Monday, December 30, 2013

The Twelve Posts of Christmas - #10 (2013 Edition)

SoBA has a penchant for eggs.  And he (and LBA) like my crepes.  Today is SoBA's birthday, maybe we will make these soon. From the Amateur Gourmet.

Breakfast Crêpes with Eggs, Bacon and Cheese
Our first weekend in the new apartment and it was my mission to make breakfast. I’d carried a box of foodstuffs from our old refrigerator to the new refrigerator so as not to waste anything and that box contained perishables like eggs, bacon, butter and milk. In my pantry, I had flour, sugar and salt. What could a person make with these things that wasn’t boring? A vision came to me, a vision of a nun on a beach dancing the hoochie-coochie. But then another vision came to me: Crêpes! 

I once made crêpes, long long ago (in 2007), but after that I didn’t make them. It wasn’t a choice or anything, I just didn’t think to make them. Then I was watching Lidia in the new joint (I’m always watching Lidia) and she made an Italian version of crepes and made it look so easy. That’s where this idea came from. 

And you know what? It is easy. I can sum it up in this paragraph: melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Pour it into a bowl and let it cool. Then add 4 large eggs and 1 1/2 cups whole milk. Whisk that together and then whisk in 1/4 tsp salt, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 cup all-purpose flour. (Recipe from Martha Stewart - [but I don't like her - as most of you know, use my recipe instead]) Martha says you should do it in a blender but I didn’t want to dirty my blender so I used a whisk which worked fine.

Now for the “hard” part. I put “hard” in quotes (and did it again) because it’s really not that hard. Tip 1: pour the batter into a measuring glass. Tip 2: melt some more butter, pour it into a little bowl and use a brush to brush a non-stick skillet with that butter. Then turn up the heat.

When the pan’s hot, lift it up and pour the batter in a thin stream around the perimeter, tilting it all around and trying to create the thinnest layer you can. See?

Let that cook on medium/high heat for a bit (30 seconds or so) and then slide a rubber spatula underneath it all around. Take a peak: is nice and browned? Then it’s time to flip. You can be a pro and do the whole flipping motion thing or you can just lift up a corner and use your fingers to flip it. It’s not that hot.

It’ll cook faster on the other side so take note, maybe 15 seconds or so. Then slide on to a plate and start again: more butter, more batter, more cooking, more flipping, more crêpe-making. When you have all the crêpes you want, make your filling. I rendered some bacon in a skillet then added six eggs (beaten together with a pinch of salt and pepper), stirred slowly on high heat until curds formed, then I took it off the heat and added a bunch of grated Cheddar cheese. I piled that into the center of a crepe, in a straight line.

Then I rolled it up.

It’s like a French breakfast burrito only better because instead of a tortilla you have a thin sweet pancake. So give crêpes a go this weekend. You can take them in a sweet direction and fill them with fruit and whipped cream or you can stay in the savory arena and fill them with all different kinds of scrambled eggs. And whatever batter you don’t use you can save for later: crêpes for breakfast, crêpes for lunch, crêpes for dinner and crêpes for dessert. So, to quote my earlier post: don’t be a creep, make a crêpe.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Twelve Posts of Christmas - #9 (2013 Edition)

Of course today is LBA's birthday.  We have worked very hard to make sure that he has a proper birthday in addition to regular Christmas festivities.  However, there will not be tacos for Christmas Dinner tonight.  We will spend our day in church this morning followed by having friends over for Christmas dinner this afternoon.  Tomorrow we will head to NY for a few days to celebrate with the extended Brave Astronaut clan.

