Thursday, April 26, 2007
It's spaetzel. Gesundheit!
And, even though it's homemade, it's unbelievably easy.
It's just eggs, flour, and water.
Hey, wait a minute!
Pasta, in general, is eggs, flour and water.
Wow. How cool is that?
So, let's talk about spaetzel - the gateway pasta.
What do I mean?
Well, rather than having to fuss with rolling out pasta either by hand or using a machine to make progressively thinner sheets of pasta - with spaetzel, you simply need a colander and a spatula.
Hmm. Spaetzel. Spatula. Interesting.
Or, perhaps not.
Where was I?
Oh, yeah, so once the dough is beat and your arms are...beat, you press the loose dough with a spatula through a colander directly into boiling salted water. After a few minutes of cooking you shock them. (I simply mentioned to the pasta that they actually made a Mission Impossible 3 - and that seemed to chill the little chunkies right up. Use cold water, if you must.)
Next I lightly toasted the pasta in a hot pan with butter, salt, pepper, oregano and parsley. And, voilà! (Or whatever the German equivalent is.) You've got homemade noodles. It actually took longer to eat them than make them. But, don't let that get around. I think they'd make me turn in my cook card.
And, this batch had a bit of dijon mustard in the dough which gave it just a bit of tang. They were yummy and delicious.
And...they seem to be...gone!
Here's the full recipe.
2/3 c. water
1 1/2 c. flour
5-7 T. dijon mustard
1/2 stick butter
herbs to taste (rosemary, thyme, parsley, etc.)
Put large pot of water on heat to boil.
Prepare bowl of ice water.
Mix eggs, water and flour.
Add mustard depending on your tastes. (5T. will give you a light taste.)
Mix well - at least 10 minutes. (It should get a bit stringy.)
Pour batter into colander or anything with holes and push through with spatula over boiling water.
Cook 7 min or when they float to surface.
Eat one to test if done. ;)
Skim them off and place in an ice bath and allow them to sit for 1 min.
(I only use the ice bath for large amts.)
Add 1/2 stick of butter to hot pan.
Add pasta and toss to coat.
Add herbs, salt and pepper.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
You aren't missing anything - there's no week 4.
I still served and learned, but I was busy trying to, well, figure out what to do with all the changes that have been going on in my life. I met more really cool people, helped make stir fry. (Who knew to toss chicken base in for flavor? I have so much to learn.) And, I cut more fruit. I'm purty darn good at that now. Cuttin' fruit.
So, last Sat was week 5.
And, it rocked.
I walked in with "two hands, no waiting" and I was put to work on quiches. They had 30 quiche crusts all ready for filling. I was told that my quiches from week 2 were a hit.
Wow? They were?
Yep, the feta cheese and kalamata olive ones - they sold out.
(Apparently, that's impressive. I have no real feel for that.)
For backstory... Read Lending a Hand, Wk. 2 - Part 1
It's kinda up and to the right. Over there----------->
Go ahead, I'll wait.
(Begins humming Kenny G.)
So, we're at week 5 and I was told 3 weeks ago to "have some quiche ideas in my back pocket." Since they might at any moment ask me for suggestions.
Did I? No.
You see since no one mentioned the quiches, I figured they didn't go over well.
1. Just because you don't hear anything, don't assume the worst.
2. If they say, "we might come back to you for suggestions" - they mean it.
Two chefs each suggested I walk the coolers for ideas. Saw pretty, shiny, good-smelling red bell peppers. (Interesting since I recently blogged in "Everlasting Gobstopper-land" about red bell peppers.) So, I diced up some peppers and onions and sautéd them. The red from the pepper bled out into the onion making them some of them yellow and some of them orange-ish with the pepper still being red. It was quite pretty. A pan of warm colorful veggies.
I stopped to think.
(Which, by the way, is proving really helpful in the kitchen.)
Pan of steaming juicy veggies + dry crust = soggy quiches.
So, I smeared the veggies in a thin layer in the hotel pan to cool them off faster. Distributed some chicken chunks into the crusts. Added some "Italian seasoning." I really wanted oregano and parsley but we have only the commercial sized blends. I figured putting the seasoning directly on the chicken would make for a more flavorful bite. Tossed some shredded mozzarella-provolone on the chicken. Then sprinkled the onion and pepper mix over the top.
