Sunday, December 30, 2007

Holiday Food

Christmas came and went, and nary a blog entry was written, even though I finished shopping the night after I wrote my procrastination post predicting gloom and doom. To prepare for that night of furious internet shopping, I made Dduk Bok-kee with a recipe from Slashfood. Now, to be honest, I've been buying these little rice cake things for almost two years now, though I never called them anything but "rice cakes" (even though they bear no resemblance to the styrofoamy nightmares of my grade-school lunches), and I've always cooked them the same way - either dumped in soup or fried in some peanut oil with soy sauce with a healthy few squirts of sriracha or chili-garlic sauce. Although pretty tasteless on their own, they are awesomely chewy with a smooth, meaty texture and easily take on the flavors of whatever you're cooking them in. I had no idea of their place or origin in culinary world, and decided to do some investigating last week since I didn't feel like making soup or my generic fry-dish.

Apparently, in Korean, these rice cakey things are called duk, or dduk (the "dd"sound is one that is beyond my comprehension level, so don't ask me). Us Chinese folks apparently eat them too, but I didn't find a name that I could remember. Lots of Asian-folk eat them around the new year, and in Korea they're served as comfort food in dishes like Dduk Bok-kee, which is what I made. Spicy, sweet, chewy - how can you go wrong? You can go find dduk in the refrigerated section of your local Asian market. I'm itching to make some with fish balls instead of beef, which is apparently another traditional way of serving them.

In other news, I made my grandma biscotti for Christmas, using a recipe from Joy of Cooking(apparently she hasn't touched any of the presents we've bought for her in the last five years or so, so a perishable favorite food seemed like a wiser investment). They turned out surprisingly well, though I found that Joy's recommended bake time of 10 minutes on each side after the initial slicing was waaaay too much, as my little dudes started burning.

A few nights ago I made Cream of Spinach soup from Joy and found it to be pretty lacking. Admittedly, I used frozen spinach and I didn't puree it all the way since I'm not a fan of totally pureed soups (and I wanted to test out the cheap immersion blender I found in my cabinet and it wasn't very... efficient). However, after letting it sit for a few days and then sprinkling a pile of parmesan on it, I have to say it's actually pretty good.

In Christmas news, my family must think I'm an alcoholic because I got wine stoppers and a cocktail shaker. My youngest sister got me a book about cooking seafood, I kidnapped another cookbook from my mom's dollar-bin books cabinet (don't ask), Z's mom got me silicone baking sheets and two more cookbooks, and Z got me The Mixer. I have the best boyfriend ever. Lots of baking to come in 2008!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Last Week's Projects

I'm a terrible procrastinator. It's T-minus seven days until Christmas, and I currently have in my possession half of a present for one person on my list. My list is ten people long. I have a package coming in the mail on Thursday which will take care of two more people on the list, so officially I have a quarter of my Christmas shopping done with seven days to go. Every year, this last week or so before Christmas becomes a completely stressful time that I could have easily avoided were I not such a terrible procrastinator. Last year I got Amazon Prime a week before Christmas to get everything where it needed to be on time; this year, I'm trying to figure out how to get $100 worth of stuff from a site so that I can qualify my order for free two-day shipping (somehow, Amazon does not have everything I need).

What the hell am I doing writing a blog entry, you ask? Procrastinating, of course. What was I doing yesterday? Falling down a mountain repeatedly on a snowboard. The day before? Oh, playing video games and cleaning my apartment. I'm awful. We're going to keep this one short, so I can actually attempt to do some internet shopping and place some orders because I am terrified of going anywhere near a mall this time of year. My desperate last minute shopping will be done in private to preserve my own sanity, thank you very much.

A short sidenote which will surely become a more lengthy blog entry in the future: I've figured out I have this problem. I have a bad case of completism. If you give me a cookbook, I get this awesomely stupid idea that I want to cook everything in it. This is why I keep making things from Joy of Cooking even though I have a pile of other cookbooks, which I didn't even want to buy because I haven't cooked everything from all of the cookbooks I have. I have a lot of problems.

