Posts Tagged ‘old recipes’

Ripped from the headlines

Onion Rolls

Not a Bialy...

My parents used to warn me, “Don’t be a procrastinator!” Usually this was a concern about homework. Now that I am all grown up (please don’t laugh), I don’t think I procrastinate all that much. This would be because of all the aforementioned childhood warnings about the dangers of procrastination. They ring in my ears whenever there is anything I need to get cracking on and can feel myself stalling. It is advice that follows me around like that bowl of Cream of Wheat that used to follow the kid around all day in the old TV commercial.

I thought of this the other day while riding New York City’s sparkling subway. A man across from me was reading a newspaper. This was an actual newspaper, not one of the free mini-newspapers they push at you every morning. Every so often he would tear out a page, piling his “clippings” neatly on the seat next to him.

You may think that there’s nothing remarkable about that, but the over the past year or so the iPad, the Kindle, and the Nook have taken over the subway system as the reading media of choice. I’m kind of stuck between generations here: part of me misses the crinkle of the old broadsheet newspaper (remember how big the papers were before they went narrow a couple of years ago?), but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I have been reading The New York Times on line for years, and don’t miss washing the ink off my hands…and clothes…and furniture.

The fun thing about reading newspapers and magazines digitally is that it has created a whole new kind of procrastination. Okay, maybe this isn’t actually procrastination in the strictest definition of the word. It used to be that you’d see a recipe that sparked your imagination and you’d rip it out and stick it up on a bulletin board, or on the door of your refrigerator, or you’d file it in the front of a cook book. Then five to ten years later you’d think, “Hey, where’s that recipe for Bisque Tortoni?” and not be able to find it, or you’d look at the pile of torn, yellowing recipes and think, “Why did I save these? Toss!”

I am now guilty of the digital version of the same crime. It started innocently enough: I would print out recipes, happy and satisfied that they were always the same size and therefore easy to organize and file. As technology progressed I started saving them as PDF files, and filing them in folders on my computer.

Funny thing is that the net result was still the same. I would still not use most of my “clippings” and even if I wanted to I had no idea or interest in rooting through the files to find the one that interested me that day. Is there a New Year’s resolution here? No. Far from feeling guilty or regretful about my habit, I’m kind of proud of it. No, I don’t use many of the clipped recipes, but when I do, the results are golden. Isn’t that true of most cookbooks you might buy? Technology hasn’t got a chance against human nature.

Lately a couple of the clipped recipes have been calling my name loudly and frequently. Last week, to celebrate New Year’s Eve I made the Café des Artistes Orange Savarin. This week I’m baking a recipe that was listed in The New York Times as a Hanukkah recipe, Onion Flat Rolls or “Pletzlach.”

I had never heard of these until about a month ago. When I was a kiddie, Hanukkah food was Potato Latkes and Milk Chocolate coins called Hanukkah “Gelt.” Onion Rolls? That was Sunday morning brunch fare, all year ‘round. Hooray for Hanukkah, but give me an Onion Roll any time of the year.

The onion rolls with which I am most familiar are, of course, Bialys, the Bagel’s roguish brother. I always preferred the Bialy over the Bagel. They’re better with the lox that inevitably follows them through the door. Pletzlach are a simpler version, using a slightly sweet, egg-enriched dough. Less chewy, yes, but eaten plain with a nice glass of seltzer and you’re in heaven. Throw a slice or three of lox on top and you’re in…what’s higher than heaven? Yeah, okay, there.

Don’t be put off by the fact that this is bread making. Use a Kitchen Aid mixer to do the kneading for you. I cut the recipe in half and made ten rolls—using the single egg in the full recipe as a “spooned-in” ingredient, in other words adding just enough to pull the dry ingredients together. But make the full recipe and you’ll make a crowd of people very happy.

The Pletzlach make a great “bring along” too—on those occasions when you’ve been invited to someone’s house for dinner and shouldn’t arrive empty handed. Also, bringing your own bread to someone’s house is a great survival technique. If the person you’re visiting hasn’t been gifted with cooking skills, you’re assured you’ll like something they serve.

But we don’t know anyone like that, do we?

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Click here for the recipe for Onion Flat Rolls (Pletzlach).

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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New Year, New Tweets!

Gold Star

Mocha Lady Fingers

a treat for breakfast or later...

There used to be a TV commercial for Stella d’Oro cookies that was based on an ages-old Borscht Belt sketch.

(And, it goes a little something…like this:)

(The scene: a typical upper middle class suburban home. The husband enters.)

Husband:  Darling! I’m home! Where are you?

Unseen Wife:  (a slightly muffled off stage voice) I’m hiding!

Husband:  (Looking around, trying to guess her hiding place) Darling I’m home! I brought you flowers! Where are you?

Unseen Wife:  (still a slightly muffled off stage voice) I’m hiding!

Husband:  Darling I’m home! I brought you flowers!  And Stella d’Oro cookies! Where are you?

Unseen Wife:  (opens the door slightly) I’m hiding! In the front closet!

(In the original sketch the husband was bringing the Mrs. a diamond bracelet. That would open a few closet doors in my neighborhood.)

How many times have you walked by the Stella d’Oro display at the supermarket? Funny the stuff you take for granted. I haven’t been to the East End of Boston for many years (Go Eastie!) but many years ago I somehow found myself standing in a bakery in that part of town. (Me? In a bakery?)

This was one of those places where you walk in and think, “Ah, this is the real deal.” They could have used it as a location for “The Godfather.” I remember buying a few slices of Anisette Toast and thinking (brainiac that I am) “Ohhh, like Stella d’Oro.” Time has not diminished my gratitude to whatever god of silence prevented me from saying that out loud.

Stella d’Oro was actually a local New York City brand. What may have started as a little taste of Arthur Avenue and baked just a few miles up the road from me in the Bronx is now baked in North Carolina.

