Baked Sunday Mornings: Brown Butter Snickerdoodles


Here I am, finally jumping back into the Baked Sunday Mornings sandbox, and there’s no better time to do so than a.) on my birthday and b.) with some of my favorite cookies.

I love goodies with brown butter in them. I think brown butter can elevate even the most mundane dessert. I also love snickerdoodles. So, this recipe from Baked Elements should be a no-brainer, right?

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You would think so, right? But these are … not my favorite. They’re not BAD — in fact, they’re pretty tasty and pleasantly chewy. However, I had some problems with the cook time that I feel compromised the final product. The recipe says to bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, or until they were set (but to give them a couple of extra minutes for less chewyness, but don’t overbake them!).

My oven, I think, runs a bit cool, as things tend to take longer to cook than most recipes indicate (except when they don’t). I didn’t want to overbake these, but they were vey much not ready to take out at 10 minutes. I let them go for 13-14 minutes before pulling them and … they had raw spots in them yet. UGH. (See the pocket in the top cookie in the photo? Raw spot.) I wonder, too, whether I should have brought the dough close to room temperature before baking off the cookies; it was quite firm after a few hours’ chilling.

Again, these aren’t terrible, but they don’t have the consistency that I look for in a snickerdoodle. I have adopted Smitten Kitchen’s recipe as my go-to when I want snickerdoodles. They’re crisp on the outside and pillowy on the inside and, well, perfect.

Be sure to check out all the other participants’ thoughts on the brown butter snickerdoodles here.

We have a winner!


The winner of the Cake Boss flower cakelette pan is …. 

BARB!!! 

Congratulations, Barb! I will email you for your mailing address so that you can receive your prize. 

Thanks, everyone, for participating! I hope to be able to offer another giveaway soon. 

Have a great weekend!

Meal Plan: Week of 9/22/13


This week is the crazy. I can’t even begin to tell you how busy it will be; shall try to do so by glossing each night’s meal entries.

A programming note regarding last week’s meals: We REALLY LIKED the chicken tamale casserole. The Husband even asked for leftovers of it for his lunch the next day, which is unheard of. I might make a thinner “tamal” layer or double the enchilada sauce, though, because it wasn’t as saturated as I would have liked/was expecting. The slow cooker bolognese was a little too runny and greasy. The runny part was probably my part because I was in a hurry and I didn’t let the liquids reduce as much as I should have in the prep process. It was greasy because the recipe didn’t include a “drain fat from hamburger meat” step and, while I paused and thought, “hm, maybe I should drain this fat … but the recipe doesn’t say to do that so maybe it’s incorporated into the flavor.” Pro tip: if you make that recipe, drain the fat from the beef. The slow cooker balsamic chicken was a failure in that while the instructions said to cook the breasts on low for 3-3.5 hours, but because I had two extra kids in my house and was distracted I cooked them on HIGH for 2.5 hours and they were dusty, nasty chicken jerky. Gross. READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. You’d think I’d have a grasp on that by now.

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Why not bookend a week with pizza every now and again?

Sunday: Dinner at Bufalina with friends. VERY GOOD PIZZA.
Monday: Beef daube provencal with egg noodles (I teach, BK has baseball practice)
Tuesday: Sandwiches/leftovers/cereal (BRING ON THE CRAZY. BK has baseball, LK has swim, then dance, then soccer.)
Wednesday: Pork tenderloin with sauerkraut from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook (actually maybe a quiet night)
Thursday: Trader Joe’s fish nuggets or Mandarin chicken (We finally got a Trader Joe’s in Austin!!! And there was much rejoicing. BK has baseball, LK has swim, plus we have a big PTA thing at school, which we may or may not attend.)
Friday: Dinner with friends at Umami Mia. (#pizzaresearch)
Saturday: We are hoping to have a babysitter so that Husband and I can go out on a date for my birthday (I’m thinking dinner at Arro, maybe a movie, hopefully some browsing time at BookPeople). The kids will have … something.

Individual Roasted Apple Spice Cakes (Review + GIVEAWAY)


Fall has always been my favorite season. I’m sure it has something to do with having a fall birthday, plus all the best holidays happen in the final quarter of the year. But I also love the cooler weather, the crispness of the air, the crunch of the fallen leaves underfoot, and the earlier sunsets. I like how the earth seems more still, quieter, more revealing of its secrets.

Another thing I love about fall is its flavors: apple, pear, pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, spiced chocolate, earthy greens, and warming stews rich with root vegetables.

