Starbucks is my Crack Rock

I know this has nothing to do with baking, but I just have to let it out: Starbucks has become my crack rock. Okay, maybe it’s not as bad as a crack addiction (I’m not losing weight — quite the opposite — or stealing), but it still has all the markings of a classic addiction. Let’s look at some of the signs of a drug addiction:

• Feeling that you have to use the drug regularly — I crave a mocha everyday after work. I have been able to taper from daily to 2-4 times/week, but I have yet to go a whole week without one.

• Failing in your attempts to quit — Every week I say to myself “next week I’ll go cold turkey,” but then I come up with a rationalization to get one more.

• Spending money on the drug even though you can’t afford it — I guess I can afford it because I haven’t bounced checks or anything, but we could surely reduce our takeout budget if I would just quit the Starbucks smack.

• Doing things you wouldn’t normally do to obtain the drug — I’m not stealing to get coffee, but I will drive out of my way sometimes to find a Starbucks drive-thru, even if I don’t really have time for it.

• Feeling that you need the drug to deal with your problems — I seem to need something to transition from the intensity of my line cook job to the less intense pace of my afterschool mom duties. Transitioning after work isn’t really a problem to per se, but it’s something.

• Driving or doing other risky activities when under the influence of the drug — I drive while drinking mochas all the time.

• Focusing more time and energy on getting or using the drug — I don’t know if this one really applies; but I do seem to often be on the lookout for a Starbucks if I’m in new territory.

What’s really ironic about this is that I’m addicted to DECAF mochas; and, it’s the need for a decaffeinated drink that landed me at Starbucks in the first place. I’ve always had a hunch that there is some kind of addictive substance, more than just caffeine, in Starbucks coffee. The fact that I find myself in the throws of a decaf no whip mocha addiction proves my theory.

I gave up caffeine over a year ago; I used to drink a Diet Coke after work. But when caffeine was no longer on the menu, Starbucks was one of the only places that offered a good-tasting, caffeine-free substitute. At first it worked; it helped me get through the need for a Coke. Then I was able to limit Starbucks to just occasional visits. That was last school year. Something has happened this year, and as soon as I started back at work, I started going to Starbucks almost every day. This time, I don’t seem to be able to stop. Able is the wrong word; I think I mean to say willing. I know good and well what I need to do to kick the habit — go cold turkey, push through the cravings, drink herbal tea — I’ve done it before, so I am able. I just don’t seem to have the will to do it this year. My waistline sure needs me to; those mochas aren’t slimming! I think I smell a New Year’s Resolution coming on.

How about you? Anyone else out there grappling with a Starbucks habit?

Big Birthdays and Big Cookies

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It’s official — I am now the parent of a teenager. My son turned 13 last month. I know it is cliche to say it, but where did that time go? How did we get here so fast?! He had a small party at Blazer Tag, a local laser tag game place. For his cake, he requested a big chocolate chip cookie because he likes cookies better than cakes. So I took a Martha Stewart recipe and baked it in an 11-inch round tart pan. My tempermental oven didn’t totally cooperate so I had a slightly overdone cookie, but the birthday boy and his party guests didn’t seem to mind.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Tart
Source: Martha Stewart Magazine
Ingredients:
2-1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 c packed light brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 c semisweet and/or milk chocolate chips (about 12 ounces)

1. Preheat oven to 325°. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter with both sugars; beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low; add the salt, vanilla, and eggs. Beat until well mixed, about 1 minute. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

2. Press three cups of the dough into a buttered and sugared 9-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom or a 9-inch pie tin lined with buttered, sugared parchment.

3. Bake at 325° until edges are golden and center is almost set, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool at least 20 minutes, and remove from pan.

I Love Cast Iron

I love my cast iron pans. I own three of them. I came to cast iron late in my life as a cook, but better late than never. They are such reliable workhorses!

 

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The first piece I owned is my griddle/grill pan. I have sort of a love/hate relationship with it. I love the griddle side, but not the grill side so much. I think I never got it seasoned properly from the start because I had no idea what I was doing, and so the grill side can be hard to clean.

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But I like using the griddle side, especially for pancakes.

