Foodie Tuesday: Suh-weeeeeet!

I love fat. I love salt. I love food, period. And as you know pretty well by now, I love sweet tidbits and treats. Dessert may as well not be a real word in my universe. Why limit my sweet tooth to being happy only at the end of a meal, I ask you! Yea verily, I might just possibly have confessed to y’all before that I adore sweet + salty foods and, of course, the marvels of the Five Tastes worshiped by so many is hardly foreign to my palate either.

Like all of my foodly affections, however, the one for sweet eats is nearly as changeable as the weather, so it takes lots of different delicacies to satisfy my cravings for sugary goods.

One day, what I have handy drives what I desire to fix: I’m looking at a basket of about a half-dozen mandarin oranges and four mid-sized lemons and thinking thoughts of citrus sweets, so I zest and juice them all together as soon as I’ve washed them. And I’m wafting on a cloud of gorgeous citrus oils and juices and hankering more for juicy joy with every minute. Thinly peeled slices of zest are too fresh and fruity to kill with over-treating. So rather than fuss with the supposed need to do repeated soaking and simmering, I decide to give the already pith-free shavings a lovely swim in the spa of sweetness, about a cup of pure maple syrup plus a hearty splash of brandy, gently bubbling it until the peels become a bit translucent; when they get strained out of the syrup, they take a roll on a sandy beach of cane sugar to keep them from staying too sticky and at the same time, give them a little hint of sparkle. Sweets enough at the end of it, between the fresh candied peels and the preserved citrus-infused maple syrup resulting, to keep the candy-monster at bay. The final bonus was that, though the syrup was pleasant enough to simply drizzle on some plain yogurt, it fed the Monster even better when it cooled completely and turned into citrus-infused pralines. Ooh, yeah.photosSometimes my hunger for sweets drives me to be overzealous in production. Even my crazy lust for candy can’t always keep up with the quantity of Noms I’ve made on many an occasion, and if we’re not having company or visiting someone I think might share my fondness for the treat of the moment, I hate to see it go to waste. So I’ll often find the way to renew the food with a little tweak or ten. For example, since we went out of town shortly after I’d made them, the recently-baked Texican Brownies left a few fellows behind until they were getting a hint too dry to be delicious as-is anymore. Quick-change artist to the rescue! I crumbled up the remaining brownies as finely as I could, softened the remaining strawberry frosting I’d set aside for them, blended the frosting with about a cup of whole milk yogurt (that I hadn’t eaten up with the syrup), added the tangerine and lemon juice I’d squeezed while making candied peel, and mixed all that creamy, thick stuff with the brownie ‘flour’ until it melded into what was a very yummy, thick, spiced, gooey mousse.photoI do realize I can’t eat all of this stuff all of the time, at least not if I have plans to, you know, live very long. But I know from experience that if I don’t please the candy dragon from time to time I get cranky and whiny. Even more than my usual. And I rather enjoy living a really multifaceted life and don’t plan to get all monk-like and deprivation-happy anytime soon either. So it cheers me up a little bit when I see that others take a pretty forgiving attitude toward sugar, salt and fat too. I might croak a leetle bit younger, but if it’s happier too, it’s probably worth it. ‘Course, I’d rather find out that sugar and fat and salt are all extreme health foods after all. I have my preferences.photo

Foodie Tuesday: There’s No Substitute for a Smart Substitution

Nearly every time I get in the mood to bake something I’m missing one or more of the necessary ingredients. This happens often enough when I’m making non-baked goods, but it’s almost a given with baking, because I simply don’t bake all that often: too much wheat flour and sugar makes this sweets-addict too likely to get tummy aches or just plain to overindulge. And the fact that I don’t bake terribly often means that, in that most scientific of culinary skills, I’m the least a genius about getting the fussy proportions and timings and temperatures correct. But I still do like to bake once in a while.