(Out of towners are now thinking, “Ohhhhh, that’s what the Bronx was for.”)

I am someone who is a sucker for a wrapper with a few foreign words. But during all those oblivious trips past the Stella d’Oro display it has never occurred to yours truly that I was usually ignoring a product whose pedigree was also “the real deal.” In the same way that the formerly ethnic bagel became mainstream, Stella d’Oro’s goodies lost their Bronx-Italian identity and became just another cookie (or bread stick.) You can take the cookie out of the Bronx; can you take the Bronx out of the cookie? I don’t have an answer.

For, as much as I’d like to rip the crinkly cello off a package of Breakfast Treats and pretend that I am eating something baked by my (very imaginary) Italian grandmother, what I really must do is appreciate the cookie itself, the baker’s art that went into it, rather than some romanticized ethnicity that I painted on it for my amusement.

The humble Breakfast Treat is really nothing more than a generously-sized, lightly Anise-scented lady finger. Lady fingers belong to a group of items baked from the recipe commonly referred to as “biscuit” (pronounced, biskwee). Things like jelly roll and sponge are cut from that same cloth. How this differs from other cakes and cookies is that the air beaten into the egg whites is the only leavener used. The only fat is usually whatever is in the egg yolks. While perhaps not as tender as chemically-leavened cakes, biscuit is another “real deal.” It requires a little technique—although with a stand mixer the only real technique may be knowing when to turn the mixer off. More importantly, it calls back to a time before chemical leaveners like baking powder which have only been in widespread use since the early 1800s.

I love baking this kind of stuff. It really asks that you pay attention to what you’re doing. There are a few steps, and a couple of bowls—and one bowl is used, washed, dried, and re-used. But I still think it is easier than pie crust.

To celebrate the humble Breakfast Treat / Lady Finger / biscuit, I decided to make my own. Should I channel my (very much imaginary) Italian Grandmother or add my own little style? What the heck: Granny had her shot, and she “did good.” I’m gonna do my own thing. Out with the anise, in with the coffee and cocoa. Hey why not? They’re breakfast treats, and that’s when I drink coffee. And I’ll put chocolate on just about anything.

Be warned: Lady Fingers are usually piped through a pastry bag. Don’t worry about it. As you can see from the picture above, you can just as easily make little round cookies by dropping a bit of dough from a teaspoon. Here are a couple of easy hints: whip the egg yolks until thick, pale, and creamy. Err on the side of over beating them. The egg whites are a different story. Whip just until they hold a peak when you pull the beater out of the bowl. Err on the side of slightly under beating. Over beaten egg whites will “curdle” and dry out.

Granted these aren’t a “rock your world” cookie. They’re mildly sweet which is what makes them breakfast friendly, but you can easily dress them for dinner by drizzling melted chocolate on top or just dipping them halfway. I’m even going to experiment on the next batch by sprinkling a touch of almond praline powder on top before they bake to give them just the kiss of a sweet, crunchy glaze.

Do you think they’d approve in “Eastie”?

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Click here for the recipe for Mocha Lady Fingers.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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If it’s sweets you must send Tweets…

If you’re reading this you may already be late

Breakfast on the run...

Breakfast on the run...

The brisk fall morning sight of children on their way to school makes me happy. No, it is not the prospect of learning or expanding one’s horizons that cheers me; it is the bald fact that I do not have to go to school anymore. I didn’t hate school, but I didn’t love it either.

Nah. Scratch that. I hated school.

I feel guilty admitting it, for I have a great respect for education. I’d probably be a better—or at least more attentive– student now than I was when I was a kid. I have a friend, a woman of “a certain age” who just got her Master’s Degree. She confided the same thing to me, including the fact that she was now a better student. My unscientific conclusion has always been that you can break school kids into the same basic categories as adults:

Category 1: the workaholic. My high school was loaded with them, including one annoying, “straight A” soul who would refuse to look at her tests as they were handed back with the big red grade on top. When the bell rang she would frantically exit to the hall, then perform ritual leaps of joy in celebration of her A+, like it was a big, freakin’ surprise. It’s several hundred years later and, yes, I’m still bitter and annoyed. (She now works for the I.R.S.)

Category 2: the rest of us. The “…For Dummies” series of instructional guides always manage to catch our eye. I don’t want to say that I was a bad student, but I recently flunked a vision test. Honestly, I can’t study a menu without breaking into flop sweat. (Ohhhh, I‘ve got a million of ‘em…)

I know that there are many of you out there who feel at home in this category.

The interesting thing is that being in one category as a kid doesn’t guarantee that you’ll end up in the same category as an adult. The workplace is littered with formerly indifferent students who now consistently take the later train home because they have “… just a little bit more to do.” I wish I’d been a better student, but as an adult part of me rejoices that I will never be labeled a workaholic. There’s so much other stuff to do…

Like you, I had a ten mile commute to school through forty inches of snow in one hundred degree heat. Uphill. Both ways. I would forestall my departure by eating a healthy breakfast. Our cook would have my pancakes, eggs, and bacon ready just the way I liked them, and I would…okay clearly I’ve gone off the rails here. I wrote the word “forestall” and everything went blurry.

The truth is I have only vague memories of eating breakfast when I was a kid. I know I did, but beyond the concept of a bowl of cereal the specifics are hazy. Wheaties? Cheerios? Cap’n Crunch? I’m really not sure. There may have been an experiment with instant Cream of Wheat, but that was short lived. We had a breakfast nook, but I think we used it to eat dinner and to watch my Dad’s 8mm home movies. Harrumph: a whole section of my life haphazardly executed.

Now I am much more deliberate about my breakfast choices. Will I get hungry too soon before lunch? Will it make me fat(ter)? Can I work and eat it at the same time? I look around and watch what others are eating for breakfast and notice with a great amount of apprehension that folks seem to be looking for one vital element in their breakfast: a kick start. Lordy, when did Coca Cola become the breakfast of champions?

