The Bread Crumb Incident

2016-01-02 17.33.48I made a beautiful couple of loaves of bread the other day, but managed to leave the salt out of them. It was a new recipe from a new book and I skipped a line in a paragraph.  It happens.  I’m just glad that I noticed it before I posted a picture to Facebook asking if anyone wanted a loaf.

Today I decided to make lemonade from the proverbial lemons and turn the bread into seasoned bread crumbs. THE WIFE has some great herb salt that would really make the bread crumbs come out nicely, plus everything would be homemade.  Double bonus! I broke out the food processor and began grinding away. I quickly realized that I had more than enough bread to fill two large cookie sheets while still leaving a good bit of bread for the backyard birds.  As is my custom, I consulted the interwebs to see how to best prep the crumbs – 300 degrees for 20 minutes to dry them out. Easy enough.  I can do that.

But this is THE RETIREE we’re talking about here.

It was all going so well until I decided to rotate the pans.  As I lifted to lower pan I clipped the edge of the shelf (the large cookie sheets are new and are much larger than my old ones), flipping the sheet over, depositing equal amounts of bread crumbs on the floor, and on and around the oven door.

After muttering a string of profanties my meditative mantra I took off for the garage to grab the shop vac. It cleaned up a good bit of the mess on the floor, but I began to smell something burning. It was crumbs in the door, which was still open. Luckily, I have a second, smaller shop vac that has a crevice attachment. I grabbed MINIVAC and cleaned everything up. All told, I lost about 60-70% of the crumbs as the pan I flipped had more on it than the other one, but that’s probably okay as it was A LOT of breadcrumbs.

When I took the shop vac back out to the garage I decided to empty it out. I didn’t need bread crumbs molding inside the vacuum. I loosened the lid on the vac and saw that it was quite full.  Apparently I hadn’t emptied it in a good while, so I dumped it over into a trash can and…. unleashed a huge cloud of dust, filling the shop. Oh yeah… last year when we had a neighborhood cat bless us with a litter of kittens in the basement, she also brought us a flea infestation, which I treated with diatomaceous earth. If you’re not familiar, it’s powdered silica and is similar in consistency to flour, except that it dries out most anything it touches.

So now I’m dusty, dry-skinned, and rather annoyed. So what to do at this point? I figured I might as well go all in, so I grabbed the blower attachment, turned on the air compressor, and blew all of the dust out of the shop vac filter.  I’ll leave it to you to figure out where that ended up.

I put everything away (after blowing some of the dust off of myself), walked back into the house, and sat down to write this post.

It’s days like today that I think about posting my resume to job sites.



Clouds Of Bread

It seemed like a simple enough task. I wanted to bake some bread. I had already met with some success using a couple of variations on a no-knead bread recipe, but this time I wanted to make real bread. So I found a (slightly dodgy in hindsight) recipe online and broke out the mixer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note at this point that I have operated the mixer upwards of 4-5 times in the past 20 years.  Tuck this factoid away.  It will become relevant shortly.

I began assembling my ingredients.  I set out the butter to soften up. I measured my milk. I proofed my yeast, just to be sure that it was active. In other words, I covered all of my bases. I then poured all of the wet ingredients into the mixer and scooped in the initial two cups of flour. I attached the scraper blade to the mixer and plugged it in.

2015-10-09 13.36.45POOF.

I forgot to check the switch as I plugged the mixer in. Instead of being set to zero, it was wide open, on ten.  Flour flew EVERYWHERE. Truly, the picture doesn’t properly convey the mess. The dry flour covered most of the counter and floor, while wet, gooey, gluey bits of flour/water/yeast/etc. flew as far as ten feet across the room.  The chairs in the background of the picture have spots of “glue” on them.  So do the floor mats.  And so did I.  I looked like a contestant from a Nickelodeon show who had just been slimed.

I took a moment to assess the situation and watch the flour cloud settle, during which I loudly requested that a deity bring damnation down upon the KitchenAid corporation and the makers of all ingredients previously in the bowl. Then I realized that my jeans were covered in flour glue that wasn’t going to wipe off, so I headed upstairs, changed my clothes, and started a load of laundry.

At this point I knew I needed to clean things up, but I was uncertain if I should still try to make bread. On the bright side, I definitely saw the humor in the situation, even if it wasn’t funny to me quite yet. I posted a picture to Facebook which is still getting plenty of responses.  Let’s call that a moment of personal growth.

As I started to wipe up the counters I decided to go for it again.  After all, it hadn’t taken long to assemble everything, and I had a much clearer understanding of the controls of the mixer now. But first, I needed to mop the floor.  As I cleared the flour and goo from the floor and the mats, I noticed that there were floury footprints across the kitchen.  Oh yeah… I was barefoot and walking through all of this.  One quick trip to the bathroom to clean my feet, and I stopped working against myself as I mopped.

