Archive for March, 2010

Creating Your Own Kitchen Nightmare

When my husband and I started out, we didn’t have a lot of anything: money, furniture, cooking apparel or knowledge of how to use said apparel. It pains me dearly to admit, but we used to be “whole store” grocery shoppers. Hit EVERY aisle, finding sales on pre-made/mixed dinner items and many more things we shouldn’t have considered, just to go home and “cook” it. We were spending SO much money on the boxed meals, which was only exacerbated by our frequent eating out because the food we were making was awful, which insulted the money spent on produce which was thrown away after doing a lovely job of rotting in the decorative bowl. Despite our many attempts and the desire to cook, we didn’t know where to begin. (Looking back, I think it began with a grill.) Since we were hermits, our spare time was spent finding television programming that would keep our interest. and there it was: the birth of the cooking reality show.

I became enthralled with cooking reality shows: Hell’s Kitchen, Top Chef, Kitchen Nightmares, Iron Chef, Food Network Challenge. These people were cooking with what appeared to be so little effort. Obviously, they had the experience or training to make it look effortless, easy and do-able. Well then, why the  hell can’t I do this? I would watch these shows, trying to learn skills, concepts, recipes and execution…huge mistake. While I was motivated to cook with reckless abandon, my sheer determination and Julia Child “fearlessness” did not translate. There is nothing more frustrating for me than massive failure in the face of exhaustive effort. I wanted to know what the hell I was missing. It wasn’t obvious until much later that I was missing years of proper training. The mistake I feel these type of “culinary-competition based reality shows” is making the statement “it’s an easy recipe you can do at home”. Well, yes. But HOW? I was infuriated at hearing Gordon Ramsay dictate the ease at which the recipe could be prepared, but I never saw it fully executed. So, i got nosey.

The beauty of cable TV is it allowed me to do research. I started looking into Gordon Ramsay and was introduced to a reality show of him saving restaurants digging their own grave, (I thoroughly enjoyed watching, especially when restaurant owners who had asked for his help would fight every inch of the way.) but was not learning anything about cooking. Of course Food Network was always there, but I was learning the “how”, not the “why”. That’s when I stumbled on Gordon Ramsay’s “F-Word” (that word being ‘food’). It was a brilliant combination of putting self-proclaimed chefs in a real kitchen to execute a 3-course service, Gordon Ramsay going into detail of how to prepare one of his restaurant meals (and the “why” of what he was doing-thank Gouda), along with many celebrities and segments teaching about everything from controversial foie gras to making mozzarella out of buffalo milk. I finally had something teaching me everything I wanted to know. I would go back and forth between the TV and my kitchen, pausing my TV to go and complete the next part of the recipe. I even learned how to properly hone knives. I was so excited that I kept snooping around for more information, how I could develop these obviously limited skills. My further research took me to Food Network, where I was reintroduced to Alton Brown. As I have admitted, I was not initially a fan. I would get so annoyed with his banter on Iron Chef, I would watch the whole episode in closed caption. I thought a show featuring him would be a bad idea for me. Luckily, I was wrong. His “culinary chemistry” instantly hooked me and continued to provide the “how” and “why” I was looking for. I was learning the skills not only to make bread, but the why it works and how to use it for other recipes. What had started as a spark lit by the reality chef show turned into a full inferno.  Then I lost interest. Not in cooking, but in the reality shows. I am still in awe of the amazing feats that trained chefs & students accomplish, but the reality show is not my reality anymore. I suppose I can still get some great ideas, but I’m still learning.  Watching Chopped is a stretch for me, even though some evening it could be funny to present my husband with a basket of the most random-ass ingredients for him to create a meal. But I don’t feel like I learn anything from the show. The shows that had initially planted the excitement, had lost the value they once had.

Such is the cycle of learning, I suppose. I still watch some of the reality shows, but not with the same excitement and anticipation I once did. It gives me something to think about when I really get my career rolling: what can I use my training for? I had actually considered  entering into a amateur reality cooking competition on a major cable network, which I still may do. But now I have many episodes of mentioned shows waiting on my DVR…and they will wait while I soak up more information like a lady finger soaks up brandy. Perhaps I will have more appreciation of the feats when I get more training. As for now, it’s time to keep trying new things, always with success in mind. Happily, I’ve adjusted my average int he favor of my success. Another sign, I feel, that I’m learning something. However, my current cupcake idea could prove otherwise.


