Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Scent of Orange


It is late March, and in Phoenix, that means the scent of citrus blossoms—especially orange.  I’ve had various reasons to poke my head outside the door the last couple of nights:  romantic reasons like making sure the pool filter isn’t clogged or rolling the trash can to the curb.  Each time, I’ve gotten about two yards out of the house when I’ve stopped dead in my tracks, utterly enthralled and overwhelmed by the unexpected fragrance of orange blossoms.

I still remember the first time I had this experience—it was not all that long ago.  I was visiting Arizona in March of 2002, just after having accepted the job here.  We were looking at schools so we’d have an idea of where to look for a house, and I made a couple of trips to the School of Music.  The building is surrounded by orange trees, which were all in full bloom.  After being stupefied by this intoxicating perfume three or four times, I finally blurted out to one of my soon-to-be colleagues, “What is that smell?  It’s glorious!”  She laughed and pointed to the orange trees.

I can tell you that the aroma of those blossoms has an immediate and profound effect on me, but I cannot describe the smell.  It is heady and sweet, but not as cloying or overpowering as that of Asian lilies.  It is, I blush to say, completely and utterly sensual.  You want to roll in it, preferably wearing as little as possible.  At very least, you want to stop whatever you’re doing, stand--or better, lie--still, and just stay there, smelling that smell, forever.  Indeed, that aroma seems to make time stop for me, and maybe even make the earth wobble a bit on its axis.

What’s more, I never expect it.  It takes a few days of repeating this experience before I start anticipating the smell and looking for excuses to be outside.  That’s a wonderful moment, but really the best one is when it just comes up and grabs you by the olfactory nerves, throws you to the pavement, and leaves you there for dead.  Only you’re not dead, you’re in something that just might be heaven.  It’s the closest thing to a thunderbolt I know, and only a very few stunning experiences compare to it.  It’s like falling in love—at first sight.  It’s a good belt to the solar plexus that completely takes your breath away.

Orange trees are miraculous in a couple of ways:  so far as I'm aware, they’re the only tree whose ripe fruit and blossoms hang side-by-side on the same branch—it takes almost a year for the fruit to mature.  The leaves are glossy and nearly perfect.  The overall shape of the tree is compact, symmetrical, and very pleasing.  The blossoms hide a bit; they’re not immediately obvious, but they sure do make their presence felt through that fragrance, which is most potent, for some reason, at night.  There are a few other things whose scent can stop me cold:  honeysuckle in North Carolina (it grew outside our bedroom windows) and balsam in Maine (which you almost always smell when you're hiking) are two.  As wonderful as they are, though, they never get my attention the way citrus trees do.

By now, I’m fully aware that the trees are blooming; I find myself looking forward to going outside tonight.  There are no citrus trees in our yard, but there are many on the street, and the air is suffused with that sublime aroma.  Forget stopping to smell the roses:  let me be smacked between the eyes by the scent of oranges anytime.  And if you see me standing stock still in the middle of the street (maybe without a shirt on), don’t worry.  I haven’t lost my marbles.  I’m just soaking up the smell of orange blossoms.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another milestone

Just now, the blog got its 2000th page view. 

Now I realize that there are blogs that get thousands of hits a day, making mine less than a drop in the bucket, but I'm grateful for every single person who reads this.

Tomorrow, when I'm more awake, I'll let you know a little more about who the readers are.  It's pretty fascinating.  Meanwhile, thank you for reading.

What you can do with a computer (follow-up to previous post)

There was one photo among those that I took on the Apache Trail trip that I thought was a whole lot better than it was.  When I looked at it on the camera, it looked great.  On my monitor, though, I find that it's really washed out and kind of blah.


But then I stumbled on a switch on PhotoScape--using that and bumping up the contrast a little, I got this.


Not exactly Ansel Adams, perhaps (perhaps?  not even close!), but a whole lot better than the original shot.  Amazing what any klutz with a mouse can accomplish these days...

Desert Scenery

As promised, more photos from our spring break adventures.  On St. Patrick's Day, we drove along the Apache Trail, which is one of the prettiest drives near our house.  We had hoped there would be more desert wildflowers blooming--apparently, the winter rains didn't inspire the lupines and columbines.  There were mostly desert marigolds and brittlebush--all a wonderful lemon-yellow.  Still, despite the lack of flowers, the views along this road are quite wonderful.  This is a sampling.  (If you click on the photos, you'll be taken to another screen where you can see them larger.  Click on that, and they'll appear full size.)










Now before you tell me what a lovely place I live in, realize that this is one very special spot.  You have to drive fairly far out of town to get to it, and most of Arizona doesn't actually look like this.  As I've said before, mostly it's beige.  One reason I like to go on this particular sojourn is that it's a lot prettier than most of what I see each day.

Maine--especially Mount Desert Island--and North Carolina are the prettiest places I've lived in, with Kentucky being right up there on the list.  Arizona?  Pretty far down there, but it too has some wonderful things to recommend it.  Not least of those is that it's usually pretty warm here while the rest of the country is freezing during the winter.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Recipes: Rosemary-Orange Tea Cake and Muffins


This whole blog thing is starting to get serious.  I'm now cooking things--and testing the recipes--just so that I can post them here.  Sue and I will get fat.  It must end soon. (Don't worry:  I'll keep posting recipes.  I just have to stop looking for things to invent--unless they're diet food...)

It began with my post about making my own yogurt.  Shortly after that, Maryn, my faithful blog reader in Tanzania, sent me a recipe for a rosemary cake using yogurt.  (Thanks to Maryn, Tanzania comes third after the United States and Venezuela for the country with the most blog hits.)  A rosemary cake?  That sounds a little ... different.  Different enough that I was intrigued.  Maryn confessed that she didn't precisely follow the recipe she sent me; she often doesn't.  So I decided it would be OK to tinker as well.  The cake sounded like it would be good made with all whole-wheat flour, so I tried that, and I increased the leavening.  Mistake.  Everything fell into a flat pancake.  I also found the flavor of rosemary a little too overpowering and thought it needed a compliment.  I suggested lemon, but Sue thought that might be reminiscent of a way I often prepare roasted chicken--and therefore a little odd in a cake.  So how about orange?  Well, that turned out to be an inspiration.

