Shamleless Plug

I'm embarking on a new part of my life that is happier and going in a direction! It's really refreshing.

I was married May 19th, 2012 to a great guy I met at the C.I.A and we're go excited to embark on a life together. He has as culinary degree to match my baking and pastry degree. It's going to be a Good life.

I hope you enjoy my thoughts on food and cooking. I am but a humble baker, who happens to love cooking and embraces the joy of food.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Crispy Chicken

Like any fried and crunchy food loving person, one of my favorite things to eat is Crispy chicken. My mom's crispy chicken has such an addictive crunch and crispiness to it, I could eat plates and plates of it until I am unable to move. The part in my brain that tells me to stop eating seems to irk to a halt with crispy chicken, as if it is drunk with happiness of crispy pan fried food, and as long as there is some freshly made I'll be tempted to devour it all.

Growing up, this was one of my favorite things to eat (but every good kid loves a version of this, from fried chicken to chicken nuggets, it's truly a staple in the kid diet). The smell of breadcrumb coated chicken cutlets cooking in the pan, bubbling on top of a thin layer of oil to a perfect dark brown made my mouth water and me impatient.

When I was quite young I remember evenings spent on my favorite Winnie-the-Pooh bear blanket with a pilfered piece of freshly cooked crispy chicken, dribbled in ketchup, nibbling on the moist chicken with the light crunch coating while watching shows like "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers" or "Saved by the Bell" right before dinner.

As I grew older and my awareness for cooking developed, my love for crispy chicken didn't wane, but "expanded". I had an aversion of leftovers, because they never tasted as good as they did the day before. But as I got older, I discovered tasty (and incredibly strange) ways of eating the left over chicken.
My first favorite thing to make was quesadillas, but in a bastardized American way: tortillas filled with corn, cold quivering slabs of velveeta cheese and cubed cold crispy chicken, cooked to a tasty golden brown. Yum. I can still remember the orange "cheese" melting over the other ingredients and volcano-ing lusciously over the edges. I didn't use salsa, or sour cream, or anything remotely related to the culture of quesadilla's origin. But to me, this was the best utilization of such leftovers.

The second dish is just a bit unorthodox, but back then was another way to use leftovers in a deliciously new way.
I hate to admit that this particular dish still appeals to me a little still, as well as the "quesadilla", but it's just another one of my many embarrassing eating habits from my youth I try desperately to shake but its appeal is just far too tempting, but indulging in it is just too humiliating (I swear when I move out, these two dishes will be first on my list).
My rice bowl consisted of leftover white rice, corn off the cob and cubed chicken.

After it's heated well, I added my favorite "Sauce"....ketchup, and mixed well. (I refer you to my New Year's post to revisit my love for ketchup). Honestly, almost anything that was once crispy and pan fried is delicious covered in ketchup. Truly, this meal was delicous. The crisp of the corn, the bland of the rice coated in ketchup, coated chicken with clumps of everything stuck to it. My mouth waters at the very thought.

But being older, and a little less picky, my tastes have changed. Or maybe I've just learned to be a little more embarrassed of my eating habits.

I still love fresh crispy chicken with ketchup (but with less, as my love for ketchup as been toned down considerably over the years). But now I like it with honey mustard dressing, cubed and tossed in a salad as well. Or just with spicy honey mustard on good bread. But I think given the chance and the privacy to do so, I would make a rice bowl again, or at least indulge in my velveeta quesadilla.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bee Keeping

The bees are here!

My dad is taking up bee keeping, and the bees, about 3 pounds of them, has arrived today. I was reading the "Bee Keeping for Dummies" book, and came across interesting bee keeping facts:

  1. Drone bees eat a lot, are lazy and are there to mate, 200-300 feet in the air, and then die. At the end of the season, they are literally kicked out of the hive
  2. If a good water source is not kept, bees will raid the neighbor's birdfeeders, hose faucets and pools
  3. Bees can produce about 100 pounds of honey a season
  4. Honeybees are usually "sweet and gentle" away from their hive
  5. Making mead takes about 32 pounds of honey
More as this story develops.


So the Bees are here....unfathomable amounts of bees.

I am officially terrified and paranoid.

The crates above house about 12,000 bees. Twelve thousand. Which means, minus bee deaths, we have about 24,000 of them.

