The New Gig

Hey Gentle Reader.

Today my first column for the Chatham News & Record went online. The paper is a weekly independently owned local paper that comes from Siler City. If you’ve ever watched The Andy Griffith Show, the name might ring a bell. This is where the boys took their dates when the night was more special than Mayberry, and the Blue Bird Cafe, but not quite up to Mount Pilot standards.

They decided to title the column, “The Curious Cook”. I guess that’s appropriate, most people think I’m a little curious…

The piece is a short autobiography, so you might learn a little something about the Sphinx that is me.

But even if you already know way more about me than you want, I also give out the recipe and procedure for my Extra Strength Brownies with five kinds of chocolate, so there’s actually something of value in the piece.

Here’s the link, and Happy Brownie!

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

True Confessions

I’m a terrible boss.

The entire world should rejoice every morning that the only things I am the boss of are my dog and myself, and even that’s hit or miss at best.  The dog still won’t do calculus, and would the boss of herself have eaten their weight in cake last night?  Possibly, but if they did, they wouldn’t feel guilty about it.

And, FYI—when you eat your weight in something, you double your weight.

When I was in the second grade, I was in the Brownies.  This was back when the gas currently in your car was roaming Pangaea, looking for a fellow T-Rex to share its life.  When the troop voted for a leader, I was elected.  It seemed easy, and natural.

Until junior high, I was a leader in my classes and among my friends.  In the seventh grade, I ran for class representative to the student government.  I assumed I’d be elected, no prob.

It was one of the biggest shocks of my life when I lost.  My whole world view shifted, and things were never the same. 

Then growing up did what it does to everyone, especially women.  It knocked the heck out of my ego, and made me question and at times abandon, the confidence that was an intrinsic part of me like my buck teeth (now fixed) and widow’s peak (still there).

I retained parts of that gutsiness inside me, but it was fractured, with large chunks of it damaged or missing.  Sadly, like a pitcher in a slump, I got all caught up in my own head, second guessing every instinct.

For five years in the 80s, I managed a clothing store.  That’s what utterly convinced me that although I’m great at being bossy, I’m horrible at being the boss.  Some of my badness had to do with immaturity and the cure has come with advanced age.

Yup, that’s me, circa 1986…

But some things are just part of me, things that, until the day I die, make me singularly unsuited to be in charge of paid employees.

A boss should be willing and able to make the tough, unpopular decisions.  If you’ve ever had a boss, you have, at some point during your association, been unhappy with them.  They have to tell you no, or you can’t have that week off, or your work isn’t good enough.

I hate, hate, hate it when people are mad at me.  It makes me feel like a kicked puppy.  And I spent too much time worrying about whether or not my employees liked me—sometimes to the point of something close to paralysis.  Somehow, with The Kid and our dogs, I’m able to be the bad guy when really needed; I guess deep down, I know the stakes are so much higher.

A boss needs to know when to just back off and let an employee do their job.  Petey, when he was a charge nurse at Duke was awesome at this.  His co-workers adored him and always gave their very best.  I asked him what his secret was.

He didn’t quite understand the question.  “If they work here, I assume they know how to do their job, and I let ‘em do it.”

With a sad combo plate of little trust in my staff and no trust in my ability to teach and inspire, I was a micro-managing Matilda.  I exhausted myself, so I probably brought my poor, bedeviled employees to the edge of violence.

So, give thanks.

Give thanks that you can look at that questionable photo of me in the paper, and say with feeling, “You’re not the boss of me!”

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Must Desserts

Nope.

I used to tease our friend Chef Chrissie that he’s not the smoothest Casanova.  Despite being Irish, he is absolutely lacking the Emerald Isle’s gift of blarney.  He’s also honest to the point that if a girl asked him if her butt looked big, he’d tell her.  Petey and he share a sense of style, something I like to call, “sixth-grader at recess ”.

But the man possesses one ability that almost makes all of his deficits disappear.  It’s a talent which when employed in the service of pitching woo, is a laser-guided missile of amour.

It’s his ‘chef-ness’.

Yup…well, sorta.

Chrissie can Turn.It.Out.

The man is a kitchen wizard.  But what to do if you have lots of love to give, but very little in the way of cooking skills?

Don’t despair, for armed with a little knowledge you can easily look like a dashing, undercover pastry chef. With the knowledge to prepare three little items, you can present any number of dishes; from fancy plated dessert, to picnic treat.