I actually give it a 10. No, 11.
And, I'm pretty particular.
The quiches were for the next day, so I would never see the finished product. I hope that when the egg batter was added that the yellow-red-orange veggies floated to the top creating a colorful visual. Something you might want to eat at Sunday brunch. I hope they were good. I sure enjoyed making them.
It's like making mud pies and coloring with crayons all day.
And, in the end...people ask you when you are going to make more!
And, aren't you glad I didn't pick the picture of the mud pie?
Thursday, April 19, 2007
So, I've been thinking.
Bad start. Nothing good can come of this.
Why do I find cooking and baking so much fun?
Well, I dunno. Seriously.
OK, what "do" I know?
I know that I look forward to it.
I know that my sister immediately recognized on Christmas Eve at 10pm when I was making homemade cookies that baking "de-stresses me."
OK, that's a start.
So, any patterns? Yeah.
My motivation for cooking and baking isn't always because I want to eat the food.
It's about textures - creating them - searing, whipping, chiffanade-ing. (Yes, I verbed it. Sue me.)
About smells - again, searing, sweating, sautéing. Broiling the vinegary top of a meatloaf or charring tomato paste for baked beans and suddenly filling your kitchen with the aroma of a campfire.
It's the tasting sensation. Simmering a bit of cinnamon in a red sauce and tasting a whole new level of flavor. (Oooh, I "know" that taste! - and with it comes the instant memory of walking in my Aunt's front door with the knowledge that dinner would be fabulous.) Taste. Mixing a bit of roasted pepper into cream cheese and feeling that little kick on the tongue. Immediately the kick of capsaisin is soothed by the milky fatty cheese - and I reach for another helping to feel that bite again.
It's about slicing an onion with a sharp knife and meeting such little resistance that it's as though the onion itself wants to become part of the meal. Dicing - nice and uniform - on a good day. Making a brunoise of carrots, celery and onion and then making a consommé as an afterthought - just to give the tiny veggie cubes their own spotlight.
And, that brings us to the visual. It's the diced colors. I find myself buying orange and yellow bell peppers when I don't even like their taste. (I don't hate them either.) Their color accentuates, pops, hell - they GLOW - and it amazes me. And, their texture does offer something, too.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the science. You see, until I understood what the heat was doing to the food, it all came out the same - bland and boring. Perhaps well seasoned, yet still "bland," well, in my mind, at a molecular level. No texture, no levels of flavor. I made tomato sauce and that's exactly what it was - saucey tomatoes. Isn't that what the commercials tell us is good? But, adding a bit of sugar brings out the sweetness in the tomatoes and seems to hide some bitterness. Deglazing - with wine no less - brings out even more flavor. Then reaching for the add-ins, not only oregano but basil, other herbs, even some chiles or red pepper flakes if the mood strikes me.
The sizzle. The best part of science for me, so far, is the sizzle - the searing. It's the extra crunchy bacon. The brown bits of brown butter on the bottom of that beautiful steak. The yummy lip-smacking goodness that heat and fat and sugars create. It's about putting the meat in a hot pan and letting it be. Putting down the tongs. Don't move it until it wants to be moved. When the Maillard reaction has turned the tenderloin into tasty goodness, the seared meat will release itself from the pan. BTW, anthropomorphism tastes mighty fine with carmelized onions. :)
OK, one more, I lied.
It's about the biology. I used to fear meat because I would buy an expensive cut, cook it and it would taste like meatloaf - bad mealy meatloaf. I didn't get it. It's all about muscles and knowing which ones did heavy work. Realizing that tender cuts of meat can take simple pan searing. But, that the most flavorful mouth-watering meals sometimes come from the least expensive cuts. Braised low and slow...in a flavorful liquid...till their connective tissue yields and their collagen converts to gelatin. Gooey, tender, juicy. Where was I?
I haven't said, "It's about grabbing a big dish, devouring it and feeling full." Many people have asked how I can be cooking and baking every night, yet not be gaining any weight. I think it's because I'm not eating a lot of the food.
Sure, I'm eating some. Freezing some. Giving lots of the test batches away. But, the total experience of the "making" part is satiating. It's a meal for the senses while all I've had is a taste spoon or three of the meal.
