The Allergy Cake


Every once and a while, something so awesome happens that I have to give a big thumbs up heavenward to let God know that I am a grateful girl. This recently happened, when Chris came home to tell me that the first year allergy fellows are responsible for bringing dessert to this year’s potluck dinner. Which is tonight. HELLLLLLLZZZZ YEAH! I love making desserts, and I need the practice badly in cake-making, so I rushed out and got the ingredients for a dessert that’s been brewing in my little blonde brain for a couple of days.

Am I weird for laying awake at night, heart racing, thinking up different recipes? The other night Chris rolled over and asked, in the dark, what I was thinking about. I didn’t know how he could tell that I was awake, so I asked him. He said I was twitching. Anyway, I said “nothing,” and he said “you’re thinking of recipes, aren’t you?” Yeah. I was. I had two cake ideas churning around. First, I’m thinking a rich chocolate cake with layers of soft Rice Krispy treat filling, covered in a peanut butter cream cheese frosting. I’ve never heard of anyone trying to use Rice Krispy treat as a filling, but I’m jazzed to try it. Secondly, I was thinking up summer flavors, and I came up with cherry limeade. The problem is that cherries are too tart unless you cook them down a little, and that makes a dark, bloody red (actually looks just like clots in blood). Bloodclots aren’t very summery, so I decided strawberry limeade would work very well.

Anyway, I have to make a cake for my friend Tim’s visit tomorrow anyway, so I decided to double the recipe and make two. The cake itself involves lime zest, sour cream, lime oil, and segmented limes. Segmenting a lime is a BITCH. It basically means you can only remove those little fruit juice cells and none of the connective tissue of the lime.

The frosting has that SimplyLime powder that people put in their water. It’s mostly just ascorbic acid, I think. Anyway, it’s an Italian meringue buttercream (a full POUND of butter in that baby) with pureed strawberries and that lime powder. I filled between the four layers with buttercream and diced, mascerated, sugared strawberries. An ultra-thin coating on the outside, coupled with some vanilla buttercream borders, left space for me to put fresh strawberries and a key lime centerpiece. I filled the gaps, as you can see at the top of this post, with more vanilla buttercream. This morning I decided that looked stupid, so I made a strawberry glaze, meticulously pulling off the chilled chunks of vanilla buttercream between the berries without disturbing the cake, and glazed the top. Much better, right?
I think it’ll keep the top berries looking fresher, too. Can’t wait for the dinner. I also bought a very sexy little white sundress from Guess yesterday to wear. I hope I don’t get berries on it.

Mac N Cheese follow up


EVEN MY DOG HATES KRAFT! I painted the evil face on it (because it’s evil), and put it in his bed to take his picture with it, and he actually GOT OUT OF HIS BED and looked concerned about it. And this is coming from a dog who actively hides onion peels and napkins in his bed if I’m not looking and they fall on the floor. Let’s all ignore the fact that I bought a box of food just to deface it, okay? Maybe I’ll donate it. Maybe I’ll save it in case someone’s errant child is at my house (why would this happen?) and demands processed food. I’m certainly not going to eat it. But here’s what’s important:

I bought a BLOWTORCH. It’s amazing. The box from WS said “Creme Brulee Torch,” but that sounds like it’s for wussies, so I’m calling it a blowtorch. You’ll note that I use it for things that I don’t need to use it for over the next few weeks. It’s kind of like how you have absurd amounts of sex during a new relationship. Only better. Because it’s a BLOWTORCH.

Now, back to the Mac N Cheese challenge. I was totally going to go with a fondue-inspired recipe, but all my plans went to scheisse when I saw these frank-ly beautiful brats at the market. I picked up a loaf of fresh pumpernickel, some sharp cheddar and Swiss fontina, and little, baby penne (Barilla has a new line of adorable teensy pastas, which are great except they are calorically denser per cup). Oh, and the tart granny smith apples jumped into my cart as an afterthought, which was fortuitous.

I lined buttered french onion soup bowls with flattened slices of pumpernickel, made a bechamel and added shredded cheeses, grainy, brown mustard, granulated garlic, and some fresh nutmeg, and mixed the cheese sauce with the penne-lets. The bratwurst and apples got cubed and thrown in the mix as well, because every party needs some sausage. I toasted some pumpernickel breadcrumbs in browned butter, smooshed them into the bottom of the ramekins, and filled the bowls with goodness. A quick topping of cheese and they went into the oven to set.