The confectionary building blocks honestly couldn’t be easier to make—two of the three come from boxes.The first, and most versatile element is whipped cream.  It lends a luscious, dressy air to any dish.  And it takes all of about two minutes to make.

Place 1 cup of heavy cream in a clean cold bowl and add 2-3 tablespoons powdered sugar, ½ teaspoon vanilla, and a tiny pinch of salt.  Using either a hand mixer or an immersion blender and beat until soft peaks form.  You can add 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder for chocolate whipped cream.

Only make as much as you need, and use it right away.  The longer it sits, the droopier it gets.loaded browniesThe second element is brownies.  Everybody loves my brownies.  My secret?  I start with a box.  But then, I tinker.

Instead of water, use coffee.  Add 4 tablespoons of cocoa powder, a splash of vanilla, and a big pinch of salt.  Go through your pantry and pull out chips, candy, nuts, marshmallows, anything that tickles your fancy.  I’ve been known to add dried fruits, butter toasted pecans, pretzel pieces, and broken candy bars.  Halfway through baking sprinkle a small amount of flaky sea salt on top.

And always, always cook for 1-2 minutes less than the minimum time on the box.  Then chill to set.The third item is chocolate mousse with a secret.  The secret is I use a box of cook and serve chocolate pudding, and instead of milk, I use heavy cream.  It’s crazy good, and convinces diners that you got it going on.  You can either use it warm and rich, or let it cool all the way and whip it in a mixer until it’s light and airy.

With these three items, you can make a plethora of dishes.

Cut the brownie into cubes, add some to a wine glass with spoonsful of pudding and fresh raspberries.  Top with a dollop of whipped cream and you’ve got chocolate trifle.Cut the brownie into rounds, put pudding between two pieces, freeze, and you’ve got elevated ice cream sandwiches.

Pour hot pudding into a mini pie shell and refrigerate.  When cool, top with whipped cream and crumbled brownie pieces.

Buy some cookie dough and press into mini muffin cups and cook until done.  Fill with whipped cream and fresh fruit. Or, put a big scoop of ice cream on a warm brownie square cover with hot caramel and top with whipped cream.

Or, do something entirely different with these three dessert elements.  Then call me, ‘cause I want some.Thanks for your time.

Thank You Brownies

“Make him those brownies!”

I was having lunch with Chefs James Clark and Bill Hartley.  We were discussing exciting news.

I originally met the guys in their positions as executive chef and executive sous at the Crossroads Carolina.  Each time I went, they stuffed me like a Christmas goose with their expertly prepared food.

They’d recently left the Carolina Inn to open their own place, in Pittsboro.  It’s to be a fish house called Postal Fish Company.  And due to planned twice weekly trips to the coast, the freshest, most sustainable seafood this side of the ocean will be served.  The projected opening date is Fall 2017.

postal fish

We’ve sat down a couple of times, to discuss those plans.

The first time we met was for breakfast.  Since every time I visited the Carolina they fed me, I decided that turnabout is fair play.  So I baked them some treats.

It was a new version of my jacked-up brownies.  I’d come up with them when I made them for a couple of my old high school friends with whom I meet for monthly lunches.

They’d been such a big hit I thought Chefs Bill and James might enjoy them.  The funny thing is, they couldn’t be easier—it starts with a box.

Appreciation Brownies

thank you brownies

1 9X13 box fudge brownies (I usually use Duncan Hines)

2 eggs

2/3 cup + 2 teaspoons vegetable oil

¼ cup hot water mixed with 1 tablespoon espresso powder

¼ cup Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon kosher salt

12-ounce bag mini semisweet chocolate chips

1-1.69 ounce bag plain M & M’s

Topping:

1-1.69 ounce bag plain M& M’s (two bags total)

¾ cup salted pretzel pieces

1 teaspoon large flaky sea salt (like Maldon salt)

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a 9X13 baking pan, line with parchment paper, and grease as well.

In a large bowl, mix first 6 ingredients.  Put in mini chips, and stir vigorously, scraping the bottom of bowl to make sure they’re fully mixed.  Fold in one bag M & M’s.  Pour into pan, and spread batter with spatula so that it’s flat and level.

Sprinkle top with second bag of M & M’s and pretzel pieces.  Place in oven on middle rack and bake for 13 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle Maldon salt evenly over the top of brownies.  Return to oven and bake for 13 more minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool on kitchen counter and/or fridge until fully cool.  Using the parchment paper, lift out brownies and cut into 12-16 pieces.

