Mrs. Sell's Blog of Household Management

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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…

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.

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.

Recipe: split pea and ham soup

yellow split pea soupSee what I made?

No, it’s not queso dip; it’s split pea and ham soup — with yellow split peas! Isn’t that cool? I didn’t even know they existed until I saw them in the Mexican aisle at Wal-Mart.

I used them to make my regular split pea and ham soup, and it turned out great. Apparently the yellow peas can be a little milder than the green, although I don’t know that I really noticed a difference.

I base my recipe off of the Cook’s Illustrated version (paywall), although it is either simpler, or more complicated, depending on which way you look at it. Here’s just the text; maybe someday I’ll do one with pictures.

What you need:

  • about 2 Tablespoons bacon drippings
  • onion, chopped — about 1 onion should do you, although you can adjust for personal preference.
  • a couple three garlic cloves, minced (if desired)
  • 7 cups of ham stock (can substitute poultry stock) — homemade is best; I make a lot at a time, and keep it in the freezer
  • 1 bag of split peas, green or yellow, picked over — I rarely rinse or do anything else to them.
  • ham, chopped or diced or shredded — I just eyeball it; this is really personal preference. I used a whole ham steak this time, and it seemed like a lot to me, although if you like your split pea and ham to be more ham and less split pea, then knock yourself out.

What you do:

  1. Heat the bacon drippings in a large soup pot/Dutch oven over medium-low to medium heat; whatever temperature it takes on your stove to cook down some onions.
  2. Add onions and cook down, stirring occasionally, until desired flavor/consistency. I like my onions cooked way, WAY down, so mine are practically caramelized.
  3. When the onions are almost done, throw the garlic in and stir it around until it’s fragrant, but not browned.
  4. Here, it’s a little different depending on whether you’re using ham or poultry stock. If you’re using ham stock, then add the stock and peas, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until peas are at desired consistency (we like ours completely dissolved). Stir occasionally to keep the peas from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  5. If you’re using poultry stock, and the stock, peas, and ham, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 45 minutes. Then remove the ham and keep covered while the soup continues to cook, covered, until the peas are at desired consistency.
  6. Once the peas are done, either put the ham back in, or add it for the first time.

I like the Cook’s Illustrated version, but it was a little too complicated for me, so I usually simplify it — but by simplify, I mean I do some steps, way, way in advance.

In their recipe, they use 7 cups of water, then add in carrots, and celery, and bay leaves, and everything to actually make ham stock while the soup is cooking. I rarely have those things sitting around when I wanted split pea and ham soup, so I just make ham stock whenever I’ve cooked a bone-in ham (which I HIGHLY recommend — you’ll have frozen ham leftover for months, and it tastes SO much better than other ham).

So if you’re using poultry stock, you put the ham in originally to get some ham flavor in there, but if you’re using ham stock, you can wait until the end, since it’s already flavored.

The Cook’s Illustrated recipe also calls for two slices of bacon to be simmered in the soup, then removed later, and for the onion to be cooked down in butter in the initial step. I hate wasting bacon, so I get the bacon flavor in there by just using bacon drippings to brown the onion in the first place, and I don’t have to thaw out two strips of bacon just to toss them out later.

Also, because I’m using bacon drippings and pre-made stock, I don’t really season or salt this; there’s plenty of salt and flavor in it already.

Obviously, if you don’t have stock, and you don’t have a jar of bacon drippings in your fridge, then you can just follow their recipe, and it’ll be fine!

Split pea and ham is one of my favorite soups, especially for breakfasts on winter mornings. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it! And the yellow peas make it much, much less gross-looking than green peas.

Fall roundup 2015: Maxwell House pumpkin spice latte instant coffee mix

maxwell house instant latte mix pumpkin spice

This stuff is tasty. When I was a teenager I used to love the decaf, no-sugar version of this stuff (why I was drinking decaf, I have no idea), and this is a nice throwback. I also love being able to boil some water in our electric kettle and just dump in about a tablespoon of this stuff for an instant caffeine shot. This one is pretty high in caffeine, but it goes down easy, so I have to be careful.

If you hate instant coffee, definitely don’t get this. But if you’re in a hurry for caffeine, there are much worse things. (Like Starbucks.)

Fall roundup 2015: Pumpkin Pie Spice scone mix

archer farms pumpkin pie spice scone mix

These came out really well. Nice and light, with a very mild flavor; most of the sweetness and spices were in the glaze mix. I didn’t wait for them to cool completely before adding the glaze, so it all melted:


But they were good nonetheless. I don’t usually make scones from mixes (I rarely make scones period), but these were fun as a treat, especially with pumpkin spice chai tea latte mix.

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