Let’s Do It

Recently, I was asked if I would be interested in teaching a group of teens some basic cooking skills. Apparently they were doing some service projects and during a “feed the homeless” project one of them was injured because they lacked the basic kitchen skills.

I already had a cooking curriculum made up for younger kids but I’ve changed it from 16 weeks to 6 weeks to fit into the summer. While I can barely remember my early teen years and high school was a very short 2 year blur I know all to well how easily I get bored so I’ve decided to try and use gastroporn to try and rope ’em in and keep ’em round. Imagery is how the cigarette companies do it so why not me?

One website that I love for cooking related slide shows, articles, and videos is Kitchen Daily. I’ve been going through several of the tutorial videos and here are a few I think are pretty awesome:

 

 

How To Make Your Own Butter (and buttermilk)

Knife Skills

Flan

Dark Chocolate Mousse With Candied Orange

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The Great Disappointment (of 2012)

Like the Millerites on the morning of October 23rd I realized that something was very very wrong with either my interpretation of my book or with the book itself. And, like the Millerites, I went back and tried again. And, after the second time around of “What the *$^@*#& is going on here!?!” it didn’t take a prophet to tell me that something had to go.

If you’ve been following the posts to far you’ll know that my summer project was supposed to be Chocolate (see “For The Love of Chocolate!“). I’d chosen “Chocolat”, by Stéphan Lagorce, as the book I was going to use as my guide through this vast field of options but I’ve officially changed my mind after this past weekend.

Now, I’m not above admitting that I’ve made mistakes before and that there is a slight possibility that I just messed up on the recipes I tried this weekend. But there are several key features to my failures that alert me to the failure of the recipe and not myself:

(1) Just because it looks bad doesn’t mean it should taste bad.

(2) Just because you mess up on one step doesn’t mean the whole recipe is shot.

(3) If something goes wrong with a recipe I can almost always pinpoint why and how to solve the problem the second time around.

(4) I may not be the  greatest cook but I know I’m not THIS bad.

So here’s what happened this weekend. My brother had a competition (he’s a champion Irish dancer) up in New Jersey this weekend and the whole family was going. Knowing this was going to be one of the last chances I was going to have with an empty house and the kitchen to myself I decided to stay behind and take full advantage of the situation. I love my family but they really do get in the way of gastronomical progress with all their regularly scheduled meal times and a blatant disregard for marked sanitized areas of food preparation.

I intended to make:

  • 2-3 different kinds of truffles
  • a new chocolate cupcake recipe
  • 2 different kinds of mousse
  • an asparagus tart
  • perogies
  • green beans (for me)
  • corn dogs (for a friend that stopped over to lend a hand)
  • baklava (the recipe found in June’s Gastroporn Menu)
  • Blueberry muffins
  • a new blueberry preserve cake
  • cold pressed coffee

I actually made:

  • 2 kinds of truffles and one too-liquid ganache
  • my new favorite chocolate cupcake recipe with icing
  • 1 kind of mousse (also known as Failure # 2)
  • an asparagus tart and an onion tart
  • TLC perogies (as in perogies that NEED a little more TLC)
  • the green beans (with a missing ingredient but still good)
  • corn dogs that turned out nothing like the last time I made them
  • baklava (which turned out fantastic except somehow I missed that the nuts were way past their expiration date)
  • BLUEBERRY muffins (I like them with about 3x the amount of blueberries called for)
  • no cake
  • my new favorite way of making iced coffee

Obviously, not all of these recipes come from “Chocolat”. I also used one of my old journal recipes, a recipe from my mom’s little blue box filled with index cards, the 2000 edition of Food & Wine, and some recipes I’d found online.

These are the two recipes that I tried from “Chocolat” before I decided I was done wasting good chocolate:

Chocolate Truffles – Not using this recipe again.

Whtie Chocolate Mousse – Not worth the work or money spent on ingredients or the space it will take up in your fridge

I managed to salvage the truffles in the end but it was not pretty. It calls for too much butter and the chocolate separated and all the butter came to the top. I had to soak up all the butter off the top of the “ganache” with several paper towels before chilling in the fridge.

