Mrs. Sell's Blog of Household Management

Today’s baking: Irish soda bread


I meant to do this for St. Patrick’s Day, but fortunately buttermilk keeps well in the fridge…

I used BraveTart‘s recipe this time. It’s not unlike other recipes I have used in the past, but there’s an awesome article that goes along with the recipe explaining the process, so I’m biased toward it. 🙂

It turned out great; SO easy, with a great buttermilk flavor and wonderful crust. The only problem is that I made a whole loaf, so I’ll have to freeze half. Oh, well…


How to clean your coffee maker

I know that I’ve been dreadful about keeping up with this blog lately, and I have thought of things to post, but haven’t been able to for one reason or another. For now, I’m just going to use it as I so often do, which is to store information that I’m going to need in the future, so I don’t have to look it up every time! No long photo-essays for now, just the bare bones.

How to clean the little cheap-o drip coffee maker:

To be done periodically, depending upon usage and relative water hardness.

If you have a fancy self-cleaning coffee maker, follow the instructions! Otherwise:

What you need:

  • coffee maker with
  • carafe
  • water
  • vinegar
  • filters

What you do:

  1. Wash the carafe and basket by hand (which you ought to be doing frequently anyway).
  2. Fill the reservoir with a solution of vinegar and clean water; some places recommend half-and-half, some 2:1 water:vinegar. I would say if it’s been a long time since you’ve done it or if your water is really hard, use more vinegar, otherwise, use less. (HINT: buy vinegar in the big jugs in the grocery aisle. It stays good forever, and you can use it for cooking and all sorts of cleaning projects!)
  3. Place the basket, filter, and carafe in their accustomed spots.
  4. Run the cycle HALFWAY. That is, for a four-cup coffee maker, run it until 2 cups of water/vinegar have accumulated in the carafe. Then turn it off, and let it sit for 30 minutes.
  5. Turn it back on, and let the cycle continue until the carafe is full.
  6. Pour out the vinegar/water solution, toss the used filter, and run two cycles of PLAIN WATER in order to rinse the vinegar out. I use a new filter each time, because they’re so cheap, but you could probably get away with using just one more.
  7. Repeat as needed, again, depending on usage and water hardness.

Optional: consider whether pour-over coffee really tastes better than the drip brewer, and if it does, is it really worth the time waiting for water to boil and then stand there pouring it over? Acknowledge the considerable convenience of being able to just push a button and walk away…

Recipe: mug cake

One thing I learned in marketing class is that I am a “laggard.” That is, I’m the person who never tries products when they are brand new; I wait until the product is practically old-fashioned before I grudgingly give it a chance.

Thus it is with the “mug cake.” They’ve been around for a while, and I first saw them a few years ago. But it wasn’t until I was staying at my mom’s this summer that I tried one for the first time.

(Also, I don’t have a microwave and she does.)

It works! I was skeptical of the concept, but, man, if you really want something warm and chocolate, this is a VERY fast way to get it. (Honestly, too fast: ***WARNING*** If you don’t need to be able to make yourself chocolate cake in five minutes, skip this post.)

I basically use Pioneer Woman’s recipe, but I tweaked it a little to my own taste.

what you need:


  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2-3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • splash of vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)


  • a microwaveable mug (some call for a 12-ounce mug, but I go at least twice that, for reasons which will become clear)
  • a 1-tablespoon measure
  • a 1/4-teaspoon measure
  • a mini-whisk (a fork will do in a pinch)

what you do (follow along closely, lest you be overwhelmed by the advanced baking techniques required):