Once the kitchen was back in reasonable shape (I’m still finding flour remnants here and there three days later…) I began assembling my ingredients again. I tossed some butter in the microwave to melt, then mixed up the yeast and other wet ingredients. Just before turning on the mixer, I realized that I now didn’t have enough flour to complete the recipe.  This is, of course, AFTER I had one cup of flour in the bowl. Luckily, the grocery store is just up the road, so I quickly headed over and bought not one, but TWO bags of flour. I tossed the second cup of flour into the mixer and turned it on low and…. it stirred!  No clouds! It was awesome. I slowly added some more flour and eventually switched to the dough hook. After everything was mixed, I pulled the ball out of the mixer and began kneading.

As an aside, if you’re wondering why I didn’t just use the dough hook for kneading, there are two reasons. 1) I didn’t realize that I could use the hook for kneading. I was following the recipe and only later read about using the hook for the kneading phase, and 2) The idea of punching something for ten minutes sounded like fun about then.

After ten minutes of punching and rolling the dough ball, I put it in a large bowl to rise. I started the oven preheating and felt pretty proud of myself. The kitchen was mostly clean and I was making bread despite a prior disaster.

And then I walked by the microwave.

Remember that butter I melted before running to the store to get more flour? It was still in the microwave. It was not in the dough.

I once again uttered a curse that would make Professor Snape proud and considered my options. Maybe I could integrate the butter into the dough before the rise. I grabbed the dough ball and started coating it with the butter and kneading it when I realized exactly how silly I looked.  I stopped.  I laughed a bit (more personal growth!) and grabbed a plastic bag.  I took the dough ball and tossed it in the trash.

By now, I figured I was pretty good at pulling this recipe together.  I had all of my ingredient. I knew how to operate the mixer. I was an experienced kneader. I would remember to include the butter this time.

That’s right – I decided to make a THIRD batch of dough. I was not going to be defeated by bread.

I assembled my ingredients in the mixer and executed all of the steps properly this time. I made it through my ten minutes of kneading and punching, channeling my inner Sugar Ray Leonard, and I produced a ball of dough to put in the bowl.  It was divine, and, to be honest, pretty easy by now as I was quite well-practiced at the routine.

After an hour-long rise, I pulled out the ball and punched it down again, then rolled it and placed it in the loaf pan. After another hour, I saw that the dough hadn’t risen as much as I would like, but that’s been a consistent problem for me thus far, which I’m blaming on my yeast. I decided to go for it and tossed the pan in the oven.

The end result was a nice loaf of white bread.  It was a little too dense (again – I blame the yeast) and small, and I will likely tweak the recipe to include more flavors in the future as it was a bit bland; but I was following the recipe to see how things would turn out. It was certainly edible, and I learned a lot. I just hadn’t planned to learn quite so much about cleaning.


Enchilada Rage

I decided to cook something new. A friend had suggested a great enchilada recipe which utilized the pressure cooker. Perfect, I thought.  It would be something new and THE WIFE had been encouraging me to try out the magic of the pressure cooker, so here was my opportunity.

I loaded up the pressure cooker and began cooking away. I set a timer for fifteen minutes and waited for the indicator to pop on the cooker. After about twelve minutes I saw that the indicator was up, so I let things go for another minute or two and then approached the cooker to release the pressure (anyone out there see the problem yet?). I used a towel to turn a release valve on the top and let some steam escape, and unlocked the top.

I opened the cooker and began taking the chicken out when I noticed that it wasn’t cooked through yet.  Yep – I set a timer when I began heating the cooker, not once it was up to pressure. Okay – no problem.  Chalk that up to a rookie mistake. I put the chicken back in and cranked the heat back up. After 10 minutes or so I noticed that the button hadn’t popped on the cooker. As I looked around the other side I realized that I could see the seal.

DAMMIT. I didn’t have the lid on right.

I loosened the lid and proceeded to try to position it correctly, but try as I might, I couldn’t get it right. I also couldn’t put my hand on top of it to help because it was HOT. I took a deep breath and was deliberate and focused, but the lid just didn’t want to cooperate. Finally, after close to five minutes, I got it on correctly. Once I sealed the top, the button clicked almost immediately and I was at pressure. I set a timer for 10 minutes and let it go.

Meanwhile, I moved on to the next step of the recipe, which was to flash fry some corn tortillas.  I wasn’t sure why this step was necessary as they were going to be rolled, but I decided to go along with it. This would end up being another mistake. By the time I made it to tortilla number four, I was alternating between creating a soggy mess or having the tortillas disintegrate in the pan. It was an unmitigated disaster, and I ended up with about nine usable tortillas out of twelve.

My timer went off so I approached the pressure cooker to relieve the pressure. I pushed the release button and could hear steam coming out, but the safety features indicated that it was still under too much pressure to open (remember that a pressure cooker is basically a stovetop bomb…). I grabbed my towel and reached for the same valve I had turned earlier to release steam, which it did. Directly onto my hand.

