Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Vanilla Pudding at Home

For breakfast, I had some vanilla pudding, with a cup of tea.

Well, "pudding". As longtime readers may have noticed, I have serious issues making pudding. And I adore pudding, so this really is a tragedy. Usually I chalk it up to me not following recipes, per usual. In fact, the last three or so times I've had pudding failures, I've used this recipe, but altered it in drastic ways. I had never made this pudding actually following the recipe.

So, having scored some vanilla beans at Penzey's (love Penzey's), I decided it was finally time to make real vanilla pudding like an orthodox little recipe-follower (or at least, I tried; I still cut down the sugar, because 2/3 of a cup sounded disgusting and deadly). It was supposed to be dessert last night.

And...failure. The same failure as always, oddly- the pudding won't set up. I am at a loss. It's probably not my milk (1%, sometimes 2%), because pudding is supposed to be made with milk, not cream, and many recipes call for lower fat milks. It shouldn't be my cornstarch, which is within date and stored in a ziploc baggie (but maybe it is? Too much humidity?). The sugar? I don't think so. My theory is that it has something to do with my heating technique, but I tried to be really careful this time, and it still happened. Yes, I have a food blog, and I still can't make Bittman's "practically foolproof" pudding.

So, breakfast was a delicious vanilla pudding beverage. It reminds me quite a bit of Oreo cookie filling in flavor. Next time, I would pare down the sugar even more- even half a cup is way too much for me. I'd also love to try the chocolate variation (again) once I know what my problem is.

The tea was pretty tasty, if a sad substitute for nice coffee. We are out, and I'm too lazy to schlep across town for great beans, but too sick of crappy coffee to settle for bad grocery store beans. Enter Morning Thunder. It's different enough from straight black tea to be drinkable in large quantities, and the black tea leaves mellow out the usually astringent and straw-like flavor of pure maté. And, even though Celestial Seasonings is technically no longer a local Colorado company, their art is still adorable.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Making a Map

This week, I had more cooking ideas floating around in my head than usual. I blame Ideas in Food.

Ordinarily, I shop for groceries for a specific dinner. Pretty much every day, if I'm going out of my way to cook a halfway decent dinner. Yes, this is pathological. I've even been known to visit three grocery stores for hard-to-find ingredients, though that's somewhat rarer. I like to grocery shop, just as much as some people loathe it (hi, mom). Regardless of how busy my life is, I like to preserve the illusion that I'm a Parisian who simply must visit individual purveyors every day.

But this week, I decided to be different. To facilitate my crazy ideas, and to see if it results in decreased food waste, decreased expenses, or more general happiness. Out of curiosity.

First, I brainstormed all the crazy ideas floating around in my head into a nice little map of related ideas. And then went shopping. My loose plan, if you can't tell from the pretty colored pencil ravings above, was to make fesenjan one night, Rick Bayless' tomatillo sauce another, a veggie risotto a third, maybe some lentil burgers a fourth, then make a few minor dishes, and make some things to stockpile for later (ie, stock).

My initial experience was pretty awful. I found it stressful to have to keep so many required ingredients straight at the grocery store (even though I had a list. What can I say, I'm a little ditzy). Plus, one of my grocery store neuroses is that I refuse to use a cart. They're cumbersome and ridiculous, and I'd rather develop wire-shaped bruises from a handbasket (yes, this has happened before...and may have happened today) than be chained to a ridiculous cart and hemmed in by slack-jawed and slovenly shoppers, carts piled high with frozen dinners. I still had to visit two grocery stores, but was faced with the additional obstacle of volume. I found myself fantasizing about those handcarts middle-aged European ladies schlep to the market, but somehow managed to get everything upstairs in one go.

The food, however, has been ok so far. Tonight, I made foccacia from Ideas in Food. The texture was gorgeous, the flavor pretty good. Next time I'd try using the pizza stone so as to not slightly burn the whole mess.

To go with it, I used up some cannelini beans that have been tormenting me from the pantry for months. I simmered them in some chicken stock and wine until tender, then smushed in the food processor with some olive oil and salt.