 

The second piece I acquired is an 8-inch skillet that was my maternal grandmother’s; I inherited it when she died. I had this for a couple of years before figuring out how to re-season it (it came to me pretty rusty). I guess did something right when I learned how to re-season it because it works great and is easy to clean. But it’s too small to cook many of the things I want to cook. 

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It’s great for frying eggs though.

 

My 12-inch Lodge skillet is my most recent acquisition. It came pre-seasoned, but sometimes stuff sticks to it which I’m hoping will improve over time. But all in all, it works great, and it’s big enough to handle a couple of steaks at once, or …

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half a package of bacon, or …

 

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a small batch of fluffy biscuits. I just love biscuits. I vary the recipes I use, but this is the one I probably use the most. It’s from Alton Brown, but instead of using butter and shortening, I use all butter.

 

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Yum.

 

Southern Biscuits

(adapted from Alton Brown)

2 c flour

4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp salt

4 tablespoons butter, chilled

1 c buttermilk, chilled

Preheat oven to 450°. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips or a pastry cutter or two knives, rub butter into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto a floured surface, dust top of dough with flour and gently fold dough over onto itself about 5 times. Don’t overwork the dough or the biscuits will be tough. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch floured biscuit cutter. Place biscuits on baking sheet so they just touch (or in this case, a lightly oiled cast iron skillet). Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting.

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes. Yield about 1 dozen.

Pineapple Dump Cake

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I waxed nostalgic yesterday. The kids and I had nothing scheduled in the morning; I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I decided to get out the box of my maternal grandmother’s recipes in search of one for pineapple dump cake. I don’t know why. I have some theories, but they’d fill another post altogether. Maybe it’s just because I had some crushed pineapple in the pantry. Whatever the reason, on the first totally free day the kids and I have had this summer, I blew most of it rifling through the mound of newspaper clippings and handwritten slips of paper looking for one fairly usable recipe out of the many pineapple dump cake recipes my grandmother saved. I haven’t looked through her recipe collection since I inherited it 12 years ago, but what sticks in my memory is the plethora of pineapple dump cake recipes she had. Why did she have so many? Moreover, since she seemed to like that dish enough to collect multiple recipes for it, why don’t I remember her ever making it? I have vivid memories of her making me butter and sugar sandwiches on white bread with the crusts cut off for a snack, but no dump cake. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever had even one bite of pineapple dump cake in my life. But yesterday, that all changed. I baked a cake that reminded me of my grandmother even though I have no actual memory of her making it or me eating it. Funny how memory works?

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So I embarked on my trip down memory lane with dreams of channeling all the warm fuzzies of my grandmother from Fort Worth into my Austin kitchen.

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This is the “dump” part of the dump cake; you dump all the ingredients into one bowl: flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, eggs, vanilla, crushed pineapple.

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My daughter stirred the batter. So far, so good. The batter was yummy.

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Here’s the cake cooling.

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The finished cake. As with so many of my baking projects, I started this late in the day and so lost the natural light for good photographs.

dumpcakepiece

And now the taste test. I am so ready to take a bite of this and be instantly transported back to the late 70s to my grandmother’s den in Fort Worth with the orange shag carpet and the Price is Right with Bob Barker and her white poodle and swimming in her awesome in-ground pool with a slide and, and…

Yuck. Yes, I said yuck. I don’t like it. It’s too chewy, too sweet, too gooey, and all not in good ways. I can’t believe it, I was so ready to dissolve into one big blob of sentimentality with one bite of this cake. I’m disappointed, but not surprised. The texture and taste are reminiscent of many desserts that ladies in my grandmother’s circle seemed to favor. I wonder if my grandmother liked this dish? Maybe she didn’t either and that’s why I don’t remember her making it. Maybe she had the recipe because it was one she felt obliged to have, like I imagine tomato aspic was. I’m actually kind of glad the recipe flopped for me; it broke the over-romanticized memories I had conjured up for myself yesterday, and brought my grandmother back down to the human that she was. A wonderful human, yes, but just a human all the same.

Love you and miss you, Mimi, pineapple dump cake and all. I think I’ll go make myself a butter and sugar sandwich.