1. Measure flour into a mug:mug cake flour

2. Measure sugar into the mug:mug cake sugar

3. Measure baking powder into the mug:mug cake bp

4. Eyeball salt into the mug (Julia Child measured salt this way, and I always do what Julia says.)mug cake salt

5. Measure cocoa into the mug:mug cake cocoa

6. Combine the dry mixture with your whisk or fork:mug cake stir2


7. Measure milk into the mug:mug cake milk

8. Measure oil into the mug:mug cake oil

9. Eyeball vanilla into the mug:mug cake vanilla

10. Combine wet and dry ingredients:mug cake stir3

11. Pretend I had chocolate chips, and measure them into the mug. Or dump in whatever you feel like; I tried peanut butter once, but it was a little dry, and not sweet enough. I guess the sugar would need to be increased for that add-in…

12. Nuke the mug for 90 seconds:mug cake in microwave

[This mug is my life’s motto. INTROVERTS UNITE!!! (In such a way that we aren’t required to leave our houses!)]

13. CAKE!mug cake baked

(See how you can see un-mixed flour? That’s because I was too lazy to get out the mini whisk and used a fork.)

I know there’s a lot of space left, but that allows me to do this:

mug cake ice cream

See? Aren’t you sorry I showed you this? Nobody really needs to know how to make cake in their microwave in five minutes. Oh, well, in a few days I’ll be back in my own apartment, microwave-less, so I’ll be safe.

There are all different flavors of mug cakes (even brownies!), but I rarely find myself climbing the walls with cravings for things that aren’t chocolate, so I haven’t moved past this one yet. If I ever do, I’ll let you know how they turn out.


RIP brown sugar crock

Well, I did it. I mocked the crockery gods last night by declaiming my love of flaws, and karma swiftly responded this morning.

Remember this? Folk Art Brown Sugar Crock

This is my brown sugar crock. I’ve had it for five years, and in addition to being beautiful and providing flawless storage for my brown sugar, it represents both the beginning of my cooking journey, and the beginning of my quest to make my home beautiful.

This morning I broke it. I was planning to take it out of my husband’s kitchen and bring it down to my apartment so I could use the brown sugar. I set it on a stool next to a flour bin, and when I picked up the flour bin, it knocked the crock onto the floor. Both the lid and the crock itself are badly cracked.

As I mentioned in the storage crockery post, this item was discontinued by Pfaltzgraff five years ago. I probably should have stocked up on extras (they were even on Ebay until 2015), but I didn’t. And now I can’t find one anywhere on the internet.

I’ve e-mailed Pfaltzgraff, but am not hopeful. Their current business model consists of producing new products for very brief periods all the time, instead of creating pieces that people can come back to for decades. Some companies, I’m glad were bought by conglomerates, because at least they didn’t disappear forever, but Pfaltzgraff tends to be an exception. The quality of their products was lowered so much that I can’t even compare the new stuff to the vintage, made-in-USA pieces that I have. I’ve enjoyed some of my new Pfaltzgraff pieces, but they can no longer be counted on as a stable institution with a stable product line. It’s sad.

I’m probably going to keep my brown sugar crock. It’s still pretty, and I can display it in my kitchen, even if I can’t use it, as a reminder of how far I’ve come and how hard I’ve worked. It served me well and made me smile every time I saw it and handled it.

RIP, little crock.



It’s fall!

Fall Equinox 2017: 4:02 pm Eastern Standard Time

I’m up to my ears in my last semester of college, so I’ll see what I can pull together for fall posts this year…

Amazon price tracker

You know how prices on Amazon are always changing, and you never know if you should buy an item now, or wait for a better price? There’s a website for that!

It’s called camelcamelcamel , and when you copy/paste an Amazon link, it gives you a history of the prices, so you can know whether it’s likely that the price will go up or down in the future!

An example: today I was shopping for a yogurt maker. This one was recommended, so I went to Amazon to see how much it was. Right now, it’s about $30, which isn’t bad. I would be willing to buy it for that price. But I remembered camelcamelcamel, so I plugged it in there, and this is what I got:

camelcamelcamel yogurt maker

See the red dotted line at the top? That’s the maximum price over the last few years, and the green dotted line at the bottom is the lowest price. Right now, the price for this item is almost as high as it’s ever been, and it spends a lot of its time quite a bit lower than this. So, I’m going to hold off on buying this for a little while, and see if I can save a few bucks.

