Archives for category: Everything But Food

Aha!  Did you like that play on words I did there?

Yeah, pretty lame, I’ll admit.

What else is lame is my first two (yes, two) attempts to make No-Knead Bread.  I faithfully waited the 18 hours suggested by Mark Bittman and when I poured the dough out on to the cutting board, what I got was … dough soup.  It was a gloopy mess and did not look like anything resembling a first rise of dough.  In fact, some of it wasn’t even dough, it was tan colored water.

So, naturally, I tried again and got the same results.  Since the recipe is always harping about how an 8 year old can do it … well, let’s just say I might not be smarter than a 5th grader.

And that makes me sad-face.  😦

I bought some new yeast and I’m hoping that fixes the issues, but I haven’t had the time to combine bread, water and yeast together and stir it all up.  All five minutes of it.

I know, I’m terrible.

On the topic of bread, does anyone use their KitchenAid mixer to knead bread?  And, more specifically, does anyone use an Artisan KitchenAid to knead bread?  I have a 5qt Pro Series and the other day (okay, like a month ago but I just randomly thought of it again) it was making some really funky grinding noises while kneading bread.  So then I started thinking about what a bummer it would be if it broke.  Mystand mixer has seen two coasts and was my first serious kitchen item, gifted to me by my parents (thanks, parents!) for my birthday one year.

True story, I was so scared of messing it up that it spent a year in my closet, in all its packaging and everything.  I only started using it because Amy found it when she was helping me pack up my apartment to move and threatened to take it with her as I obviously could not be trusted to use it for its actual purpose.  I started using it to make cookie dough, received the ice cream mixer attachment as a Christmas gift (thanks, Mormor!) the following year and the rest, as they say, is history.

To go back to my original thought, which is kneading dough in the Artisan series:  I get a little worried at the strange grinding noises that mine makes back at me and since it is a professional series, I wonder if the Artisan series could handle it.  I also noticed that the Artisan series bowl is smaller, as is the paddle, which does come in handy for smaller tasks (like whisking 3 egg whites for macarons).  Also!  It comes in lemon yellow!  And mustard yellow!  And peppery yellow!  And … well, I think you get the point here.  It comes in fabulous colors and the professional series seem to only come in boring colors, like white and black.

I feel like there might be a lesson here on substance over style.

But ignoring that for a second, how about a lot of questions instead?  If you have an Artisan series KA, do you knead bread in it?  And if so, how is it?  Does yours make weird grinding noises at you to the point that you worry about having to replace it?  Do you dread the day you DO have to replace it because it’s going to be $$?  Have you had luck with no-knead bread?  Can you figure out what I’m doing wrong?  Can you share what I’m doing wrong so I can fix it?

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Thanks to our recent Tahoe trip, I now have at least 3 dozen eggs sitting in our refrigerator.  No one else wanted them and I couldn’t bear to see them go to waste since eggs are so versatile.  But I can only eat so many eggs and make so many boatloads of ice cream, so quick quick quick – what are some great ways to use up eggs?

So there was Pie Showdown 2009 and the tradition continues with Pie Showdown 2010.  Don’t worry, only one post for this year’s, just a quick recounting of what was entered. This year’s categories were Sweet and Savory and, boy, did we have some great entries.  I think I never got around to taking pictures so these are courtesy of Mark (thanks, Mark!).

Savory Pies

(l-r)

Tommy:  You learn something new everyday.  This was a Pissaladière Niçoise and it had caramelized onions, black olives and anchovies.  I actually loved this pie, but I am already a huge fan of anchovies and caramelized onions, which I think helped.  I hate olives but they’re easy to pick around so this was a win in my book.  I can’t help but wonder what this would taste like warm – even better?  Is that possible?

Brian:  The Bojangles Pie.  It was Bojangles mashed potatoes, dirty rice, spicy chicken fillets and chopped biscuits topped with a layer of cheddar and a bacon / homemade pie crust lattice.  It sounds kind of crazy but it tasted pretty darn good.  All of the Bojangles food sort of glommed together into a spicy goodness with the consistency of stuffing (and my love of stuffing is well-documented).  Bottom line:  it wasn’t as horrifying as Brian made it out that it would be.  It was actually kind of awesome.

