Mardi Gras Sugar Cookies

Most people think Mardi Gras is just a New Orleans thing, but that could not be further from the truth. Mardi Gras is huge in Mobile, AL and in Pensacola as well. I would list all the krewes we have here, but the list is long enough to make you bored.

Season starts on 12th Night, the day the 3 Magi brought their gifts to the baby Jesus and goes until Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday – the day before Ash Wednesday, when we all start trying to behave a little better. Carnival gives us something to do when it is cold and miserable outside – drink copious amounts of alcohol and be loud.

We won’t even get into the Moon Pies. I just cannot explain that to even my own satisfaction.

Well, I know I make these cookies every, um, yes, every year, but they are fun and this sugar cookie recipe is just the absolute best. As much as I hate roll-out cookies, these always work. Simple and done. I keep buying different colors of sugar all year long – hey, you never know when you will need them.

dd_11801 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Over a piece of waxed paper, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer,  cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time and then the vanilla. Sift flour into butter mixture, 1 cup at a time until just combined. Dump out onto plastic wrap and shape into a disk. Cover with plastic and chill 3 to 4 hours (*or overnight or even a day or two).

Roll out dough until 1/4 inch and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Brush and sprinkle with colored sugars. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 8 – 10 minutes until edges are slightly golden. Remove cookies to a rack to cool completely.

You do have to be careful with such large cookie cutters because those sized cookies can break easier than smaller, more compact cookies.

Here are the cutters. Reasonably priced from King Arthur Flour. They do require hand-washing and drying immediately, but that is not a huge deal since there are only 5 cutters. They are sturdy and easy to use.

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Army vs. Navy – a family tradition.

Fly Navy (like my husband did) and beat Army.  It is a difficult game to watch because you do not want any military team to lose. Navy lost last year, after 14 year of winning and that was hard, but at the same time I was glad some Army boys got to win.

This is a family tradition for us. Oh, and by the way, the spirit videos are too great, no matter which side you are on.

blue-angels-football-2-1800

This year, the Navy boys are saluting our Blue Angels – how amazing is that? Our “home town” flight crew. It is pretty amazing. Going to say it – outstanding.

We are going to the Sandbar and and meeting up with quite a few friends, but more Army people than I would like. But you know, Navy just seems to keep winning mostly (except last year) – for a very long time, Happily, I get to wear the MotH’s flight jacket this year, since it is super cold (okay, I get it, super cold, um, for us – our friends from the north would/will totally laugh, but to me, it is damn cold). The Boy will wear Steve’s leather jacket. I’d like to wear it, but it pretty much swallows me. The flight jacket is my favorite. But The Boy tried on the leather jacket tonight and he looked pretty amazing. Yep. Need pictures, indeed.

I do love a good family tradition – one that we have been doing for, lord I cannot remember how many years now. But the next post is about the FSU 1998 season that started out at the Army/Navy game and ended up with a drunk mess and a national championship in Tempe – oh, that is a post for another (long) night. Fun, but more work than I would care to think about.

Bittersweet (Duck Egg) Brownies

I’ve been thinking about what to do with my latest batch (dozen) of duck eggs. They are just slightly richer and sometimes a little larger than chicken eggs, though not always bigger. I’m not a huge brownie person, but think about it – rich eggs in lots of chocolate. I can see how this should be a very good thing. I can also see how my friends who really like chocolate will like them – at least I hope so. D&D_2172

16 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into Tbs
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces (Ghirardelli)
4 eggs – fresh local duck eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. fine salt
1 cup flour
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans (Renfroes’)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9″ x 13″ baking pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper; grease paper. Set pan aside.

Pour enough water into a 4-quart saucepan that it reaches a depth of 1″. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low. Combine butter and chocolate in a medium bowl; set bowl over saucepan. Cook, stirring, until melted and smooth, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; set aside.

Whisk together eggs in a large bowl. Add sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt; whisk to combine. Stir in chocolate mixture; fold in flour. Pour batter into prepared pan; spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 30–35 minutes. Let cool on a rack. Cut and serve.

Source: Saveur – Nick Malgieri (Nick’s “Supernatural” Brownies)

I cut these into small bite-sized pieces and I am glad I did – they are super rich. In my head, these need to be crumbled into some vanilla ice cream – and that, in and of itself, is rather funny, since I’m (again) not a huge brownie/chocolate fan and really do not care for ice cream either. But I really need to get the boy to get some soft serve from somewhere and give that a try.