No kick start for yours truly; if I wanted that I’d pay someone to slap me across the face a few times. (Don’t even try it.) Slow and steady is more my style. It works for me and I find that most mornings I am fully awake by 1 PM.

Still, I find my busy schedule sometimes doesn’t allow me to linger over breakfast. The question is: short of gruel-like instant oatmeal, what is a supercharged healthy breakfast that I can eat on the run? A chum swears by toast with a swipe or two of peanut butter. I need a bit more entertainment than that in the morning. I have devised my “best in show” breakfast on the run.

I almost resent the health benefits of oatmeal; Quaker oatmeal is practically advertised as an alternative to Lipitor. But I can put my crankiness aside long enough to include it as part of my breakfast. Thumbing through my beloved old copy of The New York Times Cook Book by Craig Claiborne I found a recipe for “Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Bread.” Oatmeal bread has always been a favorite of mine. Usually only mildly sweet, yet slightly dense, this recipe has a delicate crumb and a toasty crust.

Yes, I understand that the thought of baking bread gives most people pause. But if you are in possession of a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer bread making requires very little work and very little expertise. Yes the entire process takes several hours from bag of flour to loaf of bread, but most of that time you can do other things.

I also substituted almond butter for the peanut butter my chum uses. This was a choice dictated only by taste, and I also topped the almond butter with slices of green apple. The combination is almost pastry-like, but you can feel smug in the knowledge that the entire affair is very healthy. You can use any kind of apple you prefer, but I use green apple in the morning on the advice of a friend who is a singer. Green apples have an astringent quality that can help clear your throat of impurities.

That’s good news as a clear throat can help me maintain my phlegmatic demeanor through the rest of the day.

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Click here for the recipe for Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Bread.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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The Joys of Applesauce

Making applesauce

Making applesauce

My odd sense of humor has reared its ugly head: “The Joys of Applesauce.” For some reason this has me laughing hysterically. It’s like a chapter from some now obscure 1950’s home ec handbook. The subject of applesauce came up the other day when I started having cravings for Apple Turnovers.

I’m not sure how or why these cravings come over me. This time it could be that my internal calendar and the one on the wall both agree that it is September. It could be that I was minding my own business the other day and stumbled upon the little greenmarket that happens every week across from Lincoln Center. Now that I walk through these greenmarkets more often, I’ve really started to notice the cyclical nature of the offerings. Like some whimsical botanical fashion show, breezy cottons (i.e., tomatoes) have moved off to the marginal tables, while woolens (i.e., apples) have taken center stage.

It may be those very apples that implanted in my mind a craving for hot apple turnovers, straight from the oven. I can practically smell them as I type this sentence. I happened to mention those cravings to a friend who reminisced that his Mom used to serve them hot, straight from the oven, courtesy of Pepperidge Farm.

As much as I crow about baking from scratch, I have to admit that I used to love those too. It’s been years since I had them, but the memories are still as warm as the spicy apples inside the flaky crust. While I’m not crazy about some of the ingredients they use, Pepperidge Farm has one big advantage over my making them from scratch: theirs turn out okay, mine #fail (as the kids write on the Twitter these days.)

Yes, I still struggle with pastry dough. I could blame it on many external factors: my kitchen is too small, my kitchen is too hot, my dog ate my homework, but I think the truth is I just need some practice. I just don’t have a feel for it yet, and in baking and cooking you cannot underestimate having a feel for certain things. I’ve watched any number of folks on TV rolling out seamless, smooth, gigantic sheets of pastry dough that never stick. My pastry dough practices the unholy trinity of crack, crumble, and stick. (Sounds like a bad law firm.)

I suspect that I am too skimpy with the amount of water I add, but specifics aside, my failed Apple Turnovers served as a reminder that I should never get too confident in the kitchen, as there’s always a recipe waiting to take me down a peg.

That’s not to say that I didn’t make Apple Turnovers. I did. There’s a joke that should go here about being able to do something with one hand tied behind my back, I’m just not sure what the joke is, other than the sight gag of seeing my Turnovers. (Gag being the operative word here.)

Yes, the dandy thing about baking is that you can eat your mistakes, and the Turnovers remain in my refrigerator daring me to do so. Sadly though, my feelings towards these failed Turnovers are like a page out of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Ugly Duckling.” Only one page though, as these Turnovers will never grow to be swans. (Gee, I hope they can’t read.) (Actually they weren’t bad cold the next day)

It’s not all bad news though. Unlike baking pie, when you make Turnovers you usually get the best results if you cook the fruit first. In this case it meant that I needed to make applesauce. In my mind, I somehow think of applesauce as some slow-simmered, long cooking concoction. In reality I worked for a few minutes, the apples simmered for a few minutes, and the result was an ad-libbed, layered, refreshing alternative to the applesauce you buy in jars.

Because the original purpose was to fill the Turnovers, I cut the peeled apples into rather large chunks—no baby food smoothness here. I was using four Rhode Island Greening apples, a tart, green apple, so I peeled them. If you use red apples there can be some value in leaving the skin on and letting it tint the sauce.

I also added a couple of teaspoons of sugar, the juice and zest of a lemon, a teaspoon of frozen concentrated orange juice, ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon, and the seeds scraped from a whole vanilla bean. It all bubbled and squeaked for eight or nine minutes.

After my pastry dough crumbled into dust, I was left with a pot of this applesauce. Rather than feeling cheated, I felt rewarded by this: the glass was half full, thank you. This chunky apple sauce makes a great quick dessert shortcut. Serve it warm over some vanilla ice cream, or topped with some buttered, sugared, breadcrumbs then baked in a small crock. (Cue the ice cream again.)

These, of course, are only some of the joys of applesauce.

Up next: “An Ode to Tapioca.”

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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After dinner tweet anyone?

