Saturday, July 30, 2011

Potato Salad with Basil, Dill, and Lemon



P.S. Don't forget the PS!
This isn't your grandmother's potato salad. But next to hers, I love this one. It's simple and  "clean." Whenever I make it, usually in the summer months, I always question myself, "Why don't you make this more often?"

A cold potato salad is perfect fare for the hot summer months. And it goes with just about anything from hamburgers to steaks to salmon. It's a meal in and of itself with a fresh, from-the-garden tomato dressed with olive oil and aged Balsamic vinegar and a slice or two of sweet melon for dessert. It's not necessary to use fresh dill for this, but it is imperative to use fresh basil--and don't skip the lemon.

Use small red potatoes since they are waxier than Idaho potatoes. Scrub, but don't peel. After they are cooked, the peels will begin to slip off as you cut them. I like a bit of the peel to show in the PS. This recipe is easily cut in half. 

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_9aQouWAf8Hw/R89izDaLIZI/AAAAAAAABAA/BGzcEUoBwCQ/s400/Oven-roasted+red+potatoes2.JPG

  • 3 pounds red potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar (seasoned or unseasoned)
  • 3/4 cup real mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup thinly-sliced green onions, white and green parts
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced (split large stalks into fourths lengthwise then dice)
  • 1/4 cup finely-chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 1 tablespoon dry
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
  • Salt
  • Pepper
(Serves 6-8)

Lightly scrub potatoes and leave on the skin. If potatoes are large, cut in half. Place in a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil just until tender, about 10-15 minutes or so until the tip of a sharp knife easily pierces the flesh. Drain. Rinse with cold water and drain. Allow to sit until cool enough to handle.

Cut potatoes into 3/4-inch pieces removing some of the peel as you go. Place one layer in a large bowl and sprinkle with a bit of the vinegar and salt and pepper. Repeat layers with vinegar, salt and pepper. Taste. Add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Sprinkle grated lemon peel over potatoes. Mix. Now add the rest of the ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Chill and enjoy (but I think it's wonderful still warm).


Notes: Potatoes take a lot of salt, so be sure to taste, taste, taste. When people complain that a potato salad is "bland," it's usually because it doesn't have enough salt. I've made this without the parsley and it's just fine. A garnish of radishes cut razor-thin makes a lovely presentation.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Creamy Cucumber and Tomato Salad with Dill

From garden bounty . . . to kitchen bounty. Tomatoes and cukes by the dozen!



Why is it that the names of tomato varieties sound like the names of drinks in a bar? Consider these: Russian Black, Pink Lady, Big Boy, Brandywine, Green Zebra. Maybe it's a good thing great-tasting tomatoes are seasonal otherwise we'd all end up tomatoholics!

Even if you don't have a garden, cukes and tomatoes are at their peak this time of year and in abundance at farmers' markets. 


  • 1 lb. tomatoes, seeded and cut up (about 2 cups)
  • 2 lb. medium cucumbers, seeded and cut up (about 4 cups)
  • 4 green onions, white and green parts (about 1/4 cup, cut)
  • 1 small-medium clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh-cut dill
  • 5 tablespoons sour cream
  • 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Balsamic vinegar (optional)


Cut tomatoes in half. Squeeze out the seeds and cut into pieces. Peel cucumbers. Remove seeds with a spoon and cut up into random-sized pieces. Add to tomatoes. Sprinkle with the 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and mix through. Place in colander over a bowl or plate and allow to drain for at least 1/2 hour. This will prevent your salad from becoming watery.

Mix the mayo and sour cream. Add the garlic and dill. Stir. Refrigerate until ready to use.



Add drained cucumber and tomatoes in a shallow bowl. Add green onions. Taste for seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add a quality, and I emphasize quality, aged Balsamic vinegar, about 1/2-1 teaspoon. Mix through. Now add the sour cream dressing and toss to incorporate.

Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving. 

Note: This is particularly good served over pulled bread from an artisan loaf or pieces of cornbread. The bread absorbs the wonderful juices. Serve as a side to grilled chicken breast or white fish.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Banana-Strawberry Muffins

From this . . .


... to this!


The summer I graduated high school, I camped throughout East Africa for about a month. Part of my diet was bananas. Delicious, sweet bananas that kind of reminded me of vanilla ice cream. We bought them in huge clusters, and each banana was only a few inches long. I was totally spoiled for life. Today, when I eat what passes for a banana in the grocery store, I wince. To me, they're sour. When and if I buy any, they tend to . . . rot. 

