Twas said of yeast: it’s (mostly) dead, Jim.

Earlier today I was adventurous and tried to make some homemade cinnamon rolls. I’ve decided quite conclusively that the yeast I used is past its expiration date (the “best by August 2009” on top might have been an indicator). Lets go so far as to call it dead — and it’s not rising again in 3 days.

Despite the lack of decent rising, either in the general fermenting or the proofing stage, my ornery self stuck them in the oven to bake anyway. After cooling them off I threw on some frosting and served them up to my poor husband and our out-of-town guest. They both said they were good although I’m a harsher critic. The flavor was ok but they were most certainly rather dense and chewier than they should have been.

Regardless I’m calling the endeavor a success as not only was it my first time to make cinnamon rolls but I did it at a high altitude to boot. Just call me Benny Crocker.

Oh, did I mention that in addition to cinnamon rolls I was also making Latin Gumbo for dinner tonight and my own chicken bullion for some other meals this week? Maybe you should call me Julian Child instead!

Toni’s 10 Bean Soup

Yesterday for lunch I threw together Toni’s 10 Bean Soup (if you can call soaking the beans overnight and cooking them for 4.5 hours “throwing it together”). That’s a soup mix that we purchased at a Women’s Bean Project booth at Pride in 2008 — thankfully beans last for a while!

The soup was very good and only required the addition of water, a garlic clove, a 28-oz can of diced tomatoes, salt, and the aforementioned 4.5 hours — the beans and a seasoning packet was included. Benjamin was skeptical before the inclusion of the tomatoes but agreed it turned out pretty well. I’m sure the side of Perfect Cornbread (his favorite) didn’t hurt his appreciation either.

Women’s Bean Project is a social services organization. From their FAQ:

Since 1989, the Women’s Bean Project has provided women with the opportunity to become economically independent by teaching basic job readiness skills and life skills through work in our on-site business.

Income from our business allows us to pay women a steady wage as they work in a safe, accepting environment and develop the skills and abilities needed to get and keep a job.

The program varies in length, lasting about 6 months, depending on each individual participant’s progress in reaching “job readiness.”

Back in 2008 we purchased two mixes, one was a black bean salsa mix which we took to a party the following month and it got rave reviews. Unfortunately I don’t see it available on their online store.

Next time we come across one of their booths I’ll be sure to pick up some of their other products since the last two were so successful. It’s nice to support a local business that’s helping people, and even better when you love their products! They also offer some attractive yet inexpensive gift bundles if you’re looking for Christmas gifts already.

Benjamin’s recipe selection privileges: revoked

Every Sunday Benjamin and I sit down and decide what meals we’re cooking for the week. We look at our schedules, and the weather, and determine roughly what meals we want to cook. Sometimes we opt for tried-and-true recipes, but often we’ll select one or two new recipes to try out. Then we go to the grocery store and buy everything we need for the week. This has been our standard operating procedure for many years now.

This trimester Benjamin doesn’t get out of class until 6pm every evening, so I’ve been responsible for getting dinner started, if not done, by the time he gets home. (Yes, not only do I bring home the bacon, but I cook it too!) I’d forgotten how much I love to cook until thrown into this schedule. However, after last night I officially revoked Benjamin’s new recipe selection privileges for at least a week or more.

Two weeks ago B selected the recipe for the Indian dish that involved the garam masala which I’ve blogged about twice before. Given his strong reaction to the smell when he walked in the door, we ordered take-out and I ended up eating it later by myself when he was otherwise occupied. It was rather good if a bit heavy on the onion. That was strike one.

This week B selected a recipe for Coq au vin that we had cooked before back in Austin. Unlike the classic recipe featured at the link, this one is much simpler but still tasty. This one at least made it to his plate before he decided that while edible, It wasn’t as good as he remembered it and overall he wasn’t a fan. I on the other hand, loved it. That was strike two.

Also this week, B had selected a recipe for Balsamic Vinegar Chicken. Once again I had it almost ready when he came home from school yesterday. Unlike the Coq au vin, it didn’t make it to his plate although he did taste it before opting for some leftovers instead. It was tangy and delicious, if a bit dry. That was strike three.

So now, B is not allowed to select new recipes for the next week or so. It’s bad enough when I select and cook a recipe that he doesn’t care for. It’s quite another for him to dislike a recipe that he selects and I cook three times in two weeks. Speaking of food, I’m trying out a new 10-bean stew recipe for lunch today (it’s on the stove as I type). I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow.

Garlic is to Dracula as Garam Masala is to Benjamin

If you, intrepid adventurer, encounter a group of rabid Benjamins pursuing you down a dark ally late at night and fear for your life, don’t reach for the garlic. Coriander will also provide no defense. They will simply mock you if you present them with turmeric. Nay brave traveler, pull out the garam masala and bid them return to whence they came.

Garam masala, you see, is anathema to the Benjamin. He will flee not just your person, not just the local area, but as far as possible to escape the smell. If you open it in his domicile he will open all the windows, turn on all the fans, light all the candles, and spray cinnamon scented air freshener in every room without fear of the spray turning into a flame thrower with all the lit candles. Even after the smell as abated he will insist that it remains saturated in the surrounding fabrics and you would be well suited to flee the area in case he decides a purifying burning of those objects is required.

It is still unclear which of the many spices that commonly make up garam masala causes the violent reaction. Commercial mixtures can include dried red chili peppers, dried garlic, ginger powder, sesame, mustard seeds, turmeric, coriander, bay leaves, star anise and fennel. Benjamin scholars have confirmed that most of these alone will not suffice to get the desired turning. There are reports that of all the previously listed spices only star anise and fennel are likely candidates for evoking the violent reaction by themselves. Or perhaps each individually is useless and it is the collection of all of them together that are necessary.

In either case, brave adventurer, you’re best served stocking up on garam masala should you venture into areas where rabid Benjamins are known to reside — or you risk more than just your life, you risk your wardrobe!