From the desk of…

Roasted Onion Tart

Roasted Onion Tart in "Water-Whip" pastry

An Open Letter to Martha Stewart

Dear Martha

You are such a doll. I appreciate your supportive comments; just that fact that you take the time to read my blog on your iPad each week during your morning yoga, and that you’ve assigned it its own button on your home screen has me thrilled to kittens. To answer your question: yes, my blog is free for everyone, and for the time being I have no plans to charge a subscription fee. Let’s just say that my overhead is a bit lower than yours.

Just loving your magazine of late—it absolutely comes alive on the iPad. I’ve taken the liberty of making a few notes that I have forwarded via DM. Just think of them as a few idle thoughts that I know will help you to improve your magazine. (You’re welcome!)

Anyhoodle, it seems that you and I are about to butt heads (again!) I hope this won’t be as contentious as The Great Caesar Salad Battle of 2008, but I make no promises. I know that you are a bit of an absolutist, but please keep an open mind: even Julia Child tried McDonald’s once.

The lovely sampler you cross-stitched for me is framed and hanging in my kitchen. It serves as a constant reminder about pie crust and similar pastry, exhorting me to “make it cold and bake it hot.” Here’s the thing, though: I happened to come across an old cookbook that General Foods published in 1955 for their Spry brand vegetable shortening, a product that fell out of sight many years ago.

(You have no one to blame but yourself for this bit of kitchen archeology; you’re the one who encouraged me to get into collectables.)

I recognize that the ages-old technique for making pie crust has been to “cut” chunks of fat (lard, shortening, butter) into flour. Even for me that remains the ideal way to go. And as you so often remind us, the reason for working with cold ingredients and baking them in a hot oven is pure science: as the pastry bakes, the fat and liquid steam away, leaving a delicate, flaky pastry.

Ah, but some unknown home economist at General Foods had an idea to streamline the process. The “Water-Whip” pastry recipe was devised to take most of the guess work out of pastry. Harried housewives could whip some shortening with a bit of boiling water, and then add the flour, and they were done. No waiting for the dough to “rest.” No guessing if they’d added just the right amount of water.

Yes, the resulting dough was a little sticky, but the instructions were clear: roll the dough between two pieces of waxed paper. (To me, the most startling thing about the 1955 cook book is that there is not an electric mixer in sight. Every recipe is stirred by hand with a wooden spoon or fork. Can you imagine? Pioneering days: all that is missing are the covered wagons.)

In the past you and I have chuckled about my aversion to the old-fashioned vegetable shortenings, of which the late, lamented Spry was one. Was it you or Alexis who kept calling me “Fat-O-Phobe”? Well, no matter. They are loaded with hydrogenated fats and preservatives, so I won’t use them, I don’t care what you call me. (Sticks and stones…).

To be fair, vegetable shortening wasn’t really invented to be health food, was it? It was invented to be a convenient alternative to lard, and to have a longer shelf life. It was only in the past twenty or so years that we realized the hydrogenated oils and the trans-fats they contain are so bad.

Thankfully there are now some really good non-hydrogenated alternatives—I think even Crisco makes one. (Modern living! Yay!) I’m a fan of Earth Balance. I’m perhaps a bit more forgiving of whatever a product’s flaws may be. I remember reading an article a few years back where some woman said if she tasted a cookie made with margarine she would spit it out. I know! Tacky, right?

A few days ago I thought it would be fun to experiment with the old “Water-Whip” recipe with an eye toward adapting it to the twenty-first century. As mentioned, my choice of shortening is healthier. I also used my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. Yes, it makes a somewhat sticky dough, but I knew ahead of time that I would not have patience for rolling it out between two pieces of waxed paper. I’ve tried that before with unhappy results. If I couldn’t roll it on a floured board then all bets would be off.

I’m happy to report that I enjoyed the results. The dough wasn’t that difficult to use with a dusting of enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the board and the rolling pin, if you work fast, and roll only as much dough as you have room for: small counter or small kitchen = small crust. (Hey, I could put that on a sampler for you!)

Yes, yes, I know. It’s not really pie crust. It’s more of a savory shortbread. But baked into a Roasted Onion Tart it had the appropriate toasty, crumbly, tenderness. Rough and rustic? Yes. Polished and complete? Perhaps not. Delicious? Mmmm-hmmm.

Roasting the onions gave them a sugary sweetness that the slight saltiness of the “Water-Whip” crust showed off with aplomb. It would make a wonderful side dish with a green salad or as a selection in a summer breakfast buffet. (Can’t wait to visit you in Maine this summer. Remind me again when “black fly” season is?)

Hope you’ll try the crust. Ring me if you have questions.

XOXO

M

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Click here for my recipe for “Roasted Onion Tart.”

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Go ahead: tweet this posting. You social media whiz, you…

Mikey the Pig (“Oink!”)

It isn't soup yet...

It isn't soup yet...

The thing I always forget about the New Year is that so many people are relieved that the holidays are over. Those would be the folks who ask, “So, did you survive the holidays?” No judgment here. My mom spent the bulk of her working years in retail. Although she has long since retired, she still greets the holiday season with the attitude of a soldier gearing up for a rough patrol.

For others the end of the holiday season is a huge letdown. Understandable: all the goodies have been put away. Here in Manhattan, not long after Halloween we begin to get accustomed to a twinkly, idealized version of our city which disappears seemingly overnight after New Year’s Eve. The first Monday after New Year’s Eve can be a bit of a letdown in that respect. Last week we had a big snowstorm, and just a few days on, to roughly quote Stephen Sondheim, “…even the snow looks used.”

The third group rolls up its (collective) sleeves and gets down to work. “Happy Holidays. Let’s GO!” Healthy, well-balanced folk, that group.

Me? This year finds me in all three groups depending on the day / the hour / the minute. The little kid in me loves Christmastime. The food blogger in me knows that I can’t write about holiday food every week so is happy to move on.

