Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sweet and Salty Failure

Warning - An epic culinary adventure is chronicled below, including some rather graphic photographs of great pancake tragedies. If you offend easily, or love pancakes, please proceed with caution. Some images may not be appropriate for hungry children.

I love pancakes. Like, I sort of have a problem with how much I love pancakes. It was one of the first things I learned to cook. Any place that serves breakfast "All Day" will likely serve me pancakes. In high school, we started midnight-pancake-adventures (because it was a good, wholesome place for a high-schooler to go, and it was better than hanging out in clubs... okay I never went to a club. Probably because I was eating pancakes. Pancakes - they're my anti-drug. I digress). 

It’s an “any time” sort of food… What’s for breakfast? Pancakes. Need dinner, but your cupboards are bare? Pancakes! Who doesn’t have flour, baking powder, and sugar in their cupboards?? Heck, who doesn’t have a little dry pancake mix in their cupboard??

Most people can talk about the hardest adjustment when they first move in with or get married to their darling other half.  The toilet paper talk (over or under??), the grocery shopping squabble (once per week, or as needed?), the great dish-washing discussion (clean as you go, or all at the end?). These are important discussions to have! Luckily - the husband and I have agreed on most fronts. Except... the flap-jack fallout. We have not - and probably will not - come to a compromise on this front.

I grew up with Bisquick. Nothing wrong with that - it's a great kitchen multi-tasker for the busy family and would take us from pancakes, to biscuits, to waffles (and beyond!). But seriously - it was perfect for our busy family. To the powder, you add milk and eggs. They were always delicious, fluffy pancakes.

Husband grew up with a local mix called "Snoqualmie Falls". You add just water. Easy! You can make any amount (no messy egg proportions). And you can extra water if you were raised to like thin pancakes.  

THIN?!? Thin Pancakes? When I first saw these, I thought they were a mistake. He was so nervous to make me pancakes that he messed them up. Obviously... Then I realized: he likes these thin, chewy abominations that were somewhere between my holy pancake grail of fluffy pancakes and... well... crepes. I don't like them. And to be honest, I think the mix is bland. But if he insists on buying that mix - then I will fight him to the frying pan to make them fluffy. He won't let Bisquick into our home. Fine. But I got such a hankering for amazing pancakes that I decided to make them from scratch. And I failed. Big fat failure cake of really bad pancakes.

Let's back up a few steps - this particular evening, I was not just craving pancakes, but chocolate-chip-bacon-pancakes. I think I was challenged to them or some nonsense like that. The only other epic battle in my household is about sweet and salty. I love sweet and salty. It's just about my favorite combination EVER. I'm kind of obsessed with it. The hubs... well... he feels his sweets should be sweet. And his snacks salty. And ne'er shall the two combine. (BTW - I have gone as far as making him a special cooking batch without finishing salt so he can enjoy a sweet cookie) So I made some bacon pancakes that I could easily add chocolate chips.

I began by baking some bacon then chopping it out into tiny pieces. I used Alton Brown's recipe for pancakes. I read a few reviews for other recipes and thought I could add the extras I wanted (plus, I've successfully made it before and it's AMAZING). I whipped up the batter and added the bacon bits.

I got the pan hot and the butter bubbly.

Now - I had read about how to add chocolate chips. 

Some sites warned that adding the chocolate chips into the batter could lead to burning the chips after the flip. Oh no! So, another site suggested just throwing them onto shortly after the flip...

This was not a good idea. The chips went everywhere, didn't distribute, and then rolled off and still burned in the bottom of my pan. So I made another round.

And I thought these would be the ones. They would sing. I could smell them. I could feel the love tonight hunger pains. So I went in for the final flip...

Do you SEE that?!? I am a failure. I don't DESERVE pancakes!! I made another batch immediately.

And these looked okay!! I was hopeful. I topped with butter (not like it needed it)...

Little extra sweetness to match the chips...

I couldn't wait for the first bite. I'm going to be honest - I almost didn't take a picture first. Fluffy. Sweet. Salty. Complex flavor. Okay, this was all the build-up in my head. I took a bite.

I failed. Completely. Fluffy, yes. And that's where it ended. The dough was tough - I over mixed. The flavor was lacking - worse than the hubby's damned mix. And while the bacon and chips were the best part, that's still not saying much because, for some reason, they didn't party in my mouth. They were all invited, heck, they even came to the party. But no one danced. It was like middle school. In my mouth. Awkward. Some nice times. But in general, you're really glad it's over.

