Sunday, August 31, 2008
After months of ogling all of the challenges I finally took the plunge - I joined the Daring Bakers!
This is my first challenge, hosted by Tony Tahhan and MeetaK. They selected Pierre Hermé's Éclairs to tempt our palates and our patience with Hermé's famous Pâte à Choux. In all honesty I was quite intimidated when I found out this months challenge was a recipe by Pierre Hermé. But, when I discovered it was éclairs my anxiety lessened. I've had a good deal of experience with éclairs so I wasn't nervous at all.
I should have been. Oh. My. God. This recipe for pâte à choux was enough to make a saint curse the heavens. My traditional recipe for pâte à choux uses only 4 eggs, but Hermé's uses 5. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but it is. The dough never reached the firmer consistency I was used to, but I thought, 'You know what? He's a famous French pastry chef. He knows what the hell he's doing.'
And you know, I'm sure he does. But I sure don't know what the hell he's doing.
I didn't wait long enough for the pan to cool before adding the eggs so they began to scramble the second they touched the hot saucepan. So I started to beat furiously while barking orders to Husband to crack the eggs into the pan. The 5th egg made it so wet I couldn't beat it as long as it needed to dry out the dough (I have tendinitis in both elbows - not meant for long periods of beating eggs into dough.)so I had to bust out my hand mixer halfway through. Even after beating as long as I could the pâte à choux was still so runny I couldn't get it to stay in the pastry bag. It flopped around all over the counter while I was trying to fill the bag, getting dough on the counters, the floor, the grout in between the tile on the floor. It oozed onto my Silpat in formless, globby heaps. I was having some serious doubts at this point. How on earth were these wet blobs going to transform into light, crisp éclairs? But, on I trod. After all, Hermé knows what he's doing.
I had preheated the oven to the set temperature. I baked them, propped open the door and baked some more, then closed the oven door and baked some more, just like the recipe stated. The end result?
My éclairs were flat as pancakes and tasted like an eggy mess. I was furious. How could I have possibly screwed up one of the easiest pastries I've ever made? I've been making pâte à choux since I was 16 and my friend Danny's mom taught me how. I made them for soccer games and brought them to school for lunch. Now, years later, I can't make a damn pâte à choux? Agh!
Round two. I cheated. This month's rules were to make éclairs using Hermé's pâte à choux recipe and to keep one element of the éclair chocolate. I just couldn't do it. I couldn't use his recipe. It was making me insane. I cursed more than Ludacris' last album and threw my pastry bag across the kitchen. For a moment I thought Husband was going to restrain me.
So, I cheated.
I pulled out my old recipe. The only huge difference was the additional egg, so I just left it out. The pâte à choux was a perfect consistency, it piped beautifully onto the baking sheet. I avoided all that propping the door open nonsense and just baked them for 25 minutes. They puffed up like good little éclairs should and life was wonderful and beautiful and right.
But I forgot to line the baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. They stuck to that baking sheet like I'd glued them there with extra strength epoxy - effectively ripping out the bottoms and making them impossible to fill.
I was once again, livid. I was having seriously negative thoughts about joining the Daring Bakers. If I couldn't pull off a simple pâte à choux, how in the hell could I create something as elaborate as an Opera Cake or a Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream? Was I really cut out to be a Daring Baker? Could I put myself through this every month? Those of you close to me and aware of my personal life know that I'm struggling with some pretty serious issues at the moment. I'm at such a heightened state of emotion that I cry at political commercials and puppies playing in the park down the street. Maybe adding one more element of stress into my life may not have been the best idea ever.
I decided to put the recipe on the back burner for a moment. I needed to sit back and decide if this was really something I wanted to participate in every month. It was still only the 6th of August, so I effectively had until the 30th to make up my mind.
About a week later I decided to try again. I figured that if I couldn't pull off a simple recipe in three attempts that maybe the baker's life just wasn't for me, but it deserved at least three tries.
It worked! Perfectly. Like a charm. It was as simple and easy as a pâte à choux is supposed to be. The eggs didn't scramble, it all incorporated perfectly and they puffed up like little champs in the oven. Easy as pie. Easy as they were when I was 16 and could whip up a batch of cream puffs or éclairs in an hour. My spirits were lifted and my hopes buoyed. The great sense of accomplishment after struggling with this challenge so much made me realize that, yes. Yes I do 'knead' to be a Daring Baker. I may be struggling with many things in my personal life, things that plague my mind and play games with my emotions, but I need this. Something to challenge me, not only in the kitchen, but in my life as well. I need a challenge, an obstacle to stand in my way, so that when I finally crest that mountain I can say I did it. It was trying and I thought about giving up, but you know what? I did it.
And that's precisely what I need right now.
Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)
• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature
1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the
2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium
and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very
quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You
need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough
will be very soft and smooth.
3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your
handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time,
beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.
You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do
not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you
have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it
should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.
4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.
1) Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.
2) You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking
sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the
piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.
Low-Fat Vanilla Bean Filling
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
3 cups fat free milk
1 vanilla bean
Off the stove combine the cornstarch and sugar in a medium saucepan. Add the egg yolks and whisk together until fully incorporated. Add the milk, one tablespoon at a time at first, mixing until blended completely before adding more milk. This is very important, do not add the milk too quickly or it will be lumpy. Split and scrape the vanilla bean, adding both seeds and pod to the saucepan. Set over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and stir constantly until thickened. Pour pudding through a mesh sieve to remove the pod and other particles into a bowl. Cover with saran wrap directly on the surface of the filling to prevent a skin from forming. Chill for 30 minutes. Whisk briskly before using.