Sweet Pies

(l-r)

Melanie:  I made key lime pie.  I have already talked at length about this pie.  Just a few other notes:  a doubled filling fits nicely in a standard 9″ pie dish (no deep dish pie pan needed).  Also, zesting without a microplane is omg painful.

Chris and Michele:  Check out this beautifully decorated cherry pie.  It tasted just what you’d hoped cherry pie would taste like:  a bit tart, a bit sweet, all enclosed in a wonderfully flaky crust.  I normally don’t like fruit pies but I liked this one.  I can only imagine how it would have tasted slightly warm with vanilla ice cream – yum!

Penney:  One amazing pear pistachio tart.  I loved the visual contrast of the green pistachio to the wine-poached pears and they paired well on my taste buds too.  There was also a wine reduction sauce that was not used for this pie but Penney has told me is an absolute must.  This was Martin’s favorite by far.

Winners
Savory:  Pissaladière Niçoise
Sweet:  Key Lime Pie

I just wanted to say, I love our annual post-Christmas party (kindly hosted by Rachel and Mike for the third year running!) and I am glad that I have friends who want to participate in light-hearted competitions like this and friends who don’t mind being guinea pigs for our latest culinary (and sometimes crazy) ideas.  So blessed, I am!

I was commenting to Martin last night that I love to throw parties and it’s true, I do!  I love preparing the menu beforehand and organizing how to get everything made and on the table.  Then I love just kicking back and relaxing with my amazing friends!  I feel so lucky to know so many great people in this area and I am constantly inspired by the work they do, the blogs they write and just the everyday things that they do so well.

To make me weirder, I even enjoy the process of cleaning everything back up and putting everything back into its rightful place.  From destruction to construction, perhaps?

A big thanks to everyone who came out last night to celebrate my 27th birthday!  I felt very loved and had an all-around wonderful time.  🙂

Since this is a blog about food, I’ll stop with the mushy and start with the menu!  This was the spread I laid out, with much help from Leslie:

Red Sangria
White Sangria

Rosemary Focaccia
Jessie’s Ham Party Rolls (similar to the linked recipe)
Guacamole + chips
Cheese tray: Goat Cheese rolled in dill, Brie (Fromager d’Affinois) with Sweet Pepper Jelly, P’Tit Basque with Salami
Crackers:  Everything Flatbreads, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Back to Nature Poppy Thyme
Spiced Herbed Nuts (I think these may have been a little overbaked, sorry!)
Deviled Eggs

Michelle’s Amazing Caramel Popcorn (recipe posted later!)
Lemon Madeleines
Ice Cream Cake
Rainbow Cake (recipe later!)

I really hope no one went home hungry!  I know I probably should have planned for more savory foods, but my sweet tooth apparently cannot be contained.

Before you ask, yes, that was the least lame title I could think of for this post.  Please don’t hate me.

I feel like I am going through a blog identity crisis!  When I first made this blog, I decided I wanted to keep this blog focused on food while maintaining a personal blog for any day-to-day observations.  Aaaand here is what I found:  my last post to my old blog was September 4, 2009.  And that is actually a lot more recent than I was expecting.

More and more, I’ve been wanting to document the things that Martin and I do, even if they are rather mundane.  I think our families who are far away would enjoy reading it, but I also think it’s a great way to look back and see what we’ve done.

So I’ve been trying to consider what to do next.  I think the most viable are either converting our wedding blog to our life-blog or turning this blog into our blog.  I suppose I could also start a new blog but then people would have to update feed readers … what a terrible hassle!  But since I honestly can’t decide which is better so I thought I would throw it out there and see if anyone had any strong opinions.

Do you think it’s better to keep  a separate blog or can I mix them all up smoothie-style and still come out with something that works?

What a great name for a blog, right?  My friend Kyle has been living in Japan for the past few years and has come across so many different types of produce, some that I don’t think I’ve ever seen even available for sale in the US.  Each post, she picks an item and gives some background about it.  Then she describes different ways to prepare it and always includes a recipe for a yummy dish featuring that ingredient.