The mousse was just a big fat “Never Again”. A similar thing happened with the butter separating during the melting process and when you mix in the heavy cream the whole thing just goes to  *&%@^#. The final product not only has the worst texture ever (even for not mousse) but it tastes oily.

I’m just so disappointed in this book I’m not sure what to do. I used a different truffle recipe which turned out so much better, if a little softer than I would have liked. This recipe makes delicious truffles. I love earl grey tea in dark chocolate. It’s one of the best combinations.

Chocolate Earl Grey Truffles

I tried to use this basic recipe to make a Mango-Ceylon White Chocolate truffle but I forgot how white chocolate reacts with the cream (you need to use a lot less or something) when you try to make a ganache so it’s too soft to be a ganache but it would make a decent sauce or spread.

As for the mousse I also have a better recipe for that from a friend which I will share here:

Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • zest of one lemon
  • 9 oz. of 70% chocolate chopped (60% is easier to find in the grocery stores near me and works just as good)
  • 1 1/3 cups of Mascarpone cheese
  • pinch of nutmeg 2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier or orange juice
Steps:
  1. Put 1/2 a cup of the heavy cream and the lemon zest in a saucepan over medium high heat.
  2. When the cream is warm, add the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.
  3. Put the Mascarpone, the remaining cream, and the nutmeg into a bowl and whip until the Mascarpone is loose.
  4. Add in the Grand Marnier (or orange juice) and whip of medium until it reaches soft peaks. {Note: Do not over whip!}
  5. Mix about 1/4 of the Mascarpone mixture into the chocolate to lighten it. Then fold in the remaining Mascarpone.
  6. Can be served immediately or chilled to be a little firmer.

Back in the day I took one of those “fun” courses in college on journaling. Never regretted it. After doing my journal for the class I decided to do one for the DC are which also ended up being partly a recipe journal. I’d just cut and paste (literally) recipes from various places into the journal. This is the age with the recipes for perogies I tried years ago and decided to give another try. Unfortunately I don’t think my hands are talented enough to get this right because mine come out looking rather unappealing, which is too bad because I really like perogies. The best ones I had, however, were in Poland, and that’s a little hard to beat.

Mustardy Perogies (Bonus Recipe: Flaky Pear Pie)

For breakfast on Sunday morning I made these for a friend and I:

Low-fat Blueberry Muffins

I’ve been using the recipe for these for some time now and I love them. They aren’t too sweet and I always put in way too many blueberries so it’s like a big pile of blueberries being held together by fluffy muffin. It comes from this book:

Muffins:
40 Tantalizing Recipes for Tasty Muffins

Here is the recipe:

Low-fat Blueberry Muffins – Recipe

We drank the cold pressed coffee with these while watching “Merlin” on Netflix and it was good. To make the coffee just use a french press with the grounds and cold water and leave it overnight. “Press” it in the morning and viola! I made ice cubes with half of it and we drank the rest with a little cream and sugar.

Making the Baklava was actually one of the easiest recipes on my List. The only thing that I need to change the next time I make it is to use fresh walnuts instead of what I found in the pantry. The recipe and “How To” video can be found on the June Gastroporn menu. I served it with a Moroccan mint tea.

I also made 2 savory tarts and I have to say that in this case it was an interesting result. I had intended to make this recipe:

Asparagus Tart

It took forever to make this between all the chilling of the dough (even though I almost never fully chill doughs according to the recipe and they turn out fine for the most part) and the hour and forty-five minutes of baking time. It turned out absolutely beautiful (just like in the photo) and it’s also pretty when you cut through it and can see the asparagus.

After making the asparagus tart there was some of the egg/milk filling left over so I added a couple more eggs and a bit more milk and used a store-bought pie crust I needed to use that was in the fridge and made an onion tart. All it takes is 4 onions halved and sliced sauteed with some oil, salt, pepper (I put in a good half teaspoon or more to give it a good kick), and a couple teaspoons of sugar to give it some caramelization. Put the onions in the crust, grate some good hard cheese (I have parmigiano reggiano) on top, pour in the egg mixture, and bake at 375 F for about 40 minutes.

I took both tarts over to someone’s house after making them and it was a tie between the asparagus tart that took almost 3 hours to make and the onion tart which took one hour (including baking time).