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1 cup or 300g)
• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature
1)In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.
2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.
1) If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.
2) It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)
• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar
1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.
2) It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.
And please, don't forget to check out the amazing éclairs from all the Daring Bakers!
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest grits isn't exactly something you see on menus very often - if at all. In fact, I only had them for the first time a couple years ago when traveling with husband back East to see his family. I have to admit, they're pretty tasty. The only thing I'd ever had that was similar was Cream of Rice cereal, but Cream of Rice was usually dressed with sweets - cinnamon, raisins, honey, etc. Grits on the other hand are usually treated as a savory dish to accompany the main meal. They came into popularity during The Depression because they're inexpensive, versatile, and filling. Add that they're healthy to boot and you've got a pretty solid deal. Of course, they're not nearly so healthy by the time I'm done with them...
I just had grits with cheese for the first time yesterday. It inspired me to make my own and I'm very pleased with how they turned out. I'll be posting my inspiration later, along with an in depth look at Slow Food Nation, but for now, enjoy these cheesy grits and collard greens.
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup quick cooking grits
1 tablespoon butter
8 oz cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper
In a medium saucepan heat the stock, milk, and cream to boil, stirring occasionally. Stir in the grits slowly and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste and cover with lid. Allow grits to cook, covered, for about 6-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until thickened. Turn off the heat but leave the pan on the burner. Stir in the grated cheese to melt. Mix well. Serve immediately.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Pretty much every time we ate out when I was a kid it was for Chinese food. Whether it was a special occasion or just running into town for take-out, more often than not it was for Chinese. We'd mostly go to my dad's favorite restaurant, China Garden. It eventually closed and we switched to The Capitol Palace, a cute restaurant with a great view of the Puget Sound. There's also quite the funny story of my uncle mistaking my aunt's request for a refill of her teacup and using it as a fingerbowl. I think chow mein almost came out of my nose after seeing that one.
Most times I eat Chinese these days I still think of eating out with my family and Dad's affinity for Chinese cuisine. I attempted to recreate one of the dishes we'd commonly get this evening and I'm happy to say it was a great success. It was nearly a perfect recreation of what we'd get in the restaurants. I'm sure this is in no way an 'authentic' Chinese dish, but you know what? It's friggin' tasty.
1 lb flank steak, sliced into bite size pieces
2 broccoli crowns, cut into florets
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 inch piece ginger root, minced
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Mix all ingredients together in a sealable bag or bowl with the flank steak and toss well until all meat is coated. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
In a large skillet or wok heat vegetable oil until hot, but not smoking. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for about 15-20 seconds. Do not allow to brown. Add marinated flank steak to the hot oil, watch for spatter, and cook until nearly done. Add the broccoli and cook until heated through but still crisp. Create a well in the center of the pan and pour in the sauce. Allow to set for about 5 seconds to thicken and then stir, gradually coating all the meat and broccoli with the thickened sauce. Serve over steamed white/brown rice.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
My three favorite muffins are Spiced Bran, Butter-Dipped Pear, and Blueberry. But, blueberry, ahh blueberry holds a special place in my heart. I remember picking blueberries on a U-Pick farm where we lived in Northwest WA when I was very young. My mother is a blueberry fiend and we'd truck out there most seasons to pick them to freeze. Mom would freeze them and then eat them like candy throughout the year. She still does. As with most things about my mother I view them fondly, and whenever I eat blueberries I think of her.
In a pinch I'll even eat one of those monstrous, contains-your-entire-daily-caloric-intake blueberry muffins from Costco. That's how much I love blueberry muffins. Fresh from the oven (or microwaved in the Costco muffin's case) and slathered with creamy, salted butter. That spells heaven in a cupcake liner for me. The play of salty on sweet gets me every time.
I've been waiting for the price of blueberries at the farmer's market to drop, but they're holding pretty strong. Because I can't bring myself to pay $7 per pint, I eventually capitulated to the frozen berry aisle at the grocery store. My main reason for preferring fresh berries is purely aesthetic, I don't like it when my batter turns all bluey-green from the extra juice of the frozen berries.
But, frozen or fresh no one can deny the health benefits of blueberries. They're a great source of potassium, manganese and are widely viewed as a good source of those awesome little things called antioxidants. In a recipe that requires only 1/2 cup of oil and 2 eggs for 12 big muffins I say this rates pretty well on the muffin-health scale. Not that they're good for you, you just won't have a heart attack immediately after eating one like with those damned Costco muffins.
Makes 12 muffins
11 oz white whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
4 oz sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 large whole egg
1 large egg yolk
6 oz plain yogurt
2 oz orange juice
8 oz blueberries
1. In a medium mixing bowl mix all dry ingredients. In a separate mixing bowl combine all wet ingredients. Add the wet mixture to the dry, stirring just enough to combine. Do not over mix until smooth, it's supposed to be clumpy.
2. Add blueberries, gently stir in until pretty evenly distributed, but no more than absolutely necessary.
3. Separate into a twelve hole muffin pan, lined with cupcake liners or greased with butter. Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
*This post has foul language (lots of it) in it that might offend some people. This is a warning for those people reading this site that I actually give a damn about what they think of me.*
What the hell happened to customer service? Whatever happened to a person doing their job with a smile on their face? What happened to people actually giving a damn about what they do? I don’t care if there’s a song in your heart while you’re plugging away at whatever mundane job you have. Plaster a fucking smile on your face and get over yourself.
