Thursday, January 31, 2008

Make Bread, Not Buns

That is a "loaf" of Fast White Bread from the Joy of Cookingthat is obviously not quite a loaf. You see, I've never actually made yeasted bread that wasn't the infamous No Knead Bread, being slightly overwhelmed by the kneading process. Now that I have a powerful mixer with an enormous dough hook, it's less intimidating. Nevertheless, I apparently didn't understand that Bread Dough Does Not Act Like Cake Dough. It doesn't melt down and even out in the oven. No sir. It comes out looking like butt cheeks. Like butt cheeks though, I was able to sandwich things between it. Well, slices of it. Okay, I'm just going to stop writing now. I'm "learning" about wine. Yep.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Beans and Greens, Good for Your Heart

When I was vegetarian, Progresso Lentil Soup was one of my dietary staples. It wasn't that expensive (as far as filling processed food meals go), and it was tasty, mostly due to its high salt content. I've tried making lentil soup a few times before, and it never matched up to the Progresso, probably because if I couldn't actually bring myself to put that much salt in the pot as I cooked it. It's like how cooking scrambled eggs was for me for a long time - it wasn't until Joytold me a few scrambled eggs used a quarter stick of butter to taste the way I liked that I got brave enough to use it all. Yikes.

Still, salt is a different animal than butter (which makes everything better), and I still hesitate to go crazy with it. Going back to Joyyielded a great idea to spruce up my soup: bacon. Bacon makes everything better (like butter)! I actually had some leftover bacon in my fridge from the incident, so I chopped it up and threw it in my soup. An hour later, I was slurping up wonderously salty, smoky, tasty lentil soup, and I didn't even have to put much salt in myself. I was a little worried that I forgot to rinse my lentils, but I don't think any rocks or weird grit got through. The recipe yielded something like eight monstrous bowls of soup, and given the cost of the materials, it's way cheaper (and possibly better) than the Progresso of lore.

The lovely spinach on top came from Z's garden, which is growing spinach faster than we can eat it. I'm going to have to do something with it soon before it all dies or gets eaten by insects.

I wonder if the bacon in my soup negates the truthfulness of my title. Hrm.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My Corkd Reviews

I don't know much about wine. It used to give me headaches, but I think I drank enough of it to build up my natural resistance to the sulfites (or maybe the alcohol, who knows) so that I can imbibe in peace. Normally when I go out I'll trust Z to make my wine selection (and there is only one per meal, as I'm a lightweight who can't build an alcohol tolerance), as he knows my tastes when it comes to the stuff better than I do; even so, oftentimes I'll just go with beer as it's familiar and predictable and I generally know what's good and what's not.

I decided at some point I wanted to learn about wine, and this has been going on for a while now, except I haven't learned anything aside from which wines in the $3-5 range are happily drinkable (you want Bull's Blood from Trader Joe's and the Big Kahuna from Fresh & Easy... if you're in search of whites, you're on your own), which while important in many ways doesn't quite qualify me as anything close to a connoisseur. I love port and swear by Warres Warrior as my favorite affordable port (Morgado from Trader Joe's is great as a cheaper alternative); I had a 40-yr old Graham's once and it really was fantastic. Otherwise, everything else falls into the drinkable and icky categories, and I've never actually had a wine experience worth remembering. I want to figure out what the fuss is about, so I'm trying to build up the rudimentary knowledge to get there. I want to be able to choose my own red wine to drink with my steak.

Important, somewhat telling confession: I was straightedge for 21 years and vegetarian for six. Yep.

Anyway, after reading a lot of not-quite-useful information, I figured my best plan of attack would be to just keep drinking stuff, except I would keep a log of what I drank so that a) I could remember if it was good or bad; b) I would pay more attention while drinking. I've started a log at corkd (and I have another one at wine log but the interface isn't as pretty), so feel free to check it out and see what I've been tasting. This is probably going to be slow-going, as I have trouble spending more than $10 (sometimes it's hard to even spend $5, which is funny because I will easily spend that much on a 12 oz bottle of good beer) on a bottle, and I don't start a new bottle until the one I've been drinking before has gone bad (since I can't finish a whole bottle before it goes bad - how pathetic is that?).