I served these with green beans which I sauteed with a couple cloves of garlic in oil, add some salt and a little pepper, the juice of a lemon and soy sauce for a couple minutes before adding in some chopped tomatoes and covering. Cook until the beans are just getting tender then stop. If you keep cooking them they’ll be mushy.

Even with all the issues in the kitchen this weekend there was one truly bright spot and it’s the cupcake recipe I tried. The link to this cupcake recipe takes you to a master page with several other cupcake recipes which I am now more interested in trying after the success of these. This recipe is both easier and more chocolaty (thanks to the Guinness) than the recipe I’ve been using.

Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

Ever since Georgetown Cupcakes won the DC Cupcake Wars a few years back I’ve been using a recipe adapted from the winning chocolate cupcake which was printed in the Washington Post. I changed the chocolate ganache icing for a cream cheese icing which I usually flavored with Bailey’s Irish Cream.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Bailey’s Icing

Ingredients:

Cupcake:

  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder

Icing:

  • 12 oz. cream cheese
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 5 tablespoons Bailey’s
  • 5 1/2 powdered sugar

Steps:

  1. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt in a small mixing bowl.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar with a mixer in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add in the eggs and continue to beat.
  4. Mix the milk and vanilla in a measuring cup.
  5. Alternate adding the milk mixture and flour mixture into the butter and sugar.
  6. Sift the cocoa powder and add. beat until combined.
  7. Fill cupcake tins and bake at 350 F for 18-20 minutes or until cooked through.
  8. To make the icing, combine the cream cheese and butter and beat until creamy.
  9. Add in half the Bailey’s and continue to beat.
  10. Add in the powdered sugar about a cup at a time and dribble in a little of the remaining Bailey’s into the mix between batches of the sugar. Be sure to end the process with the sugar.
  11. Continue to beat the whole mixture until fluffy.

While this weekend wasn’t as successful as I was hoping for I did end up with quite a few good things. The truffles were a good learning experience but I will stick to dark chocolate from now on I think. Seeing as

A Tale of Two Grandmas: Why I Hate Coleslaw But No Longer Hold It Against the Vegans

Yesterday (late) morning my family was sitting down to have our current favorite meal of Banh Mi and my parents were discussing the soon-upon-us arrival of my uncle, aunt, and cousin who will be staying with us the rest of the summer while on sabbatical from Indonesia. Since my aunt and uncle will both be working at the university where my dad works for their sabbatical they will be needing to bring at least one meal for during the day during the week and Banh Mi is an excellent option.

Banh Mi – Courtesy of “Battle of the Banh Mi”

Apo, my paternal grandmother, was asking about some of the ingredients and then there was also a subsequent discussion about Vegenaise, which we prefer over mayonnaise for most things. My Apo, being oddly minded about western food products that look to her like they might contain any dairy products kept getting all perturbed over us having to use it in any recipe we would be serving to any of our Indo friends and relatives. Being me and knowing exactly why she would think it was an issue I asked her if she thought it had cheese in it. Her response is “I know it has cheese in it!”.

Vegenaise

My mom, ever the crusader for the west in our household, went and grabbed the bottle and assured her there was no such ingredient in it to Apo while I laughed at her paranoia that there is cheese in everything she isn’t familiar with. And I should carify here at “cheese” in Indonesia is pretty limited and the only kind you will see regularly are the “cheese by-products” just as blocks of Kraft “Cheddar” (of the poorly named American “Cheese” variety) or Velveeta if you’re fancy. There’s also a very strange stigma attached to this very narrow concept of cheese in our Indonesian circles which I’m sorry to say is not only cultural but also partly religious.

Apo, now thrilled to learn that Vegenaise was no longer going to kill her took a spoon and tried a bit and absolutely loved it. She’s now planning to put it on a lot more of her food. I pointed out that a lot of the things that she claims not to like because it has cheese in it she used to like before she found out there was any cheese in it. For instance we’ve had to tell her that Paneer is an Indian tofu so she’d try it because when we started to say it was a form of cheese she started scraping it off of her plate before we could even finish explaining.