I went to the commissary today. On a Saturday. Bad idea from the get-go. A commissary is a military benefit for those in the armed services or is a dependent of someone in the services. It’s a grocery store run by the government that does not run at a profit. Is the food cheaper? Yes. Is it better quality? Fuck no. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home from the commissary, cut open a green pepper, only to find that it’s rotten inside. Their parsnips are soft and wrinkly by the time they even hit the floor. Their non-perishables? HAH. I bought a jar of yeast the other day, got it home and found out it expired in June. And the meat? Don’t even get me started on the meat. Too many times have I gotten home with a package of chicken, opened it, and you can tell it’s starting to turn. There’s even an Armed Forces Network PSA commercial that tells you “It’s okay if the meat smells funny.” Gee, thanks Uncle Sam. We’re going to sacrifice for you and our country – and our benefit is this craptastic commissary. However, thanks to our monkey of a retarded president and crooked banks we can’t afford to shop at a regular grocery store - a grocery store that has fresh foods. Thank god for the farmer’s market or everything we eat would come out of a can.
So, I’m trying to check out in one of those self check-out lanes. The people who bag your groceries at the commissary work solely off tips, so whenever I have less than 25 items I go to the self check-out to save a few bucks. But, we have the king of inept, ridiculously incompetent commissaries, so practically every other item has to be verified by the person overseeing the 6 self check-out lanes. The first item I have that has to be verified it takes me over a minute to flag down the kid that’s “working” (and I use the term loosely) the self check-outs. He finally moseys his lazy ass over, verifies my item, and then walks away. Immediately I have another item that needs verified. Where’s the kid? Over talking to his co-worker. It takes me another minute to flag him down. Oh, and there’s no one else at the 5 other self check-outs. Not a single goddamn person. He comes over, verifies the item, and walks away. The third item it takes me another full goddamn minute to flag down this idiotic excuse for an employee because now he’s text messaging on his phone. This happens 4 separate times. At this point I’m livid. I’m sorry, but this is pathetic. How friggin’ hard is it to just stay close by to ensure that a customer is able to finish their transaction smoothly and conveniently? Apparently it’s really fucking hard. Apparently you have to be totally disgusted every time a customer needs your assistance. Apparently you have to sigh in annoyance every time the machine doesn’t work properly. Apparently you have to cast nasty looks to no one in particular when you’re asked to move from your ghetto ass little computer podium. Screw you kid, do your job.
It’s at this time that I notice a bagger has come over and started bagging my groceries for me - in plastic bags. Completely oblivious to the fact that I have a big sack of my own reusable bags because I’m trying to make the effort to not kill the entire fucking planet with plastic bags. I try to get her attention, to ask her to stop bagging my groceries, but she doesn’t understand me. I point to my bags and the groceries she’s putting away trying to use signals to tell her what I want, to no avail. She smiles and says, “No, I do for you!” Oh fine. I can’t be mean to someone who’s just trying to help me out. Even if I do now have to tip her. Even if I do now have to recycle those stupid bags all the way across town. At least she has a smile on her face and is actively trying to do her best at her job. And she’s not even paid an hourly wage!
I suppose the point of this rant is to plead with those of you out there in the customer service industry. I get it, okay? Your job sucks. You hate life. What-the-fuck-ever. Get over yourself. I’ve been there. I was a server for too many goddamn years. I’ve worked in restaurants, bars, casinos, you name it. I know that people are assholes. I know what it’s like to lose all of your faith in humanity, night after night witnessing first hand the depravity of the human race. But you know what? Deal with it. Everyone has to work a shitty job at some point in his or her life. You don’t get to start off where Mommy and Daddy are. You aren’t going to own a BMW in your twenties. You aren’t going to graduate college and get a starting salary at $80k. You aren’t going to have nicer things than everyone else. You have to work for it. Does it kill you to do it with a smile on your face? Does it kill you to actually make eye contact with the person whose purchases you are ringing up? Is it an in-fucking-surmountable task to actually give a damn about what you do?
It’s so sad when I get excited - turns my frown upside down - if you will, when I experience friendly customer service. Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be? It is called customer service after all. As in, serve-us. I’m way too young to be talking about ‘kids these days’ but what the hell is going on? When did it become okay to be rude to a customer? When did it become okay to not do your best? And no, I’m not one of those people who thinks the customer is always right. If you do, then you’re an idiot. The customer is not always right. That’s an excuse to blame people whose fault your problem isn’t and to get free stuff out of people. But for Christ’s sake people, put on your big-boy pants and stop acting like a child! Your life isn’t tough, your life isn’t hard. Go live in Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, Rwanda, or the Congo. Then your life is hard. So you work at a check-stand in a commissary. Big-fucking-whoop.
All I want is some decent customer service. Is that too much to ask for?
Last night a potent craving for cinnamon rolls fell upon me. I had just tried out a new dish for dinner and it failed miserably. Underseasoned, the wrong texture. Heck I even bought the wrong kind of pita. When something goes wrong for me in the kitchen it puts me in a mopey mood. I'm not one of those people that takes mishaps or failed recipes lightly. I feel that if I'm going to spend three hours in the kitchen, it better be damned tasty. When the fruits of my labor taste like cardboard, a happy camper I am not.
