Mama Wendina’s Brew

Hi. I’m Mama Wendina. Am I Italian? No, not really. There are a few Italians hanging from my mother’s branch of the tree, but this post isn’t about my lovely cousins, Toni and Tina, their uncles or Grandma Angelina’s splendid Sunday gravy. (That’s red sauce, for those of you not in the know.)

What Mama Wendina has in common with Italians is a passion for a strong, smooth, sumptuous cup of coffee*, and I make-a da best. The two ex boyfriends who’ve had the privilege would lay testament to that. In fact, they’re probably sharing a cell in a maximum security facility, talking about my coffee and trying to decide which of their mothers to kill first when they get out. One of them will be heavily armed and the other is clinically psychotic, so avoid the greater Seattle area if you can.

First, let’s discuss beans. Buy these beans: http://bargreencoffee-store.stores.yahoo.net/frenroas.html End of discussion.

They have an organic French roast but it doesn’t cook up as nice. Other coffee snobs and snobettes are finding these beans to be near the best, and have even blogged about them. Imagine that? If you live near Seattle (and haven’t encountered one of my exes) you’ll find Bargreen Coffee at Bartell Drugs, so make sure to grab a bag of the whole beans while waiting for the pharmacist to refill your happy pills.

If you don’t own a grinder, buy one. I have a typical home grinder that holds around two-thirds of a cup of beans. Fill it to the top, then grind the holy heck out of those poor beans until they are almost an espresso worthy paste. On any given morning, my neighbors can hear horrific cement grinder sounds, followed by loud slams on the counter as I loosen unground beans from the sides of the well. Then back to RRRRWRRRRWWRRRR SLAM! BWEEERRRRRWRRR… They hate me.

While you’re shopping for a grinder, also purchase a #2 plastic Melitta cone and some #2 filters. I sometimes buy the unbleached filters for aesthetic reasons. At this point, bleaching my brain cells won’t make much of a difference. The plastic cone will cost less than a latte, and a box of 40 cones will run about the same.

Heat water until you see a hint of steam. Do not let the water reach a full boil. If you’re using a tea kettle, you’ll be pulling it off the heat well before the whistle blows. Hotter, and you’ll add bitterness**.

Put a filter in the plastic cone.

Scoop half the ground beans (around 1/3 cup) into the filter, and place the rig on top of a coffee cup that holds 10 or 12 ounces.

Slowly pour hot water over the beans until you reach the top of the filter.

Gently stir the contents to incorporate all the grounds into the water and form what is known in the espresso world as crema. Crema is the caramel colored swirl that forms on top, and is an indicator that the essential oils in the coffee are now flavoring the water.

DO NOT bump the cone full of hot water and grounds with your elbow and splatter the wet grounds all over your kitchen. I cannot stress this enough.

Let the water filter all the way through, until there is absolutely none left in the cone. You’ll have around eight ounces of coffee at which to sip.

I take mine with two huge spoons of raw sugar and one large spoon of non-dairy creamer. Sounds sacrilegious, but non-dairy creamer doesn’t water down the coffee, it has a Twinkie-like shelf life and it’s great for those of us who can’t even look at a glass of milk without getting gassy. If you do use a milk product, use heavy cream.

If you insist on using one of those flavored creamers, please don’t tell me about it or I’ll have to ‘unfriend’ you on Facebook. Years ago I pulled espresso at a friend’s cafe. When someone would order a “nonfat, single tall, decaf vanilla latte with two packets of sugar substitute” we referred to it as a “why bother” and banned them from the premises.

My next post will be a continuation of my Christmas cookie series. Don’t worry. You’ll have plenty of time between now and then to finish reading Atlas Shrugged.

*I also have a violin case, but there’s a violin in it.

**If you’re like me, you’re already bitter enough.

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Nondenominational Gingerbread Cookies

Someone recently tried to convince me that Christmas is about the baby Jesus, and that there are over a billion people on earth who feel that way*. In my experience it’s about eating and bickering, and giving a nod to all those other holidays that conveniently land in late December.