Anyway, I made a Kale and Potato Gratin from Joy on Monday night, which didn't turn out so well. I'm not sure what happened but the potatoes on top of it never cooked through, even after an hour in the oven. I gave those to Ralphy and ate the rest of it and it was all right. No pictures, because I also found out my camera was dead. Oops.

On Wednesday night I made Snickerdoodles, also from Joy. I think I left them in the oven a little too long. Also, when they say to space those things 2.5-inches or so apart on the sheet, they are not fucking around! I had a batch of hexagonal cookies. They had so much butter in them that I calculated the per-cookie butter amount, which was 1/18 stick of butter per cookie, so a breakfast of four cookies (yes, I eat cookies for breakfast sometimes [and the rest of the time I eat organic omega-3 poop-city fiber cereal]) is 2/9 of a stick of butter, which is kind of a lot, I think.

On Thursday I made fried rice (yes, I followed the recipe from Joy, that's how incompetent I am at being Chinese, plus I have the aforementioned completism problem) with leftover rice from the Keema Alu. It was kind of gross (partially because I didn't use enough scallions, since I was picking them out of Z's garden and he doesn't have very many so I didn't want to pick them all), so I doused it with soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, and sriracha, and it was marginally better but still gross. I guess I need to work on that one.

This week, I'm not letting myself cook until I'm done with my Christmas shopping. At this rate, you might not hear from me again until next year.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Pumpkin Pecan Sour Cream Muffins

I'd first heard of sour cream muffins about a year ago while flipping through Z's recipe file, a hand-scrawled collection of xerox copies he made when someone was paying him to bake food many years back. Sour cream mixed with baked goods sounded pretty awful to me, though Z assured me you couldn't taste the sour at all in the finished product and all it did was provide a wonderfully fluffy texture. He tried making me a batch so I could see how awesome they were, but in some awesome ironic twist he forgot to put the sour cream in and we ended up with a pile of bricked muffins that we threw at the dogs.

Fast forward to a few days ago: the 3-lb vat of sour cream from Costco was still unopened and taking up space in my fridge, and I decided to try out this sour cream muffin idea. My good old Joy of Cookinghad a recipe for them, and while I was thinking of what else I could put in my muffins my eyes scanned over to the pumpkin muffins in the next column. I had canned pumpkin puree and the optional pecans... and voila, muffin idea. It was a basic add-wet-to-dry baking process after that (except I failed to see that the batter made 16 normal-sized muffins and instead ended up with 12 giant ones), and 20 minutes later, I pulled some orangey muffins out of the oven.

Taste-wise they could have been a bit more wiley - a bit of extra cinnamon would have easily done the trick. Texturally they were most definitely fluffy, at which point I realized I actually like denser muffins. Who would have thunk it?

As an additional baking note, they start tasting weird after about four days when left unrefrigerated. I made them Thursday night and the one I had this afternoon was kind of off tasting, so I gave the rest to Ralph. He's a pretty well-fed dog. Maybe I'll give him the rest of the sour cream too.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Keema Alu

I'm not quite sure how, but I almost lost an eye eating this dish. I was sitting at my table, flipping through the Joy of Cooking looking for some dessert possibilities, when my right eye got a little allergy-related itch, as is pretty usual for this time of year when the brown cloud of dust and doom settles over Phoenix. I took off my glasses to rub my eye and was greeted with a searing pain which caused me to immediately tear uncontrollably, and I stupidly kept rubbing my eye a little more before sprinting five feet over to the skin and splasing the coldest water you can get from a Phoenix tap into my puffy-feeling eyeball. This made it feel worse, and I couldn't even open my eye enough to see out of it (you take all the vision you can get when you're almost legally blind without glasses), so I washed my hands with soap and water to hopefully get whatever jalapeno pepper remnants were on my hands off while shutting my eye as tightly as I could, and continued splashing. My shirt sleeves were soaked at this point, so I took off my shirt and stuck my whole head in the sink, trying to run the water directly into my eye. I've known people who've had pepper-related issues (mostly genitalia-related, but there were some eye problems) before so I wasn't afraid of going blind or anything, but holy motherfucker! It hurt! The running water didn't seem to do much, so I went to the freezer, got an ice cube, and jammed that onto my eye, which actually did seem to make it burn less. After alternating that with the running water for five minutes, I returned to my now-lukewarm meal and finished eating.