Yep. I had a burn on the side of my finger that was rapidly turning into a blister. On the bright side, it smelled really good.

I finally released enough pressure where I could open the cooker and I put the chicken in a bowl to cool. It was definitely cooked now, so that problem was resolved. The next step was to take the remaining sauce items and put them in a blender to smooth everything out. I loaded up the blender, set it to low and hit pulse, which promptly spewed enchilada sauce all over the counter, the floor, and my clothes.

At this point I said some words Mom doesn’t like. I wiped up the counter and floor and re-checked the lid of the blender and hit pulse again. And the sauce spewed out the side once again, back on the counter and the floor. Just then, THE WIFE walked in the door to be greeted with “I’M READY TO THROW THIS WHOLE THING DOWN THE SINK AND ORDER A PIZZA!” “Hello to you, too,” she replied.

As I headed upstairs to search for burn cream and clean clothes, THE WIFE poured the sauce back into the the cooker and smoothed it with the immersion blender. Based on my experience, I may never use the regular blender again.

By the time I came back downstairs, she had smoothed the sauce and was shredding the chicken. I helped finish with the chicken and began looking to the recipe for the next step when she asked “Have you tasted the sauce yet?”

It was hot. REALLY hot. As in “too hot to actually eat”.  We discussed how we could save the dish, but I ultimately chose to spoon a little bit on the chicken and dump the rest down the drain. I was extremely upset, but it was time to admit defeat.


So what was I so upset about? Obviously, we all make kitchen mistakes, and I’m still learning how to practically apply what I’ve known mostly as theory. That’s all understandable, isn’t it?

Let’s rewind to what THE WIFE walked into: I was 90 minutes into a 60 minute recipe, with another 30+ minutes of work to go. There was sauce all over the counter, the floor, and the cook. I was raging.  None of these are conditions I wish to have happen.  As Head Of Operations at THE MANOR, my job is to have a clean and efficient household under control.  Instead, I had a mess, and it was particularly galling since I had spent most of the morning cleaning the hardwoods and the kitchen floors.

I was upset because I was failing to meet my own expectations. I’m still working against myself and the voice in my head that tells me that I’m failing if I can’t show how much I’ve accomplished and how much better things are around the house with me at home. Once again, I’m battling the desire to say “Look at me! Look at all I can get done!”

So this will be an interesting thing to focus on and come to grips with. I think as time goes by I’ll learn that the only person with the high expectations for my time off is me.

Oh – and I’m heading out to the store in a bit to buy some tortillas and some enchilada sauce. No need to let some good chicken go to waste…



Mac And Cheese

One of the household duties I’ve picked up is cooking dinner during the week.  While I’m a fine grillmaster on my Big Green Egg, most of my inside cooking knowledge is theoretical rather than practical.  I’m not (much of) a danger to myself or anything, but I haven’t needed to do much cooking over the past 20 year.  THE WIFE is an excellent cook, and it’s her hobby, so there really hasn’t been much of a need for me to step in beyond serving as her sous chef or making the occasional meatloaf or enchiladas.

One of the first things I cooked was grilled pork chops paired with the Pepper Jack Mac And Cheese from Steven Raichlen’s book Man Made Meals (Amazon affiliate link). It was a spicy beast, but was quite wonderful, and I made the whole thing from scratch.  Unfortunately, the recipe for this specific version of the Mac isn’t available online and I don’t have permission to reprint the recipe (food folks get very upset and litigious about recipes!), so I’ll just have to tell you about it.

It’s a baked Mac And Cheese with a cut up poblano pepper, prosciutto, and an onion. It’s topped with either bread crumbs or (my choice) crushed up tortilla chips. After cooking up 2 cups of macaroni you melt some butter and toast the chip bits. After that, brown the onions, peppers, and ham for about 4 minutes. Stir in some flour and let it cook for about a minute, then begin whisking in some milk. At this point you’re basically making a white gravy filled with peppers, onions, and proscuitto.  After it has thickened a bit, add a wee bit of mustard, then the cooked macaroni and the cheese.  Stir that all together and pour it into a greased baking dish. Cover it with the tortilla bits and bake.

And the verdict? It was pretty darn good, although a bit spicy.  If I had more presence of mind, I would have taken a picture.  I’ll try to get better about that. I’ve always struggled with things like making a white gravy, so I’m pretty happy with how this turned out.  I just had to be patient and stick to the recipe.

Would I Make This Dish Again?  Yes

Would I Change Anything? Yes. We like spicy food, but this was perhaps a bit hotter than either of us would prefer in side dish. It’s likely the fault of the specific pepper Jack cheese I used, but I think next time I’ll either leave out the poblano pepper or just use regular Jack cheese.