We make scones for breakfast fairly often, because as we showed earlier, you can make them quickly and they are quite delicious.
But, a couple of days ago, we made some of the worst scones we’d ever made.
As you can see, the recent scones were a flat-out disaster. We had used new baking powder and everything, but they were a flop. What had gone wrong?
Well, the immediate suspect was the baking powder. Baking powders sometimes fails because it was stored improperly: in a hot warehouse or truck, for example. Let’s explain how this works here.
Baking soda is just sodium bicarbonate, NaHCo3. You use it when acidic ingredients such as buttermilk, sourdough or yoghurt are included in the batter. The baking soda will react with any of those acids to release carbon dioxide, CO2, which causes bubbles that make the dough rise.
Baking powder is sodium bicarbonate mixed with one or more acids in dry crystalline form, such cream of tartar (tartaric acid), monocalcium phosphate, sodium aluminum pyrophosphate, or a couple of others. Double acting baking powders (and most of them now are) contain two acids, one that reacts immediately when liquid is added and one that reacts only when heat is also applies. In all cases, the baking powder also contains cornstarch, to help keep the mixture dry and add bulk to make it easier to measure.
But you can easily test baking powder by putting a couple of teaspoons in a bowl, and adding boiling water. Just microwave a cup of water in a pitcher for a minute or so until it bubbles a bit, and pour it over the baking powder. It should foam up right away as you see below.
But let’s look at that suspect baking powder: no foam at all, it scarcely breathes a word!
In fact, it doesn’t really look at all like the other sample. In fact let’s look at the package:
Taking a tip from my friend Robert Lortz, I made square (or rectangular) biscuits today.
There are no scraps that you have to re-roll and the biscuits rise higher because you didn’t force them into a biscuit cutter. You just cut the dough with a table knife or sharp knife and move them onto a cookie sheet with a spatula. You can see the results.
My biscuit recipe is slightly different than Lortz’s but it is pretty similar. Rather than shredding the butter, you cut the stick into little slices and blend them into the flour with a pastry blender. The real difference is that you fold the dough into thirds and roll it out three times to make some buttery layers.
2 cups flour
1 Tb baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup cold, unsalted butter (2/3 of a quarter pound stick.)
1 cup plus about 2 Tb buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 450˚ F.
Mix the flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a bowl.
Cut the butter into thin slices and put them all into the flour.
Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until uniform, but with some small butter lumps remaining.
Add the cup of buttermilk and mix in with a fork. Add a little more buttermilk if all the flour isn’t all incorporated.
Roll out the dough on a floured board or pastry marble.
Fold the dough and thirds and roll it out again three times to form some butter layers in the dough.
Cut the dough rectangle into squares (or rectangles) using a knife.
Then use a spatula to move them to a cookie sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes.
The result is tall, fluffy, buttery biscuits. Enjoy them!
If you’ve ever been given a can of Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi and it tastes a little off, or way off, you probably just toss it out. Why does this happen and what can you do about it?
Many diet soft drinks are sweetened with aspartame a leading non-nutritive sweetener that works very well in cold or room temperature foods. Aspartame is little more than 2 amino acids (aspartic acid and phenyl alanine) stuck together in a peptide linkage with one extra methyl group. This useful colored diagram came from the paper by Prodolliet, et. al. .
Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by James M Schlatter, while working at G.D. Searle. He said that he had made the aspartame (methyl ester) and was trying to recrystallize it to purify it, when some of the mixture bumped outside the flask. Later, when he licked his fingers to turn a page, he discovered a very sweet taste. Since he realized that the compound he made was unlikely to be toxic, he tasted it and found it extremely sweet indeed. In fact, aspartame is about 200 times as sweet by weight as sugar.
Searle patented this product, naming it Nutrisweet and Equal. Officially, aspartame has a half-life of about 300 days in solution at about pH 4, about the pH of soft drinks, but half life means that half if it as gone by that time. And if the cans are exposed to a hot storeroom or stored in a warm summer garage, they may deteriorate faster.
Why does it start to taste awful?
