Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Breadmaker Addiction

I got a new Breadmaker for Christmas, and she's a beauty. A Black & Decker Ultimate Plus 2 Pound Convection Breadmaker. The Lamborghini of Breadmakers.

What's that you say? Don't I already have a breadmaker? TWO other breadmakers?


So? What's your point?

Last summer I got a little Durabrand one from Walmart that was on clearance. It's a nice little breadmaker, but the manual is totally incomprehensible, written by someone who does not use English as their first language, nor even their second language and you have to guess at things. Makes good Brioche dough though.

And last Christmas, I purchased a beautiful machine from Canadian Tire with some Christmas money, another Black & Decker machine, a Cadillac of Breadmakers, an All-In-One Horizontal Deluxe 3 Pound Breadmaker. It makes a 2, 2.5, or 3 pound loaf of bread. It also has twin paddles and a nice long pan for mixing dough. I got it for half price - $50.00 - on a Boxing Day special and I love it. It makes gorgeous Brioche Dough...smooth, silky, satiny, perfect, tacky-but-not-sticky-to-the-touch Brioche Dough. Perhaps you are detecting a theme here. The manual for this machine is quite limited too, just a few recipes, some directions and that is it.

Back to my new breadmaker. This machine is amazing. It does so many things, I haven't even tried a tenth of them yet. And it has a great manual/recipe book. The first thing I always do is make a small loaf of white bread and let it bake in the machine to make sure it does the basics...sort of kick the tires, if you get my drift. It did ok, but I am not a big fan of bread baked in the breadmaker, I prefer to mix & knead the dough in the machine, then form it, let it rise and bake in the oven. But this machine has many other new features that appeal to my gadget-loving self. It is customizable. It has several built-in programs and you can program in 5 of your own recipes if you want to. Also, and this is one of my favorite features, it has a PAUSE button. What's a Pause button for, you ask? Wellllll, let me explain...

...say you want to make a beautiful loaf of braided Challah, you put the ingredients in the pan, start the cycle, and just before the 3rd rise, you press the PAUSE button. Remove the pan from the machine, dump out the dough, divide into 3 pieces, roll them into ropes, braid them together, tuck the ends under, place the dough back in the pan and pan back in the machine and press START. The machine resumes it's cycle, letting your loaf rise and bake. TOO COOL! You can also make Monkey Bread, or a Pull Apart as I call it. And a Mediterranean Rustic loaf, stuffed with cheese, garlic, meat and sun-dried tomatoes. Oh Yum! And did I mention the Batter Bread Cycle, or the Fruit and Nut dispenser? Or the 24 hour delay bake cycle? Or the French, Fruit & Nut, Gluten Free, and Low Carb Bread Cycles? Of course it makes Jam too, but most of them have that cycle.

My very first breadmaker, a Hitachi HB-B201 had a jam and a cooked rice cycle, and I bought it in 1991. That was a great machine too. After that one I had a Sunbeam. It died last year, or rather the pan died, the mechanism that turns the paddle seized up. It would have cost more to purchase a new pan than to purchase a new machine, that is why I bought the little Durabrand from Walmart. And Christmas of 2006, I bought a Toastmaster one that was really nice too, got it on a Boxing Day sale, again at Walmart. I gave it to Bente last Christmas when I bought my Black & Decker Horizontal machine. Hers was ancient and giving up the ghost and I knew she would give it a really good home.

So, yes, I have 3 breadmakers. And yes, at any given time, you might find two of them mixing dough. Today was Brioche day. Why today? Because I got my Christmas present from Kate today...a real honest-to-gosh Brioche Pan! Oh it is sooooooooooo pretty! And it's non-stick, and I mean truly non-stick. I baked my first ever loaf of Brioche a Tete in it and when it came out of the oven, I let it sit a minute and then after muttering "oh well, the Lord hates a coward" or words to that effect, I tipped it over and the loaf just slid right out. Not one crumb stuck to the pan.

Of course, this being my first ever Brioche a Tete, I made the dough ball to big. Next time will make it half that size and will glaze it as you are supposed to do. I didn't bother with the glaze because this was my "test" loaf. It's more like a basketball with a knob on top than a Brioche with a Tete on it, blush. But hey, it will taste incredible, I just know it.

