Food failures

It all started on Sunday.

I cooked an egg in the microwave.

It was the highlight of the week in cooking.

(It was actually a perfectly fine egg. I beat the egg in a mug and added feta cheese, and cooked for about 50 seconds; it was pretty much cooked just the way I wanted it, and it was in the perfect shape for putting on a biscuit.)

On Sunday night I made this sort of green curry with tofu and vegetables, even though I knew that my curry paste, which I bought QUITE a while ago, had very little taste and that the resulting product would probably be blah. It was extremely blah.

I also made red lentil–bulgur wraps, which have literally no taste whatsoever and are an odd texture. I had to make sriracha mayonnaise to put on them to make them palatable.

AND I made homemade tortillas, because the ones at the grocery store had approximately sixty ingredients and were insanely expensive. (I am as much a fan of chemical food as anyone, but only in things like Doritos. Tortillas are just supposed to be tortillas.) They taste like store-bought tortillas—i.e. completely uninteresting—and were not fun to make.

This one looks like the bad guys in Antz.

OMG Fitzpatrick will not get his face out of my cereal. (Which is stale by the way.)

See how sad he looks. Why is his face on his foot?

He likes hanging out in the bathroom.

I need food help.

A Call for Comfort [Food]

It’s not hard to deduce from my few posts that much of my initial cooking experience is owed to the blog smittenkitchen. Deb Perelman’s anyone-can-do-this adaptations of recipes from well-known sources eased me into the idea of producing real, edible meals in my very own home. Successes from those recipes gave me enough of an ego boost to host my own seder (gasp!). The only real victim here is my boyfriend (you may know him as my handy kitchen assistant) who was perfectly happy ordering in 6 nights a week, reserving the 7th night for Trader Joe’s amazing 99-cent macaroni and cheese. You know, the one from the box with the little packet of orange powder. Okay also maybe my wallet.

The finished product is spectacularly beautiful, with an orange hue you don’t often get with sticky buns.

To get to the point – I serendipitously happened upon the BAKED shop in Red Hook, Brooklyn around the same time this pumpkin cinnamon roll recipe popped up on smittenkitchen. It felt a little bit (a lot a bit) like fate, and it was probably less than 24 hours later that I ordered the BAKED: Elements cookbook from that site I sometimes refer to. Of course, having the recipe (and two versions at that) is only the beginning. Months went by without any legitimate reason to actually make these buns. I hardly ever kept my pantry full of specialty goods like pumpkin, bread flour, or whole milk (I suppose nobody keeps milk in the pantry, unless it’s that new-fangled ultra pasteurized stuff, which I am skeptical of). I can’t even believe I used to consider those “specialty.” I mean, really, I get anxious now when there isn’t pumpkin in my pantry, right alongside shelf-stable cartons of cream. Regardless, it wasn’t until life got a bit more interesting (if you want to put it that way) that I decided to finally spend a good few hours learning some new techniques and making something I’d be able to indulge in as days upon days continue to unfold. A true comfort food emerges. As a side note, I also made ice cream (technically malted frozen custard with chopped hazelnuts. Yes, you want some.). Next week calls for chocolate cake (so stay tuned).

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Stop in the name of biscuits

I’m not sure why I make biscuits so often. (Once here and once before the blog, but I can’t remember much about that experience.) I’m not really a biscuit person (insofar as that’s possible while you’re still a human). I’m not from the South or anything. I love bread products, though, and hate kneading and long wait times. I also have a fear of white flour, possibly pathological, instilled in me by a psychopathic nutritionist I once consulted about my hypoglycemia. All of this led to whole-wheat biscuits.

I did extensive research and settled on this recipe, because you could use yogurt and I didn’t have any milk. It used a full cup more flour than the other recipes I found, relative to the baking powder and butter, but I decided to risk it; it sounds like she’s tested a lot of recipes, and her biscuits were very fluffy.

This is where things went south. While I was making these biscuits I was thinking, “This will either be a post about how my experimentation and idiocy make me a terrible cook… or how they make me a GREAT COOK.”

