A brief rant

I have so many pictures from the past week of foodie indulgence, and now that Erik and Alissa have gotten on their plane to Denver, I have time to write about them. I dropped them off and went straight to Central Market to stock up for a weekend of sheer laziness with Chris. Usually, lazy weekend means a single trip to the gym each day, pre- and post-ceded by Chris playing video games and me baking something and lounging around in pajamas. But today at CM, I realized I was depressed. I loaded pre-made foods into my basket listlessly, including 2 pints of Haagen-Dazs, a frozen pizza, some Utz sourdough pretzel chunks, the stuff for cheese and crackers, frozen waffles, a fully-assembled Caesar salad from the deli area…all the things I usually make from scratch, and all comfort foods!! After a mental scan of my body, I also realized that my lower lip was protruding like a petulant child. So I thought about it, and here is why I’m upset (I recognize this isn’t food-related, so I’ll make it so).

I am taking this whole business with Russia exTREMely personally. I mean, I have enough things to be anxious about on any given day, and then Russia starts–out of friggin’ nowhere, I might add–picking fights and making threats! I am full-on ANGRY about it. I have this general expectation that certain countries (and I’m not naming names coughcoughTHEMIDDLEEASTcough) are going to be trouble-makers basically all the time. I don’t know why this is, it just has always been that way. The trouble with them does upset me, and I do get really frustrated that they can’t just get along for 5 minutes so we can concentrate on the environment, which I view to be a fairly pressing matter. But the big countries, the actual world powers, well, I expect them to be more restrained and diplomatic. And they’ve been doing a relatively good job. Even China has managed to start behaving like adults and made steps toward participating in positive global politics. And then, out of left field, a piss-ant country does something stupid and Russia goes batshit crazy in response. They know, THEY KNOW, that their little military temper tantrum is going to force the other major nations to attempt some peacekeeping. THEY KNOW THIS. Yet they march on in like dicks, and then LIE about a treaty, and then keep marching. It’s completely ridiculous!! Why would they knowingly cause a problem with the other first world nations when they’re trying to BECOME a first world nation? And then, and here’s the step that finally pushed me over the edge into rant territory, why in God’s name would they elect to threaten Poland with nuclear weapons for a US military maneuver? Why even BRING UP nuclear weapons in a non-combat manner? Why?? I’m just really pissed off about it, and that made me anxious, which in turn made me feel very sad inside. I don’t like to feel threatened, and I lack a mechanism that allows me to put my ears back or puff up to 4 times my size when I’m threatened, so I have no outlet.

So I spent a minute assessing how Russia has positively affected my life, and came up with very little. Initially, I went straight to vodka. I mean, vodka is good, right? I’ve been very partial to the Three Olives cherry vodka lately, although it’s on temporary hiatus due to bottle-and-a-half consumed the night of the stair-puking incident. But I looked at my bottle of Three Olives and guess where it is produced? ENGLAND. Yet again the British have come through with my favorite of something. Favorite snack cake? Battenburg. Favorite tea? English breakfast. Favorite accent? English.

And guess what else? I googled the top-rated vodkas, and the top 5 are produced in either the Netherlands, France, U.S., Sweden or Poland. Stoli was the ONLY vodka of note that’s even produced in Russia, and it’s not at the top of the list. So basically, Russia, if you want me to start thinking of you as “not dipshits” again, you’re going to need to both stop being antagonistic AND come up with a decent food product that you are “the best” at making. And pierogis don’t count because I can make those at home with little effort.


Sugar Orgy

I’ve been a total slacker about my blog because my brother has been in town. For this, I apologize. You see, it’s been basically a week long fiesta of fat with a new cake every night, alongside dinners and breakfasts and drinks (oh, my!) I don’t have much time to blog today, either, before I have to go pick the brother and girlfriend up from SeaWorld San Antonio.. Tonight, we’re doing it up like actual Texans at dinner, except with reasonable portion sizes. I got up at 7:30 this morning to put a pork shoulder in the smoker, and it’s been going all day. I’ll let you know how that turns out, along with any extraneous side dishes that manage to compete with the popularity of meat and more meat. Maybe I’ll deep fry a vegetable or something…

Anyway, here are the dessert pics from the week so far:

These are the mini-cheesecakes that I managed to screw up pretty badly, but still tasted great. You see, I was trying to bake monkey bread in the same oven that I was baking said cheesecakes, so they kind of puffed and then sank, rather than turned into a deliciously firm custard. I guess you’d call them more of a cheesecake souffle than anything. Tasty, and served with cherries cooked in kirsch. Cherries are nearing the end of their best season, so I’ve been loading us down with them. Also, Alissa has been willing to pit cherries, an activity I loathe, so I’ve been making hay while the sun shines (and someone else will bale it).