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I tend to do a lot more baking in the fall and winter than during the rest of the year, and try out lots of new recipes. (Tis the season for putting on one’s winter coat, yes? I have probably aided hundreds of people in the winter-layer department over the course of the past few years.)

So, when I was approached by the folks at Cake Boss asked me to review one of their new products, I agreed, since not only would I have an excuse to try something new, I would also be able to share one with one of my readers.

Disclaimer: I was given this product to review. All opinions are my own.

Disclaimer: I was given this product to review. All opinions are my own.

I chose the molded Flower Cakelette Pan because I have a little lady who LOVES all things flowers. And I chose to make this apple cake because it’s the first day of fall and it’s high time I made something with apples.

ImageI’ve got to say that I am extremely happy with both the recipe and the cake pan. (Recipe follows below.) The cake pan, which makes six individual cakes at a time, performed beautifully. Because I am a paranoid baker, I used cooking spray AND flour in the molds to prevent sticking (even though the pan is nonstick). I didn’t really need to do that, because the cakes released beautifully and had cooked evenly. My only complaint (and I think this is user error, really — it will just take more trial and error) is that my cakes puffed up like muffins and I had to trim about half an inch off the bottom of each so that they would lie flat on a plate. (The Husband gladly batted cleanup on the cake bottoms, though.)

What’s more, the LK was so enchanted by the flower cakes that she has already asked that I make some for her birthday next month. SCORE.

If you’re interested in learning more about the new Cake Boss line of products, you can check out the launch event at your nearest Michael’s store on Saturday, September 28 from 10am-noon. (There’s more information on Twitter and Facebook, too.) You’ll get a chance to spin the Cake Roulette, maybe win some prizes, and pick up a few recipes and baking tips.

If you’d like a chance to win a flower cakelette pan of your own, leave a comment describing your favorite fall flavor/food/meal by 5pm Thursday, September 26. I’ll select a winner at random on Friday, September 27.

Roasted Apple Spice Cakes with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted minimally from Smitten Kitchen
Yields 12 individual cakes

3 apples, peeled, cored and halved
3 3/4 cups flour
3/4 t salt
3/4 t baking soda
1 T baking powder
1 T cinnamon
3/4 t ground ginger
1/8 t ground cloves
1/8 t nutmeg
1/2 c honey
2 1/4 c applesauce
1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
3/4 c packed brown sugar
3 large eggs

1. Place the apple halves face-down on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Roast at 375 for about 20 minutes. When they are done roasting, set them aside to cool. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees.
2. While the apples are roasting, whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the honey and applesauce and set aside.
4. Using the paddle attachment on your electric mixer, blend the butter and sugar together until fluffy.
5. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition.
6. Beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate adding the flour mixture and honey mixture into the mixing bowl. Blend until just incorporated.
7. Chop the apples into 1/2-inch chunks and fold them into the batter.
8. Spoon the batter (a little less than 2/3 cups per mold) into the cake pan.
9. Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.
10. When a tester comes out clean, remove the pan from the oven and let the cakes rest for about 10 minutes.
11. Transfer the cakes to a cooling rack, wipe down the pan, and cook the second half of the batch.

Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

2 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 T vanilla extract
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1. Blend the butter and cream cheese in the mixer until smooth and fluffy (lumps are gross; make sure all the lumps are gone).
2. Add the vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg and mix until incorporated.
3. Add the powdered sugar gradually, taking care not to let it fly all over your counters and floors. Mix until fully incorporated and the frosting is nice and airy.
4. Place a generous dollop of frosting on top of each cakelette.
5. Eat and enjoy!

Meal Plan: Week of 9/15/13


I find myself enjoying — finally — some “down time” in that I have met all my immediate deadlines for both the book and freelance work for the time being. (That doesn’t mean I don’t have deadlines, it just means that, as of right now, I have a whole week ahead of me with NO DEADLINES.)

This weekend has been dedicated to baking, shopping, reading, watching the BK play baseball (Saturday), and finally dusting off my sewing machine. Today will be all about sewing. I’ve got tons of fabric for skirts (me) and dresses (LK), as well as napkins and aprons (which I plan to pop into my Etsy shop very soon).

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I’ve also done a lot of research around lunchboxes and meal planning, trying to clean up the BK’s lunchbox (fewer chips and sweets, more fruit and veg!) and plan dinners that accommodate everyone’s extracurriculars (BK’s baseball, LK’s swim and dance, my Monday and Wednesday evening classes) as well as my newly reinstated Weight Watchers membership.

