Wednesday, December 31, 2008

CEiMB - Triple Chocolate Cookies

I am such a slacker! These cookies have been on my to do list for ages, and I just got around to making them this morning. After tasting them, I'm kicking myself for waiting so long!

The Triple Chocolate Cookies were chosen by Gabi of The Feast Within. This was actually last week's recipe. The recipe calls for dark and milk chocolate in addition to cocoa. I'm not a milk chocolate lover so I subbed Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips (and I used bittersweet chips since I was feeling lazy). I have a lot of walnuts on hand so I used them instead of pecans. Otherwise, I went with the recipe as written.

I got a few more than the 24 cookies Ellie says it yields. I used my smallest scoop and a knife to level it off, so maybe I was scooping smaller cookies. They baked in exactly 12 minutes on convection bake at 325 degrees (I froze a dozen for later baking). I let them sit a few minutes on a rack, and then sampled one. There is nothing better than a warm chocolate cookie! These were luscious with the melty chocolate chips and the crunch of the walnuts. The flavor was rich and balanced, and the salt was a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the chocolate. 

While I was munching on another cookie (and another, and another...), it occurred to me why I like Ellie's recipes so much. She leaves in the components that add the big flavor punch, and scales down on or replaces the ones that don't affect flavor or texture. If you hadn't told me, I never would have known this was a "lighter" recipe.

If you want to cook along with us, we're cooking (and baking) from The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life by Ellie Krieger. Everything I have made from this cookbook has been great, even brussels sprouts, which I hadn't eaten since I left home several decades ago. They, and rutabaga, were my childhood revulsion foods. While I won't claim to be a brussels sprouts fan now, I was able to eat, and even enjoy, them without retching. If Ellie can do that, making a delicious cookie that's lower in fat and sugar is easy!

Check out what the other CEiMB cooks did here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

TWD - Tall and Creamy Cheesecake

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Tall and Creamy Cheesecake, was chosen by Anne at Anne Strawberry. I was already a huge fan of Anne's blog so I was very excited to see what she would chose when it was her turn. Normally, cheesecake is not my favorite dessert. I usually find it too heavy and high cholesterol is an issue for both M and I. If I'm going to rocket my LDL up a notch, I prefer to do it with decadent cookies like these or these. But Anne chose this one and, on top of that, I missed so many weeks of TWD while the kitchen was being renovated that I wanted to do this one.

I opted to make it plain (the "basic" option Dorie offers). The recipe gives the baker the flexibility to use sour cream, heavy cream or a combination. Many of the other bakers opted for sour cream or a combination as they wanted the tanginess. I figured the cream cheese would give me a nice tang and opted for all heavy cream. The recipe was the easiest I've ever made. The crust (graham cracker) was a cinch, and the filling (which Dorie instructs should be beaten a long time) was a snap. My cheesecake lightly browned on top but did not crack. I cooled completely before putting it in the refrigerator overnight.

The verdict? We LOVED this cheesecake! It was creamy and rich, but without the clumps of fat sticking to the roof of your mouth like denser cheesecake recipes (sorry to be gross!) It was a huge hit at work, with many people saying it was better than Cheesecake Factory, and others saying comparing this cheesecake to CF was an insult to my cheesecake! I plan to make this one again, like, soon. I'm thinking about making it espresso flavored with a chocolate cookie crust.

Thanks to Anne for choosing this recipe and opening my eyes to how great cheesecake can be. If you'd like the recipe, I'd encourage you to pick up the book we're all baking from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan, or you can get the recipe on Anne's website here. Check out what the other TWD bakers did here. Even though TWD was closed to new bakers on 10/31/08, Laurie has generously opened it up to new bakers until 1/1/09 in honor of TWD's one year anniversary. If you'd like to join us, here's how you do it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Dreams really can come true

The kitchen is finished.

Incredible but true. Yes, there are minor touch-ups needed, but compared to where it came from, this kitchen is ready for its close up. Recall that it started here:


So many of you have offered kind words of support and encouragement while this project was going on. Your messages and emails have lifted and supported me and I am so grateful.

I'm big on analyzing what I learn. My short list of advice for kitchen dreamers or remodelers is (in no particular order):

1.  Double your budget. No, really. You're going to be shocked at how much things like drawer pulls cost, not to mention lighting, appliances, sinks, etc. We had to replace our electrical panel before doing anything else. Double your budget and then be ready to exceed it.

2.  Embrace camping. I camped when I was a kid and a teenager, but not in the last 30-odd years. Being without a kitchen is a lot like camping, except you don't go down to the stream to rinse your dishes, you run into the bathroom (or to your laundry sink, if you have one). Thinking about this as an adventure will help you stay in a good mood while you're living with the refrigerator in the dining room and the microwave on the foyer table. 

3.  This is not the time to be green. At least it wasn't for me. I drive a Prius, turn the thermostat way down and recycle everything I can. I gave away the appliances but I bought a big stack of paper plates and paper cups and a box of plastic forks, knives and spoons, and used them without guilt. You're living in a construction zone and washing the few dishes you have to wash is a pain. Give yourself a break.

4.  Research. I obsessively research big ticket and technology items I purchase. I did the same with many components that I considered for the kitchen. I read books, magazines, searched websites, talked to others who had renovated, etc. One regret was not getting my contractor involved sooner. He would have steered me away from buying my granite at Home Depot, and that would have been a good thing.

5.  Your grill is your friend. We grilled at least half of our meals (the remainder was about 30% takeout and 20% stuff from Trader Joe's that could be reheated in the microwave). You can use your grill as an oven (I toyed with baking brownies in there but came to my senses). I would grill a bunch of chicken breasts, shrimp, fish, vegetables, etc. and we'd eat it for several days with various tricks to make it seem like we were eating something different. 

6.  Watch tons of kitchen remodeling shows on TV. I Tivo'd every episode of Spice Up My Kitchen on HGTV. Visit open houses in your area to see other kitchens. You may not find anything you like, but you may see things you DON'T want to do in your kitchen.

7.  Think about the future. How long do you plan to live in the house? If you're planning on selling it in the near future, you'll make different decisions (i.e., less expensive) than if you plan to stay in the house for many years. I chose a 6 burner pro-style cooktop, not because it will add value to the house but because I sometimes need more than 4 burners. The cooktop I chose has extra-low simmer on every burner, something that my old stove only had on one burner.