I also thought that the recipe might make good muffins.  When I baked the cake, though, I decided that the texture was too light for muffins, so back to the drawing board.  A couple of tries later, I had everything about where I wanted it.

The cake is moist and surprisingly light for something made with whole wheat flour.  The flavor of rosemary is intriguing without being overwhelming.  The citrus gives it a brightness that I especially like.  While the original recipe called for butter, this kind of cake (and muffin) benefits from using oil:  the result keeps longer and is moister.  Some recipes will tell you that you can use olive oil.  If you do, don't use extra-virgin:  it will impart an off flavor to the baked goods.  Use a less-expensive product simply labeled "olive oil."  Canola is best:  it holds up well in baking and has virtually no flavor.

Neither the cake nor the muffins is overly sweet.  They are excellent for breakfast or afternoon tea.  I hope you enjoy the unusual taste of this cake and these muffins--and thank Maryn for getting me going on yet another quest!

ROSEMARY-ORANGE TEA CAKE
(click on the title to go to a printer-friendly version of the recipe)

Ingredients
  • ½ cup salad oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • freshly grated rind of 1 medium orange (approximately 2 teaspoons)
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
Instructions

1.  Preheat the oven to 350* F.  Grease and flour a 9-inch x 2-inch cake pan or an 8- or 9-inch springform pan.

2.  Whisk together the oil, egg, and sugar, then stir in the yogurt, the rosemary, and the orange rind.

3.  In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt.  Add these to the liquid ingredients and stir quickly to combine.

4.  Immediately pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and put the pan on the center rack of the oven.

5.  Bake for 25 - 30 minutes, or until the cake shrinks slightly from the sides of the pan and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

6.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack.  

Serve warm or cooled.  Dust the top with powdered sugar if you like.

ADDENDUM (8/14/11):  Not surprisingly, this is a pretty forgiving recipe.  For instance, we make yogurt in 6 oz. jars (3/4 of a cup).  So I often make this with 1 jar of yogurt and stir in a little plain milk if the batter is too thick.  Don't have orange?  Try lemon rind (it didn't taste at all like chicken when I tried it!).  This morning, I'm making one and don't have any oranges or lemons in the house, so I threw in some dried orange peel I had in the cabinet and stirred in a little vanilla for good measure.  In other words, I think this will take a lot of variation and still come out good. 

ROSEMARY-ORANGE MUFFINS
(click on the title for a printer-friendly version)

Ingredients 

  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ c. oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup yogurt (or buttermilk, or milk soured with a tablespoon or two of vinegar or lemon juice)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange rind
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

Instructions

1.  Preheat the oven to 400* F.  Thoroughly grease 12 2-3/4 inch muffin cups.

2.  Beat the eggs, then add the oil, sugar, and yogurt.  Stir to combine.  Add the rosemary and orange rind.

3.  Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a small bowl.  Add all at once to the liquid ingredients, and stir quickly just to combine and make a smooth batter.

4.  Divide the batter evenly into the muffin cups, which will be nearly full.  Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until golden brown.

5.  Remove immediately from the cups.  Serve warm or cooled.


The scent of freshly chopped rosemary will linger on your fingers for a little while after you do this, and the flavor adds an oddly satisfying note to the cake and muffins.  It's a little unexpected in something sweet, but really delicious.  I hope you'll feel adventurous enough to try this:  you're in for a delightful surprise.


Food should always be delightful, don't you think?  It shouldn't always be surprising, but a little bit of a jolt now and then is a pretty good thing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Butterfly photos from the Desert Botanical Garden

During spring break last week, we visited some of our favorite places around Phoenix.  Our first stop was the Desert Botanical Garden, an absolute wonder.  Each year, they open a Butterfly Pavilion--a large tent full of plants and butterflies.  It's amazing to stand in there hoping they'll land on you.

Here are some photos I took. (If you click on the photos, they'll open in their own window or tab--then click on that, and they will display full size, which is pretty enormous...)








I'm especially proud of the detail in this one.


I liked the colors here.
I've got some pictures I took at the zoo and along the Apache Trail.  I'll be posting the best ones here in the next few days.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Got to Believe it's Getting Better...

I think I'm getting the hang of this blog thing.  I went through the recipes I've posted so far this month and inserted links for each of them to a Google document.  That will make them easier to print out.  Click on the title of the recipe, and it will take you to the printer-friendly version.  Then just hit Control-P on your keyboard to print that screen.  To go back to reading the blog, hit the "back" button on your browser.

I hope that makes the experience a little more--what's the phrase?  User-friendly?  Anyhow, I hope it makes it easier to use.

I've also been messing around with the look of the site; I hope you like it.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for the kind feedback.

You can always email me privately if you want to make a comment or suggestion but don't want to post it on the blog.  It's a delight to hear from you.  Early next month, I'll post some information about readership:  some of you come from some pretty exotic places!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Recipe: Rigatoni with Tuna Sauce



(Sorry, no photo of the dish on this one--we scarfed it all down before I could take a picture.  You'll just have to content yourself with seeing the much-used recipe card, complete with tomato stains.  It's the best testament I know to how often we've made this sauce.)

I still remember the first time I ate Rigatoni with Tuna.  My conducting teacher, Bob Porco, was on his own for a weekend (his wife and daughter were out of town).  He called me and asked, "Do you like tuna?"  "Um...yes..."  "Well, come on over.  I've made a new pasta dish."

Now the only way I knew to eat tuna was to mash it up and put some mayonnaise on it.  If you got really adventurous, you might chop up a hard boiled egg and throw it in, or maybe some pickle relish, or for a truly gourmet touch, a few olives.  If I ate it with noodles, it was always with elbows, and it still had mayonnaise on it.  I could hardly imagine how it would taste on pasta with tomatoes (in those days, I didn't know you could make a pasta sauce without tomatoes), and I was a bit apprehensive.  On the other hand, Bob was (and probably is) both a prodigious and a discriminating eater.  So I went on faith.  I needn't have worried.  The recipe called for a pound and a half of rigatoni, and I'm pretty sure Bob and I polished it off between us.  (We could do that in those days.)