As you see here, cherries also made their way into a black forest gateau. This cake was a special request from Alissa, so I complied as best I could. I’m mostly pretty fond of black forest, so I was happy to make it. And eat it. But then I threw half of it away because there was simply too much dessert in my fridge. I know, I know, there are starving children in Africa who would have loved that cake. But let’s be honest–there’s no way I could have gotten that cake to them in time before it got all melty, as whipped cream frostings tend to get, and the starving children in Africa gain NOTHING by me being a fatass. As a matter of fact, if I had finished this cake I would have had to buy bigger jeans, and then had to give my old pants to starving people, and starving people prefer coffee-stained sweatpants. And Africans prefer shorts or togas. So there.

Last night, Alton Brown had back to back shows on ice cream, and the boys were salivating like dogs, so I decided to throw a batch on before they started licking the television and things got awkward. They had just finished chili and cornbread. A side note: I tried to teach my brother how to make chili, and it turns out he’s a complete culinary twit. Can’t even slice an onion! When I tried to teach him, he held the knife all crazy-like and kind of poked, ineffectively, at the onion. I kept teaching, but I’ll be incredibly surprised if he manages to do it on his own. Or if he listened to the rest of the recipe. I asked him if he cooks at home, and he said “Yeah, but not vegetables.” Awesome. Thank God he’s got the metabolism of a meth addict, or we’d have to get him one of those little Hoveround motor scooters that are designed for the elderly disabled, but seem to more frequently just cart around the morbidly obese in the grocery store so that I get stuck behind them and have to supress very real urges to slam my cart against theirs until they crash into a cooler of frozen burritos.

Anyway, I asked what flavors they wanted, saying that they could each give an idea, and the idea out of the three that I felt like making would be ready in 40 minutes. Chris kept suggesting chili ice cream, as he’s got a one track mind when chili is on the table. I countered with coconut, which I know he and Erik detest. Chris said he’d voluntarily remove chili ice cream from the table if I removed coconut. I did so, and Chris came back with his second place idea of cornbread ice cream. *Sigh* Erik said he wanted a very strong vanilla bean ice cream, and Alissa was, at this point, too afraid to disagree so she went with the same suggestion. What we ended up with was a french vanilla bean ice cream. Alissa wanted hot fudge (probably wanted chocolate ice cream to begin with) so I made some homemade hot fudge with a bar of Valrhona bittersweet chocolate, cream, butter, and vanilla sugar. It was so good that I debated just guzzling it and telling them it had burned and we’d have to use Hershey’s syrup. But I’m nothing if not a giver, so I put it on the counter with a bowl of crushed Oreos. I sliced up strawberries and soaked them in some Grand Marnier, then set out the spread. Everyone made their own ice cream sundaes, and I have to admit it was an excellent idea from Alton.

Austin is better than San Antonio

I already knew that Austin was better than San Antonio, just based on reputation and my general belief that most places, including major terrorist centers in Iraq, are better than San Antonio. But our trip this weekend affirmed my opinion to the nth degree. I’m a little bit hungover, though not terribly so, so I’m just going to post some pictures from our dinner. We ate at a restaurant called “Mars” that ended up being very tasty Asian fusion. The presentation was beautiful, and I really hope someday to be as skilled at food designing. As of now, I basically think I’m being artful if I put on some parsley and don’t spill sauce on the rim of the dish. But hey! I’m a beginner with no training outside of watching Food Network constantly! So I’m cutting myself some slack, though I may buy a book on presentation so I stop wrestling with the constant shame of bad plating.

The picture at the top was of the naan bread that we specifically requested, even though it wasn’t traditionally paired with the food we actually ended up ordering. It was good in that it was a flatbread, but I was disappointed overall. They had a functioning tandoor (Indian clay oven), and their naan was worse than what I turn out of my cast iron skillet or the grill. The other dishes were scrumptious. Erik and Alissa both had Mongolian stir-fry, which sounds really plebian but was clearly made out of fresh, high-quality ingredients cooked to perfection. The vegetables were crisp and sweet, and the chicken tender and juicy.

I had a couple of appetizers rather than a main dish because I was trying to watch calories, though I ended up going laughably into weight gain territory with sugary drinks and hotel Sunday brunch. And drunk pizza. And a Skor bar. For shame. Anyway, I got spring rolls with a spicy peanut sauce
. The rolls were just veggies wrapped in rice paper, but were beautifully prepared and tasted fresh and light. I also got an Indian app platter that was skewered lamb satay served with roti (chickpea pancakes, I think) and raita (yogurt cucumber dip).
Again, they just tasted fresh and light and perfectly seasoned without being oversalted. There was a lot of care put into them, and it was evident. The lamb could have been slightly more rare, making it more tender, but honestly I can’t complain other than that.