So, when given rotten bananas . . . make muffins. With strawberries. These are great summer-time fare. And what a great combo. Be sure to use firm strawberries. Don't cut them up too small, or they just kind of "disappear." I love biting into a strawberry with the banana taste in the background. I expect blueberries would work well, too. 


  • Batter:
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour (reserve 1/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup light-brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)
  • 2 eggs, well beaten (I use an old-fashioned hand beater)
  • 1 lime, zested (about 3/4 of it)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Fruit:
  • 1 cup mashed, ripened bananas (about 2-3)
  • 1 cup cut-up fresh strawberries
  • Topping:
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter


Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper cups or spritz them with a non-stick spray. (I'm not a paper-cup kind of guy when it comes to muffins. I like them browned all over.)

First, make the topping. Mix sugar, flour and cold pieces of butter in a small bowl. Use a fork to mash and work through until "crumbs" begin to form. I end up "rubbing" it with my fingers. The trick is not to get the butter too soft or warm. Return to fridge until ready to use.

Next, prepare the fruit. Mash bananas with a fork or pastry blender, being sure to leave some "bits." Cut up strawberries and dust with reserved 1/4 cup of flour.

In a small bowl or on a sheet of waxed paper, measure out the 2 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt. Mix together.

In a large bowl, combine brown sugars, melted butter, beaten eggs, banana, lime zest, cinnamon and vanilla.

Using a wooden spoon or wide spatula, begin adding dry ingredients. Mix just until blended.

Carefully add the strawberries, using a folding motion so you don't smash them.



Evenly divide the batter into 12-cup tin paying close attention to add berries to each.



Sprinkle with crumble topping being sure to evenly distribute it over surface and not just plopping in down in the center of each (you won't quite need to use it all).

Bake for about 20-25 minutes until top springs back when touched and toothpick comes out clean. Remove to wire rack and allow to cool before eating. Schmear with a bit of cream cheese, if desired. 




Notes: I used Driscoll Organic strawberries. Next time I may just cancel out the vanilla flavoring and sub rum extract. I threw out my really old, tinny, muffin pans several years ago and invested in some sturdy, non-stick ones. A spritz of non-stick spray is all that is needed and muffins literally slide right out. When you "spray" a pan, do it over the open door of your dishwasher. This prevents the spray from going all over and is easily cleaned when you do a cycle of dishes.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Grilled London-Broil-and-Horseradish-Cheddar-Cheese Sandwich

This was a GREAT summertime dinner! I'll be making it again. And again. And again.


My deli had three of my favorite things on sale: London broil, horseradish cheddar cheese and artisan Italian bread. Sometimes fate just comes a knockin' with ingredients for a great recipe.

I put all three together in a grilled-cheese sandwich. And, boy, did I ever enjoy it. Washed down with an ice-cold glass of beer, it was perfect for hot summer weather. The melon and avocado slices were just right.


  • Thin-sliced London Broil deli meat
  • Horseradish Cheddar slices
  • Mozzarella, shredded or sliced
  • Dijon mustard
  • Sliced artisan bread--Italian, sour dough, etc.
  • Melted butter


Coat the inside of two slices of bread with mustard. Coat the outsides with melted butter. Place one piece of bread, butter side down, in pan. Top with horseradish cheese and some Mozzarella (I use a 2-1 ratio). Top with ribbons of sliced London broil. Top with a bit more Mozzarella and then the horseradish cheese. Top with second piece of bread, mustard side down.




Toast over a low, steady heat. If possible, cover. When brown, carefully flip. Cover if possible. (A cover allows the cheese to melt without using a high temperature which could scorch the bread. It also kind of "steams" the meat at the same time.)

Remove to plate and slice in half.

Notes:  I used Dietz and Watson brand London Broil which has an incredible depth of flavor. I also used their Horseradish Cheddar which can be milder than other brands, such as Boar's Head. Always add a bit of Mozzarella to your grilled-cheese sandwiches. It just gives a wonderful and comforting "gooiness."




Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sweet Pickles

There is no store-brand comparison to homemade bread-and-butter sweet pickles.
During the Depression, pickles were as common as "bread and butter"
on the dinner table; hence, their name.


I'm particular about my pickles. The two recipes I love the most for bread-and-butter pickles, alas, are not to be had. Both are in Michigan. The first is by Murlynn, a wonderful Michigan friend who grew her own cukes and made the most incredible pickles. I savored each and every one and felt fortunate whenever I had a jar of her B and B's in my fridge. The next was by a woman who helped run a hamburger booth at the local summer socials held across from my studio. How I miss those pickles. Why didn't I ask, beg, and plead for the recipes?


Pickles begin as small cucumbers. They are sliced and soaked or "pickled"
in a solution of vinegar with spices and sugar.