The pieces in the center are almost fudge like and the ones on the edges, my favorite, have that little crispy bit of edge. Really, for someone who does not care for brownies, these are pretty damn good. But, rich, oh. so. very. rich.

Chicken Salad Sandwich

I love a really good chicken salad sandwich. But to me this is just a simple chicken salad on white bread with a little mayo and if I’m feeling really special, some iceberg lettuce.

This is another no-recipe recipe.

Poach chicken breasts. I do this in just water because then I can give the poaching liquid to the dog. But, if you want, you can add bay leaves or garlic cloves, and even peppercorns to the water. Poach low and slow just make sure the chicken is covered by at least an inch of water. Not sure how long, but until it falls apart when you pick it up with a fork – this also makes sure the interior is not still pink.

Remove chicken from water and let cool to room temperature. (Give a dog chicken water and he will love you, pretty much, forever).

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Yep – it’s a mess, but a very good mess.

Shred or chop chicken to whatever size you prefer. I am a medium dice/shred person.

Now here is where things get subjective. Things needed: Duke’s mayonnaise, celery, shallots, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Here is where I get a little weird exacting. I like, for two good sized chicken breasts (and, no, I don’t weigh them but I should), 3 celery stalks including the leaves. The thing is – you must peel the celery. This is just not optional. Get out that serrated vegetable peeler and go to town. It gets rid of those pesky strings that no one ever wants to eat. Then split the ribs into three pieces lengthwise and the mince well. I did say exacting, right?

Now for the shallots – two medium or one large, minced. I get my shallots at Bailey’s Farmers’ Market – they sell them by weight, unlike the grocery store that sells them by some little bag. At Bailey’s, I also get to pick the ones I want – yes, this is the way to do things.

Once all the chopping is done, mix celery and shallots into chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Add Duke’s mayonnaise to taste – remember, as my mom always said, you can always more, but you can’t take it away. Taste as you go and season with more salt and pepper if necessary. Add lemon juice if you would like. Yes you do want to do that.

For the sandwich you need really fresh soft white bread*. Spread one side with more Duke’s and pile on the chicken salad. Then add the super crunchy iceberg lettuce that you cored, washed and have chilling in the fridge. Another option – toast the white bread first. Yes, do.

This, I know, is simple food, but sometimes that is what is best and even more often, that is just what you need.

Now you could do this with a rotisserie chicken, not that I ever have, but I guess in a pinch it would do. If you are really jonesing for some chicken salad. Who am I to judge?

* or Italian bread or a good whole wheat.

Well it’s a hurricane … again.

Did you see the movie Groundhog Day? One of my favorite movies ever. Remember when Bill Murray says, “Well … it’s Groundhog Day ….. again.” Great line, not subtle, but very funny.

hurricane-nate-rainfallThis is our life in hurricane alley. It’s a hurricane, again. Sometimes people get complacent, some people panic and bum rush the Sam’s Club and the Publix, and then there is me.

I just don’t get over wrought about these things. We have an attic vent that, when the rain/wind goes the right way will leak into my closet. My fix – my clothes can be washed and I protect my shoes – they are, by far, more important to me.

I look around at all the trees we planted after Ivan (2004), and the are the best kind for our area in terms of hurricanes – river birches, crepe myrtles, a holly. Should be fine in that regard. And slightly boring in that regard.

We have one pine. All of our pines (15) went down during Ivan, including several into the house, but this little seedling sprouted just after Ivan and I couldn’t bring myself to pull it out of the ground. There was so little left in the garden – I lost a beautiful old magnolia. So there the little pine stands, 13 years old. It’s skinny and awkward like any 13 year-old, but it could still hit the house or the workshop, but I don’t any regrets leaving it to grow. I can’t quite help myself.

So my question is what will be open today?

And when will be the first time the news shows a wobbly stop sign – it is a requirement. And so twee.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies 

Well, I did not make these cookies for me. I made them for The Boy, even though he’s working out at the gym to lose his supposed beer belly and this “doesn’t help.”

Either way, it’s a different kind of cookie for me – a chocolate on chocolate cookie. And again, I like a cookie you can make one day and bake the next or a day later or so. Or whenever.D&D_2069

Oh, and I used duck eggs for this. Woo hoo!