The whole thing wasn’t helped by my dad who said “There’s no cheese in it, only milk”. My mom and I just about died and there was a sudden riot in the kitchen. My mom proceeded to yell out all the ingredients on the label to better inform the rest of our family just how misguided they truly were.

Another thing my Apo claims to hate is chocolate. For some reason she will get up on her little soapbox and denounce the stuff but will make herself a cup of hot cocoa nearly every winter morning saying it’s not really chocolate or some other such nonsense. She is a little more lenient on the chocolate issue than the whole cheese thing but I know she actually likes both as long as you don’t name them or point it out.

My other grandma also has an aversion to chocolate. She also doesn’t have sugar or salt in her house. While my grandma isn’t a strict vegan she does cook vegan at home, a fact that used to drive my grandpa absolutely bonkers when he was no longer able to do his own cooking. He’d be a good sport and eat her tofu scrambles and carob pudding sweetened with dates but whenever asked if he wanted us to bring anything when we came over to visit he usually asked for some sort of red meat. Well he’d ask my dad specifically since my mom’s a pescatarian.

While there can be several connections made between my grandma’s cooking abilities and her being British I should point out that she grew up in Burma (now Myanmar) and India and spent very little time in England before moving to America where she worked for the British Consulate in DC. At 92 years old, her ability to still do everything herself is impressive. Most of her food, however is not.

One particularly horrifying memory that still haunts me to this day is of a Christmas my family had come to the US for when I was little. We went up to my uncle’s house in West Virginia and everything was going great. Me being the only child/grandchild/niece had a little something to do with that.

I’d done everything right from trying to stay up late for Santa to not getting in the way of my uncle and Gpa playing Mario Golf and I was ready to attack that mountain of presents like nothing else on earth mattered. There was only one problem: I’d woken up late and as a result had slept in until lunch time.

Mario Golf (Screenshot)

Of course, they had saved me some of the nice breakfasty foods (although I can’t remember what they were today) but it also meant that I had to include some of the lunch foods into my meal. This included my Gma’s coleslaw. I don’t know what she put in that coleslaw but to this day I still refuse to eat anything that even resembles coleslaw. I remember it having raisins in it, too, and from that day on I also refused to eat raisins.

With my little kid logic I’d eaten everything else on my plate and had even offered to eat more of whatever they gave me as long as I didn’t have to eat that coleslaw. My grandma told me I was to sit there at the counter and finish the coleslaw and that I wasn’t to leave that spot until I did. With a little more clarification I also found out that meant I couldn’t open presents until I’d finished eating it either.

I tried just sitting there and hoping they’d forget about the whole thing. I tried hiding the coleslaw somewhere else and claiming I’d eaten it. I tried feeding it to the dog and the cat but no luck. Even my Gpa came and tried to plead my case (since I was crying at this point) but to no avail.

A good hour and a half later my grandpa coached me through the art of eating my Gma’s coleslaw by putting enough salt on it to down out the weird sweet taste that was engaging my gag reflexes and just getting it down as fast as possible. Eventually, the deed was done and I lay my head down on the counter in exhaustion and defeat and told me mom I needed a cup of eggnog. Stat.

Because of food-memories like this I  had a lingering distaste for food my Gma made. The fact that she cooks vegan gave me a very false sense of what it means to be vegan and what vegan food means. Of course, as I got older I learned how to mask this distaste in front of my grandma but my Gpa and I always washed whatever she gave us down with a “proper” dessert.

Apo retired and moved to Haiti to live with us when I was 9 years old, and my brother was 1, and over the years she has taught me to be less dubious of the concept of vegan foods. She does occasionally cook eggs but most Indonesian foods that don’t involve meat (which can easily be substituted in almost all cases) are devoid of dairy.

So for anyone that think vegans eat a lot of tofu, this is often true. For those who feel bad for people who eat a lot of tofu, please, don’t. We’re all doing really great over here. While I still have a HUGE issue with people who try to adulterate my artfully created dishes and drinks by saying “Oh this could be made vegan by doing [blah]” or “If you only removed [Blah] and replaced it with [*expletive*]” I can easily say that I like vegan food, especially tofu.