Despite my general heathenish ways, during bicker season I operate under the assumption that spices probably weren’t something Joseph and Mary could afford (on account of all the times they had to move). I set aside my resistance, and I selflessly make Jesus some festively spiced birthday treats known as gingerbread cookies.

Gather ye your ingredients:

1 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup white sugar

1 cup molasses

1 egg

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

5 cups flour (plus extra for rolling out dough)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2-3 tablespoons ground ginger (I use 3)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon allspice (if you can afford it)

1/8 teaspoon very finely ground black or white pepper (optional)

Have at a’hand:

measuring devices

rolling pin (for chasing your spouse out of the kitchen)

cookie sheets

cookie cutters

flat spatula

circus strong man with a pastry cutter, fork and wooden spoon, and/or a stand mixer

Using either a stand mixer with beater attachment or a pastry cutter, add the shortening and sugar in bowl, stir or cut up at first, then beat it into a fluffy dither.

Crack egg into a separate bowl and whisk it a little to break up the yolk. Check for pieces of shell or a funky smell, and if it passes those tests you can add it to the sugar and shortening. Also add the molasses and vinegar. Beat for about a minute.

Measure five cups of flour into another bowl and lightly stir it with the soda, salt and spices. I don’t bother to sift, but I make sure my cups of flour aren’t packed too tightly. A separate bowl allows you to recount your cups in case you lose track, which never happens to me**.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a cup at a time, stirring between additions and scraping down the sides of the bowl to catch all the stray stuff. When everything is combined, turn the mixer up just a little and give it a 30 second fast stir. The dough with start to form a mass and will climb up the beater. If you are using the ‘circus strong man’ method, have him put a little elbow grease into it.

Pack the dough into a thick disk (sort of) and wrap it in plastic or put it in an air tight container. Let it chill for at least an hour.

This is a big recipe, so only roll out half the dough at a time using plenty of flour on your chosen surface. I roll it on the counter atop my dish washer so I can scrape the floury mess into the washer when I’m all done. (Make sure it isn’t full of clean dishes before doing this.)

I eyeball the thickness of my dough at about 3/16 inch, but some people like it 1/8 inch and some 1/4. If you have trouble visualizing these measurements, buy a ruler. No, really. I’m not a grade school math teacher, okay?

Cut out cookies using cutters that are sharp, aren’t too large, and don’t have a lot of very thin shapes because that sort of thing will break during the icing process. Plus those itty bitty stems of dough usually cook too fast. My fave cutter is actually an oak leaf, but it looks enough like a holly leaf, it can be iced in many festive ways and it doesn’t scream “CHRISTMAS!” at everyone on my Kwanzaa gift list.

Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet. Sometimes I use parchment paper underneath the cookies for easy removal after baking. Also, a very flat spatula is required for transport so you don’t smoosh your shapes. (If you want smooshed shapes, wear a tighter girdle.)

The cookies should be about an inch apart on the sheet. When you get your first sheet filled, pop it into the fridge for around 10 minutes (this prevents spreading); during which time you can preheat your oven to 375 degrees and get a head start on your next sheet.

Bake the cookies for 6-7 minutes. Do NOT bake them longer than that. You’ll be gathering up the excess dough from the first rolling and rolling it out at least once more to get more cookies to cut. These subsequent rollings can make for some proverbially ‘tough cookies’ if over baked.

Let the cookies cool for 10 minutes on the pan. Remove from pan and place in airtight container until you are ready to decorate, where they can live–unadorned–for up to two weeks, or freeze them for up to a month. Makes five dozen 2″x3″ cookies.

I’ll do an OCD, A-type personality bit about cookie decorating later in the season. Now go get your Xanax refilled before the Christmas rush.

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*Sources close to home have revealed that they attend midnight mass, but as yet they haven’t provided any concrete evidence.

**Actually, it happens to me constantly. It’s a real problem and I should probably get it checked out.

Mincing Words

After I wax on a bit about how annoying it is when someone on a certain substance (meth), who wants more of that substance, tries to break into a building in broad daylight in order to loot the contents by repeatedly kicking a steel plate door, I’ll get to the recipe portion of this post. I promise.