The kitchen is a brave new world now - with all the colors, sights, and sizzles to make Willy Wonka proud. Yep, meet my new kitchen - Everlasting Gobstopper Land. Welcome to my world.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Why is my cupcake pink?
Well, they were sold out of the "Strawberry Cheesecake cupcake" I usually buy, so I bought a plain one. But, the strawberry one is the cake I strove to recreate.
This challenge took two days and four test batches...lots of notes.
First had to get some strawberry flavor into the cake. I decided to use a boxed cake - even Alton Brown has admitted to using them - but I replaced the water with orange, strawberry, banana fruit juice. That seemed to work well, the batter tasted good. I tossed in some food coloring to give a hint to the eater that there would be a fruit flavor (and to match the original cupcake.)
First batch - Was mush...and I learned that the cream cheese filling needed some extra time to cook. Plan for the next batch? I could leave them in the oven longer, or...I could simply let carry-over heat do the job by leaving the cakes in the pan. I believe that would be an example of conduction - the transfer and distribution of heat energy from atom to atom within a substance. For example, a spoon in a cup of hot soup becomes warmer because the heat from the soup is conducted along the spoon. In this case, the pan and the outer shell of the cupcake transferring heat to the inside gooey filling ;)
Second batch - Cream cheese filling cooked through. Yes!
But, there was a different issue. No!
The filling sank to the bottom of the cupcake. Grr.
So, the density of the filling was higher than that of the cake. You know, I would have paid more attention in science class if they included classes on cupcakes! Plan for next batch? Well, I can mess with the filling's recipe or try to increase the firmness of the cake.
Third batch - I cooked the cakes for 5 minutes before piping the filling into each cup. Improvement. But, filling still sunk. Geesh. There's a delicate balance here - getting the filling to remain on the top/middle and still cook through.
Fourth batch - Cooked the cakes for 10 minutes, piped filling in leaving a good amount on top. (In previous batches the pink had almost completely surrounded the filling. But, I decided that part of the reason the filling wasn't cooking well was due to the moisture not having a chance to escape. It was volcano-ing out during cooking and creating a blow-hole. I figured, I could just create an escape hatch right off the bat.) I also extended the cooking time until the cream cheese filling turned a light brown on top. Then pulled them out of the oven, and again, left them in the pan, allowing them to continue cooking.
Aha! I think we have a winner!
My cupcakes are still slightly smaller, so for the plan for the next batch?
I will fill the cup about 3/4 full with cake. (And, I want to try chocolate cake with cream cheese filliing.) Other than that, I think it's a pretty good recreation of the bakery original. And, it's cheaper... and I have full control over what goes inside.
The best part? Well, I now have breakfast for a month. Good thing cupcakes freeze well. I love it when plan comes together. :)
Friday, April 13, 2007
And, since we were cooking for hours in her kitchen and her family wouldn't get to eat the food until Sunday, we also made dinner that night. We just faked it and made a tasty pantry velcro meal and topped it with leftover Phyllo. Tasted pretty good.
Kudos to her two daughters for helping us cook.
Actually one helped and one just ate cheese.
But, that's ok.
It needed eatin' ;)
Saw some of the biggest slabs of beef I've ever seen, actually about 15 of them.
Gorgeous sides of meat.
Can meat be gorgeous?
I'm gonna go with yeah.
I was dying to feel what it's like to cut it into steaks, but I was on chicken duty.
I can deal. :)
There'll be more beef another day.
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Well, this project started because I had some bananas on their last day. I just didn't feel like making plain o' banana bread. And, I had this chocolate book from the library.
Imagine what was on the cover? Yep, you guessed it.
Day 1. Baked the cake. Chilled it.
Day 2. Next night made the peanut butter frosting, frosted and let it chill. Realized I didn't have any heavy cream for the ganache. D'oh. Wondered if the half and half I had would be an acceptable substitute. Took a quick survey of some bakers I know. Answer: No, wait and get the cream. Ganache is not forgiving. Aaarrrgh. Stuck it back in the fridge.
Day 3. Made the ganache. Yum. Poured it over cake and had a lot left over. Hmm. What to do with left-over ganache. Well, I didn't have the energy to make truffles - no matter how good they would be. So, I thought...