Diet sodas have a date on the package: it’s not the “sell-by” date, it’s the “use-by” date. Depending on you grocer, this may be 2 to 2-1/2 months from the date you bought it. Grocers are not too good at stock rotation of diet sodas, so it is up to you to make sure you don’t get an early one. Nearing the end of January, we have picked up cartons dates from Mar 21 to April 11 in the same stack! Unless you only buy one or two at a times, this won’t matter, but if you buy several on sale (and they all do this) you need to be watchful.
So what happens? Well, the simplest thing that happens is that the two amino acids come upzipped: this is called hydrolysis, since it always amounts to adding a water molecule at a carbon-oxygen bond. If you unzip aspartame into the two amino acids and remove that methyl to become methanol, you have a tasteless mixture of pretty harmless compounds. Your body easily metabolizes that bit of methyl alcohol and you are none the worse for it. This is described in the Prodolliet paper  and in the one by van Vliet .
What tastes so awful?
It is easy to understand that a solution of those two amino acids might well be tasteless, which is one of the outcomes when diet sodas age. But what about that really vile taste you sometimes encounter in old diet sodas?
I think there are two possibilities. If you look at the various steps aspartame undergoes as it unzips , you discover that one of the intermediate products is a form of diketopiperazine. The basic compound is shown below along with the derivative, sometimes also referred to as DKP that is actually produced:
Bothwick  has described the taste of DKPs as “bitter, astringent, metallic, and umami.” This is not surprising, since ring compounds with one or more nitrogen usually are pretty smelly. And a table of the concentrations of intermediates in van Vliet shows that DKP occurs in significant amounts. But, in case you are concerned about their toxicity, Ishii et. al  studied aspartame and DKP for 104 weeks in Wistar rats and found no toxic effects at all.
The other possibility, albeit less likely, is another form of the sweetener called β-aspartame, which differs only in the position of that NH2 group: it is moved one carbon to the left. This isomer has a pronounced bitter taste, and does occur during aspartame decomposition, but in much lower concentration. But again, it is harmless.
Diet Coke mythology
You can’t discuss diet sodas for very long before someone brings up the old saw the diet sodas cause weight gain. The theory was that the sweetness induces hunger and you eat more actual food to satisfy it.
In 2008 Fowler and Williams published a paper noting a correlation between obesity and diet soda consumption. A correlation, not causation. But in 2009, Chen and Appel  monitored 810 adults for 18 months, recording their beverage intake. They found weight gain from sugar sweetened beverages and but no weight gain from artificially sweetened beverages.
Finally, in 2012, Maersk and Belza  compared satiety scores for milk, sugar sweetened beverages and artificially sweetened beverages, and found no evidence that artificially sweetened beverages increased appetite or energy intake, concluding that “diet colas had effects similar to water.”
Regarding unfounded rumors that artificially sweetened beverages had some neurological effect, a panel of 10 experts examined all the current literature  and concluded:
The data from the extensive investigations into the possibility of neurotoxic effects of aspartame, in general, do not support the hypothesis that aspartame in the human diet will affect nervous system function, learning or behavior. Epidemiological studies on aspartame include several case-control studies and one well-conducted prospective epidemiological study with a large cohort, in which the consumption of aspartame was measured. The studies provide no evidence to support an association between aspartame and cancer in any tissue. The weight of existing evidence is that aspartame is safe at current levels of consumption as a nonnutritive sweetener.
So aspartame is safe before and after it degrades into the component amino acids, but for the best taste, you should check each package’s expiration date.
Prodolliet, Jacques; Bruelhart, Milene (1993). Determination of Aspartame and Its Major Decomposition Products in Foods. Journal of AOAC INTERNATIONAL, 76(2), 275–282. doi:10.1093/jaoac/76.2.275
We thought that the Newman’s Own pizzas we say in the grocer’s freezer would be a nice change from our making our own. The pictures, at least, looked enticing. So we picked up a couple of them: Supreme and Harvest Vegetable.