I’ll miss the music though.

As is the habit every January I (and millions of others) vow (but not resolve) to lose weight: “Hack the Holiday Heft” is my program for 2011. My track record isn’t bad—some years I do better than other years—but I find the constant is to keep myself entertained with the cooking process. If I can keep playing in the kitchen I somehow feel less deprived. My game plan is to find meals that I can fuss over in the kitchen thereby distracting myself from the absence of cookies in my life. The tough part is chocolate; there simply is no substitute. Ah well, what is life without a little sacrifice, right?

Now, not to get all “Forrest Gump” on you, but I find that making chicken soup is a lot like planning the year ahead. (Stay with me on this…) The basic recipe is constant. It’s what you put into it that makes it yours and makes it special. Okay, I’ll grant you that this is not world-changing philosophy, but I’m standing by my statement, and I promise to not belabor it.

Making Chicken Soup is literally as easy as boiling water yet the end result is so soothing, and, depending on the “extras” you add, also a hearty, healthy meal ideal for hacking the holiday heft.

You wouldn’t think that something as basic and ages-old as Chicken Soup would be a subject for debate, but lately there seems to be a divergence of opinion about the chicken itself: after cooking the soup do you save the chicken or not? As debates go this is right up there with whether the toilet tissue should hang over or under—a debate I will not go near: soup isn’t the only thing chicken here.

Some folks insist that the chicken has been boiled away and should be discarded, some folks insist that it is still perfectly good. To resolve this weighty problem I consulted two experts: my Mother, a certified Grandmother, and the original New York Times Cookbook (circa 1960) which serves as my de facto ol’ Auntie when it comes to food.

Both assured me that I can happily retain the chicken meat. I want it shredded into chunks and returned to the soup, but my Mom insisted, “We always made Chicken Salad with it.” (When I explained that I wanted to use it in the soup, in true Jewish mother fashion she replied, “You don’t like Chicken Salad???” Emphasis: hers.)

Yes Mom, I love Chicken Salad, but I want Chicken Soup. And perfectly good protein goes where it belongs: back into the soup.

My aromatics – the other ingredients I add to the soup as it cooks– are fairly traditional except that I have a big bunch of Parsley and some left-over Rosemary which I’ll be using instead of celery. (Mom: “No celery???”) I’ll tie them into a bouquet with some butcher’s twine. A few parsnips, and carrots, a head of garlic (thank you Ina Garten), and a dusting of Bells Seasoning (left over from Thanksgiving) and I should have a richly flavored broth. (I’ll strain the finished soup through a mesh strainer, lest you think my finished product will look like some freaky, cloudy tea.)

As I am an impatient skimmer (skimming the fat from hot soup is like herding cats), I‘ll refrigerate the soup just after I strain it. The fat will congeal, float to the top, and be easily peeled away like pulling lily pads from a lake. Anyway, the soup tastes better after it has been allowed to sit for a while.

I’ll add salt just before I eat, and only to the portion of the soup I am heating. (Another debatable point. Some insist you must season as you go.) When dinner time rolls around I’ll break up a few sheets of No-Boil Lasagna noodles into the re-heating broth. These will approximate papardelle, and are lighter than the egg noodles my Grandmother would have added. I like to sprinkle in some diced red bell pepper, but that’s more for looks than anything else. A little fresh chopped parsley looks good too.

Crackers? Only if I’m in the mood to make my Cornmeal Saltines, and even then, just a few. My cookie mascot “Mikey the Pig” (on the blog’s masthead) isn’t the only one saying, “Oink” right now: I have holiday heft to hack!

“Happy Holidays. Let’s GO!”

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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White (Bread) Christmas

Pull Apart Bread

Pull Apart Bread: Christmas potluck chic

The little kid in me resents it when Christmas falls on a weekend. There’s no logic to my resentment, after all, like most folks I will take just as much time off as I would have if the holiday fell on a Wednesday.  Most of my big holiday obligations have already been met: the tree is up, my cards are in the mail, and the majority of my holiday party baking is done. That can only mean one thing: it’s Holiday Movie Time. Bing Crosby is rehearsing, Rosie Clooney is getting into her costume, and Jimmy Stewart is getting ready to lasso the moon.

The splashy grand finale of this year’s holiday party baking was a friend’s annual holiday party. I don’t want to say he’s been giving this party for a long time but I think the guests at his first holiday party arrived bearing frankincense and myrrh. (Rim shot, please.)

ANYWAY, the party has always served as a laboratory for me to try out the big show off-y baking that you can only get away with around the holidays.  Over the years there have been Yule logs, cookie Christmas trees, and cookie tributes.

Cookie tributes you ask? Not to worry: there were no cookies in the shape of Elvis. But a few years back all of my holiday cookies were citrus flavored in tribute to the big cartons of Florida citrus fruit we would find sitting on our snowy doorstep each Christmas courtesy of my dad’s best childhood buddy. (Frosted orange-spice cookies were my favorite that year.) Ah, restraint…

This year I somehow had it in my mind to celebrate a slightly more humble aesthetic. I didn’t have a specific game plan in mind when the season started, but following the path of holiday basics from salted caramel-dipped chocolate drop cookies to Snickerdoodles to chocolate gingerbread revealed my destination the same way as when you pick your way through the trees and suddenly find yourself on the beach.

Two things come to mind here: the first is my fear that I may have been turning my nose up at this humble aesthetic—indulging in the sort of food snobbery that I outwardly confess to abhor. The second is that while I consider my experiences cooking and eating to be as much about educating myself as they are about eating well, I sometimes need to be reminded that I can learn as much from a really great brownie as I can from a really great Éclair. It’s up to me to keep my eyes open, yes?