LBA manages pretty well with a Christmas birthday. BuzzFeed posted a list a while back with reasons why a Christmas birthday is the worst - but I maintain it's been OK for him.
  1. All your friends are home with their families, so you can forget a birthday party.
  2. Or if they’re around, there are so many holiday parties people don’t want to celebrate.
  3. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, you still get screwed. (Everything is closed and your friends are busy. Nothing better than hanging out alone to celebrate your birth.)
  4. You get combo presents from everyone and it’s not OK to point out that if your birthday was in July, this would be an outrage. (As someone with a December birthday - I often got combo presents and never really contemplated the injustice.)
  5. On top of the combo presents, your birthday presents are always wrapped in Christmas paper. (That is the cardinal rule - birthday presents must be in birthday wrap.)
  6. You have to save up a list of what you want all year. Hopefully your dream present doesn’t come out in February, otherwise you will be waiting 10 months.
  7. On the plus side - And people like to decorate really well for your “birthday.” 
  8. People also like to remind you it isn't only your birthday.  (When LBA was very young, Mrs. BA took him to the pediatrician and a little girl came over to admire LBA.  She asked when his birthday was, Mrs. BA replied, December 25.  The little girl looked up at Mrs. BA and exclaimed, "Just Like Jesus!")
  9. If they even remember at all. (We may have forgotten to give a present or two to SoBA, but LBA has always done well.)
  10. People always start to call you the Grinch since you’re sick of all the holiday cheer.
  11. This is what your birthday dinner looks like, even if you don't like turkey. (Again, there will not be tacos this evening.)
  12. Your birthday "cake" looks a lot like cookies. (LBA always gets a birthday cake.)
  13. You are always forced to do some horrible holiday activity on your birthday whether you want to or not.
  14. And you are always getting upstaged by a fat guy in a big red suit. And you are always getting upstaged by a fat guy in a big red suit.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Twelve Posts of Christmas - #8 (2013 Edition)

Mrs. BA was talking the other day about how much longer we have with LBA and Santa.  However long that is - he will be sworn to silence to keep SoBA on board.  My counterpoint is that, while the man may not come and visit each year - his spirit lives on in all of us.  So, yes, I still believe in Santa Claus, get over it.

By Francis P. Church
first published in The New York Sun in 1897
We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

Dear Editor —
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O’Hanlon

Dear Virginia —

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
About the Exchange:
Francis P. Church’s editorial, “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” was an immediate sensation, and went on to became one of the most famous editorials ever written. It first appeared in the The New York Sun in 1897, almost a hundred years ago, and was reprinted annually until 1949 when the paper went out of business.

Thirty-six years after her letter was printed, Virginia O’Hanlon recalled the events that prompted her letter:

“Quite naturally I believed in Santa Claus, for he had never disappointed me. But when less fortunate little boys and girls said there wasn’t any Santa Claus, I was filled with doubts. I asked my father, and he was a little evasive on the subject.

“It was a habit in our family that whenever any doubts came up as to how to pronounce a word or some question of historical fact was in doubt, we wrote to the Question and Answer column in The Sun. Father would always say, ‘If you see it in the The Sun, it’s so,’ and that settled the matter.

“ ‘Well, I’m just going to write The Sun and find out the real truth,’ I said to father.

“He said, ‘Go ahead, Virginia. I’m sure The Sun will give you the right answer, as it always does.’ ”

And so Virginia sat down and wrote her parents’ favorite newspaper.

Her letter found its way into the hands of a veteran editor, Francis P. Church. Son of a Baptist minister, Church had covered the Civil War for The New York Times and had worked on the The New York Sun for 20 years, more recently as an anonymous editorial writer. Church, a sardonic man, had for his personal motto, “Endeavour to clear your mind of cant.” When controversal subjects had to be tackled on the editorial page, especially those dealing with theology, the assignments were usually given to Church.

Now, he had in his hands a little girl’s letter on a most controversial matter, and he was burdened with the responsibility of answering it.

“Is there a Santa Claus?” the childish scrawl in the letter asked. At once, Church knew that there was no avoiding the question. He must answer, and he must answer truthfully. And so he turned to his desk, and he began his reply which was to become one of the most memorable editorials in newspaper history.

Church married shortly after the editorial appeared. He died in April, 1906, leaving no children.

Virginia O’Hanlon went on to graduate from Hunter College with a Bachelor of Arts degree at age 21. The following year she received her Master’s from Columbia, and in 1912 she began teaching in the New York City school system, later becoming a principal. After 47 years, she retired as an educator. Throughout her life she received a steady stream of mail about her Santa Claus letter, and to each reply she attached an attractive printed copy of the Church editorial. Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas died on May 13, 1971, at the age of 81, in a nursing home in Valatie, N.Y.

My fondest wish to all of you for a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy holiday season.  Please take a moment and make sure that you can still hear the sleigh bell.  You won't regret it. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Twelve Posts of Christmas - #7 (2013 Edition)

We really need to decide what we're having for Christmas dinner.  I would eat this - maybe not in two days, but at some point.  We decided on Turkey instead.

