte. Now, imagine the sign, advertising for that restaurant; making sure that everyone in the neighbourhood knows, that Monday is “Family Night”. And Tuesday? All you can eat pasta. For just $12.99.

Welcome to the neighbourhood boys. I’m glad you’ve finally decided to try to fit in.