Eat Me!

Happy mistakes are always welcome (thanks Bob Ross).

It is my birthday today, so I decided to make a cake for my coworkers. This cake started out with plans of becoming a layer cake.  But the Universe said that a layer cake was too passe’, and I needed to turn my attempt at cake decorating into a swiss roll.

I had every intention of making a chocolate Genoise cake.  I was mixing along with the recipe, and then forgot to add 2 components that would have made this the perfect cake.

There isn’t much to a genoise cake: 6 large eggs, 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of butter, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and 1 cup of flour. For this swiss roll, I substituted 1/4 cup of flour with cocoa powder.

I love making this cake because of the chemical reactions in eggs.  To get the proper texture in the sponge, the eggs have to be whisked over a double boiler, for making cakes, that is usually a large bowl on top of a simmering pot of water.

The eggs and sugar are whisked over the heat until they are foamy, and warm to the touch.  Then the vigorous whisking starts.  All recipes I have found suggest an electric mixer for this, because it takes a while even with modern conveniences.  It has to be whisked until the eggs have tripled in volume.  This is where I lose my patience and rush things along.  DON’T DO THAT! Do not make this cake to this example, a future one, yes, but not this time.

The flour and the coco powder go in the mix next, but before that happens they have to be sifted. I had the forethought to sift them together before I started, so I had tan flour to work with. It was pretty.  The flour mix has to be added slowly so the air isn’t taken out of the eggs, so mix slowly with a big rubber spatula if you have one.

I wanted to just cut a sheet sponge into the shape of a square cake, so I used my biggest sheet pan I have. I poured the cake batter into the sheet pan, and put it to bake at 350 for 10 minutes.  Sheets cakes are thinner, and don’t take as long to bake as long as cake rounds.

The cake was in the over for about 2 minutes when I saw the remaining 1/2 cup of butter and vanilla that I was supposed to add in the batter with the flour.

DAG NABBIT! I ruined my genoise!  but wait, I told myself, I can just turn this into a Swiss Roll. The filling is simply whipped cream, made with powdered sugar instead of granular, it disperses differently, and I feel it makes a lighter whipped cream. I spread it out evenly and gently rolled it up.  Of course, a bunch squirted out the end, but I expected that.  Rolls always squirt out like that.

With encouragement from my room mate, and reminders f what we have learned from watching Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood on the Great British Bake Off, I was able to create a perfectly rolled, not cracked Swiss Roll.

To all that have a birthday!  Happy Birthday! For everyone else who is eternally 29, Happy 29 again.

 

 

Tilapia Night!

Okay, sometimes my food is too good to stop eating long enough to take pictures, so I end up with an empty plate and a fork.  Not such a bad place to be in, I think. Last night was tilapia night.  I have a few different tricks to make tilapia palatable.  Last night was all about the fish boil?  Can my Midwest peeps give a shout out to this one?

I first learned of fish boil in Door County Wisconsin.  Up there in the Great lakes region, Fridays are dedicated to fish.  “Let’s go to a Fish Fry!” was all I said, and we ended up at a fish boil. I had no idea how this would rock my personal culinary world, and change the way I eat fish.

Prior to this fish epiphany, I had been true to eating raw fish, you know sushi and sashimi.  Most fresh water fishes were mainly avoided because of that.  Oh how I love sushi, so much that I would refuse to eat cooked fish at all. of course there were few exceptions, such as seared tuna, and fish and chips when I went to the UK, rarely a grilled halibut.  But again, all ocean fish. Lake and river fishes like perch, white bass, trout and pike were not even on my my food radar.

Fish boils are big showy meals, simple in construction, and unbelievably tasty.  At the restaurant we went to, they served boiled potatoes and onions, coleslaw and bread, and of course a buttery tangy sauce to go on top of it all. The meal reminded me how simple can be simply amazing.

My take on a fish boil, I do not have a lot of access to go fishing every time I want to eat fish, so I buy tilapia instead.  It is inexpensive, and absorbs flavors fairly well. A lot of cooks do not like working with such a bland piece of fish, but in the right hands, mine, tilapia turns out really tasty.  I prefer the wild tilapia as opposed to the farmed, it has a more earthy flavor.

I start with a big pot of water and put it on to boil.  I add carrots and potatoes, cut into similar sized pieces, then bring it back to a boil. When the water is up to a mild boil, I add celery and onions, a handful of chopped parsley and salt.  Really simple!  Really cheap with tilapia to make, and tasty even without the fish!  When the carrots are soft enough to poke through, I add the fish.  The fish only takes 3 or 4 minutes to cook.