8.  Ask for samples. You won't get a sample cabinet door for more than a couple of days, but you can request samples of your countertop material, tile, paint, and cabinet hardware. I traveled with the granite sample in my purse for weeks, "visiting" other components to see if they got along with each other.

9.  Create a project binder. I put together a binder with pocket dividers and used it to take notes, store photos taken from magazines, receipts, plans, etc. It was invaluable. You won't believe how much stuff you'll end up with.

10.  Download appliance information from the Internet. Once you've picked your appliances, go to the manufacturer's website. You can find owner's manuals and, more importantly for your contractor, schematics.  Your contractor needs to know the EXACT measurements of each appliance. I printed off the schematics for all of the appliances and gave them to him and the designer. They were both very grateful. 

11.  Work with a real designer. I used Possibility Kitchens in San Jose. Kate came to my house numerous times while she was working on the design. Home Depot doesn't come to the house to design. Possibility Kitchens charges the same for the cabinets as Home Depot (and their design service is free with the order of the cabinets), but they give more personal service. We made a lot of discoveries working through the plans while standing in the kitchen. I know I wouldn't have gotten everything I wanted if we designed it on the computer in Home Depot.

12.  Be prepared. I carried a retractable cloth measuring tape in my purse for months. Ditto the digital camera and a small notepad. I wanted to capture images of the appliances, surfaces, sinks, etc. that I was seeing. Measurements were very important...we designed a 12" x 24" space for the microwave, and I had to buy a microwave not for its features but its size. 

13.  Think Frank. M says that the theme song of the new kitchen is "I Did it My Way" by Frank Sinatra. While I ran things by him, we had a silent understanding that I was going to pick what I wanted. I deliberately didn't shop with friends because their taste may have influenced my choices. I wanted M to see the cabinets (which we chose together from a catalog) before I ordered them because it was such a big ticket item that I wanted to be 110% sure.

14.  Think outside the box. I used the kitchen project as an opportunity to rework the family room. It's adjacent to the kitchen, and I put in a cabinet for the electronics. We put it on a furniture base and gave it a furniture top, so it doesn't look like a kitchen cabinet. We also replaced the window in the family room, making it bigger and more energy efficient. Now we have a better view of the garden and a whole lot more light in what used to be a dark room.

So maybe this isn't such a short list, but hopefully it will help others who are considering the exciting and scary world of kitchen remodels. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

CEiMB - Curried Butternut Squash Soup

This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe was Curried Butternut Squash Soup. It was chosen by Meet Me in the Kitchen. I love butternut squash soup so I was eager to try Ellie's spin on it. I made it tonight, not intentionally for dinner but wound up making it dinner. It was so easy to make, and all I had to buy for it was the squash and an extra can of chicken broth!

How did it turn out? Good! Fortunately I love spicy food, so the level of curry wasn't too much for me. If I make it again, I think I'll cut back on the curry powder, or maybe use a sweet curry instead. The other thing I would do differently is not use the emulsion blender to puree it. It would have been less trouble, and faster, to do it in batches in the food processor.

In order to turn it into dinner, I added some leftover roasted vegetables and a small dollop of fat free sour cream. Even with those additions, it was still very spicy. That's the photo I'm posting, because on its own, this soup was brown in a bowl. 

If you're interested in what the other bloggers did this week, check out Craving Ellie in My Belly. We're cooking one recipe a week from The Foods You Crave by Ellie Krieger.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TWD - Buttery Jam "Cakies"

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was Buttery Jam Cookies, chosen by Heather of Randomosity and the Girl. You know how you can look at a recipe and imagine how the result will taste? I didn't get that from this recipe.

The recipe calls for jam, which is mixed in before the dry ingredients. The TWD bakers reported that dark colored jams (like blackberry) turned the cookies an odd grayish-purple. I considered using the recommended apricot jam, but was drawn to a jar of Trader Joe's Apple Cranberry Chutney I keep in the refrigerator. It's a tad spicy and not very sweet. 

I was pleased with the result, even if it wasn't exactly what I expected. My cookies turned out not flakey as Dorie said they would, but cakey. They don't spread at all when baked, so you really need to squish them down before baking. But the flavor with the chutney was great-delicate but noticeable. 

Would I make them again? Probably not. Maybe it was because they came at the end of a chocolate-free baking binge. Maybe we're cookied-out in TWD land. Maybe I'm dreaming of the brown sugar brown butter shorties I made during the same baking binge...

Check out what the other TWD bakers did here. And if you're interested in the recipe, you can find it on Heather's website here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Brown sugar brown butter shorties and other stories

The kitchen is coming along nicely. The tile is finished and looks spectacular, and with it done, I really can start cooking in the kitchen. I mean, I think I can but I didn't ask. Because, you know, I want to cook!

I saw these brown sugar brown butter shorties on Smitten Kitchen and drooled over them the whole week while the kitchen was closed to cooking. This morning, I woke up early and was browning butter by 6:30 AM. I planned to bake cookies and make a couple of other things, and I didn't change out of my pajamas until about 7 PM (and only then because I had to take the trash out to the curb). It was a high energy baking/cooking/unpacking kitchen boxes day. It is so me to do all things at the same time, mess up some of them, and finish nothing. After baking, cooking and putting things away in the kitchen, I only need to wash the rest of the dishes. My back was killing me after going for 14 hours so I decided to take a break and tell you about these spectacular cookies!

These brown sugar brown butter shorties are to die for. Save yourself and don't make them. Because if you do, you'll taste the dough and be unable to stop eating it. Then you'll get curious about how the cookies taste BAKED, so you'll stop and bake off a dozen or so. Then you'll eat more than your share of those. They'll call your name all day long. You'll have a couple for lunch (great), test them out with a cup of tea (great) and as dessert after dinner (great). You'll wish you had more left to share with others. If you double the recipe like I did, you'll have a fat roll of dough in the refrigerator, waiting for the right person to share them with (M is out of town but I plan to make him some when he gets home). You'll marvel that a cookie can taste this good without any chocolate.

 I also made Manchamantel, a nice chicken dish, for dinner. I found the recipe in Clean Eating magazine (you can find it here), and it was deeply flavorful and surprisingly healthy (good thing since I ate my weight in cookies earlier in the day). I oven roasted vegetables for the week. I made a big mess doing all of this but it was fun. 