After we pulled them out and unmolded them onto the plate, we threw some extra shredded cheese on top and set it on fire with the BLOWTORCH. This was, by FAR, the best Mac N Cheese I’ve ever eaten. Ever. It was unreal. So good that Chris went back and had seconds at 11:30 pm, and those of you who know Chris know that he doesn’t eat after dinner ever, unless I bully dessert on him. I may or may not have also had seconds…I should go upstairs and run some more.

Mac N Cheese Challenge


This is what I have to do to feel justified in what I’m making for dinner tonight. That 007 on the bottom right is calories. That’s what happens when it rolls over from 999 to 1000. I felt gypped. I wanted it to say 1K or something good. Anyway, while I did take my sweet ass time with this (took almost an hour and a half to run 6.5 miles, since I ran down to check on the puppy twice, pausing the workout), the calories still count, which is why I am making something so tremendously caloric for dinner.

Last night we watched the Mac N Cheese challenge. Tonight, I’m making my own. I’m thinking fondue-inspired, with toasted bread and butter lining a ramekin, mac and sharp cheddar/cotswald/pecorino cream sauce inside, and a topping of more breadcrumbs, andouille sausage, and granny smith apples. All baked til golden. Do you think that’ll work? I’ll post a follow up to see if it does. Now I need to go wash my person. I am GROSS from the run. Even the puppy looks disgusted.

Currying favor? Naan of your business!


I so million heart Indian food. And by Indian, in this case I mean the country, not the ones that cry from pollution (though I happen to agree with them, too). There was a great Indian place by our old apartment in Lone Tree, CO. The proprietress was an overweight, happy, friendly Indian matron with boobs the size of Heineken mini-kegs and a pronounced lisp. She always liked my outfits, and I always liked her food. It was symbiosis in its purest form!

I haven’t found a place in San Antonio that I trust yet, and I was craving it pretty hard-core, so we made some at home. In homage to my recent baking kick, I made some naan with sea salt (you’re welcome, Katina). The above is a picture I took of the naan while it was bubbling up under the broiler. You have to cook naan for a very short amount of time under a very, very hot heat. The Indian people use a tandoor for this, but our house doesn’t even have a gas-friggin-range, so naturally I don’t have a tandoor. Anyway, I let the milk-based dough rise up, cut it into rounds with my bench scraper (best.tool.ever) and then stretched it, two at a time, onto my big baking sheets. I brushed them with butter and put them under the broiler for about 90 seconds, flipped them, let them go another 30 seconds, then pulled them out and rebrushed with butter. They were chewy and good, except for the center part of a couple, which I absolutely allowed to burn. The broiler is a fickle mistress.

Anyway, I didn’t have any chicken, but I DID have a fucking gorgeous slab of aged prime NY strip. I still don’t have a regular grill. Did you know that? How sad is my life right now? Not very, since I just got a new car, but I can’t cook sextacular NY strip on a car hood without damaging the paint, so I cut the steak, marinated it in greek yogurt and masala spices, then curried it up with cubes of potato, carrot, and onion. Here’s another fun fact: Indian food is terrible for you. Really, really high-calorie. But, like most illegal drugs, being bad for you doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

Illegal drugs may photograph better. But I’m taking these pictures with my cell phone, so we’ll just cut them some slack, mmmkay?

Roasted tomato soup


There were some GORGEOUS heirloom tomatoes at Cental Market. Now, I don’t really like fresh tomatoes. Actually, I won’t eat them. I know that’s the culinary equivalent of saying I kick puppies, but I’m not here to lie to anyone. I DO love cooked, seasoned tomatoes. I have never eaten tomato soup. I still won’t, unless I’ve prepared it myself, so don’t go thinking you’ll sneak some Campbell’s by me when I’m visiting or anything…

Back to the matter at hand: I bought some heirlooms, sweet corn on the cob, and red pepper. Roasted the HELL out of them under my broiler, and then peeled and pureed them with the sexy-ass immersion blender Chris got me for Christmas…

And what resulted was some very tasty, roasty, toasty soup. I drizzled it with heavy cream and topped it with roasted corn and croutons (from some leftover bread, olive oil, and smoked salt). A meatball sub used up the rest of the meatballs and french bread from earlier this week. Mmmmmmmm. Also, without the cream involved, the soup was really healthy. Only Chris got cream in his soup, which was very sad for me, but it’s a sacrifice that I have to make so that I can avoid crying myself to sleep over weight gain…

Meatballs and what to do with leftovers…

My quest to make up a batch of spaghetti and meatballs came for two reasons. First, because I was watching Bobby Flay Throwdown and it was the meatballs episode, and second because I had just made up the aforementioned french bread and desperately wanted some marinara in which to dip it.