I Just Don’t FEEL Like Cooking

It’s been several days since I’ve written anything, mostly because I was desperately trying to figure out where the dump truck that hit me every night was coming from. It was not fun at all. Despite my desire to wake up, I would make it to the couch to fall asleep again. It got to the point I could barely move around. And the pain compelled me to move that much less. This does not help me to be productive by any means. Especially when I have a husband who works hard all day and I want to do something nice for him, like have dinner ready. Thankfully, I have a very compassionate, understanding and sarcastic husband.

I do not like to cook when I’m sick, for many obvious reasons. There’s something about handling food when I have the flu that disgusts me, and probably those I would be cooking for. The unfortunate truth now with the economy, is there are probably chefs and line or prep cooks that go to work when they’re sick because they need the money and don’t want to risk their job.(I was working in a warehouse and 2 people who were diagnosed with Swine Flu still came in. Layoffs had happened several weeks back, but they didn’t want to give management any excuse to continue that trend. Unfortunately, lots of people {myself included} got very ill and had to stay home. I had to leave my job because of how sick I got. So, for the 3 people who came in ill…15-20 took time off because they caught it.) Honestly, if I don’t want to cook when I’m sick, I don’t want anyone who is sick cooking for me.

I am not suggesting that working in a kitchen is disgusting. I think there are places to work that don’t involve meat/produce that are beyond disgusting…on a daily basis. I have worked in two industries that have exposed me to some pretty disgusting stuff: banking and retail cellular sales. Banking seems pretty obvious: touching cash all day, processing huge, disgusting jars of cash that are wet, or worse…sticky. Being handed money that smells: especially when your told it was retrieved from the Golden Retriever. (Hey, I guess $20 is $20…no matter where its been.)  There was not enough Purell in the world. As for cell phones, on a daily basis people would try to hand me a damp phone that took a dive in the toilet. What makes you think I want to hold your toilet phone? Phones that were covered in many an unnamed or unknown substance made daily appearances. At least a kitchen is someplace people want to be clean! Not just that, it’s required by law to have a clean kitchen in your restaurant. But it’s not just the sick vs clean for me.

When I’m sick, I’m a miserable bitch. Unhappy, groggy and sick. Why would I want to create when I feel that way? I’ve found that my “give a fuck” is in direct proportion to how poorly I’m feeling. Cooking without caring is useless to me. I don’t make the caliber of food I like to make and end up more pissed off, and still sick. And sometimes taking a break rejuvenates my creative impulses and I find something new, fun and tasty. (Like seeing when Mr. Lifton made chocolate covered bacon!) And a few times, a recipe that is buried with the leftovers.

So, feeling better today, I plan on making one of my husband’s favorite dishes: lemon-butter chicken and some roasted brussels sprouts. I also have a non-bacon related dessert I want to play with. (I’ve been a bit heavy on the bacon recipes lately…) Yesterday, my plan was Raman Noodles. Thank goodness for a snowstorm, a few days “off” and a lot of time on my hands.

If You Don’t Like My Career, Then Don’t Eat My Food

I am glad I took a break from writing this weekend. It was a much needed gap to relax my mind and open my eyes to absorb more around me and put my thought to it. We finally had some amazing sushi, which filled the void of the awful experience from a week before. And I got the chance to create my own version of a cupcake to share with my family.

As I had mentioned in one of my previous blogs, I was asked to bake cupcakes. They were for a birthday celebration for my family and I was terrified. I mean, just because I have been exposed to and am learning all this new culinary concept, it does not by any stretch mean that anyone will enjoy it. But I took that chance. Thankfully, pretty much everyone was interested in and enjoyed the cupcakes. Obviously, submitting food that would be considered “new” to anyone leaves you open for criticism and you have to accept it. You put it out there, they can dish it back. I just found family is specifically scary because you have to see them again…you may never have to see a perfect stranger in your restaurant again. It was a swing and I got a base hit, which was more than I could ask for.

Maple Bacon Cupcake

And the cupcakes bring me to the title of my blog. The cupcake was my attempt to not only show my family I’m learning, but I’m trying new things and applying what I’ve learned. And for the most part, they have been beyond supportive and asking for my advice/knowledge. That was until it became the topic of discussion with a specific family member. I will not divulge their specific relation, as that is not important. It was the how, the why and the lack of any attempt to learn about and not criticize without any knowledge that frustrates me.(And I fully understand that using “they” to speak about one single person is not grammatically correct. My mother was a friggin English teacher…but it’s how I choose to indicate “them” so “they” aren’t outed.) So, here goes:

It has been some time since I’ve seen this family member, and I can only imagine that they found out my desire to go to Culinary Arts school thru the family I see more frequently. They approached, looked me right in the eyes and said “So, you’re going to take cooking classes?” I was baffled. I do not expect everyone to know what Culinary Arts IS, but it is a degree. An accredited degree. I replied, very confused “No? It’s actually an accredited degree program. I will be taking classes to learn culinary arts and achieve the degree.” “Oh” they replied. “When do you start?” I was happy to find they they were perhaps taking a genuine interest, not just asking questions because I am related to them. I went on to explain the class schedule, my plans to attend in the fall, the general gist of what my degree would entail and another class I would be taking at another school to become an accredited sommelier. Then came the part of the conversation that I wished I had the audacity to just walk away from.

