Category: Cooking


Why I Cook

There are lots of reasons to cook. I cook because I’m hungry, because someone else is hungry, because it’s there or because no one else will if I don’t.  There are the logical reasons to cook; it’s how we get nutrition, it’s how I can control what goes into my body (and my people’s bodies….I wish for my people to also eat good food), because on Weight Watchers, it’s easier to make your own food so you don’t get stuck eating diet frozen meals every night. That’s a “HELLO! to sodium right there if I ever saw one.

But I don’t cook because I have in the traditional sense. I love to cook and bake and I get a lot of enjoyment out of it and out of watching people eat and enjoy what I make. But I’ve noticed lately, since around the holidays that I actually kind of, well, need to cook.

The holidays were tough this year, for a multitude of reasons. And they never really got any better by the stunning denouement of Christmas then they had been when December reared it’s ugly head.  In order to deal with it all emotionally, I became a one woman baking machine. Anything that crossed my mind to bake, I baked it. Cookies, peppermint part, cheesecake, raspberry squares. Christmas Day saw a ham dinner (I am the worst Jew ever, I know…but I like pork) that was a little silly, but delicious, for the three people it fed.   It was a lot of food and a lot of baked goods.  And so, I thought.  I thought about what possessed me to cook/bake like it was going out of style.

The beginning of January came and it hit me, like a ton of bricks…it was about control!

The one time during the holidays when I felt in control of the situation, my emotions, anything was when I was cooking or baking something.  For someone like me who has a bit of a thing about control anyway, you’d think I would have thought of this sooner.  Well, sometimes distance makes your head work better.   When I’m cooking, I am totally focused on it. I lose myself in the cooking but I feel in total control at the same time. I feel confident about what I’m doing and that it’s going to turn out, for the most part, fine.  I know that if I follow the steps of the recipe, then things are going to turn out. And even if I’m just experimenting, I’m in control.

I know people who don’t cook who don’t get this.  For them, the kitchen and it’s mysteries don’t make sense. To me, they do. It’s probably the one place in my life where things make the most sense. I know certain ingredients do certain things, have certain tastes and will give me certain results.  It’s comforting to me.   I feel at home among my tools and appliances. And I can tell when something is not in it’s right place.

So, I cook because I love it but I also cook because sometimes, I just need it.  I need to focus that strongly on something so that another part of my brain can either rest or work on other problems.  There are plenty of nights when I don’t cook but then I start to miss it and have to do something. Today, I broke in my new stand mixer and made brownies.  That was a labor of love for me. But, I also noticed that I worked off some frustrations I was feeling in another part of my life.

And seriously people, these brownies are good!

 

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As we get into the season for nesting and stick to your ribs meals you start to hear the words “comfort food” bandied about quite a bit by the tv personalities on your favorite cooking show.   The food become a bit heavier as the days become a bit shorter and instead of thinking of about having a nice salad or piece of grilled chicken, your thoughts start to turn to stews and soups and heavier foodstuffs. Things that remind you of home, hearth and being a kid again.

Think about it. When you have a grilled cheese and tomato soup (Campbell’s please!) you know you are thinking about being a kid and having that as your weekend lunch or after school snack. Although, more often than not, my after school snack was cereal. No matter the season.  As a matter of fact, my after WORK snack is often cereal as well.  And yes, cereal does comfort me but it’s pretty easy. I don’t have to cook it. It takes maybe 5 minutes to prepare and it’s usually gone within 10 minutes.

So, if you make it yourself…is it still comfort food? Yes and no, I think. I do most of the cooking in my house…wait, who am I fooling? I do pretty much ALL of the cooking in my house. So, while I am gratified and often satiated by my food, I am not often comforted by it. Except for mashed potatoes.  I am always comforted by those, even if I make them myself.  I am comforted knowing that others are enjoying my food. But for me, true comfort food should be something made for you, by someone you love or who loves you, because they  love you.  Cooks of the world know that sometimes it’s just really nice to have a home cooked meal that someone else has cooked for you.