How I remember making Tofu as a kid:

Tofu is easy to make. My parents brought large sacks of dried soybeans with us to Haiti and every Friday night was Tofu making night. The beans had been soaked the whole day if not since Thursday night

First you teach your kids how to count and measure.

Using a really good blender (or vitamix if you can) measure out 1 part soybeans to 3 parts water and blend until it looks like soymilk.

Put Soy-Water liquid into a large pot and repeat last step until you have a lot of it in your pot. I’m sorry but as a 9 year old my skills and sight measuring weren’t so good but I do know we would make at least 4 to 5 sets of the soy-water mixture. If you’re actually going to experiment with them just use a large pot and see how it goes the first time.

Heat up you soy-water but do not boil it. There’s should probably be some stirring involved because I remember it burning on the bottom once. Because we used a vitamix to blend everything together there were often larger pieces that just didn’t liquefy in the process. There will also be a sort of foam that appears on the top of the mixture while it’s cooking. You want to skin this off with a strainer or something. You can throw it away but sometimes Apo (once she came to live with us) would use these solids and make fritters with them.

Add in a couple spoonfuls of epsom salt and stir.

At this point the tofu should begin to coagulate. Once this has occurred take the pot off the heat and begin filling your containers. We used these tallish rectangular plastic containers that fit into one another and made holes in the bottom of half of them. You put a cheese cloth in the bottom of the container with holes, fill it with the coagulated tofu mixture from your pot while letting as much of the water drain out as possible. Once you have a good amount of the solid pieces in your container (about 1/3- 1/2 full) you fold the cheese cloth over the top of the mass to cover it and then put a container on top without holes.

Then they put a cutting board on top of it and had me sit on top to compress the tofu into a block. You need to push out as much water as possible. And also, don’t forget to do this over something the water can drain into otherwise you’re you’re going to have a mess all over your kitchen. If I remember correctly, we used a large bucket with a cutting board laid across the top, the straining/presses on top of that, and then the second cutting board on top of which I sat.

Note: If you do not have a small child at home you can probably do this over the sink with two cutting boards and just press down on it.

What you end up with is fresh, homemade, and still warm tofu. We usually took at least 2 blocks and cut them up, drizzled a little kecap manis (an think, Indonesian, sweet soy sauce) and just eat it.

This is Kecap (pronounced like Ketchup) Manis

For anyone who hasn’t heard of this type of Soy Sauce before, it is magic. I grew up with this stuff and it’s used in so many, many, Indo dishes. Here’s one you can make with all your fresh tofu that Apo makes and is one of my A-List comfort foods:

Tahu Kecap

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic sliced
  • 3-4 blocks of extra firm tofu (if you’re buying blocks in the store they are probably smaller and you might need more. DO NOT USE “Silken Tofu”)
  • Oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons (it’s all to taste really)Kecap Manis
  • 2-3 teaspoons of Soy sauce

Steps:

  1. Heat about 1/4 inch of oil in a frying pan on medium-medium high heat.
  2. Cut tofu into smaller pieces. The best way is to cut the block in half and then slice across.
  3. Fry the tofu in batches gently until the skin becomes a light brown. Set aside to drain and discard most of the oil.
  4. Using the remaining oil cook the garlic until it smells really good but before they start to brown.
  5. Add in your fried tofu and stir quickly.
  6. Add in Kecap Manis and soy sauce (amounts can vary depending on how much tofu you actually have and also on how much “sauce” you want with your tofu)
  7. Cook for several minutes.
  8. Serve with fresh jasmine rice.

The Big Black Blob in the Basement Reveals Family Secrets

Yesterday my parents and I went over to my grandma’s house to pick blueberries and take her out to lunch. It was 95 degrees (F) out and I was poorly dressed for the task since I was only planning to go to Ikea that morning to pick up our new outdoor furniture and then ended up staying with my parents to my dad’s doctor’s appointment, which happened to be near my Gma’s so we decided to go over there.

My grandparents were/are huge gardeners. My Gpa was a founder and active member of the local gardening club for literally decades and when they had bought the house I’ve always known them in they bought with with gardening in mind. One of the highlights of my grandparents” garden is the Blueberry Patch down at the bottom of the property in my Gpa’s garden. My Gma’s garden is up at the top of the property and right behind the house.