For the buttery tangy sauce, I melt a few tablespoons of butter, add finely minced garlic, and a tiny splash of lemon juice. I can not seem to have a meal without mushrooms, so last night I also added grilled mushrooms to the butter sauce.

To serve this, I scoop out the cooked veg first with a large slotted spoon, I do not want a lot of liquid on my plate for this, I reserve the broth for future soups and soup bases. Then I scoop the fish out. Around the fish I will scoop more veg. On top went the mushroom and the buttery sauce. On the side I have made some stuffed hungarian peppers (of which many future blogs will be dedicated) and a fresh baked dinner roll.

Every component has the holy-moley moment, the moment when the first bite hits the palate. The flavor/texture dance that takes control of the entire body.  Eye rolling, mouth watering, groan inducing satisfaction.  Instantly, more is needed: From hand to mouth.

 

When Life hands you Lemons

I have always been the kind of person that makes do with what I have.  It is one of the reasons, I feel, that I am such a good cook. I know that some people can be discouraged when trying new things because they don’t have the necessary equipment.  I say RUBBISH!

Good food is easy, even without fancy tools.  I make do with the basics, an 8 inch knife, a good cast iron pan, and a well seasoned wooden spatula are my core tools that I can use to make just about anything. I have used drinking glasses for rolling pins, along with glass bottles.  I have used stacked butter knives to elevate chicken in a roasting pan. I have used metal spatulas for pastry scrapers.

I have to be imaginative when it is important. Usually I find out after I have started a project that I am missing some element of usefulness.  I don’t let that stop me though, because failure through giving up is not an option.  I come up with a clever replacement, and make a note to add the other gadget onto my culinary tools wish list.

Cooking isn’t about having the most gadgety of gadgets.  It is about creating something wonderful to fill the belly and nourish the body. It is about using what is available, and making it so good that it has to be put on the weekly rotation of recipes.

To everyone that cooks, either new to it, or has a lifetime of experience, imagination is probably the most useful kitchen tool on the planet.

 

*sigh* Yay Cheeseburger

My go to comfort food has always been cheeseburgers. That and ice cream.  But since I try not to eat mass portions of cream and sugar, I will sacrifice ice cream for a cheeseburger. Here is the other crux, I don’t eat fast food either. What is a girl to do?

I hate giving my money to heartless corporations that are just pushing out substandard products masked as food.  These places are not as good as they pretend to be.  It isn’t cheaper, and certainly it isn’t healthy. The environmental impact on beef production is bad enough without it being complicated with the corporate touch. Excessive packaging has to go somewhere, often still, in this day and age, out the car window on the highway. Sad face.

Recently my roommate and I had that calling for cheeseburgers, and we were trying to decide where to go.  I knew that even a value menu meant we were in for spending at least 17 bucks.  I said “You know, I can make us burgers instead.”

We ended up at a local store where I got the essentials:

  • one lb of ground meat
  • two kinds of cheese (gorgonzola and swiss)
  • just ripe on the vine tomatoes
  • one pound of tiny sweet Hungarian peppers
  • one pound of pepper bacon
  • a jar of little baby dill pickles (gherkins)

 

The total grocery bill came to 20 bucks, so let’s keep that in mind.  There is only two of us in our flat.  So the quantities purchased would stretch for more than the two cheeseburgers. Some items would carry onto second and third meals, such as the cheeses, bacon, peppers, and a small portion of meat. Of course, I have many basic items that I didn’t get that day, like onions, mushrooms, breadcrumbs, and of course everything I need to make the buns. I have figured that it takes $1.75 to make one epic stuffed cheese burger with stuffed peppers.

Stuffing burgers is an art form.  Anyone who has hand pattied hamburgers knows that there are many chances of the patty splitting open. Which is fine for any ol’ burger. It’s the last thing you want when stuffing the patty full of bacon and gorgonzola.

To get the right compactness, size and shape with the end result requires a soft hand and some minor sculpting skills.  I make each patty on its’ own plate. This allows access to all sides and lets me to fuss over how it is shaped. Each patty takes about 5 ounces of meat, this includes the “lid.” I carefully form a shallow bowl with the meat.  It looks more like a cake pan than a bowl when it is ready for the fillings.  I make sure the edges aren’t too thin, and tall enough to seal the lid in place. Yet not so tall that I end up with a huge meat wad. I season the patty before I stuff it on the inside.

Stuffing the patty. I like to use lardons, or crumbled bacon and crumbled gorgonzola.  Cheese is always a fantastic option to stuff a burger with, you can use any kind. Although, goat cheese isn’t so tasty in beef burgers, it might be better in a lamb burger. I like to use beef, call me old fashioned, but we are talking about cheese burgers here.  I usually get 85% lean, not a lot of shrinkage, and still juicy.