Roasted Cod on Large Garlic Croutons
Bon Appetit, June 2008

  • 1 pound plum tomatoes, cored, diced 
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion 
  • 5 anchovy fillets, minced 
  • 3 large garlic cloves (2 minced, 1 halved) 
  • 4 7- to 8-ounce cod fillets or other white fish fillets (such as halibut; about 1 inch thick) 
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided 
  • 4 1/2-inch-thick slices country white bread 
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves 

Preheat oven to 475°F. Combine first 3 ingredients in large bowl. Add minced garlic and stir to blend. Season tomato mixture to taste with salt and pepper.

Arrange fish on rimmed baking sheet. Brush both sides with 2 tablespoons oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until just opaque in center, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomato mixture. Cook until tomatoes soften and sauce thickens, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper.

Toast bread; rub 1 side with cut side of halved garlic. Top with tomato sauce, basil leaves, fish, and more sauce.

Per serving: 414 calories, 19g fat (3g saturated), 75mg cholesterol, 408mg sodium, 20g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 39g protein (nutritional analysis provided by Nutrition Data)

Friday, December 20, 2013

It's My Birthday!

The Brave Astronaut celebrates today - it occurred to me that my father was the same age as I was when LBA was born.  I am certainly feeling my age, the knees don't work as well as they do, I weigh more than I would like, I really can't see close up without my readers anymore.

When I turned 30, I'm not sure if I had all of these things - but I think I had most of them.  From BuzzFeed:

40 Things Every Self-Respecting Man Over 30 Should Own
  1. A tailored black suit - I have a navy suit (I bought it to get married to Mrs. BA) - does that count?
  2. Black dress shoes - I have both lace up and loafers in black.
  3. Brown dress shoes - and brown (well, burgundy, but same thing)
  4. Stocks - my stock portfolio is in my father's custody.  I have none of my own until he's no longer around to own them.
  5. A tool kit - got that, and a tool box, and a drill, and various nails, screws, and other handy stuff.
  6. A nice wallet - a few years ago, I went to a small card wallet with money clip.  I don't carry a wallet in my back pocket anymore.
  7. Cologne - when I used to work in retail, I made friends with the Cosmetics Department Manager and got a huge selection of colognes.  I'm on my last bottle.  I could use more - if you're wondering what to get me.
  8. A watch - I have several.  An everyday watch, a dress watch, and a Tiffany's watch (that was a wedding gift from Mrs. BA).
  9. A proper bed with proper bedding - check.
  10. A flashlight - I have several, including my favorite, a heavy duty Maglite.
  11. Duct tape - because there's nothing that can't be fixed with duct tape.
  12. A weekend bag - that's something that I would like to have - a nice weekend bag.  But then again, the way I pack - for a weekend I need a steamer trunk.
  13. Proper glassware - I have most of the glasses I need.
  14. Grooming kit - check.
  15. Double-hinged wine key - check
  16. Multiple towels - Mrs. BA and I would love the gift of new towels.
  17. A chef’s knife - I have a whole set.
  18. A passport - I had one, but it's long expired and lost.  Mrs. BA and should really get ours up to date.
  19. A flask - I have my grandfather's.
  20. Sewing kit - how quaint.  It's really easier to just get new stuff sometimes.
  21. An umbrella - check
  22. An ironing board, and an iron - I have those things, but that's what dry cleaners are for.
  23. Jumper cables - check
  24. Undershirts - check (and yes I do routinely replace them)
  25. Playing cards - I've always been a card game lover (it's from my mother), so I have several decks, including two Pinochle decks.
  26. A lint roller - with no pets at the launchpad, there's no lint roller around.
  27. A leatherman - I'm on my second.  The first one was confiscated by TSA.  It was also the one that injured me, so it was OK that I had to give it up.
  28. Sunglasses - I would like to have nice sunglasses, but shades are one of those things that are not worth spending a lot of money on.  They break, they get lost.
  29. A record player - I may have had one when I was thirty, but don't have one anymore.
  30. Football/soccer ball/basketball, etc. - yes the yard is scattered with sports items.  I did however recently buy myself a new mitt when LBA was playing baseball this year.
  31. A French press - I love my coffee, so I own one of these - but I mainly use my Cuisinart.
  32. Good socks - I should have better socks.
  33. Good underwear - I should have better underwear, too.
  34. A cast-iron skillet - Mrs. BA has one of those.
  35. Multiple sheet sets - check, including several sets of flannel.
  36. A bar set - I have most of the items, they're just not in a matching set.
  37. Matching dishes - several sets, including my mother's china, Christmas dishes, and "summer" "lighthouse" dishes.
  38. A decent car - it's going to be time for a new car soon, but we like the one we have.
  39. A solid book collection - oh, there's no lack there.
  40. A decent bottle of booze - yep, that too.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Twelve Posts of Christmas - #6 (2013 Edition)

I know it's less than 10 days away, but it's possible that we aren't set with our entree dish for Christmas Dinner.  Here's a front-runner.