We have 9 blueberry bushes of 3 variety of blueberry and every summer that my family is in the area we do our best to harvest them all. This summer is proving to be one of the best harvests in the last couple of years and I’m excited because I love blueberries and I’ve missed blueberry season for several years now with my traveling and school obligations.

So there I was, both over and under-dressed all in black, feeling like I was under broiler picking blueberries and making my mom scream by pointing out all the tiny spiders next to her. Since I haven’t been around for the proper blueberry experience for so long I had forgotten how absolutely sublime it is to pick a juicy berry the size of a nickel straight off the bush and put it straight into your mouth. It’s warm and sweet and the texture can’t be beat by any other form of blueberry or blueberry by-product.

As I was standing there roasting in the sun eating berries towards the end of our picking session I remembered someone… or something… that I hadn’t thought of in a while: Dorfy. Now to truly understand Dorfy and why it has anything to do with blueberries I have to go back more years than I will say.

When I was around 7 years old my family moved from Sudan to Ethiopia. I think it was around this time that I realized I really hated the heat (I’d just never remembered anything different really) and I liked big fluffy down blankets. It was also around this time that my grandpa decided it was high time he learned how to use a computer so during one of our R&R’s back to the States my dad set him up and soon there was a desktop in his basement office with little sticky notes and labels all over the place to remind him how to do everything from turning the computer on to checking email to ordering books online.

While my grandpa would write regular reports to my parents I started to receive this “secret” messages written by a big black blob that supposedly live in my grandparents’ basement and came out at night to play on my Gpa’s new computer and eventually learned how to write emails. You’d think I would have been smarter at 7 and realized it was my Gpa but I wasn’t. I dictated an email back to the strange blob through my mom and now there is a folder of printed email exchanges labeled “Dorfy” of which I own a copy.

The reason I remembered Dorfy in the Blueberry Patch is because one summer he had snuck into my Gpa’s big white behemoth of a car and followed them to a friends house where my Gpa had discovered the secret formula of combining three of his favorite things: blueberries, ice cream, and chocolate. While my Gpa was sill alive these three items were staples in their kitchen.

The next time I was at my grandparents I begged for my Gpa to teach me the secret recipe during one of our late nights up watching “Two Stupid Dogs” when we were in need of our Saturday night “Midnight Snacks” (which actually took place at 11 but at my age I certainly wasn’t going to point out what time it was in fear of being sent to bed). My Gpa was much more mobile back then and shuffled into the kitchen and grabbed the ingredients while I got use bowls and spoons.

We sat at the dining room table and I watched, enthralled, as he explained the delicate balance of a FULL scoop of ice cream, a proportionate handful of fresh blueberries from the garden (it was summer), and the perfect drizzle of chocolate syrup over the whole thing in order to create the trifecta. Pretty much every night afterwards on that trip I was showing my mother how good I was getting at making the Secret Recipe and every night my poor mommy had the hardest time waiting out my sugar high to get me into bed.

After my grandpa died those three things have never been in the kitchen at the same time. My grandma is something of an over-the-top health nut when it comes to her cooking – my grandpa couldn’t stand her healthy cooking most of the time and so when we came over my dad brought steak – so she doesn’t buy ice cream and she wouldn’t be caught dead with chocolate syrup.

Here’s a photo of yesterday’s gleaning from the Blueberry Patch. It’s still early in the season and this is only the second harvest. A whole row of bushes have yet to become ripe so we’re looking forward to a great blueberry season this summer. I’ll probably be doing some features on blueberries this summer. Also Raspberries since the edge of my grandma’s property is nearly all raspberry bushes about to get ripe.

20120621-114536.jpg

Yesterday’s Blueberry Haul

How Much For The Night?

After I graduated with my BA I went out of the country for a short time then came back to do some work for the university’s new summer program. The work wasn’t great and neither were most of the students but with the rest of my family in China and Indonesia for the summer it meant that I had the house to myself. My family has been described from “energetic” (the nice way of putting it) to “This is too much, I’m leaving” (the other nice way of putting it) when we’re all trying to cook in our kitchen.