Sealing the lid on is a vital step.  If there are any holes or spots that get overlooked, all the yummy cheese melts out of the patty. Another reason I form my patties on their own small plates, so I can spin it around making sure all parts of the lid are connected. I gently pinch and patt at it until it has s smooth top and sides all the way around.  Then I press a shallow dimple in the center with my thumb .  I read in a cooking magazine years and years ago that pressing a dimple in the center of a patty keeps it from splitting.  I think it is more of a superstitious ritual than anything else, because when I forget, the patty turns out fine too.

Like all meat, a burger needs a good sear to be really tasty.  I cook them in a cast iron skillet on a medium high heat.  The pan gets preheated with some clarified butter.  Why add butter?  This keeps the lean meat from sticking to the smoking hot surface of cast iron, plus adds a level of flavor.  A win-win if you ask me.  I like little pink, if any in my burgers, I like them just past medium well.  I have to emphasize just past. Well done burgers tend to be too dry and chewy.

Of course, once it is cooked to perfection, like all good pieces of meat, the patty needs to rest.  A great time to set up the buns, and condiments. Sides, buns and condiments, hmm, that is a whole different blog!  I do make my own condiments, and strive to make my own garnishes this year.  A fresh batch of mayonnaise under thinly sliced swiss cheese, tomatoes, and pickles, plus grilled onions and mushrooms. on my fresh baked burger buns.  Far superior to any fast food place, at a fraction of the cost.

 

 

 

 

Life Fails

People wonder where I get my cooking skills from.

Stark reality time.

My mother and father were not the best parental units.  My mother did not let a day go by without telling me that I was a mistake, and never planned.  My father’s plan of action on dealing with an unwanted child was to just leave.  I guess you can say, he gave up before he even tried to help raise a girl.

I reflect on my upbringing a lot, to try and sort out why I do the things I do, the attitude I have, plus the overall outlook I have on life. Considering what I was handed in life, I feel I have a pretty amazing attitude towards humanity and the planet.  I see people who grew up with similar tribulations, and see how they struggle to meet the smallest of life expectations.

As a small child, after my bio-pop ditched my two older brothers and me, my mother then became to sole money maker for the family, subsequently, she was never home.  The work she took to was not of the best social standing, and I am sure paid more than what she contributed to our well being and health.

There were days where we would have nothing to eat other than what we got from the neighbors.  My mother never made the effort to get price reduced or free lunches for my brothers or me due to her pride in trying to make our family survive. Sometimes, my mother would “find us a babysitter” and the babysitter would feed us.  Needless to say, I loved going to the babysitter.

Her negative attitude towards me stemmed from her not wanting me in the first place, and not wanting another female in the house. Her neglect forced me into learning how to cope and deal with much more mature situations than any 8 year old should have to deal with. Teen rebellion was being sewed deeply into me at a very young age.

Looking back on how things were then, I am lucky to have survived. Every day I went hungry, which was countless days, I promised the universe that I would do whatever I can to not be hungry again.  So much like Scarlett O’Hara, but at a much younger age.

Before my mother passed away, she had a stroke and was diagnosed with lung cancer. I took on being her caregiver, doing my duty as a daughter and human.  I would go to her house about 4 times a week to help out, do what I could for her, you know, cooking and cleaning and stuff. I expected nothing from her for this, other than her comfort. I did consider this the last bastion of rebellion towards her.  Being far more kind than she ever was to me.

Something must have triggered my mother during this time, she tried to make amends with me.  She apologized to me for how she had raised me and how she had always treated me.  It was a strange moment of clarity for both of us.  This kind of floored me.  This apology she offered was some serious validation for me.  So I made her pancakes.  Then we ate the best pancakes I had ever made.

My mother taught me nothing as far as a traditional role model mother should.  Not directly at any rate.  If it were not for my mother not feeding my brothers and me, I would not have the passion for good food today.  My mom indirectly taught me to glean from anything and everything to find the best things to eat.  Yet, she told me nothing.  I wish I could tell all y’all that before she died that we bonded and crap like that.  Sadly, the stark reality is that never happened.  She went to her grave not liking or wanting me.  It’s true, she made it a point of telling me.  Her last words to me were “I hate you!” said with more venom than a pit of vipers.

The happy ending to all of this is that I am now free of her abuse. I can say that I loved my mother as best I could with the tools she gave me, and tried to make a better life for my kids than the one she gave me.  I didn’t end up ruining my life because my mom and dad didn’t love me.  I became a stronger, better person in spite  of their lack of effort.