Saturday, December 13, 2008

CEiMB - I'm so behind!

With the kitchen shut down all week for tiling the backsplash, I not only didn't get caught up with Craving Ellie in My Belly, I got even more behind! I was going to make the Jewel Roasted Vegetables and then tackle the Cornmeal Crusted Roasted Ratatouille Tart, but there was no way. All week long, the only part of the kitchen I could use was one refrigerator door. I plan to get back on track next week with the Curried Butternut Squash Soup (it looks YUMMY!)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie - Grandma's All Occasion Sugar Cookies

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was chosen by Ulrike of Kuchenlatein. I was initially not terribly excited about a sugar cookie recipe, and to be honest, I considered using my kitchen renovation as a justification for not baking this week. But I did have use of the kitchen this weekend, and I decided to play with the recipe as Dorie suggested and see what I could come up with. I considered rolling the cookie dough in chopped hazelnuts or almonds, or even in chopped flake coconut or cocoa nibs (which I rejected after tasting them-too bitter), but I kept coming back to this wonderful Vietnamese cinnamon from Penzey's. It's very spicy and aromatic, so I probably only added 1/4 teaspoon to the dry ingredients. The recipe is super quick to make. Some of the TWD bakers had trouble with the dough being sticky, so I tried to handle it as little as possible. I finished adding the dry ingredients with a spatula so I wouldn't over mix it. Since I was going to do slice and bake cookies, I plopped the dough on to two pieces of plastic wrap and tried to form it into two perfectly round logs. Well, I tried. My logs were more elliptical. The dough was then refrigerated for two hours before baking.

Before slicing the logs, I rolled them in turbinado sugar. I sliced them about 1/4" thick and got three dozen (the recipe said it yields 50 cookies, so maybe my logs were a little chubby). I pressed one side of some of the cookies in chopped almonds before baking. They baked for 9 minutes at 325 degrees in a convection oven (the recipe called for 350).

I loved these cookies! I was so surprised by the hint of cinnamon and the crunch of the turbinado sugar. The sweetness of the cookie was nicely balanced by the salt the recipe called for. I thought it was a terrific cookie, and friends I shared them with agreed. I will definitely use this recipe in the future, and I do plan to make a coconut variation. The next time I use nuts, I will toast them in the oven before using them as the 9 minute baking time wasn't enough to punch up their flavor. If you want the recipe, check out Ulrike's blog. And visit some of the other TWD bakers here. They are a creative and inspiring group of people.

FOLLOW UP 12/14/08:
I baked a batch of these with coconut extract and rolled them in toasted coconut before baking. The coconut flavor was understated, except in the ones I also pressed the tops in the toasted coconut. I prefer the cinnamon version I made, but am glad I tried these in coconut.

You call this progress??

Well, yes.

Even though I won't have any use of the kitchen this week, starting on the tile backsplash is a big step forward. In my (simple) mind, this was a one day process. I mean, that's what they show on home improvement shows so it must be real! 

Yesterday was the prep day, which rendered the kitchen all but unusable. I hope it will all be done by Thursday, and maybe we can get the electrician back on Friday. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Are we there yet?

I think I have been extra patient during this kitchen adventure. I haven't asked (much) when we would be done. I've tried to take microwaving and washing dishes in the bathroom sink in stride. I've taken up dusting as a hobby. After all, it hasn't even been two months we've been under construction, and with all the problems we found (and had to correct), it's not a long time in the realm of kitchen renovations.

As every new element is introduced, I have to readjust my impressions of the suitability of that choice. I loved the cabinets, adjusted quickly to (i.e., quickly loved) the granite, loved the ovens and cooktop (and am adjusting to the refrigerator), was uncertain about (but now love) the cabinet hardware. This week the tile backsplash will be installed. It's the single most anticipated element and it should tie everything together. If it doesn't, it will be a huge disappointment for me. 

I actually toyed with ditching it and just having the backsplash painted. The other elements look great together (I think), and I really am scared it won't "work" together. But I realized these doubts are my fears that my "vision" isn't good. That could be true, but I don't think it is. So we'll forge on with backsplash tile and I'll either love it immediately or I'll learn to. We'll also finish the electrical this week, and that should complete all but the punch list items (like the leak under the sink). I've started moving some things into the cabinets, and tonight I baked cookies. It feels glaring defects, no regrets, nothing missing. As long as you overlook the wires coming out of the wall, the bare dry wall, the empty hole that will house the microwave, the missing crown molding....

Almost there!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

No TWD again this week

I'm so bummed! I went to the mall on Sunday looking for a cookie cutter to make this week'sTuesdays with Dorie recipe (Linzer Sables), but they didn't have an appropriate cutter at Williams-Sonoma (I know, I was shocked, too!) So I ordered mine from Amazon. They arrived today, but the kitchen is totally off limits while they refinish the floor. I was so primed to make them with the chocolate option Dorie gave. I've been checking out what the other bakers did, and I urge you to do the same. I hope to be back with the other TWD bakers in the next two weeks.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A tale of two pies

When I make pies, I usually make an extra batch (enough for a double crust pie) just in case. I just never know if one of the pies won't make the cut, so I anticipate disaster.

No disasters this year (yay!) so what to do with the extra crust? I debated making another cherry pie, but decided on pecan (easy) and nutmeg maple (mmm... maple). I found the nutmeg maple pie on Smitten Kitchen (if you aren't already addicted to Deb's blog, what are you waiting for?)

I normally make my pecan pie with maple syrup but didn't have enough for both pies, so I reverted to the classic (and oh-so-sweet) dark corn syrup. Then I made the nutmeg maple pie. The recipe made more custard than I had room for in the pie shell, so I made three custard cups of maple-y goodness. I forgot to mention I made a chocolate hand pie with the pie crust scraps. I rolled the scraps into somewhat of a circle, tucked three bittersweet feves in there and sealed the edges with water before crimping with the tip of the paring knife.

Things were going really well for the maple pie, until I realized (30 minutes later) that I had put it in the oven that I'd shut off. Sigh. But it must have baked some from the residual heat in the oven before I moved it, because it only took a half an hour to bake. The crust was a little undercooked and I went a little crazy with the nutmeg, so the maple flavor wasn't dominant, but it was still OK. If you like nutmeg.