Herb-Crusted Beef Rib Roast with Potatoes, Carrots, and Pinot Noir Jus
(from Epicurious/Gourmet Live)

  • 1 (4-rib) standing beef rib roast (bone-in prime rib; 9 to 10 pounds) 
  • 1/4 cup mixed peppercorns (pink, white, and green) 
  • 3 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided 
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme 
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary 
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 3 pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and each cut into 6 wedges (keep in a bowl of cold water to prevent discoloration) 
  • 3 pounds carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into 2-inch pieces 

  • 1 (750 milliliter) bottle Pinot Noir 
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallots 
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided 
  • 2 1/4 cups reduced-salt beef or chicken broth 
Special equipment: 
  • Heavy flameproof roasting pan (not glass) fitted with a flat rack
  • instant-read thermometer
  • 2 (18- by 13-inch) heavy rimmed sheet pans (aka half-sheet pans)
  • parchment paper
For roast beef: 
Pat roast dry and put, fat side up, on rack in roasting pan.

Coarsely crush peppercorns in a mortar and pestle or folded kitchen towel (not terry cloth) with a meat pounder or bottom of a heavy skillet. Stir together peppercorns, 3 tablespoons kosher salt, thyme, and rosemary in a small bowl.

Rub roast all over with oil, then coat it all over with peppercorn mixture, pressing to help it adhere. Let coated roast stand at room temperature 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in lower third. Roast beef roast 20 minutes.

 Reduce oven temperature to 350°F and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of meat (do not touch bone) registers 110°F, 1 1/2 to 2 hours more. Transfer to a platter (keep fat and pan juices in roasting pan) and let stand, uncovered, 40 minutes (temperature of meat will rise to about 130°F for medium-rare).

While roast stands, put second oven rack in upper-third position and increase oven temperature to 450°F. Line 1 sheet pan with parchment paper.

Strain pan juices from roasting pan through a sieve into a glass measuring cup (reserve roasting pan). Drain potatoes well and toss in a large bowl with 3 tablespoons melted beef fat from roasting pan and 1 teaspoon kosher salt, then spread out on parchment-lined sheet pan. Toss carrots in same bowl with another 3 tablespoons beef fat from pan and 1 teaspoon kosher salt, then spread out on other rimmed sheet pan. Roast vegetables in upper and lower thirds of oven, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through roasting, until golden, 25 to 30 minutes for carrots and 30 to 35 minutes for potatoes.

Make jus while vegetables roast: 
Skim off and discard any remaining fat from pan juices. Set pan over 2 burners. Add 1 cup of wine and deglaze pan by boiling it over high heat, scraping up brown bits, 1 minute. Pour into pan juices in cup.

Cook shallot in 1 tablespoon butter with remaining 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Add wine mixture in cup, along with remaining wine in bottle, and boil over high heat until mixture is reduced to 3/4 cup, about 10 minutes.

Add broth and continue to boil over high heat until mixture is reduced to 1 1/2 cups. Strain mixture through a sieve into another saucepan and whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons butter (cut into pieces) until incorporated. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

To carve roast, slide a carving knife along inside of ribs to separate meat from bones, then cut ribs into individual bones. Slice meat and serve with vegetables and jus.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Twelve Posts of Christmas - #5 (2013 Edition)

So the next time you're listening to those Christmas songs, and the Twelve Days of Christmas comes on (personally, this version is the favorite of the Brave Astronaut), do you wonder how much all that crap costs?  Well someone at PNC Bank did and, thirty years ago, and every year since - the folks at PNC have been letting us know how much all those birds, people, and Five Gold Rings cost.

One Partridge in a Pear Tree will run you $199.99, down $5 from last year.  Two Turtle Doves and three French Hens are stable at $125 and $165, respectively.  You will need $80 more for four Calling Birds, which will set you back $600.  The price of gold remains steady and five gold rings will cost you $750.  The cost of the next 13 birds (six geese-a-laying and seven swans-a-swimming) is also unchanged this year with $210 for geese and $7000 for swans ($7000 for swans, really?  they're just mean birds).