The pizzas come in a box and sealed in plastic as well, on a cardboard disk about 10 ¾ inches. So, the pizzas are about 10 ½ inches each.
You cook them in a 425˚ F oven for 10-12 or 11-13 minutes: the veggie one takes the slightly longer time. You are supposed to remove them from the cardboard disk, but the picture didn’t make that clear, and after we put them in the oven, we discovered that fact in the text, and used our pizza peel to lift them off the cardboard to continue cooking. You are supposed to cook them until the cheese melts and the crust browns a bit. Because of our snafu, this took a bit longer then 12 minutes, but they came out looking pretty nice.
We cut them into 6 pieces each.
While we thought the flavors of both pizzas were quite good, they really were diminutive. The thickness was less than 1/8 inch, except for the occasional pepper or sausage lump. The pepperoni was sliced so thin it only had one side. Surprisingly, the ingredients suggested that this was a yeast dough. It certainly didn’t rise much.
The package said that a serving was 1/3 of a pizza, or two of the six slices implied in the package picture. That was about 250 calories, which is not going to fill you up very much. Each of the 6 slices weighed about 1.8 oz, meaning that the whole baked pizza weighed about 10 oz. Initially the pizzas we 15.7 or 17 oz meaning that there was at least a 5 oz water loss in baking. By contrast, the pizza we usually make produces slices of about the same dimensions that weigh about 5 oz each.
Essentially, this was a tasty 2-dimensional pizza, that left us kind of hungry. I guess if we had looked at the grocery receipt and found they were only about $7.50 each, we shouldn’t have been surprised. We did go away hungry, though.
Baldanza moved into the Schoolhouse restaurant last August and we decided to give them a try now that they have presumably settled in. According to their web site, this is a family business with Sandy Baldanza at the Proprietor, Angela Baldanza as the chef de Cuisine and Alex Baldanza as the General Manager.
The layout of the restaurant is much the same as it was before, with banquettes along the windowed walls and about 16 well-spaced tables within. The hosts are gracious and quick to seat you when you arrive. Water comes right away, and some very good bread and butter soon follows. We particularly like the pecan bread with raisins.
The dinner menu consists of 10 appetizers (mostly Italian), 7 definitively Italian pasta dishes and 7 entrees which seem to be much more American: hamburger, salmon, halibut, strip steak, pork chop, chicken Milanese and tuna au poivre.
There is a one-page wine list, with one prosecco, 2 rose’s, 5 white wines, and 16 red wines, many of them Italian and all but 3 available by the glass or full bottle. We chose the Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2016, but would try something else next time.
If you’re looking for a single sentence capsule review: Everything we ordered was excellent, and we’ll certainly go back.
One of our appetizers was an outstanding Fritto Misto ($21). It contained fried calamari, rock shrimp, and fried zucchini with a marinara sauce and a red pepper aioli, The portion was enormous and completely greaseless. It was excellent but save room for your main course!
Our other appetizer was an amazing composed Beet Salad ($18), with red and golden beets, tangerines, pistachio, green beans, apples, fennel, dates and goat cheese. I don’t think we’ve ever had a better one. What a great combination of flavors!
One of our pasta dishes was Risotto with Jumbo Gulf Shrimp ($39). It was served, or course, with arborio rice, along with asparagus, cherry tomatoes and saffron. The flavors were outstanding, although the shrimp were so large that they were a little difficult to cut.
Finally, our other entrée was Tagliatelle Roma ($28), which was their house made tagliatelle served with prosciutto, peas, mushrooms and a cream sauce. The waiter added some grated cheese as well. It had a smooth texture with little spikes of prosciutto throughout.
We would have like to tell you about their desserts (several are pictured on their web site) but we were much too full to order them.
However, next time, we are sure to try their Caesar salad and their meatballs, either as an appetizer or in their Rigatoni con Pallotine. Their Chicken Milanese looks interesting too….
Our bill was $143.95 with tax but before tip.
All in all, this was a delightful evening, and we welcome Baldanza to Wilton!