What would Alton Brown do?
Make the world's chocolatey-est chocolate milk, of course!
And, I saved the rest of the ganache in a freezer bag.
Note to self: Must buy fresh fruit.
Well, it's not perfect. But, I think it's a heck of a first attempt.
And, I learned an important lesson:
Heavy cream and fresh fruit are staples. :)
I am almost speechless.
This beautiful knife was...a gift.
A wonderful gift. Which I will care for forever.
It's a left-handed 8 inch Shun Classic chef's knife.
And, I am immensely grateful.
After gently helping a paper thin onion slice shed its layered past, I began to truly understand the fascination of a really nice knife. When I have more words, I'll be back to blog. Till then, wow, gaze upon the amazingly helpful kitchen tool which just found a new home.
If you haven't yet viewed the Knife Tutorials in the footnotes of my previous blog, now would be a great time :) Don't call the men in white coats for me just yet.
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Wait. I've only been blogging a week.
Okay, well, my friends have heard it said numerous times, and it still holds true.
Ordering books from libraries across the state has allowed me to preview books, at my leisure, in my own living room, before buying the ones I really will use - from Amazon Marketplace, E-bay, or Borders with a nice 30% off coupon - thankyouverymuch :)
So, for this week. Let it be said, "I love my local librarians."
My numerous visits to the library have actually been quite entertaining. You see, there are many on staff. And, one by one, each week I have gotten to know them, as my 5-10 books or DVDs come rolling in. First I was greeted by a "Oh, you're the one...who orders all these videos." Then it became, "So, you're the Alton Brown fan, right?" Later, "So, does he have a lot of these?"
They work up to, "So, why do you like this guy so much?"
See blog #1.
Lately, it's been kinda fun because apparently there's a guy ordering the AB DVDs, too. So, I've been getting, "You know, there's this guy now who is ordering all these now." I got that from about 3 different people. At first I was saying, "That's fun. Tell him there are about 9 new DVDs now available through Food Network, but no Illinois library has them yet - only Ohio and Idaho or some such."
Apparently, this guy recently saw a stack of Good Eats DVDs and thought they were for him. They said, "No, they're for the woman fan." I've heard enough about him that now I'm just joking back, "Well, find out if he's single, would ya?"
(With my luck, he's still living with his mom and she still does his laundry. Bet ya a Krispie Kreme. But, it sure would be wonderful to find out that there is quirky food loving, kitchen type guy living in the same town. Lord, please let him be a Christian computer nerd, too.)
Nah. Dream on, food fans, dream on.
So, lately I've been getting the "Are you a professional chef question" a lot. Nope, just play one on TV. A few months ago I ordered about 4 huge volumes - textbooks, I found out - from the Culinary Institute of America. (Wow, I didn't remembering ordering anything from Gutenberg.) "So, when are you going to culinary school?" "I only wish," is the honest response.
Each time I go in, I chat a bit with the helpful people behind the counter. One wished she knew more about knives. So, I suggested a couple of video shorts available on the internet. (Links to the video shorts are included in footnotes 1-3 at bottom.) Good primers. Someone else was part of a local food co-op and wished for info on cooking methods and recipes for...I dunno, rutabagas or something. (Actually, it some something more common, but I just wanted to see if typing rutabaga was a fun as saying it. Not nearly.)
Someone else wondered if I had an amazing kitchen with all the gizmos and gadgets. And, of course, in true AB style, I honestly answered, "Nope. I have actually gone through and donated almost all the gadgets I have collected along the years." Then I explained how having a multi-taking tool you use often has significant advantages over the dreaded uni-tasker which is sitting rusty crammed in the back of a crowded drawer.
"But, you must have a large kitchen, for all that cooking you do." Nope.
She indicated that she wanted a salad-spinner, but she would have to get rid of something, since her small kitchen was already at 110% capacity. I suggested she go through and toss everything she hasn't used in the past year - making room for what she will really use. Like the spinner. Come on! Who doesn't need a centrifuge in their kitchen? I mean it's a veggie spinner, fruit spinner, a papier-mâché...I digress. And, of course, the look of "But that's wasting money" came across her face.
I recognize that look. I've made that face.