I have been going through all her old posts and it has been so informative for me.  I’ve learned so much about different fruits and vegetables I’ve never even heard of.  Check it out here!

Reading her blog makes me wish that my own has a bit more direction.  Hers is very well-structured and is consistent across posts.  I think the only thing that is consistent about mine is that it has a very very rambly tone.  🙂

Right as I pulled up the blog to post, Lean on Me came up on iTunes.  I felt it was so apt.  I was going to talk about Thanksgiving and how grateful and lucky and blessed I feel, so it felt like a pretty good song to get me in the mood.

Yesterday was the first Thanksgiving dinner that Martin and I hosted.  As he knows all too well, though the winter holiday season is my absolute favorite time of year, I tend to get terribly homesick.  Growing up, Thanksgiving was the holiday that my parents hosted and both sides of the family always descended upon us.  I am so used to noise, laughter, chatter, too much food and generally being surrounded by people.

So there I was, prepping the turkey and there was a very different vibe:  calm, quiet, serene.  Just me in the kitchen, slowly chopping and prepping and cooking while Martin sat on the couch, playing on the PS3.  My cozy little family.  It wasn’t any less nice, just different.

So here is a random list of things  I am thankful for.  I put the really sappy things first, so feel free to skip if you’re trying not to get a toothache.  🙂

– Martin!  Who eats all my crazy cooking adventures, eats everything I make (even when it’s a disaster) and puts up with me in all my moods.
– The friends who sat at our table and created a wonderful Thanksgiving 2009.  Who laughed with us through the night, who teach me so much, who I am so glad are part of our lives.
– My family and Martin’s, who make us feel loved every day.
– The beautiful wedding we had in September!  I like to hug the memories close to my heart, I felt so completely loved all day.  Another day this year besides Thanksgiving, to remember how blessed I am.
– The friends who weren’t at our table, but were there in spirit, in our hearts.
– Catchy music that makes me always want to burst into song.
– Tights.  They keep your legs warm so you can wear dresses ALL WINTER.
– Biscuits and barbecue and Goodberrys, oh my!
– Airplanes, to make the distance from NC not such a great one.
– The fact that ballet slippers are trendy.  Anything that can be considered ‘dressy’ and yet keeps me out of heels is great in my book.
– “Just because” emails, phone calls and letters.

I guess now it’s devolving into a “THINGS I LIKE” list so I’ll just stop while I’m ahead.  I hope everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving!

Wouldn’t it be great if I could say that I made these?  I wish, though … I don’t know the first thing about the proper technique behind making noodles.  This is something I’ve wanted to learn ever since I saw someone doing it as a young girl.

Here is a video of someone making them.  To me, it is like magic.  Twirl, twirl, twist, stretch … noodles?  How on earth does he make it look so effortless?

As a super-generous-amazing wedding gift, two friends of ours gave us a rice cooker.  But not just any rice cooker.  They gave us the Japanese version of this rice cooker:

I figured this out by squinting at all the tiny pictures of Zojirushi rice cookers online and ascertaining that this model had all the same buttons, in all the right places.  Our version, however, has true rice street-cred because the buttons are in Japanese.  THAT’S RIGHT.  Our buttons have pretty, illegible Japanese characters instead of something as simple as letters.

I think my first reaction to this rice cooker was … “That’s a rice cooker?  But it doesn’t … look like a rice cooker?  Rice cookers are round!  And … round!”

FACT:  For the longest time, I never thought about how a normal rice cooker is basically just a one-function device.  I usually try not to keep things in my kitchen that can’t do more than one thing, but this rice cooker totally slid in under my radar because I grew up in a household where our rice cooker was used so much, it held a permanent spot on our counter. It wasn’t until high school that I realized one could make rice on a stove top instead of in a rice cooker.  Shocking times, those were.

But after I got over that, I realized how awesome this rice cooker was.  It has several modes, among them: Sushi.  Rice Porridge.  Super-healthy-and-long-cook-time Rice.  Brown Rice.  Fried Rice.  That’s right, fried rice!  No more thinking ahead for when I want to make fried rice, this rice cooker will dry it out for me.  (Slightly cooler would have been if it made actual fried rice for me in the pot).  This thing can even make cake.