This midwestern favorite wouldn’t exist without the historic contributions of the Campbell Soup company. Campbell’s was founded in 1869, selling canned tomatoes, fruits and vegetables, but in 1897 the company’s manager, Arthur Dorrance, hired his nephew, Dr. John T Dorrance, to join the company. John Dorrance was a chemist by training and developed a method to eliminate much of the water in canned soup, making it much easier to can and ship. These canned soups in the familiar 10 oz cans would serve several people when the water was added back in and sold for about a dime per can. This revolutionized Campbell’s entire business, and Campbell’s became the Campbells Soup Company.
In 1913, Campbell’s introduced the a condensed Cream of Celery soup, which along with the 1934 introduction of their Cream of Mushroom soup became the basis for “America’s bechamel,” a simple sauce base the led to thousands of convenient recipes.
In the Midwest, people developed untold numbers of casseroles that they could quickly make for dinner or bring to pot-luck dinners and other social events. In the northern Midwest (Minnesota and North Dakota) these were just called Hot Dishes and their variety is legion.
The tuna-noodle casserole is one surviving casserole from the 1950s that people like me still make. This recipe is more or less the one my mother made, and is much like one in the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.
There are a wide number of variations on this recipe: many use Cream of Mushroom soup as the sauce base, but we’ll stick to the 1913 version that used Cream of Celery. Some people add green peas or broccoli to their casseroles: you can adulterate them any way you like, but we’ll stick to the original recipe. You can make it in 10 minutes plus a baking time of around 20 minutes.
We make this casserole using half of a 12 oz package of noodles, which works out to about 3 ½ cups. And be sure to use Albacore tuna for the best flavor.
3 1/2 cups dry egg noodles
2 5 oz or 1 12 oz can of albacore tuna
1 cup sliced celery
1 medium onion, diced
½ green pepper, cut up
½ cup mayonnaise
1 can cream of celery soup
½ cup milk
1 cup cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes
Salt and pepper
Slivered almonds or crushed potato chips for the topping
Preheat the over to 425˚ F.
Cook the noodles according to package directions, about 9 minutes, and drain into a colander.
Put the canned soup to a small saucepan and add the milk. Heat through and add the shredded cheese. Cook until melted.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the celery, onion, pepper, and mayonnaise.
Add the tuna and break up any large lumps.
Add the soup mixture and the noodles.
Season with salt and pepper.
Put the contents of the mixing bowl in a large over proof casserole and top with slivered almonds. To honor the decade, we used a Corning ware casserole dish from that period.
Bake for about 20 minutes until bubbling throughout.
The idea behind this recipe in Bon Appetit is a good one. Making mushroom puree to go with chicken breasts (which are less flavorful than thighs) is a good one. But this is another case where the recipe just doesn’t work out at all like the photo: a problem we have with most recipes in Bon Appetit.
The complete recipe is linked here, but amounts to browning bone-in chicken breasts and then cooking them in the oven at 350˚ F for about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, you make the mushroom puree from
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
8 oz. button mushrooms, halved
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp. crème fraiche
2 tsp. truffle oil (don’t do this!)
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
Just as you’d think, you sauté the mushrooms in the butter until they give up their water and
add the shallots and garlic, and saute them.
Then you add the chicken broth, thyme and bay and cook it down at least by half.
Next you add the cream and cook that down by half or more
Skip the truffle oil: it always has a chemical taste since it isn’t truffles at all but 2,4-dthiapentane, and tests pretty fake.
Remove the bay and thyme leaves and blend the whole thing until smooth..
Ideally the breasts are done now, and you put the puree on each plate and top with the sliced chicken breasts and a little sauteed Swiss chard.
I can tell you that the puree is really delicious and would work with any sort of chicken as a sauce.
But there are problems
The BonAppetit recipe doesn’t stop there. It has you sauté more shallots and garlic in butter and then boil down 2 more cups of chicken stock and strain it to make a sort of gravy. This is utterly superfluous, because it has the same flavors as the mushroom puree and runs off into the puree anyway.