I wanted to bake something for the party that had a relaxed, family / sharing / party feeling; flipping through a few copies of Life Magazine from December 1960 helped me to focus on the kind of friendly, frilly, holiday food I thought would still work at Christmas Dinner fifty years hence: a sort of Potluck Chic.

Please don’t confuse this with the smirking wink at “White Trash” cooking that came and went a few years back. This isn’t Bologna Macaroni and Cheese; It is Nancy Reagan serving Monkey Bread at The White House.

With all that in mind I settled on a simple Cheddar Pull-Apart Bread that had intrigued me some time ago while flipping through a cheap cookbook. A more savory, perhaps more sober relative of Monkey Bread, it also owes some of its DNA to the flaky, buttery Parker House roll. And the way my mind works, when I bake bread I especially prize yeasty concoctions that are as good—or better—toasted the next morning. A slice of this bread with a fried egg on top is my holiday breakfast of choice this year. (Thankfully there are two holidays so I can still have my yummy Yeast Waffles.)

The concept is easy: divide unbaked bread dough into ten even pieces, spread with the savory filling of choice, stack the pieces, then squeeze into a loaf pan and bake. Served warm, friends and loved ones can then “pull apart” the loaf. The recipe attached is very basic, but I’m anxious to try it with Challah dough. Add a bit of cinnamon and sugar and you’ve got an enviable sweet breakfast loaf.

Folks who fear working with yeast dough should feel free to try this concept with store-bought pizza dough. It crusty chewiness will pair beautifully with olive oil and a bit of chopped garlic as the filling. I may have to bring this to a big “five fishes” Christmas Eve dinner.

Have a wonderful holiday—the best of the season to you. Don’t forget to leave some cookies for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer.

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Click here for the recipe for Cheddar Herb Pull Apart Bread.

If you’re feeling ambitious but need a bit of cookie baking technique and guidance, read the Butter Flour Eggs Cookie Primer 101 for some basic cookie-baking tips.

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Are you still trying to finish Santa’s List? Check out Laura Loving’s incredible, affordable range of holiday gifts. Each piece of art features her iconic designs and will be cherished for years to come.

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The Ronald McDonald House of New York is an amazing facility which provides a temporary “home-away-from-home” for pediatric cancer patients and their families. The Ronald McDonald House is supported entirely by private donations. Please read about this amazing place, and keep them in mind when considering your year-end charity donation.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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The Apples, The TV, and Me

Apple Pan Dowdy with "Indian Pudding" Crust

Apple Pan Dowdy with "Indian Pudding" Crust

This past weekend I was the recipient of a large bag of apples. This was a gift from a friend who had ventured “upstate”, a term many Manhattan-ites use to describe anything outside of the five boroughs.

The generosity of the gift aside — and who wouldn’t appreciate a bag of orchard-fresh apples– I was left a little bit like the kid in the proverbial candy store. I ate one and saved a few more for the same purpose, but then realized that I needed to kick inspiration into high gear to figure out what to do with the rest.

While I was sitting (okay, lying) on my sofa munching on the apples, I started channel surfing and came upon four females who, for varying reasons led me down the path to my apple solution.

The first was a filly named Zenyatta. I’m not using a diminutive term for women here: Zenyatta really is a filly, a six year old race horse that, up until this past weekend, has raced undefeated. While much of the news coverage of this beautiful animal showed her lapping up a bowl of Guinness Stout, there was also footage of her being fed an apple by one of the reporters. I happened to see the latter just as I was eating the first of my apples. Something about the purity of the scene touched me. There she was, an unassuming female champ in a man’s sport, enjoying some of the basic “finer things in life:” a good, sweet, crunchy apple. A pint of stout. If a horse could kick back and say, “ahhhhh” I’m sure she would have.

Next I came upon a baker named Rachel Allen whose UK-produced program is aired here on the Cooking Network. There’s something serene and peaceful about watching the glamorous yet earthy Ms. Allen baking and teaching. With her soothing, soft-as-linen Irish accent, she coaxes baking peace from a chaotic class of lucky amateurs. Anything seems possible in her kitchen. You can keep 3-D TV; I’ll take “Rachel Allen Bakes!” in Smell-O-Vision HD, please.

This past weekend she made a reliably perfect apple Tart Tatin. It seemed like providence to witness her effortless Tatin as I sat munching my gift o’apples knowing that my large bag o’ apples was waiting.

And yet…as much as I love Tart Tatin, and as much as I think it is an easy way to make a really great, dramatic dessert, I always feel that there is something missing: spice. The star of Tart Tatin is caramel, gooey, sticky, and even a bit crunchy, but the cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and ginger Americans crave in apple pie-style desserts are missing.

By this time my legs were up on the sofa, and I was in full Saturday couch potato mode. This made me the perfect sucker for repeats of “Two Fat Ladies.” While the two self-described fat ladies, the standards-singing, chain-smoking Jennifer Paterson (who departed for a more heavenly kitchen some years ago), and the über-serious Clarissa Dickson-Wright, would seem like the perfect fodder for a Saturday Night Live sketch, I found myself strangely drawn to their aesthetic. There’s something substantial about their cooking. Surprisingly, in spite of how they billed themselves their brand of cookery is never an exercise in gluttony; rather, there is something worldly, yet straightforward about what they serve in their formidable crockery. Food as a sort of truth. Clearly these were two women who’d been around the block—and who had found all the good meals along the way.

So, from my prone perch, considering my bag of apples, I thought that my mission had become clear: bring the delicacy of Rachel Allen’s Tart Tatin and the starchy, straightforward, authenticity of two fat ladies to my kitchen. Oh, and Zenyatta’s appreciation of simple pleasures. And use up the apples.

“Easy, peasy” to quote the late Ms. Paterson.