Now, moving into people, eight milkmaids will only set you back $58 (no change from last year).  However, nine dancing ladies, ten leaping lords, eleven pipers, and twelve drummers, will cost you more this year.  The ladies are going for $7552.84, a 20% increase from last year; the lords got a 10% raise this year, costing $5,243,37; the pipers and the drummers only got a 2.9% raise costing $2,635,20 and $2,854,50, respectively.

So when you add it all up - it's 364 gifts total, the cost of the Twelve Days of Christmas increased 7.7% this year for a total bottom line of $27,393.17.

From another source (BuzzFeed) - here's a ranking of the 12 days, ranked from worst to best.  Feel free to weigh in.

12. The 11th Day of Christmas: Pipers Piping.
11. The 12th Day of Christmas: Drummers Drumming.
10. The 8th Day of Christmas: Maids A-Milking.
9. The 6th Day of Christmas: Geese a-laying.
8. The 3rd Day of Christmas: French Hens.
7. The 7th Day of Christmas: Swans a-Swimming.
6. The 4th Day of Christmas: Colly Birds.
5. The 1st Day of Christmas: A Partridge In A Pear Tree.
4. The 10th Day of Christmas: Lords a- Leaping.
3. The 9th Day of Christmas: Ladies Dancing.
2. The 2nd Day of Christmas: Two Turtle Doves.
1. The 5th Day of Christmas: Five gold rings.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Twelve Posts of Christmas - #4 (2013 Edition)

All Stop. Good Quiet.  The cookie recipe for the season has been located.

From the Washington Post Food Section, Wednesday December 4, 2013.

Edible Letters (for the Scrabble / Words with Friends lover in your life)
A bag of these tiles would make a great gift for Scrabble fans.

There are two ways to go here. You can be a stickler for detail and slice the dough to the dimensions of actual Scrabble tiles: 1 3/16 inches long and 3/4 inch wide. Or you can take the casual approach and cut the tiles a little larger. If you opt for being exact, this recipe will yield about 250 tiles. (There are 100 tiles in an English-language Scrabble game.)

Food-grade glycerin is available at natural foods stores and cake supply shops. If you want to make your own vanilla sugar, you'll need a few weeks' head start: Split a fresh vanilla bean in half lengthwise, then bury it in several cups of sugar in a sealed container.

Make Ahead: The dough needs to be refrigerated for 30 minutes before rolling, then frozen for 15 minutes once the tiles are cut. The iced cookies need to set up at room temperature for at least 1 hour before you write on them. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks or frozen, without icing or letters, for up to 3 months.
For the tiles
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour, plus more for dusting 
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder 
  • Salt 
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
  • 1/2 cup homemade or store-bought vanilla sugar (see headnote)
  • 1 large egg 
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract 

For the icing
  • 1 large egg white 
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted 
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice 
  • 1/2 teaspoon food-grade glycerin (see headnote) 
  • Water 
  • Black edible marker pen, for decorating 

For the tiles: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners. Lightly flour a work surface.

Combine the 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour, the baking powder and salt on a piece of wax paper.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on low, then medium-high speed for several minutes, until light and fluffy. Stop to scrape down the bowl. On low speed, beat in the egg, then the vanilla and almond extracts. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture to form a slightly crumbly dough. Turn the dough out onto the work surface; knead until the dough comes together in a ball. Flatten the dough into 2 disks, wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Remove one disk of dough from the refrigerator and roll it out on the floured work surface to a generous 1/8-inch thickness. Use a ruler to measure and serve as a guide as you cut out tiles (see headnote), transferring the tiles to the lined baking sheets as you work and spacing them 1/2 inch apart. Scraps of dough can be rerolled as needed. Transfer the sheets to the freezer for 15 minutes.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees.

Bake the tiles one sheet at a time for 8 to 10 minutes, until they just begin to show a pale golden color at the edges; do not let them brown. Cool for a few minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining filled baking sheet.

Repeat to roll, slice and bake the second disk of dough.

For the icing: Beat the egg white in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer on low speed until it becomes frothy. With the motor running, add the confectioners' sugar 1 tablespoon at a time.