Ew why do they look so pink

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Marcella’s tomato sauce

Last week was a week of healthy Indian food, low on carbs, and tons of kickboxing. I was kind of hungry and salt-deprived all week and was generally feeling weird and dizzy and light-headed, so I decided I should return to my food roots this week and just have tons of pasta. This is the way my body is used to functioning, and things turn weird when I don’t eat enough pasta/carbs. (I am actually serious about this. I think it’s my metabolism. I can’t get full unless I have a lot of carbs.)

So I wanted to find a way to make pasta interesting, since usually I just put some things on it and that’s it. I am planning to do Swiss chard, chickpeas, and cheese (gruyere and/or mozzarella), in the vein of that one thing I made a while ago and took horrible cell-phone pictures of, but then I thought I would do a real tomato sauce. I have made tomato sauce before, but always just by throwing things into a pot of simmering crushed tomatoes—I wanted, this time, to do a big, real one. So I’m doing the one Marcella Hazan describes as “the most concentrated and the most strongly flavored”: Tomato Sauce I. I’m using canned tomatoes because it is April and there are no good tomatoes anywhere (and also because even when it is tomato season all the tomatoes I can ever find are nasty).

This recipe involves a full half-cup of olive oil. Ew. I am sautéeing 1/3 c onions in it now, and will soon add carrots and celery, finely diced. (That’s what I meant about a real tomato sauce—so many small bits in it.)

There are very few pictures for this post, and all of them are very bad.

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Stuffed focaccia

This week’s posts are brought to you by the unprecedentedly large amount of money I spent at the grocery store today. (I was forced to buy overly pricey organic spinach-arugula mix because there was no normal arugula, and I also had to buy non-poisonous fabric cleaner… I won’t say why. And also, swiss chard. And fuck you, delicious feta cheese. And enormous five-pound bag of whole-wheat flour that I bought because I think the old bag had gone rancid [thus a possible explanation for the badness of my Irish soda bread]).

So anyway, the first part of this week’s cooking is stuffed focaccia, courtesy of The Iron You, which I found through The Kitchn. (I LOVE the title of The Iron You—I haven’t read much of it but basically they use food and exercise to make themselves into superheroes. That’s my goal in life, too.) You may notice that I am procrastinating from cooking by adding tons of links to this post.

Back to business. I first made the dough so I could leave it to rise while I did other things (i.e. started dinner and the next post(s)). I proofed the yeast (combined it with warm water, sugar, and salt) and then added 600 g of w.w. flour, measured in my lovely kitchen scale, and the olive oil. I mixed it with a wooden spoon and was very worried about the fact that it wasn’t sticky—whole-wheat flour just seems to drink up any moisture. (My friend who is in pastry school says this is normal—whole-wheat flour is just really dry—but since the recipe was written for whole-wheat flour it was worrisome.)

Pre-kneading, but still. What IS this?

I kneaded for a while, on tip-toes, whole-bodily, for maybe five or seven minutes, until I decided to stop. I have no idea if it was smooth and elastic. It was easy to knead, though, because of the relative dryness. Now it’s sitting in a bowl, covered in more olive oil, rising away. Possibly.

Looks like a brain.

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Under Pressure

In the spirit of the last few posts, tonight I’ll be going into a bit of minor detail on how to deal with a pressure cooker when making Indian style lentils. My household recently acquired one, after many weeks of deliberation over the huge range of styles, sizes, and brands. We were finally able to bust it out tonight and give it a spin. Luckily, it didn’t actually do any spinning, but we did duck for cover just in case.

Here is a picture of carrots, since it was requested of me to not include the picture of someone literally ducking for cover. I don’t like carrots, unless they’re candied, in pancakes, or, apparently, highly pressurized.