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sally Lunn Bread and the Dangers of Overmixing

While poking through my Joy of Cookinglooking for something to bake (and an excuse to use my new mixer) with limited ingredients on hand, I came across a recipe for Sally Lunn Bread, which contains nothing more than sugar, fat, flour, eggs, milk, and a pinch of salt: things I try to have in my pantry at all times. It actually sounded really bland, but two and a half years ago I actually was in Bath, home of the apparently famous Sally Lunn's, which I seem to recall being toted as the "oldest house in Bath" or something. We were escorted to some frou-frou, overcrowded tea room and ordered the standard afternoon tea meal-esque thing - tea and a Sally Lunn Bun, served with tea and Devonshire clotted cream (which I still crave every now and then) and cinnamon butter. In all honestly I have no recollection of how good or not good this thing was, so I'm guessing it was just something that made me less hungry for maybe two hours or so.

Anyway, I tried making this at my house and I learned a few things. First, if you're going to make sweetened butter (yes, I tried making cinnamon butter), you're going to want to sift your sugar or else it's going to be all lumpy and ugmo-spreading. I never sift anything, somewhat because I'm a lazy bastard about that, but mostly because I don't actually own a sifter. I think that would stop you from sifting too, but if you have a sifter, you should sift your powdered sugar before you make sweetened butter.

Second, don't walk away from your mixer while it's mixing a cake (or muffins, or anything really) to go have an IM conversation with someone. Overmixing is bad. It makes things un-fluffy and dense and unappetizing. Overmixing is hard to do when you don't have a mixer - you just combine everything until there's not dots of flour left and then you STOP.

So my Sally Lunn cake ended up slightly bricklike, and the cinnamon butter is still sitting in my fridge waiting for me to sledge it on to something, and I ate the cake with some butter smudged onto it for breakfast for a few days but Ralph-dog got about half of it. He digs the overmixing, but I swore to him, and I'm swearing to you, dear readers, that I am going to use my mixer more conscientiously from now on.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Oven Fire

Yes, there was an actual FIRE in my oven. No, I didn't do it. Yes, all the alarms in my apartment went off. No, the dogs did not shit themselves. Yes, there was smoke everywhere. No, I didn't eat all that bacon by myself.

I apparently need to buy some rimmed baking sheets.

For what it's worth: Simple Green, some dish soap, some baking soda work, and good old elbow grease works wonders for getting crud off your oven floor.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Mixer Test

I tested out my fancypants new mixer(thanks again, Z) for the first time by making a batch of a classic - basic brownies. I got the recipe out of the Kitchen Aid Great Baking and Morebook that Z's mom got me for Christmas (it was actually a happy coincidence), which details step-by-step exactly at what speed and for how long to run your Kitchenaid mixer while baking things (apparently, they're convinced their mixers take half the time of other mixers and whatnot). Being the sort of person who's a stickler for such exact instructions, I followed them to the letter and they turned out the best brownies I've ever made. I wonder if letting the machine decimate the eggs and butter and sugar into fluffy goodness really makes that big of a difference... and now I'm never going to know otherwise because I'm convinced these Kitchenaid folks do not screw around! Super-fudgey, awesome chewy brownies. Okay, they were actually a bit sweet for me, but I now know how to achieve my favorite brownie texture in the universe. I gave them away to avoid getting cavities (I might already have some, as I haven't been to the dentist in three years or so, but that's another story). More mixer experiments are sure to come.

To test out Z's brand new food processor(I have the same one without the nifty wide-mouth feed tube), we made a batch of latkes. Well, mostly, I made a batch of latkes because Z was helping a touring Japanese cyclist who hadn't had a tune-up since he started his trip with a new bike in Canada three months ago. Yosuke, best of luck and we hope you make it to Tierra del Fuego in one piece and well-fed! Frying latkes is a lot of fun, though I forgot how fast potatoes turn a sickly pink color after you shred them.

In a final meal recommendation, the Broccoli Soup with Cheddar from Epicurious is really good. You might want to cut the stock a little. I have this 2-lb block of Tillamook sharp cheddar (yes, from Costco), and broccoli was on sale at Whole Foods, and I really wanted ONE of my cookbooks to have some directions for me to mix it together to make some cream-laden cheesy soup, but alas - I had to turn to the internet.

Next up: adventures in herb growing (culinary herbs, silly), more mixer fun, and more complaining about trying to cook through all of my cookbooks.