I should have known it would happen. Just like I had previously discussed my family’s knack for baking, the question came: “So, are you going to be a baker then?” It should be natural right; passed down like some cupcake adorned sword of baking heritage. “I’m not really interested in specializing in pastry.” I mentioned. I did not get any reaction from other family members who spend a great deal of time baking, because they knew it wasn’t anything personal. However, this individual (who rarely cooks, let alone bakes) decided to shame me, solely based on the fact I didn’t want to specialize in pastry. I probably shouldn’t have taken any of the comments to heart, but what truly hurt is someone who is not familiar with culinary arts (casually or otherwise) decides to form uneducated opinions based on nothing! How could this person say such things? Everyone else has been so positive, so supportive and given me chances to flex my still developing culinary muscles. And this one person managed to over-simplify and under-appreciate something they have no experience, training or even daily experience. I tried to explain what culinary arts “is”, what it means and the ideas I have with it. To anyone else it is a degree program…to them it was “cooking classes” at the local community club.

What I wanted, more than anything, was to be given the chance to help them understand what I was doing. I didn’t want them to understand culinary arts, knife skills, or even how to truss a turkey…I just wanted them to understand and not be so damn snarky. The perspective I’ve had to give myself is this individual is not known for their cooking. Every time there is a family function, they ask for plates to take home to their significant other as to avoid cooking. Baking to them involves melting chocolate and peanut butter, then pouring it over Chex. All of this came from the person who only cooks with Stevia and flaxseed because some program on NBC said it’s good for you. I wanted to share this journey with people, but this person has decided to remove themself from the entire experience I wish to share. And I know, and have been told, both of them will be the same people to show up at my restaurant someday (My goal is eventually Vegas…the best culinary melting pot in the world, in my opinion) and ask for a free meal. The beauty is, they probably could have enjoyed the same meal years earlier when I was developing my menu. It’s not my intent to hold a grudge, but I will not have busted my ass in culinary school to give away free meals to the people who found my ambitions silly, fruitless and unnecessary. In the end, I will do it for myself. But it won’t hurt to have a stellar restaurant on the strip in in the new “mega colossal metropolitan center”, serving simple food done beautifully with a few twists and boasting a breathtaking panoramic view of the Las Vegas strip. Someday…someday.

With that mess of “hurt feelings” off my chest, I’m off to work on a recipe for Devil’s Food cupcakes with some roasted chilies inside, and a chipotle chocolate frosting. Any guinea pigs?

The Luck (And the Food, And the Beer) of the Irish

If you close your eyes and listen very carefully, you can hear the groans of the individuals who took part in the only part of St. Patrick’s Day they wish to….drink excessive amounts of flat green beer. However you wish to celebrate, is up to the individual. I prefer to have a pleasant recollection of my St. Patrick’s Day, rather than pray to “the porcelain god” all night. I actually took almost 10 days preparing for my St. Paddy’s day, which resulted in what I consider a full (if not exceeding) recovery of my crimes against corned-beef last year. I truly wanted to show my husband what good Irish food tasted like.

It began with my list of things that I had to get done. Thankfully completing my census form was a blip on the radar and the weather was absolutely stunning. Adorned with my Mayo County, Ireland tartan (where my family hails from), my Celtic knot broach, Claddagh earrings, Trinity pendant and an emerald green shirt…I was off to do what needed to be done. First, drop off my Tassimo to be sent in for repair. (Tangent time: my Tassimo hot beverage maker is something I’ve come to love, hate and pretty much rely on. It is quite an amazing machine, being able to not only produce coffee by the single cup, it makes Lattes, Cappuccinos, Hot chocolate, Tea…it is pretty spiffy. I must have asked for it for years until my husband finally gave in to what he thought was a silly obsession. Now he, and his father, are hooked. Unfortunately, mine took a turn for the worst. And since it was a gift, I don’t have any receipt to get it repaired under warranty. Preparing my French Press every morning has not been awful, but I’ve become accustomed to the ease of brewing one single cup of my choice. Not to mention the money saving capability of it making a latte for me. I did not have to bow to Starbucks any longer! For crying out loud, it makes a macchiato! I have found it to be worth it’s counter-space depleting size, so I get to live without it for a bit longer and pay to keep it from that great electronics graveyard in the sky. At least I have a Dunkin’ Donuts nearby and they brew a mean cup of coffee.) With my coffee maker on it’s way, it was time to get the missing piece for my St. Patrick’s Day cooking/celebrating: the beer.

