Monthly Archives: January 2008

Lemons, As God Intended Them To Be Consumed

Okay, so the regular reader here will recall that we had two little Meyer lemons from our, um, conservatory (read: decrepit sunroom).

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So what’s a girl to do with such tiny little homegrown specimens of tart, citrusy goodness? What treatment for these lemons could do satisfactory service to the specialness of lemons grown by our own hands? Why, the cocktail treatment, of course. I decided what a lazy holiday afternoon of hockey really needed was a round of Sidecars, a drink I’ve never actually had before, but which I’ve heard good things about. I consulted my drink reference guides, and came up with two conflicting recipes; one called for cognac and triple sec, and the other suggested brandy and Cointreau. Now, Pookie is not fond of drinks that are, as she puts it, “nail polish remover-y”, so after sampling the cognacs and brandies on hand, I decided to go with the first recipe. So 1 1/2 oz. cognac, 1 oz. triple sec, 1/2 oz. lemon juice later, times three, left me with completely dry, mangled shells of the lemons, so the finished drinks ended up lacking the called-for lemon twist. The traditionalist might be horrified, but we’re just sitting around in front of the TV, so this’ll do:

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The final verdict is that we understand now why this drink is so popular and enduring. Pookie found it satisfactorily non-nail polish remover-y, too. They’re smooth, sweet, not at all cloying, and seem extra-wholesome because we basically grew them ourselves. Yeah, that’s right — I’m now going to claim we grew our own Sidecars. It really makes our home garden sound that much cooler.

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Filed under Drinky-Drinky, Orchard

Boomer’s Peanut Butter Cookies

Boomer recently spent a few days down in DC helping Kate the Great pack up her house for a move; Boomer is very much a homebody, and helping anyone in the final stages of moving is stressful, so we knew she’d be weary and homesick by the time she got back. So we decided to make her some cookies to welcome her back within the comforting walls of stately IPB Manor. I’m not a huge fan of nuts in general, and specifically don’t get the appeal of peanut butter, but for some strange reason or another, I really wanted peanut butter cookies. With M&Ms in them. I opted for Dorie Greenspan’s recipe in her “From My Home To Yours” book, and Pookie and I hunkered down after cranky, busy workdays to get cooking.

We started with a new jar of Skippy peanut butter, and we did what any good children of the ’80s would:

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The peanut butter got beaten with a bunch of softened butter (and I’m sorry I don’t remember the recipe, and am too lazy right now to go look up exact amounts), and when I got a bit on my knuckle when scraping down the bowl, I discovered peanut butter butter is crazy delicious. Intriguing development. We were snacking on some lightly buttered and salted popcorn while baking, and Pookie remarked, “I bet that peanut butter butter would be really good with the popcorn and some chocolate chips.” Even more intriguing. I opened the M&Ms, dipped a few kernels in a bit of peanut butter butter, and slapped an M&M on them. The experience was, as you might imagine, extraordinary.

The cookie dough at this point called for the addition of white and light brown sugars. When everything got fluffy, Pookie remarked, “I bet that would be really good with the popcorn and an M&M.” Done and done; we have invented the world’s newest, most delicious candystuff. Behold — the IPB Ball!

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Cracker Jack, you can suck it.

The cookies were pretty standard from there out, but with each step the dough became more ridiculously delicious. You had your eggs, added one at a time until fluffy, you had your dry ingredients, with a hint of nutmeg, and then you had your M&Ms in place of Dorie’s nasty peanuts (who puts peanuts in peanut butter cookies? That’s just heinous). The recipe then suggested the cookies be scooped into tablespoon balls, rolled in granulated sugar, and then criss-crossed with the tines of a fork.

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I’ve done plenty of criss-crossed peanut butter cookies before, but never rolled in granulated sugar. This was quite the fancy step to add to a normally mundane cookie. They baked up gorgeously, and the sugar added a really delightful, surprising element of sweetness to go with the salty, rich cookies. It was a great night of baking, yielding 10,000 huge cookies and a brand new candy. Furthermore, Boomer was delighted to come home to find this waiting for her:

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Filed under Baked Goods, Cookie, Cookie, Cookie Starts With C

The Fruits Of Maple Hoo Orchard

It is time to confess something here: stately IPB Manor has not been using its real name online. Its real name is Maple Hoo, or, more optimistically (and not a little sarcastically), Maple Hoo Farm and Orchard. We’ve mentioned a few times that we have a somewhat hit-or-miss vegetable garden, and our pride and joy are the 12 heirloom apple trees we planted along the street in our front yard. The Maple Hoo orchard is something about which we’ve planned to be very patient, because all the information about our baby apple trees said that it would be at least three years before we got any fruit from them. So imagine our surprise this past fall when our Rome Beauty presented us with two little apples!

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We were a bit gun-shy with these babies after the way the squirrels ate all 12 fruits from our first crop from our lone peach tree, so we picked them waaaaay early. They were supposed to be, um, really red. As you can see, these weren’t. We’d actually refrained from writing anything about them until now because when we tasted them, they were horribly tart and under-ripe. But we’ve decided it’s worth documenting them today because we just pulled in a totally surprising haul from one of our wee little potted Meyer lemon trees in our sunroom.

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We’ve had these two scraggly little trees for about four years now, and twice a year they put on glorious shows of spectacularly fragrant blossoms, then they develop dozens of little green proto-lemons, and then they drop them all and leave us depressed that we’re lousy lemon farmers. (Okay, that’s not entirely true. We’ve previously grown lemons enough to make madeleines with them.) We’re not terribly attentive to the trees, so this past weekend we were jury-rigging a system to keep Matsui from using their pots as litter boxes (seriously, having pets is great) and lo and behold! There were two lemons. I had no idea they were even growing there. We’re going to use them in cocktails when we get back from New Orleans. I can’t wait.