Add the lemon juice and glycerin; increase the speed to medium-high and beat to form stiff peaks. If needed, stir in 1 teaspoon of water at a time to achieve the right consistency; the icing should be smooth enough to spread in a thin layer. Cover the bowl with a damp paper towel and let it rest for several minutes.

When ready to decorate, use a small teaspoon to place a dollop of icing on each cooled cookie tile, then use a small offset spatula to smooth the icing to the edges. Allow to air-dry for at least 1 hour.

Check to make sure the icing is set and dry before you use the black edible pen. Decorate with letters and their point values, as you’d find on Scrabble tiles. Make sure the writing has set before serving or storing. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Twelve Posts of Christmas - #3 (2013 Edition)

If you are still wondering what that special Brave Astronaut in your life needs, here's the list from the "Fantasy Gifts" from the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book.

Bespoke Global Falconry Companion $150,000
Years of apprenticeship and study are behind you. Your raptor is trained, and you have received the ultimate title of Master Falconer. Now, your new Bespoke Global Falconry Companion is loaded and ready for its inaugural outing.

Circling the field for the perfect spot to set up, you consider yourself lucky to take part in an ancient sport once reserved for nobles of Medieval Europe, the Middle East, and the Mongolian Empire. Little has changed in the game thousands of years later—there are no firearms and no outside weapons. It still all comes down to a relationship between the falconer and bird.

A prime locale has been found, and you and your fellow hunters set up camp. Gazing upon your portable case and matching custom trunk, you marvel at the 20-karat gold-plated perch, hand-carved stands, leather perch scale, and hand-sewn glove, anklet, and exotic-skin hoods by Ken Hooke, the world's preeminent falconry hood maker. A day in the countryside has never been so luxuriously appointed! Next, the furniture: Chatwin chairs and a foldout table by Richard Wrightman, the foremost designer of bespoke campaign furniture (the King of Jordan is a client). You unfold the beautiful, handmade backgammon board from Alexandra Llewellyn, pour yourself a drink from one of the lead crystal decanters, and select the cigar you'll enjoy, using your matching cigar cutter by David Linley. The birds are ready, and your gauntlet is in place.

Time to hunt!

Ciclotte $11,000
Morning exercise will become far less routine, thanks to your new Ciclotte. A blend of amazing form and state-of-the-art function, this modern spin on the exercise bicycle will ensure it never gets relegated to the basement.

Approaching the machine, you admire its sleek, sculptural appearance. The large wheel is a nod to the unicycles of the late 1800s, but that's where the design-reminiscing ends. Void of the superfluous bells and whistles that characterize most of today's gym equipment, this piece is a study in the power—and beauty—of simplicity. Good looks aside, its dynamic design is rivaled only by its effortless performance.

Sitting astride your cycle, you adjust the angle of the carbon-fiber handles, choose from one of 12 levels of resistance, engage the pedals, and ride, ride, ride your way to a fitter, healthier you.
Forevermark Ultimate Diamond Experience $1,850,000
Every extraordinary gem has a history, but rare is the opportunity to trace its provenance. As the owner of this 25-carat rough Forevermark® diamond, you'll travel deep into the heart of Africa to discover where your stone began its journey more than one billion years ago.

This once-in-a-lifetime adventure starts with a trip to the De Beers headquarters in London. Once there, you'll receive your exceptional diamond in its rough and uncut form, name your diamond, learn about the unique inscription it will receive, and meet the master craftsman who will hand-cut and polish it to perfection.

A private tour of The Crown Jewels and dinner with De Beers CEO Philippe Mellier and Forevermark CEO Stephen Lussier in the Tower of London follow. Your journey continues on a vessel off Namibia's coast, where your diamond was discovered deep within the ocean floor. You'll then explore rough-diamond sorting houses and a children's community project, where the local population benefits from Forevermark's responsible sourcing of diamonds.

Upon returning to the United States, you'll meet with New York jewelry designer Maria Canale to design the ring that will exhibit your exceptional diamond.
The Glass House Experience $30,000 (I would totally do this!)
You've always dreamed of calling an architectural icon "home." For the first time ever, you and a very lucky guest get to experience the next best thing: an overnight stay in the New Canaan, Connecticut, weekend residence of world-renowned architect and art patron, Philip Johnson.

The Glass House and its bucolic surroundings are yours to explore upon arrival. Get up-close-and-personal access to the life and style of one of the twentieth century's most revered visionaries as you wander among the 14 architectural structures, study his world-class modern painting and sculpture collection, visit the private library, and stroll through the 49 acres of landscaped grounds.