My mom hates to cook. And it’s a good thing I eventually grew to love it or else we’d all starve.  She makes a couple of things really well…the Thanksgiving turkey (although I help now) and meatloaf. And she can poach an egg like nobody’s business. When I am sick, all I want is  my mom to poach me an egg or two. It immediately makes me feel better.  But really, it doesn’t count if someone else poaches it. Like the inevitable braids I have to put my hair when I’m sick, poached eggs belong to mom and I have to have them when I’m sick.

And now we get to meatloaf. It’s important to note that I don’t actually much like meatloaf. Historically, the loaf of meat can be made of any kind of ground meat. Ground beef is the meat most commonly used but you can use pork, veal, lamb…etc. And this American staple actually came to us by way of Europe and who knows, maybe even those industrious and land  grabbing Romans!  At one point, veal was more commonly used as it was cheaper but I think that’s all meat under the broiler at this point.  Mom used ground beef exlusively. So, I don’t like meatloaf. I never make it, I never order it anymore and I never think “Hey, let’s get meatloaf”. Unless, it’s mom’s meatloaf. It is the ONLY meatloaf I like and the only meatloaf I eat. Someone once tried to make her and I one and we had one bite, tasted the dryness and ordered out. Man, was he MAD! But, his meatloaf sucked.  So, if I  make myself meatloaf, it holds no allure. If my mom makes meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans (from a can. Shut it! They have to be from a can), I immediately get the whole food that feeds your body and soul. Because it reminds me of being a kid and one of the few things my made that she knew she killed on. It makes me think of sitting at the table with her when I was little, just talking and having dinner. Discussing the day.  That’s comforting.

So tonight when I go home…because it’s been a tough year and I am a good girl, I get the comfort of my mom’s meatloaf.

What is your comfort food and is it as comforting for you when you make it, versus someone else making it for you?

Hiya,

I did take the summer off. It was hot and aside from my baking class, I didn’t really do much cooking.  Or baking. Or moving. I hate the heat. I like fall and winter. That’s the stuff of pies and stews and soups and pies. Did I mention pies?

The baking class ended well and as much as I would like to take Baking 2 with my classmates and my teacher, it is not to be. At least not for now. Next month, I eat and drink my way through the Germany. I am coming for you Riesling,  beware wine growers of The Rhine!

A couple of weekends ago I decided I wanted a pie, an apple pie. From scratch. Because I’m like that. Why walk when you can run? Why start small, with a small tart? Go for the pie! It’s like when I decided to make Coq au Vin. Why? Why not? I got a hair across and decided I had to make it.  I am not a fan of my Coq  Au Vin. I may try it again but I couldn’t get past purple chicken. Damned red wine!  I saw a recipe recently where it was made with Riesling and I wish I could remember where because I love Riesling (Germany, once again, you’ve been warned).

Anyhoodles…I made a pie. From scratch. Proof! Here is the dough.

Dough!

See! Dough! On my kitchen table! That’s my floor!  And it looks right! It was a bit drier than I think it should have been but it stayed together and it rolled out. I like doing pie dough. I actually find it, and kneading bread fairly cathartic.  So, this pie was made with granny smith apples, which I pre-cooked (handy tip…when you pre-cook, you will need 2-3 more apples…they cook down kids, at least I have gleaned this from every recipe I looked at) with some lemon juice, cinnamon, allspice (killer by the way!), brown sugar and white regular sugar. I like the bite of ye olde granny smith apple. I love apples but am not big on Macintosh or Red Delicious. I do prefer an apple with a bit of bite.   I got a bit lazy and did a crumb crust of flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and BUTTER! Pretty freaking delish. It’s the same topping I use for cobbler.

And lo…a pie!

Looks good, no?! Yes! And it was damned tasty, I am not even kidding.  Even I was impressed with it and I am tough on myself.

So, yes…we ate dessert first. But I did follow up this pie with a lemon rosemary roast chicken…which aside from the fact I didn’t like the chicken itself (forget you Tyson…holding out for Perdue or just not you next time), was very tasty. I have more proof!

roast chicken

It still had a bit longer to cook but I grabbed a photo of it before I put it back in for a bit, covered. See that bottom bit? That took forever to cook. Perdue doesn’t do me like that, why you want to do that to me Tyson?! I was really warm and hungry and tired by then so I wasn’t happy.

