Potato cake

Potato cake made from held over cheese mashed potatoes made earlier. Sauce from canned tomato sauce purchased under the mistaken impression they were stewed tomatoes. Enhanced with sweated diced onion and crushed garlic with a few drops of Worcestershire sauce, and a little chiffonade basil.

Mashed potatoes

These are not your snow-white unblemished refined regular ol' mashed potatoes, no siree, not by a long shot. The potatoes were cooked whole then riced. The milk used to moisten the riced potatoes is heavily infused with butter, crushed garlic, horseradish, and thickened with cornmeal milled from popcorn seeds because I have a bowl of it sitting here and I felt like imparting the flavor of corn to the potatoes. Daring, I know.

The Hirtenkase cheese was something I picked up on a whim. It's strong and it's excellent.

The potatoes are small to medium size. They were getting old and I had to do something with them. Two were so soft and wrinkly I threw them out. If these were to have gone any longer they'd have begun to sprout. You know, that's not an entirely bad idea. With a little dirt and a flat tray, they make attractive little bonsai potato plants. I have one on my patio grown from a neglected sweet potato. My housekeeper thinks it's fascinating.

Gravy made with a dry roux, which is my new thing. I add all kind of flavor powders to it, the usual stuff, cayenne, any of six or so curries, garlic powder, along with mixed dry Italian seasoning, then add some kind of liquid, either chicken broth or water from soaking dried mushrooms, milk, water from steaming or cooking vegetables or pasta, pan drippings, wine, frozen chicken broth ice cubes, surplus dashi, miso, pretty much any liquid I can scrounge at the moment I make it. Oddly, though, it's never occurred to me to try plain tap water.

These potatoes with gravy along with one of the little arancini made earlier turned out to be a very nice and satisfying lunch that I wouldn't mind at all sharing with a visitor.


Italian style filled rice croquettes in the shape of little oranges. Apparently Italian oranges are shaped like pears. They can be filled with pretty much anything. These are filled with a chicken and mushroom mixture.

Boy, I sure wish I had watched a few of those YouTube videos before doing this. The Italian video looked like they were using processed rice. It looked like masa. Come to think of it, masa would probably be pretty darn good too. The Epicurious video I watched in English used egg and and another liquid in the rice mixture. Theirs was stuffed with chunks of mozzarella. They called them aranchini telephono because when you take a bite and withdraw the piece a string of mozzarella stretches like a telephone chord (as if telephones had cords). The recipe I read on Al Dente deep-fried them one at a time then baked them all to bring up the internal temperature. Giada De Laurentis mixed some of the bread crumbs in with the rice mixture. There appears to be a broad range of variance for these things, but arancini elitists agree they're seldom as good outside of Italy.

My breadcrumbs were the processed crusts from sourdough loaves that were trimmed previously for hors d'oeuvres. They were frozen while fresh so not dry, and there was no egg or bread crumbs in my rice mixture which would have made forming the balls a lot easier. Mine made a HUGE MESS in my kitchen which probably wasn't necessary. I would not bother with these for a large party, and I'd be careful with a small party. I can see how a single arancini could satisfy an appetite, and then tragically there would be no room for dessert. I forgot to add cheese so I grated some at serving. I served with jarred sun-dried tomato and olive bruschetta sauce.

This filling was made from what I had on hand and wanted to clear out. Next time of course it will be different.

* onion
* button mushrooms (last chance to use remnants)
* dried mushrooms (some kind of Japanese things)
* fresh garlic
* zucchini (one grocery store another balcony, both on their last leg)
* diced chicken breast
* Italian seasoning (dry)
* canned chicken broth
* flour and corn meal (because it was there and I wanted to use it)

The rice was leftover brown rice in the fridge for a week, and freshly cooked white rice with saffron and honey.

These were deep fried longer than they should have been then baked to even out the temperature.

Scallops and eggs

These are remnant pieces of large sea scallops that were previously sliced into eights or tenths and wrapped in rendered bacon with a messy smear of brown sugar then baked to finish for hors d'oeuvres -- a variation on standard ramaki. I didn't attend because by then I was too tired, but reports indicate guests flipped over them.