I guess I could talk about things like how it works, what it does, etc., but you can probably get that from any other site with this rice cooker.  Instead, I will talk about how I made sushi rice last night.  It was a bit tricky at first, trying to translate the Japanese characters into English (no, I didn’t suddenly develop the ability to read Japanese.  Or even how to type it on an American keyboard.  My friend translated the Japanese manual for us.  SMART.).  And I definitely started the process trying to make fried rice instead of sushi rice.  But once I adjusted, it was smooth sailing from there.  It beeped Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star at me, then started a sort of humming noise.  It came with a handy countdown feature of remaining minutes.  I was waiting in anticipation by it for the last 2 minutes of cooking.

VERDICT:  It made the best rice I’ve had in a long time.  I figured that a slightly crispy bottom were de rigueur because of my old rice cooker.  But this turned out a batch of completely-fluffy, nowhere-burned white rice.  I didn’t do anything more than follow the directions and used their recommended fill-lines as well.

I stared into that little pot and felt a big grin stretch across my face.  I was now Rice-Empowered.

Hello, world.

In a way, I feel like I’ve dropped off the face of the blogging world.  Sure, I keep up with Twitter but at 160 characters a pop, it’s like eating eating salad when you need something substantial, like a huge honkin’ steak.  Sometimes, I think about topics I want to write about that take more than 160 characters, but it gets swept under the rug as the obligations of work and life take over.

In the meantime, though, I HAVEN’T been un-busy!  In fact, I feel like I’ve accomplished so much lately that’s actually post-worthy, stuff more exciting than my favorite chocolate chips.  Besides tackling a big lab recreate at work and dealing with a bunch of work-related things that are pretty much boring in the scope of this blog (and maybe life too 🙂 ), I’ve also cooked and baked items I once thought impossible.

Case in point, macarons:

Hello macarons.  Can I eat you?

For the past year or so, I’ve been obsessed with macarons.  I eat them at every bakery I find them at.  Sometimes, when I say the name, people think I mean “macaroons.”  I mean, they are pretty similar – both have almond ingredients and egg whites.  And they are also pretty much the same word.  But one makes my heart go hubba hubba and the other leaves me cold (cold I say!) inside.

Reading directions on how to make macarons made me feel like they were an unachievable pinacle of baking-ness.  They required a gazillion steps and EXACT LIKE ZOMG measured ingredients and precise temperatures – just reading the lectures of those who made macarons made me tired.

But one day, two girlfriends and I spent an afternoon together and made them together.  Our results were pretty good for a first attempt.  I can definitely see why people will charge you $2 – 3 per macaron.  Whew, they’re a lot of work, especially if you are not dealing with a commercial kitchen.

In addition to macarons, I’ve also cooked a lemon bar recipe from Thomas Keller, the inspiration of French Laundry.  That had to have been the most complicated lemon bar recipe, ever.  Sometimes, it almost seemed unecessarily complicated, but it did produce a tasty result.

I also made chinese sticky rice and shaped it in the old-Asian-grandma-way, freaky tetrahedral shape and all.  It was a whole afternoon of work, but the results brought my childhood home.

And finally, I made chicken tikka masala for the first time.  For those who make Indian food on a regular basis, this might not seem like any sort of exciting achievement.  But – but – the spices!  And the sauce!  It must be so, so complicated.  MUST BE!  Maybe unluckily for my waistline, it’s not as complicated as I once thought.  🙂

Probably none of these are that exciting or achievement-worthy.  🙂 But looking back at dishes I once thought impossible (to name a few:  Risotto.  Sushi.  Macarons.  Roast chicken.  Pot stickers.) and seeing how I managed to make them makes me feel really happy and accomplished.

So here are a few dishes that I consider still unreachable that I hope one day I can conquer:

Roasted duck, Chinese-style
Peking duck (though this kind of ties in with the above)
Souffle
My dad’s chicken and pepper dish that I luuuuuuuuurv
A really good roast beef
Steamed / baked pork buns, dim sum style
Lo baak gou, grandma-style (seriously, one of my favorite dim sum dishes.  I’ve made this before, with my grandma, but it was years ago and she did most – okay all – of the work)
Ha cheung

What are yours?