Last night I made the lasagna that ate Cleveland…no pics. Later in the week, Quinoa pilaf and maybe something with shrimp. I was watching the chick who won the Next FoodNetwork Star (Aarti Sequeira ) and she made this…it sounded really good. I am doing my pilaf with some different things so we’ll see how it turns out. And I may use Panko on the shrimp. I love Panko. I would marry it if I could.

So…what are you all eating? And cooking?

We didn’t just make creme puffs, I am a creme puff. I could never last in a commercial bakery. 3 odd hours on my feet and this old girl hobbled home. Well, I hobbled to the cab stand.  But, I am getting ahead of myself.

So, first baking class was this week and yayzers for it.  But baking is a real laborious process if the creme puffs are any indication.  There are 7 of us in class and all of us are women. No surprise there. I thought we might get one or two gay men but that would be it.   The instructor, Dot (it totally fits her) started out by demoing Gougeres. These are made using pate choux, which is the pastry part of the creme puff. You can use this recipe to make savory puffs as well as sweet ones.  And it also gave us something to snack on during class. Although, I eat cake for dinner so I can snack on the sweet and be happy.

We worked in teams. So, I’m almost 41 and obviously the oldest person taking the class. My partner was 18. She had just graduated high school and is going to MIT in the fall. They have no meal plan to speak of, so her parents thought it would be a good idea to give her cooking and baking classes so she can eat.  FABULOUS idea, by the way. Now, I had assumed that in the unevenness of the class, I would be partnerless. Nope, 18 year old actually asked ME to partner. I must radiate calm. HA! I think I radiate “I will be nice because you are young enough to be my child” for an aura.

So, for the puff (sweet puff) itself, you put butter in a pan with water and bring to boil, making sure the butter melts before the water boils. Remove from heat and then add flout and mix, put back on heat so that it gets kind of shiny and greasy to the touch. Remove from heat and add one egg at a time. And this could be anywhere from 4-7 eggs depending on the recipe.  And then, you pipe them into a baking sheet.

So, let’s discuss piping. Piping is hard y’all. It really is. I am not the most coordinated at the best of times so piping caused me some issues. But here is how I feel about it. Do they taste good? Yes. Am I baking them for business or pleasure? Pleasure. Who cares then? Not me. They looked creme puff like. That is good enough for me.

And then, onto the creme! We chose to do the coffee flavored creme, never expecting that it gets stiff (insert your joke here) and that putting it through a strainer was going to be an ordeal that actually pissed me off. Eventually, we made it look smooth and per the instructor, just dumped into the bowl.  Then to make it less..ahem…stiff, you mousseline it (adding whipped cream) until you get a consistency that looks right. Because  yes Virginia, there is more piping. You have to pipe the creme into the puff.  And this time, I had a wobbly tip and that made it difficult and messy. So now, I have to get piping bags and tips so I can master this bad boy.  If there is more piping when we do cakes in a few weeks, I am pretty well screwed.   But, they tasted really good and that’s all I need.

A few random thoughts: the assistant was just graduating as a pastry chef and they use a mixer to mix the pastry and such. So, should I do this again, I too will use a mixer. There is a lot of upper body work to mix this stuff and then the creme.  I want to make gougeres, a lot. She used toasted slivered almonds, scallions and emmenthaler cheese.  She piped but I don’t think these need to be pretty so I may try those this weekend.  Because I am paying for this, I will ask the “Stupid” question.  This could be another reason that the 18 year old gravitated towards me. The other women had some baking experience. I have none so if I don’t know, I’m asking. It’s how you learn. If you are supposed to share your creme puffs with the class and you are the only team that made chocolate and you don’t share, you seriously kind of suck.  So don’t expect me to share with you if I make something awesome (and I will).  Don’t forget to drink water when you bake, flour is dry so you will get dry and if it’s hot, you should stay hydrated. Really really good shoes. I just wore Chucks and while comfy, not enough support. My feet and legs were humming with pain when I got home. I’ve got some foot issues anyway but this didn’t help. Next week…my workout sneakers will be worn.   Seriously, the next day…I felt hungover, it wasn’t pretty.