My pancake journey continues. The pancake battle continues, too - and we will fight it through our children and force them to chose a favorite. Hearts will be broken. But since he's not willing to convert to my delicious ways, then this is the way it must be. But I will find... 
*epic pause*  
*cue theme music*

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Easy Peasy Cookies! (And life lessons from an awkward turtle)

I have a problem. This problem is that I rarely take on "as much" as I can handle. It's almost always more than I can handle. Not sure why. I'm pretty dumb like that. I thrive on the stress - which is, of course, a problem since I have two diagnosed stress-related disorders. So, maybe I should say that I'm bored without stress. Or, rather, maybe I'm just so used to stress that I've never quite learned how to live without a "hum" of stress in the background.

For the past 2 weeks, I've been in the process of moving. But, of course, I can't simply move. I'm working full time. Autumn quarter has started, so I have 6 hours of class and then homework on top of that each week. Oh, and I have to work on my practicum (like a thesis). And... apparently, sleep. I couldn't do all of it - the husband has been doing a lot of moving and unpacking without me. I've used my lunch breaks to do the minimal homework, but I can't concentrate on much else. Oh, and I haven't touched my practicum in almost a month (and that's bad). And I'm stressed because I'm behind, and I can't find half my stuff and oh goodness am I tired. And the hubs is tired because I don't have time to help him. This ish is hard! This weekend, when I was sick and tired of being so tired, I took the weekend off to unpack and move. And while I was unpacking, for some reason, I thought back to middle school. And it is a perfect analogy (and rambly story, if you're into that sort of thing) that is actually helping me get back on track.

When I was in middle school, we had these week-long Immersion programs (instead of gym classes) twice per year. And the teachers would come up some neato activities to entertain students, the students would choose the activity they'd most like to do, and we would take a break from normal classes and "immerse" into these alternative activities. When I was about 12 (or 13) I went backpacking. And I remember this because out of the 10 students that went, 8 were girls and the teachers made each of the girls write a letter to explain exactly why we wanted to crawl around in the woods for a week (they, obviously, expected all boys). So, we met at school to pack up all the food, tents, sleeping bags, etc. into backpacks - for 5 days in the woods. They spread out the supplies evenly (and into loads that girls could carry) and I had a lot more room in my bag and I saw that a lot of other people were packed full. I offered to take more stuff in my bag (because, really, how much does a pack of bagels and a first aid kit weight??). And then we were off and in the woods! 

10 minutes onto the trail, we passed a nice hiker coming down from his week in the woods. And he smiled at the two brave teachers willing to wander off with 10 middle-school kids... but he stopped to tell me that my pack straps needed to be adjusted. The teacher helped me out tightened them up. Great! As soon as the pack was fitting right, it threw off my balance and... I fell straight back. Like some sort of cartoon. Just toppled back. I was standing, then suddenly I was on my back squirming like a turtle. Because the huge backpack was throwing me off balance! Are you laughing? It was pretty comical. Because then I had to roll onto my side and all three adults had to help me up onto my feet. We redistributed the weight, tightened me back up, and we were REALLY off then! The week continued without event (other than the usual awkward preteen drama) and then we went back to class the next week.

Obviously, I've been taking on more than I can handle for... ever. FOREVER. Apparently you don't outgrow dumb. And this is the lesson to myself - just because I have room for something, and just because I'm strong enough to carry the weight, doesn't mean that adding another "thing" won't throw me off balance and suddenly I'll be squirming on the floor, like a turtle, but without a backpack (so... crazier). I need to recognize when my pack is full, but not overburdened. Full, but balanced. Just like eating (and all aspects of life, really). Fill/eat/load until full - not overflowing. Not excessive.

Since apparently I've been doing this forever, do you know how HARD that is to cut back?? This will probably be a life-long challenge and learning process - but if I would genuinely like to learn how. So, if you have tips - please let me know and I will try them out after June next year (when I have graduated and only have work to worry about...).

Speaking of full... here's a recipe for cookies that takes 10 minutes to prep and you can fit it into any busy day! When I was in high school, I worked at a local bakery, and I learned how to make palmiers in any season. I loved whenever they broke because, oh darn, I could eat them. They are light, only slightly sweet, and insanely easy to make.

Mini Palmiers
  • 1 puff pastry sheet, thawed
  • ~1 cup sugar (divided)
Sprinkle some sugar onto your counter, then open the puff pastry onto it.

Using a rolling pin, roll until it's about 13" x 13" (there's no need to measure - it was about as wide and long as my rolling pin - but it won't take much).