Chris and Tim (a friend originally from high school who now lives in Austin) ordered an Indian tomato curry that was excellent and served with basmati rice. This dish was also bizarrely not served with naan. In fact, they only had naan paired with hummus, which I think looks like baby diaper and thus cannot eat. I have to say, usually I think garbanzo beans are from hell. They were good and well-disguised in my roti, but hummus, salad bars, and other places that try to smuggle them in piss me off. They look like little brains and I’ve seen people eat them raw out of the can, which is morally repugnant and should be stopped. The nub and gist of this rant is that I shared my naan with Chris, which probably wouldn’t have happened had it been very good naan, and I gave most of my roti away on principle. Then I ate a lot of masterfully prepared jello shots because I find them to be delectable. I am SUCH a gourmand…

Dorie Greenspan and the little tart.

First of all, it must be said that my brother, Erik, is in town *YAY*!! He and his girlfriend, Alissa, arrived yesterday afternoon from Colorado and will be here for a week. While I am celebrating having some familiar faces around, and while spending time with my brother is always hilarious and awesome, I have a feeling my liver is going to get a beating. They’re both 21. They’re also very much food lovers, so I get to spend an entire week showing off. I’m thinking a combination of different BBQ places (or at least one, Rudy’s), as well as a big BBQ at home in our smoker. I’ve got a giant pork shoulder waiting to take on the task, and I’ve got a few cases of beer (Coors, naturally) to keep us occupied for the 12 hours it’ll take to smoke. The other dinners, well, we’ll see as they come, but I’m thinking we have to do a night of Kobe beef again. He was pretty happy about the pictures and description.

Erik loves cake to a point that few understand. He also loves ice cream, come to think of it. I think he may just love dessert (like his big sis). So I made a welcome cake for him out of my new Dorie Greenspan cookbook. And it must be said, she’s a whore. Because it took me 3 separate tries and 3 solid hours in the kitchen to get her friggin’ marshmallow frosting to set into something that didn’t look like a reproductive infection. It finally worked, which was good because I was about to set her book on fire with my kitchen torch. It’s not that it’s a bad book, it’s just that I’m kind of an idiot at midnight and kept either heating the sugar syrup too far or whipping the egg whites too far and was getting tres frustrated. What the final product ended up being (and Erik just wandered down and immediately started eating at 8 am) was a devil’s food white out cake. Beautiful, right? Here’s the cake before it was cut:

For grand rounds (and yes, Aunt Tracy, they do take turns bringing the food. The drug reps come on OTHER days and feed them), I did the baking for another doc. I made her a French lemon cream tart out of the same cookbook, and that turned out absolutely perfect the first time. Except that I had to make two tart shells because I’d never made one before and I burnt the first one. I heard that it was amazing, but I didn’t get to eat any because I people frown upon having their purchased baked goods delivered with a bite out of them. I put blueberries in on a whim, and I think Dorie would approve. Or she’d bitch-slap me for disobedience. She seems like that kind of woman. Oh yeah, and my camera battery charger has been located. Notice that the pictures are juicier.

Catching up and similarities

I have GOT to find my charger for my actual camera and stop taking pictures with my iPhone. I love my phone, don’t get me wrong. Any phone that can survive a swim in a pot of water and “filbert” skins is a gift in and of itself. But the iPhone camera makes all my food look the same. I lose a lot of the vibrant colors, unless I go outside, and even then the pictures are rushed because it’s too damned hot to STAY outside for any measurable length of time. Anyway, sometimes I can’t find my phone, so I grab Chris’s, get it unforgivably sticky with my hands (usually covered in whatever meal I just made), and then take pictures with it, only to forget they’re in there. So here are a few to catch you up on what’s been living in Chris’s phone. This beauty to the left is what I like to call “Sunday breakfast.” We got up, went for a 20 mile bike ride in the hill country (I will grudgingly admit it was very pretty, despite being so close to San Antonio. It must be upwind from the suck.) When we got home, we were ravenous and had burned a solid 1000 calories, so I promptly replenished them with this. Sauteed turkey breakfast sausage (fresh from the market butcher), fried potatoes and onions seasoned with some sweet paprika and garlic, and apples browned in butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup served over a piece of homemade ciabatta bread (also liberally buttered). I could subsist solely on that syrupy goo over toast. I kid you not. I’d find a way to make Omega-3s with it in my body. I’m a genius like that (most of my major organs are comprised of Sourpatch kids, yet they function very well).