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Filed under Orchard

IPB’s Construction Project

We’re slobs. And we have a fancy new kitchen. The kitchen isn’t even really 100% done (I’d put us at about 99% at this point), but already we’ve buried it under piles of slovenly mess. The disorganization and clutter that drives me most batty is our wine storage problem in the pantry; it’s hardly a disaster of epic proportions, but since we periodically go on wine-by-the-case buying sprees, we’ve been in need of a space-planning fix.

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So there was a threat that we were going to get a pegboard on that bare wall in the dream pantry (which is the most amazing pantry I could ever have imagined), but I am seriously beginning to doubt that is ever really going to happen. So in place of the pegboard, we decided to put in more of those modular wine rack things. Now, we’re not even remotely handy, so it was very important for us to find a construction project that was no more complex than tinker toys:

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After a frenzied hour of whacking at dowels with a rubber mallet (Pookie at one point said, “I feel like I’m playing music with mice”), we ended up with a beautiful new component for our pantry. Check out how organized it is now!

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Look at all that floor space we can use for boxes of more wine bottles!

And speaking of boxes, here’s a very satisfying look at how many boxes we were able to chuck, with Rollie providing scale:

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It’s so rare we’re productive on lazy Saturdays. It’s such a nice feeling, and maybe as a reward, we should pour a glass of wine now.

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Filed under Unicorn Kitchen

PaulieMartinNation Drinks

While flipping through my Joy of Mixology drink recipe book, I stumbled across a cocktail that was allegedly invented back in the ’30s for a seminal bartending book — the English Rose. We’ve been in a bit of a rut of ginger-beer-and-rum drinks, so I was very excited to try something that the book said was from the “international sour” family. I also had the adorable hockey excuse of wanting to celebrate Paulie Martin’s 100th career point. You see, we’ve been calling Paulie an English Rose since seeing this hilarious, soft-focus Team USA picture of him:

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Doesn’t he look like he should be sitting in the middle of some lush British manor house garden in a period romantic movie? Yes. Yes he does. So when he hit that milestone point it was time to knock back his namesake drink in his honor. The cocktail is made up of 2 parts gin, 1 part dry vermouth, 1 part apricot brandy, 1/3 part lemon juice and a splash of grenadine to taste. It’s served in a sugar-rimmed glass, and because we’re weenies, we had ours on the rocks.

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Dude, these are so good. So. Good. Tart but still sweet, cold with still that nice bit of that smooth, warm finish, attractively blush, and just totally, completely delicious. Paulie’s not one for showy drinks-inspiring hockey feats of derring-do, so maybe we need to divorce this drink from its role as a PaulieMartinNation celebratory cocktail. Maybe we just need to have it every single day, morning, noon and night. I’m pretty sure Paulie does.

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Filed under Drinky-Drinky

The Great Cupcake Taste Test

So the other day we were sitting around playing video games and drinking cocktails (I know, shocking, right?), when suddenly we were all struck with an intense desire for yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting. The crappy kind, from a box, with frosting from a can. Of course, we were also having company, in the person of Katebits, so I figured it would be both fun and very mature in a hostessy sort of way to try making yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting from scratch. The problem was, I wanted the cheap-assed kind, too, so I opted to conceal my lameness behind a guise of “conducting a taste test”. It was a foolproof plan, and promised a vast quantity of cupcakes, to boot.

The contestants in this cupcake-off were Betty Crocker’s traditional, normal old yellow cake mix (not the “butter recipe” or anything crazy-assed like that) paired with a Duncan Hines variety of chocolate frosting that seemed to be just normal old frosting (not, like, “whipped” or “extra chocolatey” or whatever options they have nowadays), vs. the Cook’s Illustrated Baking Illustrated “Yellow Cupcakes With Chocolate Frosting” recipe. The baking happened on a Friday afternoon, taking about an hour, start to finish, for both batches of cupcakes. Here they are, in the nude:

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The Betty the Crock cupcakes were made in the standard manner. The Cook’s Illustrated ones seemed on paper like a fairly mundane sour cream cake made yellow by an excess of egg yolks. However, the batter was really, really thick. Like, pound cake batter thick. The cupcakes came out really lumpy and texturally unpleasant-looking, and had the crumb of a corn muffin. I was quite displeased, but the flavor results remained to be seen.

The Duncan Hines frosting was to be expected. The Cook’s Illustrated frosting was actually just a ganache, which the recipe suggested whipping after letting it set. I may have let mine set for a bit too long, because after whipping it I was left with just a bowl of ganache crumbles. Things were not looking good for the homemade cupcakes, especially after I discovered I pretty much had to wad a bunch of the crumbles into a ball and them smush it onto the top of the cupcake to frost it. Here are the cupcakes, bedecked with frosting and adorned with sprinkles:

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The tasting itself was interesting. In one corner, the Betty Crocker cupcakes were exactly what you would expect — fake tasting, light, delicately-crumbed, smoothly frosted and, overall, reliably yummy. In the other corner we had the homemade cupcakes, which were buttery, rich, real-chocolatey and “from scratch” baked-good delicious, but were also texturally suspect. When I felt the undeniable urge for cupcakes, I wanted a nice cakey crumb, not something unholy and muffiny. While Katebits, Pookie and Boomer were all politely pro homemade cupcakes, I actually give the nod to Betty the Crock, if just for the texture. This is perhaps a taste test that needs to be revisited as I search for a new recipe to challenge my eminently beatable champion.

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Filed under Baked Goods, Cupcakes, Taste Test