I made the meatballs with almost a full cup of shredded reggiano, along with a touch of shredded gruyere that was leftover from making the gruyeres the other day. They were damned good. Chris and I fried one in the deep fryer before cooking the rest of them the traditional way, and it was awesome, but terrifying at the same time. We deep fry anything we can get our hands on lately. Chris had accidentally deleted both my cell phone number and his best friend’s cell phone number when he was updating his iPhone. I still had access to both. I sold them to him for the low-low price of a professional WaringPro fryer, and it is my most favorite toy. So far we’ve done chimichangas, corndogs, potato chips, french fries, onion rings, tortilla chips, meatballs, and balls of leftover coconut rice and beans (which were ridiculous, for rizzle). The corndogs sucked. The batter wouldn’t stick to the onion rings (which I’m working on). Other than that, unequivocal successes!

Back to the balls (hehehehe). I doubled the marinara sauce, threw in a full bottle of chianti reduction, ignoring cries of protest from Chris that he couldn’t at least have one glass of the stuff, and it was good. I served it on high protein penne, since that’s all we had in the house. I later remedied this pasta deficiency after I discovered the bulk foods section of Central Market has ALL KINDS of organic grains and pastas. I got everything from Israeli couscous to red wheatberries to egg noodles. Heaven, I tell you. I also nabbed up two kinds of smoked salt.

For a finishing touch, I made a shaved chantrelle and mesclun salad with a 20 year balsamic vinaigrette. I almost had to give some guy at Whole Foods the reacharound to get this bottle of vinegar for the price I did, but it was totally worth it. Mmmmmmm. God. Now I’m hungry and I haven’t even gone to the gym yet. I am a slacker.

Bread, children, and other things that make you fat


It would be difficult to say that I am a bread fanatic. I know some people are, and I do feel some sympathy for you. It must be difficult. I do not feel TOO much sympathy for you, though, as I am a dessert fanatic, and desserts are even worse for you than bread (though very, very good for your soul and your ability to cope with stupid people). I am slightly obsessed with being able to create bread, though, and have recently been trying a lot harder.

I got the Culinary Institute cookbook for “Baking at Home.” The book is fascinating. I have it up next to the bed, and I have a nasty tendency to lie on my stomach and read it while Chris is trying to go to sleep. It’s a little bit sad because he’s so sleepy and cute and then I start moaning and I know it startles him that he’s not involved in that process. Whatever. I like looking at food porn. I can admit that without shame, since at least it’s not something really bad, like kiddie porn. *Note: Is looking at baby vegetables sauteed in butter and honey considered kiddie porn?*

Anyway, I get all these crazy ideas about what I can do the next day, and have been doing some decent work. So far, I made an olive bread that was pretty good, but totally cheating since I started with a K.A. Flour mix. But the next day I went and bought a bunch of absurdly expensive specialty flours and yeasts to create my own bread without cheating very much, unless you call my unwillingness to knead anything without my KitchenAid and dough hook “cheating,” which I don’t.

I went with the Culinary Institute recipe for french bread. What you see at the top is the fruit of my labors. And it was lip-smackingly (arguably ass-smackingly) good. As soon as it was cool enough that I could legitimately touch it without collapsing the crumb, I cut off a big wedge, wiped it down with a cut garlic clove, and coated it with a thick smear of unsalted butter. I then handed it to Chris, who looked pretty pleased with himself, probably because he’s marrying someone who can make bread from scratch and is not an old, German woman with a singular bosom. Is there nothing more lust-inducing than a hot slice of bread? Even I, with my general indifference to a slice of bread, am melted into a pudding of quivering delight by the smells, feels, tastes, and even sounds of homemade bread fresh out of the oven. It crackles when it comes out. Did you know that? Sounds like a tiny iceberg hitting some warm water. It’s because the crust shrinks when it hits the cooler air, I think.

