C is for Cookie Disaster

This is a guest post from my dear friend Freda, whom I have known since earliest childhood. She is awesome.

 

In the Disney movie Ratatouille,  the adorable rat Remy is guided by the spirit of Chef Gusteau who boldly tells him “Anyone can cook!” Well readers, I am here to tell you he was wrong.

I cannot cook. I can, however, turn the perfectly wholesome idea of yummy chocolate chip cookies into a pipe-bomb-like disaster.

It all started out very well intentioned.  I placed six Hershey’s frozen break and bake cookies in a Pyrex dish and put them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes. Once done, I placed the Pyrex dish on the stovetop to cool.  At this point I thought to myself, what goes  better with cookies on an unseasonably chilly night than a cup of hot tea?

Now, here’s when things went a bit awry…

In my exhausted stupor, I put the kettle on the back burner, but turned on the front burner instead—the very same front burner that I had rested the Pyrex on.

Three… Two… One…. BANG

Shortly after, I heard what sounded like ten different dishes dropping on the floor. In reality, it was little bits and shards of cookie and glass shattering to bits, coating my kitchen in a dangerous kind of pixie dust.  Oops.

Did I mention the small kitchen fire?

The entire mess took three days to clean. And I can’t even say how this has affected my relationship with chocolate chip cookies.

Moral of the story?  Not everyone can cook. Some people really do need adult supervision. And next time you want warm, gooey, fresh from the oven homemade cookies—go to the supermarket.

 

On an unrelated note (it’s me again), you should make some mug cookies.

I made this a really long time ago and don’t even remember if it’s good. But it probably was.

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Ethiopian feast!

A few weeks ago I went out for Ethiopian with my family. I didn’t really think I liked Ethiopian food, but it turns out I do, a lot (I was even able to get behind injera, which I used to hate passionately—but it was kind of good. And now I really like it). For me it’s basically an awesome, non-Indian way to make vegetarian food. Oh, and I ended up with a lot of leftover injera that went into my freezer.

I couldn’t find any good-looking Ethiopian recipes online—or nothing that seemed reputable or something, I don’t really remember my thought process—so I ended up buying The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors, on the recommendation of

OH MY GOD I HAVE TO THROW THIS BOOK AWAY. THIS MAN IS A SEXUAL PREDATOR. OMG. EW. I really wish I had not Googled him. Well, that has clouded this entire post.

Ummmmmmmm, anyway, the Ethiopian section of this book was recommended somewhere on Serious Eats and/or Chowhound, so I bought it for super-cheap and decided to make the lentils, aka mesir wat, and collard greens, aka gomen wat. (I think “wat” is stew.) This involved also making spiced butter (niter kibbeh) and berbere sauce (berbere sauce).

The butter came first because it had to sit for forty-five minutes. This was after a long, sunny day of picnicking but not really eating much, so I was not looking forward to this. I made a very beautiful mise en place, minus the cardamom, because I can never find cardamom in supermarkets (except Fairway but that doesn’t count) and always think I have it because I confuse it with coriander but it is not even remotely close.

Clockwise-ish: garlic, onion, ginger, nutmeg, turmeric—wow, that color is NOT accurate at all—cloves, cinnamon

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Seasonally incorrect pasta

I have been cooking and blogging THE ENTIRE DAY. Every post from this week was written TODAY. (Sunday.) I did not kickbox, see my bros, or really go outside (except for a fancy-grocery-store run in flip flops, during which I got wet and very cold. It was raining all day and it was nasty and horrible). I’m finally up to dinner. But I had this plan to make Swiss chard and radicchio pasta with chicken and cheese (the first title for this blog, long before I started it, was “Pasta with shit in it”), and then I looked at the weather forecast for the week and it was ridiculously hot all week. I was like nOOOOOO I CAN’T HANDLE THIS I HATE THE HEAT MY AIR CONDITIONER IS NOT INSTALLED I HAVE TO MOVE ALL MY FURNITURE ALSDKGHOIH;ER I FASLDFJ also, I had been cooking and blogging all day, did I mention that?

But I had no other options, so even though this pasta thing is definitely not even remotely appropriate for warm weather, I decided to make it anyway. I figured if I added lots of red pepper flakes and not too much cheese, it might be OK. I don’t really believe this, but we’ll see. (A few weeks ago I read a blog post that was like, “It’s getting warm, and I’ve started craving salads!” I was like, screw that, it’s getting warm and I still crave lasagna.)

This is a pasta of my own invention, born of the fact that I had a head of radicchio in my fridge. I decided to get Swiss chard as well, just because; I was going to add chickpeas, but I have stopped liking chickpeas and have been having meat cravings. Since I never crave meat, I decided I am probably anemic or something and should eat as much meat as possible. Yum. So I am having chicken, and it’s relatively happy.