As evening descends, your dinner guests begin to arrive. Up to ten of your nearest and dearest will join you at Philip Johnson's table for a locally sourced, multicourse culinary experience.

The meal comes to a close, you bid adieu to your guests, and retire to the bedroom with a perfect view of the surrounding forest and the manifestation of Philip Johnson's most beautiful dream.
Indian Larry's "Wild Child" Motorcycle $750,000
Like master motorcycle fabricator Indian Larry, you feel at your best on the back of a bike with the wind in your face. Astride his "Wild Child," you're practically one with the late chopper icon.

Handbuilt in Brooklyn, New York, for the Discovery Channel "Biker Build-Off" series, "Wild Child" is considered by many to be the pinnacle of Indian Larry's artistic achievements. It features his signature dished tank, root beer metal flake paint, twisted down tube frame, and a truly unique engine with a shovelhead front cylinder, panhead rear, and jockey shift. An open belt drive is emblazoned with the "Wild Child" name. Brass accents and a hand-carved leather seat in Indian Larry's likeness complete the picture of this motorized masterpiece.

In 2003, Larry rode "Wild Child" from St. Louis, Missouri, to Sturgis, South Dakota, where Larry's bike was named the winner of the Build-Off, one of three unprecedented consecutive wins for the chopper enthusiast. Upon learning of his triumph, Indian Larry famously declared, "There are no winners! There are no losers!" He shared his victory with fellow competitor Billy Lane, and then they both cut the trophy into pieces, signed the scraps, and handed them out to the crowd.
Jeff Koons's Dom Pérignon Balloon Venus $20,000
Resting on its perch, the bright figurine is void of any facial expression. But, look closer at the mirrored surface, and you'll see your own broad smile reflecting back—a trademark reaction from someone admiring a piece of work by Jeff Koons, an artist whose originality and charisma are unmatched.

Like Koons's other famous installations—Bilbao's Puppy and Balloon Dog—the limited-edition Dom Pérignon's Balloon Venus is playful, impactful, and signature Jeff Koons. Designed in celebration of the Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage 2003, this incarnation is based on one of the latest works from Koons's Antiquity series called Balloon Venus (a modern riff on the Venus of Willendorf, which dates back to approximately 23,000 B.C.).

According to the artist, this version, made from polyurethane resin, represents the link between past, present, and future vintages of Dom Pérignon, as well as the continuity of the human experience symbolized by Venus.
Ultimate Outdoor Entertainment System $1,500,000
What will it be tonight? A four-course al fresco dinner with a side of jazz? Or, popcorn and a flick on the patio? A toss of a coin reveals it's movie night, but with over 300 films to choose from, you opt for a double feature of an apocalyptic drama followed by a tried-and-true tearjerker. Settling in, you click a button—your television emerges from its discreet, underground cache, telescoping upward and unfolding to reveal its mega 201" C SEED screen. The accompanying 7.1 digital surround sound heightens the anticipation, as it should—the speakers were developed by CAT—California Audio Technology, Inc., —using the most advanced marine-grade components specifically developed for super yachts. You can't find this level of superiority anywhere on land. As you marvel at this epic theater experience, you wonder how the two of you ever managed to enjoy at-home movies before now.

A true audio- and video-phile's dream, the system includes technologically advanced speakers, subwoofers, and amplifiers that project unparalleled sound, a DirecTV® satellite and DVD management system, and a built-in movie package featuring up to 300 movies and concerts (The American Film Institute's 100 Most Thrilling American Films and 100 Greatest Love Stories, the remaining 100 are your choice). Oh, and that never-ending argument over who controls the remote? Not an issue—two Apple® mini iPads™ serve as the remotes; one for him and one for her. The entire system is delivered at your doorstep and includes installation and programming.
Neiman Marcus 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish Volante $344,500
The weather outside is delightful—the perfect impetus to take your Neiman Marcus 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish Volante, one of only 10 in the world, for an afternoon of motoring.

With its elegant profile and confident, sexy stance, this automotive masterpiece scores high marks on good looks alone. But there's more to this machine than meets the eye. Beneath its NM Exclusive Seychelles Blue exterior exists the culmination of a century of technological and engineering prowess.