I truly do not understand why anyone would want to drink green beer. I mean, St. Paddy’s day makes it pretty much acceptable to eat or drink anything green, but any other day we would give consuming green goods a serious second or third thought. Aside from green veggies, we’ve been taught green is not necessarily good. Not to mention, most bars just mix green dye in a relatively inexpensive light beer and it makes it go flat! But again, to each their own. I prefer Guinness, which I am learning is a acquired taste. But it’s not about only eating and drinking “Irish”, it’s about participating. So, I went to the local “liquor super mart” where I’m sure they had more than enough Guinness. (Now, this digression may suggest that I should be attending some kind of meeting, but it’s an observation I’ve made in the last 12 or 16 months. We have a few large liquor stores {none nearby} that sell an amazing variety of wines, liquors, mixers and things I’ve never heard of. We would go there frequently when we lived closer not only because we could shop for new and exciting things, but also because they were able to offer pretty good prices. You could even join a club of theirs to get general discounts, and take part in sales, {And they would forward your information to the nearest AA chapter.} which we did. However, since the decline of the economy began to hit here, {we literally watched the destructive “economic tidal wave” come from both coasts, and blast us here in Colorado..simultaneously} I noticed it hit this liquor store pretty hard. One day not long ago, I drove into the parking lot and immediately noticed the iron mesh over all the windows and huge construction-style concrete barriers all across the front of the store. This place could probably take a direct mortar hit and fare pretty well. Even the sliding glass doors were slowed when opening by the metal mesh installed on them. Needless to say, it was a drastic change since I had been by last. I went in to get some wine, and brought my purse. I don’t carry a diaper bag for a purse, just enough to hold the essentials. As I walked in, I noticed a sign stating “NO BACKPACKS OR LARGE PURSES ALLOWED!!!” I didn’t think anything odd about it, to be honest. The NATO blockade let on that they had experienced some theft. Apparently when the economy gets tough, the tough get drunk…on stolen booze because they can’t afford it. Also, the flat screen TVs hanging at every register and many location all around, showing photos tagged with ‘Have you seen this thief?”, made it painfully obvious that they were taking a hit. As I waited for the blast-reinforced sliding door to squeak open, I was immediately intercepted by a woman working for the store. “You CAN NOT bring that purse in here!” No “hello” or even asking to have me leave my purse in the car. My purse could barely fit a few of those “airline” size bottles, but I couldn’t have stolen them anyway! That section was guarded by a large chain and person standing guard. I look just past this woman to see another woman checking out…holding her purse. I gesture towards this young lady {holding a larger purse} and ask why she gets to bring her purse in. I have had my purse stolen from my car before…I get seriously nervous about leaving my purse in my car for nay period of time. Not to mention, now all the store knows I have to leave my purse in my car. The argument with this woman will obviously be futile. I return to my car and come back with my wallet. At this point, her “pleasant mode” kicks in and she apologizes for her very blunt behavior. I’m uninterested in what she has to say…I just want my damn wine. I get what I’m after and make it a quick checkout. This woman is still accosting females coming into the store, scaring the hell out of some of them. At this rate they won’t need to worry about theft, they won’t have any customers left. Even when the economy recovers, they’ve created a less than pleasant environment that will take a while to recover from.) When I cook with alcohol, I usually purchase more than what I think I need. For a few reasons: 1)I end up using more in the recipe than I thought I needed and 2)I love to pair that drink with the food I cooked it with. It just tastes great. So, I got an 8 pack of Guinness (in the can) and a 4 pack of an Irish beer I had not tried. After a quick pit stop to visit with a great friend, it was time to come home and get to celebrating.

I had began brining my corned beef 10 days earlier, with the intent of getting some amazing flavor out of it. So, it was time to get that cooking. It had to simmer for 4 hours! It may not be the quickest preparation, but I was hoping it was going to be worth it. I had found a great traditional recipe to prepare it, but took some liberties by adding Guinness to the stockpot it would be cooked it. I was completely dedicated to the preparation I had found for my corned beef, cabbage and potatoes…until I found another recipe. That is always my downfall. I have my plan set…then something else catches my eye. I had a mental battle with how to prepare my cabbage and a Guinness later, I finally settled on a new method. I cut the cabbage into quarters and browned each side of the quarter in some very hot bacon fat. Once I got the color I wanted, I added some of the cooking liquid from the corned beef and let them braise. Another “We shall see” moment presented itself…(Recipe from Michael Ruhlman.