I washed/chopped the radicchio and Swiss chard, and sauteéd them with olive oil. After they wilted a bunch, I added a lot of garlic (two spoonfuls of the pre-chopped stuff, probably about four cloves… no, maybe more), salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, as per my usual. They’re actually now just sitting in the pan by themselves, without the heat, since they seem to be done.

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Surprisingly great whole-wheat pancakes

Saturday morning I woke up and did not want eggs, because I had had a ridiculously enormous dinner on Friday night. I desperately wanted pancakes. But because I have some sort of metabolic/blood sugar/other (???) problem, I can’t eat regular pancakes for breakfast; after about half an hour I feel sick and miserable and tired and blah, and it pretty much lasts the rest of the day. So I figured whole-wheat pancakes might solve some of these problems.

I was highly suspicious of all the whole-wheat pancake recipes I found online (and there were VERY few), but this one had two testimonials—its own and that of the website it was adapted from—so I went for it, still highly suspicious. (Also, there was one of me, but screw that. Nonmarried people deserve pancakes too.)

First I made brown sugar, but only two tablespoons (actually I REALLY remember this as being a quarter-cup, so maybe I just did this entire recipe completely wrong), and without measuring the molasses (and yes, I googled that post so I could use the recipe), and then added the oil and some vanilla. A word about the buttermilk… I didn’t have any. What I did have was some rather old milk. It smelled such that I would not have put it in my coffee or drank it, but it seemed maybe OK for pancakes. I googled around and discovered that spoiled milk is not the same as sour milk (which I already knew), and that you should not use spoiled milk. Whatever. I decided that since it was kind of old, I just wouldn’t bother to add lemon juice or vinegar to buttermilkize it. Then I thought maybe I should. Then I was unable to open my lemon juice, which was one of those little containers that looks like a lemon, so I didn’t bother.

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Spring vegetable orzo + how to: make a bechamel

The title of this post is kind of a lie. I was making this orzo dish that included a bechamel, and since the dish was pretty easy and cookingly uninteresting, I was like, ooh, I can teach everyone how to make a bechamel! But it turns out I am not qualified to do that, because I have no idea how to make a bechamel. I mean, the orzo came out very good, so I guess it was successful, but I had no idea what I was doing.

Béchamels are one of those classic French sauces that everyone thinks are difficult to make. Then every cookbook author goes, “You probably think béchamels are difficult to make, but they are super easy!” Then you try, and it turns out that no, they are actually really difficult and it always goes awry.

Martha Rose Shulman, who does the Recipes for Health column at the New York Times and is one of my favorites, says this about béchamels. Hers is an olive-oil bechamel instead of butter, since she is healthy, and I used her recipe because it was a part of her other recipe that I was using. And I am not confident enough to make my own béchamels, willy-nilly.

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Extreme r&b

Hi folks! I’m back. I don’t know where I went. Nashville, then I just didn’t post anything. Sorry.

Today is Sunday (well, it is now; it won’t be when this gets posted), so I’m cooking a lot of things. I just made a ridiculously awesome breakfast sandwich with:
-a multigrain roll (life tip: multigrain bread does not belong in breakfast sandwiches; dear self, please remember that)
-cheddar cheese
-2 fried eggs
-happy turkey bacon (there was no regular happy bacon. I wanted bacon)

Next up is lunch for the week—rice and beans, fancified. A few weeks ago I made really really good black beans with many spices and yellow rice (my secret: bouillon cubes and Goya seasoning… whatever, it’s really good and salty and makes brown rice taste good) but never wrote about them, and now I don’t really know what I did. Now I’m going to try to reproduce it, but with pinto beans, which I’ve never cooked from scratch before, and poblano peppers, which I don’t know much about, but they are big and green and pretty, and I always want to make chiles rellenos but then decide not to, so I’m deconstructing them. And jalapeños, because. I guess I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to make tacos, quesadillas, burritos, rice and beans, or stuffed peppers, so I just decided to take every ingredient ever and put them in a bowl. Or a tupperware. Or a generic off-brand plastic container.

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Basically

Do you remember your first chocolate chip cookie? I don’t mean the one from the grocery store or the one from the bake sale or even the one your granny had waiting for you when you came over. I mean your first chocolate chip cookie. I definitely don’t remember mine, but I’m pretty sure it came from the back of the Toll House chocolate chip bag. I loved baking cookies when I was little, but they were always way worse than the ones I could buy at the store or, even better, the ones that came from a mix so people still gave tiny me the baking credit. This battle over how to really make a good chocolate chip cookie continued into adolescence. My mom tried to teach me, my grandmother tried to teach me. I bet even my sixth grade home economics teacher tried to teach me. I probably made hundreds (thousands?) of cookies, but they all had this weird taste that sang amateur as you bit into their crumbly bodies. I say crumbly because they weren’t crispy like Tate’s and they weren’t thick and chewy like Levain, and they definitely weren’t anything like the massive cookies you get at Bouchon or Jacques Torres that are basically 33% butter, 33% sugar, and 33% chocolate (1% love?).

