Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Trick or Treat!

Give me something good to eat! It's national eat candy and cake and anything orange day! In the spirit of this sweet holiday, I have some treats to share and some wicked humor. Senseless puns will continue until morale improves.
Ah yes, the magic of gadgets
The only thing better than one treat is two! Inspired to use my very last can of pumpkin, I made pumpkin boo bars (I didn't name them) and mummy cookies. The pumpkin bars were easy enough, it's kind of like making boo brownies. The cookies are really the interesting part.

What do you do with your cookie cutters for 11 months of the year? Put them in a box? Hang them on the wall for decoration? Well on this gloriously spooky holiday, someone had the brilliant realization that a gingerbread man is only a gingerbread man when it's made of gingerbread. Otherwise it's just a man...shape. So if you make little man-shaped cookies out of other dough and frost them with stripes, voila! You have mummies! How festive. One day, I can make these for my kids school parties (assuming people still eat cookies in 15 years and aren't too worried about sugar consumption and healthy eating to refrain from cookies because that would be a shame. I mean, they already got rid of cookie monster so it could happen...) and be the coolest mom ever (yes you will have to re-read that without the very long tangent in the middle).

The cookie graveyard
As it goes with new recipes, I was hesitant to think these would come out just like the pictures. After round one of mummy wraps, they looked fabulous! Inspired by my success, I confidently pursued batch number two with the bag of icing (fyi- plastic gets really hot). Huge failure. Round three involved using a knife as the bag had ripped at this point. Several cookies were lost in the fray, sadly meeting there end in my stomach. And I buried the crummy looking cookies on the bottom of the platter to take to work. Now it just looks like I have spectacularly creative and spooky cookies. I thought the red eyes were a nice touch--left over sprinkles from Valentine's Day.
Mummy cookies!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane in the Kitchen

I hope everyone is staying safe during this "Frankenstorm" that's looming. I am currently waiting it out after work was canceled (what? When is work canceled???). I spent the weekend preparing though, picking up canned food and batteries like everyone else. However, it occurred to me that I have a whole lot of meat in my freezer (all those buy 1 get 1 or weekly sales coming back to haunt me). Not wanting it to go bad, it seemed that the best decision was to cook a bunch of stuff and then freeze it again so then if the power goes out and it thaws, it thaws into normalcy and not spoilage. That's not to say that I don't still have meat that will go bad because that giant bag of shrimp that was on sale will make me very sad if it goes bad.

Step 1: Decide which meat to cook- two packages of Italian sausage.
Step 2: Search for appropriate recipes.
Step 3: Cook a lot.

I opted to make something new, an Italian Sausage Soup. It's one of those crockpot creations that requires little effort once the meat is made which fits well with my ambitious save the food campaign. But it kind of didn't come out as soup, it's pretty squishy pasta and not so much soupy broth. I think I did this wrong but desperate times call for desperate measures so it stays and will be eaten (none frozen from this batch).

Secondly, I made bolognese sauce. This sauce deserves a post all by itself so I don't want to give too much away but it's pretty simple and was immediately poured (well, cooled first) into a freezer bag. Hopefully for later. We have a theme here, lots of pasta items. I discovered last year that when the power goes out I can still cook on my lovely gas stove so boiling water is a go!

Laaaastly, I completed my preplanned list of things to cook before Frankenstorm: broccoli pesto pasta (see, more pasta). Somehow I ended up with two halves of an onion. Obviously I know how I ended up with halves but not sure how I overlooked already possessing half of an onion and chopping up another one, ya know? Oh well, now a half was used for this. The hardest part, besides chopping the onion, was the food processor part. I have an itty bitty food processor gadget so it took a lot of trips to chop up all the broccoli. It turned out a little bland but I only took a taste--before putting half of it in the freezer. We shall see but overall, lots of pasta going on.

There was a lot of cooking going on, not too many photos though :(
In addition to my frozen companions, I have the typical soup collection and bread. Now, bread can be used for the usual peanut butter and jelly (duh) oooor a grilled cream cheese and nutella sandwich. Again, another recipe worthy of a post in itself.