The idea of that many bees, along with the idea of more over the summer makes me panicked and paranoid at the very thought.

I watched my dad shake out one of these crates into the built hives and it was, as my brother put it "like shaking out a box of cereal." Thousands of bees poured into the hives in enormous clumps.
It was enough to make a person run in the other direction. As a person who's been terrified of things that sting her entire life, I'm surprised I got close enough to take these pictures. Dozens of bees buzzed around the area as they acclimated to their new homes. All around. Everywhere. Terrifying.

"Bees can smell fear." I pointed out, when I was told I needed to get closer to get a better picture. I would have none of this. (A random Simpson's quote came to mind, which roughly goes: Oh, yeah, what are you gonna do? Release the dogs? Or the bees? Or the dogs with bees in their mouth and when they bark, they shoot bees at you?")

The loud hum of buzzing was enough to make me run away, and as a bee flew by close enough to buzz in my ear, I jumped back, declared I had enough of this, and went inside, twitching and slapping my arms and neck at the phantom bees.

On the plus side, my brother said we should be getting about a cup and a half of honey a day when things really get going, so, I guess, all things considered, that isn't too bad.

So now I'm inside, obviously, after a second journey out, when I watched my dad pour in the bees into their hives. He dropped the crate! A big no-no. So I'm here, writing about my paranoid experience waiting for them to calm down, because I'd be pretty miffed too if someone dropped my temporary home, when I was hot, tired, and hungry after a long journey in a crate.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Fruit Snacks

Fruit by the foot, Gushers, fruit roll ups. The most fruit an average kid saw in my day was usually limited to fruit snacks (and probably still today). Addictive, sweet, fun to play with, these snacks had it all. They were the "it" snack, trumped only by the elusive snack cake.

Who among us didn't roll the fruit by the foot out, and put the rolled half into your mouth, making it look like you had a long tongue? Who didn't press gushers together to ooze the syrupy filling out? I loved to carefully peel away the designs in fruit roll ups and arrange them on the filmy plastic before eating each one by one before pressing the remaining peels into a ball and eating it all at once.

I loved the strawberry flavor, tropical (I remember a bright yellow of "tropical" flavors"), and the most popular of them all- tye dyed, with indistinguishable flavors and usually passed off as "berry" with a marbled tone of red and blues. Fruit-Roll Ups stuck to your teeth at times like taffy, but something as silly as dental issues can't deter a child from such delicious lunch box treats.

Gushers could do no wrong. They could feature colors non-existent in conventional fruits of bright greens, neon yellows and turquoise. They could, like most fruit snacks, have fruit combinations and names that only live in a child's world of bright colors and weird names (ie- "G Force Tropical Rage, and "Rockin' Blue Raspberry to name two of the strangest. But I can't be too picky....Blue Raspberry as far as I know, doesn't exist in the produce world, and is a standard in every candy and fruit snack. ) Gushers are an original fruit snack, and have that amazing kid pleasing contrast of opposites and novelty. Squeezing them brought out a kind of joy, watching them slowly break and the inner juice dribble out over your fingers, or if done too hard, over your cartoon themed lunch box.

Fruit by the foot has all the elements the fruit snacks above has and all fruit snacks should have: a gimmick, weird colors, real and make-believe flavors (ie- Razzle Blue Blitz, Color by the Foot and Tropical Tango), wrapped up into three feet of fun. Little bits of trivia and jokes graced the waxy thin paper strips. You could measure with it, trade lengths of foot with it for other treats, you could swing it around. It was multi-functional. It was soft and chewy and didn't stick to your teeth as frequently as Fruit roll ups. It wasn't as sticky and you got more fruit for your inches. This was probably the best of them all. Clearly, you get more snack for your fruit with this snack. It wasn't as flashy as Fruit Roll Ups, not as big a novelty as Gushers. It wasn't fussy. Fruit by the foot was zen in the sence that it just was.

I miss fruit snacks. I recently bought some for my boyfriend as a surprise since we'd talked about them the week before, and felt a little sheepish looking at all the choices, and putting them in my basket. But sharing a pouch of Gushers with him, smelling the familiar artificial scents, tasting the "flavors" brought me back to Formica cafeteria tables of a vague time when being friends with someone meant sharing lunches and a swing set, where .50 cents bought you an ice cream sandwich from the lunch line, and school lunches packed by a parent meant the mystery and surprise of what might be.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Ice Cream

I don't think I'm that big an ice cream fan. I know. Blasphemy. I like ice cream, sundaes, ice cream sandwiches, but I don't like it too often, or in too high quantities.