I went through a ton of recipes before settling on the following. I liked this one because it used fresh, whole spices, not just "pickling spices" which is mostly mustard seed, anyway. Most recipes used a 1-1 ratio of sugar to vinegar. I cut back on the red pepper flakes and, before packing the jars, I placed several slices of fresh garlic in the bottom of each.

Canning really is not difficult and the results are so self satisfying, especially in winter when you open up your summer bounty. Follow these few rules:
  1. Have your kitchen clean and ready to go. Keep a sink full of hot sudsy water to which you've added a capful of bleach. Use clean towels and dishcloths, not sponges. Use metal utensils, not plastic or wood.
  2. Have your pots, jars, lids, rings, spoons, all lined up and ready to go. Keep the jars simmering in the hot-water bath until ready to use. Keep the lids and rings in a medium saucepan in simmering water, likewise.
  3. Keep your counters clear of clutter.
  • Ingredients:
  • 2.5-3 pounds pickling-sized cucumbers
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt
  • 2 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup white vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 1 cup apple-cider vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seed
  • 6 allspice berries (and a pinch of ground allspice)
  • 6 whole cloves (and a pinch of ground cloves)
  • 1-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 3/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)
  • 6 pint-sized canning jars

Early in the day: wash cucumbers thoroughly. Do not peel. Slice into generous 1/4-inch rounds and place in a large bowl. Thinly slice the onion. Add to cukes. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup pickling salt and thoroughly mix. The salt draws out the water from the cucumber resulting in a crisp chip. Place a clean, cotton towel on top (not terrycloth) and cover with several inches of ice. Place in refrigerator for about 4 hours.

Slice the cukes. Add onion and salt.



Cover with a clean, cotton towel and ice. Refrigerate.


Remove towel and ice.


Drain in colander. Rinse several times
under cold water. Allow to drain.


In a large pan, measure out the vinegars and add the spices. Bring just to a boil.





Whole spices are less likely to cloud the vinegar mixture.


Add the drained, rinsed, cucumber mixture and just simmer, don't boil, for about 8 minutes or so. Stir as little as possible. You don't want to break up the chips.

Remove now-sterilized jars from water bath using tongs. Have them lined up on a heat-proof cutting board. If using, place several slices of garlic in the bottom of each jar. Using a slotted, metal spoon, spoon pickles into jars to about an inch from the top and then fill with hot liquid to about 1/4 inch. Push down gently to release any air pockets. Proceed to rest of the jars. A wide-mouth funnels simplifies this part of the process.

Using a clean, damp cloth, wipe the rim of each jar clean. The jar will be very hot, so you may need another wet cloth to hold it. Using tongs, carefully remove lid from hot water in saucepan and place on top of jar. Place on band and screw firmly. Proceed to rest of jars.

Lower jars into water bath. Water should cover the jars by at least one inch. As soon as water returns to a boil, cover and process for 10-15 minutes. Carefully remove jars and place on several thicknesses of towels. Jars will usually "ping" as they cool, so don't be alarmed. When cool, jars should be sealed. If a jar isn't sealed properly, you will be able to push down on the lid and it will pop back up. Place those in the fridge and do not store.

Allow pickles "to cure" or mellow for at least three weeks before opening.

These are unusually good on a ham sandwich. Or spread a Ritz cracker with simple cream cheese and top with a pickle! I think my old friend Murlynn would be quite pleased!

















Monday, July 11, 2011

Chocolate Pudding

Pudding is a treat for both child and adult. It's wholesome and easy to make
with ingredients you probably have in your kitchen right now. 

Most children (even adults) in America grow up only knowing instant pudding. That's unfortunate. Homemade pudding is really quite easy and a wholesome dessert. It uses the simplest ingredients one most likely has on hand: milk, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder. It's a good way to use up milk, especially if it is close-dated.

In the summer, pudding is wonderful served chilled and garnished with fresh slices of banana, a few summer berries, such as raspberries, and a big dab of whipped cream. In winter, it's just comforting, especially served at room temperature and unadulterated. For a dinner-party dessert, serve in wine goblets or martini glasses to "dress it up."

For baking purposes, I use Dutch cocoa. It's darker and richer than regular cocoa. The creaminess of your pudding will depend on the milk you use. The higher the fat content, the more velvety the pudding. I usually use whole milk. This time, though, I had some leftover whipping cream so I used about 3/4 cup of that with the rest being milk. To give the pudding a bit more depth, I added two tablespoons chopped chocolate; the higher the cocoa content, the better.



This recipe is neither overly sweet nor overly rich. It's what I expect from a pudding. And I bet you'll lick the bowl.