Though I feel pretty safe making all sorts of substitutions in cooked and raw dishes, simply finding analogous items–ingredients that have plenty of similar qualities and can therefore be expected to fill similar roles in the combination–I know less about what the ingredients used in baking are supposed to do, unless you’re talking about spices and flavorings, and so have always been more timid about fooling around with the recipes for baked goods. But lately, I’ve come to be more of a believer that life’s too short not to have a little kitchen adventure more often, and that if I’m not using outrageously expensive ingredients the worst that can happen is that a batch of something goes so far awry that it’s just plain a failed experiment. That’s what trash bins are made for, no? I’ll bet few scientists ever made their paradigm-shifting discoveries without a few boneheaded false starts and cock-ups and misdirections and outright failures along the way either, and, well, brownies are not exactly rocket science.

So I give you:photo

Texican Brownies

Ingredients: Plain ‘classic’ brownies call for the following ingredients and proportions:

4 squares (4 ounces/113 grams) Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate–I substituted semisweet baking chocolate. It’s what I had in the cupboard.

3/4 cup  butter–while baking recipes almost always specify unsalted butter, I almost always use salted butter anyway unless there’s a lot of additional salt in the recipe; salt heightens sweetness and intensifies other flavors as well. And I love salt.

2 cups sugar–I substituted dark brown sugar for a deeper flavor.
3   eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour–I substituted instant masa flour (a fine corn flour usually used for tortilla- and tamale-making)

Then I added a few ingredients of my own to make a darker-chocolate brownie and give it a slight Mexican twist:

1/2 tsp baking soda–since the masa flour wouldn’t have gluten like the wheat flour to make the brownies rise a little, I figured they should have a boost in leavening. Look at me, being all fake-scientist-like!

1/2 tsp salt plus 1/8-1/4 tsp ground black pepper–again, wanting to intensify the spicy chocolate of the brownies–plus 1 large tablespoon Dutch processed cocoa–yet more chocolate boosting–plus 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Directions:

Heat your oven to 350°F–mine runs hot, so I heated it to 325°.

Line a 13×9-inch pan with an oversized piece of baking parchment, folding it at the corners to fit and cover the sides as well as the bottom. One piece, no leaks.

Microwave the chocolate and butter together in a large microwaveable bowl on high until the butter is melted. Stir until the chocolate is melted and completely combined with the butter. Blend in the eggs and vanilla. In another bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients. Add them gradually to the wet mix, stirring until everything melds, and pour the batter into the prepared pan, pushing it into the folded parchment corners to fill them.

Bake 30 – 35 minutes (again, with my super-hot oven, I baked mine for more like 20-23 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Better to under-bake these than the opposite–fudgy, chewy brownies are good; dry, not.

The parchment will let you easily pop the whole sheet of brownies right out of the pan.

Makes 24 brownies. Mine were still a little too baked, thanks to the hot-hot oven, so I quite happily compensated for the slight dryness by frosting the ones that weren’t immediately devoured. (A number of them were. Clearly, the over-baking didn’t destroy them so badly that the members of this household wouldn’t cheerfully destroy them in another way.)

Thus, we have:photoRustic Red Frosting

No, I’m no fussy decorator. But I loves me some tasty frosting. And I wanted something that was earthy and yet juicy, something that would stand up to the depth of the spiced brownies and still have a little homey heartfelt quality to it, even if it wasn’t very frilly. I chose strawberry frosting; after all, las fresas are a fantastic favorite fruit treat in some of the Latin-American cuisine I’ve had the pleasure of inhaling eating. And this is just an easy take on buttercream icing.

Grind about one cup of freeze-dried strawberries to a coarse powder. I did mine in the blender, but if they’re dry enough you could even crush them with a wooden spoon in a heavy bowl–leaving some bits rough gives a little burst of berry flavor in the finished frosting and reminds us there are real berries involved. Add to the berry powder about a cup of powdered (confectioner’s) sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, a cup of soft butter, and a tablespoon or two of heavy cream. Blend them together well, adding more sugar and/or cream as needed for flavor and texture. Apply liberally to the brownies, cake, cookies, tongue, etc, as needed for improved state of bliss.

I sprinkled them with some edible glitter just for good measure. A little extra pizzazz never really hurt anything. But you could just sprinkle yours with the stardust of your affection and it’d be just as glamorous and grand.