2 cups flour
1⁄2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
16 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1⁄2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chips (mixture of semi-sweet, milk, and/or white – whatever)

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, add in vanilla. Add dry ingredients, and mix until just combined; stir in chocolate chips. Roll cookies into 4-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet about 4-inches apart. Refrigerate for 4 hours or up to overnight.

Heat oven to 350°. Bake cookies, rotating once halfway through, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

Seems like a bit of work for 12 cookies. Not sure how this is going to go. 

Source: Saveur

Ham Salad – here I am attempting again … ugh, am I destined for failure?

I know I say my favorite (only) ham salad is from the Apple Market, but it is true. And then I look at the list of ingredients and see this: chopped ham. sweet relish, mayonnaise, onions, and black pepper.

D&D_2041And that really kind of makes me grumpy. Why can I not make a great ham salad out of simple ingredients. I do it with chicken salad, so what is the difference?? Makes me slightly crazy.

I do know I am going to have a ham salad sandwich for breakfast tomorrow. Yes, I eat all kind of random things for breakfast – cold tofu pad thai, pasta, cold pizza – and then some traditional things – peanut butter toast, toast with really good salted butter and apple jelly, toast with really good salted butter and local honey. Yes, toast seems to be a thing. Pop Tarts – specifically blueberry or brown sugar.

Okay, after wondering far afield, let us get back to ham salad.

1st – what kind of ham to buy and what to do with it. In the Apple Market version is seems more than just chopped as I know it. Almost minced. Maybe run through a food mill, or pulsed a few times in a food processor?  Wonder who at Apple Market I can bribe to find out the answer?

So what I did was buy an 8oz ham steak, trimmed that weird stuff that is around the outside edge, and cube it. Then I put it in the food processor for 8-10 pulses, until it looked like what I thought would work best. 

2nd – The sweet relish always made sense to me, but you should not go overboard, nor should you make it to liquidy – drain that relish for the most part, just like you do with deviled eggs.

This ended up to be about 3 Tbs, but that is a subjective thing – more or less if you would like.

3rd – Mayonnaise, Duke’s specifically, needs to be just enough to hold it together, but not go overboard. This might be subjective but as my mom would say, you can always add more, but you can’t take it away. Guess that’s why I will add this last.

It was only 2 Tbs and that was almost too much, but in the end, it worked out well.

4th – Onion – yikes there are lots of options here, but I think I will start simply. Yellow onion grated on the large holes of a box grater.  Again, it’s the – how much – that’s the issue.

Tasting as I go along will be key. I took a small onion and instead of grating on a box grated, used the food processor to pulse it to very small pieces and kept the juice and used it too – about 3 Tbs total when it came down to it. I’d say 3/4 of a small yellow onion.

5th – Seasoning with black pepper should not be a problem. I love black pepper.

Now the question is do I just make it or do I have some Apple Market ham salad to compare. Is that wise? Perhaps or perhaps not.

Also, I must let this sit for at least a day or two. It tasted okay as I was going along, but I know I won’t really have a good idea for how it will work until it has sat in the fridge for at least, I’m thinking, two days.

It did make a difference. I had been worried I put too much mayonnaise , but after a days rest in the fridge, it worked well. Actually might have needed a bit more.

Zucchini Cheddar Muffins

I love savory muffins, the kind of thing you can eat for breakfast or brunch, slathered in Kerrygold butter, and still feel reasonably good about eating because, you know, hey! a vegetable is involved. I guess it just how you rationalize things, or at least it is how I do.

Now my problem becomes, what to do with this recipe, because I was just so amazingly underwhelmed by it. I hate it when that happens, but there it is. This was meh. I certainly did not take them in to the test kitchen and didn’t even take pictures because they just weren’t worth it.

That said, here is what they are, for lack of anything else, a warning not to go there.  

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup scant cup whole milk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4.6 ounces grated zucchini, pressed mostly dry
3.5 ounces extra sharp white cheddar cheese, grated,lg holes of box grater
3 scallions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme chopped

Preheat the oven to C 325 degrees and line muffin pan with foil liners.

Over a piece of waxed paper, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, pepper and set aside.

Whisk the milk, egg, and oil together in a measuring cup. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.

