Category Archives: Food & Recipes

For the Love of Carbs #3

Last week we experimented with bread porn.  This week, class entered horror movie territory as we were introduced to… The Slasher!!

The slasher, otherwise known as a bread lame (“lahm”, “lahm-uh”, or as our instructor endearingly pronounced it, “lamb-y”), is a tool used to score dough so that it can expand during baking.  For this session, we improvised with a razor on a stick, which worked pretty well.


Our final class was perhaps overly ambitious.  We made baguettes, another sourdough, pumpernickel (which we baked at home) and pizza (which we ate during our break).

Baguettes are nearly impossible to bake properly at home since it’s difficult to generate enough steam but we all wanted to try. Abby had made the dough in advance, which looked like Jabba the Hutt as it shimmied its way from its giant pan to the workspace.


Our baguettes ended up a bit under-baked due to time constraints, and mine got squashed on the ride home. They were tasty, though, and worth another try in the future.

The pizza was fun to make and we’d all worked up an appetite, but I’ll probably stick with Bobby Flay’s recipe. 

Pumpernickel was the most successful, perhaps because it wasn’t rushed.


The sourdough was good, too.


Someone asked Abby why she decided to make baking her career, not just a hobby. Her advice: If you lose track of time while you’re doing something, it means you really love it.

We certainly did!

bread class workshop pic (2) (1)

(Abby’s the tall one in the middle, back row. Yours truly is front row left in a scarf.)









For the Love of Carbs #2

Bread class continued with good spirits and much laughter, as we embarked on focaccia, ciabatta and a new method of making sourdough.


Is that apprehension I’m sensing?

First up, some brave souls brought in their starters for Abby to evaluate. We learned that a starter is ready to use if a small bit floats when immersed in water. Sadly, most of our efforts sank like a stone. (Cue “My heart will go on”.)

To make both focaccia and ciabatta, you begin with a “poolish”, which is pronounced poo-leash rather than rhyming with “foolish” which is how we felt about our sinking non-starters. This is essentially another type of starter that is ready much faster and keeps the dough nice and airy.

Abby kept us on a strict schedule so we could bake these during class. Unfortunately, my benchmate and I made the crucial mistake of flouring the tops of our ciabattas, not realizing they’d be flipped over. (Or possibly not paying attention?) And I opted not to cut the dough into rolls, ending up with a pale loaf bearing more than a passing resemblance to a manatee.


Ciabatta in the oven


Abby suspects they’re not quite ready.

Our focaccias weren’t much prettier, being pancake-flat. But despite their wonky appearance, both breads were pretty tasty.


Focaccia resembling paddleboards

The big excitement of the evening came when we learned a new technique that brought out our inner dominatrix. Abby had e-mailed us a video to get us “in the mood”. It’s called the slap and fold method, or, as my friend S dubbed it, Food Porn: You slap your dough on the counter, stretch it up and slap it down again. After about 5 minutes the dough is ready to rest, and so are you.

Who knew that bread making had a racy side? Or that my wardrobe needs a black leather apron?!

                                  (Above, clockwise: focaccia at home – I added rosemary -, ciabatta, sourdough.)

I can only imagine what’s in store for us this week. Stay tuned, dear friends.

For the Love of Carbs

Whoever said, “Man cannot live by bread alone” clearly didn’t live in my house. To that end, I’ve embarked on a series of 3 consecutive weekly classes in bread making, hoping to hone my skills or at the very least make and eat lots of yummy things.

Our first class was Tuesday night. Ten strangers introduced ourselves, commenting on each other’s aprons (the best one: printed with unpronounceable Scottish phrases) and gleaning levels of expertise. We ran the gamut from novice to knowledgeable.

Few things bind people together more than a shared interest; in this case hunger, as the class runs from 6-9 pm and no one had had dinner. As we descended on the snack table – samples of the bread we’d soon be baking – things quickly loosened up.