With everything simmering away, and my husband on his way home, it was time to pour him a Guinness. I wanted to attempt the shamrock that I’ve received in my Guinness on so many St. Paddy’s days. I took to the one true teacher of my generation: YouTube. I quickly learned I did not have the tools to create this little symbol like the pros do. After my pours settles, I gave it a go with a martini olive pick…this is as good as I can do:

My husband walks in the door and I greet him with a plate of snacks and his Guinness. The truth is about to be told. As I slice the corned beef it is just the right color! The cabbage is just falling apart and the potatoes are nice and tender. I had off a plate to my husband and disappear back into the kitchen to begin work on an idea I just came up with. I don’t hear a peep from him. I have to chime in and ask what he thinks, I’m dying to know. Before I can ask, he tells me the beef tastes great and he loves the cabbage. That stone that has been residing in my gut is finally gone. He likes it!

I munch on the dinner that I have become very proud of and stir the dessert idea I just came up with. We have some leftover cheesecake and I decide I need to pair it with a great Guinness sauce! I combine some Guinness, brown sugar, star anise and cinnamon and let it cook itself into a syrup. It’s just tart enough to not make the dessert sickening sweet, but sweet enough to pair wonderfully with the cheesecake. The anise gives a depth only licorice can and the cinnamon spices it up. For last minute, it wasn’t bad.

As we sat back to play “Rockband” on Xbox, sipping on our Guinness, I felt exhausted and so very content. My husband, willing to try corned beef again despite my crimes, was a satisfied and happy man. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride. I felt like I did my heritage well. Between my display of my Celtic garb, cooking with Guinness, enjoying the music of Bing, the Murphy’s and Molly, Sin E Ri-Ra, and executing a satisfying meal, I felt pretty proud. Maybe I am really learning. More importantly, maybe I am understanding.

Next on the agenda…pastrami. Not a far cry from corned beef by any stretch, but certainly far more involved. I’m sure I will find out very soon (thru trial and error), if buying it from the deli is less expensive…most likely less laborious.We’ll see if I have the guts to make sauerkraut. For the sake of my kitchen, I’m going with “no”.

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day the Best Way I Know How…With Food!

Well, today is here! The Irish Christmas. I have a great deal of pride in my Irish heritage, so much that I have purchased the tartan of where my family comes from in Ireland and I am learning the bagpipes to someday participate in Irish and Celtic festivals. And it has to be one of my favorite culinary holidays. Irish food has a stigma of being bland (and frequently associated with English food…for obvious reasons) and contain not much more than potatoes. Of course the entire world knows of the Potato Famine, and apparently canned sauerkraut (which is a German preparation of cabbage) is consumed today in lieu of actually cooking cabbage properly for an Irish meal.But, to each…his/her own.  I am freaking thrilled to be cooking the traditional corned beef, cabbage & potatoes. I actually started it over 10 days ago…

So, let’s not envision a rancid hunk of meat in my refrigerator. I began my preparation with a look back at my corned beef last year. And my god, was it awful! I had no clue what I was doing and was attempting to honor the holiday. I believe I made St. Patrick roll in his grave. Well, that’s not gonna happen this year! I spent a great deal of time researching and learning about St. Patrick’s Day cuisine with the intent to nail it this year. About 2 weeks ago, I bought my corned beef brisket and began the process of brining it. That’s how you get the most amazing flavor! Corned beef basically means brine-cured beef…a mixture of water/stock, large amounts of salt, seasonings and sometimes sugar. So, on day one I made a brine with lots of kosher salt, brown sugar, allspice, pepper, juniper berries, ginger, and who knows what else. And then I let it sit for 10 days. The salt keeps it from going bad, but it filled my fridge with an amazing aroma. And made me terribly impatient.

So, today is the day! I have my soda bread with Irish butter (has higher butterfat which makes it incredibly creamy and smooth), some amazing Irish cheddar to snack on, and will be making my corned beef in a Guinness stock, along with cabbage and potatoes. (and a few extra Guinness to assist with the cooking and eventual singing) I shouldn’t be this excited, but I truly want to recover from my horrible showing last year. With that said, it is time to get my St. Patrick’s Day started. Here are a few of my favorite blessings/toasts fit for today: (one last thought…it’s St. Paddy’s Day…not Patty’s.)