One final note. YOU MUST HAVE A WHISK. A spoon just doesn't quite work.

  • 2 cups milk (reserve 1/4 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons Droste's Dutch Chocolate (or 4 tablespoons other cocoa)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons cornstarch*
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chocolate, preferably semi-sweet with at least a 60% cocoa content
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Dissolve cornstarch into 1/4 cup reserved milk. Set aside.

In a heavy, medium saucepan, combine 1 3/4 cup milk, sugar, cocoa and salt. Whisk over a low heat just to the boiling point. Add chopped chocolate and whisk until melted. Remove from heat.




Slowly whisk cornstarch mixture into hot pudding mixture. Return to heat. It's important at this point to keep stirring so the bottom of the pan doesn't scorch, the reason you want a low heat and a pan with a heavy bottom. Bring to a slow, slow boil whisking until pudding begins to thicken and you can no longer taste the corn starch. You don't want a full, rolling boil, but you need that boil because it reacts with the cornstarch to make the pudding set.



This whole process should be about 20 minutes.

Remove pudding from heat. Whisk in vanilla and almond extracts. Pour into individual serving bowls or one large bowl. Cover. Bring to room temperature and refrigerate. Garnish as desired.






*If you know what you are doing, use two tablespoons of cornstarch. If you've never made pudding before, go for the 3 tablespoons. If you're somewhere in-between, use 2.5 tablespoons. 

Notes: For the chocolate, I used Ghirardelli bittersweet baking chips which are 60% cacao. To make really thin slices of banana, do not peel the banana. Slice through the peel with a very sharp knife and then remove the peel.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Corn Off the Cob with Green Onions




Okay, I admit it. I have "corn-on-the-cob" phobia. I envision biting into it and leaving behind my teeth. It just makes me queasy. And then there's the whole messiness of it--bits get stuck between your teeth. Your fingers get all greasy and buttered. You need five napkins to keep wiping your mouth.

I prefer corn off the cob. It's just a bit more civilized (really, I'm not a snob) and you can do all kinds of things with it. The other day in the grocery store a woman just went on and on how our store didn't have a "corn-shucking" station. She wouldn't shut up. To me, taking out several ears of fresh corn to the back porch to shuck is just part of the ritual of eating it. The peek-a-boo strip of golden kernels as you pull off the leaves revealing that fresh, green scent.


Having grown up in the Midwest, I, of course, grew up with corn. Many of my "backyards" were literally corn fields, albeit it was feed corn for animals. Still, it's a gorgeous plant, tall and stately with its green, tropical-like leaves. And then those lovely ears with plumes of silk.

This recipe is about simplicity and taste. The green onion doesn't overpower the sweetness of the corn. And, it's just pretty.
  • 3 ears, fresh corn for 2 cups of kernels
  • 3 green onions for 1/2 cup, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Shuck the corn leaving the stem or stalk intact so you can use it as a handle when you de-kernel it. I use an old baking sheet, not a bowl, to de-kernel corn. It provides a wider surface to catch the kernels. Use a sharp knife. Holding the stem in one hand, push the knife away from you and down the cob. You should end up with about 2 cups.



Chop the green onion, including the tops, for 1/2 cup. More is better than less.

Heat the butter and a drizzle of olive oil in a medium pan. When hot, add the green onions and sautee for a few minutes. Add the corn. Stir and mix. Sautee for about five minutes or so. You're just really warming up the kernels. You want them to keep their crispness. Salt to taste and serve.










Potato and Bacon Pie


Rustic. Easy. Delicious. You probably have the ingredients in your kitchen right now.


When I had my art studio in Michigan, I became friends with the Whites from St. Louis who often visited twice a year. Some summers, they'd arrive with their son, Chuck, who loved to cook, and his family. Being invited over for dinner was always a treat. It's there that I first had this wonderful pie which was served as a side to barbecued lamb. Those are fond memories, indeed.

This is classic Italian fare and the original recipe can be found in The Silver Spoon cookbook, the culinary bible of all things Italian. With a salad it's a great dinner that goes well with wine, red or white. I often just like a cold glass of milk.

The original recipe calls for "batons" of potato. To make batons, cut off the ends and sides of the potato until it is square. Then cut into 1/4-inch slices and then cut those into 1/4-inch "batons" or "fries" about two-and-one-half inches long. I've also just roughly chopped the potato. But don't use round "slices" since the bacon and onion just doesn't incorporate as well. Having done all three, I prefer the batons.