Sue copied the recipe on the card pictured above, and we have made it ever since (it's probably going on 30 years by now).  It's Miriam's favorite pasta dish, and she asked us to make it before she left to go back to school last night.  By now you know I can't resist any request for a dish from Elizabeth or Miriam, so of course we had tuna pasta last night.  It was just as satisfying as the first time I had it, in Bob Porco's kitchen.

Here's what you do.

RIGATONI with TUNA SAUCE 
(Click on the title for a printer-friendly version of the recipe.  When the new window opens, hit control-p on your computer to print.)


olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
4 flat fillets of anchovies (don't worry:  it doesn't taste like anchovies)
1 5-oz. can Italian tuna in olive oil (It used to come in 7-oz. cans, but no more.  If you have trouble finding this, chunk light tuna--not white or solid--in oil would be a decent substitute.  But look carefully:  most places have it.  The most common brand is Cento.)
pinch of ground thyme
pinch of dried oregano
3 fresh basil leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 of a 28-oz. can of chopped Italian tomatoes (get San Marzano if you can)
1 lb. rigatoni
1-2 tablespoons softened butter
grated parmesan cheese

1.  Coat the bottom of a small saucepan with olive oil--2 or 3 tablespoons.  Add the chopped garlic and then turn on the heat to medium.  This is Sue's excellent trick to keep from overcooking the garlic, which turns it bitter.  Don't let the garlic brown.

2.  As soon as the oil is hot, add the anchovies.  Stir them with a fork until they break up completely.

3.  Add the herbs, the pepper, and the tuna with its oil.  Break the tuna up with a fork.  Cook about 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes and their juice.  If the sauce is too thick, add a little water.  When it starts to bubble, turn the heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes.  At the end, taste and correct for salt:  most likely, you won't need to add any, because the anchovies and the tuna are pretty salty.

4.  While the sauce is cooking, heat the water for the pasta, and cook the noodles according to the package directions.  Be careful not to overcook it!

5.  When the pasta is done, drain it in a colander.  Don't rinse it!  Put the butter into the pasta pot--the residual heat will melt it (set it over the burner if you need a little extra heat).  Put the pasta back in the pot and stir it to coat it thoroughly with the butter.  (This isn't just a gratuitous addition of butter:  the butter combines with the starch on the surface of the pasta to thicken the sauce and help it to cling to the noodles.)  Add the sauce and stir thoroughly.  Serve immediately with plenty of grated parmesan and freshly ground pepper.

There was a time in our house--before diabetes made it impossible for me make a meal on a plate of pasta alone--when Sue or I would say, "What should we have for dinner?" and Elizabeth's inevitable answer was, "Yeah, what sauce should we have on the pasta?" because basically we ate pasta almost every night.  It's fast, it's easy, and it's delicious.  Really, you don't have to pour sauce from a bottle.  In half an hour, you could be eating this, and believe me, it will become your instant comfort food.

Bob Porco taught me many things that I still remember.  Most of them were about music, but this sauce was probably his best contribution to our repertory.  Thanks, Bob.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Recipe: Best Waffles Ever


As I mentioned before, it's spring break here, and that means waffles.  There's a kind I've made for years.  They use yeast and they're a sort of specialty of the house.  Miriam, who is home for the week, especially likes them.  When she was little, she had a friend who visited us from time to time (I think they were both 8 or 9 years old then) who always would ask whether I was going to make "the Eggo waffles" while she was with us.  She knew they weren't frozen waffles, but to her, I guess, they tasted of egg, hence "Eggo waffles."  Who was I to argue?  And yes, I always made the waffles.  I'd have felt like a heel otherwise.  And I almost always make them when Miriam is home.

The (slight) drawback to these is that you have to plan ahead, because you mix up the batter the night before, but believe me, it's worth it.  This recipe is adapted from one by Marian Cunningham; it also appears in Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Cake Bible.



Here goes.

YEAST-RAISED WAFFLES
(Click on the title for a printer-friendly version of the recipe.  When it opens, hit Control-P on your computer to print it out.)

The night before:

1 envelope or 1 tablespoon of active dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water (about 110* F)
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 cups milk
1/2 cup oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour

1.  Warm the milk.  (I put it in a 4-cup measure and heat it in the microwave for 2 minutes.)

2.  In a 2-cup measure, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water.  Let stand until doubled or more (5 - 10 minutes).  Meanwhile, the milk is cooling.

3.  When the yeast has risen (proofed) and the milk is back to lukewarm, whisk all the ingredients thoroughly to make a smooth batter.  Use a large bowl--I use my big clay bread-raising bowl.  The batter will more than double, so use the biggest non-reactive bowl you have.  (I have used the base of a large salad spinner, for example, when I was away from my own kitchen and had to have these waffles.)  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set it in a draft-free place overnight.

The batter after it has risen about 2 hours.

The next morning:  note the line well above the batter showing how far it rose.

The next morning:

2 eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon baking soda


1.  Combine these ingredients and stir into the batter, which will have risen and fallen during the night.  It will also have a strong yeasty smell.  The batter will be thin.

2.  Bake in a waffle iron (I do not recommend the thick Belgian-type waffle iron for these) according to the manufacturer's directions.  Mine bake for 5 minutes until they are crisp and lacy with a pleasant brown exterior.  Again, there will be a strong yeast smell as these bake, but the final product does not taste yeasty.

3.  Serve hot from the iron with your favorite toppings. 

Be ready for these to be a hit.  They are the lightest, crispest waffles I know, and they are always much in demand around here.  But hey, if one of the kids likes something enough to request it, who am I to deny them?

ADDENDUM:  A Facebook friend, Mike, asks what will happen if you bake these in a Belgian waffle iron, because that's all he has.  My response:  they will still taste just fine; they will probably look a little funny.  Because the batter is thin, it will fill the bottom of the mold perfectly, but it may not rise enough to fill the upper half of the mold.  If you try to use more batter, it will just run out the sides of the iron.  All you have to do is turn the waffle over when you serve it, putting the funky side on the plate.  If you only have a Belgian waffle iron, go ahead and make these anyway.  They just won't look as gorgeous as they will with a conventional waffle iron.

Monday, March 14, 2011

In Praise of Salad

Sue is the undisputed Queen of Salads in our house.  You only have to see a photo of last night's dinner to understand why:


Believe me, it tasted as good as it looked.  It's essentially a Salade Nicoise, a la Sue.  She made the dressing, a simple vinaigrette with Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar.