Serving the chicken breast sliced but with the bone still included makes it very hard to eat the chicken. You should debone it before slicing and serving.
Cooking store-bought chicken breasts is not that simple since most of them are huge and hard to cook through without drying out.
The puree in the BA picture is very thick and creamy. Despite our boiling it down a lot more than they say, we never got it to be that thick. Perhaps they used some arrowroot as well?
Our puree had black flecks in it because most supermarket mushrooms have black gills. They call for “button mushrooms,” which may be whiter, but weren’t in our stores.
Our conclusion is that a simpler version of this recipe has real promise, but we’d not go through all those steps again.
At about this time of year (or sooner) you may be thinking about what you’ll be growing next year, especially if one or more varieties of tomatoes were particularly successful. You can, of course, just buy new seeds every year, but if you are growing an unusual variety, you may want to consider saving seeds from the most vigorous plants. In our case, we grew some really successful varieties bred at the University of Florida, and they specifically suggested that we save their seeds, since they’d rather not be in the commercial seed business.
You can save seeds from any variety, but you will have the best results from ones that are open pollinated, meaning that the seeds will produce the same variety of plant as the parent. This may not be true of hybrid varieties and saving them is a bit riskier: you can’t be sure their progeny will be the same as the parent plant.
Some writers suggest only saving “heirloom” seeds, but this is probably a bit extreme. Heirloom really means that most growers have gone on to something better than that variety. Heirlooms may have lower yields and be less disease resistant. There are still plenty of great tomatoes you can save seeds from, such as Better Boy, for example.
You want to pick a good example of the fruit to take seeds from, but it needn’t be perfect. The tomato could be cracked or have a recent slug or fruit borer hole, as long as it hasn’t rotted.
The difficulty in saving tomato seeds is that they are enclosed in slippery little gelatinous sacs, that are hard to work with. And that gel sac also includes a growth inhibitor, so the seeds won’t sprout within the plant. You need to remove that as well. We’ll show here how to overcome that problem below.
(Seeds do sometimes sprout inside a tomato, which is a kind of a surprise, but is usually harmless. It’s called ovipary.)
Saving the seeds
Cut the tomato in half and scoop out some seeds and the accompanying sacs. We used a melon baller, but a spoon would also work. Put the seeds in a fine strainer and rinse them with running water. We used the sprayer setting on our kitchen faucet to try to blast open the little sacs. This works to some extent, but we found that alone this wasn’t enough. Those seeds neve germinated.
The next step, recommended by a number of writers is to use Oxyclean stain remover. Put some tap water into a glass or pitcher and add a tablespoon of Oxyclean powder. Stir it in, and then add the seeds, including the gel and any bits of tomato that have seeds attached.
Let them soak in the mixture of half an hour. During this time, the seeds will probably float to the surface. Then pour the seeds and some of the solution through the strainer again and rinse the seeds using running water. Pick out any bits of tomato that end up in the strainer.
Finally, prepare a paper plate with a napkin or coffee filter on it to catch the seeds, and dump the seeds onto that tissue. Incidentally, seeds may stick to a napkin, and parchment paper is better, but of course, it doesn’t absorb much water. Label the plate with the tomato variety and let the seeds dry on the plate for 1-2 weeks.
After that, put the seeds in envelopes and label the envelopes. Put the seeds in a zip lock bag and keep them in a cool, dry place. You can even store them in the refrigerator or freezer according to the Florida research group.
Testing the seeds
You might want to test the seeds to make sure they will germinate. To do this, put two or three seeds in a damp paper towel, and enclose it in a zip lock bag. The seeds will sprout in around 10 days.
Toad in the hole is a classic British dish, made up of sausages embedded in a Yorkshire pudding batter and baked. The name comes from the ends of the sausages peeking out of the baked batter. In the U.S., the name has been used to describe eggs cooked inside bread or toast as well as sausages. That version is sometimes called “egg with a hat” to describe the little circle of bread you cut out for the egg. In fact, the beavers at Myrecipes.com found that there are 66 different names for this dish.