And then the work began. Abby, our intrepid instructor, handed out sheets of recipes (blue emmer sandwich bread, sourdough and challah) and led us back to the industrial kitchen where we started our first loaf.

First lesson: Measure your ingredients by weight, not volume. Turns out, it’s more accurate since flours vary in density, and it’s easier too. You put a bowl on a scale, set it to zero, and reset it to zero after you’ve added each ingredient. To quote the Monkees, now I’m a believer.

The whole group got down and dirty as we over- or under-loaded our bowls, covered ourselves in flour while dumping it out to re-measure, and got sticky bits of dough in our hair and jewelry. (Note to self: don’t wear a watch.) If you’re a clean freak, this “sport” may not be for you. One tip if you don’t want to keep running to the sink: keep a bowl of extra wheat flour available and rub your hands in it to remove most of the dough.

Then we started kneading. Not only is this a great upper-body workout (3 hours of standing and punching dough should cancel out all those calories, right?), it must be one of the earliest forms of therapy. PINCH! That’s for your annoying neighbor. POUND! That’s for your obnoxious boss. FLATTEN! That’s for every bad relationship you’ve ever had.

We also learned a great trick for preserving your starter if you don’t make bread multiple times a week: Roll some of the sticky starter in wheat flour and keep rubbing until it dries out into a crumbly nub. Abby says it will keep for quite awhile in the fridge (will have to ask how long “awhile” is) until you’re ready to reactivate it.

To keep your starter bubbly and active you’ll have to feed it 1-2x a week. (Starter is a fairly demanding pet but at least it won’t pee in the house!)

Keep it loosely covered in the fridge. A day or two before you plan to bake, dump out about 90% (this takes self-discipline as it seems so wasteful), then add back equal parts water and flour (half wheat/half bread flour) – making at least 130g (1 cup for your recipe plus extra to maintain it). Cover loosely and let it sit out on your counter for 8-10 hours. When the starter gets airy and fragrant, repeat the process.

If you don’t plan to bake for a few days, feed your leftover with more flour than water or dry it out as suggested above.

Exhausted but exhilarated, we left with three batches of dough to bake on our own, plus a dried nub of starter to resurrect. Abby encouraged us to name our starters – hers is Shiva. Since I have a tendency to kill mine on a regular basis, I’m naming him Lazarus.


“Meh” on the blue emmer bread. It was kind of flabby and spongy. A little too much like health food and not enough like “indulgence”.

“Yay” on the sourdough method, although the amount of dough we made was a bit small for my cast iron Dutch oven. And my usual method yields a darker, crisper crust.

“Pretty good” for the challah – I prefer the recipe in the Silver Palate Cookbook. DH says this one reminds him more of a brioche.

Looking forward to this week’s class. Especially the snacks.

p.s. Final tip: Don’t add salt with the rest of your ingredients.  Let dough hydrate (aka rest) for an hour and then mix in the salt.  Apparently it interferes with gluten production. Did not know that.

[main photo source:]


Can This Recipe Be Saved?

Hi everyone, it’s hack time again. First up: cooking.

This weekend, DH and I struggled to fix a chicken dish that was weirdly sweet. After adding multiple ingredients, it was eventually quite good. But it got me researching solutions to some common kitchen problems you might encounter, too.


KITCHEN HACK: Adjusting a Recipe

Too Salty

  • If you can rinse off the overly salty ingredient (such as the brine on your olives), that’s an easy place to start.
  • Add a raw potato (you don’t have to cut or peel it) to a liquid dish such as soup or curry. Potatoes will soak up some of the extra salt as they cook and add starch that will further dilute the saltiness.
  • Rice or a small amount of flour are other options.

Too Spicy

  • As with saltiness, adding starch is a quick fix for an overly spicy soup or curry.

Too Sweet

This is a common result when using carrots, red peppers or other vegetables with hidden sugars.