Stay safe during the storm! Hopefully Frankenstorm will pass in time for Halloween!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup

Last Christmas, I was given a crockpot which at first may sound rather chauvinistic giving a woman a mechanism by which to cook and fulfill a stereotypical role but we can all think here and know everyone has to eat and therefore a crockpot is a very practical gift and really encourages non-traditional role because it frees up all this time to do other things like work. At any rate, I think this is a fabulous invention but I do not trust leaving it on while I'm not at home. I know the point of the crockpot is you turn it on and go about your day but you have to understand that I'm operating with a rather special kitchen set up.

For starters, there are two outlets in my kitchen. One is behind my fridge so has my fridge plugged into it and my microwave which sits on top of my fridge (I'm tall, it's okay). The other outlet is pretty much eye-level to me (again, I'm tall) and resides on a wall not near the china cabinet counter ie: the only surface in the kitchen. So I place the crockpot on the questionably stable wire rack where the blender normally lives. For the life of me, I don't understand the logic behind making the crockpot cord six inches long. This does not nearly reach the outlet and it seems silly to get an extension cord to go the extra few inches. The only other solution is to place the crockpot on a box--a cardboard box. This might be a fire hazard, I'm not sure because yes the outside of the crockpot gets warm but I think it's okay.
Ugh, I swear I'm a very capable person but it keeps rotating my photos automatically instead of saving properly

So I don't leave the crockpot on home alone, I leave it on overnight with the fire extinguisher near my bed just in case. This soup requires multiple steps, big progress for a crockpot. So I made the first half and then a few days later when I actually got around to eating the soup, I added the milk and butter stuff. The twist that makes this experience appropriate for my blog is I have a new addition to my little kitchen of misfit gadgets. It makes me think of the Brave Little Toaster (not that I have a toaster).
Welcome my little gadget!

I had commented to my mom that I was looking into buying an immersion blender or food processor to make up for the blender fail and to improve my ability to make soup. Of course she has an extra 'food processor' so now I have another gadget, woohoo! This gadget is a fantastic shade of olive green and does in fact look like a food processor (no, it will not replace an immersion blender, Santa Claus will have to help with that) so I thought I should figure out how to use it before I plugged it in since it has a blade and all. I quickly determined that you have to press down to make it start because there's no on-off button. However, it did take me a few minutes to figure out how to open it. Those olive ridges are not for decoration. Anyways, I got a little carried away so the chopping of the celery, carrots and onions (still cried, it only helps so much) so they kind of became mush. But it's soup, mushy is okay since it will ultimately be liquified. Er--it should be liquified.

I'm guessing you could freeze this soup but instead I've just decided to eat soup for the last week. It has been quite delicious but alas, I need the crockpot to be vacated so I can make chili. Gotta love fall!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Single Lady Pancakes

I love this recipe, compliments of Joy the Baker. First of all, it's a great name and makes me start singing Beyonce's Single Ladies. Secondly, there are multiple single lady recipes in her cookbook but currently I can only think of the pancakes and the chocolate cake. So many yummy one portion items.
It looks so promising!

The first time I made this pancake (yes, it makes one nice sized pancake), it came out wonderfully! It was perfect! Warm, delicious, yummy, and whole. The second time I made it, I forgot to add the flour. In my defense, pancakes are made in the morning so I am usually quite bleary-eyed and missed that ingredient. I did however realize that I had forgotten so I fixed it in time but still. Whoops. And this time, I'm not sure what happened. It expanded a little more than usual so when I tried to flip it...disaster. It reminds me of the fail Pinterest pins (Pinstrosity) where it looks so easy and pretty and then it just falls apart. So I tried to reassemble the fractioned pancake and flip it again. Similar fail but not quite as bad. Once I decided it was no longer gooey in the middle, I came to the conclusion that it was done.
Nailed it.

Despite being a mosaic of pancake pieces, it was still yummy. It doesn't matter what the food looks like, I'm not competing with anyone here, it tastes the same! Like green eggs and ham. Green eggs still taste like eggs, they're just green. You'd never know if you were color blind.

The moral of the story is things fall apart but that doesn't mean they're bad. Okay, I think that analogy only works with food, I was trying to be wise. I'll work on that.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Butternut Squash Soup

I went out to dinner tonight and was delighted with some Butternut Squash Soup so there aren't really pictures of this meal. However, I did attempt to make this soup last year. Huge emphasis on attempt.