(Side note: I recently went in for my annual checkup with my GP and mentioned that I’m — still — not happy with my weight. She suggested I’d be a good candidate for Optifast, since I’m motivated and am good at maintaining my weight. I considered it for a little while, mentioned it to The Husband, who said, “Yeah, because living on a chemical slurry is SO MUCH HEALTHIER than eating real food.”)

So, I’ve been trolling Pinterest and Cooking Light magazine for recipes that meet all the criteria mentioned above, and I think I’ve struck a pretty fair balance with this week’s options. My biggest challenge so far is that sometimes we just end up making another plan for dinner (like when we ended up at the new Lucy’s Fried Chicken instead of having the homemade pizza I’d planned to make for dinner with the BK last Thursday). Most of the time, though, I can roll that over into the next day or week. Oh, and leftovers. We are and always have been MISERABLE at managing leftovers. I welcome any tips or suggestions y’all might have on how to reduce leftovers-related waste.

Sunday: Chicken tamale casserole, veg, fruit
Monday: Slow cooker bolognese, pasta, salad, fruit
Tuesday: Burrito bowls, fruit
Wednesday: Slow cooker balsamic chicken, veg, fruit
Thursday: Italian wonderpot, salad, fruit
Friday: TBD. (If we could have a standing Friday-night dinner at Torchy’s, I’d be a happy woman.)
Saturday: TBD. We’re going to see the new Forklift Danceworks show that evening, so it might just be sandwiches.

Meal Plan: Week of 9/8/13


I didn’t get much sleep last night, and I blame Breaking Bad. I stay up late on Sunday nights so that I can watch the DVR’ed episode after everyone else has gone to bed (can’t have the BK and LK wandering in to something horrifically violent or even marginally menacing, and the Husband finds the show boring). But last night’s episode was so deeply upsetting that I was extremely keyed up afterward and not even a comedown via a streaming episode of New Girl could help me simmer down. So, I lay in bed until well past one a.m., tossing and turning, and running over that final sequence in my mind, trying to figure out any possible way that my two favorite characters in the show could possibly make it out of that situation alive. I also found it to be a bit poetic that this showdown on the To’hajiilee reservation featured the four people who were present at Walt’s entree into the meth-cooking game: Hank, Gomie, Jesse, and Walt.

Suffice it to say, I haven’t been able to concentrate on the many other things I need to be doing today, because I am short on sleep and also fabricating lots of theories for what will happen over the next three episodes (the series finale falls on my birthday — HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME).

Anyhoo, one of the things I don’t have to do today is prepare dinner. The BK has baseball practice and I’m teaching an evening class, so the Husband is in charge. This week is looking very much like a Week of Sandwiches (much like last week was inadvertently the Week of Rice).

Sunday: Slurpy Pan-Asian Noodles (from Kin O’Donnel’s The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook, recipe below)
Monday: baseball (but I have put together a picnic for the LK, who will enjoy a rare weeknight playdate while her big brother is at practice: popcorn tofu from Wheatsville, a poppyseed bagel from Rockstar bagels, mini-chocolate chip cookies, a string cheese, and some apple slices; I’m sure the menfolk will get something from Top Notch or Thundercloud or something similar)
Tuesday: Chicken salad sandwiches
Wednesday: Crockpot sausages and peppers + bolillos (I didn’t get to make this last week because laziness)
Thursday: homemade pizza, per the BK’s request. He will help make it. Probably also some steamed broccoli or salad
Friday: TBD. We usually grab tacos or something easy after a long week.
Saturday: TBD. I can’t plan that far in advance. I think we ordered pizza this past Saturday.

slurpynoodles

 

Slurpy Pan-Asian Noodles
(adapted slightly from The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook)

When the BK was a newborn, we ordered a lot of takeout, especially from Pei Wei. The Husband’s preferred dish back then was Dan-Dan Noodles. That is, until I kicked him out of our bedroom (where we ate most of that takeout) one night in a hormonal rage because they sounded too squishy. So, when I told him last night what I was making, he asked, “Am I going to have to eat them in another room?” Poor guy.

Because I let the BK help me with the stirring near the end of the cooking process, he was more inclined to eat them EVEN THOUGH OMG ALL THE VEGETABLES. I might not be able to get away with packing the leftovers in his lunch, though. Which is fine with me, since I loved these a real lot. While I made this as a vegan main, you could easily toss in some tofu, chicken, or any other kind of protein.