Our recipe for Curried Lentils came from a book we found at the NY Public Library called The Easy Pressure Cooker Cookbook. The ingredients were simple:
2 cups lentils (we used green)
1 cup coconut milk (we used light)
1 cup stock (we used vegetable)
2 tsp. madras curry powder (we used “hot curry” powder)
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
2 tbsp oil (we used olive)

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Red-lentil dal and naan

This post was going to involve a lot of complaining about Mark Bittman, because I was thinking about something I thought he had once said—that some recipe of his was quicker to make than it would be to order in, and tasted better, too. I was going to say that Mark Bittman only dislikes greasy, salty Chinese takeout because he hasn’t eaten a drop of high-fructose corn syrup since he was fifteen and in his rebellious stage. But I can’t find this supposed quote, and also I like Mark Bittman, so I should probably stop complaining.

After last week’s Indian mini-debacle (I’m declaring it a debacle because I have to eat it for lunch all week and this thought fills me with dread), I wanted something simple for dinner. So obviously I decided to make dal and naan. But I chose two recipes from Budget Bytes, and her recipes are simple, well-illustrated, and suited to my American palate. (That sounds like a terrible insult; I just mean she doesn’t use crazy spices, and that’s what I wanted this week. Something that would at least approximate the familiar.) And I wasn’t really in the mood for cooking; I had Chinese takeout yesterday, so now all I want in the world is MORE CHINESE TAKEOUT. But no.

Naan dough, pre-rising. I didn’t knead it NEARLY enough because it was super sticky and I couldn’t tolerate it. I also didn’t form it into a ball. See: stickiness.

Red lentils are beautiful?

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aux Anything

There comes a time when a young lady needs to graduate from cakes and cookies and move on to more exciting endeavors, like pastries and breads (or a convenient combination of the two, as this post demonstrates). I’ve always wanted to make Martha Stewart’s Babka recipe, but jumping right into one of the most complicated (and expensive!) yeast cakes just didn’t fit my rational personality. The solution- a brioche recipe from Joanne Chang’s FLOUR cookbook. This recipe is in no way quick. I started it on a Friday and didn’t totally finish the dealings until the following Sunday– as in, over a week later. The entire experience brought immense joy and satisfaction into my kitchen, and according to this blog’s owner, the brioche aux chocolate that came out of the big mess was “the best thing [she] ever tasted.” This blog post is meant to offer some beginner warnings for those of you thinking of trying this out. I have absolutely no natural baking skills- so every success of mine is a true wonder and thanks to a detailed recipe. Hopefully, other amateurs can learn from my mistakes.

Everything should start with your basic butter foundation.

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Saag paneer + how to: make cheese!

After ten, nay, maybe fifteen, years since my first attempt (in which Jacqui and I struggled with rennet and she ended up pouring whey all over my hands, as far as I remember), I have succeeded in creating cheese. Possibly. It is still sitting in the sink wrapped in cheesecloth being weighted down by a Dutch oven and a 28-ounce can of tomatoes. But it’s in there.

A couple days ago when I decided I wanted to make saag paneer, I intended it as a cheeseless (so just saag) side dish to red-lentil dal. Then I decided I absolutely had to make cheese, and then I decided not to bother with the dal, and then I decided not to even have it for dinner because it’s 9:19 p.m. and I am nowhere near finishing it. (I’m eating pizza and salad.)

Anyway. I came back from the laundromat, where I had been yelled at for not properly understanding the sign with their hours and for putting my clothes in to dry at an inopportune time vis-a-vis closing, and frantically began making cheese. A half gallon of milk went into the Dutch oven to boil; when I thought I spotted bubbles under the surface of the skin that had formed, I added three tbsp distilled white vinegar. Exactly what you ordinarily never want to happen to milk happened: it curdled.

I post a surprising number of gross-milk photos.

This was around the time that my whole apartment started smelling terrible. I poured the curds and whey into a cheese-cloth-lined colander in the sink and raced out to get the laundry from the dryer. Continue reading

Flourless chocolate cakes

I made two flourless chocolate cakes in rapid succession last weekend, for my various Seders. It was fun, easy(ish), and highly successful. I wasn’t even planning on blogging them, and the first one was so easy I don’t actually have anything to say about it—it’s really good, though.

The second one was a bit more interesting, though, because I made a ton of mistakes during the process. So I have something to say. It’s from A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman—this particular cake is her Chocolate Hazelnut Torte. Continue reading