I have this level of respect and awe for good parents, and weird families.  I love seeing fathers wanting to be involved in their children’s lives.  I revel in stories of close families, and their antics.  It warms my heart to no end, keeps me on the level that not all humans suck.

 

 

 

 

Bribery Success

I love challenging myself.  Baking is such a great way to do that on so many levels.  It takes discipline, planning, vision, and most of all, patience. Here I will be telling how I made these amazing cupcakes, ultimately sharing the experience with anyone who will read this.

Genoise cake is far less difficult than the theory behind egg chemistry!  No, really, it is easier than a box recipe, has about the same amount of work,  and the end result is superior to any box cake on the planet.  I will be making this cake again when it comes time for me to start practicing my piping skills. To mix this batter, It only took about 15 minutes. At 350, cupcakes need less time in the oven, these were done in 20 minutes. So 35 minutes from egg cracking to pulling the cupcakes from the oven.

Baking and cooking can be intimidating.  Any time humans try a new thing, it is met with a certain questions we might not have immediate answers for.  Cooking is much more slap dash and a little of this and a little of that, where baking has to be much more 11/16ths of a tablespoon of tempered something or others, or whatever.  Baking needs to be much more controlled than making stir fry. There are specific rules to baking that get tossed out the window when we make dinner.  Understandably, not everyone is willing to go through the heartache of adhering to the rules of baking, or there would be more bakers in the world.

Now, for anyone who has not made a genoise cake, yet wants to, do not fear!  It really isn’t difficult.  Yes there are some techniques that do require the baker to be present during the whole process, but whatever, no extra packaging from a box.  The beauty of Genoise cake is that it gets its rise from eggs only.  No baking soda or powder!  Just glorious eggs.

The recipe I used was from an older book called The Art of Fine Baking, by Paula Peck, my copy was first edition released in 1961.  It is a fantastic recipe that is easy to follow.  With 5 staple ingredients.  Six eggs (room temperature, this is important), one cup of sugar, one teaspoon of vanilla, one cup of sifted flour, and one half cup of clarified butter.

Eggs!  Let’s think about eggs for a minute. I do not refrigerate my eggs. I keep my eggs on my counter (not many recipes call for chilled eggs). My roommate used to cringe about this because of how all Americans were raised on cold storing just about everything.  She was concerned that the eggs would spoil, or make us sick.  I usually only get a dozen at a time, which are consumed within a week. Either scrambled or used in baking, I eat a lot of eggs (I am going to have to write a separate blog just about eggs).  I try to stick to jumbo eggs, however, I will settle for large.

Sugar is sugar is sugar. I can not eat a lot of what I bake. Being a diabetic, this is the area of baking that is dangerous to me.  I have to compensate the rest of my food intake and usually up my workout routine, I feel it is all worth it.  When I have to bake something, I try to make it savory or stick to dessert-type things that are less sweet, not made with sugar substitutes.  Artificial sweeteners are poison. I often use organic maple syrup instead of sugar when possible. But not in the Genoise.  This cake needs the sugar,  one cup of it.

Vanilla is amazing.  We are programmed from birth to crave it.  Vanilla is the first flavor most humans taste.  Biology is a wondrous thing: Breast milk is vanilla flavored! So, yeah, we love vanilla from the get go.  I try to use everything organic, vanilla being no different.  It usually comes with less packaging as well.

The flour I use is Wheat Montana unbleached all purpose white.  Sifted through a wire mesh strainer.  I have a sifter, but it is more work than just shaking a strainer, and the mesh is exactly the same.  I rarely have any debris to discard from my flour.  It is a superior product, and has never failed me.

Clarified butter is one of my favorite things.  It brings a rich buttery flavor to anything! There are a gajillion how to’s on clarifying butter.  My input: I use salted butter.  Then the milk solids sink to the bottom, plus, I don’t have to use as much salt in what ever it is I am making. If you have not already picked up the habit of clarifying butter, I suggest giving it a try.  It is a worthy effort for flavor. Butter substitutes will not work the same.  Of course they can be used, I kind of feel the same about butter substitutes as I do about artificial sweeteners.

With everything gathered and measured, the techniques are what make this recipe so intimidating.  So many of the recipes I found said to whisk the eggs and sugar over boiling water until they turn into a golden syrupy texture and are tepid in temperature. This is one of the reasons eggs need to be at room temperature.  If they are chilled, this process can take some time.  I didn’t do this part over boiling water either.  I used boiling water from the kettle into a pot on a low temp on the stove, and put my egg bowl over that.