When Mr. Kicksit launched his assault on said door, the noise distracted Sam-dog who was about to do his part to fertilize the grass near said door. It was pouring rain, Sam was frozen completely through, he was being distracted by the noise, and as I’m not exactly Mother Teresa in the live-and-let-live department I yelled, “Holy bleeping bleepsticks! Would you please knock that bleep the bleep off?!” Silence was restored, and Sam and I were able to complete our mission. I’m certain it was because I said ‘please’.

Obviously I don’t mince words, but I do mince pie. I make mincemeat pie, that is, as did my mother, grandmother and great grandmother before me. Unlike my small crowd of estrogenic, vaguely British ancestors, I don’t make the mincemeat myself. That would be madness when one can simply drive to a grocery store, hunt around for jarred mincemeat, end up asking a clerk where it is, wait for the clerk to find his manager and ask her where it is, and end up back at the front of the store where it is conveniently hidden behind bread crumbs and canned pumpkin…

Come to think of it, the 12-hour process of boiling the suet out of some tough cuts of mutton and sunning my own grapes to make the raisins doesn’t sound so bad. Original mincemeat wasn’t intended as dessert, it was a meal made with odd bits of this and that out of necessity by stooping surfs hovering over a pot for the better part of a day, praying the food would come out good. Modern mince contains very little–if any–meat, and relies on a bevy of spices for flavor. It is mostly raisins, apples and corn syrup.

To make up for the lack of beef or mutton fat, I add a half cup of chopped walnuts per jar of mincemeat. To stretch it I add a small, cubed apple and 1/4 a cup of raisins or currents. If you like, add a teaspoon of cinnamon and/or half a teaspoon of ground clove for extra zip. If you like to live on the edge, add one tablespoon of rum.

The crust, however, is what brings it all together. If pride be a deadly sin, then I shall die with crust crumbs on me lips, a spryly tined fork in me eye and me crust recipe clutched in me blue hand. It’s that good.

You are strongly encouraged to forget everything anyone has ever taught you about making pie crust and do this:

1. Per double crust pie, place 2 1/4 cups of unsifted flour in a large mixing bowl or food processor.

2. Cut up 3/4 cup of cold, unsalted butter and toss it on top of the flour.

3. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

4. Have by your side some chilled water and a measuring tablespoon.

5. Either cut in the butter with a fork or hand pastry cutter, or pulse-process the flour and butter together until it forms small clumps.

6. Sprinkle one tablespoons of water on the mixture and pulse or cut in until it starts to absorb. Add one more and repeat until the dough comes together when you squish it. Use no more than five tablespoons. It won’t look like ordinary pie dough, but more like cookie dough.

7. Form dough into a ball by packing it tightly in plastic wrap (the less fondling, the better) and chill it for however long it takes you to prep the filling. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t want the dough too cold.

8. Roll out slightly more than half the dough on a floured surface to fit the bottom of a 9″ or 10″ pie dish. The dough will likely break on the way from the rolling pin to the dish, but can easily be patched.

9. Prick a few holes in the bottom crust (as it were) and pour inside it the stuff I mentioned above. (I’m checking to see if you’re paying attention.)

10. Roll out the rest of the dough to form the top crust and plunk it over the mincemeat. Pinch the bottom and top edges together (as it were), leaving no room for the contents to escape. We aren’t going for perfection, people. A perfectly fluted edge is not only intimidating to your guests, the peaks tend to burn. There is nothing I despise more than burnt pie crust peaks, and that’s the truth.

11. Cut slits in the top crust so steam can vent.

12. Dust on a tablespoon of sugar, if you wish. You do.

13. Cover the edges of the crust with foil or a crust cover (yes, they make those). This year I used the outer part of a tart dish with a removable bottom. It flattened the edges during baking, but once again we’re more concerned with taste than elegance.

14. Bake pie on next to lowest rack for 35-40 minutes until faintly golden. Placing it on a lower rack ensures the bottom crust is cooked. If the top crust edges aren’t golden enough for you, remove the foil or other device for the last few minutes of baking.

15. Cool for at least two hours before serving. Cover leftovers and store on your counter like some pre-dental, Medieval person, or in the fridge if you are the nervous sort.