CEiMB - Mac and cheese

Anyone in their right mind (which doesn't include me) who is in the midst of a kitchen renovation doesn't join new groups of bloggers which require weekly posting of recipes of one sort or another.

Like I said, I'm not in my right mind, so when I stumbled on Craving Ellie in My Belly, I knew I wanted to join them. They're cooking from The Foods You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life by Ellie Krieger. Maybe you've seen her on Food Network, making food that does look good, and is allegedly not as bad for you as the drive thru at your favorite fast food joint. 

Since my kitchen will revert to being a construction site tomorrow, I thought I'd jump in and make the macaroni and cheese the rest of the group made last week. I found the recipe here, and decided to make a half recipe since M is traveling, and me and macaroni and cheese would have way too much fun together without adult supervision. It called for a couple of things I didn't have (like frozen pureed squash, three kinds of cheese and bread crumbs). I found canned pureed squash and extra sharp cheddar at Trader Joe's, but opted to not buy bread crumbs for the one tablespoon that the halved recipe would need, and I decided to skip the Monterey Jack (I would only need one ounce) and use all cheddar instead. I had to go to another market for part skim ricotta (TJ's only had the whole milk, which I'm sure would be amazing in the dish but defeat the purpose of eating something you crave and not needing bypass surgery.)

Once I heated the milk and squash and added the cheeses, the sauce almost looked curdled. I figured it was because of the ricotta and forged on. I substituted smoked Spanish paprika for the cayenne, because I love it and haven't cooked with it (or frankly, any spice) for quite a while with the kitchen torn up. 

Since I didn't have the bread crumbs, I skipped the oil, but I did sprinkle it with the parmesan cheese and I still broiled it for a few minutes to get some color on the top. I was very skeptical about this dish but I have to say it's very good. I think the smoked paprika helps to mask the flavor of the squash. It's not as creamy as my regular mac and cheese, but it's also a lot better for me. It yields a nice serving size for those of us who like to eat a lot (me!) and tasted great served over some roasted vegetables. If you have kids who won't eat vegetables, I bet they would eat this and not even realize it was good for them!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's all about the pie

Alan managed to get the appliances hooked up, the lights working, the plumbing...plumbed, and when I came home on Wednesday, he had cleared away the cardboard and drop cloths, vacuumed, cleaned the floors and hooked up an extension cord so I had outlets for the food processor, etc. With all visible signs of construction cleared away, the kitchen was breathtaking:

Unlike past years, I had done zero prep for my pie baking, because I wasn't sure it would happen. I got up early Thanksgiving morning and started  prepping:

The past few years, I have cut down on the number of pies I bake (I used to bake "extras" in case anyone wanted to take some home), so I was planning on four pies: apple, cherry, pecan and pumpkin. I'm not a fan of pumpkin pie, though I love pumpkin in other things, but I have grown to accept that others equate pumpkin pie with Thanksgiving to such an extent they may walk out if one isn't on the dessert table. 

I discovered that even though I had a special box labeled "PIES," it didn't hold nearly everything I needed for the pie process. So I made repeated visits to the pile of boxes in the living room to look for sauce pans, saute pans, my favorite rolling pin, etc. It was kinda like a treasure hunt, but one where the prize was something you already owned.

Now, I used to drag out a large piece of marble I bought for $40 twenty years ago at Williams-Sonoma (they now sell for $129!) With the granite countertops, this is no longer necessary. I rolled out the pie crusts (I'm partial to all butter, better flavor and not hard to work with) really quickly and with no sticking or tearing (thanks to Deb at Smitten Kitchen for her Pie Crust 103 post!) I use a technique from the cookbook "Baking with Jim Dodge." It calls for freezing the flour for 15 minutes, then adding the butter in large chunks and freezing for another 15 minutes. Then you roll the butter and flour together, creating long, wide layers of butter in the flour that create steam in the oven. It's that steam that makes the pie crust flaky. 

After the crusts were rolled out, I turned to the fillings, starting with the apple pie. I use a technique the New York Times ran a couple of years ago, namely, sautéing and caramelizing the apples with butter and sugar before they go in the pie crust. It does away with the domed crust with the cooked down apples, and the resulting need for thickeners to absorb the excess juice. I was going to link to the recipe but it isn't working. Sorry! After that one was in the oven, I quickly made the pecan pie (I replace the dark corn syrup with maple syrup, an idea from the same NYT article) and put it in the oven. The apple came out of the oven. That first pie coming out of the oven makes me so happy. Pies really don't take a super baker and they taste so much better than store bought.

The pecan smells amazing in the oven, which just makes me happier. After that one, I worked on the pumpkin and cherry at the same time.  Both are Cook's Illustrated recipes (the pumpkin can be found on their website and it and the cherry are in the New Best Recipe cookbook). The pumpkin calls for a little planning since you pour the filling into the hot (blind baked) pie crust. My pie crust shrank like crazy (I wonder if I shouldn't be baking this one in my favorite Pyrex pie plates??) The filling kinda ran over under the crust and burned on the bottom. Not a yummy smell (but fortunately it didn't set off the smoke detectors).

I wanted to give the cherry pie a lattice crust (not very practical when the day has practically evaporated and you're due, with pies, at your friend's house in 90 minutes). But I figured I could miss the appetizers and would be forgiven as long as I brought pie. So I made the lattice crust, tucked the cherry filling in the pie plate and sealed it up. It baked in about 55 minutes, but was VERY runny when I pulled it out of the oven. I took a couple of rushed photos before the trip to my friend Susan's house.

Susan LOVES LOVES LOVES Thanksgiving. She'll be the first to admit cooking is not her number one hobby, but for years she has cooked Thanksgiving dinner for all her friends and as many family members as she can convince to come to California. She had 16 for Thanksgiving this year, and her home is smallish. She plans carefully to accommodate the crowd, and she cooks this huge dinner in a microscopic kitchen. She allows others to bring side dishes, but she does the turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, and she does a great job. My thing, in case you dozed off during my rambling account, is the pies, and I love not having to take my focus off of them to make an actual meal. I love that people try different ones, some have their favorites, and we have leftovers for a snack the next day. M loves pie, too, and every year he tells me this year's pies were the best ever, no really. So sweet.