Sometimes I like ice cream, but it has to be the right moment. I can't just eat a bowl of ice cream, covered in Hershey syrup on a whim (like I used to as a child, but maybe my palette has become more particular) . I have to really want it. My favorite ice cream dish is at the Eveready Diner, in Hyde Park. It's this enormous sundae- three scoops of vanilla ice cream and Reese's pieces, Heath bar and M&ms. Topped of course, with whipped cream, draped with hot fudge and a cherry. My favorite spoonful is one with a bit of each candy, a dollop of shiny hot fudge, ice cream that has melted slightly and whipped cream. The contrast of creamy, quiet vanilla, showy chocolate, warm, cold, melted and shelled candy is mouthwatering. I love M&ms with soupy ice cream that has been marbled with hot fudge.

It's a mammoth dish of ice cream. Enough for two determined people and possibly one picker. I love letting it melt a little before it's finished, allowing me to fish out the candy I want from the bottom of the glass. Candy fragmented ice cream soup is even more delicious than the sundae itself after the tongue thaws out.

I'm thinking about ice cream tonight because the co-founder of Baskin-Robbins has died. There isn't anything on the site, but the dark side of me is wondering how the corporation is going to exploit this. 90 cent scoop night anyone?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Baking Cookies

I just finished making an enormous batch of cookies. I like to bake chocolate chip cookies, but at the same time, I find them finicky. It seems like when I make them, too much depends on exact cirumstances: the exact amount of flour and leaveners, butter temp going into the bowl, how much of what kind of sugar, mixing time for each step, baking time, how many times you turn the pan, how many pans are in the oven. It all determines how the cookie will turn out. Too much white sugar and the cookie will be crunchy, too little baking soda and they wont spread very well.

I find that I like my cookies soft and chewy, so I add more brown sugar than I do white sugar, as well as add a bit more flour to prevent excessive spreading. Sometimes I add too much flour, so they barely spread at all. It's a little frustrating. I've been assisting with and baking cookies since I've been old enough to stand on a chair. I haven't perfected this yet?

I'm trying to see what works. So far, I've found that pre rolling the dough into balls and chilling between each baking batch slows the spread, but lengthens the cooking time, but you end up with a nicely baked cookie, that's usually a bit softer than crunchy. More brown sugar than white also helps, but the ratio is delicate.

Now the best part, the chocolate chips, is a delicate balance too. You want to have a nice ratio of cookie to chocolate, without going overboard or looking too skimpy. This may or may not take a while to perfect. I've been baking these so long it lacks needing measuring (the idea that baking is so exact makes me wonder about the things I've been baking my whole life, and all the mothers and grandmothers out there who scoff at measuring and turn out the best food imaginable) I don't know the exact amount of chips I use, I add and add until it looks right to me,but I like to think anyone with any eating sense would do the same, and the probably do.

This batch made a ton of cookies, over sixty. I made a batch and a half so my boyfriend could take some back to school with him, but I just hope they'll remain fresh until then.

I had one or two, and they are a little inconsistent in coloring, but overall good. They have a brown sugary crisp on the outside with this tiny hint of sea-salt in the background, and chewy on the inside. The bottom bake is nearly perfection of the color of darkly toasted coconut. Many of them are thick and puffed, while some deflated and are a little more crunchy than I might like. The chocolate chips are still melted and are scattered throughout each cookie, lending a perfection of chocolate and dough with each bite.