If you insist on using vegetable shortening, use 2/3 cup and up the water to five-and-a-half tablespoons. (Butter contains its own water.) This crust can be used for any pie, from apple to chocolate cream. It has a flakey, shortbread consistency. I discourage an egg wash because an egg wash turns a crust to leather. There is no need to follow suit with my poor, British ancestors and eat your shoes.

Fuggly Boots and a Bottle o’ Rum

Quick questions: Anyone still bothering to watch football? I’m so discouraged with this season, I’ve cancelled my Seattle Seahawks Jockstrap Flip-Up Advent Calendar order. I’ll just have to wallow in curiosity, and smooth my ruffled hawk feathers by walking my dog in my new Ugg boots*. What’s the point of having children if we can’t humiliate them with bad fashion trends, right? (Limit your answers to “Yes,” or “No, and what is wrong with you?”)

Now for the real reason we’re here: fruitcake. Dark fruitcake, to be exact. It’s notoriously hard to photograph, but I think I may have done it some justice by adding an empty bottle of rum and being ripped on Ambien when I set up the shots. I purchased said bottle o’ five years ago**, and will have to–ulp–brave the local methy liquor store before I can make my Great Aunt Mary’s*** famous rum balls. Life is a constant struggle.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to read recipes, I follow the dictates of page 75 of the 1968 edition of Better Homes & Gardens “New” Cook Book; adding prunes or dates instead of raisins and swapping out the canned OJ for some seedless jam, fresh juice or a dry gin martini, and pretending I’m in the spectacularly modern feature kitchen.


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*Yes, Sam-dog will be wearing the Ugg boots.

**The rum, not the Ambien. Apparently I’m a bit too ambiguous since being dropped on my head at the tender age of 43.

***The one on my mom’s side, not my dad’s side. If you’d been paying attention to this blog AT ALL, you’d know I had two.

Here Come the Holiday Baking Posts: This Is the Only Warning You’ll Get

I’m such a slob, lately. Seriously. Ever since finding out my beloved cat Spenser has The Cancers* (said in that cute way so I don’t get all bummed and wander off, again) I haven’t done much of anything. Some people say, “Stay busy and active, okay? I don’t want you to miss out on anything life has to offer.” My cat says, “Stop everything and pay attention to my every move. If I can’t have a life, neither can you.” Cats are selfish bastards.

At any rate, I’d made up my mind to do all kinds of holiday baking this year, and as that is something I can do while being Spenser’s home hospice care nurse, doctor of force feeding and orderly of pill cramming, that is what I shall do.

Every year, whether I bake or not, I research recipes. I’m a good cook and an even better baker, so I don’t really need full recipes that are all neat and tidy and exact. I do, however, enjoy some of the tips and tricks, interesting additions… and bad photos.

Blogs weren’t popular when I first started internet recipe hunting six or seven years ago. If there were photos attached, the photos were beautiful, professional and appealing, with no extra browning on the edges of cookies or dry looking cakes. Now that any home cook can whip out a camera phone and take a candid shot, I’m seeing images that are, well, hilariously bad**.

I’m going to fix that, my loyal subjects, and document my holiday baking foolery for you. All of it. From mincemeat pie to fruitcake, and also the stuff people actually eat. My photos may not be all that wonderful, either, but you’ll never know thanks to the awesome power of Photoshop. See how selfless I am, even though I’m busily pre-mourning my fuzzy little boy’s demise?

For now, you seriously have to see these homemade offerings:

This right here is why people hate fruitcake. If the first fruitcake I saw looked like this, I’d have run the other way, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

French baking mat: $20. Professional 1/2 baking sheet: $16. Six shy, nervous cookies: priceless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a love for the ages. It was a love born of hardship. And when they could hear the soldiers at their door, they walked into the fire as one.

 

 

 

 

 

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*Not for nothing, I always thought The Betes (diabetes) would get him because he used to be super fat.