The star of the pie evening was cherry, and the filling had firmed up and wasn't runny. It was a struggle to save a slice for the next day's snack. M doesn't like pumpkin pie either, so we snarfed down pecan, apple and cherry for dinner last night. Maybe my diet starts again on Monday...

If you've never made a pie, it's a skill worth learning. Find a recipe that speaks to you. That's how I felt about the Jim Dodge method. It made sense to me, and it's near impossible to overwork it (like I always did in the food processor or Kitchen Aid). And then buy a lot of unsalted butter, and start experimenting. Do it till you get it right. Practice rolling it out (you can do it on a wooden cutting board, or even a glass table). When you have a crust you feel good about, bake a flavor of pie you really like (if blueberry is your thing, do it!) You'll be more likely to do the trial and error if it's something you want to eat. Then get ready to wow your coworkers (or whoever you choose to share with), because a home made pie is like nothing you've ever tried.

On Friday, the kitchen reverted to being a construction zone. They repaired the area where there was no hardwood, and put the first layer of varnish on it. I can still use the oven and cooktop until Monday; after that, the whole kitchen will again be off limits. They'll be putting layers of varnish on the whole floor and it takes time to dry. I'm OK with it. I got to test drive it and loved how it worked and how it felt. I can be patient until it's done. My worst fears were unfounded: it bakes well and the layout works, so I can wait for it to be ready for its close up.

No TWD for me

I know, I know. I have been AWOL from Tuesdays with Dorie for the entire month of November. My kitchen was gutted the week of October 13th, and we've been cooking in the microwave and on the grill exclusively since then. Alan the contractor got things together enough for me to bake pies on Thanksgiving (a comedy in four acts that I'll share once I've recovered from it), but it was a temporary lull in our life in the construction zone. The other (more dedicated) TWD bakers made the Thanksgiving Twofer Pie, chosen by Vibi of La Casserole Carree. Check out the other TWD bloggers for the scoop on this intriguing pie. I hope to rejoin the TWD bakers in a couple of weeks, once the kitchen is complete (or complete enough for me to unpack the boxes in the living room!) As for Pie Day, I have tales to tell and photos to post but right now I feel like a bowl of oatmeal.  TTFN!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Oven day and giving thanks

As we count down to Thanksgiving, each day this week has special significance. Yesterday was the day the granite was fixed (patching the piece on the left side of the cooktop and rounding the corners by the refrigerator). Tuesday (today!!) is the electrician (installing the lighting, installing the ovens and vent hood). Wednesday is the plumber (tapping off the gas line, hooking up the cooktop, refrigerator and dishwasher, putting in the faucet, drains, garbage disposer and soaps). Thursday is pie day (Thanksgiving for the rest of the world). I can hardly contain my excitement.

As I pondered on my last entry (poor me! granite problems!) I was sheepishly embarrassed. After all, every day tens of thousands of people are losing their homes. Thank God I still have mine. My loved ones and I are healthy, I have a stable job, food on the table and gas in the car. I have no worries. Whether or not the granite is 100% perfect is insignificant. I am fortunate enough to have a warm, safe home and I will be eternally grateful for that.

This Thanksgiving, I think it's important for us all (especially pie obsessed me) to refocus on the significance of the celebration the pilgrims held hundreds of years ago. Food is a common bond, a reason for gathering, a way to show love and of nurturing our relationships. As we gather (hopefully with loved ones) on Thursday, let's pause to consider what the pilgrims were celebrating, and how close we came to losing the freedoms they sought when they immigrated to our shores. The American fabric is strong and resilient, but it requires repair. Let's work together to recall what we stand for as a nation, and strive to rebuild a nation we can all be proud of.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pinch me

The trouble with vision is that you're the only one who can see it.

As I reread that opening sentence, it amazes me that I am capable of vision. As a number cruncher, I'm not good at creating anything in my mind. I'm just not able to picture an outcome from a group of choices. But as the kitchen takes shape, I realize I have a clear vision of what it will look like once it's finished. When you pick the cabinets, counter tops, backsplash, paint, appliances, drawer handles, lighting, etc., you largely do it in a vacuum. I think it would be easier to pick new tile for an existing kitchen: just bring home the sample and see how it looks. When your kitchen is a blank canvas, every choice on its own is exhilarating, it's the thought of combining them that's scary. Will the cabinets go with the floor? Will the tile clash with the paint? Does the granite really work with the cabinets? I guess it's like putting together an outfit (something else I'm no good at), but it's the only outfit you'll wear for several decades.

Right or wrong, good choices or bad, much progress has been made this week. The appliances were delivered. The cabinet installation continues (they were here today (a Sunday) to make up for the short Thanksgiving week). The granite countertops were installed Thursday. The handles for the cabinets came in. The back window arrived, though it's not on site yet (the garage is already full of appliances!)

Things have gone well, other than a few challenges with the granite. The slab for the sink arrived with a large chip, and none of the pieces were the right size. Alan consulted with the tile installer, who reassured us that the mud for the tile would cover the chip. They honed down the edges to fit, unfortunately under my neighbor's bedroom window (she had a baby a week ago). It took a lot of muscle to put the pieces in place, but to my relief, the granite looks great with the cabinets. Unfortunately, when Alan and the cabinet guys tried to install the cooktop, they had to grind down one edge of the granite, and the other side will need patching (the granite installers cut too much on that side). The refrigerator door swings open a quarter of an inch too far and will hit the corner of the countertop (thereby denting the door), so I need to get the granite installer back out, hopefully tomorrow, to cut a bigger radius on the slab on the sink (and patch the piece they cut out by the cooktop).

Aside from the granite drama, this week promises to be a busy one. The electrician will wire the outlets, hook up the appliances and maybe even install the under cabinet lighting I picked out yesterday. The cabinet installers will finish the crown molding, install the cabinet in the family room, put the wood panels on the exposed ends, and install the rest of the doors (they'll come back next week to install the toe kicks and cabinet hardware.) The plumber will move the gas line (again-it's right in the way of the pull-out trash cans) and connect the cooktop, hook up the faucet, disposer and dishwasher, and connect the water line to the refrigerator.