Elizabeth is certainly the Princess:  look at the plate she assembled.


I'm glad Sue is good at this, because I don't enjoy making salads, and I don't know why.  It's not rational, so don't ask for a reason.  I do like to eat them, which is more than I can say for our resident carnivore, Buddy.  As you can see from the photo, he is not impressed.



(Neither is the cat, as you can tell from his aloof stance in the background of the photo.)

Be we like salad, and we like the way Sue makes it!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Recipe: Bolognese Sauce

It's spring break, and Elizabeth came home last night.  That means pasta with Bolognese sauce.  That's because Elizabeth and I have a thing for Bolognese.

It goes back to a trip we took in January, 2001.  I was teaching at Salem College, and Elizabeth was a first-year student at Salem Academy, the all-girls high school connected to the college.  Both schools have a January term--a short session for special projects.  On at least three occasions, my colleague Joan Jacobowsky and I led study trips, two to England and one to Italy.  Elizabeth joined us on the Italy trip--three weeks in Rome, Florence, and Venice looking at art, going to concerts, and exploring churches. 

What a trip that was!  Italy had spruced itself up, big time, for the Jubilee Year of 2000.  So almost everything was open, on view, and looking its best.  (Friends of mine who visited Italy before then almost always encountered something in restauro--under restoration--usually maddeningly and with no warning.  The only thing we couldn't see was Massaccio's Trinity, the first known use of one-point perspective in Renaissance art.  I still haven't seen it:  the church was closed on a later visit to Florence.)  Elizabeth generally ordered Bolognese for supper; she liked it, and it was pretty dependable.  It was delicious every time.  The matchless one, though, and the standard by which we have judged all other Bolognese since, was the one we ate at our hotel in Siena.

Our group--about 15 of us, I think--arrived in the early evening.  It was raining and dark, and the van drivers had to leave us, luggage and all, across from the hotel on a very busy road just outside the city walls.  We crossed it, taking our lives in our hands but suffering no casualties.  Once inside the hotel, we agreed that we weren't venturing across that road (in my memory it's more like a six-lane highway, but I'm sure it wasn't) to get supper.  Could the hotel provide something?  The very nervous desk clerk protested that the chef had gone home, but he looked at us, all bedraggled and looking like drowned rats, and said that he would see what he could do.

About half an hour later, he called my room to tell me that they had managed to put something together. Would we come right down?  Of course we would:  we were wet, cold, and hungry.  They seated us, apologizing profusely all the while for their improvised arrangements, and then served us the best meal we had on the entire trip:  antipasto, pasta, Veal Marsala, and a delicious tiramisu, all perfectly cooked, and all positively delectable.  Only in Italy, I thought, would a scrounged-up meal have four stellar courses.  The star of the show, as far as Elizabeth and I were concerned, was the pasta:  homemade tagliatelle (a broad, flat noodle) with the most luxurious Bolognese sauce I have ever tasted, before or since.

It was creamy, not really like our usual idea of spaghetti sauce.  The flavor was fairly simple, but it had depth.  It was completely delicious, and it lingered on the palate for a long time; it has dwelt in my memory even longer. I tried for a long time to duplicate it, without success.

A few years after that experience, Sue's brother and his wife gave us a copy of Benedetta Vitali's lovely cookbook, Soffritto.  It is filled with wonderful recipes, great writing about food, and gorgeous photographs.  What's more, it has a whole chapter on ragús  (Bolognese is a type of ragú),  and beginning with her instructions, I began to produce something much more like that Sienese sauce than anything I had cooked previously.  The secret, I believe, is the way you brown the vegetables at the beginning--the soffritto.

Soffrito is the Italian word for that universal combination of vegetables that is the basis for so much good cooking:  onions, carrots, and celery.  The French call it mirepoix.  Cooks in Louisiana use something similar; they use bell pepper in place of the carrots.  To make a really good Bolognese, you have to start with a purple onion, because purple onions brown better than yellow ones.  You need a good heavy pot, and you need to cook the vegetables in olive oil at a medium-high heat for a whole lot longer than you usually do.  You want the soffritto to be brown--not burnt, but nearly so.  (I tried to take a photo of mine, but all you can see is steam.  I couldn't find a photo on the web, either, probably for the same reason.  Next time, I'll take some out and set it on a plate so you can see it.)  It'll be about the color of cocoa, maybe a little lighter.  Then you put the meat in the pot, and you brown it to a fare-thee-well:  it'll get crusty and brown and probably stick to the pot a bit.  Again, it'll be nearly burnt.   That's the first key to a great Bolognese.

The others are time--cook it forever--and being judicious with the liquid.  It shouldn't be runny or even really sauce-like.  It should be a creamy amalgam of vegetables and meat with some liquid clinging to them.  One bite of this, and you'll be in Heaven--or maybe in Siena, which is nearly as good.

Here's what I do to make Bolognese.

(Click on the title for a printer-friendly version of the recipe.  When it opens, hit Control-P on your keyboard to print it.)

1 lb. lean ground beef (80/20--that is, meat that is about 20% fat--is about right)
1 lb. mild Italian pork sausage in bulk (or removed from its casing if you can't get bulk sausage)
olive oil
1 large purple onion
1 or 2 large carrots
2 or 3 ribs of celery
1 cup good dry red wine, like Chianti
1/2 to 1 full 28-oz. can of chopped Italian tomatoes in their juice.  (I like Pomi.)
2-1/2 to 3 cups of milk
water to cover
salt and pepper

1.  Chop the onion, carrot, celery into small dice.  There should be roughly equal amounts of each vegetable, although I usually have a little more onion than anything else.   Put about 1/3 cup of olive oil into a very heavy pot, like a cast-iron Dutch oven.  Set the heat on medium-high.  Add the vegetables, and cook, stirring frequently, until thoroughly browned.  Especially as the vegetables begin to brown, don't leave the pot unattended.  Don't answer the phone!  Ignore that text!  This needs your full attention.