The Brioche I make falls under the category of Poor Man's Brioche. I read somewhere that there are 3 categories for Brioche depending on how much butter and eggs there is in the loaf, Poor Man's Brioche having the least amount of both. My recipe has 3 eggs and 6 tablespoons of butter, plenty rich enough for me. I will make the Rich Man's Brioche someday, just to try. I am sure it is amazing.

Bente finally made it over today for a short visit. We have both been rather housebound for the last 3 weeks, ever since this horrible snow and cold weather hit. Max drove her over and she stayed for an hour and a half. It was so great to see her and we had a great visit. She enjoyed hearing about my new breadmaker and all the things it can do. We talked about all the things we want to do once the snow and cold are gone and our seasonal temperatures and rain are back. She brought me over some frozen peaches that she picked up for me at Quality Foods before Christmas. 5 bags of them. In the winter I prefer frozen fruit - with the exception of apples, oranges & bananas - as opposed to the fresh that you find in local stores. Somehow, a peach from Chile does not quite have the cachet it once did for me. I buy my raspberries and strawberries frozen too. There is nothing quite like a Galette made with those frozen fruits in the winter. Why don't I just buy fresh raspberries or strawberries from the grocery store imported from California? Have you SEEN the prices of them in the winter? Enough said.

Anyway, time to get the last loaf of Brioche out of the oven. This is the test Brioche dough I made in the new breadmaker. The Brioche a Tete dough was made in the Horizontal breadmaker.

What in the world am I going to do with all that Brioche?


...Baked Brioche Bread Pudding; Chocolate stuffed Brioche French Toast; plain Brioche French Toast; Baked Brioche French Toast; toast; fresh with butter; Cheese on slices of Brioche....

Yeah, I know...


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Which One of You P*ssed Off Mother Nature?


I new it was too good to be true.

I did say that pretty soon Mother Nature was going to crap all over us. Boy, did she ever. It's been cold for over two weeks now, and we have snow...LOTS OF SNOW. OVER 3 FEET OF SNOW! Yes, I know it isn't as cold as it is elsewhere in the country, and yes, I know, we don't have as much snow as elsewhere in the country. But for us here on the Island, this is HELL!

I mean, -19 (that's almost 3 below F) with the windchill in some areas. We have had -17 (that's 1F) here at night. Trust me, when you usually have +5 for a low daytime temperature during the winter, THAT'S COLD!

Yes, I AM whining. So?

I have closed the living room door to keep the rest of the house warmer as it just steals all the heat from the kitchen if I leave it open. We have no source of heat in the living room. Ok, there is a 110/120v heater, but, you may as well use a candle to warm the room, it does as much good. Richard is going to wire it for a 220/240v heater but it will have to wait until next summer to get that done. The plastic over the windows and the patio door have stopped the draft, but now we need heat.

The Bichon's are really unhappy not being able to be on their sofa. Richard brought them home a small rug to put down beside the wood stove in the kitchen. They love it, needless to say, and don't venture very far from it. I don't blame them. I, too, am spending most of my time in the kitchen by the wood stove

The photo's above sort of document the last two and a half weeks, beginning on December 12th and ending with today. We have so much snow, Richard went over to Ron's and brought back the Caterpillar tractor to plow the driveway with the other day. What a treat that was, as the snow was up above the bumper on the car. Good thing it's front wheel drive. Oh and the van was buried, got it moved after he plowed out the driveway.

Now it's melting and every so often there is a roar and a crash as snow and ice slide from the roof. The dogs go crazy at the noise, barking and running to the door. It was supposed to be sunny today, but with all the snow melting and the rain falling and the above freezing temperatures, it has created it's own fog and microclimate. We never did get above +2. The local news from Victoria claims it is going down again this weekend to -14! MINUS !@#$%^&* -14! They HAVE to be mistaken, they just HAVE to be. Enough.

I am getting extreme cabin fever, to say the least. In the last three weeks, I have been out of the house for 2 hours to get groceries, and that was on the 23rd. I want blue skies, sunshine, warm weather, green grass, flowers blooming....oh, my plants! Some of the ones I moved into the back porch actually froze the night it got down to -17. Poor things. That was my Nutmeg Scented Geranium and my Gazania. I am hoping they will be able to come back from the roots but I am not counting on it. Oh, and my poor Lemon Grass I started from pieces I bought at the grocery store froze too. I had it on the deck, covered, but it couldn't withstand the extreme cold. And my Flowering Maples...gone, sigh.