Stir in the zucchini, cheddar cheese, scallions, and thyme with my best spatulas Get it Right. Love them.

Scoop the batter into the muffin tin with acookie scoop, about 3/4 full and bake for 30-35 minutes or until the tops are just golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool ten minutes in the pan then move to a wire rack to cool completely. Store at room temperature.

I have to say, I was not happy with this recipe. I’m not sure what I did wrong. But these had no color – they looked anemic. And to be honest, there wasn’t that much in the way of taste to make up for the blah looks either.

Source: Would just rather not say.

Duck Egg Salad

My first real meal when I moved to England was an egg salad sandwich on wheat toast with watercress. I was a little cafe in the Coventry city centre. It may have been the only vegetarian thing on the menu, I don’t remember, but I do remember really loving it. I even amped up the flavors with a little salt and a good bit of black pepper because watercress has the peppery vibe going on. And that is just a good thing.

D&D_1987It is a strange thing I do really like egg salad, but you won’t catch me eating a deviled egg, um, ever. I think it might be a texture thing. I know –  it is completely weird. Every so often I just crave egg salad and now I have access to some duck eggs and I am so going for it. I understand that duck eggs are slightly larger than chicken eggs but they are also, supposedly also richer and creamery so I just can’t help but think this could be amazing duck egg salad.

This time I bought marbled rye bread –  no seeds – and toasted it. I’m not sure if there is something else that needs to go on egg salad sandwiches – lettuce seems overkill and tomatoes, ugh, yuck. I think I  want the sandwich to squish when I bite into it. But watercress is now a requirement. And good seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper – freshly ground being key.  Don’t ever use pre-ground pepper – that is an abomination. 

I have a great source of local fresh eggs. My friend Tony has a friend that raises chickens and ducks so I will be taking advantage of that. I can’t wait to substitute duck eggs for chicken eggs in baking and see what happens. I think in a cake recipe might be the most telling thing. We shall see how this adventure goes. Oh, and eggs Benedict with duck egg hollandaise sauce. Just might be amazing. 

It is egg-istentialism  – yes, I stole that from somewhere else. But it does make me smile. 

And here is how I made it:

6 duck eggs
Duke’s mayonnaise
Dijon mustard
Sweet pickle relish
Watercress
Bread, toasted – rye, whole wheat, or whatever you like.

In a large pot, cover the eggs with at least an inch of water. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for one minute. Remove from heat and put a lid on the pot and set a timer for 14 minutes. Once the time is up, add cold water to the pot, and swirl eggs to crack slightly. Peel eggs – think that goes with out saying.

For the subjective part – how much mayonnaise? Enough. It’s what work for you. And about 2 Tbs of Dijon mustard.

Now the pickle relish, I go for sweet, again, subjective, dill relish totally do-able. Personal choice. But this is imperative – you must drain some or most of the liquid. You want squish in the sandwich, not mush. So drain the relish.

Now you can add grated onion or something else, but it just doesn’t seem necessary to me anyway. Maybe a little lemon juice, but again, not too much.

Voila egg salad. On nicely toasted bread with a good layer of watercress. Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

I have to say, this totally made my craving. Simple and dead good. 

Summer Solstice, oh wait, nope. 

Well, it is officially the longest day of the year – but we will never know that because we’re sitting under days of rain from TS Cindy. I don’t know what the official mark is in inches right now, but when it is over it should be an interesting number. There is localized flooding, and our roof leaked – likely because of the odd angle the wind was blowing the rain – and it’s just crappy and dreary. So, there we are – no longest day of the year.
That said, the Summer Solstice is really just the beginning of the end. After that, every day gets just a little shorter. Until we do it all over again at the winter solstice.  When the days start to get longer.

Odd that the summer solstice makes me slightly depressed but the winter solstice makes me happier, but this year in particular the summer makes me sad – it does. Damnation. But at least I don’t have to wear a hat and worry about the sun for a few days. Somehow that is not does not really make me feel much better.

I think the rain will last at least one more day. Hopefully it will make me sleepy tonight and I will not have to put up with leaks in the closet or those damn tree frogs at 4:30 in the frigging morning. Steve needs to kill them, and I cannot believe I am saying that because I do not like to kill really green strange frogs, but last night – lord have mercy. Let us all hope tonight will be better.

So here is our life …