We have a superb team helping to realize my vision for the kitchen, and do it in time for me to bake pies on Thanksgiving. Alan has a single-minded focus on keeping everyone on task, because if one thing slips, we miss our deadline. I had hesitated to buy the groceries for my pies, but today, with the end in sight, I searched for the best apples, checked my supply of pecans and bought enough butter for the first pie crusts I'll roll out on my new counters. Knowing that this kitchen will, God willing, soon cook, fills me with anticipation and excitement.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What's for lunch?

Even though the kitchen is a work in progress, we still have to eat! 

The weather has been nice and warm this week, and I have been doing a lot of cooking on the grill. The cooking part is fine, but the prep requires a little planning. Here's the table I'm using as my "kitchen:"

I bought some wild salmon from Whole Foods yesterday, and along with some button mushrooms (which I marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar), asparagus and corn on the cob, I had the makings of a wonderful salad. I grilled everything and served the salmon and grilled vegetables over romaine with some leftover ranch dressing. I made lots so we now have leftovers for a couple of days. For dinner, I'll put a slightly different spin on the same ingredients. 

Being without a kitchen can be maddening or an adventure, depending on one's point of view. I prefer to look at it like camping, only with a comfy bed and plumbing. Turning out tasty meals without a kitchen is a challenge, one which I believe will make me a better cook. I was never very good at improvising, but I think this experience is helping me test my narrow self-drawn boundaries. At the end of the experiment, I hope to have the kitchen of my dreams, and lots of pent up demand to put it to work.

Save me

When checking out Smitten Kitchen (one of my favorite blogs), I saw the recipe for these cookies.

If these aren't on someone's list of controlled substances, they should be! They are arguably the best chocolate cookie I have ever tasted (and I've tasted A LOT). They have chopped up Heath bars and walnuts, and just 1/2 cup of flour to one pound of chocolate.

But I'm getting ahead of myself (if you make these cookies, you'll understand). I still don't have a cookable kitchen but when I saw these on SK, I had to make them, like, immediately. I called my friend Susan and she offered to let me use her kitchen. I measured out all the ingredients on top of my unfinished counters, and toddled over to her house with mise en place in hand.

I melted the chocolate and butter, and beat the eggs and sugar for about 6 minutes. Then I added the cooled, melted chocolate, then the dry ingredients, and finally the chopped walnuts and Heath bars. I used mini Heath bars and added about 2 ounces more than the recipe called for, but I would add even more next time.

They were yummy right out of the oven, but they are even better the next day, after they become almost like a thin slightly crisp brownie with chunks of Heath bars and walnuts. Knowing they would be better the next day didn't keep me from eating three of them yesterday. I gave Susan quite a few, and brought the rest home. They don't look so beautiful, but they are amazing. I used Valrhona 61% bittersweet chocolate, but may try them with something a little less pricy in the future. The recipe makes 18 large cookies, but I made them smaller and got almost 4 dozen. You can find the recipe here

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Big day for the little kitchen

The cabinet installation has begun and I came home from work early Wednesday for the granite template. The process of templating for granite (or other stone countertops) is fascinating. After verifying the counters are level, they start with a bundle of long, thin strips of wood, a staple gun and an exacto knife. He laid a strip of wood on top of the plywood (which isn't supposed to be there, but that's a different story) and stapled it down, repeating until he had created an outline of the surface areas. It really didn't take that long, maybe a half hour, but there were a lot of questions I had to answer about what I wanted (eased corners, rounded corners, how far out should the reveal extend on the breakfast counter?) He pulled the templates off of the plywood, taped them together and had me sign the work order. When I asked about how long it would take to fabricate them, he shocked Alan and me by saying 5-7 days, and said we should have the cooktop on site before we have them installed.

WHAT?!? The appliances aren't being delivered until the 25th, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Alan called the appliance store. They confirmed they could get the ovens and dishwasher, but couldn't confirm the cooktop and hood.

The Thanksgiving pies hung in the balance....

They called back to say they thought all of the appliances would be in by next Tuesday, a full week early! Alan will work on getting the electrician out to hook everything up (appliances with no juice would be cruel!) We're far from being done (hardwood floor patching/refinishing will have to happen, though it's not clear how much or when it will happen) but this moves up our schedule by a week, God willing. Yippee!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Big changes in store: a tale of three doors

There isn't much visible progress to report this week. Alan the contractor painted the kitchen and part of the family room (and the color is exactly what we wanted). He worked on the stucco around the electrical box and new kitchen window, and he hung the door on the laundry closet. The photo shows the biggest change from my perspective: the pantry door ajar and the closed laundry closet door. This may sound like a yawner, but it's huge for me. Alan had previously adjusted the back door so we no longer have to kick it to open or close it. Then he fixed the pantry door so it no longer swings open when left ajar. He modified the laundry closet so that the door would close; it was actually too small for the washer and dryer and the door didn't close before. Looking at this photo, I remembered something I read in one of life coach  Talane Miedaner's books. She suggests that we make lists of the little things that drive us crazy, set aside a day to work on all of them without interruption, and complete most during that day (thus reducing our stress levels.)  I can totally see the wisdom of this approach now that I don't have doors that aren't hung properly.  Thanks, Alan!

The coming week will be exciting! The cabinet installation starts Tuesday, and the granite templator comes Weds. afternoon (a little awkward since I go back to work on Weds., and then I need to take the afternoon off!) We're hoping to get the granite installed the following week, and the appliances are scheduled for Tues., Nov. 25th. At some point, the lighting will be installed, the TV unpacked and hooked up and the back window replaced with one that's significantly larger. The tile won't happen until the week after Thanksgiving. For this weekend, I plan to indulge in my new hobby (dusting), buy a new microwave and shelf paper. Once the cabinets are in, maybe I can start putting stuff away (even though Alan warns not to do that before the granite is in). This project has gone almost too smoothly! Or maybe I just have a very short memory. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I *heart* paint

I'm taking a week off from work for the vacation that is sweeping America -- the "staycation." I plan to catch up on stuff that needs doing at home.

I came home after breakfast with a friend and a delightful trip to Costco (what a great place this is on a weekday!) When I came in, Alan the contractor said "Now don't complain this place smells like paint." To the contrary, the smell of paint is the smell of progress. It's actually primer, but it's another step in the right direction.

The cabinets were delivered Friday. Rain was in the forecast, but it held off and the cabinets are safe and dry in the garage.