So, I do like baking. I like the alchemy of it and how it’s all a chemical reaction. It’s fascinating. But after one class, I now know, that it will be something fun I do at home. I don’t want  sideline baking. I want to bake for people, for pleasure but not because they’re paying me. I don’t want to HAVE to do it.  Sometimes, having to do something can seriously ruin it.  I already have a feeling that cupcakes are going to be my thing. I love eating them so I suspect I’d love making them. This way, I can make the flavors that I want to make.

Next week…we’re doing the pie thang!

Baking Class

For those interested…here is what I’ll be doing in my baking class each week, I got the reminder this morning. Oddly, they had week 3 listed after week 4 in the email but I changed it here.  My one problem is that if I take to this, I have no counter space. I generally use my kitchen table for most things. And it’s tile, so that won’t do. BUT, I did think of something; I am going to go have a largish piece of marble cut so I can use it when I bake. I can just set it on the table and have at it.  I am pretty sure that will do it. I already have ideas for about a dozen different kinds of bread I want to try!

Week One—Pâte à Choux: In week one, we will discover the art of making pâte à choux, also known as cream puff paste. Pâte à choux is a versatile paste that can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Students will prepare and sample dishes such as assorted savory Gougère, Cream Puffs, Éclairs, and Cream Puff Swans. The class also makes pastry cream and glazes.

Week Two—Pies and Tarts: Students explore the fundamentals of making the perfect pâte brisée (pie crust) in week two. Each student will prepare a standard pâte brisée recipe, learning how to roll out the dough and use it in various recipes. Students will make Frangipane and Fresh Fruit Tart, Blueberry White Chocolate Cheese Pie, Lemon Tartlets, Praline Sweet Potato Pie, Cranberry Crumb Pie, and Cherry Pie.

Week Three—Cakes: This class instructs students to prepare a cake from scratch and to bake and frost it with simple decorating tips. Students will prepare various recipes such as an all-purpose Butter Cake, Rich Flourless Chocolate Cake, Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing, and a vast array of different buttercream, ganache, and simple glazes.

Week Four—Breads: Students learn how to work with yeast doughs, rich doughs, and batter doughs in week three. The instructor will demonstrate how to knead, shape, and bake the dough that is prepared in class. Students will make Focaccia, Rosemary Garlic Bread, Maple-Pecan Sticky Buns, Rye Bread, and French Bread.


Reality show round up

So, we are full swing into the summer reality show cook off season and so far….eh.  Hell’s Kitchen, I fear may be a bit played out. I’ve been suspecting this for the last 2 seasons but I wonder how many more times can they do the same thing over and over again.  This season,  the chef-testants were able to get through dinner service, but it was painful.  Ramsay is going to have to try something new and different because as much as I enjoy watching him, it’s getting old to me.  You have the buffoony guys, the too cool for school guys, the pushy bitches, the crying girl…all the regular cast of characters.

Cry in Anthony Bourdain’s kitchen and see what happens. Yeah, get out. Stop crying. There is no crying in cooking.  I can only imagine the added stress of the camera is what is making these people cry.  And Andrew..the guy who butchers his own meat and cooks for the Lord…walked out second episode. Called that one (I said he’d go home early or win and early he went).  Part of me wonders if Andrew was a plant though.  That whole thing felt wrong somehow. Once again this season; I don’t want to eat any place that any of these people cook/chef for.

And Ramsay has a new show coming out called Master Chef, also on Fox. Amateur chefs (like me..hahahaha) try to become, you guessed it..master chefs.  I’ll watch but who knows…this could be my shot at greatness or not. I hope he’s nicer to these people.