Back to basics.

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Pie Forever

Pie is easy to make. Anyone can do it. It’s the classic American dessert and you can put basically anything between two crusts and call it pie (see: Waitress, the movie). Unfortunately, I am an utter failure when it comes to “easy” things. I cannot make rice. I over-steam all veggies. If you can think of other “easy” dishes, I’ve definitely screwed them up, and probably multiple times. I’ve been making pies for years. It’s sort-of what my family knows me for – they always expect me to bake up an apple pie for every occasion. My apple pies are delicious. Hideously ugly, sometimes with a too-chewy underbaked crust, and usually with icky pieces of peel hanging around with the “pure” pieces of apple, but delicious.

Drip drip.

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Baked orzo with chard

This post could also be titled: how I planned to follow a cool recipe and then decided just to make something that tasted like my favorite baked ziti and was way better than the original plan. The recipe had leeks, dill, and feta cheese, and I spent all day convincing myself that I wanted to eat these things, but I absolutely did not; I went home and made it with onions, some basil pesto from the freezer, and mozzarella. It is pretty much my ideal food, but if you don’t like pasta with tomato sauce and cheese you shouldn’t bother making it.

I will also do a tutorial on Swiss chard, since there have been questions. I love Swiss chard—it’s my favorite leafy green—but it has a very distinct and slightly weird taste, so you probably shouldn’t make it the centerpiece of your meal unless you’ve tried it. I really like it sauteed until entirely wilted and silky, with lots of garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt. So you should try this.

Anyway, here’s a bunch of Swiss chard (regular, not rainbow—rainbow is prettier, but I don’t think there’s any other difference. Oh, Wikipedia says rainbow isn’t even a breed, just a bunch of different colors put together…).

The stems don’t look great—most recipes tell you to throw them out, but this one uses them, which I like. But you still have to separate them, since the stems take much longer to cook than do the leaves. You fold the leaves together behind the stem and grip the leaves in one hand, near the stem; then you just use the other hand to pull the stem out. It’s easier than it sounds. I can’t describe it properly. It’s also not an exact science.

Then you chop it.

This is maybe an excessive number of pictures of chard.

Then you combine it with onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes. For some reason, this smelled AMAZING. I mean, I thought it would smell good, but it just smelled ridiculously great. It was weird.

Oh, also, you should be listening to the MOTH Story Slam while you do all this. This episode was on. In all sincerity you need to listen to the second one, “Franny’s Last Ride.” I have somehow heard it twice and may or may not have cried both times.

Anyway. Add your chard leaves after a few minutes, then your tomato paste (TIP: You will never ever use a whole can of tomato paste before it goes moldy; stick it in the freezer) and then crushed tomatoes. I also added a few frozen tablespoons of pesto at this point, as a sort of substitute for the dill. I had added less oil than was called for at the beginning (possibly), so I figured the extra oil was OK at this point. Then orzo, cheese, etc., bake.

I baked it for only twenty minutes and it was perfect and finished and bubbly and melty.

This will not in any way serve six. Unless you and/or your friends and relatives eat far less pasta than you should.

Baked Orzo with Chard, Mozzarella and Pesto
(adapted from Serious Eats)

2 tbsp olive oil (less if you plan to use pesto, or the same amount if you don’t care how much oil you eat, which is proper and correct)
1 small-to-medium onion (depending on how oniony you want your pasta), diced
1 large bunch chard, rinsed well, leaves and stems divided; stems cut in ribbons, stems diced
2 medium cloves garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
Basil, chopped, or pesto
1 c (5 oz) uncooked orzo
4 oz mozzarella, cubed

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a two-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray (or not. I cooked it on the stove in my Dutch oven and then just transferred the Dutch oven to the oven).

Heat olive oil until shimmering. Add onion, chard stems, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook about four minutes, until not quite brown. (I don’t even know what that means. It’s not in the recipe.) Add tomato paste and cook for another minute; add chard leaves and cook until wilted. Add crushed tomatoes and orzo and bring to a boil. If you’re using frozen pesto, you might as well add it now so it can defrost and become incorporated. Stir well and remove from heat. Add mozzarella cheese (and fresh basil, if using. I can’t comment on what happens to basil when you bake it but I assume it’s fine. Basil rules).

At this point I just covered the Dutch oven with its lid and stuck it in the oven for twenty minutes; if you’re Dutch-oven-less, put a piece of aluminum foil over your baking dish and cover tightly. If you wish, uncover after twenty minutes and bake for an additional twenty. My orzo was cooked after twenty and I was OK with the level of browning so I didn’t bother.

 

Something amazing recently happened to Fitzpatrick: he is now a unicorn.