‘Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!’
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

May those that love us, love us.
And those that don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if he doesn’t turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we’ll know them by their limping.

My friends are the best friends
Loyal, willing and able.
Now let’s get to drinking!
All glasses off the table!

May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been,
The foresight to know where you are going,
And the insight to know when you have gone too far.

The Baking Gene

A long time ago, in a bakery far, far away…………………………………..

Not quite that epic, but baking is something I remember my family doing for countless years. I’m not talking casually, every so often kind of thing. I’m talking weekly endeavors of baking dozens of multiple types of treats or cakes for birthday, some form of “shower”, the breaking ground of a new building, congratulatory or for a number of any holidays. My family even made our 4 tier wedding cake. And every Christmas, there is a confectionery undertaking which I often imagined put Keebler Elves to shame. (If my memory serves me, over 3,700 cookies/bars/toffee/fudge were made this past year.) Many Kitchen Aid stand mixers have been repaired, rebuilt, or sometimes sacrificed to the Gods of Pastry. What never failed is that every time, the cookies were chewy, the cake was moist and the frosting was sweet, but not too sweet. In a word: perfect. Time after time, after time, after time. And once someone had tasted anything they had baked, there was the inevitable request to duplicate a recipe that had been dubbed “The Stuff We Had in the Pantry”. It’s an art that I can’t help but admire. My family, selflessly, makes baked goods every week for their respective employer. And yes, I said good(S). Plural. Not just a dozen chocolate chip cookies. I’m talking different bars, multiple dozens of multiple different cookies, fudge…just so many things. And when I was managing our boys’ tennis team in high school, my family would load me up with baked goods as a reward to the team after the match. My family’s dedication to providing these young men with a treat earned me the superlative our senior year of “Most Likely to Appear on the Food Network”. One specific baked item made such an impact on my coach, that when my younger step-sister mentioned she had him as a teacher, I showed up one day with 2 bags of his favorite oatmeal-fudge bar and she got some extra credit. Sending him the recipe got her a bit more.

The reason I mention this is I will be baking this weekend: willfully at the request of someone. I’ve found myself falling into the same path of having what my husband has deemed “the touch” when it comes to baking. I’ve sent him to work with many extra baked goods and he always came home telling me “I said I don’t know how, her family just does it.” Truly, I don’t know what it is! Maybe we don’t over-think it, maybe it’s part of what I’m destined to do. What always baffled me was my family never did it professionally! Ever! They are beyond gifted with creativity and they obviously do something right to have people request them to make their birthday, shower and wedding cakes. Let’s be honest, a bakery doesn’t sound like the most stable or necessarily fruitful business endeavor. But we have a Dutch bakery nearby that does AMAZING business. And there are these “designer cake or cupcake” places opening up EVERYWHERE, boasting exotic flavors and such. (QUICK DEPARTURE: I have a fundamental issue paying $10 for a damn cupcake. I don’t care if it is passion fruit & mango cake with lemon meringue frosting. ITS A FUCKING CUPCAKE. Now, layer cakes, I believe those are worth the money most of the time. Beyond the obvious requirement of baking to get to the cake point, the fillings and frosting must be prepared {any bakery worth its name will make these from scratch} and then the cake has to be put together and decorated. A cupcake is a compact, portable bite with a smear of frosting. Layer-cake=Mercedes C class, Cupcake=Miata.) The other item to consider is baking is more of a hobby for them. And would one get burned out if they had to perform their hobby every damn day? Well, it’s not a hobby at that point. It’s income, the sole function of paying their bills. I don’t know the answer, because I won;t bring it up to them anymore. My brother and I have tried. Let me offer you some perspective on where he and I are coming from: lets say that we don’t bake at home from scratch (cake flour, baking powder, cream of tartar) and we use prepared cake mixes. I purchased 2 boxes today for .94 each. (I do not have room in my kitchen for AP flour, cake flour, wheat flour, bread flour….). I need water (faucet) eggs (.98 for 6) and vegetable oil ($2 for a small bottle). I’m barely at $5 and I will have 2 dozen cupcakes. As for frosting, a quart of milk, some powdered sugar and whipping cream. See where I’m going with this? Even if I sold these for $2 each, the profit margin is huge!!! Which got me thinking….

Sure, it could be cool and fun! And based on my research, aside from grocery stores, there aren’t many “bakeries” around. But I should probably just get through baking tomorrow first. I’m excited to try to make a truly white-white cake. Egg yolks turn the color enough to piss me off, so we’ll see what I can do with that. No to mention my adaptation of many recipes I’ve seen using “meat candy” as a garnish. At least I know my husband and I will eat yellow butter cupcakes with maple cream frosting and sprinkles of bacon.