Remember that time  I alluded to someone cutting their finger while helping me chop onions? That would be this experiment. Technically I was trying to make curry-butternut squash soup which sounded delicious and it's soup, how hard can it be? It's liquid! The recipe did say that you would need an immersion blender (one of those fancy things I do not possess) BUT it also said I could use a regular blender, which I do have....kind of.

Failure 1: Sobbing like a baby chopping onions. Someone offered to help me but given that they were unaccustomed to the chopping 'mat', they slipped and cut their finger. They claim it hurt for a good month thereafter but no serious injury occurred.

Failure 2: This isn't really a failure as much as a mess. Capacity is a constant struggle for me, I just assume things will fit in the pan. I don't have a big soup pot, of course, but I have pots for pasta so I thought it would be sufficient. And it was, but a very, very full sufficient.

Failure 3: Everything was going well! All that was left was to blend it. Side note: I have a blender but it's literally from 1988 and much like the other appliances handed down to me by my parents, it is missing a key component. The coffee pot they gave me had no pot and the blender had no lid. You would think that after all those movie scenes of blenders exploding, I would learn. And I did! I covered the blender thing with a plate. Please note that a plate is slightly rounded while the top of a blender is flat. Cue exploding yellow soup everywhere. Even though I had only put a small amount in the blender, it went everywhere.

Failure 4: Given the lack of counter space, I purchased a wire rack that conveniently sits under the only free outlet in the kitchen (which is far away from the china cabinet counter). It would have been better to purchase something like a butcher block but I'm cheap so wire rack it is. It works very well until you spill something or in this case, explode something. So there was yellow goo all over my cookbooks and everything I kept on the lower two shelves (soup cans, cups, papers...).

Success 1: Questionable success actually. So the soup technically survived, it was just a little---textured. I believe I ate some of it but unlike the creamy soup I had at the restaurant, this required chewing. Those pesky onions obviously weren't chopped into small pieces, nor were they blended so mmm chewing onions.

I would love to attempt soup again but alas, I think I will have to wait until I have an actual immersion blender. And for the record, Tupperware lids fit over the blender perfectly.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Secret Cranberry Scones

Scones require the use of cold butter, which means they fall into the category of “that sounds complicated” and I’ve never made them. However, I have enlisted the help of my good friend and fellow baker who has enlisted the help of her secret family scone recipe. And so we set out to make scones, which apparently she hasn’t made solo before either…

Behold: the mushing of the dough

Unlike when I make things, my friend follows the directions to the t: the separation of ingredients into different bowls, the order of adding them, the whole thing. Obviously I don’t royally screw it up but I do have a tendency to just add everything into one bowl to avoid more dishes. 

Who knew that scones are triangular because you cut them out of a dough wheel? Not this one, I thought you just form the dough that way but apparently you make a dough pizza and then you get perfectly shaped scones (I think you can make round scones but let’s not get too crazy here).

A scone pie!

Divided into perfect little wedges

Approximately 20 minutes later, we had gloriously warm cranberry scones but we weren’t done yet. For the finishing touch, they get brushed with butter—oh darn, melted butter. So now we have delicious cranberry scones and it wasn’t so scary! 

I have long assumed that scones are dry and crunchy and when placed next to a muffin, I tend to opt for the muffin. This is completely contrary to the few times I have had scones but now, I can make scones, woohoo! I’m thinking up first pumpkin (ha, shocking) or maple scones for fall and then cranberry again for the holidays. Mostly I want to show up to a family gathering, scones in tow to prove my new-found ability to be a grown-up and cook/bake. That feeling will probably never go away though!

Oh darn, we had to brush butter on top once they came out of the oven

Healthy Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

Again with the pumpkin, I know but this time it’s not my fault! A friend of mine requested that another friend of ours make these deliciously fall and apparently healthy cookies. So we are combining forces! Now, aforementioned baker friend is like the professional amateur chef. And by that I mean she has a Dutch oven (see Pumpkin Turkey Chili) and all the fun gadgets as well as the drive and recipes to make delicious things of the booked and baked variety. She is my baking/cooking mentor but isn’t officially a chef (hence professional amateur). We are also baking in her more equipped and slightly larger kitchen. It’s quite the upgrade. 