Top Chef also premiered and…meh.  It takes place in DC, which means we’re going to overplay the politics angle I’m sure. One guy has already been set up as villain/guy to beat (think Stefan) and he’s got a nemesis already in Kenny.   One chef-testant prepared by getting a wardrobe stylist and a facial. WHAT? Bourdain would kick your ass.   I don’t really need the behind the scenes drama but I like the drama in the kitchen, over the food, over the space, over someone’s food sucking. I do like the smack talk but I want it to be valid, about the cooking and not about someone’s look.  Arnold (the facial dude), I’d feel compelled to mock over the stylist thing. You wear a chef’s coat…what does it matter (says the woman who feels naked without earrings)?  I’ve only seen one episode and so far, the best bit is Eric Ripert (call me!) and the fact I saw a clip of the upcoming season with Bourdain (new season of No Reservations starts July 5th!). I also called the first elimination, John…he did a dessert. Between that and the dreads, he was doomed from the start.

FN’s Next Food Network star, I’m a bit behind as I’m watching the second episode as we speak.  Giada hasn’t annoyed me yet, Bobby Flay has.  I think I’ve got a good idea on the front runners (Aarti: you’ve never had a funnel cake, really? WTF? But apparently you win. Sigh…spoilers!) but I am going to wait a couple of episodes before I share.   Although I know who gets kicked off this one…thanks Food Network on Twitter! Guess I have to ignore your tweets unless I’ve watched the episode.  A couple of things about the first episode though;  Dzintra…yes, I think you should have gone home. Not for the eye trauma but because you threw your fellow chefs, the ones who tried to help you, under the bus. Das, if you have to keep saying you are all that and a badass, you aren’t. Alexis…that was no surprise.  Tom, you’re like my cooking Seth Rogen, I dig you.

So, if this is the what we have, then…well…I’ll have to blog about other things.  Wednesday, I start my baking class at the local culinary school so I am kind of excited and nervous about that. I am never good at new things in that it takes a lot for me to gird my loins and get up the nerve. But since I paid for this…I am not eating the cost and I think, in the end, I will be a better cook and a better baker (or any kind of baker) because of it. And you should do things that scare you sometimes.

The Mac Daddy…

In my last post,  I discussed the summer cooking shows. I forgot one. One that could be considered, by some, to be the mac daddy of Chef-y contest shows..Hell’s Kitchen. Gordon Ramsay abuses his way through 16 contestants of varying degrees of experience. Some are chefs, sous chefs, banquet chefs and corporate chefs. The one thing they have in common; they want the job that Gordon is offering up. The thing we as viewers have in common? Never wanting to eat there.

No, really.   The show is a bit formulaic in that you KNOW the chefs won’t get through a service unscathed for oh, about 12 weeks or so. For the food makers among them who have never worked the line,  I get this. For those of them that have, you guys have no excuse. Seriously. You should be able to get a dinner service on, even if a British blond dude is calling you an effing donkey.  Chefs yell.  And while they may not yell with the veracity that Gordon does…they do.  Gordon has come under fire (for a lot of things lately actually) for his style on the show. He’s fairly abusive and nasty and his methods are considered harsh. But it makes for great tv. If he doesn’t yell, admit it, you’re disappointed as a viewer.

As for myself, I would never make it on the show.  Not because of anything lacking in my culinary skills (although it’s a concern), it’s the fact that I do not react well to being yelled at. He’d either make me mad or we would have the mac daddy of all fights on that show. I once scared my trainer at the gym just by staring at him after he tried to drill sergeant me. You can be firm, you can point out my mistakes, you can even tell me my cooking is crap…the minute you get up in my face and name call, it’s all over.  But hell, I’ll watch him to do it to other people. Yes…I am a mass of conflicting impulses.

You can read the contestant bios here: http://www.fox.com/hellskitchen/bios/gordon-ramsay/index.php

Please be sure to read the first guy’s bio carefully. I suspect he’s either going home really early, or he’s winning.   He cooks for the Lord..although I am wondering if the Lord is a vegetarian and should we tell Andrew this.

In other news, I’ve been watching The Cooking Channel all day. And now, I have a new addiction.  I mean, all old episodes of The Galloping Gourmet and the original Iron Chef? Are you kidding me? Oh, so happy!