16 ounces udon noodles
2/3 cup soy sauce (I recommend using low-sodium; I didn’t and the dish was a little on the salty side)
8 t rice wine or sherry/sake/vermouth (I used white wine)
1 T hoisin sauce (I didn’t have any on hand, so I subbed in a t each of sesame oil, chili oil, and peanut butter)
6 T vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
6 bunches baby bok choy, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup snow peas
1 T sesame seeds

Boil the noodles for about 8 minutes, drain and set aside.
Place the soy sauce (minus 2 T, which you will set aside for later use), wine, and hoisin sauce (or my crazy substitute) in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.
Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat. Cook the ginger and garlic gently for about 30 seconds.
Add the carrots and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add the bok choy and snow peas and cook until all the vegetables are a little softer than al dente.
Add the reserved soy sauce and sesame seeds and stir to coat. Remove the veg from the wok and set aside.
Pour the sauce mixture into the wok and bring to a simmer. Add the noodles and coat them thoroughly with the sauce. Stir until the noodles are hot.
Return the veg to the wok and stir to combine.
Serve hot.

Meal Plan: Week of 9/1/13 (plus some other stuff)


It’s been a while, and much has changed. I finished my book, it is in page proofs, and it will come out in early October.

I got a new job, one that has taken me out of the 8-5 grind of state work and inserted me back into the world of teaching, with the added bonus of an extremely flexible schedule, and for that I am deeply grateful.

The BK started third grade, and he’s gotten so tall. He’s up to my shoulders and he’s only 8. He loves math and video games and is an unabashed extrovert. I see a lot of myself in him. The LK is in her last year of preschool. She turns 5 in October and she is blossoming into a fiery artiste.

I’ve started running again in hopes of maybe running the 3M half in January.

I purged my sewing room of six months’ worth of collected, neglected detritus and actually have room to sew again.

I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with this blog. Do I pick it up where I left off before I went into the book-writing cave, with the daily/weekly features I had planned out? Continue on with bakealongs and cookbook reviews and Foodie Field Trips and the cookbook project? Or do I focus entirely on all the “offline” writing projects I’ve got planned/percolating? I just don’t know. Who knows? Maybe I’ll work it out via writing here.

I’ve also been cooking a lot, partly because it helps generate ideas (and leftovers) for the BK’s school lunches, and also because I now have more time and mental energy to curate a meal plan that doesn’t rely on the same old boring stuff I’ve been making for the past six months. I’ve started trying new projects in the kitchen (including the failed attempt at Mile High Chocolate Cake this weekend), which has me excited to be in the kitchen again. It doesn’t feel like a chore anymore.

And so, without any further ado, here is this week’s meal plan, which is designed for assistance from the BK, whom I pick up from school these days and who needs something to do in the afternoon that doesn’t involve a screen.

Sunday: Cheesy pasta casserole (recipe below), steamed spinach

Monday: Beef & broccoli with rice

Tuesday: Asian turkey meatballs with carrot rice

Wednesday (a teaching night for me): crockpot sausage & peppers, pasta, salad

Thursday: BBQ chicken tenders, cheesy broccoli rice

Friday: Pizza/tacos/dining out

Saturday: TBD. Probably nothing with rice. :)

pasta casserole

Cheesy Pasta Casserole
(adapted slightly from the Mom 100 Cookbook)

1 package bowtie pasta
1 jar marinara sauce
7.5 ounces ricotta cheese
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, cubed
4-6 ounces shredded Parmesan or mozzarella or “quattro formaggi” blend

Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Boil the pasta until almost al dente, about 10 minutes.
Drain pasta, return to pot.
Add in marinara, ricotta, and mozzarella and stir until blended.
Pour into a 2.5-quart casserole dish and top with shredded cheese.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until bubbling.
Serve with a vegetable, for goodness’ sake!

What’s doing?


When I was in college, I spent a summer working at a camp up in the Poconos. I hadn’t spent much time in the northeast, so I wasn’t really conversant with the regional idioms up there. One day, the girls’ camp director, Lois, asked me, “What’s doing?” I had to ask her to repeat herself. “What’s doing? What’s up? What’s going on?” she explained. Duh. Super self-explanatory.

So … what’s doing? Sorry to have abandoned the Downton Abbey recaps so unceremoniously. I got busy. Here’s how busy I got:

Jan 9: Interviewed for job, wasn’t too impressed with my performance in the interview.

Jan 14: Started spring semester, adjuncting at Concordia and St. Edward’s.

Jan 23: Offered a book contract from the History Press based on a proposal I’d written up over the winter break. Deadline: mid-July. (!!!!) Look, I even have a fancy blog button for it:

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Jan 25: Offered the job I’d interviewed for on Jan 9.

Feb 11: Started new job (still teaching my one class at St. Ed’s, but departed Concordia, which was AWKWARD).