Delightfully thick batter

At any rate, these cookies are ‘healthy’. No butter, no egg yolks, no problem! The important dough test has resulted in a very oatmealy taste (read: healthy) so we’ll see how this works out. But it only takes half a can of pumpkin (we doubled the recipe so it only took half) but of course we don’t live near each other so I couldn’t lend my neighbor the half a can of pumpkin leftover from pumpkin snickerdoodles. That would be too easy.

These came out more like protein bars than cookies. They are definitely still delicious but not really cookies. What is one to do when one is expecting cookies and gets healthy things? Make more cookies! We had exactly enough sugar, flour and raisins for regular oatmeal cookies so here we have it. Cookie monsters!
The finished product! Less cookie, more health bar, equally yummy

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Explanation of Mass Postings

I know it looks like I’m cheating and writing all my blog posts in one batch (not that there’s something wrong with that but it would be better if these were spread out, no?) but my internet is broken and that means I have a computer that is run on my imagination (Elmo taught me this). So instead of being able to gradually post blogs and pretend this is over time, I’m typing them ahead of time. But there will be a lull, I can guarantee it but then I will have to eat again so never fear! Don’t hate me because I’m bored.

Ps: in the process of writing these posts to be submitted in a mass blogging, the pumpkin snickerdoodles are fantastic and delicious. The children will not be disappointed! They just might be short a couple bucks as I ‘test’ the cookies, just in case…

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles

I wasn’t lying when I said we have a theme. So these cookies are actually for a fundraiser so if they don’t turn out (currently still in the oven), I will be disappointing the children. Honestly if they fail I’ll commit a sin and buy them from the store or just make chocolate chip cookies, hmm…And in case you want the recipe: RECIPE!

Anyways, the story to be told is more about this oooother time I tried to make plain old snickerdoodles after learning how in Home Ec. Yes, we are taking a little trip back in time to possibly understand why I was averse to cooking and stuck to simple jello for many years. My friend and I decided to make snickerdoodles and so we divided the list of ingredients in half and set to work. Right off the bat, we kind of messed it up by not letting the butter soften enough but trying to cream it anyways. This then resulted in us putting it into the microwave to soften (quite sensible) but this was after we had mixed it with things like eggs. It turns out microwaves cook eggs! Things we wouldn’t learn until our microwave unit, yes we had an entire marking period of Home Ec devoted to cooking with a microwave, or until college when we were just plain lazy. So there are small amounts of what appear to be cooked egg in our batter. No matter, the show must go on! As we continue to mix things this just really doesn’t look right but we put the little dough balls into the oven anyways.

One of my favorite parts of baking is checking half way through to see cookies or cakes rising into baked deliciousness. This did not happen for our poor snickerdoodles. They remained solid little dough balls until we decided they must be done even though they had not morphed into soft baked sugary goodness. At this point, you would think we would throw them away and start over. Although we did eventually try again, we decided, in our adventuresome and naïve youth, to try these failures. They were disgusting. They didn’t even taste like anything remotely good so we promptly spit them out and were left, snickerdoodle-less, wondering what went wrong.

After careful consideration we realized our error. When dividing the ingredients, I had devided them into wet and dry, that’s what it looked like on the page. Apparently there was a third set of ingredients that consisted of one tiny little detail: sugar. Neither of us had added sugar to our sets of ingredients. We redid the process with all the ingredients and voila! Snickerdoodles.

Evidently sugar is important to the chemistry of baking. And that whole Everybody thought Somebody would do it but Nobody did it even though Anybody could have done it is very true. Communicate people! Or bake alone, that works too.
Oodles of doodles!

Pumpkin Turkey Chili

Chili is one of my all-time favorite foods. I associate it with my dad’s cooking (mom made pot roast, dad made venison chili) and it’s almost always better with cornbread. When the weather gets cold, soup and stew are excellent companions and chili is no exception. In my case, I decided to incorporate the aforementioned popular ingredient of pumpkin and it make it slightly healthier by making turkey chili. Note: I did not take any liberties with the ingredients ie: the turkey, the recipe is actually for pumpkin turkey chili, no shenanigans here. Scrolling through the recipe you will find it requires several canned goods which at first made me question if this is ‘homemade’ enough to be ventured. But after careful consideration of the fact that I would in fact have to chop things and cook the meat, it passed my oh so easy test. The only liberty I took was the fact that I don’t have a dutch oven nor a large pot to substitute. But I do have a frying pan thing (I’m not sure what the proper term is but I invested in this non-stick thing last year when I realized my college frying pan thing was poorly designed and tipped over a lot. See I made progress!).