Alternatively, there’s an accessory for this item whose story is different:

camelcamelcamel greek yogurt maker

This item’s price is the lowest it’s been for years, by a significant margin. So I went ahead and ordered the accessory, even though I’ll have to wait to use it until I get the actual yogurt maker…

There’s no guarantee that a given price will increase or decrease in the future, but this gives you historical information that you can use to make an informed decision. That’s if you can resist the desire for instant gratification, which, let’s face it, is what Amazon’s all about, right?


Easter dinner 2017

My lamb is taking longer than anticipated to cook, so I’m sitting here watching the Easter vigil from the Vatican, and sharing my Easter meal plan!

For the last several years, I’ve used Kenji’s roasted leg of lamb for Easter dinner. I like it for several reasons:

  • I try to do a different meat at every major holiday: turkey at Thanksgiving, lamb at Easter, something I haven’t settled on yet for Christmas. (Ham? Goose? Give me some suggestions.)
  • The preparation on this lamb is all a day ahead of time, so I spend Holy Saturday morning up to my elbows inside a deboned lamb’s leg, then I get to stick it in the fridge and forget about it until the next morning, when I toss it into the oven.

I normally do some roasted potatoes with seasonings that complement the lamb. This year I’m trying Kenji’s “Best Roasted Potatoes Ever” recipe. We shall see if it lives up to the hype…

I make deviled eggs first thing in the morning; they’re good to cut all the candy we’re snacking on until dinner is ready… I make deviled eggs by steaming a bunch of eggs (à la Kenji), usually on Saturday morning. I make a dozen for decorating, and half a dozen for eating immediately (the decorated ones get eaten later in the week). Then I follow the time-honored tradition of mixing the yolks with mayo, 3 types of mustard, and whatever I find in the cabinet that looks good. I over-salted them this year, because I accidentally added both seasoned salt AND regular salt, but we’re managing to work our way through them, nonetheless.

I always do asparagus with hollandaise, following Julia Child’s recipe from The French Chef(Sorry, Kenji, your hollandaise recipe doesn’t quite beat out Julia’s!) I’ve tried blender versions in the past, but I always go back to the hand-whisked. For one thing, the blender version always turns out too cold, so I have to dirty up a saucepan heating up anyway; for another, Julia’s recipe has NEVER failed me (knock on wood); yet another, I just enjoy the standing there, whisking, watching the yolks and butter turn into magic.

I couldn’t decide what to do for bread, so I just grabbed a bag of heat-and-serve rolls from my grocery store. I love those, and they only take 8 minutes to heat, so the rest of the food won’t get TOO cold while they bake…

And this year, I’m being lazy and not doing any special dessert. I figured that 6 bags of candy, a package of Peeps, and a bag of Peeps Oreos would have to suffice for the three of us.

Bread-baking tip: winter edition

If your kitchen is way too cold for bread to rise, stick the dough in the oven with the light on — the light provides just enough heat to warm up the dough. Just be sure to take it out before turning the oven on!

bread rising in oven

(Honey-Wheat Bread recipe by Slate)

(Large Loaf Pan in Lapis by Le Creuset)

Currently reading: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Ever since I first started learning to cook, I’ve been hearing about this book:

bread baker's apprentice cover

Everywhere, anywhere, people are talking about baking bread at home, they’re raving about it. So I finally caved in over the holidays, picked it up, and I’m glad I did.

This would be pretty intimidating for beginning bakers, so I don’t recommend it as a “first book” of bread baking (I’m still gonna have to go with this one for beginners!). At the same time, though, it’s not so esoteric that anybody who doesn’t have tons of money, time, equipment and space for baking can’t get something out of it.

It’s relatively light on actual recipes, but is filled with great material: a long, but very readable discourse on artisanal bread baking in the first part, and several varied recipes (with full explanations, photos, formulas and ratios) in the second part. I can see why Peter Reinhart’s books are so popular: he combines good writing with good explanations, two things which rarely come into contact. (Kenji excepted, obviously.)