The weather has cooled off in my neck of the woods. After almost hitting eighty degrees a couple of weeks ago, we’re getting down into the thirties some nights. My mind is already on Thanksgiving. Last Thanksgiving I wrote about a classic, old dessert, “Baked Indian Pudding.” While I never make any claims that “Baked Indian Pudding” will have a renaissance, I like the basic flavors this somewhat austere dessert holds: cornmeal, maple, and molasses. It’s kind of a Plymouth Rock trifecta. Surely I can reference the flavors in a dessert that is a bit more accessible?

One of my favorite hot desserts is Apple Pan Dowdy. Named for its plain –dowdy—appearance, it belongs to the same family as crisp, cobbler, buckle, and brown betty. The Pan Dowdy version is baked in a shallow baking dish with a biscuit crust. This is my candidate for the Indian pudding treatment.

The obvious place to start was with my favorite part: the crust. Normally I would have used a Pâte Sucrè – a sweetened pie crust—on top of the apples. But by fiddling around (a bit of cornmeal here, a dash of molasses there…) I was able to bring the dark notes of Indian pudding to the brightness of baked apples.

The result is a hot dessert perfect for a cold night, or at least to counter the scoop of ice cream you will invariably plop on top.

The pilgrims never had it so good.

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Click here for the recipe for Apple Pan Dowdy with “Baked Indian Pudding” Crust.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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My Italian Grandma

Bisque Tortoni

Bisque Tortoni

I mentioned a long time ago that my Mom is Executive Vice President of Food Nostalgia here at Butter Flour Eggs. (She doesn’t spend a lot of time in the office, preferring to correspond with her terrified underlings by iPad.)

If you’re looking for insight into my food aesthetic she would be your starting point. I’d wager that’s true of most offspring. Did I read somewhere that Mother Orangutans chew food and then feed it to their babies mouth-to-mouth? What are the chances that baby Orangutans grow up complaining that their Mothers were terrible cooks?

Thankfully my Mother let me have first crack at my own food. She was a good cook, but when she wanted us to eat something really great she took us to our Italian Grandmother. Okay, I’ll cop to the fact that the only way I could really have had an Italian Grandmother was if she came here by way of Odessa. And spoke Yiddish. 

No, my brother and I didn’t really have an Italian grandmother; we did, however, have two really great substitutes.

If you were casting a movie and wanted a sweet, tiny-but-sturdy, Italian Grandmother-type, Mrs. Cappy (short for Capobianco) would have been your choice. She was our babysitter, kind and patient, no fool, and certainly no pushover. Oh, did I mention she could cook? It bears repeating: she could cook. Mr. Cappy must have smiled a lot.

My Mom was a good cook. Mrs. Cappy’s cooking was like nothing we’d tasted before. Real Italian Grandma food. (My Mom is not insulted by this. She agrees.)

My other Italian Grandmother was a guy named Giovanni—John to his friends. He ran a joint called “Giovanni’s” near where we lived. I use the term “joint” affectionately. I have a feeling that John played Italian Grandma to thousands of folks like us because the one thing you could always count on to start your meal at “Giovanni’s” was a wait in line to get a table. I don’t remember how long the average waiting time was; when you were a fidgety kid like I was, five minutes may just as well have been two hours. In those days all I had to occupy my fidgety self while waiting in that line were the cigarette machines. Every once in a while I’d hit the jackpot on one of those many-armed bandits and a book of matches would fly out. (The matches always advertised New Jersey’s Palisades Park. This made no sense to me: we were in Boston.)

If Mrs. Cappy was an Italian Grandma out of central casting, then “Giovanni’s” was like an Italian restaurant out of a set designer’s imagination. I doubt John had more than fifteen tables crammed into what he must have started as a road house bar room. In one corner: the requisite shrine to John F. Kennedy, our local fallen hero. In the other corner? Who knows? John kept the place dark. Atmosphere? Memories of places like “Giovanni’s” always seem to exist in a visual time warp where film noir meets “Happy Days.” You could see the food. What more did you need?

I don’t remember any tables, just booths with Formica topped tables. Each booth came equipped with a juke box that flip-flip-flipped its pages so you could choose amongst the likes of Bobby Darin, Tom Jones, Dean Martin, and, of course, Sinatra. My memory is sketchy but I’d swear the paper placemats bore maps of Italy. Sound familiar? Probably.  I have just described “Giovanni’s” and who knows how many other, similar joints in every metropolitan area of the country.

Menu? I’m sure “Giovanni’s” had one, but we never used it, because we were there on a mission: Veal Cutlet Parmigiana, my Mom’s version of soul food. She still says it was the best Veal Cutlet Parmigiana she ever had, and she’s very, very picky.

It won’t surprise you to learn that my most vivid memory is of dessert. There were two choices: Spumoni Ice Cream and Bisque Tortoni.

Bisque Tortoni was a tiny, subtly sweet, slightly mysterious frozen dessert served in a little paper cup with a Maraschino cherry on top. Was it ice cream? Kind of. But the consistency was a bit different: it was creamier when allowed to soften a bit, a bit drier, and had some kind of cookie crumbs swirled through it and sprinkled on top. There was a heavy hint of something—vanilla?—that flavored the entire affair.

Some years later, perhaps slightly before the internet became the encyclopedia of everything you always wanted to know about but never found the answer to, I found a recipe for Bisque Tortoni in the newspaper. The recipe answered my questions about the unusual consistency of Bisque Tortoni. It is a frozen mixture of whipped cream, whipped egg whites, and sherry. I clipped out the recipe, knowing that I now had the knowledge and the power to make Bisque Tortoni.

Until I lost the recipe.

Relax. The story has a happy ending. While paging through an old cookbook, the yellowed clipping fluttered out like an oak leaf that had been pressed between pages of a bible. A sign? I thought so.

I’ve updated the recipe a bit, if only cosmetically, by suggesting the use of Amaretto instead of sherry, amaretti cookies instead of macaroons, and by piping the mixture into ramekins instead of paper cups.

For full effect, eat it in a dark room while listening to Tom Jones.