If the eggs and sugar are whisked over too high of a temp, they turn to ultra sweet scrambled eggs, which are yucky to eat. I started with an electric whisker, but decided to use a hand whisk when I saw my eggs and sugar never went into a syrup form, they only fluffed.   So I had to slow the process down by simply not mixing as much, when the eggs rose to body temp, I took them off the heat and returned to my electric hand mixer and whipped the hell out of the eggs until they tripled in volume.

Genoise cake is supposed to be light and fluffy.  The volume created with the eggs is what makes this cake so amazing.  The flour comes next.  Added slowly to not crush all the whisking.  Folded in neatly, and treated like a meringue. adding drops of the vanilla along with it.

Then the all important clarified butter. This too must be at body temperature so it can be incorporated easily. Yes, test the cake batter, it will not taste like the run of the mill birthday cake, or store bought pastry.  It tastes special before it is even baked! Of course I had to let my room mate try it.  her eyes got big, and she made sounds of yumm and more yummmm as she gleaned the bowl.

I made 18 cupcakes, 6 of which were used to bribe my new employer into hiring me.  and sadly, my roomie and I were subjected to the temptations of inhaling the other dozen.   I am not a huge fan of icings and frostings, so I decided on lemon drizzle icing and fresh strawberries to go on top.  Just a hint of flavors to enhance the beauty of this cake.

I encourage anyone to try this bake.  Whether you have made it a million times, or have never touched a from-scratch recipe!  This is a great day to bake a cake.

 

 

Baking for Bribes

YARG!  I do hate being sick.  All normal activities I love to do are put on hold.  Namely, things I do with my hands, such as everything!

Cooking is out because of the coughing and sneezing, not to mention the fatigue of working.  Writing is out because of cold meds making me too dizzy to sit up for any extended period of time. Exercising is out because of coughing, sneezing, fatigue, and fever.  One with a fever should not take extended walks when it is cold and rainy outside.

So what have I been doing if I can’t do the things I love?  Marathon watching all Star Trek’s (except Enterprise) on Netflix!  And read all the cookbooks I have on baking.  To be fair, I don’t have many.  However, the ones I do have are really great for initial research on whatever it is I want to bake.

Secondary research has come in the form of baking competition shows.  Specifically The Great British Baking Show.  There is vital information on shows like that for the beginner baker and/or cook.  The competitors often give little secrets they have learned or know of on techniques for the thing they are making.

Now that I am on the mend, I can put to use what I have learned over the past two weeks.  So after the phase three inductor relay compensation on the life support system, I will be trying my hand at making a Genoise cake.

I have made cakes before. I will admit here and now, they have mostly been from the box mix variety.  All of the cakes I have made from scratch have only been met with mild success.  I am brave, and I have read about 30 different recipes for Genoise, and I feel I am ready for this challenge.

It’s a cake!  Why should anyone ever be intimidated by making a cake?  Good question.  A cake has to have distinct characteristics to be considered good; it must be delicate, have a nice rise, light texture, and be moist.  I am a beginner baker, so for me this is going to be a test of patience, and technique.

Why put myself through this kind of self torture?  Another really great question, and time for a big confession or two.  I have been unemployed now for a while, and I mean besides being sick.  I have a great resume, and impeccable skills, blah blah blah, but the world is harsh, and I am still unemployed. Looking for a decent job takes a lot of effort and patience (there is that P word again). Cooking takes my mind of not making money, and puts me in a place of peace and happiness, it makes me feel like I am still contributing to the household, and my roommate typically loves what I make.

This past week I tackled French macarons, though I did not sandwich the cookies, I left them plain.  They turned out terrific!  Wait, no, that isn’t totally true.  They are evil little bite size morsels of evil.  EVIL.  Once you eat one, you move onto a dozen more!  EVIL (I can not stress this enough) In one night my roomie and I polished off most of the batch because they were sooo damned good.  I mean EVIL, so damned evil!

The day after I made the evil delights, I got a call from a shop I had applied for saying they wanted me to come in for an interview.  I was really excited to say the least.  As I was preparing for my interview, I chose a super smart flattering outfit, printed my resume twice, and bagged up the last 6 of the evil concoctions for the guy who was supposed to interview me.

That’s right, I am bribing my way into this job position.

It got me a second interview, and I go in for my third on Monday (tomorrow) morning with the owners daughter.  Yes, I will be bringing yet another fantastic bribe for my interviewer Sarah.  This time I am thinking Genoise cupcakes!

If any of you have any advice on Genoise, or the filling and icing I should use, please let me know.  And wish me luck!