After doing the dishes and cleaning up I decided the best way to assuage my bad juju was to try something I really thought would turn out well. I wanted cinnamon rolls, but I wanted them to be amazing. Being that it was already 6 o'clock I decided to try out Alton Brown's Overnight Cinnamon Rolls. By far the most thought out approach to cinnamon rolls I've ever come across.
But you know what? All that waiting is totally worth it.
I didn't ice them, because I'm not a huge sweets fan they're already overwhelmingly sweet without it, and it really allowed the cinnamon to come through. I can't stand it when I bite into a cinnamon roll only to be smacked with saccharine sweet dough covered in caramelized sugar. Blech. These were very sweet, but the spice of the cinnamon tempers it well. The buttermilk in the dough produces a residual sourness, a bite that cuts the sugar. Each component of the recipe lends itself to another; it's quite the harmonious cinnamon roll.
The "overnight" shouldn't frighten you away from this recipe at all. I prepared the dough, by hand (may the gods bestow upon me a KitchenAid mixer), after dinner and let it rise until about 8:30. I rolled it out, topped it with the filling (which seems like a lot, but don't cut back on it - I almost did and I'm glad now I didn't) and tossed them in the refrigerator. When I woke up this morning I boiled teapot full of water, reserved some for a morning cup of tea and used the rest to set beneath the rolls. Thirty minutes later you turn the oven on (remove the rolls first!) and thirty minutes after that you've got fresh baked cinnamon rolls.
How great is that? 2 minutes of active work (if you pour water really slowly?) on a Saturday morning and TaDa! Fresh cinnamon rolls! And look at how light and fluffy they are inside:
Alton Brown's Overnight Cinnamon Rolls
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 large whole egg, room temperature
2 ounces sugar, approximately 1/4 cup
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted, approximately 6 tablespoons
6 ounces buttermilk, room temperature
20 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 cups, plus additional for dusting
1 package instant dry yeast, approximately 2 1/4 teaspoons
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
Vegetable oil or cooking spray
8 ounces light brown sugar, approximately 1 cup packed
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3/4-ounce unsalted butter, melted, approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons
2 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened, approximately 1/4 cup
3 tablespoons milk
5 1/2 ounces powdered sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
For the dough: in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. Add approximately 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt; whisk until moistened and combined. Remove the whisk attachment and replace with a dough hook. Add all but 3/4 cup of the remaining flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Check the consistency of the dough, add more flour if necessary; the dough should feel soft and moist but not sticky. Knead on low speed 5 minutes more or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead by hand about 30 seconds. Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, lightly oil the top of the dough, cover and let double in volume, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until well incorporated. Set aside until ready to use.
Butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently shape the dough into a rectangle with the long side nearest you. Roll into an 18 by 12-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with the 3/4-ounce of melted butter, leaving 1/2-inch border along the top edge. Sprinkle the filling mixture over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border along the top edge; gently press the filling into the dough. Beginning with the long edge nearest you, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Firmly pinch the seam to seal and roll the cylinder seam side down. Very gently squeeze the cylinder to create even thickness. Using a serrated knife, slice the cylinder into 1 1/2-inch rolls; yielding 12 rolls. Arrange rolls cut side down in the baking dish; cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight or up to 16 hours.
Remove the rolls from the refrigerator and place in an oven that is turned off. Fill a shallow pan 2/3-full of boiling water and set on the rack below the rolls. Close the oven door and let the rolls rise until they look slightly puffy; approximately 30 minutes. Remove the rolls and the shallow pan of water from the oven.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
When the oven is ready, place the rolls on the middle rack and bake until golden brown, or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, approximately 30 minutes.
While the rolls are cooling slightly, make the icing by whisking the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer until creamy. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Sift in the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. Spread over the rolls and serve immediately.
I melted the rest of the stick of butter to brush the dough with and used the rest to paint butter on the baking dish.
I only baked mine for 25 minutes and they were perfect, the full thirty and the sugars would have started to burn. Be sure to watch your rolls closely if you're going for the full thirty minutes.)
Friday, August 22, 2008
Another first for my humble little blog, I've been tagged! Jude over at Apple Pie, Patis & Pate tagged me, and sadly, I did have to look up what a meme was. I'm such a noob. Normally I don't do this kind of thing, but I really like Jude, and reading his answers set me belly-laughing so I couldn't resist. What charm he has!
1. Last Movie I Saw In A Movie Theater?
The Dark Knight – Christian Bale is hawt.
2. What Book Are You Reading?
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky – What book do I want to be reading? Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I just can’t find it anywhere. Lame.
3. Favorite Board Game?
4. Favorite Magazine?
5. Favorite Smells?
Cut grass, baking bread, rain. I like misty rain the best, but drizzly rain on a warm day is pretty great too. Holy crap I am from Seattle, huh?
6. Favorite Sounds?
Rain on the roof, waves breaking, silence. Silence counts, right?
7. Worst Feeling In The World?
The way I felt driving home after dropping Husband off to deploy to the sandbox.
8. First Thing You Think of When You Wake?
Oh my God. Ow. I don’t think I can move. Do we have elves that punch me in the spine in the middle of the night?
9. Favorite Fast Food Place?
Crazy Eriks, baby. Crazy Eriks. It’s a drive-up hamburger joint in Western Washington. They make the best burgers in the world. That’s right, the world. Screw you Californians and your wimpy In-N-Out Burger.