The cabinet install is scheduled to start Nov. 10th or 11th. The granite templator will come on Nov. 12. The appliances will be delivered the 25th (three weeks from today!! two days before Thanksgiving!!) Alan gave me a heart attack when he said the ovens may not be in then. He was only kidding, it's the refrigerator that may come in a few days later. That's OK as we still have the old one. 

We've determined we can't expand the back window on the right side as there is a 4x4 post there that supports a load bearing beam in the attic. But we can expand to the left of the window, which we'll do, if just for the additional light it will let into a dark room.

Allie thinks the old window is just fine. And yes, I do have the windows open even though it's 60 degrees.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Kitchen reno, or why we're born with two kidneys when we only need one

The most dramatic changes of all, so far, happened this week. The plumbing is roughed in. The old appliances are gone (they were living in the driveway). The drywall ("rock" in construction-speak) is all up, taped and the seams have stuff (Leslie-speak) on them. Fans have been going 24 hours a day for three days now to dry the stuff. Amazingly, it looks like it could become a room, yes, even a kitchen! My wish to have enough lighting to make it look like a prison yard looks like it will come true. The lathe and mud for the stucco patches was applied today. I bet Alan even nailed the lathe to the studs. Wow! It's really coming along.

I have learned that with progress comes check writing, and I keep writing them for things I knew about (Alan) and things I should have expected (the final 20% for the cabinets). Alan is moving rapidly through the job, which is great, but it means he's meeting his payment targets. Ouch.

Every time I think I've selected the last thing I need, something else comes up. This week it was the trim for the tile. Turns out you can't have tile come half way up a wall and not edge it with trim. No way. Nor do you put stupid pieces of framing around windows because you're not sure how to tile around a corner (like the former owners did).  So I trotted off to the tile store on Saturday to select the trim. We found a lovely trim that coordinated with the tile and the granite, and the nice lady gave us two tile samples in addition to the trim sample.

On Tuesday morning, Alan called to explain all the different reasons the trim would not work. It's a quarter round, we need three-quarter round, lots of math involving the mud and the tile and the word "concave" over and over and me finally saying "Just tell me what I need to get." Tuesday night I went back to the tile store, emerging with the trim the nice lady initially told me would work for our job and I rejected before I knew it costs $12-$14 per 8" piece. I mean, come on, it's a piece of glass tile not something that was made by unicorns!

Enter (or exit, as it were) that superfluous kidney. I wonder what they're going for these days?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TWD - Chocolate-Chocolate Cupcakes

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was Chocolate-Chocolate Cupcakes, chosen by Clara of I*Heart*Food4Thought. I actually made these a few weeks ago when I knew the kitchen renovation was due to start. I mean, I love chocolate, and it was going to be a couple of months before I could get back into the kitchen, so it was a no-brainer. This one was the first of my farewell tour of TWD recipes (they're chocolate, so I made them first in case I ran out of time!)
The recipe was pretty straight forward. I baked a double batch so I could take them to work (bringing 12 of something when there are 60 people isn't what I'd call team building). Each time I made something that last week, I would wonder "Is this the last thing I'll make in this kitchen?" It gave me a sense of anticipation and even a twinge of excitement.

Back to the cupcakes. I was a little distracted when I made them, so I didn't pay much attention to, oh, why they smelled so good WAY before they should have been done. Turns out I wasn't the only baker who found they should bake less than specified in the recipe, so even though mine were a tiny bit dry, the ganache made up for that. America wouldn't have a drug or alcohol problem if you passed bowls of ganache at parties.

I'm not the master decorator, in fact, I can't even frost with a small spatula and have it look right. No matter. These are chocolate, and they were delicious. Finger licking, bowl licking, did-I spill-any-on-the-counter delicious. I hope to make them again when the kitchen is finished, and I plan to fill them with Nutella or praline paste, or maybe add chocolate chips and a sprinkling of chopped toasted pecans. I'll take them out of the oven a few minutes early, savor one still warm, and tuck a few in the freezer to enjoy with a cup of coffee. You can find the recipe here. And check out what the other TWD bakers did here.

Ignorance is bliss

We're two weeks into creating my dream kitchen, and there are many positive changes to report. All traces of the old kitchen are gone (unless you look in the driveway). New electrical is in, including more logically situated switches for the new LED lighting. The holes for the new lights have been cut into the ceiling. A lot of the new drywall is up (but still needs taping, etc.) The support for the flat screen TV has been built into the wall, and the electrical for all of that is in, too. I went to the granite yard to see and approve the slab. The new, larger kitchen window has been installed (and it's now at the proper level!) In some respects, we think the worst is over, at least in terms of what we discover has been done wrong by the prior owners.

And it's a lot! The kitchen outlets were not wired to code. In fact, they were "daisy chained," or wired from each other rather than running power to each one. The stucco for the house is another problem. It seems they nailed the lathe on to the sides of the house (great!) but didn't do it into the studs (not great!) So the stucco is being held on by penny nails driven through the plywood. My natural impulse is to fix things that are wrong, but Alan the contractor adamantly said not to do it. I can see his point. It isn't just wrong in the's probably wrong throughout the entire house. Correcting it would mean pulling off all of the stucco, mud and lathe and redoing it. Incredibly expensive and just not worthwhile. He is hopeful that we won't ever need to restucco the house, and I am too.  

On the agenda for this week is taping and applying the texture to the drywall, painting, roughing in the plumbing (including moving the gas line for the cooktop), and delivery of the cabinets. Cabinet installation and installation of the sink and faucet should happen the following week, and then we can have the granite templater in to measure for the countertops. Then the countertops and appliances will be installed. The finishing touch is tiling the backsplash, which I hope will be done by the deadline. Alan is managing my expectations by telling me he said I could bake pies by Thanksgiving, but that I don't need tile to do that, so we'll see if it all gets done in time. 

Many people ask how one manages without a kitchen, especially someone who cooks and bakes as much as I do. I do have a grill, which I use for most cooking, and supplement it with the microwave. This is the one time that I tolerate using paper plates and disposable cups, forks and knives. I made a few things and froze them before this all started, so we're eating reasonably well. I find myself daydreaming about baking more than I ever have before, and several people have offered their kitchens in case I want to whip something up, including one friend who offered to let me come over and bake the pies if we don't make the schedule.