I explained, tossing out that stuff has saved me money. "Huh?" Well, look. When I emptied out my crammed drawer, I found 3 potato peelers. Now, that's one for me, one for me cat, and one for...our dust bunnies? The cat and the bunnies don't seem to do a lot of cooking, so, that's wasteful. A waste of perfectly usable space, waste of money (I couldn't find what I needed so I apparently thought I didn't have one and bought another - twice.) And, all three were rusty.
Here's the deal. Utensils you can't find, or don't like using because they don't do the job well, are useless. There should be a word - uselesscils. Okay, I need to work on that name - but, you get the picture. If you hate peeling potatoes because the peeler never works right, or you keep cutting yourself, or it's rusty...what's it doing in your kitchen? Get boxed potatoes. Chances are that's what you are doing anyway. So, now you are making room for a box of dehydrated spuds AND a rusty peeler (or, three) you never use.
But, buying new stuff costs money. Okay....sure. granted. But if it's a peeler, not a lot of money. There are good ones, ones you will actually keep - and use - for years - for $7. Seven dollars. That's the cost of a box of spuds. And, your children will get a chance to taste true tubers. Not to mention you'd be supporting Idaho - the state where they have the best-stocked libraries...for those of you paying attention. Bonus!
Anyway, the point is, I have a small kitchen. I do not have a lot of disposable cash. But, I now DO have a kitchen with drawers that open and a peeler that works well. (Notice I didn't call it a potato peeler - it gets used for chocolate shavings, cheese, and many other things as well - it's a multi-tasker.)
So...if all the peelers are under $12, how do I decided which one won't easily rust and will work the best? Research. Don't do the eye roll - I saw that.
It's been done for you. Get a hold of the book, Alton Brown's, Gear For You Kitchen. From food processors to spatulas, this book has it all. "Spatulas? Who needs help buying a spatula?" I heard that. Well, there are a few different designs and materials on the market - and only you know which one is right for you. Use the book to decide. Then your $10 purchase will be the last spatula you buy. (How different can one spatula be from another? There are rubber ones, there are silicon rated to 500 degrees, ones with little divets to hang off your work bowl - if that's important to you, and lastly, the one I have (and wish I didn't) has the "special feature" where blade comes off the handle to clean and / or fall off in your bowl when you least expect it.
So, I'll be buying another spatula - my LAST spatula, now that I know what will help me the most. In sum, if you need more room in your kitchen, or want to get some tools you will actually use - and perhaps enjoy using, or if you need to replace a utencil that hasn't been seen since the first episode of Friend's...buy, Alton Brown's, Gear For Your Kitchen.
Or, better yet, preview a copy.
Just ask your wonderful local librarian :)
1 - Alton Brown - 5 min. video short
"The Difference Between Honing and Sharpening a Knife."
2 - Alton Brown - 6 min. video short
"The Very Least You Should Know About a Knife."
Video link is in the middle of the page. (Right above the free band-aid offer.)
Why he loves Shun knives enough to call them and tell them he was going to be their national spokesperson. Yep, he called THEM. He likes them THAT much.
3 - Alton Brown - 1 min. video short
"Ever Wonder Why Cutting Onions Can Feel Like a Tear Gas Attack?"
Monday, April 2, 2007
I'm a "show me once, get my questions out in the open and I'll be able to do it forever" kinda of gal. But, it's like some strange muscle memory thing - ok, it's a confidence thing - but, I have to do it once. I know how I do it in my kitchen. But, I want to know how THEY do it in theirs.
So, knowing that I was likely to spill (and waste) half the onions in my next smooth move, I asked if it was easier to bring the onions to the heated pan or the heated pan to the onions (sitting on that table behind us.) He said, perhaps first we should get you a real pan. And, we were walking. He grabs the aforementioned 20 inch pan and I think to myself "This is what Godzilla uses to fry up a snack."
And we head back to the fire-breathing dragon.
I mean, um, stove.
He puts the pan down. Grabs the whole pot of buttery stuff and sets it next to the pan and adds ladle a ladle of golden goodness. I comment on how apparently you CAN bring the mountain to Mohammad. (I would have just put the pan next to the pot to measure it out.)
He says, you cook at home - no difference.
Um, yeah. I say, yeah, there is.
He said, oh, you mean because people are watching?