I like to remove much of the fat from the bacon. Ironically, this is easier if you buy an inferior or less expensive brand of bacon because it usually has a ton of fat that simply pulls away from the bacon meat itself. A good bacon will be "marbled" with fat and it's more difficult to separate. And don't use a "sweet" bacon. You want one that is naturally smoked. I suspect that in Italy, they would have used pancetta.

I bake mine in an 8 or 9-inch enamel-lined, cast-iron skillet. The original recipe calls for a "roast pan," more likely a shallow metal pan. I've also used a black heavy metal pie plate. (A heavy Pyrex dish will work, too, but you may want to bake 25 degrees lower and for less time if using glass, but the final result will not be as "crispy.")

I also throw in a bit of minced fresh rosemary and thyme when I have it on hand. When I don't, I sometimes add a few splashes of Tabasco. Go easy on the salt, since the bacon has quite a bit, and you can always salt the slices later. Use a quality pepper.

  • 11 ounces potato, peeled and cut into batons (about one and one-half potatoes or 2.5 cups)
  • 1/2 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 8 slices uncooked bacon, roughly chopped (I use 4-6 ounces of bacon "meat")
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1-2 teaspoons minced fresh herbs, such as rosemary and/or thyme (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 tablespoons milk, half-and-half, or a combo of milk/cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • Sour cream (optional [is sour cream ever an option???])

Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.

In a large bowl, mix the uncooked, chopped bacon and onion. Add the potato batons and, if using, minced fresh herbs. Mix well, taking care to incorporate bacon throughout. Sprinkle with flour and mix.



In a small bowl, beat the eggs and milk and/or cream with "a little salt and pepper." I use more pepper than salt.

Add egg mixture to potato-bacon-onion mixture and stir until combined.

Melt butter in pan until it begins to brown. (Here's what I do--I put the butter in the pan and then put the pan in the oven as I pre-heat it and leave it there while I prep the rest of the ingredients. By the time I'm done, the butter is where I want it. If it browns too fast, just remove from oven.)

Add mixture to hot pan with butter. Smooth the surface. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove. Allow to sit at least 15-20 minutes before serving. Spoon sour cream on the side of each portion.


Serves 2-3 as a main course. As a side, 4-6.






If possible, save a slice for your morning breakfast.





Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Peaches and Cream



Even though I live in the South which is noted for its peaches, the best ones I've been savoring so far have been from California in the supermarket. Go figure. I haven't had a bad one, yet. 

Cobblers, pies, jams, crisps...but who has time for all that prep? Sometimes easy is the best route. Slice them, toss with brown sugar, and serve over store-bought pound cake with whipped cream. I had intended to add a shot of amaretto to the mix--even brandy. But, you know, the peaches were just so fresh and tasty, why ruin a good thing?

Clingstone vs Freestone Peaches:

Clingstone peaches have a pit that stubbornly "clings" to the flesh. They are sweet and juicy and usually used for desserts, jellies, jams and canning. Chances are the canned varieties you buy in the store are clingstone. 

Freestone peaches have a pit that is easily removed from the flesh. They, too, are good for eating, canning and baking, and tend to be firmer but with less juice than clingstones; still, they are sweet.
  • 4 firm, ripe peaches (mine were clingstone)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, light or dark
  • Splenda, about 1-2 teaspoons
  • 1-2 tablespoons water
  • Pound cake
  • Whipped cream in a can

If you have freestone peaches, simply slice around the pit and pull apart. Slice each half in two. Peel the skin with a paring knife and cut each quarter in half. If using clingstone, it's easier to just slice around the pit in chunks; if you try to pull it apart, you will only end up bruising the peach. Peel the skin with a paring knife and cut into slices and/or pieces.  I like to leave some "skin" on the peaches for the visual effect. Don't be obsessed with a "perfect slice." Really, who cares?

For each peach, plan to use at least 1 tablespoon brown sugar. I like to use a bit of Splenda sweetener with fruit. It lessens the sugar but gives sweetness. When mixed with a regular sugar, such as brown sugar, I think the result is great. Of course, it's optional.

Sprinkle the sugared-peach slices with a bit of water. Toss. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate overnight or for 1-2 days. If your peaches are a bit insipid or bland-tasting, add a shot of amaretto or brandy to boost the taste.

To serve: slice a piece of pound cake, mound with peaches and drizzle with the syrup. Squirt with whipped cream. Garnish with mint leaves if you have them.

NOTES: I used Sara Lee Pound Cake and Reddi-Wip, whipped cream in a can. I did not use just a few squirts of whipping cream as in the picture. I smothered it--yea, baby! Did I stick the nozzle in my mouth and squirt, squirt, squirt? Hell, yes!


The phrase "peaches and cream" refers to a healthy complexion. Maybe. But I sure don't mind testing the phrase . . .