Then the main dish, the scariest tofu you've seen in awhile. Except I forgot to upload an image. You're lucky I forgot. It looked pretty awful. Basically, I made a batch of Rick Bayless' quick tomatillo sauce, then casseroled it with tofu cubes and chopped gordita tortilla chunks, all covered in cheddar and parmesan. It miraculously ended up tasting pretty good, though the dish was really intended to be my passive-aggressive protest against the megapacks of tofu Jon keeps buying at Costco. We have two more packs to go through before they expire in a week. Somebody help me.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Costa Rican Rice-A-Roni and the Return of the Brownie Cookies

For dinner, I had glorified DIY Rice-A-Roni (I had to google how to spell that), with a Yuengling to drink. And a brownie cookie.

That mess is a take on our usual quasi-Costa Rican rice+beans+egg dish. I had an odd desire to clean out the fridge this week, as well as clear the pantry of Jon's repulsive canned baked beans. So I cooked some sad frozen peas with the rice, added some seasonings, and topped the mess with an egg and the now-ubiquitous Aleppo pepper. Jon ate his toxic-smelling, slightly neon-hued beans instead of the peas, which he dislikes. The dish was somewhere between serviceable and decent, and far better than Rice-A-Roni, but I was too busy baking cookies for five hours to really care.

So, the cookies.

They're good, but I can think of a dozen other cookie recipes I can make with less mess, and in less time. They taste like brownie edges, crispy, with a chewy middle, and maybe a bit of macaron shatter when you bite into them.

Unfortunately, I might have to make them again out of curiosity- I "mixed" rather than "folded" at a critical step, and I'm now wondering if the texture would be significantly better had I folded. Maybe not. Also, they're so devastatingly chocolaty you'll come away from baking hating chocolate (yet covered in it...) At least they make the whole house smell great, until you succumb to the fumes.

The Chocolate Pudding Caper, part I

This week, I've been reading Ideas in Food. Finally, I've found people as crazy as me.

I've roasted pasta...I've pre-soaked it in tomato water...The book is gloriously experimental, with a ton of interesting ideas. This morning, I decided to make their Crispy Chocolate Mousse.

My mother has a recipe from the 1960s built on the idea of a meringue/cookie hybrid, and it makes the most fabulous cookies ever. However, she hates to cook, and periodically loses said recipe. I haven't seen it in fifteen years, so I decided to try baking these in the hopes they'd be similar. They actually take five hours to bake, so I'm not sure how they are yet. (And in the process of writing this, I've realized I forgot to add the vanilla) But if noshing the leftover pudding-like batter directly out of the bowl is any indication, they're kind of awesome.

That said, it's the first recipe I've made in months that makes me remember why people hate to cook. It's a meringue and not a meringue at the same time, so lots of finicky egg pampering is required. Because egg whites require an absolutely clean bowl for proper whipping, and because the yolks are mixed with something hot, a minimum of three large bowls are required. And that's all before you have to scoop the whole mess into a pastry bag/ziploc for piping. The process of transferring between bowls has left me with a variety of delicious leftover chocolate goos to surreptitiously sample, but there's a lot of waste. And I'm covered in chocolate byproducts and feel about five.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gordita & Hummus & Tips to Set Your House on Fire

For lunch, I had an extra-thick tortilla, aka gordita, with homemade hummus. I also ate a leftover roasted yam from last night, sprinkled with salt and aleppo pepper.

Homemade hummus is awesome, if you get the ratios right. Sadly, I'm not sure what those are right now- I couldn't find our usual recipe, so bumbled around yesterday with some tahini, garbanzos, olive oil, lime juice (I forgot to buy lemons), garlic, and salt. It's edible, but too thick, a bit chalky (too much tahini?), and generally shy of awesome.

The gorditas were an almost disaster. I bought them because they sounded yummy, but store-bought tortillas are always dry and gross without proper preparation. Wanting to make them edible as expeditiously as possible, I recalled my secret tortilla weapon: the toaster.

Not the toaster oven (I don't own one), the toaster. Note that I learned of this tip when a friend complained on Facebook about his Spanish wife setting the kitchen on fire again, so please don't sue me when your kitchen goes up in flames. It's kind of dangerous. But it works quickly, and perfectly, to heat a few tortillas. I rub with a light (light!) coat of olive oil, then pop a tortilla in each slot. Stand there and watch it, and unplug if your toaster starts smoking. You'll probably need tongs to get the tortilla out, as they tend to get slouchy. Don't forget to unplug your toaster before poking around in there. In this case, the gordita wasn't flexible enough to fit into the slot, so I cut it in half. But it was fast, and I got a nice crisp outside and warm, steamy inside without the hassle of heating a skillet.