I think Chefs James and Bill liked them.

Last week we met again; this time for lunch at an amazing place in Chapel Hill called Sandwich.

Everything is homemade, with a menu loaded with sandwiches, salads, and polenta bowls.  They make potato chips from scratch.  And their freshly cut fries are as good as Al’s at the state fair.

While we were eating, I told the guys that our neighbor had repaired the AC in our jeep.  I was crazy grateful, and couldn’t even guess how much money he had saved us.  I wanted to do something to thank him, but I wasn’t sure what to do.  Did they have any ideas?

Their recommendation is where we came in.

While I was out walking the dog yesterday, I ran into my neighbor.  He, his wife, and all his in-laws loved the brownies.  So I guess they’ve become my official thank you gift.

Great suggestion, Chef James and Bill; I’m grateful.

Thanks for your time.

Let the chocolate chips fall where they may

Each year by this point in January, I’m getting mighty tired of all the commercials for gym memberships and advertisements for nutritional supplements.Instead of working out and eating steamed fish, it all makes me want to lie immobile on the couch and eat milk duds.

I might feel that way, but the truth is I do still try to move around some, and eat reasonably well.  But just because I consume fresh fruit and veg and whole grains doesn’t mean I never eat anything just because it tastes good.

And I really do sleep better when I have a few bites of something sweet before bed.  So last Friday night, when, because of the snow and ice I wasn’t sure if we’d have electricity in the morning, I made a pan of brownies.I started with a mix, which I usually do.  But this batch was the best batch I’ve turned out in years.  The Kid and I loved them, which isn’t very surprising.  But the shocker was that Petey really liked them as well.  Not being a self-indulgent choco-phile, he doesn’t usually eat my brownies anymore.  He says they’re “too much” (but where chocolate is concerned, please explain to me what is too much).

I think these were better received because I didn’t go overboard on any one ingredient.  I added espresso, but just enough to heighten the flavor, not give you a coffee-favored punch in the nose.  There were chocolates, but not a surfeit of any one type.  They were salted, but only enough to give each bite the tiniest little salty crunch.

As a woman I can testify to the fact that some days only a satisfying chocolate treat can keep me from committing mayhem on loved ones and strangers alike.  These mahogany-colored confections, accompanied with copious amounts of red wine, would be a huge hit when shared by a group of women.

Best.Book.Club.Night.Ever.Boxed up and tied with a pretty red silk ribbon, then handed over for Valentine’s Day would ensure extra credit (I actually started to write ‘brownie points’ here) for the next 364 days.

I call these “Golf Brownies” because there are 4 (fore, get it?) kinds of chocolate in them.  Unfortunately, Petey doesn’t appreciate the humor of the moniker.  But bless his heart, he’s got lots of other very good qualities.

*Recipe note-For chocolate extract, I use Nielsen-Massey.  It’s available online and at local fancy cooking stores.  Maldon salt, found at the same kind of places, and lately some mega-marts, is a very large, flaky finishing salt for sprinkling.

Golf brownies

golf brownies

1 13X9 family size package Pillsbury milk chocolate brownie mix

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder dissolved in ¼ cup very hot water

2/3 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

2 tablespoons Hershey Special Dark cocoa powder

1 teaspoon pure chocolate flavor

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1-11.5 ounce bag Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips

1-2 teaspoons Maldon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Put all the ingredients except Maldon salt into large bowl.  Mix well.  Pour into 9X13 pan sprayed with cooking spray.  Liberally sprinkle Maldon salt on batter and bake.

Bake 13 minutes, spin pan 180 degrees and bake for 14 more.

Remove to cooling rack and allow to cool completely.  This recipe makes 2 dozen reasonably-sized pieces, or 6 extra-large PMS pieces.

Truly, brownie mix is one of the greatest benefits of living in this great country of ours.

usa brownies

Mmmmm…America…

You can have them ready for the oven in minutes, and they will obediently bend to your will, mood, and pantry.

For texture, try adding broken pretzels, nuts, or Oreo pieces.  Before baking, drop dollops of dulce de leche, peanut butter, or Nutella on  top.  Then using a sharp knife, swirl it enough to produce a marble-like effect.  Go a little sideways, and mix in crispy bacon, cracked pink peppercorns, or diced, candied ginger.

My point is that sometimes, like when it’s day three of being trapped in in the house with your entire family by snowmageddan, there’s nothing in this word that will do but a freshly baked brownie.                                                       Thanks for your time.