10. Future Child’s Name?
Child? I’m having a child?
11. Finish This Statement—“If I Had a Lot of Money,”
I’d dive into it like Scrooge McDuck.
12. Do You Drive Fast?
Compared to what?
13. Do You Sleep With a Stuffed Animal?
Hmm…does Husband count?
14. Storms—cool or scary?
Am I in mortal danger? If yes, then no. Not cool, I like being not-dead. If I’m just kicking back on my sister’s porch watching the thunder and lightning storms in Florida. Then hells yeah it’s cool.
15. What Was Your First Car?
’97 Subaru Legacy. That car was pimp. I never should’ve traded it in on that stupid Jeep. I swear, they should just hand out severe bodily injury with the finance papers on Jeep Wranglers. “Alright ma’am, here’s your GAP insurance and your loan terms, would you like to wait for the inevitable car accident or take the chronic back pain home with you today?”
16. Favorite Drink?
Minted Lemonade. Tanqueray & Tonic. Ice Water. English Breakfast Tea with Cream and Sugar.
17. Finish This Statement—“If I Had the Time, I Would…”
I’ve got plenty of time. Want some of mine? I know I won’t be saying that as soon as Fall semester starts…
18. Do You Eat the Stems on Broccoli?
19. If You could Dye your Hair Any Other Color, What Would It Be?
My hair’s already been every color. Even hot pink. Maybe I’ll invent a new color and dye my hair that. I have always wanted dreds but I’m too much of a wussy to shave my head when I don’t want them anymore. And they smell. Yuck.
20. Name All the Different Cities In Which You Have Lived
I lived in Western Washington my whole life before moving here to Central California. It’s aight. I miss home a lot though. I sure miss Tac-Town – it’s where we lay the smack down.
21. Favorite Sport to Watch?
Football. Seahawks are going all the way this year! Suck it NFC East!
22. One Nice Thing About The Person Who Sent This To You
Jude makes the most beautiful bread I’ve ever seen in my life. If I made bread that amazing I’d cry. And yes Jude, I know you’re a man. I’ve always known you were a man. A manly man. A manly man that bakes better than I could ever dream to.
23. What’s Under Your Bed?
Guns, sports equipment, and shoes. And a herd of dust bunnies. Hardwood floors are a pain in the ass.
24. Would You Like to Be Born As Yourself Again?
Heck yes! I’m awesome. (…and so humble)
25. Morning Person or Night Owl?
In the middle. I like mid afternoon the best. That’s when I accomplish my best work. And by best work I mean laundry, dishes, cleaning, etc.
26. Over Easy or Sunny Side Up?
Did you just call me easy?
27. Favorite Place to Relax?
Sunny Beach + Mai Tai + Swedish Massage = Heaven
28. Favorite Ice Cream Flavor?
I’m not too keen on ice cream. It hurts my teeth. I bet I’d like warm ice cream… if that was possible
Who am I going to tag? Just two people.
One Bird at Three Little Birds
Kristen at Going Country
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Woot! I love teriyaki chicken. Lots. I used to meet up with a friend on his lunch break quite often, and most of the time we'd hit up the local teriyaki joints. Living in Western Washington, you don't have to go far to find one. There's one on every corner, right next to the Starbucks (Zing!) But, like my issues finding a decent plate of phad thai in CA, I also can't find anywhere to get some teriyaki chicken. Just as a point of interest, I don't like my food options here. It's either fine French Cuisine at $40 a plate or McDonald's. Blech.
So, I decided to make my own. I found a recipe I thought would work, but I'm not even going to attribute it to anyone. It was that awful. I don't want to shame them. I did my best to try and rescue it, and though I ended up with about double the amount I'd intended, it was pretty friggin' delicious in the end.
I marinated some boneless, skinless chicken thighs in about a cup of the sauce and then after grilling, I drizzled some more sauce over the chicken and some steamed rice.
Makes about 3 1/2 cups
1 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup mirin (rice wine)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 large, or 2 small, garlic cloves, minced
1/2 inch piece ginger root, peeled and minced
1. In a medium sauce pan over medium heat combine soy sauce and mirin. Dissolve the cornstarch in the water and add to saucepan. Add the rest of ingredients and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce heat to keep at a steady simmer and cook, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes stirring occasionally.
3. Sauce is done when thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Perpetuated by my desire to get my friends to eat healthier, I bring to you, pan roasted zucchini! This is essentially the same method as the Pan Roasted Asparagus. It's simple, it's cheap, and it healthy. Listen to me important men in my life.
Pan Roasted Zucchini
salt and pepper
1.Trim the ends of the zucchini and then quarter lengthwise.
2. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Drizzle about two teaspoons of olive oil into the pan. When hot place zucchini in pan, season with salt and pepper. Cook for 7-8 minutes, turning occasionally.
In the community where I live there are three farmer's markets. On Monday there's one just down the street. I like to walk to that one and pick up locally brewed root beer, gyros, plums, and kettle corn. On Tuesday the biggest certified organic farmer's market in Central California takes place downtown(it's not really much of a 'downtown') and I like to head over there to pick up great big portobello caps, humongous leeks, and salad greens aplenty. On Thursday there's another market in the parking lot of the local college. This is where I go to get beautiful, jumbo, farm fresh eggs from a nice older man and his wife. I get my plant seedlings and houseplants here, and also that gorgeous kalamansi tree that's given me a bounty of fruit since it's arrival on my back patio.