We have lived here nearly 20 years and have never had this much snow at one time nor this cold of temperatures. I have been cutting up apples and tossing them under one of the trees at the back for the deer. Poor things are having trouble finding forage under all that snow. And of course I feed the birds. I think one of the things I miss the most is the Christmas Robins. The Robins mostly stay here all year round, but in the fall they disappear for a while only to reappear just before Christmas. This year due to the weather, no Robins. Hope they will return soon.

So the photo's above start with the light dusting of snow on December 12th. That was my Calendula still blooming. Then progress a couple of days. Then a few more and a few more ending with the December 24th snow storm and Richard plowing the driveway. I quit photographing about then, too depressing.

I hope everyone had a good Christmas. Ours was extremely quiet, due to weather and inability of family coming to visit due to road and weather conditions. I think I am finally ready to celebrate Christmas in July. Oh, and one more thing....

I want to know...really I do...


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Nothing New

It's another dark, dreary, rainy day in the neighborhood; even the dogs have the blahs. The forecast for this weekend is really nasty, calling for sub-zero temperatures for we Islanders. That's just wrong. We've been spoiled by all the warm - term used loosely here - weather. Come on, +6 is warm compared to the -8 they are threatening us with next Monday night, and a high of -5. That's a HIGH of -5 folks. What's that you say? Stop my whining, you say? Hey THAT'S cold for here. Really cold.

In an attempt to stave off the cold weather, Richard has been putting plastic over the windows on the main floor of the house. I have to admit, it has made the rooms he has done a lot warmer. This drafty old house, which is over 100 years old, will seem incredibly warmer when he finishes. Just the kitchen and bathroom to do, and I think I will have him cover the patio door in the living room too. Just by doing that, it warms the house up by 10 to 15 degrees. That's a lot when you heat your house solely with a wood stove that sits in the kitchen.

Speaking of the kitchen, you know I like to try new recipes. Remember my Peanut Butter Fudge of the other day? That was a new recipe. Sometimes that's a good thing...sometimes bad. Like today for instance. I found a recipe on -
while looking for something else - for Simple Caramel Sauce. Sounded good. Has the word Simple in the title. I'm all about simple. Not too many ingredients and I have them all on hand: 2 cups brown sugar, 1 can sweetened condensed milk, 1/2 cup butter, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 cup milk, more as needed.

It starts off like this:
Stir sugar and condensed milk together; heat over low to medium heat, stirring constantly, till sugar dissolves;
That's simple enough, if a little vague on the time. I mean, usually a recipe will say something like "stirring constantly, till sugar dissolves, about (insert number here) minutes. So, I do what it says, and begin to stir.

And stir.

And stir some more.

And more.

And, yes, still some more.

In fact what the recipe should have said in the directions was...
...stirring constantly until you turn blue in the face or your arm falls off, whichever comes first.

I stirred that sucker for 32 minutes and the sugar granules in the brown sugar NEVER did dissolve, sigh. I gave up, removed it from the heat like it said, stirred in the 1/2 cup butter and teaspoon of vanilla. And wasn't THAT fun. You ever tried to stir butter into a thick, viscous substance? No, really...have you? Finally I got out my wire whisk and beat the butter into the brown sugar/sweetened condensed milk mixture. Then the half cup of milk.

The upshot is, I got almost a quart of Simple Caramel Sauce. Very gritty Simple Caramel Sauce. How does it taste? Kind of like a poor man's Dulce De Leche...only, grittier. What am I going to do with nearly a quart of gritty, Poor Man's Dulce De Leche, you ask?

Darned if I know.

Maybe I can find a new recipe to try it with.

Or...maybe not.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Can Ya Dig It?

The sun shone today! Wow! Ok, it was only for 27 minutes, but it still shone and we still went out into the yard to enjoy it. And it was WARM! Only Mason and Emmy and I felt like wandering around the yard. The other's went back inside to jockey for position on the back of the sofa. I took photo's of my still blooming Calendula plants and tried for a photo of my hearty little Johnny-Jumpup but that one is blurry. Oh and my Sweet Peas are going strong, looking like they could bloom at any moment, given half a chance.

It's December 7th today, and the weather continues to be mild, thank goodness. I know we will get crapped on someday soon, sigh, that is the nature of the weather out here on the Island. But boy, that sun felt good on the face, let me tell you. Most days it is so dark and gloomy out, the automatic plug for the lights on the fence doesn't shut them off until after 10am.