Well, yeah, that, too. And, thank-you-so-very-much-for-mentioning-it. But, it's more that in my own kitchen I turn around fast, ya know? And, with hot pans and sharp knives and such, this is not a "turn around fast kinda" place.
At this point he knows I'm nuts.
OK, so we're all set. Pan on the stove, butter and onions in the pan. Pan has fire under it. Wait. Um, I don't... (insert fancy chef move of flipping the pan contents over with a swoosh of the wrist). Do you have, you know (insert image of me using a big arm movement of stirring something.) He laughs while reaching above and behind him - grabbing a silicone spatula.
He says, it's just... this (tilting the pan forward)...
and this (tilting it back with a shove forward.)
Yeah, sure, I said. That's NEXT week's adventure.
He laughs. OK, well, THIS week, walk this little pan to the dishwasher.
I sulked, and said passing chef 2, well, I guess I'm part of the team. I'm being teased. We share a grin. I'm back to sulking.
When I was back at the onions I said I was surprised no one had teased about my being left-handed yet.
(Oi, my big mouth!)
So, while the onions cooked we found out that we have some mutual friends - well before they moved out of state. Which was cool. Small world. I finished the quiches. And, I mentioned that who ever finishes them in the morning might want to hold off on adding any salt to the egg mixture, since between the feta and the kalamatas the sodium was already likely reaching maximum peakage. (Insert gesture of my waving my hand above me head.) He said, good reminder. And, he'd see me next week.
So, you guys didn't run off to the corner for a quick vote and decide to toss me out of your kitchen yet?
(He laughs.) No...not yet...but there's still time.
Yep. I like these people.
And, for the record, now that I have steamed spinach once with someone, once again by myself, I have confidence in my steaming abilities. So, I have that under my belt, I'm good. Well, once I figured out how to open the safety latch on the steamer door.
As long as I don't have to do anything but sauté onions or steam spinach, I'm golden.
Wait! I said I would try that fancy chef tossing move.
Oh, man. I guess I have homework.
Big pan, dry rice, and patience. :)
I help out with cutting some onions, ham, and the like. Was shown how they make their egg batter for what I guess were little shell-less quiches of sorts. And, one of the chefs came up and said he had about thirty 8 inch quiche shells over there and he asked me to think up a combination to make. A quiche challenge. He said to think of something that wasn't the usual ham and cheese and such. Think about it, and he'd be back and we'd see if they had the ingredients. Okay. Think. Think fast. Um, geesh. I didn't expect to have to engage my brain. Okay, I can do this. Tasty non-ordinary quiche combo.
He came back. Well?
You don't have any feta cheese, right?
Yep, we do.
Um, ok. Kalamata olives?
Yep, cooler 3.
(I was shocked.) I said maybe some sautéed onions?
I said maybe some diced tomatoes - , although, if we are prepping them for tomorrow, that might make the shell watery...
He said, maybe some spinach? And, then he added, wait, this is your quiche. I said, I had been thinking maybe spinach. He said, ok. Smiled. And, then went to walk away.
Um, you mean I'm making these? It's all in cooler 3 was the response.
It's week two. I'm not ready for independence. I mean, sure, I create things all the time in-my-OWN-kitchen. But, this is different. Someone else's food, someone else's taste buds, someone else's money, and someone else's reputation. No pressure. This is about the time I need someone to tell me I take everything I do just a little bit too seriously. And, luckily, God had supplied a kitchen full of those people.
Okay, I found the olives. Chopped up two handfuls. Found the feta and onion. Chopped them into separate piles. Onion. Need get the onion sautéed. Found the chef. And, he said, okay, sauté it and then walked away. Big commercial stove. Me. Cutting board of onion.
Do you remember the old Laugh-In skit with Lily Tomlin in the big rocking chair. feet don't touch the floor? Or, the Ally McBeal version of that. Little tiny kid waaaaaay big surroundings? OK, that me. And, the commercial stove. Look - I have an electric stove. I have no idea what to do with this big honkin' industrial metal beast that has it's own pilot lights. This little girl was seeing a fire breathing dragon. Me? Un, uh. Nope. Not yet. Must seek help.