So, with that in mind, we decided to make one more. Suppose you are making pancakes, as we often do on Sundays. Why not add an egg into those pancakes and make a Pancake Toad in the Hole?
So to try this, we made buttermilk pancakes using this heirloom family recipe (which is much like everyone else’s.)
Then we cooked one side of a pancake with a little melted butter on the griddle for flavor, and then turned out over.
About 1 minute later, we used a biscuit cutter to cut a hole on the pancake. The pancake will still be doughy in the middle, but you can cook that little “hat” while you make the main event.
Break an egg into a cup and pour it into the hole you just cut.
Let the pancake/egg cook until the egg is cloudy, and then flip it. This may take two spatulas (spatulae?) to keep the uncooked egg from weeping out. Cook the egg for 30 seconds or more and flip the pancake back over. Serve the “Pancake toad” right away with the little hat alongside.
This sweet/savory combination could have syrup added, or your could just eat it the way it is, using the pancake to sop up the egg.
One variation we tried was to cook a small slice of ham in a little butter, and then put it in the hole of a pancake, and then add the egg. Again, cook until the egg is cloudy, flip it, cook 30 seconds, flip it back and serve.
In this case, syrup might be overkill. We suppose you might add hollandaise instead, but that might be ever more overkill.
You could also add a slice of sausage, but make sure it is a thin slice, or there may not be room for the egg.
A delicious breakfast addition to impress your family and friends!
Galley Beach, under chef W Scott Osif has been a high end fixture in Nantucket for many years. With its setting on a beach point, you can admire the food and the sunsets almost any night.
This year, they have moved to an two-course prix-fixemenu for $89, with several dishes having supplemental charges. They also have taken a big step and added the 23% gratuity to every check, which means the prix-fixe is really over $109. Oh, and they charge $15 for valet parking, an almost unavoidable charge since street parking is pretty difficult.
We’ve written about Galley Beach in 2019 and in 2015, praising its cuisine and service. This year, the service remained of high quality, but the food seemed far less successful than in past visits.
We started with an appetizer of Caesar salad, described as having white anchovies, parmesan croutons and creamy garlic dressing. As you can see from the picture there is one huge anchovie and one crouton, and the shredded cheese may ore may not be parmesan. We didn’t taste any parmesan, garlic or egg in the dressing, nor any lemon, vinegar, mustard or olive oil. We called this a “perfunctory Caesar salad.” We also note that it was served on some mixed greens rather than on romaine.
The right hand picture shows they one they served in 2019, which was very good.
We also had a Crab Cake for our other appetizer, which required a $15 supplemental upcharge, or $18.45 with the mandatory gratuity. It came with tomato, cucumber & mint salad. champagne beurre blanc. It certainly had plenty of crab and little filler, explaining the upcharge, but very little flavor. Now Maryland style crab cakes always contain spicy mustard, or sometimes just hot sauce, but this contained none of those, and was just kind of bland. We had the same dish in 2015 and praised its flavor.
Our entrée was Pan roasted halibut with duck fat Brussels sprouts. summer squashes. sunchoke puree, and a $10 upcharge. The halibut was perfectly cooked, but without much flavor from the minimal puree. The “duck fat Brussels sprouts” were supposed to be sweetened by browning in duck fat. Actually, they were burned. You would think some head chef would be checking plates before they go out the door and catch things like that. We were not impressed.
Our other entrée was housemade orecchiette. rock shrimp. buttered corn. capers. lemon. old bay. midnight moon. Not a lot of shrimp. Tasted like mac and cheese, but we’ve had better mac and cheese.
The waiter suggested desserts and there were only four rather standard choices, each $19:
Warm chocolate brownie with ice cream and salted caramel
Crème brulee with macerated blueberries
Turmeric Panna Cotta (Come on! Really?)
We chose to skip the dessert. Our bill, including 3 glasses of chardonnay, tax and a $57.50 service charge was $325. It’s not that we begrudge the inclusion of the service charge, but for an indifferent meal, this was an awful lot of money. Even so, it was cheaper than the Company of the Cauldron!