Milled popcorn polenta spread into a baking pan, cooled, sliced, and fried in olive oil with house red chile pepper flakes. Grated pecorino Romano, garlic powder, cayenne, and balcony basil.

I prefer eggs flipped over easy but they don't photograph as well so in these small ways I suffer for art.

Wanna hear something a little bit funny? One person asked, "What was inside those bacon things?" I said, "Scallops." Bless her heart, she goes, "What are those?" I go, "They're tender white fibrous sea creatures in the shape of a disk that grow the archetype ribbed sea shell shaped like a fan, from which the word 'scalloped' is derived." Then to befuddle that perfectly clear description, suspecting if anyone unfamiliar with scallops might be also unfamiliar with famous paintings, I added, "Think: The Arrival of Venus."

But I do have sympathy for not knowing basic things. As a tot, my dear mom used to bake prepared breaded scallops. More awful than fish sticks, I didn't like them, their texture was odd, as you can imagine they would be over-baked due to the breadcrumbs. I picked off the breading and ate that then played with the white discs trying to think of ways to make them go away without eating them. Examining the discs, lining them up, smashing them flat, I asked my mother if they were a chopped up snake. She laughed and said, "Yes." At that age, I believed everything she told me and held that as gospel truth throughout life up to the age of twenty-one when I challenged a fish vendor on Cape Cod about his poster depicting seafood. With all the confidence of a self-assured twenty-one-year-old, I said to him flatly, "Your poster is wrong." He grinned menacingly and said, "O yea-uh? Wut's wrong wid it?" I told him it's got scallops looking like a clam when in fact they're chopped up snakes. He roared laughing, he in his sweat-stained white t-shirt and goo-stained apron then patiently and carefully set me straight by making sense and putting the lie to my mother's b.s. I cannot forgive that woman for messing my trusting mind so carelessly for her own amusement.

Or maybe it was exhaustion. I did ask a lot of questions.

Milled popcorn

OK Fine, so I'm obsessed. The purpose of this experiment is to see if the mill would work for popcorn and to see if popcorn could be used for polenta.

Conclusion: It does, and it can. In fact, it's qualitatively better than the unidentified milled corn whatever it is, either flint or dent. Popcorn is a hybrid, either one can be used for popcorn, I expect this is hybrid flint because there isn't a noticeable dent in the kernels. It grinds faster and more easily than wheat, which is surprising, although on coarse setting, the mill grinds more finely than commercial meal, and way too finely for grits. On fine this mill produces corn flour, which I suppose would make a very smooth cornbread or coating for fried foods, although less interesting texture. The ancients would have given their right arm for a mill like this. Or somebody's arm.

I suppose I should have made the polenta with water then tested for corn taste only. Oh well. I can still tell the fat in the corn is clear and clean, and there is no lingering sense of processing whatsoever.

This polenta was cooked in chicken broth and flavored with cayenne, arbol, and chipotle chiles with Parmisiano Reggiano, so the corn flavor was heavily masked. Even so, the corn flavor comes through nicely and more strongly than pre-milled corn.

Next experiment: Coffee grinder.

Salmon fillets

Late night snack. 12:30 in the morning and I'm overcome with the strangest urge. Should have known that bowl of popcorn for dinner wouldn't hold me.

Seared in butter and olive oil. Rasped ginger, lime, and garlic. Finished with white wine and lime juice. Capers. S/P

Smooch smooch smooch smooch * kisses back of hands * Hit the spot.

Chicken and mushrooms with polenta

I guess I'm not over my polenta phase, although I am nearly out of milled corn. The thing is, what made the shrimp and scallops be so incredible can be done with chicken or any other protein too.

I just now read McGee's section on corn and now I'm completely obnoxiously knowledgeable about all aspects of corn -- I can hardly stand myself. I learned words like nixtamalization (Aztec) -- tamal, get it? -- as well as chemical words like amylose, hemicellulose, and less important ones like anthocyanins, aleurone, acetylpyrroline, aminoacetrophenone. I learned how popcorn pops, about mud fermented corn, dry and wet milling, and alkaline treatments. I learned from McGee the history of it and what other countries call it and most importantly I learned about the different types and what they're used for. I also learned when Europeans turn up their nose at corn, they don't know what they're talking about. I'm going to be impossible if I don't watch it.