Handbuilt in Gaydon, England, your Vanquish Volante sports a 100% carbon fiber shell—the first ever in Aston Martin's history—allowing for a much lighter car with greater torsional and structural rigidity, while enhancing safety, performance, and handling. A new, naturally aspirated 6.0-liter, V-12 engine produces some 565 horsepower and is tuned to deliver 457 pound-feet of torque, available and accessible throughout the rev range to deliver an enhanced performance feel. The engine sends the drive strictly to the rear wheels via a six-speed Touchtronic 2 automatic transmission, making acceleration smooth, steady, and, above all, responsive.

The forecast is promising. Perhaps a spontaneous trip to the shore is in order? You load the bespoke leather luggage into the trunk before sliding behind the wheel. With a turn of the ignition, the throaty engine roars to life. A three-mode Adaptive Damping System allows you to choose the character of your ride. Cruising down the coastline, you wonder what it would be like to put the reported 180-plus mph max speed to the test. Like a certain secret agent, you have a penchant for these beautiful British automobiles—and a taste for adventure.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Twelve Posts of Christmas - #2 (2013 Edition)

Here's a thought for a birthday cake (Mrs. BA?) or perhaps for a Christmas Dinner dessert. From BuzzFeed and Food52.

Chocolate Coffee Ice Cream Cake
Author Notes: For this decadent treat, Alice Medrich's rich and chewy nibby brownies are topped with coffee ice cream and a billowy layer of no-churn sweet cream ice cream.
Serves 10 to 12

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces 
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 3 eggs 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/3 cup plus one tablespoon all-purpose flour 
  • 1/4 cup cacao nibs 

  • 2 cups heavy cream 
  • 1 cup milk 
  • 1/4 cup coffee beans, coarsely ground 
  • 3/4 cups sugar 
  • 5 egg yolks 
  • 2 tablespoons Kahlua or other coffee liqueur 
  • pinches salt 
No-Churn Ice Cream
  • 14 ounces can of sweetened condensed milk 
  • 2 cups heavy cream 
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon pinches salt 
  1. FOR THE BROWNIE LAYER: Preheat oven to 350º F. Line an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper and grease the bottom and sides generously 
  2. Put the chopped chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted. Let cool. 
  3. In a separate bowl whisk together the sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt until the mixture is lighter in color, about 3 minutes. 
  4. Pour the melted chocolate mixture into the eggs and whisk to combine, then fold in the flour and 2 tablespoons of the cacao nibs. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with the rest of the nibs. 
  5. Slide your pan into the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted into the brownies comes out clean, 25 to 30 min. Cool completely, then remove the outside of the springform pan and slice the brownie round in half horizontally. I find the brownies are easiest to slice after a few minutes in the refrigerator. Leave the bottom half of the brownies in the pan and put the outside of the springform pan back in place. Break the top layer of brownie into 1-inch pieces and set aside. Then prepare the coffee ice cream. 
  6. FOR THE COFFEE ICE CREAM LAYER: Heat 1 cup of heavy cream to just below simmering, turn off heat, add the coffee beans, and let steep for 5 minutes. Drain the mixture through a coffee filter and transfer it to a bowl with a strainer set over it. 
  7. Combine the milk, remaining heavy cream, sugar, egg yolks, and salt in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, being careful to not let the mixture boil. Stir often, and cook until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Strain the mixture over the coffee-infused cream and stir to combine. Add in the coffee liqueur if using. Chill over an ice bath (or for a few hours in the fridge).
  8. When completely chilled, churn the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Spread the soft ice cream mixture over the trimmed brownie layer still in the pan. You want to fill the pan so it is about halfway full, which means you will probably have a bit of extra ice cream leftover; freeze it in an airtight container to enjoy later. Top the coffee ice cream with the broken brownie pieces. Put the pan in the freezer to firm up while you prepare the sweet cream ice cream 
  9. FOR THE NO-CHURN ICE CREAM LAYER: Whisk the sweetened condensed milk, bourbon, and salt together in a large bowl. 
  10. In a separate bowl, whisk the heavy cream to stiff peaks. Then gently fold it into the condensed milk mixture. 
  11. Top the coffee ice cream and brownies with the sweet cream mixture (you may have a bit leftover) and freeze overnight before slicing. Just before serving, sprinkle with a few teaspoons of cacao nibs and top the slices with chocolate sauce. I like this Magic Shell ( with a pinch of salt. Enjoy!