Our kitchen isn’t as small or poorly laid out as some I’ve seen or worked in but it is a bit of a challenge when there are four people in it trying to do their own thing while supposedly “helping”. Having the kitchen to myself for a summer was pure bliss. The day after my parents had left for the summer, and before I had left for my trip, I had completely cleared out the fridge and freezer of anything I didn’t want in there and also cleaned every surface on the main floor in preparation for my moving out of my stuffy and hot room upstairs and taking over the rest of the house for the summer.

I like music while I cook so I set up my computer on the breakfast bar with a set of massive speakers and created a shelf on the counter for all my cookbooks. One of the cookbooks I was looking most forward to trying was this one:

Blissful Brownies

I’m pretty sure my mom got me this book as a gift, probably for my birthday which would explain how I had gone all the way until summer without trying anything in it. After doing my senior thesis on Derrida and “Robot Visions” my brain was ready for a little R&R.

Robot Visions – by Isaac Asimov

I started spending my lunch breaks down in the English department with the great Overmistress of the basement and the other assistant in the program drinking tea or coffee with some baked good or other and having a good giggle or sigh over the work of the day.

One day I brought in these:

Caramel Chocolate Shortbread

It was pure evil and it was oh so good. We also decided it’s street name was “Homemade Twix”.

After sharing it around that summer and beyond I found that favors could be bought with the promise of a batch of Homemade Twix and that it could also be made into a pie dish. I’ve gotten rides, help with events, and several other favors with these immoral treats and I think it only fair that those who can bake them also be allowed the same privileges.

Caramel Chocolate Shortbread

As a side note, the caramel filling from this recipe can be made on its own and is amazing as a sauce or condiment to other things.

Summer Reading/Cooking List 2012

I tend to go through books like most people go through movies or TV shows. I love reading and I also love cooking. Put the two together and you have a large selection of cookbooks and food or cooking related books that I find both entertaining and informative. This is a small collection of books I am currently reading or have read that I want to put out there as a suggestion for anyone who might be looking for something to read this summer.

Crave: The Feast of the Five Senses

The first book should be obvious. It is GastroPorn to the best extreme. Delicious Sounding Food + Excellent writing about food and cooking + Gorgeous Chef = MUST READ

I came across this book in a thrift store a few weeks ago and have actually been reading through all of it. Here is an excerpt:

Crave (pg. 32)

 

Taste

I got this book as a graduation gift from my English Department back in 2009. I didn’t actually start reading it until last month. The faculty in that department know me well (probably because I practically lived in their offices for several years) and have given me several books over the years to prove it. This is one of the best.

So far the most interesting thing I’ve read has been the recipe for flamingo found in this excerpt:

Taste (pg. 25)

 

The Dolce Vita Diaries: Stories from an Italian Olive Grove

This past Christmas my parents were in Indonesia so I had a little more time to order them a gift. Since one or more family members always seems to be missing on December 25 we usually celebrate Orthodox Christmas which is 3 weeks later and right after the spring semester has started so we’re usually all home. This year I got my parents a set of olive oils and this book to go with it.

I bought the book beforehand and read through it to make sure it would make a good gift. I’m not sure if either of them have actually read the book yet but I did and it’s very inspiring as well as entertaining. It’s a simple enough book to read and the story is not only about the couple (and their new baby) but about their olive grove. If you’ve ever dreamed about running off to a foreign country to cook and experience food from the source, this book is perfect.

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth

For Christmas a good friend of mine gave me this book. Because I went out of the country not long after receiving the book, I’ve looked through it but have yet to try any of the recipes and so it is on my Read + Cook List for this summer as well. The friend who gave it to me said that as soon as she saw “Shortbread Spoons” she knew I was probably the only person she knew who would actually do that and she really wanted to eat them.

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey(pg.27)

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey (pg.26)

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey (pg.28)

 

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen

This was another graduation gift book from and English professor (and his daughter) who attended my combined MBA graduation and birthday party in the spring of 2011. While it is more of a reference book, I have found it to be incredibly informative on just about everything food and cooking and I’m putting in on my own reading list this summer because I want to try and go through the entirety of the book. As a fan of molecular gastronomy and food science, this book is pure gastrotica goodness.