I made some fudge this morning, trying out a new recipe. Hmmmmm. The recipe was rather vague on the directions, just leaving you to read between the lines. For instance, it says "Add peanut butter and marshmallow cream; mix well. Quickly pour into 8 x 8 buttered pan." What it SHOULD say is "have peanut butter and marshmallow cream quite soft and then add peanut butter and marshmallow cream as fast as you can stirring all the while as fast as you can and then as fast as you can pour into prepared pan and spread quickly!"

It kind of went funny when I poured in the peanut butter and marshmallow cream, kind of...seized...if you know what I mean. I worked as quickly as I could but it still went all crumbly - kind of dry. And oh boy is it sweet! Yes, I know, it's fudge and fudge is supposed to be sweet, but, wayyyy too sweet for me. Oh well Richard will eat it. But I won't make it again. Glad I found out now before I bundled up little packages of it in gifts for Christmas.

l have other recipes to try, none of them my own because I never make fudge and don't know why I decided to this year. But I did, so people might be getting dry, crumbly fudge anyway. Maybe I will just fall back on my old standby, Peanut Butter Marshmallow squares, but with a twist. What twist you ask? Ah, now that is a surprise.

Time to coax the kids outdoors again. Molly is mad at me, has been for a couple of days, so is hard to coax out. The other night, about 10pm, we took them out into the garden yard for their last go round before bed. The minute they hit the yard, they went crazy, running around by the shed, standing up, throwing their heads back and sniffing the air. That alarmed me for it meant that something big had either been in the garden yard or was on the other side of the shed. Richard noticed it right away too, so we called to the dogs, getting 3 of them in the house. Of course Emily and Rosie took off to the far end of the yard by the garden boat. It is dark down there, even with the feeble yard light and lights on the fence. I hobble after them and finally coerce them back to the house and indoors while Richard closes the gate .

One, two, three, four, five, si...uh oh, missing one. Molly. MOLLY!!! Nope she's not in the house.

"She has to be, I got them all" Richard says.

"No" I insist, "she is still outside.

"Well, I can't see her" he replies.

"Ah, crap, she's under the flower bench beneath the rose bush!" I holler, and race - ok, hobble quickly - out the door, Richard right behind me.

"Molly, you come here RIGHT NOW!"

No, I huntin' Mow Pepo

"Now Molly!!!"

But Mom, der Mow Pepo, unner heah, lotsa dem!

Richard hollers, banging on the bench and finally she crawls out from under it.

"Ah, damn, she is all muddy, just look at her paws," Richard says as he picks her up. "YOU ARE A BAD GIRL!"

But I jus' huntin' Mow Pepo, I not bad, sniff.

We take her right into the bathroom closing the door, hounded - pun intended - by the other 5 dogs, worried and concerned because we were yelling at Molly. In the bathroom sink, I run water over her mud-caked paws, cleaning them as best I can, then washing her face and nose, which are mud-laden too. She's been using her teeth to facilitate her tunneling. Drying her as best I can, I have Richard put her in the dog room alone and close the gate. What a brat!

10 minutes go by, the rest of the crew are really upset because I have yelled at Molly. Mason comes up to me, asking me to free her. The others whine and fuss. "Let her out now," I holler at Richard, "before they mutiny." Mason runs out to the dog room to help Richard open the gate. Molly comes up to me, rolling over and baring her tummy. The others gather round, sniffing her.

I sorry mom, but der was Mow Pepo, I has to get dem

So she is still upset with me. Once I get her in the yard, I have to watch her the entire time, without watching her, if you get my drift. I keep her in my peripheral vision, because if I don't, she will slip back under the bench. On Richard's next days off, he is removing the bench and making it so she can't get under there. I know she will find somewhere else to dig, that is just Molly's nature. She is just a digger. When she was 7 months old, she dragged one of my small plant pots off the deck into the living room and proceeded to dig all the dirt out of it onto the floor, sofa, and chair. She hasn't stopped since. There is something about dirt that entices her.

Mow Pepo mom, I keep sayin' dat. You don' lissen. It MOW PEPO!

"Yes Molly, outside, we'll go outside now, just give me a minute."