Add to that the SXSW juggernaut and the start of the Big Kid’s baseball season and the Little Kid’s dance classes and my “I WILL lose 30 pounds before I get any further into my 40s” regimen, and you’ll understand why I haven’t been blogging.

So, briefly, the book is called Historic Austin Restaurants: Capital Cuisine through the Generations, and it’s a history of Austin told through its iconic restaurants. Some of it is really fun, because I’m getting to visit restaurants that I’ve not been to ever or in a very long time (The Tavern, Joe’s Bakery). Some of it is really depressing because I’m writing about restaurants that I loved and have been replaced by stupid corporate chains (Les Amis, Mad Dog & Beans). It’s really fun to have a research-based food-writing project that isn’t a dissertation (and that people might actually read!!!), especially now that I’m entering the interviewing-subjects phase.

So, in short, back in December, I was really depressed about the state of my career and decided that 2013 was going to be the Aways Be Writing year. In a staggering case of “be careful what you wish for,” I’ve now got a job that has me writing every day (maybe not within a context I find particularly interesting) and a book project that (ostensibly) has me writing every day.

The downside of all this writing (and everything else) I’m doing is that I haven’t been doing much cooking. I’ve been occasionally outsourcing dinner to the Soup Peddler with middling success. This weekend I’m attempting the “cook a bunch of stuff on the weekend and set it by for the week” approach. We’ll see how that goes.

So, that’s what’s doing with me. What’s doing with you?

Downton Abbey recap! Season 3, episode 5.


Previously on Downton Abbey: Isobel hired a hooker (to work as her maid/cook). Bates and Anna grokked Vera’s Evil Suicide Pie plan. Sybil had a baby girl. Sybil died. Violet sobbed raggedly. Cora blamed LG for Sybil’s death.

Dog butt.

Black-clad people depart from Downton Abbey. Matthew tells Tom that he and Mary want to help in any way they can. Tom, looking glazed and robotic (and, frankly, this is the first time I’ve noticed that he’s a Rather Handsome Man [TM]), says, “My wife is dead. I’m past help.” Weep weep weep. LG enters and tells Cora that some of their guests had been looking for her to say goodbye. Cora responds in a perfect blend of sweet curtness, “I was here,” then looks away. Isobel takes this as her cue to GTFO, as does Violet. LG offers that they stay for dinner, but Violet declines, saying, “Grief makes one so terribly tired.” (TRUTH. When my mom died, I slept forever. About a week after her funeral, I remember waking up one day long after Matt went to work, realizing it was noon and thinking, ah, fuck it and slept for another three hours.)

Violet advises Cora to try to get some rest, “now that it’s over.” “Is it over? When one loses a child, is it ever really over?” says Cora.

This calls for some Jeff Buckley.

Downstairs, Alfred mentions that grief seems to have given the upstairs folks a hearty appetite. “Tee hee,” titter some New Maids. “Ex-squeeze me?” says Carson, outraged at their cheek. Anna, ever the kind soul, explains to the New Maids that even the downstairs folk loved Sybil, so even though they’re the help, they’re sad too. Carson barks, “if you want to do well here, you should understand that without being told.” These kids today and their unwillingness to feel blind obeisance to their masters!

Actually, the conversation between Hughesy and Carson here is interesting. Carson: In the old days, their mothers would train them in the basics before they came to the Big House. Hughesy: Maybe their mothers don’t want them to go into service anymore. Carson: What are they supposed to become, bankers and lawyers? Hughesy: Why not? THE TIMES, THEY ARE A CHANGIN’. I think it’s cute that Hughesy thinks that the class system in Britain can be transcended; this moment is mostly meant to demonstrate that Carson remains an old fuddy duddy, while Hughes is optimistic and willing to change her attitudes with the times.

Thomas haz a sad. Jimmy says that Thomas’ sadness speaks well of him. Thomas gets touchy feely in response.

thomasthankyoujimmy

Isobel tells Ethel, who identifies with Cora in her loss of a child, that she wants to have Cora and “the girls” over for a luncheon to help them with their grief. Ethel says she can cook something special, giving Isobel a start. “Well, we don’t have to decide that just now,” she says, panicked.

Mary and Anna talk about Bates and I don’t care.

Cora reads in bed. LG comes in and asks to move back in. Nope, says Cora. LG defends his choice to listen to Tapsell, who has a reputation as an expert. Cora counters with the fact that Dr. Clarkson knew Sybil’s history and, as such, was an expert on Sybil. “You believed Tapsell because he is knighted and fashionable. … You let all that nonsense weigh against saving our daughter’s life, which is what I find so very hard to forgive.” Cora makes it clear in no uncertain terms that the blame for Sybil’s death lies solely on LG. LG peaces out.