2.  When the vegetables are brown, dump all the meat into the pot at once.  Keep the heat quite high as you break up the meat with a fork.  Brown the meat thoroughly.  It will get crusty and maybe even stick a bit to the bottom of the pot.  Just be sure it doesn't burn (lower the heat a little if you need to).  Once it's broken up, you don't need to stir it too much.  After it's crusted, you can break it up again and let the other side brown.  Again, keep a close eye on this so that it doesn't actually burn.  This process of browning the vegetables and meat is likely to take half an hour or more.  Be patient.  Your effort will be rewarded.

3.  When the meat is completely browned, turn up the heat all the way and add the wine.  Scrape up any stuck bits from the bottom of the pot  as the wine cooks away, which won't take long at all.  Once the wine has cooked away, add the tomatoes.  (I generally use the smaller amount of tomatoes.  This makes a more delicately flavored sauce reminiscent of what we ate in Italy.  Americans are used to  sauces with more taste of tomato, and if that's what you like, use the whole can.  The sauce will be delicious, just stronger in flavor.)  Add the milk, which will probably come just below the surface of the meat.  Add enough water--probably about 2 cups--to come just a bit over the meat.  Stir and bring the sauce to a boil.  

4.  Turn down the heat and let the sauce cook at a gentle simmer, uncovered, for 4 - 6 hours.  (I didn't have that much time at first this week, so I cooked it for about 90 minutes on Thursday, refrigerated it overnight, and cooked it for another 4 hours or so on Friday.)  If the sauce gets too dry, add a little hot water, but it should definitely reduce and become creamy--almost the texture of slightly runny oatmeal.  Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper if it needs it (this will depend on how much seasoning is in the sausage you used).  It's better to salt and pepper this at the end, because the flavors concentrate so much through the long cooking.  If you have time, allow this to cool and refrigerate overnight.  Like many such things, it will taste better the next day.

5.  When you are ready to eat the sauce, cook about 1 lb. of good pasta--we can get some excellent egg pasta in our store.  Wide noodles are best, so look for tagliatelle, pappardelle, or something similar.  (Even rigatoni will work, and if all else fails, get some fettuccini.)  Be sure to cook your pasta al dente.  When the pasta is cooked, drain it (don't rinse it), toss it with 1 or 2 tablespoons of softened butter, and then add the sauce.  (If the sauce is too thick, thin it a bit with some of the pasta water.)  You'll use about half this recipe for a pound of pasta.  Serve with plenty of freshly grated parmesan on the side.

ADDENDUM (3/20):  We ate some more of the Bolognese from this batch tonight.  It seemed too strong and concentrated, so I added some cream I had in the fridge (maybe a quarter of a cup).  I also added some pasta water.  You could add milk instead.  If the flavor of the sauce seems overpowering, tone it down a bit this way, and it'll taste like Siena.  It did tonight.

In my house, we observe the Italian rule that "the pasta should never wait for the people."  It's not a problem, actually:  people are usually champing at the bit after smelling this for a day or two.  So when I announce that it's almost done, there's a mad dash to the table, and everyone sits, forks poised, waiting for the first bite.  (Well, not really.  They're more refined than that.  But you can tell that mentally, they are in a "ready" pose.)

Everything poised and ready:  the sauce is done, pasta cooking, bowl handy.
The most recent batch turned out pretty well.  I was observing that it wasn't quite like the Sienese one that is the Platonic Ideal of Bolognese for me when Sue paid me one of the highest compliments she has ever offered about my cooking.  "I don't know how it tasted in Siena," she said (she wasn't with Elizabeth and me on that trip).  "What I do know is that your Bolognese tastes a whole lot better than any Bolognese I've ever had in an American restaurant."  I'll take it.

This sauce is the real Italian deal:  get good ingredients, treat them with care, and allow them to work their magic on one another.  You don't need a lot of spices or fancy stuff to make this taste heavenly.  When I was younger, I used to think complicated was better when it came to cooking.  I've become a little wiser since:  time and careful attention are the essential ingredients.  Things need not be elaborate if they're made with affection and attention to detail, and anyone you care about is worth a little bit of fuss.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Recipe: The Definitively Chewy Peanut Butter Cookie


This was one of those quests I get on from time to time.  Having solved the scones, it was time to tackle the peanut butter cookie.

It started when I began communicating with a classmate from high school, Jeanne Costanzo Diblin.  She mentioned the peanut butter cookies that they used to serve in the cafeteria for school lunch.  Who doesn't have fond--nay, lyrical, dreamlike--memories of those?  Well, it happened that Jeanne had the recipe and kindly shared it.  I made the cookies, and I enjoyed them, but somehow they weren't really what I remembered.  It's more than possible that my memory has altered over time, but I recall those cookies as chewy, and the standard recipes (there is surprisingly little variation, by the way) tend to come out crispy, even a bit on the crumbly side.  They were delicious, mind you; they just didn't have the texture I was expecting.

And thus begins the quest:  is it possible to make a chewier peanut butter cookie?  Well, cookie fans, I can report that it is, and that I did it this morning, conflating about four different recipes.  First, I found that you could safely double the amount of peanut butter, and that seemed like a good idea to me.  I mean, you can't have too much of a good thing, right?  Then I realized that if baking powder were at least part of the leavening, the resulting cookie would be softer (baking soda makes cookies crunchy and crisp). Then I found a recipe that replaced the standard brown sugar with honey.  Aha!  More liquid likely means a softer result.  (My final recipe also uses less egg and fat than the standard ones do.  That's because the added peanut butter and the liquid from the honey make up for it.)  Finally, I decided that if I chilled the dough and baked it at a lower heat, I could probably achieve a crunchy outside that would yield to a chewy interior--and that's what happened.  So here's the final recipe:

CHEWY PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES
(Click on the title to open a printer-friendly version of the recipe.  When it opens, hit Control-P on your keyboard to print.)

1 18-oz. jar (2 cups) of peanut butter (Use Jiff or Skippy or something similar; natural peanut butter will produce a different result.  If you like bits of peanuts in your cookies, use crunchy peanut butter.)
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) each of butter and shortening (all butter will make crunchier cookies)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup honey (warm it briefly--say 15 seconds--in the microwave so that it pours easily)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs

2-1/2 cups white flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1.  Cream the peanut butter, butter, shortening, and sugar using the paddle attachment of an electric stand mixer.  Add the honey and vanilla and blend thoroughly.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat the mixture thoroughly.