  • Add a squeeze of lemon, lime, or a spoonful of apple cider vinegar.
  • Balance the sweet taste with more seasoning to make the dish spicier.
  • Add a fat such as olive oil or avocado.
  • Try adding tangy yogurt if it’s appropriate for your dish.
  • Add more liquid to dilute it.
  • Avoid adding salt, as it will bring out all flavors, including sweetness.

Too Sour

The best way to counter too much sourness is to add sweet, salty or savory flavors. Think of the way a salt rim balances the sweetness of a margarita, or how adding carrots rounds out the taste of a marinara sauce.

Too Bitter

Leafy greens such as kale, collard, and mustard greens can be overpoweringly bitter. Other ingredients with a bitter edge include coffee, espresso, cocoa and herbs and spices such as parsley, paprika and cayenne (red) pepper.

Bitter is the opposite of acidic or sour so adding vinegar, citrus juice or yogurt can help balance the dish.

  • Squeeze some lemon over sautéed greens.
  • In Mexican cooking, lime helps balance red spices such as chile powder which can taste bitter.
  • Add a dash of grated nutmeg. The nutty taste helps balance other flavors.




Don’t you hate those suckers?! I’ve collected a few tips for your next run-in with old furniture, fences or floorboards. It almost makes me wish I had a splinter so I could try them out. Almost.

  • Baking soda technique
  1. Mix a teaspoon of baking soda or baking powder with a few drops of water until it forms a paste.
  2. Apply the paste to the splinter.
  3. Wait 10-20 minutes until the skin swells a little and the splinter pops out of the skin.
  • Use a piece of duct tape or a drop of Elmer’s Glue to remove the splinter.
  • Soak. Pour some white vinegar into a small bowl. Soak the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes. Once the splinter has risen sufficiently out of the skin’s surface, it should be easy to remove with tweezers.



IMG-3159 (1)

My friend O suggested a post on my Do’s and Don’ts for next time. If you’re planning a trip to Sicily, here are a few post-vacation thoughts.

What I’d do again

  • Reserve Blacklane upon arrival at an unfamiliar destination. It will cost more than a taxi but the price is established and paid by credit card in advance. Benefits: 1) You won’t be driven all over the place to run up the meter. 2) You won’t have to change money at exorbitant airport rates. 3) Drivers are safe and you can request one who speaks your language. 4) The cars are cleaner and nicer than cabs.
  • Rent apartments instead of staying in hotels. Cooking (and grocery shopping) is fun and cheaper than always eating out.
  • If you plan to drive into the country, consider an apartment rental outside of the city so you can easily get in and out of town.
  • Buy tickets online in advance for popular museums and attractions.
  • Bring a good map and pocket Italian language guide.

What I’d do differently

  • Don’t plan on using Taormina as a base from which to travel to other areas unless you book a tour from town. It’s well located but too hard to navigate in and out.
  • One day is sufficient unless you really like to shop.
  • I’d spend more time in Palermo (better shopping, too).
  • I’d rent a place for a week about an hour’s drive from Siracusa and Noto. I’d rent another place for the second week an hour’s drive from Ragusa and the coast.

FOLLOW UP: Biscuits


I’m still experimenting, but so far Alton Brown’s recipe checks all the boxes.

Curious about the meaning of the word “hack”? Originating as a computer term, it “… refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency….”

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Have you ever regretted volunteering for something? That’s the position in which I find myself this week.

As a member of the homeowners’ association board, way too much of my time is currently spent trying to navigate the petty disputes that constantly crop up between neighbors.

While I’m sympathetic to the concerns being raised on both sides of the latest kerfuffle (and deeply grateful to my fellow board members who share this thankless job), I am bone-tired of trying to be mom/cop/shrink/legal interpreter to a bunch of adults acting like whiny children – especially since I’m only actually qualified in the first category. Arrgh.

In between e-mail barrages, phone calls and meetings, I’m putting the stress to more productive use by pounding some dough.


My weapon of choice!