* Fogs fingernails with breath, buffs nails on shirt *

I betchya I could mill my own corn for polenta and that way have the flavor of the husk and the endosperm without any loss due to marketing. Dent corn, if I ever see it.

Overview: A pot and a pan and a couple dishes get messed doing this. Polenta and chicken with sauce are cooked concurrently, first the chicken, then the sauce in the same pan. Flour is fiercely seasoned and used both to dust the chicken and to make the sauce. The polenta is flavored with your favorite cheese, or whatever you have that you want to get rid of use.

Corn meal cooked in chicken broth. The can of chicken broth says 14oz., nearly two cups. I've learned through experimentation that cooks 1/2 cup corn meal. Grated a large nick of Romano and reserved it to add at the very end.

A chicken breast was thawed and cubed. A half cup of flour in a bowl along with a heavy dose of garlic powder, cayenne powder, Madrass curry, and chile flakes.

I made the chile flakes myself by breaking open a whole bag of arbol (tree) chiles and real dried chipotle chile, emptied out the seeds, ground in a coffee mill to desired flake size, and mixed together. That'll be the house blend of chile flakes for about six months of heavy use. It replaces straight up habanero flakes, and it's actually quite good.

The chicken pieces were lightly dusted then briefly sautéed in canola and butter, but only to the point of browning, no more, then set aside. At that point, the pan had become something of a useful mess, filled with bits of burned and brown flour. Diced onions and sliced mushrooms followed in the same uncleaned pan picking up the bits as they released their liquid. More butter was added followed with more of the seasoned flour that was used to dust the chicken, and all that continued to brown until the mushrooms and the flour was cooked through as a rough crumbly roux and the raw flour taste was gone. Then emptied a remnant bottle of white wine to deglaze the pan and initiate the sauce and finished with more chicken broth to desired viscosity. Tested for flavor, mostly salt/pepper. Added the cooked chicken sitting in reserve to the onion/mushroom gravy mixture. Then dumped the pile of Romano into the warmed and finished polenta. Nicked a branch of balcony basil.


There's only one kind of Tamarind tree, but apparently there's more than one kind of Tamarind product. This is the sweet kind. Tamarind is the key ingredient in Wustershur Wustershire Warchestershire Lea and Perrins. It can also be purchased refined into cake form. I bought some once and it wasn't what I expected from knowing about this stuff here. I find the taste of this boxed Tamarind pods intriguing, a bit addictive. It's like sticky candy and it would be great to sweeten sauces, apart from Lea and Perrins, I do believe that's how it's used. Found at the Asian market. You should buy some.

They're a bit addictive. Start a another.

Unrelated to Tamarind, balcony photo of angry storm clouds rolling over Colorado mountains darkening the sky and threatening my dryness.

Tossed salad with raspberry vinaigrette

Speciality lettuce that comes six baby heads to a container, this is a mix of two of them. Sliced cucumber, apple, avocado, balcony tomatoes, grated gruyere cheese, fresh mint and dill. Ordinary vinaigrette sweetened with raspberry preserve. This is a small plate for the purpose of photography, I actually ate 5X this much -- a whole avocado and whole apple worth.

The best vinaigrette on Earth. Impress your guests by doing this right in front of them.

1) In a large wooden bowl, pour a few tablespoons of high quality olive oil. (Imagine the bowl filled with sufficient lettuce for all the guests, then pour in enough oil to coat that amount plus a little more to adhere to the bowl.)

2) Pour in a tablespoon or so of mild vinegar such as rice or Champaign. Again imagine it covering an imaginary pile of lettuce. The idea is to barely coat the lettuce, not drown it. These two ingredients alone comprise a simple dressing.

3) Add about 1/2 teaspoon prepared mustard, which acts as an emulsifier and usually also has vinegar.