This whole brownie-baking urge of mine was motivated in large part because I felt like making a sort of Valentine’s Day treat; since we’ll be in the car on a work-related jaunt much of the actual Valentine’s Day, I figured today was a reasonable substitution for the occasion. Since both my husband and I love chocolate and baked treats but do better with less wheat flour, I figured substituting corn flour could be a decent and respectable enough Tex-Mex way of dealing with that part of the equation. And since neither of us is a stickler for celebrating only on the official or ‘correct’ dates for anything, we’re both quite willing to celebrate the American holiday of love-and-romance any old time we can. Because for love, there really is no acceptable substitute.

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XOXOXO!

Foodie Tuesday: Fat & Sassy

In my unapologetically piggy way, I almost always manage to get a goodly amount of delicious fat into whatever food I’m fixing for any occasion. Yes, I do have the proverbial sweet tooth and oh boy do I crave my salt, and surely you’ve noticed that I rarely turn down practically any sort of food on offer at all. But there are some sneaky little biases that tend to recur so regularly that they might be considered trademarks of my taste no matter what dish or meal or bite is the treat of the moment, and tasty fat is one of those delights.

Doesn’t matter what’s the course of the meal or of the day, either one–fat is where it’s at.

Say, for a starter bite. Just putting some nice fatty dry salami together with pieces of dried apricots and chunks of dense, also fabulously fat, fried cheese makes an amazingly great treat that you might not even have to be as big an admirer of fat as I am to enjoy it all.photo

If that’s not fat enough for you (or if, like me, it’s simply not too much and therefore arguably not nearly enough), you can go about pumping up the main dish with some additional lipid-licious treasures. How about a sandwich with a nice thick slab of mozzarella or other mild, thick cheese and a whack of crispy bacon, glued together with a slathering of ginger jam and cradled between two slices of nut-butter based batter bread? All good, I assure you. Probably needed some good greasy chips to go with it, but the sandwich was perfectly serviceable on its own. Enough so that I’ll bet I could have enjoyed it with fruit or vegetables or some other ridiculously healthful and low-fat sides just the same.photo

That’d probably be an even better excuse to have a nice fat slice of sleekly fat dessert, no? Perhaps something like almond cream tart with chocolate sauce. Honestly, not a terrible way to alleviate the shortcomings of a meal that didn’t already have only strictly, gloriously fat ingredients beforehand. I like to keep my arteries well lubricated so my blood will flow nice and smoothly, you know.

Almond Cream Tart (an approximation of a recipe)

1/2 pound melted butter

1-1/3 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1-1/2 teaspoons water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom

1-1/2 cups almond flour

Blend together thoroughly and divide the batter between two small, greased loaf pans and bake at 300 degrees until ‘sticky-finished’–very slightly underdone, or able to release a test toothpick fairly clean when it’s used to pierce the center of the loaf. Get the cakes out of the pans and let them cool enough to handle. While they’re cooling, line a Springform pan with plastic wrap.

Tear the cakes into large chunks. Distribute the cake pieces evenly in the Springform pan and press them down slightly. Moisten the cake with enough (1/4-1/2 cup of) heavy cream to help hold all of the pieces together. Smooth it out a little and sprinkle 1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds over the top of it. Press the almonds down, pull the plastic wrap over the top, and seal the tart into the pan. Then, into the fridge with it for a few hours or overnight, and when it’s well chilled it’s ready to glaze and serve.

To serve, plate up pretty pie wedges of tart for each diner. Microwave some more heavy cream (1/2 cup or so) together with some pieces of nice dark chocolate (I used Dove Promises) until you can stir them together into a nice smooth chocolate sauce and drizzle it over the top of the slices and take them all out to the table. Everybody stick your forks in and start making silly slurpy sounds. And don’t forget to wipe the luscious fatty residue off of chins, y’all. I may be greasing the skids to perdition, but isn’t it a lovely slide to take?photo