I never mind baking for anyone (until they become entitled and feel they deserve baked good because of who that are. There have been many times I’ve said “no” because of someone’s bad attitude. A specific example, is when I would deliver baked goods to certain people, I would deliver them in sturdy, zip top bags. They were baked fresh, so why not enjoy them fresh for a while. I would go by days later to notice half the bag consumed, and sitting there wide open, going stale. My family busted their ass, sent you these cookies and you let them go stale? Fine…if you don’t care enough to close a zipper bag, I guess you just don’t deserve free cookies. The next time by I got asked where their cookies were. Nailed em: they apparently thought they deserved them. The baked goods were a labor of love. Since you didn’t appreciate what you were getting, you don’t get anymore. I probably took it personally, but that was my family doing all the work. Of course I took it personally!), but baking for my family scares/motivates me. They do this weekly! I just hope I can make something enjoyable, and possibly something a little different. That is, if we don’t eat the all the bacon before it becomes sprinkles.

The Beauty of Hash

I woke up yesterday in a particularly foul mood. No reason that I can discern, other than I had watched the morning news before I fell back asleep. Unfortunately, my impromptu morning doze didn’t help my mood, as I had forgotten to thaw some protein for our dinner. Well, hell. Knowing just how effective our freezer is, I set out some bone-in chicken breasts in hope that perhaps my sink is in a parallel universe, therefore the laws of water convection are somehow accelerated and would thaw my chicken just in time. No dice. Besides my obvious foul mood (no pun intended), I knew I just didn’t want to cook dinner.

So, how blasphemous of me!! “You don’t want to cook?! But you want to be a chef! That must mean you always want to cook.” Not exactly. I’ve recently discovered there are many facets to my culinary self. The one who want to cook to for the sake of creativity, the one who cooks for necessity, the one who found an amazing new recipe, the one who wants to tweak and recipe, and the one who would rather not set foot in a kitchen today, thank you. I feel there is a massive difference when you are cooking for your career. You are serving it to the masses (hopefully…instead of your wait-staff) and it is your income. That doesn’t make cooking for nutrition (sometimes) any less important. But let’s be honest, cooking 7 days a week gets old around day 4. I don’t have the restaurant budget to make things like venison ragu or prime rib that I want to make. I’m learning how to make everyday cuts and try to make it something 1)edible-most important 2)tasty-still important 3)memorable-hopefully for the right reasons. Recent sample: sweet tea ribs. I found this recipe in my Food Network magazine and thought it fit some of my recipe criteria: new, creative, different & innovative. And having made them, I already have ideas for the next go round. Learning to cook with less than stellar cuts of meat is a bitch of a learning curve, but I hope to find that in the end I have a higher appreciation for the proteins I long to cook. Plus, I’d rather fuck up a tri-tip than an Elk loin. And someday, god willing, I’ll prepare fresh(out of the water) seafood! (There is truly no such thing as “fresh seafood” in Colorado. Seriously….it does not exist.)

We used to cook because…because that’s just what you do. It wasn’t fun and hardly ever tasted great. I’ve learned that cooking, just like to pretty much everything else, turns out better with training, knowledge and some care. The last part: care, is what scares me on a daily basis. There are some days I truly just don’t care. I feel exhausted, indifferent and just don’t care. That sounds terrible! How can I not care? I’m hoping it’s because I want something more than what I have developed in my self-taught “culinary arsenal”. And honestly, we all need a break sometime. A chance to not be in the kitchen all afternoon in pursuit of the perfect roast, and rather watch the inconsistencies of the footage talking place in Colorado Springs on Dog the Bounty Hunter-all the while pointing out landmarks and how shameless the self-promotion is. A catharsis, a break…I just needed a break.

I am unemployed and looking for employment on a daily basis. I had never been laid off before and that was a crushing blow, especially after being hired 3 weeks earlier. The one thing that got me out of the tunnel-vision of finding employment and wallowing in self-pity was cooking. It was something I could do for my husband; a means of showing him  I may not be able to find work, but I’ll take good care of him. It replaced my self-worth, because I was contributing to our household with something. My husband has been amazing about it, never making me feel awful about not being able to find a job and supporting the days I have a melt-down (usually related to a certain Aunt Flo coming for a visit), by cooking. It has been funny as well, because he asked me not to cook so often because now he misses cooking! Oops. I have been known to be overzealous, full of zeal…vehement. Thank god he’s here to step in and tell me to have a glass of wine.