Sigh, moms, dey jus' don' lissen

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Pan For All Seasons

Well, here it is December 2 already. We have been blessed with above seasonal temperatures, but I am sure that Mother Nature will be losing her temper with us in the near future and temps will plummet. My Zonal Geraniums on the deck continue to bloom their little hearts out, as does the Abutilon, aka Flowering Maple, and an assortment of others I couldn't find room for indoors. The back porch plants are doing well, the Gazania blooms open for a few minutes each day if they get enough light through the patio door.

I have been busy this week reorganizing my kitchen cupboards. I have a lot of herbs and spices, and they were spread throughout 3 rooms. Now I have them all in one - ok two - places in the kitchen, side by side. Then there is allllll my baking pans. They are, mostly, all now side by side in 3 spots. My several mixing bowls are all together in one spot and my baking utensils now fill 3 drawers.

When I go to a thrift store, something I love to do, I always look for baking pans and utensils in good shape. I have got some of my best pans that way. I found one recently at the Salvation Army Thrift Store and I had no clue what it was for. It looked nifty. Yesterday I searched baking pans online and found out it is a Cookie-sicle pan...make your cookie (or cake) dough, spread in the indentations in the pan, bake, cool, and insert popsicle sticks in them and you have a Cookie-sicle. Hey, they sell for $14.00 and I got it for $1.00.

Then there is the Ring Mold, or Savarin Pan. Got it for 50 cents last year. I have a Shell pan, for making shell-shaped cookies, cakelets or the like. Several different sized muffin tins, from really tiny - 25 cents each - to super size. One pan makes 24 mini muffins. Oh, and 3 Bundt pans, one of which is heavy duty and an odd design. Then there is the pans that look like fancy muffins; the ones that look like they would make Danish Aebleskiver the Danish pancake's actually a Mini Ball pan for making ball shaped mini cakes; some Angel Food pans - one missing the bottom insert, don't know where it went to; two sets of square and one set of round Fruitcake pans; cheesecake pans; round cake pans of varying widths and depths as well as two lone square ones. Oh and the two 9 x 13 pans one of which is Pyrex.

Did I mention the loaf pans? Bente was at a garage sale way back in the spring and saw a large pile of pans sitting there, for...are you ready for this?...10 cents each!!! 10 CENTS! Of course she bought them for me. There are 3 different sizes: regular, large, and of course, EXTRA LARGE. I love them. They are heavy duty, and work great in my Outdoor Gas Convection Oven. I have so many I even gave a couple to Kate to use with her new Bread Machine. They are the perfect size to make two loaves of bread from one batch of dough.

Then there is the two tart pans - no not the little tarts you eat by hand, but the large, 10 inch tart pans that make a fancy open-faced pie
usually using a buttery shortbread type crust. And speaking of pie...yes, I have pie plates, in 4 different sizes from about 4 inch to 10 inch..ok the 10 inch is actually a Corning Ware tart pan I have had for 25 years now. Oh, and the two sets of mini Angel Food pans I have, one I got as a gift years ago and kind of fell apart so Richard took it apart, saving the little pans and the other I just got at the thrift store, intact.

Oh yeah, I forgot the two heart shaped cake pans from the thrift store for a dollar each. But the only pans I don't have, that I really, really want, are Brioche pans. I had the mini brioche pans at one time years ago and didn't know what they were. I think they are packed away upstairs somewhere in a box in all the junk but Richard won't bring down boxes for me to go through, even though I have been asking for 3 years now. I can't climb the stairs because of my knee, but that's another story.

Anyway, someday I keep hoping I will run across Brioche pans in the thrift stores. Someday....

So what am I going to do with all these pans, you ask? Well, use them, silly! I use a lot of them already. When I make cupcakes, like to make the mini ones, a recipe will make about 6 dozen of them. My bread pans I use ALL the time. Pie pans are seasonal for me. Oh, no particular season, just once in a while I go on a pie or galette baking binge, so...seasonal. My baking sheets I use all the time as well. Cookies at Christmas; Scones year round; I use them when I bake bread to set the bread pans on to help insulate the bottom of the bread; cake pans for cake and to make buns in. Yup, I use them all at one time or another.

Now it's time to make dinner. And then I think I will make some Scones. I found an interesting recipe online on a blog I read for making Cookie Scones. Sound good. Will put dried cranberries in them of course.

Will let you know how they turn out.

And how they taste.

Yeah, I know...