2.  Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Stir this into the liquid ingredients.  (You may find this less messy to do by hand.  If you use the mixer, add the flour mixture in two or three batches with the mixer running at the very lowest speed.  Be sure to use a splatter guard if your mixer has one.)

3.  Chill the dough thoroughly--at least 3 hours.  (Mine sat in the fridge overnight.)

4.  Roll the chilled dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter (I have a nifty cookie dough scoop that works well for portioning the dough), and place them well apart on a greased cookie sheet.  If you like, press a fork into the top of the cookie to make the traditional criss-cross pattern.  (I found that the cookies also looked nice if you skipped this step--take a look at the picture to the right--and they might have been a little chewier.  Maybe.)

5.  Bake at 300* F for 15 minutes.  Let stand on the cookie sheet for 5 - 10 minutes, allowing them to collapse and crisp a bit, before moving them onto a rack to cool completely.

Makes 5 - 6 dozen cookies.





What's better with this than a tall glass of milk?

I baked these this morning and am taking them (well, not all of them) to a party with some high school kids.  We're going to watch the video of the show I was in with them about two weeks ago.  I've been bringing them the fruits of my various experiments (I didn't tell them they were experiments), and I've never had any left.  This is one of the things I like about baking:  it rarely turns out bad, it just doesn't always turn out the way I expected.  Lots of things are like that--not what you thought was going to happen, but good anyway.

ADDENDUM:  These were a BIG HIT with the high school kids.  Lots of nummy noises.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Marmalade


The other day, I made a couple of batches of marmalade.  I have to say, it tastes delicious.  I also have to say that it's time-consuming to make, doesn't use an awful lot of fruit (so it didn't accomplish much towards my goal of using up some of Arizona's citrus bounty), and may not taste all that much better than a good store brand.  It also uses a shocking amount of sugar:  I have never before had to measure out ten cups of sugar for a recipe!  Just remember that you're not eating all the marmalade at once.  (But if you're watching sugar, remember that each spoonful of marmalade is roughly half sugar.)  Still, that there's a certain romance in having made it myself, and people seem pretty glad to get a jar of it.

With all those caveats, I think it turned out well, and in case you want to try making some for yourself, here's a good method.


CITRUS MARMALADE
(Click on the title to open a printer-friendly version of the recipe.  When it opens, hit Control-P on your keyboard to print.)
  • a combination of citrus fruit:  4 large oranges and 1 lemon, or 4 small to medium oranges and 2 large grapefruits.
  • water
  • sugar
1.  Peel the citrus fruit.  In the case of oranges and lemons, which tend to be relatively thin-skinned, say a quarter-inch or less, remove the entire peel.  If the skin is thicker (the way they are on Arizona grapefruits), remove the outer quarter-inch or so of peel, leaving the rest of the white pith behind.  (You do want some pith attached to the skin.) Slice the peel into very thin julienne strips.  Put it into an 8-quart stainless steel pot.

2.  Remove all the membranes and pith, especially from grapefruit, and add all the pulp and juice to the pot.  Be sure to remove any seeds.

3.  Add enough water just to cover the pulp and peel; you'll be adding roughly the same amount of water as you have pulp and peel.  The pot will be about half full; you don't want it more than half full or you'll risk it boiling over when you add the sugar later.

4.  Bring the contents of the pot to a boil, then turn off the heat and set the pot aside, covered, overnight.  (If you don't have a stainless steel pot, put the mixture into a non-reactive bowl--made of something like glass--to stand.)  This allows the peel to soften.

5.  The next morning, bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer for at least 2 hours, or until the peel is quite soft.  Meanwhile, place a small plate into the freezer to get thoroughly cold.

6.  Measure the mixture (mine was about 10 or 11 cups) and add an equal volume of sugar.  Stir to combine, then bring the marmalade to a boil.  Cook at fairly high heat (as high as possible, but watch for boiling over--if it gets too near the top of the pot, turn down the heat), stirring occasionally, until the temperature reaches 225 - 230* F on a candy thermometer.  This will probably take about half an hour. 

7.  To be sure the marmalade will set, put a spoonful onto the cold plate.  Set it in the freezer for about 2 minutes.  If it's jelly-like but still just a bit soft, it's ready.

8.  Put the marmalade into sterilized canning jars and seal them. If any of the jars fail to seal, refrigerate them--the marmalade will still be fine and will keep for several weeks refrigerated.

This will make somewhere around 12 8-oz. jars of marmalade.

(A note:  resist the temptation to make large batches of this.  If you try too cook too much at once, it will be hard to get it to solidify without over-cooking it.  You want a nice, golden-orange color, not a caramel brown.)


The marmalade was delicious on the scones I made the other day.  Sue and I also found it really delicious (if completely decadent) with brie:  spread some soft brie onto a thin slice of French bread or a cracker, then top the cheese with a spoonful of marmalade.

Despite the labor involved, I really do like having a spoonful of this now and then.  The color is magnificent, it tastes delicious, and it's really wonderful that the fruit came from the trees in my mom's backyard.  To me, the marmalade tastes like a little bit of Arizona sunshine, which at least at this time of the year, is lovely.  (It will get cruelly hot in a couple of months.)  It also calls to mind the completely heady scent of the citrus blossoms--an aroma that stops me cold every time I smell it.  That will begin here very soon, and I can't wait.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Blast from the Past

My high school classmate Bill Mitchell, who recently found me on Facebook, has been reading the blog.  When he saw my post about cooking for the multitudes, it stirred a distant memory.  He found this photo of me at age 17.  I'm at the grill cooking for a post-graduation party.  The guy I'm beaning is Joe Molinari, who I'm told went on to greatness in the US military.  In the background is my best friend from high school, Tony Ginyard.  I regret to say I've lost track of him.

Wordsworth said that the child is father of the man, and I guess this is photographic proof.  My main reaction is that I had hair, and the sideburns (which were the fashion at the time) are completely absurd.

Enjoy.  It should be good for a laugh at least!  (And thanks, Bill, for sharing this.)