At breakfast, Edith asks after Cora. LG has no reply. Tom enters, Carson hands him a plate, rather than making him fetch it himself. Mighty big of you, Carson. Tom envies the baby because she has no idea what’s going on. Tom says he’s not staying, he’ll look for a job. Edith and Matthew wonder what’s the rush, LG says that Tom needs to think of making a life for himself. Edith says it’s time to think of a christening and asks what Tom would like to call the baby. “Sybil,” is his response. NOT MAUDLIN AT ALL, DUDE. (Side note: isn’t Edith being so sweet and lovely?) Tom also announces that because the baby is Irish, she will be Catholic. LG throws up in his mouth a little [I’m sorry; I know that phrase is so tired, but I think it applies here] and peaces out.

Ethel runs into Mrs. P on the street and asks for help with the menu for the lunch party. Mrs. P explains that Carson has forbidden folks from the Big House to consort with her. Ethel says surely Mrs. P doesn’t think she will be corrupted. “Of course not!” declares Mrs. P. “Then why not show a little kindness?” says Ethel. Side note: it was made clear to me this week that calling Ethel an unnecessary plot device is not fair or accurate. Rather, she is a depiction of the invisible casualties of war in the early 20th century, women whose lives were ruined by dalliances with itinerant soldiers. So, I now sort of like this storyline, which maybe recuperates some of these women’s fates and gives their communities a chance to redeem themselves, too.

Bates walks in circles and I don’t care.

Mary tells LG that he needs to unclench on the Catholic thing; also, she disagrees that it’s ghoulish to call the baby Sybil.

Isobel tells Ethel to just get some ham in town and make a light salad for the ladies’ luncheon. Ethel wants to make an effort to show their sympathies; Isobel wants to play it safe.

Violet wants to know what LG’s plan is for baby Sybil, and also what’s up with Cora and warns him that “people like us are never unhappily married.” Then what, wonders LG. “In such a circumstances, the couple is unable to see each other as much as they’d like,” says Violet. “Or she could go to New York and visit That Woman.” LG can’t make sense of any of it. Violet puts on her mom hat: “My dearest boy, I seldom speak of the heart because it is rarely useful to do so, but I know well enough how painful it is when it is broken.”

Alfred and Ivy and Daisy enact their little love triangle. Mrs P busts up the party. Jimmy says that Ivy isn’t his type. O’Brien will probably use this statement to her advantage in trying to convince Thomas to make a real move on him; if Thomas makes a pass and Jimmy calls the cops, O’Brien is shot of Thomas AND has her revenge for starting the rumor that she was leaving Downton.

Mrs. P brings some recipes for Ethel and a shopping list. Ethel is dubious about making salmon mousse. “Anyone who has use of their limbs can make a salmon mousse,” says Mrs. P haughtily. God, I love her. Mrs. P, c’est moi.

mrs-patmore-and-ethel-pbs

Isobel invites Cora and “the girls” for luncheon. “Do I count as one of the girls,” asks Violet, previously unseen. Cora doesn’t want to come, fearing she’d bring her troubles with her. Mary and Matthew enter and Mary accepts the invitation.

Downstairs, we learn that Daisy is going to go visit Mr. Mason at the farm.

Upstairs, the youngsters grill Mr. Travis, who reckons there’s something “un-English about the Roman Church.” Tom’s response, being Irish: “and that’s a problem because …?” Travis has a problem with bells ‘n smells, and reckons it displeases God. Tom: So he’s displeased with the population of France and Italy? [And, uh, parts of England?] Edit: South America, Portugal? Mary: The Russians? The Spanish? Matthew: The non-Christians? The entire Indian subcontinent? Isobel: How about the British empire? [Some really fascinating troubling of British-Anglican national identity here, y’all.]

LG doesn’t think baby Sybil should be baptized into the wrong tribe. Mary reveals that Sybil wanted the baby to be Catholic. LG is flabbergasted. Cora says, “Not everyone chooses their religion to satisfy Debrett’s [a lifestyle guide for the peerage].” ZING!!!!

Downstairs, the staff discuss religion. Anna doesn’t want to talk about it.

Upstairs, Mary and Matthew discuss facing death and not taking things for granted. Matthew wants LG to see that he shouldn’t take Downton for granted. Mary says, “we should never take us for granted. Who knows what’s coming?” A giant anvil falls through the ceiling and lands at the foot of their bed. Matthew: “One thing I will take for granted, that I will love you until the last breath leaves my body.” Another anvil lands on top of the first one. Mary: “OMG, me too, darling. Totes.”

