Monday, September 21, 2015

Winner announced!

Hilary with the exploding soup, congrats!  You have won your own copy of Recipe for Disaster.

Email me your shipping address to staceyballisinfo (at) gmail (dot) com and I will get it out to you.

The Polymath

Thursday, September 10, 2015



It's Fall!  The chicks are back in school, or so I gather from the book of face, the football is about to begin in earnest, and I've begun looking at my boots with longing.  I'm also baking up a storm over here, testing recipes, feeding contractors, and generally having a grand old time.  I think the fact that the new kitchen is really truly underway in a manner that isn't an ephemeral "....someday..." but is in fact "HOLY CRAP I'M ORDERING APPLIANCES!!!" has made me all nesty and inspired to the kitchen.

And if you follow me on Twitter @staceyballis, or have liked my Facebook Page (which if you have not, I hope you will) you have recently seen a bunch of mediocre photos of what I've been up to...  like these:

Milkbread Rolls

Nutella Babka

Banana Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Cornmeal Pound Cake

Cornmeal Pound Cake again, all Bundty

All yummy.  And a hit with the recipients.  I realize that mostly here, that is what I talk about...the successes.  But please know that I leave crushing perfectionism to Martha, and for every "nailed it!" moment, I do certainly have some epic disasters.  Such as this morning.

Now my mornings, thanks to my job, are pretty easy.  I do not have little ones to drag crankily out of bed, to get washed, brushed, breakfasted, backpacked and off to school. My Charming Suitor is far more proficient at mornings than I, and as a capable guy, gets up at the crack, makes his own coffee and toasts his own english muffin, smooches me goodbye and goes his merry way.  Leaving me to rise when I'm no longer tired and get about the business of my day.

But sometimes, I need to be up and at 'em.  Making stuff happen.  Today was such a day.  And I failed completely.

This is a big and busy cooking week.  We are hosting a dinner party for 10 on Friday night, attending a dinner party at friend's Saturday for which we are bringing an appetizer, and Monday is Rosh Hashanah, and I'm in charge of matzo ball soup and dessert.  Which is no problem at all, I've done more in less time, so I was looking forward to the process.

We scheduled a house cleaning for today, so that the place would be spic and span for the guests tomorrow, and being a smart girl, and knowing that most of my cooking, while delicious, is also enormously messy, I wanted to get as much of the really disaster-making stuff out of the way ahead of time.  So last night, in anticipation of cleaning beginning today late morning, I pre-prepped the ingredients for three different recipes, getting my mise en place all en place, putting out all the necessary butter to be at perfect room temp, and set my alarm for 7:45, which is a normal, almost late time for most people, but is very early for this night owl.  I had enough time to make the first recipe, get it in the oven, get the batter prepped for the second, get the first out of the oven and the second one in, and then get the third done while that was baking.  And it totally would have worked.  Had I not had a major screw up kind of morning.

I was starting with sticky toffee pudding, dessert for tomorrow night.  I love this stuff.  Rich and moist and dark and complex with a killer caramel sauce, it is a crowd pleaser.  It is also a messy prep that makes a lot of dishes.  I got up, put the dates that I had minced in the food processor last night into a saucepan with water and set it to heat.  I took the well-softened butter and dark brown sugar and creamed them into fluffyness, and then added the eggs one by one.  When the date mixture came to a boil I turned off the heat to let it rest.  And this?  Right here?  Is when everything went sideways.

I thought I would get a head start on the caramel sauce, so I mixed some milk into the corn starch I had prepped last night, and set it aside.  Turning back to my date mixture, I reached for the baking soda I was supposed to add, and discovered I had mistaken it for the corn starch, and made a slurry with it.  I laughed at my stupidity, dumped the little ramekin, and went to the pantry for more baking soda.  I glanced quickly at the recipe, measured 4 tablespoons, and dumped it into the date mixture, spoon at the ready, since the baking soda will make the dates foam up, a whole chemistry thing that I'm sure Alton Brown would explain but I won't.  Let's just say it foams up rapidly.

Which it did.  Beyond any stirrings ability to quench.  Up and over the top of the saucepan, sending sticky hot date liquid over the stove.  I ran to the sink, watching a veritable volcanic eruption of date lava cover everything in the sink...filled to capacity with dirty bowls, measuring cups, the food processor etc.  Spattering a thick gooey mess everywhere.  Fearing I was losing too much volume to salvage the recipe, I grabbed the batter bowl, and just dumped the foaming insanity in, and started stirring like crazy.  Now the foaming has taken on a life of its own, threatening to overrun the batter bowl, and I'm stirring like a madwoman and swearing like a sailor.  This had never happened before, and I've made this recipe many times.  I was doubling it, to be sure, but that should not cause this explosion.  When it finally ends its migration over every surface of my kitchen, I look back at the recipe.  With my morning eyes I had read teaspoons for tablespoons and had added literally three times the proscribed amount.  Rendering everything I had so thoughtfully prepped and organized completely useless.

The now-ruined batter got dumped.  I ran to place a fast order (thank God for Instacart) for new dates, more brown sugar, more eggs.  I took a new stick of butter out of the fridge and onto the counter to start to soften, and then set about cleaning the date holocaust that my kitchen had become, because I do not want the cleaning lady to think I am some filthy beast.  I unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher with the contents of the sink and set it for Tough.  I wiped down every surface, the floor, the cabinet fronts, the stove, and my slippers, and changed into clothes that were not bespattered with sticky, all the while laughing like a hyena, since I know that the general perception of food writers is that we spend all of our time making perfect food without a hair out of place.  I took a deep breath and went on to make the second recipe, which thankfully went just as planned and is now baked and cooling on the rack while I await my delivery of new ingredients, hoping upon hope that I can still get this thing in the oven before it is time to have the kitchen cleaned.

Or I should say, cleaned again.

The whole thing reminded me of my last book, Recipe for Disaster, where the heroine is teaching herself to cook, often with horrific results.  And one thing is for sure, while recipe successes result in delicious dishes, recipe disasters result in delicious stories, as long as one keeps her sense of humor.

So, a quick Fall giveaway!  Share your own favorite kitchen disaster in the comments below by 11:59pm Sunday night September 13, and one lucky reader will receive a copy of Recipe for Disaster.   Winner announced next Monday.

Yours in Good (usually) Taste,
The Polymath