To the market I went

I tried to time my day better. Really I did. I wanted to get to the supermarket in the middle of the day, when the teens are still in school, the moms are with the babies, and the guys are still in their cubicles, or in a sales meeting, or at a construction site or something. I knew in the back of my mind that around 5:00, the market would fill up with people gearing up for their dinner, or for whatever their weekend has in store (no pun intended).

It was my own fault. I got off to a late start with my errands for the day. When will I learn that I should start getting my act together when the clock says “AM” rather than “PM”? I thought I’d get to the store by 4:00 if I was lucky.

I was not lucky. It turned out to be around 4:45, and the parking lot was filling up. Darn. I’m more of a peace and quiet kind of guy at the market. I like to concentrate on what I want to buy. I don’t like swarms of people, I don’t like shopping carts crashing into me, and I don’t like standing in the checkout line while the cashier is fumbling around with an exotic-looking vegetable trying to figure out what it is so he can ring it up. Psst… it’s swiss chard (by the way, here’s a quick and delicious tip for chard).

And yes, this happened to be a time when I needed a cart. Usually I try to stick to a basket, for portability, and the less I buy, the quicker I’m out of there, but when you’re getting things like cans of chicken broth, milk, several pounds of seafood, a pineapple, and a 10 pound bag of kitty litter, you sort of need a cart. So, almost immediately, I got into a shopping cart traffic jam at the corner of clementines and avocados (can’t they make the aisles a little wider? two carts can’t get through side-by-side?).

Then I kept seeing this same pregnant woman and her (assumed impregnator) all over the store; first in the entrance, then over by the apples, where she was giving a lecture to said impregnator, then later by the checkout lines. The woman was about 6 inches taller than the guy and really looked like she was in charge. No doubt she is.

Then I smiled at two pretty girls. Both of them looked away from me.

Then, I arrived at the fish counter, where things improved. More on that tomorrow.

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Sugar plums

Yes, it’s 4 days after Christmas, but bear with me here and enjoy some classic poetry.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads…

Everyone knows and loves this poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” originally published in 1823. And those of you who are fans of the Tchaikovsky ballet “The Nutcracker” are familiar with the Sugar Plum fairy. But does anyone know what a sugar plum is? Do we take this Christmas treat for granted, not give it a second thought? Yes we do, and that’s an injustice that ends right here.

I found this to be quite an interesting website (godecookery.com). If you are interested in exploring recipes and food trivia from the Renaissance, you’ll enjoy it. Will you be making capon in milk and honey, or dragontail very often? Probably not. But if you are on the way to your local Renaissance festival, or if you just want to get a little creative in the kitchen, give it a try.

A low-fat experiment

Last night, I was looking for a cookie. Show me someone who isn’t usually looking for a cookie, and I’ll show you a liar. Now, this is not my style (it was not my house, either), but there was some Toll House cookie dough in the refrigerator and, even though it was clearly past its prime, I thought maybe I could get away with it (pre-made cookie dough – you know the kind in the plastic tube – is what I affectionately refer to as “slice-and-shove” … you slice the tube of dough into a cookie shape, and shove it in the oven), but I checked the use-by date, and it was something like July (!). So no thanks.

I realized I had the ingredients for peanut butter cookies. A basic recipe includes the PB, flour, sugar, brown sugar, butter, eggs, baking soda, and salt. I had all those things. But the butter I had was “light” butter, and the peanut butter was reduced fat. I’m used to baking with full-fat versions of these ingredients, and I suspected this little experiment could go wrong, but I threw caution to the wind and made the cookies anyway.

They were not the greatest peanut butter cookies ever made. Why not? Well, “light” butter has less butterfat and more water than real butter. With less fat, the flavor of the product won’t be as pronounced, and it will not be as moist or tender. The butter was salted as well, and this can be a problem too, because many baking recipes call for salt as an ingredient, and too much or too little salt in the recipe can throw off the product’s flavor or texture. Using unsalted butter lets you control the amount of salt.

Reduced fat peanut butter, according to Cook’s Illustrated, replaces about 25% of regular peanut butter’s fat with stabilizers such as corn syrup solids. This will not affect the product’s outcome as much as light butter, because the PB is a flavorant and not a base ingredient, and you’re not using as much of it (if you do want to use reduced fat PB, Cook’s Illustrated recommends the Skippy brand).

It appears that using these ingredients in tandem is not such a hot idea. My suggestion: if you’re baking, try to use the real stuff, and if you’re concerned about the calories or the fat … hands out of the cookie jar!

Juggling matzo balls

Tonight, in several cities across America, is what is known as the “Matzo Ball“. You can read more about the origins of it here, but basically, it’s clubbing on Christmas Eve for young people who aren’t spending the evening with their families (as well as those who get tired of their families by around 10 o’clock and want to go clubbing). Ostensibly, it’s for Jewish people, the theory of course being, what else do they have to do on Christmas Eve? I attended one once. Let me tell you – it’s maybe 60% Jewish kids. Maybe.

Anyway, in celebration of tonight’s Matzo Ball, we’re celebrating Matzo Ball soup! A Jewish staple comfort food (it’s been called “Jewish penicillin”), it is starting to become very trendy in the United States among people of all faiths. I’m actually starting the trend.

This is the Smitten Kitchen’s story of their making matzo ball soup, including a recipe, in case you’re feeling adventurous. If you don’t want to make the chicken stock (don’t feel bad – it involves some work, although it’s worth it), you can make life a lot easier by just using chicken broth bought at the market.

Here is another recipe for the soup from the queen of American Jewish cooking, Joan Nathan. If you are interested in Jewish cooking, or Jewish food history, consider her fantastic book, Jewish Cooking in America.

Hey Santa, all I want for Christmas is Matzo Ball soup.

First post. Here we go!

Welcome to my new blog! I have some really big plans for it. I hope it will be a little fun, a little informative… and I want a lot of feedback! I’m not sure how it will develop, but I hope you join me for what I’m sure will be a great ride.