Pretty straight forward. That is also the infamous fail-cutting 'board'.

Number one: I’m terrible at chopping onions. They make me bawl and go blind halfway through the onion which makes it way more difficult to chop the second half especially since I don’t have a cutting board—I have a cutting mat which does tend to slide around. Injury is imminent. Knowing my failure with onions, I tried once to have someone chop them for me. This resulted in them cutting their finger so now I chop the onions. Maybe I’m actually crying out of frustration of getting the skin off of the onion or the mat slipping but I digress.

Anyways, the ingredients go into the pot, they cook, we add more ingredients, they smell yummy. And hten we add a few more…and a few more and soon this pan is obviously reaching capacity. But does this stop me? No! What’s the worst that can happen? A little mess, no big deal. I soon came to realize that what can happen is I can’t stir it and everything will boil over. So being sensible (and cursing myself thinking “I really don’t think it was wise to add that water!”), I bailed out the pan. As in took a bowl and a spoon and ladled out water off the top so I could stir without setting anything on fire. So there was a lot of hissing, some small flames got excited about having food to fuel it. In the end, it turned out delicious!
For the life of me, I can't get this to rotate (or save rotated, rather). But you get the idea. Hot mess.

Pumpkin turkey chili was a great success and has sustained me for about a week. It’s also yummy with sour cream. I know the jingle calls for a dollop but realistically, it’s a metric spoon of sour cream. Perfect on this rainy night! And ultimately, the stove and pan lived to see another day, a little cleaner for the wear. 

The final product! Messy, overflowing but delicious.

Live Love Lemon...but Definitely Still Laugh

I have previously attempted to write a blog but quickly lost inspiration and since I eat every day and I have discovered Pinterest recipes, I doubt I will run out of material here. What will make this oh so entertaining is the fact that I also have a tendency to not know what I’m doing or having the proper kitchen equipment. This often results in some sort of minor crisis or major mess but I am happy to report that the food comes out delicious! With the exception of this one time I tried to make soup but that’s for another time.

To give you an idea of what I’m dealing with, I live in a slightly older apartment. Quite charming with its wood floors and farmer’s sink that has no warm, only hot and cold. Exhibit A: the problem of having two taps was remedied by using a soda bottle to connect them. Ghetto? Yes but I prefer the term creatively engineered (although I can’t take credit for finding this solution, only implementing it). I don’t actually have a counter, I have a built in china cabinet (charm!) that has a surface that give me about two feet but is quite shallow since it’s a china cabinet and the cabinet part gets in the way. My stove is probably from 1953 and 80% all of the burners work. Although it emits questionable smells of gas and makes loud clunking noises when the oven is on, it is quite the little beast. It pretty much cuts baking time in half. Badass stove for the win! All of these are structural quirks, if you will, and are manageable. The hilarity usually ensues as a result of my own failure to have proper kitchen equipment and my perpetual belief that I can wing it (for the record, I can but not gracefully). This involves such things as a blender with no lid (yes, there’s a story to that) and cutting boards that are actually more like cutting mats (I’m working on a wish list, don’t worry—because I know it was at the top of your list of concerns).

At any rate, the objective of my contribution to the blogosphere is to share my hilarious stories (and delicious recipes, not everything is a fiasco) and to stop crowding my friends’ inboxes with my triumphant tales of the kitchen. I would like to note that I love cooking and baking but I’m much better at baking. Cooking is a newfound pleasure that until 6 months ago consisted of pasta, chicken (smoke alarm going off every time), and anything I could put in a microwave. Not very diverse so I branched out and now I feel like I’m cheating if I use things from a can (a lot of things come in cans, this I have accepted as fact). But as I mentioned before, I am not very well equipped with fancy things so I’m sure that by normal standards, my cooking is normal but by my standards I’m a master chef! One day, one day….

Good news! It’s fall so the next several posts will revolve around recipes with apples and pumpkins because that’s pretty much what I’ve been eating for a month now. Get excited!! Or you could pretend and I would never know. Thus is the beauty and anonymity of the interwebs.