After a morning spent hiking through a nearby state reserve (this pesky knee isn't going to keep me down!) I hustled on over to the market to pick up some eggs. Because when you can get eggs this fresh for only $2.90, why even bother with the grocery store?
The one on the left is from the farmer and the egg on the right from the grocery store. Who needs convincing after that? Even though I half to cut back a little on baked goods sometimes, because they are so big, I'd rather have to do that than use two grocery store eggs. Also, it's only 50 cents more than what I pay at the grocery store, because I refuse to buy conventional eggs. If you do, please take a moment to research what happens to those poor chickens. It's revolting; a disgrace to humanity that people could do that to another living creature. If I'm willing to eat meat, or a byproduct of an animal, than I should be willing to respect how it's treated while it's alive and that it's killed humanely. Chicken farms are a travesty.
Whoah - tangent off...my bad.
This post is all about melons.
When I arrived at the market I could immediately pick out a distinct sweetness in the air. A new arrival! I walked down the rows of vendors, plying passers-by with their wares, sniffing as I browsed. At the far end of the market was a new farm stand dispplaying all sorts of melons! Cantaloupes, honeydews, Tuscans - and these beautiful Charenteis melons. I'd never had one before but I've heard so much about them. The French prize them for their amazing flavor. After eating half of one myself this evening, I can see why.
So, what do you like buying at your local markets?
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Like most people, I love french fries. But, also like most people, I don't enjoy the variety of things fried food does to my body. Namely, make me fat. I don't like that. It's annoying. So, on the average, I do my best to prepare food a touch healthier. These rate as a touch healthier on the french fry spectrum, in my opinion.
Compliments of Bon Appetit magazine:
Oven Baked French Fries
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 pounds unpeeled russet potatoes (about 3 large), scrubbed, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick sticks
2 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse kosher salt
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Spray large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Toss potatoes with olive oil and salt and pepper in large bowl. Transfer to prepared sheet, spreading in single layer. Place in top third of oven and bake until golden, occasionally turning with spatula, about 40 minutes. Season to taste with coarse salt and serve.
Beef + Bread + Juices = Friggin' Amazing.
There's nothing to me like a great steak sandwich. I used to live in West Seattle and there's an amazing steakhouse called Jak's Grill. It has the most tender, melt in your mouth steaks in the universe. I remember the first time my sister and I went there for dinner and I ordered the steak sandwich, like I do most everywhere I go, medium rare, because people who eat steak well done...well, let's just say they don't deserve their tastebuds.
(I hold these people in the same sour light as those who order Ahi well done. If you do this, stop reading, exit the blog, and don't come back until you've thought about what you've done. Ok? Hmmm....tangent off (I hope).)
I asked the server to have the cooks slice the steak before they put it on the bread. Usually a steakhouse uses a cheaper piece of meat for the sandwich, and I'm sure as entertaining as it looks, I don't like to gnaw on large pieces of meat in public, blood and juices running down my chin. Now, in the privacy of my own home...
When it arrived at my table, it was whole. As a former server myself I was a little miffed that my explicit request had been ignored. Then, I bit into the sandwich. My God was it an existential experience. Sour, chewy bread wrapped around perfectly grilled, fork tender steak. I still have no idea to this day what they do to get their beef so tender, but I'd happily give up a little toe to find out. I realized then that cook must have thought I was insane, asking for it to be sliced. Thank goodness for cooks and their knowledge of the food they prepare.
As a point of interest, my steak sandwiches are not like that. I don't have any tips on tenderizing meat except for the ones I posted here. This is exactly how I prepared my meat and it turned out perfectly. Also, this combination of ingredients is not a recipe. In my opinion, if it's so easy a trained monkey could do it then it doesn't qualify as a recipe. But, I recommend this specific method of preparing a steak sandwich. Because there's only one person I know that loves a steak sandwich more than I do. That's right, R. I'm talking about you. And speaking of trained monkeys, you and S. should try this out. You'll love it.
1 loaf sourdough bread, French loaf style
Steak, cooked to your liking
Au Jus (I know, it's wrong. But, it's also delicious together.)
Take 1/4 cup softened butter and combine with 1 clove minced garlic and two tablespoons chopped fresh basil, or 1 teaspoon dried basil.
1. Cut bread to the length of your steak, halve and slather both sides with herbed butter. Put back together, buttered sides facing, and wrap in foil. Heat in a 400 degree F oven for ten minutes.
2. Remove foil, place steak in between bread pieces, cut on the diagonal, dip into Au Jus if desired, devour.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
I know, I'm lame. I can't help it. So, here's the fun post where I go on and on about how delicious this was, and then at the very end I tell all about what my secret ingredient is to make this the best macaroni and cheese in the entire universe. Sadly, (or maybe it's a good thing) I stuffed myself silly on mac 'n cheese and brownies so I'm not really feeling the loquacious rambling. I'd much rather stretch out on the sofa and read the new issue of Gourmet that just arrived.
So, the secret ingredient to my macaroni and cheese is.....cinnamon. I know. Shocking. Trust me. It's delicious. If you don't believe me, next time you make your own just sprinkle a touch of cinnamon over the top. You'll be blown away by the flavor explosions taking place in your mouth. You can thank me later with extravagant gifts. I take cash, checks, and KitchenAid stand mixers.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 large, or 2 small, garlic cloves, minced
14 oz medium cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 cup butter + 2 tablespoons
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk (I used fat free)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
sea salt and pepper
1 lb macaroni (Or whatever. I like to use this as a catch-all dish to use up the little bits of left over pasta. This time I used shells and elbow macaroni.)