Here are a couple of photos showing some of the changes.  Allie continues to supervise the job and is seen here inspecting the new drywall.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

TWD - Pumpkin Muffins

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was Pumpkin Muffins, chosen by Kelly of Sounding My Barbaric Gulp! My kitchen remodel started last week, so I baked these before the kitchen was demoed. It was kind of funny because the whole time I was supposed to be packing the kitchen, I was obsessing about how many weeks of TWD I'd have to miss. I'm so happy I fit these in before the excitement began.

The recipe "looks" like it will be one of those good-for-you ones that can't taste yummy because it's too healthy. Not this one. Even though it does have pumpkin, nuts and sunflower seeds, it still tastes like an indulgent treat you can enjoy while feeling smug about consuming something that is healthier than most muffins. I chose to bake the recipe as written, but I loved reading about all of the possible variations (check out the blogroll for what the other TWD bakers dreamed up).  

I baked a double batch so I wouldn't have leftover pumpkin (check out the pumpkin gnocchi Kristen made here). I was tempted not to fill up the muffin cups in case they rose a lot, but they didn't. I was rewarded with big muffins that were subtly flavored and delicious with a cup of coffee. I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin or raisins, but I LOVED these. For a decadent treat, try them with Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butter. They were very popular at work, even with people who don't gravitate to sweets. They were done before the recipe indicated I should check them, but they weren't overly dry. 

These will become a staple in my baking rotation. They're easy to make, delicious, quasi-healthy and offer lots of room for variation. Some variations I'm toying with include adding chocolate chips (big thumbs up from the other bakers), topping with granola instead of sunflower seeds, grated apple in place of the raisins, toasted pecans for the walnuts I used, and subbing crystalized ginger or Craisins for the raisins (Craisins were another hit with the TWD bakers).

If you're interested in the recipe, you'll find it here. Better yet, check out the book that inspired Tuesdays with Dorie, Baking: From My Home to Yours. If you want to join this great group of bakers from around the world, now is the time.  After October 31st, the group won't be open to new members. Here's how to join the fun.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Kitchen no more

Day one of the new kitchen dawned at 4 AM with a migraine.

For some unknown reason even I don't understand, I felt compelled to bake this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe (Lenox Almond Biscotti).  I mean, I was up at 4 anyway and the kitchen was boxed up and sitting in the living room, so why not?

I dropped the biscotti and yesterday's double chocolate cupcakes off at the office and came home to find Alan the contractor and the electrician already at work.  This was the best part of the day, and it would soon to go downhill.

We're replacing the electrical panel because adding new appliances is the perfect time to correct a wrong in the house--namely, too many appliances on the same breakers. See, you're not supposed to have the washer, dryer, microwave and dishwasher (plus a couple of outlets) on the same breaker. The plan was to install a recessed circuit breaker box; the existing box is situated under a gutter. That's not such a big deal, except that the previous owners ran the wiring from the pole THROUGH the gutter. It's in a steel pipe, but if the gutter were to leak (which, uh, it does in several spots around the house), it could leak into the box. That would be a bad thing.

Once they started breaking through the stucco to recess the box, they ran into (this will shock you) an unusual arrangement of studs, plywood and framing. The electrician suspected there used to be a window where the new box is supposed to go. They asked me if there used to be a window there. Like I know. But I remembered one of my former neighbors had video taped the house during its renovation, and I found the tape and we watched it. Sure enough, there used to be a window smack dab in the corner of the house next to the old chimney. Alan confirmed that the framing and stud configuration was fine and he could build a frame for the new box, and everyone seemed happier, if a few hours behind schedule (at 2:30 the power was still on). In the meantime, Alan found termite damage (old) and asbestos. The electrician found the fuse box from when the house was first built, still buried in the wall. All kinds of wires that go nowhere. We also discovered that the washer and dryer electrical wasn't wired properly (rewiring it was already on the agenda before we discovered it was wrong). I love this house, but there are so many things that were done wrong.  At least we know about these problems so we can fix them.

On days two and three, Alan demoed the kitchen. I think it went well since he didn't call me with "news." We now have a large empty room that I like to imagine having lots of promise.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

TWD - Lenox Almond Biscotti

This week's TWD recipe was selected by Gretchen of Canela & Comino. Gretchen blogs from Peru. Check her out here...she has an awesome blog!

My kitchen renovation starts tomorrow (today if you include the upgrade of the circuit breaker box) and I had decided that baking biscotti while everything from the kitchen sits in boxes in the living room was not going to happen (I'd already made the next two TWD picks over the weekend). But when I woke up at 4 AM (!) and wasn't able to go back to sleep, I knew I had to make the biscotti.

I'd never made biscotti before, but that's one of the great thing about baking with the other TWD bakers. Many of us are trying techniques for the first time. Check out the P&Q for the questions and tips posted for this recipe by the TWD bakers.

I'm not a fan of almond extract, so I decided to take this recipe in another direction. I kept the almonds but only had slivered almonds, and I added dried cherries (which I cut in half) and chocolate chips. I replaced the almond extract with vanilla extract, and since I was out of granulated sugar, I used light brown sugar. I didn't have cornmeal, so I used polenta instead. The recipe came together quickly, and I spread it in two logs on a Silpat. I didn't measure exactly 12", but I was happy with my dimensions. If I make this again, I will leave a little more space between the two logs because they spread A LOT.

The logs were a little underdone when I pulled them out after 15 minutes, so cutting them after the rest period was challenging. I didn't transfer them to the cutting board because they were, well, still raw in the middle. Brown sugar is wetter than granulated, so if I use brown sugar next time, I will reduce the eggs by one egg white to compensate for the added moisture in the brown sugar.  

After baking the sliced biscotti for 15 minutes, they were still soft.  Back in for another 5 minutes. Then another 2 minutes. Then another 2 minutes. Finally, they were firm as Dorie said they should be.  The finished product was tasty and popular at work. Personally, I didn't like the extra crunch the polenta gave. I would like to make these again and use more of the suggested ingredients (sugar, cornmeal, sliced almonds) and bake them longer (especially the first time). I think it would give me a more consistent result. I think I'll also try other biscotti recipes and play around with some of Dorie's suggested flavor combos. If you're looking for the recipe, you can find it on Gretchen's blog, or even better, check out Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.