Staring with one end, fold the edges in (about 1" at a time) towards the middle. If you fold, the cookie will stay more "together" as it bakes. Some recipes call to "roll" instead - you'll still get a cookie, but I like this look of the folds.

Keep going until they meet in the middle (I got 3 folds).

Then fold them onto each-other until you get a puff sammich. Like this:

By this point my dough was really soft and gooey - so I threw it in the fridge while my oven pre-heated to 375 degrees. When the oven is ready, put a piece of parchment paper down on a cookie sheet (this WILL help, because the sugar is messy to clean up). Take a sharp knife and cut the cookie roll into 1" slices.

These will not spread a lot, so you can get them close on the sheet. Cut up the whole roll.

Don't worry if they get messy like that (it will happen as the dough warms). Pop in the oven - check after 8 minutes. I got mine in about 8-10 minutes. Bake until they're golden brown on the edges.

Cool (it won't take long), then consume. I took them off the baking sheet, then ran an errand. The husband found them before I got home and ate nearly all of them. Oh well! They were so easy - I could make more. These are also a good platform for dipping into things (like chocolate), or Crack Dip, or as-is with tea or coffee (instead of biscotti). You can also make them savory by substituting the sugar with butter and a handful of herbs (maybe some parmesan cheese) then fold/roll up just the same. And try to hide them - because they're small and easy to eat a lot of. But since they're small and quick - they won't take up much room in your pack.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fall Cookin' and Green Chili with *gasp* Pork

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Fall – leaves changing, brisk weather, and a certain smell. Yes, for the first time, I have realized the fall is quite fragrant. And I love it! I can't quite describe it - but it's a mix between grass and those spice-scented candles.

And when Fall comes around, I love stews and one-pot meals! This recipe is either a one pot (on the stove) or two pot (crock-pot) – you certainly could make it one-pot in the crock-pot, but I did a special depth of flavor by browning all the bits in here, that you just don't get from the crock-pot.

I am not a HUGE fan of Martha Stewart – but she does the occasional good idea. My mother-in-law, however, is OBSESSED with her. Loves her as much as she loves her Oprah – she is the gal that always said “Well, I was watching Oprah today, and SHE SAID…” at least until the show went off the air and she is NOT going to pay for her show because that’s just what Comcast WANTS you do it, isn’t it?? (That’s really the way she talks… I love it). Anyways – when I first joined the family, I learned very quickly of her Martha Stewart fandom, and soon after, I learned about the magical publication of “Everyday Foods”. I actually like it – it has helped me through many “what should we have for dinner this week” moments. This month’s issue (OMG, I sound like MIL), they had a spread on chilis, and a particular Green Chili with Pork Shoulder caught my eye (no judging from the Jewish Peanut Gallery, thankyouverymuch). So I made up my little grocery list, trecked through the masses on my lunch hour to get all the ingredients, and then dragged everything home to start prep. The only problem, I realized, when I got home… I had forgotten the recipe and entire magazine at work. Nerts. The frustrating thing about this lovely publication is that they are slow to post recipes online – even their “Members only access” is 2 years out of date. I panicked. Then… I got over it and started throwing it together.

The thing is, I am not great at this kind of cooking. The first time I make something, I NEED the recipe. So I was kind of FREAKED OUT. But I pulled it together, remembered some basic “soup” techniques, and went to town. I apologize for no pictures, but I was a little crunched for time since I was expecting company (hence the panic and not waiting for another night). But the amazing thing? This chili was INCREDIBLE. I like tomatillos because they sit better in my stomach than tomatoes – I’d like to say they are less acidic, but I have absolutely not science to back this up.  If you are not a pork fan, chicken would be great – but you probably need a little more oil since I had the benefit of rendering the pork a little.

Green Chili with Pork Shoulder
(adapted from the October issue of Everyday Foods)

3 lbs tomatillos
2 lbs boneless pork shoulder
1 white onion
2 oz tequila (optional)
2 poblano chiles (Anaheim would also work here)
2-3 jalapenos (depending on your spice preference)
3-6 cloves of garlic (I used 6 because I am obsessed with garlic)
oil (olive or vegetable)
sour cream, cilantro, chips, cheese for garnish