Lesson learned: wash your hands really well after you deal with hot peppers. I thought I had, but apparently I missed a spot. I guess it takes this sort of accident to make someone an obsessive-compulsive hand washing freak.

The keema alu (hey! look at the cool Indian food glossary here! It means ground meat and potatoes) was the second Indian dish I've made from Joy of Cooking and while it's not quite as good as the Cauliflower and Potato Curry, it's definitely an easy, solid midweek meal. The only problem I ran into was the liquid never cooking off like the recipe said it should; I don't know if I put in too much tomato juice or if the beef was simply more fatty than it should have been. I used 15% ground beef from Whole Foods since it was on sale for $3.49/lb; the 7% ground beef was considerably more expensive at $7.99/lb (ow! half the fat, twice the price!). Anyhow, I fished it all out of the pot with a slotted spoon and that was that. The other minor problem was not opening the ziplock bag for my giant 20-lb bag of rice correctly... it doesn't have a functioning zip-lock anymore and is held closed by painter's tape. Oops. And finally, I only got rid of 3/4 lb of potatoes. I still have a crapload of potatoes to figure out how to use. Maybe I should just make a potato gun.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Apple Crisp

After a week of eating nothing but turkey, stuffing, squash, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie I'm back to having to cook, which I'm actually glad about since there's only so much eating-related repetition a girl can handle. I think I also wanted to give the kitchen a break since the untimely death of my food processor deserved a moratorium of sorts; yes, I actually was depressed about it all week, especially since I'd lost my voice and couldn't call Kitchenaid's technical support department without rasping and coughing uncontrollably. I decided to give the bowl a last washing in the dishwasher and put it back on the motor unit until I could get a new bowl (the food processor sits on the countertop, since it's by far my favorite appliance and all), and this morning when I put it on again, the locking mechanism in the handle happily snapped back into what resembled the right place. I gingerly pressed the "pulse" button and off it went whirring happily.

Yes, time to start cooking again. Thank you, food gods. Other gods: yes, I love inanimate objects more than most of my fellow human beings.

A previous entry details my, uhm, issues with shopping at Costco, and in a wild, child-shoving, cart-ramming pre-Thanksgiving Costco bonanza, I "somehow" acquired a whopping 20 lbs of potatoes (of which I have 15 left), a dozen "transitional" Granny Smith apples (of which I have six left), a brick of cream cheese, and a huge tub of sour cream. These things have defined shelf lives, and while I don't like to waste, I also am a cheap bastard fascinated with being able to buy 3 lbs of cream cheese for under $5.

Today's use objective was the apples. I used four for my Thanksgiving stuffing, and then I tried to use them as work breakfast food but after two attempts with their unbelievably tough, waxy skin (which resulted in some awesomely bloody gums, which probably signals a need to go to the dentist, but let's not talk about that), I decided they'd be better served as baking apples. A look through my trusty Joy of Cooking while on the shitter this morning (I'm more than ten posts into this blog now and now feel exposed enough to give you such wonderfully revealing facts about my meal-planning methods) gave me a recipe for Apple Crisp, which looked easy enough and would use up all of my remaining apples.

Apple crisp is a pretty straightforward endeavor according to Joy - it involves peeling and chopping up about 2.5 lbs of apples, putting some cinnamony pastry dough on top of it (happily made in the food processor), then throwing the whole thing in the oven. I thought the dough would flatten out a little but it ends up as little crumby things; I took it out after the recommended 50 min of baking (my apple juices were bubbling), let it cool down a little, and found out my apples had been reduced to applesauce. Oops.

It's still pretty tasty.