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Click here for the recipe for Bisque Tortoni.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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“…and she asked for refills.”

Caesar Salad

Still life with croutons

Have I mentioned that during a previous century I worked for a time as a waiter? There is something profound about the experience of waiting on others. Some people believe that this kind of work prepares you well for life and the workplace as a whole, and that everyone should do it for a while. A debatable point, yes, yet I think I tend to drift to the side of those who think everyone should do it for a while. Lindsay Lohan would sober up in record time if you slapped a visor on her head and put her in charge of a McDonald’s fryolator.

Lest you think I am slighting McDonald’s, I hasten to add that a former boss of mine outside of the restaurant business spent several of his teenage years working in a McDonald’s, and he was a fine boss indeed. I’ve always wondered how many of the qualities that made him such a good boss were the result of his time slapping patties on the grill.

Waiters bear witness as otherwise intelligent, educated, seemingly mature adults revert to bratty, child-like behavior (and that’s before cocktails). It can be a rueful revelation about the human condition. But there’s more to it than that. The bratty, immature behavior of those folks who have been celebrated due to their supposed culinary skills is perhaps even more of an eye opener.

In other words: your waiter is getting it from both sides. If the customers are at times unpleasant, some chefs are truly Nasty to the point of being abusive (the capital “N” is not a mistake). There’s something life altering about being yelled at by someone who looks like they showed up for work in grease-stained pajamas. Exaggerating? I think not.

One of the fine establishments at which I worked (I will withhold names to protect all parties involved) was famous for its elaborate selection of cheese, and one of the waiters found himself elevated into the role of the cheese steward. This role was similar to that of a sommelier. Sounds good in theory, although in practice this poor guy often became the chef’s whipping boy, a performance often repeated loudly and within clear earshot of the customers. It wasn’t directed at me, yet it still made my skin crawl.

Then there are the squeezes.

Waiters often find themselves squeezed firmly in the no man’s land between what chefs are willing to do for their customers and what the customers want, a/k/a, “No substitutions.” All parties blame the waiter.

There’s also bad management: seating an entire restaurant at the same time results in all orders being sent to the kitchen at the same time, which results in very slow service as the kitchen struggles to keep up. All parties blame the waiter.

Excuse me, but I thought time healed all wounds? It has been many years, and yes, I think I still sound a little bitter. Ah well, don’t cry for me; I am all smiles. You may have deduced from this harrowing tale that I bend over backwards to treat waiters well when I eat out. I do, although I am keenly attuned to poor service, and my practiced eye knows when it is the waiter’s fault, versus when it is the kitchen’s fault. I know enough to be a danger to my own enjoyment of the meal. My dirty little secret? I am not an enthusiastic eater-outer.  And I now have bad feet.

I was a crummy waiter (pardon the pun); my mind was often elsewhere, so take what I say with a grain of salt. In the meantime, here’s a funny story (ya got a minute?):

I was working a lunch shift the day after Broadway’s TONY awards.  This was a casual restaurant that attracted a surprising number of celebrities. You name ‘em, they ate there. Who should I find at one of my tables but two of the talented, celebrated actresses who had lost the previous evening? Perhaps a planned victory lunch gone awry?

I greeted them by asking, “But it was an honor just to be nominated, right?”

My props to them for restraining themselves from pummeling me about my person. Yes, sometimes it is the waiter’s fault.

One of my favorite tasks as a waiter was table side service. The reasons for this were twofold. First, the customers were hungry, happy I was there, and often engaged me in polite conversation. Second, I enjoyed making Caesar Salad, especially when I could leave a tiny bit for myself. Some nights I must have reeked of garlic. Caesar said it best, “Veni, Vidi, I ate the salad.”

And yes, one skill I took away from my waiter years is the ability to make a good Caesar Salad–at least I think they’re good, although I’ll be the first to admit that I belong to the school of “the more garlicky and parmesan-y the better.”

Caesar Salad seems to have supplanted the old wedge of iceberg with blue cheese I remember from my childhood as the salad that must be on every menu. The trouble is that the bottled, gloppy, mayonnaise-based dressing that is used is often not very good. REAL Caesar Salad–made to order from fresh ingredients–has freshness, lightness, and a bit of zing that the kind made with pre-made dressings can’t match.

Since you rarely—if ever—see the tableside version anymore in restaurants, may I recommend it as a make-at-home treat? No special tools are required, in fact, I, Mr. Kitchen Aid Devotee, discourage their use when making Caesar Salad. Two forks and a little technique are all you need. Mashing all the ingredients in a bowl with the two forks actually does a better job than a food processor or blender.

Let me address two things that may give you pause: anchovies and raw egg. Anchovies? Buy the quality kind in the glass jar. They’re not “hairy” and are much less salty than the cheap canned kind. (Mine came with a little fork to pull them out of the jar. Who doesn’t like a free utensil?) Raw egg remains a reasonable concern what with the recent problem with salmonella. If you can find pasteurized eggs, use those. Even easier is to use Egg Beaters. I know purists may take offense at this, but Egg Beaters are made from eggs, are pasteurized, and will lend a glossy richness to the emulsion similar to real eggs.

Finally keep in mind that this is an easy recipe, yes, but one that lives or dies on the quality of all the ingredients. Use good Parmesan cheese, not the deservedly maligned kind in the green shaker bottle. Buy the plainest croutons you can find, or even better, toast your own in the oven. The overly seasoned kind will overwhelm REAL Caesar Salad. (Yeah I know–sounds like Martha Stewart. But heck, I’m not asking you to bake the bread from scratch.)

Here’s a bit of celebrity gossip you won’t find on Page Six, in the Enquirer, Star, or at Perez Hilton. You’ll only get this kind of info here gang, so buckle your seat belts:

Barbra Streisand likes ginger ale with her lobster.

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Click here for the recipe for REAL Caesar Salad.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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