Chocolate chip cookies really are simple to make, but getting them just the way you like takes time, practice and patience. There are so many different ways to make it, so many different fillings to add in, but whatever your version may be, the chocolate chip cookie is the closest thing I've found to the perfect cookie.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Store bought cake

There is about a quarter of a small store bought cake left in the kitchen. My sister had her last day at a school for her internship (I believe) and she came home with this cake. Now the dilemma...I have a weakness for really bad for you icing...or any kind of icing. The way it doesn't melt in 90 degree heat, how it coats the tongue, how it pipes and spreads. We all know it's shortening, cheap sugar and flavoring, but is that really such a bad thing if you only eat it once in a while? It's so addictive. This particular icing is especially good. It's so airy. The flavor can only be described as "white icing- light vanillian flavor. It is good in the most evil way- the kind of good you only find in food you know is terrible for you; fast food, canned icing, deep fried delights at state fairs. The kind of "crap food" you hate to admit you think tastes good.
I'm really not supposed to like this stuff. I was raised in a house that only saw boxed cake mixes for Church coffee hours. The extent of store bought cake was from an Italian bakery (a chocolate mousse cake), but once or twice I recall getting an ice cream cake from Carvel, and my sister's watermelon roll cake from Friendly's.
The only time I had cakes like this was when mother's brought cupcakes in for birthdays, or at a birthday party at someone else's house. So for me, it was a rare treat of inches of icing mounded on moist cake. To a kid, that is possibly the ultimate indulgence of pure sugar you can get, especially if you get a rose. To an adult, this is such a guilty pleasure you have to try to open the container as quietly as possible so it doesn't rustle and sound the alarm that you are actually thinking about eating something like that.

For a store bought cake, this particular one is good. The cake itself is moist and falls apart in your mouth, the ratio of cake to icing must have come from the expertise of someone who does these cakes hours a day continuously. It was neither too much or too little, smooth tops and bottoms.

I could never do that. Not without a lot more practice. The first cake I've iced decently was my boyfriend's birthday cake. It was perfect, if I do say so myself...well..almost. The sides were straight, the top was flat. No crumbs. The icing was pure white, fluffy and airy...which makes for a great icing, but not so much for decorating. It was near perfection and possibly one of the best icing jobs I've ever done.

I'm a little envious of these cake decorators. I lack the hands but not the skill or know-how, so my effort ends up sort of in the cakes look like that of an under skilled home-cook. Which isn't a bad thing for family, but if you want a job, it makes things a little more difficult. But honestly, I don't think cake decorating is for me.

Hopefully things will turn around with practice and patience. Until then I'm happy to try my hand at cakes for my family, and secretly indulge in the occasional store bought cake the rare times they come around.

Hot Dog Dinner

We, meaning my siblings, we on our own for dinner last night. I had no idea what to have. I had homemade tomato soup and a turkey sandwich for lunch, so I wasn't really in the mood for that again.
I had no idea what to have. I've had this compulsive need to eat healthy, since most of my family is on a healthy eating thing (to the point where my sister will exclaim "Why are there cookies in the house!!?"), so I feel obligated to eat healthy or justify an unhealthy thing. How neurotic.
I finally settled on a hotdog and cheddar sunchips. After chipping off a frozen hot dog bun and hot dog from their frozen packages and thawing them slightly, I threw the bun under the broiler and a hot dog in a hot pan with melted butter, and let it turn around and sizzle.

The smell of pan cooked hot dogs was familiar,and made me think of chili, diced red onions and cheddar spilling over an overstuffed hot dog. It reminds me of hot summer days when my mom would come home from work with a large vat of freshly cooked chili after deeming it too hot to cook. Now I was craving red onions with chili.

The hot dog's skin cooked and blistered slowly, turning alone by the heat and popping of the skin. The scent of savory cured beef with melted butter wafted up into the kitchen. The hot dog bun was toasting too slowly for me, and I worried if I let it go unchecked I would forget about it and end up with a charred bun, so I removed it before that could happen, and filled the bun with diced red onion, relish and mustard.

As I sat down with my finished dog, I popped a cheddar sunchip in my mouth, enjoying the cheesy flavor and grainy crunch of the chip. I was tempted to crumble chips on top of my dog, but I haven't done that in years and it felt a little juvenile. The filling stayed in the bun and was consistant throughout the dog; the mustard wasnt' overwhelming and absorbed into the bread, the pickly relish mixed with the onions and everything stayed together in an unusual twist of hot dog fate; because so many hot dog buns fall apart midway through.

It was a reasonably satisfying meal. Better than a sandwich, not quite as good as a burger with well done fries, or a tuna melt with Cape Cod Chips. But it was tasty and something I don't eat very often. I guess hot dogs are one of those things that you can have in a pinch or have standard at a cookout.