1. Set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta and preheat the oven to 375 F. While waiting for the water to boil chop the onion, mince the garlic, and shred the cheese. (I hate shredding cheese, so I usually just chop it up into little cubes. It's easier for me, since I don't own a food processor.)
2. In a small sauce pan melt the butter and cook the onion and garlic until softened. Add the 1/4 cup flour and stir well. Allow to cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add 1/2 cup milk and stir until smooth. Add the rest of the milk slowly while stirring to avoid flour lumps. Ta da, onion bechamel.
3. When the water boils, cook the pasta according to package directions for al dente. Meanwhile, stir 12 oz. of the cheese into the bechamel a little bit at a time, waiting for cheese to melt after each addition. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cinnamon.
4. Drain the pasta, return to pot. Add the cheese sauce, mix thoroughly. Pour into casserole/gratin dish. Top with a smattering of breadcrumbs, chop up the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and place over the breadcrumbs, and then top all with the remaining 2 ounces of cheddar. Place in oven and bake for 35 minutes, or until cheese is golden brown.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
I love me a nice ice cold Canada Dry, but when it comes to true ginger ale, or ginger beer, I'm not a huge fan. I like subtle hints of ginger, a waft of ginger, a timid nuance, if you will. Husband, on the other hand, likes it when ginger walks up and smacks him in the face. I decided that instead of buying the random 4-6 pack of ginger beer, and all the accompanying preservatives, artificial coloring, etc., I'd just try to make my own. I found this great recipe for a ginger syrup over on eat make read and thought it was a great place to start.
Husband liked it, lots. At least I'm gauging that by the very short amount of time it took him to drain the glass. Husband isn't much for words when it comes to feedback on new dishes or recipes. Usually, if I'm lucky and it's very, very good, I'll get a "Yeah. That was pretty good." You'd never know he's quite the articulate soul. Boogerface.
I didn't alter the recipe at all, except for not bothering to blend up the ginger into little chunks. I just scrubbed the ginger down, coarsely chopped it, and threw it in the pot with the sugar and water. I let it boil down quite a lot but it never did get syrupy. In any event, if you'd like to try it - check out the recipe here.
As I've mentioned before, I'm not a huge fan of great big fluffy pancakes. I prefer them to be pretty thin, and preferably, slathered with peanut butter and drizzled with pure maple syrup. I found a recipe over on Foodie With Family for buttermilk pancakes that seemed like it might fit the ticket. I definitely had to halve the recipe, there's no way Husband and I could finish that many pancakes. I also don't usually keep buttermilk in the house, and I can't bring myself to buy it for the two recipes I make a year that require it, so I usually just cheat and add a tablespoon of white vinegar per each cup of milk.
To make fake buttermilk simply measure 1 tablespoon of white vinegar into a 1 cup measuring cup. Fill the rest of the way with milk and allow to set for ten minutes or so. Give it a little stir and you're good to go.
All in all these were pretty fab as pancakes go. Thin but light, and held up to warming in the oven while I finished the batter.
Makes about 7 large pancakes
2 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Combine all ingredients until smooth. I really liked the tip over on Foodie with Family to put all the ingredients in a big pitcher and then blend with an immersion blender. So easy to mix and so easy to pour directly into the pan.
2. Heat skillet until hot and drizzle with oil (or even better melt some butter) and cook pancakes till bubbles form holes in the rim of the cake. Flip, allow to cook until side is browned, about 1-2 minutes. Repeat.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Husband and I love pizza. Wait, let me correct that. Husband and I looooooove pizza. A lot. We could probably eat it like everyday. That's how incredible healthy we are. Right...
As much as we like pizza, I've never made my own dough. Or at least not for a very long time. I'm kind of scared of yeast doughs. I can't help it, they're just intimidating. I've successfully made two, count 'em two, loaves of bread in my entire life. Not a great track record if you knew how many times I've attempted it. And I'm not willing to publicly shame myself by telling. But, my patience has grown over the years, and with it my desire to make all sorts of yeast breads.
This was a decent attempt at Neapolitan pizza dough if I do say so myself. Neapolitan dough is my favorite, it's crispy and crunchy, but not cracker thin like Roman style dough. It's also not fat and doughy like most American style pizzas (Or most Americans). The only thing that would've made this easier would be if I owned a pizza peel. Believe me, not a lot of fun trying to move it from cutting board to pizza stone without one. There was lots of cursing. Lots.
Pizza - In the style of Naples
Makes two twelve inch rounds
1 pkg. (2 1/4 tsp.) dry active yeast
3/4 cup warm water (110 F)
1/4 cup cool water
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch sea salt
1. In a mixing bowl dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes. Add the cool water, oil, and salt.
2. Add flour 1/2 cup at a time, blending until smooth after each addition. Dust clean surface with at least 1/2 cup flour and knead dough 5-10 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic.
3. Coat a bowl with oil, place the dough ball inside and roll to coat in oil. Cover bowl with saran wrap and then a towel and set in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Heat oven to 500 F, place stoneware baking sheet or pizza stone in oven to preheat, at least 30 minutes.