Foodie Tuesday: Egg on My Face

I have no particular secrets from you kind people out there in Bloglandia, so it can come as no surprise (especially to those who have seen any of my previous food posts) not only that I am an unreconstructed carnivore but also a generally unrepentant eater of all things–okay, nearly all things–that might be considered decadent if one is of the sort that equates dining habits with morality. I like eating. I like eating lots of different things, and in what even I will readily admit are too large quantities. It’s not good for my health, to be sure, and possibly not best for my soul, but there it is. I love food.photoOne of the things I would be most reluctant to give up eating or cooking with is of course that stupendous universal donor among ingredients, the humbly perfect egg. If I must be limited in my access and opportunities and omnivorous mania, I would proudly and gladly be wearing a nice schmutz of egg on my chops any day. Besides, with my coloring I am very ill-suited to wearing any other form of yellow, so why not embrace the ephemeral form of dressing up in some eggy yellow goodness that can at least be licked off my lips and make my innards very happy if its look doesn’t suit my exterior. I love what the egg can do for a sauce, a custard, a souffle. For baked goods; for dishes where it serves as binder, thickener, garnish.photoMaybe most of all, I love eggs when they star in the show. Their honest simplicity and smooth, creamy deliciousness deserve to be featured and recognized as the wonder that is borne in that beautiful capsule of the egg’s origin. So today I give you one of my very favorite meals, which despite my fondness for all sorts of marvelous mealtime miracles is a supremely simple omelette with grated sharp cheddar cheese melting in the middle, accompanied by some nice crispy bacon with a little drizzle of pure maple syrup, and a fresh, crisp, fabulous apple. I don’t usually mess with eggs much when I cook them, and a nice little cheese omelette like this deserves to be treated respectfully, so the only ingredient in the omelette besides the eggs, lightly beaten, and the cheese is just a nice big splash of melted butter to make the eggs easy to loosen from the pan and fold over when sufficiently set–but just barely set, really. Still light and creamy through the middle.photoI’d go on, but I’d kind of rather dash over to the kitchen and grab an egg or two . . .

Foodie Tuesday: Potato Famished

photoI’m going to keep this supremely simple. I love potatoes. Among my ridiculously long list of edible loves, potatoes rank pretty high on the list. It’s clear that my Viking ancestry designed my particular corporeal form to be composed of 70% potato water, so I’m spending my years just fueling it up as best I can.

Barring allergies or outright dislike, it’s hard not to admire the potato regardless of one’s lineage. It’s one of the most inspiringly versatile foodstuffs on this little old planet. There’s hardly anything that a potato can’t gussy up nicely. Let me just commune with the spirit of the potato here for a moment:

Boiled, roasted, fried, baked, steamed. Even raw. Yes, on rare occasions Mom gave them to us sliced like cold little potato bruschetti, buttered and salted and munched out of hand. Odd, but not unpleasant. Still, I’m a little more of an old stick in the mud and like them best cooked up one way or another. Grated, mashed, bashed, diced. Sliced and made into insanely tasty (and of course buttery as can be) Hasselback potatoes. Cooked and smashed, with lots of gloriously rich cream. French fried, skin on, in beef fat. Scalloped with a passel of cheese. Okay, you caught me. I’m stuck as always on my beloved theme of delicious FATS. Yeah, I yelled. Ahem. Now, back to our regularly scheduled swooning over potatoes. Tenderly toothsome cubes in vegetable soup or clam chowder or some dreamy slow-cooked stew. Crisply golden-browned hash browns tenderly steaming at heart. Silky smooth in a luscious cool Vichyssoise.

And of course, sometimes nothing else can possible compare to a fine and dandy baked potato. Say, served with tonight’s very simply cooked steak and very simply plain romaine and tomato salad. Just halve the russet potatoes, coat well with coconut oil, place cut side down in a baking pan and then stab them thoroughly in the back with a fork or knife to prevent in-oven explosion (or zombie resurrection, if that’s your concern), salt them well with coarse good salt, and bake until they’re tender inside and crispy outside (circa 20-30 minutes, depending on the oven and the size of your potatoes) at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Some things can’t really be improved, now, can they.photo

Foodie Tuesday: When Munchies Attack

You don’t have to be a weed-head in a full haze of happiness to get the munchies, though I am reliably told that that particular activity can exacerbate any natural leanings you have toward being peckish. Me, I’ve never craved a smoke of anything other than the sweet and occasional lungful from a good barbecue, but I certainly do know how to get hungry often, and at least half of that oft-had status is devoted to being snackish as much as anything: a desire for something, whether sweet or savory, that is merely a between-meals treat, even if it ends up (as can happen, I admit) turning into something closer to a whole meal in and of itself. To suggest that this is not a frequent transmutation of the event would be both disingenuous and ridiculous.