Anyway, it was good. So now I’ve got an organic potato sitting with some flour and water on our windowsill. I’m hoping, with three days of lovingly feeding it, to create a base of wild Texas sourdough. It sounds ridiculous, but you can catch wild yeast that floats through the air this way, let it grow and collect, and then make really good sourdough bread that is unique to the region in which you collect it. I’ll let you know how that goes…

FINALLY

Speaking from vast experience, making pizza at home that can even compete with really bad pizza, like Blackjack, is deceptively difficult. I have tried so many variations and techniques.

Beginning with store-bought Boboli crusts and jars of hella-gross Contadina “pizza sauce,” I really thought I was doing it up, gourmet-style. This was when I was 18, freshly implanted in the college scene, and excited to be all the homemaker I could be, or so it would seem. What actually came out of the oven was nothing short of a mess. It was wet, there were too many toppings (as I had mistakenly determined that mo’ toppings = mo’ betta), and it tasted like saltines and ketchup. Horrendous. I will say that a Boboli crust with butter and garlic salt is awesome garlic bread, though, when you’re drunk and your phone is either dropped in the pool or turned off due to lack of proper bill-paying technique (namely “on time”).

Once my culinary skills bypassed “nonexistant,” I tried doing it on the grill at home. This turned out much better, but still tasted like a grilled food and nothing like the gooey, chewy pizza that you crave when you really just want the delivery man to come to your house and tell you that everything, belly-wise, is going to be juuuuust fine. This is actually a much more realistic fantasy for me than those cliched ones where the plumber comes to your house and tells you that he has to clean your pipes, bow chikka wowwow.

I’ve even tried the option wherein you go to Whole Foods and ask the nice pizza man at the brick oven if he can please give you some dough, batting your eyelashes furiously until he caves, believing you are a total goddess of male manipulation, and then finding out that they have a pre-set barcode for this exact product and Tubby McTubberson behind you could get the exact same thing as you just did, except she’s less likely to cook it before she eats it…not that I am bitter. But that pizza, created at home, STILL turned out inconsistently. And I still put too many toppings on it, as I’m still turned on by the novelty of being able to pick and choose exactly what I want to put on it.

I was playing on the King Arthur flour site the other day, though, and ordering various flours and mixes to experiment with, and I saw a type of flour that claimed to be the perfect blend for pizza. I made up a half-batch at home, just enough for two personal pizzas, and cut up the ingredients. I rolled out the dough into shapes of reasonable thickness and roundish shape, and Chris and I each decorated our own. After tasting the leftover canned pasta sauce from the fridge, leftover from dipping arancini, I decided that was NOT what I wanted. I pulled some leaves off our basil plant, put them in the blender with some kosher salt and a can of diced tomatoes and onions, and blended for 15 seconds. It was AWESOME. Like a slightly sweeter, fresher version of that sauce you get on the pizza at the mall. So good.

So I poured an awful lot of that on my round (some of us never learn) and then topped it with a sauteed mix of mushrooms, shallots, artichokes, garlic, pancetta, and black olives, threw on a light sprinkle of shredded mozzarella and pecorino, and baked it off. Chris did pepperoni, jalapeno, and olives. He used half homemade sauce, and kindly used up the last of the jar stuff. The resulting pizzas were friggin’ fantastic, although I think we can both agree mine was better because I am awesome.

I used fewer toppings, chopped them smaller, tried that simple sauce, and baked them on some pizza screens that I got from the restaurant supply store near us (which I had to travel through the straight-up GHETTO to reach). The screens really helped crisp up the bottom, and left the interior chewy and crusty. Exciting development, no?

Asian Markets

Thanks to Chris for finding a random-ass framed piece of Asian culture from his bachelor days. He knew that would come in handy if we kept it…
I love Asian food. LOVE. I think it goes back to the fact that my mom and dad were obsessed with a restaurant called “Wans” in the city neighboring ours. That place had the best sizzling rice soup, and I remember how exciting it was to hear that hot rice hit the water, puffing a cloud of steam up and encasing would-be gross vegetables in a mild and tasty chicken broth so they were edible.

As an adult, I’ve sought out and enjoyed Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and Chinese restaurants, to name a few. I’ve even ventured far from my fish-hating roots to try sushi in a Japanese place. What I’ve discovered, though, is that it is both difficult to FIND decent Asian food, and difficult to TRUST decent Asian food. As a result, I began trying to make my own at home.