Current baking challenge: the definitive buttermilk biscuit. Two recipes down so far, each pretty good but in need of adjustment.

Plus, more decisions to make: Cookie sheet or cast iron skillet? Butter, shortening or a combo? Baking soda as well as baking powder? Rolling pin or flatten by hand?

At least they don’t talk back.


If anyone has a recipe they love, please share! xxxx

You Say Biscuit, I Say Cookie, We All Say Yummy

IMG-0028This week, I was inspired to bake up some digestive biscuits – probably because I’d been watching “Victoria” on TV. They turned out beautifully and I became curious about their origins.

The first digestive biscuit (“cookie” in American English) was the McVitie’s Digestive, created in 1892 by Alexander Grant, a young new company employee. The biscuit was given its name because it was thought that its high baking soda content served as an aid to food digestion.

I was skeptical – and wondering how many you’d have to eat to get any benefit – but according to, “ Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate*) helps to break down fatty substances and food particles, making them easier to digest and calming the turmoil in your stomach.”

In any case, digestives are a delicious, light cookie made with mostly whole-wheat flour for a nice fiber content. I wouldn’t call them health food but when your sweet tooth is calling they probably stack up pretty well compared with other cookies. (I’m talking to you, chocolate chips!)

It’s easy to make your own, and the butter tastes better than the palm oil in commercial products.

RECIPE (Adapted from King Arthur Flour)

Ingredients Click here for measurement by grams or ounces

  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • (my addition: a pinch of salt)
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup cold milk


  1.  Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a couple of baking sheets, or line them with parchment paper.
  2. There are two options for blending ingredients: Hand method: Measure the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour mixture. Add the sugar, (salt) and enough milk to make a stiff dough. Gently and briefly knead this mixture on a floured surface until smooth. Food Processor: Pulse the flour, (salt,) sugar, butter and baking powder in a food processor just long enough to create pea-sized bits of butter. Add milk and pulse briefly, just until mixture comes together. Be careful not to over blend.
  3. Roll out the dough to approximately 1/8″ thick, and cut into circles. Traditionally, the biscuits are about 2 1/2″ in diameter (a slightly smaller cookie cutter is the perfect size since they will not spread out much).
  4. Place the cutout cookies on the prepared baking sheets. Prick them all over with a fork, and bake until pale gold, about 15 minutes.
  5. Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool right in the pan. Store airtight at room temperature for up to a week or refrigerate if you like them extra crispy; freeze for longer storage.

YIELD: about 3 dozen cookies. Particularly delicious with a pot of freshly-brewed tea.

*In case you’re wondering: Baking soda has only one ingredient, sodium bicarbonate. Sodium bicarbonate is a base that reacts when it comes into contact with acids, like buttermilk, yogurt or vinegar. Baking powder also contains two acids.

Random Household Hacks

A New Year’s Resolution: I will search for answers to life’s pesky little problems and share my finds with all of you.

#1:  How to open a stubborn jar lid

Let’s assume that brute strength has not done the trick.  Here are some options:

1) Improve your grip

  • Put plastic wrap over the lid and twist.
  • Place a rubber band around the lid and twist.
  • Put on a rubber glove and twist.  (Anyone else reminded of Chubby Checker??)

2) Tap around the edge of the cap with a wooden spoon.  This should release the air pockets of the vacuum seal. It’s also less likely to shatter the jar than banging it on your countertop.

3) Still stuck?  Turn your jar upside down and place in a bowl filled with hot water. After about 30 seconds, the lid should loosen.

4) For sticky stuff (honey, molasses, etc.), plan ahead. Cover the jar opening with plastic wrap before you put the lid back on. (This also helps with paint cans.)

#2 How to quickly chill wine or beer 

Uh oh — unexpected, thirsty guests have arrived! Wrap a damp paper towel around the bottle or cans and place them in the freezer.  They will chill much faster than without the towel. Do not forget they are in the freezer! (Yes, I have done this and then had to clean up the resulting mess.)