So, I have some semi-thawed chicken breast in the sink and am thinking how to propose an evening of leftovers (aka help me eat this to make cleaning the fridge easier) or making our own personal meals.  I took a seat to read my latest Food Network Magazine and see if something, anything would jump out at me. (TANGENT: I am a huge fan of Food Network and the magazine. I limit my programming to shows that teach the how and why more than just combining ingredients the host selects. I don’t learn how to cook that way, I learn how to make a dish. Not much of that translates to technique for me. Good Eats has to be the best program for learning the how, and why and has provided many “OH!” moments for me. Not only does he provide the recipe, he provides the chemistry behind every ingredient and what it contributes to the overall success of the recipe. What that has provided me are the tools to understand the difference between baking soda and baking powder, when you melt butter and when you don’t and how I can apply those concepts to other recipes. As for the magazine, I enjoy the massive amount of recipes! Other cooking magazines seem to have more advertisements than legitimate culinary direction, which is not worth it to me. Also, every Food Network mag has this awesome little booklet in every issue that I love. They take something basic: cookie dough, mashed potatoes or this month:eggs, and they give you 50 different ways to prepare them! Which bring me nicely out of my tangent to a gorgeous segway! {I feel the need to thank fivehundy & anitamartini for teaching me the art of the segway and tangent.}) As I’m reading my magazine, I notice the booklet “50 Egg Dishes”. After a mental inventory of the fridge, I feel confident that I can proceed with an egg dish. One thing I have learned is to keep eggs and bacon/sausage in the fridge for days that breakfast sounds good for dinner. (And now for a RECIPE DIGRESSION: the best breakfast recipe I fell upon while watching Man V Food was bacon waffles. Cook your bacon so it still has some toothiness/not too crispy and drain on paper towels. Prepare your waffle batter and heat and grease your waffle iron. As a point of experience/education, set your waffle iron to its highest setting. You’ll get a crispy outside, fluffy inside and the waffles come off the iron much easier and usually intact. I have what is called a restaurant-quality Belgian waffle maker which flips over after I pour the batter and close it. It makes amazing waffles, but isn’t necessary for this. Pour your batter and add a few strips of your cooked bacon. I usually snip my bacon in half and put one half in every quarter of the waffle. Close, let cook, remove and enjoy!) I have eggs and begin reading some recipe options. Scotch eggs: no, Nest Egg: not enough eggs, Fried Eggs: boring…Hash-Brown Eggs-PERFECT! A hash! Why did this not occur to me earlier!? A hash is so simple, uses fresh and leftover ingredients and takes one pan. One of the pitfalls of trying to learn culinary arts is I have the tendency to look “upwards”, as it were, towards the better, more complex things I want to cook. I often forget the simple and very satisfying dishes like a hash. The beauty of a hash, is it can be anything you want it to be. Hash-a dish of diced or chopped meat and often vegetables, as of leftover corned beef or veal and potatoes, sautéed in a frying pan. Brilliant. Now the spark of creation has been relit.

I shred a russet potato and soak them in some water to remove the extra starch. I look into my crisper drawer to find a bell pepper and Pasilla pepper. After chopping half an onion, and both peppers I can start to put everything together. I drain  the potatoes and fry them in my cast iron skillet (I do them first to get them crispy), add the rest of the vegetable until it starts to smell wonderful. All the while, I’m cooking some bacon in the oven. (Yes, the oven. I use a deep pan so I can cook more bacon at one time, it stays flat and it’s easier to pour the bacon grease into a jar for later use.) Once I’m happy with my stove-top hash, I make 3 small indentations in the potato-veg mix and crack 1 egg in each indentation. I then cover it with some shredded cheddar cheese and place it in the oven. Now, my mistake was putting cheese over the eggs. The melting cheese on top of the eggs made it visually difficult to determine the done-ness of the eggs. Mental note for next time. I pulled it from the oven, drizzled some green chili sauce and served it with bacon…and I called it dinner. It had protein (eggs & bacon), vegetables (bell & Pasilla peppers) and starch (potato). I had wished the yolks would be a little more runny, to get that great sauce-like component, but otherwise it was good.

After finishing dinner, I couldn’t help but feel a little lackadaisical with my efforts. Then again, it didn’t cost mt anything extra at the store or Chinese take-out and it was an idea that I now have for my arsenal for when the bitchy-monster wakes me up again. I was reminded that cooking isn’t that hard with the right motivation, a simple recipe doesn’t mean it will necessarily have a simple taste, and the sense of accomplishment is always something that goes great with a full “breadbasket”…or “hash-basket”, so to speak.