Boring stuff about Bates.

Ivy Alfred Jimmy love triangle + foxtrot.

Daisy arrives at Chez Mason. Mr. Mason wants to bequeath the farm to Daisy, who is dubious because she’s a cook and a woman and always thought she’d spend her life in service. Jaysus, Daisy, can you think outside the box for once? Do you want no good things to happen to you? Financial independence? Sheesh, I just want to shake her.

Violet tries to convince Clarkson to communicate to LG and Cora that there really was nothing to be done for Sybil, in the interest of their marriage.

Matthew consults with Tom about how best to make Downton more efficient, because “there’s a country boy inside the revolutionary.” These two are the future of Downton, I reckon, and it hinges on convincing Tom to stay there with the baby.

Ethel is grateful to Mrs. P for helping her with the luncheon. Carson sees Mrs. P leaving Crawley House.

Bates is boring.

Luncheon. Isobel is stressed because Ethel made real food, not ham and salad.

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Carson confronts Mrs. P about her helping Ethel, against his strict instructions to give the place a wide berth. Hughesy takes up Mrs. P’s case. Carson is outraged and speechless that Mrs. P would allow a woman of the streets to wait on members of our family! Hughesy reckons he won’t be speechless for long.

Matthew: bad management! LG: fiddle dee dee, we’ll think about that tomorrow. Carson: LG, we need to talk, now.

At the luncheon, the ladies are pleasantly surprised by how tasty the food is. Edith reckons she should learn to cook, which brings up the topic of the column, which gives Cora the opportunity to state her position that LG makes decisions based on archaic values. Mary says that she and Matthew support Edith in her writing career. LG bursts in and, underscoring Cora’s point, insists that the ladies leave, because Ethel is a filthy whore and they are being exposed to scandal. Just then, Ethel brings in dessert and Cora says, “Oh, is that a Charlotte Russe? How delicious.” Ethel explains that Mrs. P helped her with it. “I’m glad to know that Mrs. Patmore has a good heart and does not judge,” says Cora, glaring at LG. LG really must insist that they leave at once, but Cora resists, and Violet wants some of that Charlotte Russe.

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LG peaces out.

Bates walks in circles, boringly, then yanks his former cellmate out of the circle walking, holds a shiv to his neck and says, “don’t interfere in them finding me innocent or I’ll murderize ya, see?” Then he gets back in the circle and walks, boringly.

Carson and Hughesy discuss the luncheon scandal; Carson is miffed that none of the women left, while Hughesy sees it as a sign that the world is becoming a kinder place. Carson reckons it’s weakness and a lack of discipline. “Well, if the Dowager and Her Ladyship can visit Crawley House, I reckon you won’t mind if I do,” says Hughesy. Carson won’t forbid it, but he won’t like it. “But you disappoint me,” he says. “I didn’t think of you as a woman with no standards.” She shoots him a “ninja, please” look and departs.

Mary visits LG and asks how productive it was for him to throw a tantrum about Ethel at Crawley House; she reckons he’s just pissed because the world isn’t going his way. He’s also pissed that Matthew is taking over Downton, and also the christening. “I’m never against you, but you’ve lost on this one,” Mary says. She reminds LG that Sybil loved Tom very much and that they should honor her wishes as far as the baby goes. “I keep forgetting she’s gone,” says LG. “I’ll read something in the paper that would make her laugh. I come inside to tell her that her favorite rose is in bloom, and then suddenly…” Mary implores him to tell Cora that, but he doesn’t think she wants to hear it from him.

Mary and Matthew visit Tom and the baby in a totally stilted and awkward scene.

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Poor Molesley is shocked that the ladies stayed at Crawley House after they learned that Ethel had cooked their lunch. “Even Jesus ate with Mary Magdalene,” Hughesy reminds him gently. “We’re not sure of that, but we know she washed his feet,” replies Poor Molesley. “Well, we’ll have to tell Ethel she’s in for a treat, then,” Hughesy shoots back.

Jimmy plays piano, Ivy gets busted for wearing rouge (Mrs. P calls her “Miss Hussy”!), Thomas gropes Jimmy some more. “He’s always touching me,” Jimmy complains to O’Brien. “I’m going to tell Carson. I’d tell the police if it got him to stop.” O’Brien excuses herself to fetch some linen … and to scheme. Daisy tells Jimmy that the music is nice, but it makes her sad because it makes her think of William.

O’Brien runs into Thomas in the hall and tells him that she thinks Jimmy has a crush on him. “Well, he’s got good taste,” says Thomas.