DS (left, wielding spatula) cooking at the Jersey shore, June 1973.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Recipe: Scones


Scones fresh from the oven, still on the baking sheet.
As I noted at the beginning of the week, I have long held the scones at the Victoria and Albert Museum Cafe in London to be the gold standard of sconedom.  In January 2010, when I was snowed in at my apartment in the Fogle Flats at Salem College (I was there as a visiting professor during a sabbatical from ASU; scroll down on the link for a description and photo--mine was the one farthest from you in the photo), I began to mess around with scone recipes to see if I could come close to the ones I had at the V & A some years ago.

I tried several methods.  I used self-rising flour, since lots of traditional English recipes call for that.  I used baking powder, and I used a combination of baking soda and cream of tartar (baking powder is essentially a combination of those two ingredients), I used eggs in some and not in others.  I got recipes from all over the place, including a couple from some online English friends.  I even tried to get one from the V & A, but as I said on Monday, they never answered the email.

Finally, this week, I made some that really seemed to have the qualities I admired from the museum.  They were light and flaky inside, but crispy and sturdy outside.  The secret?  Yogurt.  Yogurt?!?  Obviously, no traditional English cook ever used yogurt; they might have used buttermilk.  Buttermilk and yogurt are pretty much interchangeable.  Yogurt, in my experience, gives a bit moister result, so I like using it.  But if you don't have yogurt, you can use buttermilk if you have some on hand, or you can even make a good, quick substitute:  just put a tablespoon or so of fresh lemon juice or distilled white vinegar into a measuring cup, then add enough fresh milk to make a cup.  Let it stand on the counter for a few minutes to clabber, which is a polite way of saying sour, curdle, etc.  Then just use it as you would the buttermilk or yogurt.  Scones made with yogurt or other sour milk seem lighter, moister, and just sconier than those made with plain milk.  It's probably got something to do with the acid giving more oomph to the leavening.

Here's how I made the scones.

SCONES
(Click on the title to open the recipe in a printer-friendly version.  When the new window opens, hit Control-P on your keyboard to print.)

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (8 ounces by weight) (don't use self-rising flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder (be sure it's fresh; baking powder loses potency fairly quickly)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar

1 stick (4 oz., 8 tablespoons) good unsalted butter
3/4 cup yogurt (or buttermilk or milk you have soured using the instructions above)
a little extra milk as needed
about 2 tablespoons heavy cream

1.  Preheat the oven to 400* F.

2.  Measure the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar and put it in a large mixing bowl.  Give it a stir with a fork to combine.  (Or you could sift it together if you want, but I find mixing it with a fork works just fine.)

A good pastry blender. Rock it, don't mash with it.
3.  Cut the butter into cubes and add it to the dry ingredients.  Using two knives or a pastry blender like the one pictured at the right, roughly blend it into the flour mixture.  The mixture will resemble a very coarse meal.

4.  Add the yogurt and stir rapidly with the fork to combine.  Add a little milk, about a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture just comes together to form a soft dough that pulls away from the side of the bowl.  (I'm guessing you might use about 2 - 4 tablespoons of milk here, but to be honest, I didn't measure it.)

The dough after forming.  Click on the photo to enlarge it and see the texture.
5.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and, with floured hands, gather it into a ball.  Do not knead it; handle it as gently and as little as possible.  Divide the dough into two smaller balls, then pat those out into two disks roughly 3/4 of an inch thick.  They will look quite rough, like the picture at the right.  This is good:  the big clots of butter will melt, leaving flaky dough behind.



 
Brushing the top with cream.
6.  Place the disks of dough on an ungreased baking sheet.  (A non-stick sheet is best; failing that, line the sheet with parchment paper.)  Brush the tops of the disks with cream, as I'm doing in the photo. Then, using a knife or bench knife, cut each disk into four or six equal pieces.  (The number depends on the size scones you like.  I personally prefer making eight scones from this recipe, but this morning I made 12, because Sue was bringing them to a meeting where there were about nine people.)  Separate the pieces to allow heat to circulate between them.


Cutting and separating the dough.
7.  Place the sheet into the preheated oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the scones are well-risen and browned on the top.  Serve fresh from the oven with hot tea and plenty of butter, jam, and marmalade to slather on them.  Or try clotted cream or Devon cream:  veddy British, veddy decadent.  But hey, this isn't diet food.  And trust me, you're not going to get fat on the occasional scone.  Have them as a treat, not as a steady diet, and you'll be fine.




Notes:  You could probably do this in a food processor, but it's pretty quick by hand, and it's low tech.  I like using a pastry blender, but here's a word of caution:  be sure you use a rocking, cutting motion with it; don't push down on it like you would a potato masher.  The trick with all short doughs (pie crust, biscuits, etc.) is to handle them as little as possible to avoid developing the gluten in the dough.  I like brushing the tops with cream before cutting up the dough:  the tops get more evenly coated with the cream, and you're less likely to dribble any down the sides, which would prevent a good rise.  If you want, you could sprinkle some sugar on the tops of the scones just before you put them in the oven.  If you have leftover scones, what's wrong with you?  Just kidding.  Put them in an airtight container and reheat them at 350* for 3 or 4 minutes.  Or freeze them, thaw them, and reheat them.  But they're really best when they're fresh.

As with bagels, I'm a scone purist:  I don't much care for chunks of things in them.  A traditional addition to scones is dried currants.  If you want, you could quickly stir in 1/2 cup of dried currants with the yogurt and milk.  (I will try some currants in my next batch.)*  Americans have a penchant for putting bits of things in stuff, and if that's what you like, knock yourself out.  Try dried cranberries, dried blueberries, raisins, dried cherries, or even chocolate chips.  About 1/2 cup of any of these is likely to be right, but to be honest, I haven't tried it!

Final note:  this is all a whole lot easier to do with two hands, as opposed to one hand with a camera in the other.  Just sayin'.

*ADDENDUM (3/16/11):  I've made two batches of these in the last couple of days using 1/2 cup of dried currants.  I stirred them into the dough just before adding the yogurt and milk.  I don't think I'll ever skip them:  they're delicious!  I've also taken to sprinkling just a bit of sugar on the top of the scones before they go into the oven.  I may spring for some coarse white sugar (you can get it from King Arthur Flour), because I think that would add a nice--if somewhat American--touch.  When we get to Maine and can get dried wild blueberries, I will add some of those in place of the currants.  Another Americanism, but it should be delicious.

