The first experiment: First, because I’ve got to work up to confessing the shame.
Home made refrigerator pickles. Nothing very complicated, I know, but I wanted something a little more exciting than regular old vinegar pickles. I had one zucchini left and was a bit zucchinied out in terms of grilling/roasting or steaming them, so a pickling experiment sounded like a plan.
I worked from this recipe for pickled baby carrots and zucchini, from Gourmet with a pit-stop at Epicurious, with both obvious and not-obvious changes. (As a side note, the normally reliable Allrecipes.com pulled up a big zero when it came to “zucchini pickle” — I was so surprised, I double-checked my spelling.) The obvious change was that I wasn’t using baby carrots or baby zucchini — you can buy baby zucchini? — and just cutting up mature vegetables. There was zucchini, a couple of carrots old enough to collect social security, and a stalk of celery.
The not-obvious changes are my inability to follow a recipe without futzing with it, intentionally or not. I went with this recipe mostly because I was feeling lazy and every other interesting pickle recipe called for four pounds of zucchini and massive amounts of vinegar and sugar and I didn’t feel like doing division. However, most of the other recipes cautioned against adding the veggies before the brine had cooled down lest it cook the veggies (assuming you wanted crisp pickles, of course), so I did that. I also went with cider vinegar instead of white wine, since that’s what was open, left out the tarragon because I don’t have any, and threw in a couple of allspice berries because I think pickle brine looks weird without it. Other than that, I followed the recipe as written. But unlike the folks on the websites that change everything and then complain about how the recipe didn’t work out, I hereby exculpate both Gourmet and Epicurious.
The early results are positive. Tangy and a little hot from the pepper flakes. Another point in favor of this recipe was that it didn’t call for pounds of sugar, although they’re still sweet (especially when compared to my default pickle, which is a full-sour kosher pickle). Not sweet pickle sweet, but still sweet. Maybe less with the sugar next time or with a different vinegar.
The second experiment: Still working on that shame thing here, so let’s talk about my new Baker’s Edge pan. A gift from M for my recent birthday, it’s something I’ve wanted for a while. I have been contemplating uses — the obvious one is brownies and other bar-type cookies, but I have been planning kugels and maybe even a foray into lasagna. But, first, brownies.
I have been using James Beard’s recipe (again from American Cookery) for almost twenty years — it was the first one I tried back in high school when I was responsible for the cake-and-chocolate requirements of my mentorees (yes, really, once upon a time, people in authority trusted me with the morale and welfare of young’uns) and I’ve never seen a reason to change. It uses all real chocolate and no cocoa powder, so I suppose I’d use one of the billion recipes in the King Arthur book if I were out of chocolate, but I’m never out of chocolate when I need it and I’ve got too much else in my repertoire for it to be a make-or-break item. Especially as I’ve gotten older and my preferences have gone from chocolate to fruit-based desserts.
Not that I’m against chocolate. In any form. In fact, I’m becoming a bit of a chocolate snob. Except when I’m not. This here is three squares of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate with one stick of butter. To this gets added two cups of sugar, a bit of salt, a cup of flour, two or three eggs, a teaspoon of vanilla, and either a cup of walnuts or, if you’re me, chocolate chips. And some leftover bits of Callebaut, which is both snobbish and strange because who keeps Callebaut lying around? Normal people eat it!
Without the Callebaut, this a pretty modest and easy ingredient list. Which pretty much means that anyone who resorts to box mixes for brownies deserves to be put up against the wall and shot because I can’t imagine that being any easier — minimal cleanup! no beating! — and it certainly doesn’t taste better.
My righteous indignation aside, the Baker’s Edge people are apparently catering more to the Taste of Home than Gourmet crowd, since when they explain the size of the pan, they say it’s perfect for one box of mix. A completely useless quantification scheme to me, made worse by the fact that the pan’s much smaller than I imagined it to be. Maybe it’s because I do a lot of my baking in a 9×13 pyrex, but this is much smaller and I was maybe a little worried before I poured it. But even with the extra egg, these don’t tend to rise a lot and, as you can see from the above picture, there was plenty of space.
The pan comes with a booklet (and a plastic cutting tool, since it’s a nonstick pan) and I was hoping for some guidance on adjusting cooking times if necessary, but there was none. I was a little neurotic after the 25 minute mark and then I wasn’t and that’s why maybe it came out a little drier than intended. Or maybe that’s just the effect of all that extra edge real estate. Either way, still quite moist and not bad at all. Brownies are never bad. Except when you’re considering calorie count, which is why this is getting cut up and frozen and also farmed out to interested parties. Pain shared is pain lessened, so it also is with calories.
To my defense, they were on sale.
I’ve had decent non-meat sausage-type-food. This is not it. It’s… pretty sad and pathetic, actually. Not totally inedible, but not good and nothing even vaguely resembling spiced apple anything. It was… Back twenty-five years ago, I had an extremely respectable Strawberry Shortcake doll collection, one of my most accomplished attempts at proper girl activities. If I had chewed on Apple Dumplin’s limbs the way I chewed on my Barbie’s feet, it would have tasted like this.
The first one I tried with rice and swiss chard and I ended up dousing it with Louisiana hot sauce. The other three went into witness protection, within which they were disguised as odd-consistency sausages in a spicy tomato-based meat sauce with pepper and copious amounts of fresh basil and dried pepper flakes. Because nothing says repentance after a bad meat replacement experience like beef. They were redeemed by being part of two lunches and two dinners as part of the sauce.
And, finally, Mexican chocolate blancmange turned into ice cream. Because I think ending on a scatalogical note is a lovely idea in a food blog entry where I confess to eating apple tofu-dogs. One of these years, I will make actual ice cream and it will have cream and whole milk and maybe an egg custard base. This is not that time, since I’m still making both blancmange and ice cream out of skim milk and Splenda…