My first attempts into the world of Asian cookery began as limp, soy-sauce-centric stir-fry with white rice. Terrible. I thought that one could only get good Asian
food in a restaurant. But I kept experimenting, mainly because Fort Collins had absolutely ZERO edible Chinese food. It was horrific to find that my college destination couldn’t deliver a decent beef with garlic sauce or hot and sour soup when I was hungover and desperately craving them. So I kept trying.

The breakthrough for me was when I discovered the phenomenon of the Asian market. This was only recently, right before I left for Texas. The Asian market was, frankly, terrifying. It smelled funny, had a lot of very in-tact fish and what looked like insects, and everyone was far, far too short to be an actual human being. Once I navigated through the throng of foreign Lilliputians, I found shelves upon shelves of boxes and jars that were marked only with Asian writing. I can’t read that shit to save my life. It’s not like when you come across something French or Italian and you can vaguely, through deductive reasoning, come up with some guess of the product within. This stuff was EXTREMELY foreign. But I found what I was looking for (panang curry paste for the ever-important panang chicken) as well as a TON of other stuff to experiment with. Since then, I’ve made amazing Indian curries with homemade yeast naan, fabulous Thai curries that take only minutes to make, and egg rolls that hold a place in my heart as favorite fried foods.

When we moved to Texas, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find an Asian Market to feed my foreign foods habit. We got detoured, due to this cities pathetically inadequate roads system, through a tiny Asian “village,” and saw something called “AsiaMart.”

Days later we went in, and the place SMELLED LIKE WET DICK. Seriously, it was awful. Pirate Hookers, after months at sea, selling their peasant-y bodies to bands of swarthy, unwashed, one-eyed, parrot-toting rebels, with nary a shower in sight, couldn’t have handed their intimate garments over and produced such a rancid, fishy scent. Ugh. And the aisles were sparse and lacking in the fundamentals I’ve come to expect from a decent Colorado Asian Market. The upshot was that they had most of what I needed, including some beautiful wood-ear mushrooms. So I’ve been doing a lot of spring roll bowls and wontons in the last couple of weeks. Last night I made pork and ginger potstickers with fresh ponzu, and a bowl of hot and sour soup that is AT LEAST as good as 90% of the hot and sour I’ve had at restaurants.

The sad thing is that now I am always reluctant to go to Asian restaurants, because I know I can make it at home out of ingredients that are fresh and organic, and less likely to be domestic pets.

A new kind of comfort


It strikes me that my biggest problem with food is that I turn to it for comfort and entertainment, and that if I could stop doing that, I’d likely shrink to Mary-Kate and Ashley proportions (yes, both of them, to shrink to the size of only ONE of them would make it quite difficult to lift a whisk). The difference between me and the average food-as-comfort person, is that while they find solace in the bottom of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, I find solace in trying to create an exact copycat of the recipe. While they feel all their cares melt away after eating a pan of Mac N’Cheese, I feel MY cares melt away when I MAKE the Mac N’Cheese. How has this lead to me not being so thin I’m technically invisible? Well, somebody has to eat it.

Right now I have a refrigerator full of eclairs, a cake dome filled with chocolate cinnabon cake, a fiance who is stuffed so full of huevos rancheros that he’s actually physically ill and hasn’t moved from the couch in the past hour, and all I want to do- ALL I WANT TO DO- is make a cheesecake using Cap’n Crunch as a crust. I think it would turn out brilliantly. I LOVE Cap’n Crunch. I was proposed to using, in part, a box of Cap’n Crunch, and I want to use it as a base for cheesecake. But I can’t do that, since I would then have nothing but a house full of confectionaries and nobody to whom I can feed them. Texas, for this reason, is crappy. In Colorado, I would have just thrown a dessert tasting, invited people over for liquor and sugar, and we would have demolished it informally and with little fuss. Here, well, the only people who will eat it are Chris and me, and we don’t want to end up looking like the typical Texan. Also, I want to go outside. DESPERATELY. I want to go for a hike or a bike ride or a run or SOMETHING, but I can’t because it’s 10 million degrees outside and Chris doesn’t feel well and there are killer bees.

Seriously, I think I need to be rescued from this place before I’m turned into either a chronic food-waster or my life plays out like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.