**I have a good friend who does a recipe photo blog, and her photos will make you want to leap into your computers and do unspeakable things to the chef and the food and you can tell her I said that. http://poeticfood.blogspot.com/

Weak Cup of the Week: The “Why I Tried Red Bull” Edition

The prognosis is bleak. I’m not just lactose intolerant, it’s a strong possibility that I have a full-on allergy to cow’s milk. It’s dismal and life altering, and though not directly responsible for my inability to post weekly Weak Cups of the Week, it has everything to do with why I tried Red Bull. Let me ‘splain.

At this stage of life sans dairy, it’s easier to point out what I can’t eat than what I can eat. I can’t have ice cream, for instance, and there is no true replacement. Later this evening I’ll dip into a “frozen chocolate treat” made with almond milk and make note of my findings, but I can tell you all right here and now it isn’t going to taste anything like Haagen Dazs.

When people say, “Oh, but you can have soy and rice and almond and blah blah blah, ” it takes me a second to get that, “You’re an idiot with no taste buds,” look off my face and attempt polite agreement. I then point out that I can’t have too much soy (gas city) but I can have goat’s and sheep’s milk, and love the cheese and yogurt culled from these critters. I then receive a, “You’re an idiot with no taste buds, and you’re gross,” look from my conversation partner and we agree to disagree or mount a cold war.

I can’t have Starbucks Doubleshots in a can, either. This is my go to drink when I don’t have the early morning wherewithal to operate a Melitta filter and a coffee grinder, but it’s mostly milk. Bibicafe is good, but expensive and hard to find. Pepsi is too sweet and Coke dissolves dimes and teeth, and both are very high in sugar; and that is why I bought my first Red Bull.

I’m not going to lie. I didn’t fancy the stuff. To keep things somewhat genteel I shall give my assessment in wine-tasting terminology. Sort of.

When I first pulled back the flip top on the slender, blue and red can I caught a whiff of vanilla and dare I say floral? A deep floral, like Hawaiian white ginger, neroli (a variety of orange flower) or exotic ylang ylang would pair well with many cola beverages, but the vanilla made me nervous.

It was odd that the top note was ever so slightly deeper than what comes next in perfuming and wining; the sustained middle note. The next thing that hit me was citrus, which is a typical top note. Mandarin? Bergamot (related to grapefruit)? Lime? Regardless, when mixed with the strong florals and vanilla it started to smell like Cascade dishwasher detergent.

I bravely took a sip and felt the surprisingly bland, caustic fluid strip my teeth of their enamel. Apple and cherry leapt to the forefront, and who doesn’t want grapefruit and vanilla on their apples and cherries? After that it became chemical. Though it doesn’t contain a chemical sweetener, it tasted as though it did. Much like milk substitutes don’t taste like milk to me, chemical sweeteners will always taste like anything but sugar.

I swooshed the sip in hopes of finding something redeeming, but instead ended up with a mouth full of explosive calcium carbonate that had to go somewhere… so I swallowed.

*ulp* *burp* Pardon.

The can sat staring at me for a few more minutes, chiding and bullying me into trying again. “Billions of teenagers think we’re da bomb, you dopey old lady! What’s wrong with you? 80 milligrams of caffeine and I can stay awake through history class AND math!”

When I brew a cup of coffee or tea, I’m hard core. What I end up with has more like 200 milligrams of caffeine and tastes good. I have two or three cups, too. Mind you I doubt I could keep my eyes open during 10th grade English, but I can get in a ton of housework and social networking AND still make time to watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills while knitting a 300 mile long scarf. Good luck with that, teenagers.

The can waited patiently, breathing and wheezing carbonation for half an hour, and I thought, “Okay. Maybe the taste improves with aeration.”

The vanilla, citrus, chemicals and tree fruits were gone, and were replaced not with a bottom note of cola nut, chocolate or espresso bean, but with what could easily be described as Perrier.

“Mmmm, boy,” I said to the dog. “To think I paid $1.99 for the experience of drinking lightly caffeinated, overly carbonated mineral water, when I could be sipping a full, round, smooth, deadly strong cup of coffee with two tablespoons of sugar and a hefty sprinkle of non-dairy creamer.” He watched intently as I poured the rest of the Red Bull down the sink.

At any rate, now I know what I can’t have–and what I don’t want. That’s progress, right?