4) Salt and pepper sufficient for your imagined pile of lettuce. You can stop here, but why not keep going and make the mixture more complex?

5) Rasp in a clove of fresh garlic.

6) Rasp in an equal portion of fresh ginger.

7) Sweeten with honey or a good quality fruit or berry preserve. Two teaspoons should do. Whisk it all together.

If you're uncertain, taste it and adjust. If a guest is present, allow them to taste. Observe their face for traces of grimace of approving smile. If you suspect you've made too much then drain a portion into a separate bowl. The worst thing you can do is overdress the salad.

Well, maybe not the worst thing, but pretty bad.

Add all the vegetable and protein ingredients and mix until lightly coated. Place onto salad plates so that each plate contains roughly equal portions of the key ingredients. There'll be no picking through the bowl for favored pieces at the table. Doll it up a little bit, give it a little elevation. Allow a few special ingredients to show.

All vinaigrette recipes you read begin with diced shallot, but frankly, adorable as they are -- among the mildest of the allium family, they're a bit of a pain to keep around. If you happen to have one, fine, add it, but it's not necessary, you've already got the garlic and that would be like double dosing.

For a party, I just present my guests with fixed salads. I don't mess around with bottled dressings, and I don't give my guests a choice. BANG! There it is, either eat it or don't. If I've ever hosted fussy eaters who've picked through their salads, I haven't noticed. I have noticed, though, people scarfing them and going back to the bowl and cleaning out the remainder. Also, occasionally, when guests are present you'll have one or two say something like, "Oh, don't put any of ____ in mine. That's b.s., that is, accommocate that one or two if it's convenient and if you care to make them feel special, otherwise just continue along with your plan. Another way to work around that potential problem is to place all the ingredients onto dressed plate in separate piles and let the guests mix it themselves without the objectionable ingredient. 

However, I'm becoming a lot more sensitive to vegetarians. 

Carl's 1847 sourdough bread

Sourdough starter, Carl's 1847 Oregon Trail. Anything you would read on sourdough starter maintenance will tell you to feed your refrigerated starter at least once every few weeks to keep it active. I do not do that. I have too many starters and I bake bread too infrequently to keep that kind of schedule. If you think about it, though, what difference is there between dried yeast in complete suspended animation and starter kept in retarded activity in cold storage? Reviving a starter from slowed animation in cold storage can be done at room temperature, but reviving from complete suspended animation requires a little heat.  

This starter appeared dead as a few tablespoons of window putty. I added an equal amount of fresh water by weight and enough fresh flour to get a loose slurry, then set the jar on the stove top with the oven on low, careful not to let the heat surrounding the jar exceed 100°F. This was about 10:00 PM. The next morning the slurry showed signs of activity but not much. Doubled the amount of water  by weight again, and again added enough fresh flour to create a loose slurry, about 1/2 Cup total volume. Within a few  hours the slurry foamed to the top of the quart size Mason jar where it's pictured above. That's how powerful Carl's starter is.

But this is only the yeast portion of the culture springing into reactivation while the bacterial portion of the culture lags behind. Bread made at this point would have almost none of the sourdough characteristics that make it worthwhile. For that, we must allow the sponge to ferment. The extent of fermentation will determine the degree of sourness of the bread.

The sponge in the jar was fed in increments doubling its weight and proofed for periods of eight hours until eventually it filled this storage tub to approximately 1/5 of its depth with knocked-back foaming sponge. It rose again to about the half way point then it was put into cold storage for three full days where it continued to rise although more slowly to the top, then fell back. On the fourth day, it was removed from the cold, gently warmed for a few hours, and then overturned onto a work surface where it collapsed. It appeared to be enough for six loaves so the sponge was divided into segments. Working with two at a time, the segments were gently pulled to redistribute the yeast, salted, and folded into thirds, turned 45° and pulled and stretched  again in the opposite directions, salted, and folded in thirds again resulting in a stack of stretched and salted folds that were gently shaped into loaves. During this folding, while still flattened, the surface was dampened with tap water to adjust the wetness to be loose as possible in order to allow maximum oven-rise within the baking cloches during the initial period of baking. The clay cloches were designed for roasting chicken and meats. They were used upside down so that the loaves could sit on the smooth surface of the lid and not on the ridges designed to elevate a chicken or a roast. The loaves were baked two at a time. The sponge that stuck to the sides of the storage tub was scrapped off and kneaded into a seventh loaf.