Alfred asks Daisy to teach him the foxtrot. Oh, Daisy. Don’t give your heart – or dance lessons – away.

Anna runs across the grounds to Mary and Edith (really?) to let them know that Mr. Bates will be released and will be home in a couple of weeks. Mary encourages Anna to let LG know to raise his spirits.

Cora brings a note from Violet inviting them over, but she hopes that it’s not a lecture on marital harmony. LG chuckles, then realizes that she wasn’t kidding. They’ll go, but not stay long. “You look lovely today,” says LG feebly. “Don’t try and flirt with me, dude,” says Cora. Awkward. Exeunt Cora. Anna bursts in with Mary and Edith to report that Bates is coming home. LG practically squees.

Jimmy interrupts Daisy and Alfred’s dance lesson and calls out Alfred on only trying to learn foxtrot to impress Ivy. He then takes Daisy in his arms to show him how it’s done. (Does Jimmy like Daisy?) Of course, Carson walks in and tears Jimmy a new one.

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Cora and LG arrive at the Dowager’s house to find Dr. Clarkson waiting for them. Clarkson tells them that the chance of Sybil’s survival was “infinitesimal,” that eclampsia is almost always fatal, and that even if they’d done a C-section, she would have died and in great pain. LG and Cora embrace and cry, while Violet looks away discreetly. Poor Dr. Clarkson. Poor Cora.

The end.

Smitten Saturdays: Baked Potato Crisps with the Works


Well, hello! I meant to get this up last weekend, but it feels more appropriate to post it this week instead, given that I’d planned these as a good Super Bowl appetizer.

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Funny story about these potato crisps (which are delicious, by the way): I made them on Sunday night with the intention of having just a sample before moving on to a more virtuous meal of salmon and steamed broccoli. The best laid plans…

First off, this recipe makes a metric ton of baked potato crisps, and I didn’t even meet the stated yield of 42 pieces (more on that in a minute). My husband was a little overwhelmed when he saw the cookie sheets populated with these babies. And then we started eating them.

And eating them. And eating them. And eating them. Soon, the salmon was being packaged up into portable containers for Monday lunch (more on THAT in a minute!) because we each ate nearly a potato’s worth of crisps in under 20 minutes. (It didn’t help that we were starving. Also, bacon.) Even after our starch-dairy-bacon binge, there were still easily a dozen crisps left, which I also packaged up and put away for later.

Fast forward to noonish on Monday. I’m in my cubicle at the Adjunct Gig (soon to be former!) and I’m ready to eat lunch. I’m preparing myself for the salmon and broccoli I hadn’t eaten the night before, feeling right smug about my choices. Then I open up the tub — it’s the leftover potato crisps! DERP. I picked the bacon off the top of a few of them, but I just can’t bring myself to eat cold potatoes. (I ended up using my faculty discount in the dining hall and indulging in their addictive grilled cheese sandwich + a mountain of veggies from the salad bar.)

And it’s the coldness factor that informs my decision to NOT take these to the Super Bowl party we’re attending tomorrow night. These are absolutely gorge-worthy when they’re hot. But cold? Feh. It’s not the recipe’s fault, it’s the fault of the potato for being disgusting when cold. And you can’t really nuke these unless you want to melt the sour cream. Rest assured that if I were hosting a Super Bowl party, I’d be cranking these out without a second thought. And you should, too, if you’re hosting and are looking for last-minute, ridiculously easy and tasty ideas.

One note: some of your smaller crisps may not like the 25-30 minute baking time:

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Baked Potato Crisps with the Works
from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

3 T butter
3 russet potatoes, unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices (the cookbook says “should yield about 14 slices”; if I had been editor of this cookbook, I would have suggested a clarifying “per potato” to the end of that phrase)
salt
ground black pepper (the cookbook says freshly ground, but whatevs. You do you.)
1/2 cup grated cheddar (I used bagged Mexican blend because that’s what I had on hand)
1 cup sour cream
4-5 slices crispy bacon, chopped
3 T minced fresh chives

Preheat oven to 425. Line two baking sheets with foil (no muss, no fuss!) and butter each sheet. (I used Pam. Again, you do you.) Arrange the potato slices on the sheets and brush with 2 T melted butter. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Roast for 25-30 minutes (keeping an eye on them; see the above image) until the bottom side is golden brown. Flip them over and roast for 10 more minutes.

Sprinkle each slice with a pinch of cheese and bake for 5 more minutes. Top each slice with sour cream, bacon, and chives. Serve and marvel at how quickly they are devoured.

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