Parchment-free Baking

Lately, my kids have been begging me to bake some cookies. Since we’ve been in the triple digits in Austin I think all month, I have been reluctant to do anything requiring the oven. But today I finally gave in. My daughter wanted oatmeal cookies; my son chocolate chip. So I decided on Chocolate Chip Oatmeal, otherwise known as Neiman Marcus Cookies.

As I was getting my mise en place,* I realized I was out of parchment paper. What?! How could I bake cookies with no parchment to line my baking sheets? I was tempted to scrap the whole effort, but the ingredients were measured, children would be disappointed, and the oven was preheated (no mean feat with my tempermental oven; more about in my post about the perfect chocolate chip cookie). So I pressed on without the paper. But I was skeptical — I’ve never baked cookies without it.

Now I had to decide whether to grease or not to grease the sheet pans. Most cookie recipes called for ungreased sheets, lest the cookies spread too much. But I was afraid that the cookies would stick and thus produce a dishwashing nightmare. So I chose to lightly spray with cooking spray. 

choc oat cookie

Well, what do you know? These cookies didn’t really spread, at least not that much. I think the oatmeal in the cookies provided some bulk to the dough and helped with the spreading issue. I’m sure most other cookies would have spread into one big glob.

Two lessons I learned (or re-learned): one, don’t be afraid to improvise even if you don’t have all the ingredients or equipment that you need for your recipe; and, two, you don’t always need parchment paper to bake cookies. That said, I ordered a box of half sheet parchment paper today. Even though today’s baking session was a successful, I still love my parchment paper.

*Mise en place is a French cooking term meaning “everything in its place,” which means gathering all your ingredients and supplies before you start cooking. It helps you stay organized and cook faster.

Baking business?

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I sold a batch of cranberry-streusel muffins last week. A friend who has been a big fan of my breakfast muffins requested a dozen for an event she was hosting at her office. I got the recipe out of a Martha Stewart magazine a few years back. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I have a love-hate relationship with Martha’s recipes, but this one’s a winner. I think it’s the copious amount of butter and the streusel topping that puts them over the top. Healthy, no. Tasty, yes.

No Biscuits From Fort Davis

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Fort Davis is in the desert mountains of West Texas, about a seven-hour drive from Austin. As I mentioned in my “Rotten Banana Muffin” post, we went out there for a four-day spring break trip. My son makes fun of me for calling it a camping trip, since we weren’t in a tent. We stayed in “camp rooms” at a motor court, meaning the rooms had beds and electricity but no heat or solid doors. Or bathrooms. The bathrooms were a few doors down. With temperatures dropping into the 30s our first night there, sleeping in a room with no heat, a screen for a door, and a bathroom down the sidewalk counts as camping in my book!

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It was a great trip; luxury camping I would say. The managers of our lodging could not have been nicer, the place was emaculately clean. We hiked Davis Mountains State Park, swam in San Solomon Springs, went to a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory, and tooled around the little towns of Marfa and Alpine. My main goal was to get outside and to feel like we have actually left the city, and that goal was accomplished.

My only disappointment was the food. While I had planned to lived mainly on peanut butter, cold cereal and bananas, I had expected at least one good cowboy breakfast and one hearty, stick-to-your-ribs dinner. Unfortunately we never really found great grub. I thought there would be some hole-in-the-wall type places selling good, honest frontier food at honest prices. The pickens were pretty slim in Fort Davis, but even a drive to Alpine didn’t improve our options much. There were either super expensive places in surrounding towns or mediocre cheap places. Of the three places we ate in Fort Davis, one was fair and the other two disappointments. The Hotel Limpia had been recommended to us, but you couldn’t eat there without reservations. What? In a town of 500, with about 10 streets total, there’s a reservations-only restaurant? Go figure.  So instead of posting photos of all the fluffy biscuits, juicy steaks, and mouth-watering pies that I wanted to eat, all I have is pictures of the beautiful desert mountains. But that is what we went out there for in the first place.

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My munchkins. The one on the left is my son; some people seem confused by his hair and think I have two daughters.