What should I do when I become Snackish, then? Why, ignore my base impulses and go off to do something heroic and selfless, of course.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! Oh, dear, I almost hurt myself there when I fell off my perch in a paroxysm of delirious guffawing. You know perfectly well that what I will do is hunt for the nearest stash of munch-able items that appeal to my moment of salivary salaciousness and eat them, forthwith. The only conceivable defense in this instance is to provide for myself a few less horrifically harmful snacks that can still stave off the munchies and leave me to fight another day. Rather than stock up on additive-crammed delights that I would happily scarf down just as readily if they were within reach, I sometimes am smart enough to make a bit of homemade nice-vice stuff that might have a hope of keeping me from dashing out to the nearest convenience store and succumbing to the succubus of tantalizing trans-fats and copious drafts of processed sweeteners and weirdly Sci-Fi flavor enhancers and their many hideously alluring cousins.

Today, then, as I was already overheating the house a bit with several loads of laundry, I turned on the oven and made some crackers. The first is a work in progress: I decided that the recipe needs much further study and experimentation to suit my tastes, as it came out a little too fragile and thin in the end to ever act as a vehicle for cheese, egg or tuna salad, herbed labneh, or any such thing, which to me is the primary purpose of a cracker unless it happens to be unusually tasty on its own. I might be able to solve the latter issue of blandness in this recipe (a very simple combination of almond flour, seasoning, oil and egg) by merely changing and/or increasing the spice content, but for now it will definitely have to be considered a first run at Garam Masala crisps with orange oil.

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They even *look* a little too insipid, don’t they. Next time, bolder!

The recipe for the other batch of crackers will definitely get made again. It’s a bit too soft and chewy for toppings as I made it today, though the original recipe assures me that additional baking time at a lower temperature will fix that problem. But it’s quite tasty all on its own, so there’s no harm in having incongruously bendy crackers this time around, especially as the flexibility comes mainly from some added cheese right in the cracker itself. The recipe is wonderfully simple, too, so I will make it again–but as I do have this propensity for overdoing on the quantity of the aforementioned snack-ables, I had probably best not make them frequently. [Insert sheepish grin here.]

The original recipe comes from the good William Davis, MD, at wheatbellyblog.com, and I revised it a little to suit the household tastes.

photoChili Sesame Cheese Crackers

This makes a thin enough batter to self-level and fill an 11×17 baking pan, a mighty handy way to create a full sheet of these treats, which are easy to cut as they cool.They’re shown above stacked on their edges, so you can see that they’re only about a pencil’s thickness.

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

1-½ cups raw sesame seeds + reserve a half cup more
1 scant cup shredded Parmesan cheese + a handful of sharp white cheddar bits
1 tablespoon chili powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon sea salt

Pop all of this into a food processor and whiz it together until it’s a nice, slightly coarse flour texture. Add the reserved half cup of sesame seeds and mix again. Then stir in the liquids (below) and pour it all into that nonstick baking sheet pan of yours and pop it in the oven.

1 teaspoon Tabasco/hot sauce + 2 tablespoons good olive oil + 1¼ cups water

It will likely take 30 minutes or, as in my oven’s case, less, to lightly brown these beauties. Dr. Davis tells us that 10-15 minutes of additional baking at 250 F will crisp them further, but if you’re like me you won’t be much bothered with a chewy cracker–after all, slower chewing means slightly less shameless high-speed munching.

Maybe. They are tasty.