Aha! There's another chef. explained that I need to sauté some onions. Okay, one onion. And, he smiled and went to turn away. Not so fast. I explained, you know, it's a BIG stove. And, that I was a little, um, nervous. And, he started walking me to the pan rack while I rambled. It's a commercial, kitchen, I explained. Okay, whined. He touched my shoulder and said, "I hereby pass all my commercial kitchen sautéing skills on to you." I laughed. OK, a sense of humor is a good thing.So, he pointed to the way back where there was a stack of small pans, like 10 inch, hiding behind the 20 inch ones. Aha, something that looked more my size. I grabbed one. He grabbed the cutting board of onions and we were off to the races - I mean stove.
Again, feeling like the Goldilocks in a "too big" bed, I started to put the onions in the pan. You want to sauté, right? Yes. Might want to heat the pan first. D'oh, I knew that. At this point I feel 8 years old. OK, pan on the stove. I take a ladle of butterish substance (is this ghee?) and heat it in the pan.
Chef 2 leaves as chef 3 walks up, munching on one of baker woman's tasty scones.
So, how's it going?
You been watchin' this dance from afar?
For the rest, see part 2. ;)
I went in last week for just a one-day kind of thing. Just get a feel for their needs, etc. And, I had a great time. Sometimes it's nice to just lend a hand. So, I filled 50 fruit cups with fresh cut fruit. Not rocket science. But, sometimes it's nice to just do a simple repetitive task, ya know? I watched the monitor, heard the band rehearse for service that evening. Had some quiet time, just me and the fruit. I was good with that. Really good with that.
I had a chance to meet some really nice people, too. I spoke with the volunteer coordinator who told me how she got involved with what she does. There's a fabulous baker who always seems to have something tasty in her hands. And, one of the chefs talked to me about cooking and I told him about, well, this wild ride, this escapade of cooking that I seem to be on. And, it was so nice to share that. It's nice to talk to someone who is passionate about food. And, if his eyes were glazing over listening to me talk about my new-found love, he didn't show it. And, I was sort of looking for the "glaze." I stopped periodically, just to give him an out. But, he just followed up with a pertinent question or two. Wow. It's nice to be heard, listened to, ya know?
So, as usual, I go in to serve, and end up being even more served myself.
Volunteerism is like Pringles - Once you pop, you can't stop.
Yeah, I signed up for the next week.
Sunday, April 1, 2007
Ooh, these are good.
This is my first time cooking lamb.
I asked my butcher, (a real old-fashioned butcher by the way, in a little family owned grocery store) for some ground lamb. I thought I would use it in meatloaf with some pork and beef, using the lamb as a veal replacement.
But, then I saw a lamb burger on realmeals.tv.
Have you heard of this? It's wonderful. It's both professional cooks in commercial kitchens and home cooks showing how to make their favorite dishes. Little 4 to 6 minute videos. Sorta like a food You Tube, but better.
So, I heated up my cast iron skillet. Love that pan.
Since I don't yet have a molcajete (fn1) ...must work on that...I used my knife to crush/chop fennel seed, rosemary, thyme, and oregano. Then I tossed that in the ground lamb with cumin, chili powder, bit of garlic powder, bit of onion powder, and smidge of black pepper.
In honor of Mr. Maillard (fn2), I seared the heck out of the burgers. Put them in the hot oiled pan and just walked away. Okay, not far. I just stepped back from the stove. And, waited. And, opened a window and turned on the exhaust fan. And, waited. Flipped the burgers and, yep, you guessed it... waited some more.
Wow. My patience was rewarded.
After resting the burgers for 15 minutes under a foil tent, they were amazing. The burgers were tender on the inside yet had a crusty sear - where the crushed fennel, rosemary and oregano created a gyro-esque shell all along the outside of the lamb.
Yep. Lamb is good. Inexpensive, too.
1. Molcajete - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molcajete
Stone or lava mortar and pestle used by Aztec and Mayan cultures.
2. Maillard Reaction - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maillard_reaction
You see, when meeting with high heat, the proteins and sugars in meat get together and do a molecular mambo which kind of forms a bunch of new compounds, okay? And that is why foods that are seared, sautéed, roasted and grilled not only taste really, really good but look brown. - Alton Brown, Good Eats episode, A Chuck for Chuck
So, since I'm not the type of person to do anything the easy way...