Feuilletage rapide

Feuilletage expliquée en photos. Puff pastry the quick way.  Do this. You'll blow away your guests and there will be no point in ever buying another packet of commercial puff again. There simply is no comparison between real butter and whatever that grease is that industry uses.  It's easy as eating pie, and it's fun. Plus you get to make a giant mess.

Now there are three layers. Roll out flat and fold again for six layers.  Do that two more times for twelve layers.  The flexible cutting surface makes a convenient sizer.

Smear on two diced chipotle peppers and enough of the adobo sauce to imitate a simple pizza. Add diced bacon.

The batch made two rolls.  These will be cut into thin discs and baked.  

These ↑ are from a previous party described here.

Experimental jalapeño poppers

The bowl of white stuff is dry corn starch.  I did something different this time and painted it dry on the upper corner of each wonton wrapper then dampened it when rolled to seal it tightly as possible. For some reason, the carrots shown on the plate are in the can with the sliced jalapeños. They taste exactly the same, so I sliced them too and included them. That way, one small can of jalapeños worked perfectly with one package of wontons.  The dark orange cheese shown here is cheap cheddar that was on sale.  It's awful and I don't care for it.  After the first package I switched the cheese to queso anejo (aged) for the remaining 2/3. This batch took three small tins of chile peppers and three packages of wonton wrappers, about 130 total. The process is a bit tedious and messy.

The purpose of this trial is to determine if these could be baked instead of deep-fried, in preparation of Deena's fund raiser three days off. The thing is, they must be deep-fired in batches, a few break open, the cheese leaks out into the oil, burns, the oil must be continuously cleaned, then discarded, it's a mess.

These were rubbed with olive oil. They might also be sprayed which would be even easier.

Conclusion: They're tougher. The mouth-feel is different, but not altogether bad. They taste equally great. It's a lot easier, they're entirely passable, but deep-frying is still better. So it gets down to a trade off between convenience and excellence. I think I'll stick with frying in batches. Besides, it's dramatic, a little bit dangerous and it's fun.

Experimental gougères

Conclusion: Good but a little bit boring. Insufficiently savory. Insufficiently hollow, maybe try water instead of milk or combined, add flour more slowly and cook more thoroughly instead of all at once and quickly. Needs more salt, onion, maybe garlic and definitely more heat. Consider a filling.

Update: The gougères for the party were made with much better cheese than the trial pictured above, with diced scallion and a good deal of cayenne. They were delicious and a bit addictive. However, they were inexpertly made. The thing is, several inexperienced helpers appeared to assist with the preparation for the fundraiser. In this case, I overestimated their cooking-fu and I really should have paid closer attention to what they were doing. The problem was, there simply was not enough room in the kitchen for everybody to fit and I was tired of wedging in just to position my body where I needed to be placed for side-by-side direction so I relied on verbal instruction. That wasn't good enough. As it turned out the dough was slightly too loose which I discovered to late to fix so the gougères didn't puff into balls and they baked too flat, although they did puff hollow. A mere few tablespoons additional flour would have fixed the dough sufficiently but that would have had to be done at the stove top before the egg and cheese was added. Also, the second assistant who was out of sight did not spoon them onto a sprayed surface or a Silpat so they tended to stick to the foil when baked. There were so many we used up all the oven trays and relied on double foil as ersatz baking trays. A simple spray would have prevented that. These two simple oversights, loose dough and unsprayed surface caused the gougères to be misshapen and some torn from the foil. (One assistant asked sincerely if we could spray them after they were baked. Ha ha ha) Still, they were delicious and that didn't prevent them from being devoured.

Handmade pasta

Semolina and egg rolled with chipotle chile powder, with garden basil and tomato, olive oil and butter, garlic and Parmigiano Reggiano.  You know, the usual stuff.  

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