4. Punch down dough and divide into two balls. Let rest 10 minutes. Pat out dough balls on a floured surface to twelve inches round. Let rest 15 minutes. Pat down, and top with sauce and toppings. (Husband and I like Margherita: Mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil)
5. Place pizza directly on pizza stone, it should be hot enough to sizzle immediately upon contact. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cheese is dark brown in spots.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
I'm in love with tarts. No, not the loose women who work in a bordello, the tasty creations brought forth from a simple fluted pan with a removable bottom. Actually, come to think of it...that does kind of sound like a loose woman.
As I was walking through the farmer's market on Monday I spied some beautiful figs. As I've mentioned before, I dig figs. They're tasty little guys. Husband wasn't too sure about them, but I think this tart may change his mind. I especially liked the cardamom cream. I had no idea what I was going to fill it with and contemplated using the vanilla bean pastry cream I have in my fridge. But, the pastry cream's intended for something else...and who wants to make pastry cream more often than you really have to, right? The cardamom cream is ridiculously easy, and soooo tasty. I had to come post this so I'd stop eating it out of the bowl. The pistachio shell is adapted from Tony Tahhan. And it is deeelishus. I didn't bother deviating from the recipe, so I won't post it here. But, if you're interested I highly recommend checking out his blog and recipes.
Fig & Strawberry Tart with Cardamom Cream and a Pistachio Shell
1 pint strawberries
pistachio tart shell
Pistachio Tart Shell
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cardamom seed, crushed
1. In a heavy saucepan combine all ingredients and heat until sugar is dissolved. Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve and chill completely.
2. Using an immersion blender/hand mixer/whisk(for those of you who are bad ass) whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Chill until needed.
Fill the tart shell with the cardamom cream, arrange sliced strawberries and figs over the top. Chill until served.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
About a week ago I noticed a little red shoot poking out of the mulch right next to our new fence on the back patio. I've never seen a plant like this before, probably because I'm new to California. It grew from just a couple inches to over two feet in like a week and a half. I thought maybe it was some kind of rubber/ palm plant, but now it's displaying these beautiful bright pink flowers.
Anybody know what the heck this thing is?
Monday, August 11, 2008
As far as grains go I generally prefer couscous. Rice is good, barley's nice, but I'd much rather sit down and eat a nice big bowl of couscous. My MiL sent an awesome little package o' goodies a while ago that included a box of couscous. I decided that tonight, it was time to devour the rest of it. Deeelish.
Couscous with Tomatoes and Onions
Makes 3 cups
1 tablespoon butter
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/4 cups chicken stock
1 cup couscous
1. In a saucepan with lid melt the butter. Cook the onion just until it begins t soften and add garlic. When the garlic is fragrant add the tomato, and cook until it gets all melty and soft. About 5 minutes.
2. Add chicken stock, bring to a boil. Add couscous. Cover with lid, remove from heat, let rest 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.
What's that you say? Sausage stuffed chicken legs? Heck yes!
I will warn you. This is not low fat. This isn't even close to low fat. Your thighs will hate me. But your tummy? Oh, your tummy will looooove me. Why? Because this is friggin' delicious.
I totally stole this recipe from Gordon Ramsay. Yep, that jerkface. He comes up with some pretty good eats. I'm not gonna lie, he's pretty entertaining too. I definitely have to be in the mood for his kind of crazy, though. He's not exactly a 'kick back with a glass of wine and relax' kind of chef. He's a hard liquor kind of chef.
Blah, blah, back to the tasty amazingness of stuffed chicken legs. It's a relatively simple recipe. You simply take some chicken leg quarters (leg and thigh), bone them, stuff them with sausage, and wrap them in bacon.
Shit doesn't get better than stuffed with sausage and wrapped in bacon, my friend.
While Mr. Ramsay left the skin on in his helpful video, after trying it I would definitely recommend using skinless leg quarters. It really doesn't need the skin + bacon. If anything, just add more bacon, right? Also, I used bratwurst instead of his 'regular' sausage. I altered the recipe enough to warrant posting it myself, so open wide. Here comes the tasty train...
Sausage Stuffed Chicken Legs
2 bratwurst links, casings removed
1/4 cup pistachios, crushed
2 tablespoons basil, chopped
2 tablespoons sage, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 whole chicken leg quarters, boned and skinned
10 pieces bacon
salt and pepper
1. Combine bratwurst, pistachios, basil, sage, and garlic. Mix well. Set aside
2. Lay out a piece of aluminum foil approximately 18-20 inches in length. Season the foil with salt and ground pepper, then drizzle with olive oil. With the longer side of the foil towards you, lay out 5 bacon pieces vertically, overlapping by 1/8th inch. Lay the whole leg quarter on the middle of the bacon, top with a roll of half of the sausage stuffing.
3. Using the foil, long side still facing you, fold the layers onto themselves, shaping it into a roll. Wrap the bacon ends around the chicken, overlapping them onto themselves. Twist the ends of the foil tightly to seal.
4. Repeat with second leg quarter.
5. Poach in boiling water for 25 minutes. Remove from water, allow to rest in refrigerator for ten minutes. Remove foil and brown in a large skillet until bacon is dark and crispy. Remove to cutting board and allow to rest.
6. Meanwhile, deglaze the skillet with champagne vinegar, chardonnay and chicken stock. Reduce until syrupy.
7. Slice chicken on the diagonal and drizzle with the chardonnay reduction.