I decided I wanted to learn to make bread. Without using pre-packaged yeast.
I had this "Amish Friendship Bread Starter" sitting in a jar in my kitchen which I was feeding every few days. You know that Amish Friendship Bread thing, right?
Stir it, feed it, stir it, divide it, bake it.
Give the starter way to 2 friends
They divide it and give it to 2 friends.
And, so on. And, so on. And so on...
I'm pretty sure if we want to discover the mystery of the disappearing Roanoke Island colonists, we should cast an eye toward the Amish.
So, why was I feeding this starter - sitting in a jar on my counter?
Because it was hungry. The little yeasties.
Carefully managed starters can last indefinitely, but keeping up with one is a good bit of work. Kind of like having a pet that you raise and feed and take care of, and then bake and eat.
-Alton Brown, in the Good Eats episode, Dr. Strangeloaf.
So, I tried to change the starter from a sugary based one to a straight flour and water one. Which is a bad idea. You see, whatever the starter likes, it likes. Usually someone would just start a new starter. But, I migrated mine over to a straight flour and water diet and over a week or two it seemed to like it. Smelled nice and sour - sourdough-ish.
So, 3 days last week I made sourdough bread.
Actually, the first 2 days I made doorstops.
The third loaf was edible and I think I can call it bread.
Sure, there were some pockets of un-risen yeast dough.
But, the crumb was tight like white bread. The crust was flavorful and tender like French bread. It wasn't too sour because I was really pushing the heck out of the little yeasties. Trying to make 3 loaves in one week is just barely enough time to get 'em burping and expelling gas for a rise. No time for nice fermentation. Hence, the sour was used up in the first two loaves.
At least, that's what I think. But, what do I know? I mean, this was my first real try at bread making in my life. And, I was lucky to even get something edible. I am happy with that.
So, now I have a collection of bread-making books sitting on my couch from my local library. And, I'm doing some research. I really want to get this. Bread-making. Now, THAT's a skill!
This coming week: Lamb.
And, it's just a coincidence about it being Easter - the risen Lord, risen bread, and Lamb thing. But, I like it. It has been keeping Him in my mind a bit more than usual.
And, that, "Is a good thing."
But, this has been bothering me for about two months now. And, last night, Food Network sent me over the edge with their programming.
I sent Food Network an e-mail last night after I caught the last 5 minutes of the "Overweight Teenager's plight" (or whatever it was called) and the first 2 minutes of "Elie Kreiger helps people change their health path in 10 days" (or something like that.)
My e-mail was...to the point.
Overweight kids, and programs of the like, belong on TLC, some medical channel, Oprah, or Dr. Phil. On a Saturday night, when I am giving up the opportunity to go to the movies, I expect something educational or even entertaining on Food Network. A 518 pound child is NOT it. (Yes, his story needs to be told. But, elsewhere. Scripps owns a lot of channels. Find another one for it. And, I'm not being sarcastic. The child was 518 lbs.)
I asked them why they are trying so hard to be something they are not?
Why be "Way More Than Cooking?"
I said I want:
More cooking shows - especially ethnic - and Italian is well covered.
More Alton Brown
More Feasting on Asphalt
More Iron Chef America
More Hungry Detective (Had to throw it in. I know they didn't order a 2nd season, but they can re-run it.)
More shows about good cooking techniques and interesting, colorful, flavorful food.
Less other travel shows.
Less Sandra Lee.
Less Guy Fieri.
I told them that if they wanted to branch out a little, how about running some Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Rick Bayless, or Jeff Smith? (Tossed Jeff in there 'cus I could.)
I said, the Food Network should be about Food. Be happy with what you are.
Oh, and I also specifically targeted that AB "Get out of the kitchen!" thing. That's the sound byte Food Network tagged at the end of the "Way More Than Cooking" commercial. (I am pretty sure they stole that sound byte from an Iron Chef episode where he said, "If you can't take the heat - get out of the kitchen.") And, since Alton Brown is all about trying to get people INTO their kitchens - empowering people to make their own good food - it makes me mad. Very mad.
It gets me more angrier than Food Network offering lap band shows about teenagers in peril as Saturday night entertainment!
Next up - the wonderful day I had yesterday cooking as a volunteer. :)