Warning: while reading this, you will develop intense cravings for freshly-baked artisan bread, so I recommend you have some source of good bread into which you can dive, face-first, while you’re waiting for your own attempt to finish — which will be a while, because the key technique that Reinhart uses is a super-long rest period, often overnight. (In that sense, it’s not different from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.)

I ended up going to Panera Bread, since I can’t find any local sources of artisan bread near me, and got a ciabatta for about $3, but I was very disappointed: it’s scarcely different from the “Italian loaf” I can get at the grocery store bakery for a dollar. I have had good luck with Panera’s loaves in the past (I remember the honey wheat and the sourdough being good), but I won’t buy the ciabatta again. Of course, if I’m lucky, I can use this book to start making my own!



Recipe: oat-pecan-maple whole wheat scones


Sometimes, you just gotta make scones. Specifically, when you want something warm and carb-laden, but not really overly sweet, because you’re maxed out on sugar. But then you realize that you don’t have cream, and all your buttermilk is frozen, so none of your scone recipes work. Then the internet comes riding to the rescue, just when you had determined that it was a festering blight upon the face of humanity and you were going to burn your modem and everything related to it.

Anyway, here’s what I ended up making, based on this recipe from King Arthur Flour (who are pretty darn good at what they do).

What you need:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup whole grain oat flour
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • something slightly more than 1/8 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter
  • about 1 cup of pecans
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon maple flavoring
  • 2/3 cup milk

What you do:

  1. Very carefully measure the all-purpose flour into your tiny food processor, then even more carefully slice the butter into little pats and squeeze them in there, too. Process on about a 5 (out of 20) for a few seconds until the butter is fairly well cut up, because you don’t feel like going at cold butter with a pastry cutter at this time of night.
  2. In a big bowl, combine the flour/butter mixture with the rest of the flours, the sugar, the salt, and the baking powder.
  3. Run the pecans through the food processor, since it’s already dirty. Later think that toasting them beforehand would make them a lot better. Make a note of it for next time. Add the pecans to the dry mixture.
  4. Combine the eggs, flavorings, and milk, then add them to the dry ingredients and mix fairly well. (You can adjust the amount of milk if necessary; I used the entire amount because I used mostly whole grain flour.)
  5. Divide the dough roughly in two, and dump out each half onto a lined, floured baking sheet. Pat and shape the dough into discs, then cut into wedges, 6 or 8 apiece works.
  6. Rearrange your freezer, then stick the baking sheet with the cut dough in to chill for 30 minutes. While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 425 degrees as measured by an oven thermometer, not what your oven says it’s at.
  7. After 30 minutes, remove the baking sheet from the oven and rearrange the dough wedges so they’re not close together. Either pull them apart slightly from their wheel shape, or completely spread them all over the baking sheet.
  8. Bake the scones for 20-25 minutes.

You can eat them warm, or room temperature; they’re good both ways. You can add more sugar if you want them to be sweeter, but I like scones because they AREN’T necessarily super-sweet. You can play with the flavor by adding different extracts and mix-ins; there’s no need to just dump in more refined sugar for the heck of it. I think next time, though, I might try brown sugar; I think it would go well with the pecans and oat flour.

These have kept pretty well at room temperature in a zip-top baggie, although I am trying to use them up before they get stale or otherwise bad. It’s a good thing they last, because this recipe makes A LOT. Next time I’ll probably halve it, if it’s just for us. The other thing to consider is that you can just keep freezing the unbaked wedges after their initial chill; just put them in something airtight and then bake as many as you want later on. (Probably add a couple minutes to the baking time.)

You can use all all-purpose flour, too, if you really want more refined grain in your diet. I’m just on a whole-grain kick right now. Wait until I save up for a mill to grind my own grains! That’ll be epic.

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