Foodie Tuesday: Good Housekeeper Cooking, or One Man’s Baking Disaster is Another’s Ice Cream Starter

Every cook of any skill or talent level knows–or should–that one of the best inspirations for the next dish or meal is found in cleaning and tidying the kitchen. It doesn’t mean I have to completely reorganize and sanitize every square centimeter of the place constantly, though undoubtedly I could stand to do both a little more often. But even the most cursory, quick cleanup of fridge, pantry or cupboards can remind me that I’ve stashed away a number of tasty items that ought to be used before they become lost in the mists of time. Petrified vegetables and mossy fruits, sandy-bleached spices and unrecognizable bogs-in-jars are all interesting science projects in their way, I suppose, but rarely likely to serve the purpose of good taste or nutrition for which they were initially acquired.

So I’m setting out on a mission, albeit at a sauntering pace, to see if I can’t catch up with some of my longtime plots and plans in the culinary realm and get a neater and more easy to clean workspace in the bargain. Today’s inspiration came from a fellow blogger who offered a recipe that sounded like a wonderfully easy mash-up of a traditional German chocolate cake’s glaze (with the broiled coconut topping) and a raisin spice cake. Mostly, it made me want to bake a gooey cake, something I’ve simply not done in forever. In my typical style, it was not that there was the remotest chance of my following the inspirational recipe even to a mild degree of accuracy, but the initial concept that thus urged me on was greatly appreciated all the same. In honor of the inspiration I went through my stores of dry goods like a little tornado and came up with a few ingredients that I thought would suit the occasion pretty well. I give you:

Texas Tornado Cakephoto

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9×13 baking pan.

Blend together the following ingredients. I did so by pulsing it all together in the food processor until it was a coarse flour-like consistency, but you could certainly hand shred, chop and mince the ingredients and then blend them.

1 cup of raw cane sugar

1/2 cup dried apricots

1 cup shredded raw carrots

2 Tablespoons of candied orange peel

2 Tablespoons of candied ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon of more of ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

In a saucepan, bring to a boil 1/2 cup of butter and 1 cup of water, adding the prepared coarse meal of previously blended ingredients and cooking briefly to blend. In a separate large bowl, blend together 1-1/2 cups of mesquite pod flour, 1/2 cup of coarse almond meal, and 1 teaspoon of baking soda. When the wet ingredients have come to a boil, pour them into this dry mix and blend quickly. Pour the batter into the greased baking dish and level it as needed, and pop it into the oven for about 15 minutes.

While that’s baking, mix together the sticky topping ingredients. I just squished it all together quickly with my hands.

1/2 cup butter

1-1/2 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup almond meal

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon crunchy flake salt (I used Maldon sea salt)

When the cake comes out of the oven, crumble the topping mix over it fairly evenly, and pop it under the broiler just until it caramelizes. Cool, cut, eat. A little ice cream or whipped cream would not, of course, be amiss with this, but it can be eaten like a brownie or blondie just fine, too.photo

The problem is this: the stuff is too darned tender to even hold the shape of a small bar or square of cake. Needs better structure. Flavor? Oh, yeah–I mean, after all, look at all of the butter and spices and the mesquite flour and apricot and orange nuances. But it’s as crumbly as heck. What are gooey cake crumbs good for? Yes, that’s right folks: ice cream add-ins. So now I give you Texas Tornado 2.0:

Texas Tornado Ice Creamphoto

Yes, it looks mighty mish-mashy, like it’s right in the middle of the tornado. But by golly, it’s a lot pleasanter than being pelted with flying cars. In fact, it tastes pretty danged delicious. All it took was to crumble the whole pan of erstwhile cake up into chunky crumbs and stir them into unsweetened vanilla whipped cream. Yes, unsweetened–you saw how much sugar went into that cake, y’all. 1 pint of heavy cream, whipped up with a generous 1 teaspoon splash of good vanilla; fold in all of the delicious ‘dirt’ you made of the cake, put it in a sealed container, and freeze it. If you can wait that long. It really makes a pretty tasty pudding without ever freezing it, if your sweet tooth is aching already. So I’ve heard.photoThe surprisingly spiced-mocha scent of the mesquite flour is quite strong when the cake bakes. So much so, that I almost forgot it wasn’t actual brownies or chocolate cake in the oven. Which in turn may mean that I have some chocolate baking to do soon too. Something that holds up structurally, I should think. But I’m not sure I care. There’s always an alternate use for good food-parts. These things happen when I start rummaging around in the kitchen stores, don’t you know.