Now, here's the crucial question:  what's the difference between scones made this way and buttermilk biscuits?  Good question.  To me, they are similar but don't taste much alike.  Scones seem heavier, flakier, and crisper.  Near as I can determine, the ratio of butter to flour is much higher for scones--scones have somewhere between 50% and 100% more butter than biscuits do.  Biscuits don't usually have sugar in them.  This small amount of sugar changes the flavor of the scones but doesn't actually make them sweet.  The method of mixing the dough is virtually the same for both scones and biscuits, so if you already make decent biscuits, you'll do just fine with scones.  Scones and biscuits have different traditional shapes, but if you want, you could certainly cut scones the way you do biscuits.  (Although with the softer dough, I think cutting them with a knife is much easier than using a biscuit cutter.  Also faster, and you're not re-rolling the scraps, so you don't risk toughening any of the scones.)

I hope you try this; it's much quicker and simpler than it sounds.  You can be eating delicious scones in 30 - 40 minutes.  And while it probably won't evoke a trip to the V & A Museum for you (a truly wild and quirky place--utterly wonderful), you'll make your own memories.  Memories are almost as good as food, and you can have them any time you want.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cooking BIG

The big (and I do mean big) cooking project this week was Wednesday's "Feast and Fellowship" dinner at Scottsdale United Methodist Church, where I conduct the choir.  It was the choir's turn to host the weekly supper, and we decided to make chili and cornbread.

I love a challenge like this.  Cooking is one thing; cooking on a grand scale is quite another, but I've done it on and off throughout my career.  When I conducted the Glee Clubs at the University of Rochester, I used to cook a spaghetti dinner for all hundred members on the annual fall retreat.  Everyone helped, of course, but it was fun to be in charge.  We'd make the sauce on Friday afternoon when we arrived and let it cook for hours.  Then on Saturday, we'd make salad and garlic bread and cook huge pots of pasta.  There was always a ton of leftovers:  multiplying what Sue and I ate by 50 turned out not to be a good way to calculate the amount of food to make.  I remember bringing salad home in black trash bags the first year.  We had grated parmesan for months (I kept it in the freezer).  I dutifully kept notes from one year to the next to remind myself how much I had bought and how much less I should buy the following year.  Only trouble is, I never believed the notes, especially when it came to the grated cheese.  It never failed:  I'd go to the little Italian grocery we loved so much (it was called La Calabresella--the girl from Calabria--and I'm delighted to find that it's still there!).  I'd ask for whatever amount of cheese I had said to buy, and the grocer and I would both look at it at and say, "Nope.  Not enough."  Inevitably, I'd buy more and end up with twice as much as I needed, until one year I wrote, "No matter what you think, don't buy more than this!"  That finally worked.

In subsequent years, I cooked Thanksgiving dinners for choirs, had a big spread for students at Christmas with homemade rye bread, turkey and ham for sandwiches, made countless choir and School of Music cookouts--you get the idea.  It's always fun, because I get to make huge quantities of things I ordinarily wouldn't cook.  And I like trying to see if I can scale things up and still have them turn out well.  Cooking on a large scale doesn't have to be "institutional," although you do have to account for a much wider range of tastes.  My biggest project was a Passover seder for about 100 people.  We did that two years in a row at the church. 

The quantity thing is elusive, though.  I realized a few years ago that I get this from my mother.  Both of us worry that if everything is eaten, someone may not have gotten enough:  you must have leftovers.  Mom usually makes about three times as much as anyone can eat.  I get closer:  I only make twice as much.  I've generally gotten better at figuring quantities for big crowds over the years, but it's still imponderable.  The church supper is especially tricky, because you never know how many people will turn up.  We figured on about 60; about 70 came, but I probably cooked for 80 or 90.  The good thing is that people like to take the leftovers home.  For a donation, they can take a box away with them.  All of the leftovers were scooped up in an instant.

I was pleased with the chili, which started with 21 pounds of ground beef.  The challenge here is to make a tasty chili that isn't too spicy:  you can always add hot sauce if you want it spicier, but there's nothing you can do if it's too spicy.  I think we scored well in that category.  I like spicy chili, and chili that's not spicy often seems bland to me.  This didn't.  The key, I think, was good-quality spices and using smoked paprika.  I heartily recommend this:  paprika can be rather anonymous--sometimes I think it's just there for color.  Smoked paprika adds a wonderful aroma and deep flavor.  (You will note that I'm not giving the recipe.  Why?  Because chili recipes are second only to religious sectarianism for arousing violent passions.  Some people are horrified by the idea of beans in chili; others can't imagine it without, and the two factions will come to blows over it if you let them.  So go ahead and make it however you like it; I won't interfere.  But if you find yourself cooking chili for a crowd and want some tips, write to me.  I'll be glad to tell you what I know.)

The cornbread was simple:  I took the recipe that we always use--the one from an old Betty Crocker cookbook--and made 12 batches, four in each of three large trays.  I had to bake it a little longer, but otherwise, it was perfect--except that I made exactly one tray too many!  This is especially ironic because I had originally planned to multiply the recipe by eight.  But I also wanted four trays of cornbread:  I planned to put a double batch in each tray.  When I mixed up the first double batch, though, it was obvious that it wasn't enough to fill the tray, so I added another double batch.  If I had made only two trays with the four double batches I'd originally planned to make, we'd have been fine.  Somehow, two trays of cornbread didn't look like it would be enough, so I made a third one.  We never touched that one; we donated it instead to the Justa Center, a daytime center for homeless seniors.  The man who runs it, Scott Ritchey, is a former associate pastor at SUMC, and he was the speaker for dinner.  He was only too happy to serve our cornbread the next morning, thus turning my wretched excess into a good deed.

So my real advice is that if you're going to cook on a grand scale, do it either for college students or for a church.  College students will scavenge anything (and eat it at 2 a.m.); churches will put it to good use for a worthy cause.  That way, you can make too much, and instead of feeling wasteful, you can feel like you did something worthwhile.  That's always a good thing. 

(Postscript: The scones from the other day turned out fabulous. I want to try a couple of variations before I post the recipe, but it's coming. It's been years since I ate the ones at the V & A, so I can't be sure, but I do think these come close. And on another note, I have a quesillo going into the oven as I write this. I've flavored it with coffee, just for a change. I'll let you know how that comes out.)