1.     Peel and wash the tomatillos. Mine were pretty sticky on the skin, so I let them soak in some warm water while I browned the meat. Slice in half or quarters (depending on size) and throw them into your food processor. Process until smooth (I did this in two process batches). Place in bowl and set aside.
2.     Cut the meat into 1” cubes. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in the pan (I used vegetable oil here because I ran out of olive oil and my hubby wasn’t back from the store, yet). Brown for a few minutes in 2-3 batches (depending on the size of your pan). Season with salt and add oil as needed. (Note: I had some smoked sea salt lying around from Trader Joe’s, and I used it in here. It is not necessary, but added a nice flavor). Remove to a bowl as finished – set aside.
3.     Pulse the onion in the food processor into a small dice – set aside.
4.     Remove the seeds from the poblano and jalapeno chiles. Along with the garlic cloves, place in the food processor and pulse until a small dice. Set aside.
5.     Add 2 tablespoons (estimate) of olive oil to the empty pan. Toss in the onion and sauté until just opaque. (It was at this point that I realized I had some tastey bits on the bottom of the pan and wanted to deglaze… enter tequila. You can certainly skip this step, but it did add a subtle sweetness that I liked). Add in 2 oz of tequila and stir to deglaze the pan. Heat until the liquid reduces by half.
6.     Add in the chile/garlic mixture and sauté until fragrant (about 2 minutes).
7.     Pour in the tomatillo puree and pork. Bring to a low boil and cover – head on medium-low for 1 ½ - 2 hours (or until the pork is tender - I checked at just shy of 90 minutes and it was great). If you are using a crock-pot, this is where you throw everything into the pot. Heat on high for about 3-4 hours, or low 6-7 hours.
8.     I served over baked potatoes, and with all the garnishes, but enjoy as you please (over fries, mashed potatoes, rice, enchiladas, hot dogs…)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I ate until I was sick... Sick with noms!

Here is a recipe that I ate. Not only did I eat it, but it was the first thing I've ever eaten that I genuinely wish that my stomach were larger so that I could consume more. If I could spread it on my face in order to enjoy the flavor longer, I would. That's sounds silly. It is. Silly delicious. This, dear readers, is Spicy Shrimp with Andouille Sausage and Grits.

The recipe is simple enough - shrimp and grits. Spicy shrimp. Andouille sausage. Spicy. Little sweet. Creamy. You can substitute to add what you want. You will bath in it, if only to get more in your body. I was introduced to this recipe when my sister-in-law brought her then-boyfriend home to meet the family, and they cooked for us. I had grits for the first time. I pretty much had a brief phase where I wanted grits with EVERYTHING. I got over it, but have since been converted and will enjoy grits frequently. The boyfriend has recently become her husband, and we're all pretty okay with this :-) (Just kidding - he's a great guy and can make amazing food, so he can stay).

After I first had this, I dreamed about it. I craved it. I searched for the recipe and couldn't find it. I never actually thought to ask my mother-in-law if she had the printed recipe (how simply obvious would THAT be??). She did have it - and I stole it and made it as soon as I physically could. And I left in my path a storm of destruction in the kitchen... this is NOT a one-pot meal. This is not a two-pot meal... I chopped vegetables, cooked sauces, sides, and main dishes, and left a wrecked kitchen so bad that the husband threatened not to clean it. But he did. After he licked his plate clean.
It starts as any good sauce does - with wine. The first step is to start the finishing sauce. You take some green sauce (the jalapeno Tobasco version is what I used), white wine, shallot, lemon juice and rice vinegar and put it in a pot (the little one) and simmer until it reduces. Add cream. HEAVY, freaking, CREAM. Don't skip. Every last one of your taste buds will thank you. And then you just let that sit in a jacuzzi of nom (yes, that's a technical "simmer" term) while you finish everything else.

The next step is the grits, which can take about an hour. (Oh, sorry, along with not being a one-pot meal, this is also NOT a 30-minute meal.) Take some cream, water, milk, and butter to a boil and add some grits. Simmer and stir frequently - mine took just under an hour.
Next comes the "spicy shrimp and andouille" part of the meal - the bulk of it. Take some sliced sausage, bell peppers, onion and garlic. Saute until just soft.

Add tomatoes and seasoning and let it meld - I like my tomatoes broken down a little more, so I let this go separately from the shrimp for about 10 minutes, then I added the shrimp for another 5-6 until opaque. Season. Just look:
YUM-VILLE. Population: me. To serve, put some grits into a bowl.
Tops the grits with the sausage and shrimp nom mixure. Top with the spicy creamy sauce.
When you eat, try to remember to breath between bites. And then use this as bribery for someone to clean the kitchen after you...

I got the main recipe from Epicurious and I only changed the cook time on the tomatoes.