Next, my latest racket. Having had enough of poor people asking me to bake cakes at cost, then freaking out because cost for upscale ingredients isn’t 8 bucks like at the friggin Wal-Mart bakery (FUCKING PLEBES!), I decided I wasn’t going to bake for free for a while. I am now making 3 dinners a week, plus the Grand Rounds snack, for one of Chris’s coworkers. It’s fun, it gives me experience, it pays for my Williams-Sonoma fetish. I registered there, and I will never, ever run out of things I need from that store. I should work there. So here was one of the dinners this week; Asian pork tenderloin cooked until juuust done, just safe to eat, and bursting with porky juiciosity because it wasn’t overcooked like most pork in the US is. A side of cold sesame noodles, which I will likely be remembered for when I die, they were that good, and a garlic ginger jus to pour over the pork. Mmmmmmmm. Now, she has to reheat it, and I’ve given very, very specific instructions on how to do this without bringing the pork past its ideal temperature, thus ruining it. If she screws it up, well, I’ll be very sad for the pork and a little bitter. At least she’ll still have the sesame noodles (which rock my face off).

And finally, just for seasoning, our dinner for tonight. Artisan angel hair pasta cooked al dente *Italian word meaning “to the tooth,” which is a very firm pasta*, topped with an artichoke, meyer lemon, and tomato tapenade, and some slices of grilled chicken. I shaved parmigiano reggiano over the top to give it some saltiness, and served a side of peas sauteed in butter and oregano. Would you like to know which family member ate most of it? It wasn’t me! It wasn’t Chris! It was, in fact, our puppy, Willie. When Chris set it down on the coffee table and returned to the kitchen to get a drink, little Will (whose head is just now high enough to reach things on the coffee table without trying very hard) pulled off the chicken quick as could be and snarfed it. Chris yelled at him, and Willie went into one of the most elaborate, pathetic pouting maneuvers I’ve ever seen. He was prostrate with grief. Until I brought in the dessert of peanut butter brownies, at which point he started sniffing the table again. I mean, rules are rules, but peanut butter brownies are peanut butter brownies…
I just went and looked at them–I think they made up.

Soup and blessings

I have got a SERIOUS case of the sappies right now, and am deeply ashamed for how unfunny and sarcasm-free this post is going to be. I think you’ll see what I mean if you read on, although if caustic wit is the only thing you’re interested in, well, I promise to post pictures of dinner later on, along with some more classic commentary.

Here’s the deal: I made a big pot of french onion soup yesterday. I sliced up some Texas sweet onions that were the size of Volkswagen Beetles, and simmered them over low heat in a stick of unsalted butter for over an hour, until they were the color of dark maple syrup (and close to as sweet). I added about a cup of brandy, and a half bottle of cabernet sauvignon that had miraculously not been completely drained into my tummy. They cooked slowly, imparting a boozy and sophisticated flavor, and a mahogony color to the onions. A bay leaf and some thyme rounded out the flavors, and then I threw in my secret weapon: a liberal dash of cayenne. Not enough to overpower, but just enough that after the robust and soothing heat of the mouthful of soup slides down your throat, just when you’re expecting the warmth to subside, a secondary warmth takes over. Just a touch, and just enough to fully immerse your body into the rich, soulful experience that a great bowl of french onion soup should be every time, but sadly (due to its prevalence in places like Bennigan’s) is not. I added stock, slapped on the lid, and waited for Chris to come home before I ladled it into heavy crockery and broiled a chewy, gooey crust of homemade bread and extra-sharp provolone over the top. As you may be able to tell, I’ve got serious, intimate feelings and opinions about french onion soup. It’s one of my favorite things. And it takes a long time to really push it into the next dimension of flavor and make it great. But not everyone has that kind of time.

Which got me thinking. How friggin’ lucky am I? Sure, I’m in San Antonio, and San Antonio is just putrid, but still. I live in a beautiful house with a killer kitchen. I have access to the freshest produce and coolest gourmet accoutrements that I’ve ever come across. Between WhoFo, Central Market, and Williams-Sonoma, I am constantly barraged with beautiful, unique ingredients, and I’m learning so much about cooking just through the advantage of experimentation. I’m starting culinary school with the most respected culinary institution in the country. I have a puppy who is so cute and sweet that people stop me on the street and ask where I got him “because he’s sure not from a breeder around here.” My mom has gifted me with the resources to plan a wedding that is going to be the highlight of my life, probably until I have a baby. I get to be married in the Air Force Academy chapel, which is a privelege that so few people get, and that money can’t buy. And I get to marry the only person I’ve ever met that I can simultaneously respect and adore; someone who makes me laugh until I can’t breathe, challenges me to think until I come up with the answer to life’s questions, and is so cute that I still sometimes have a hard time not twirling my hair and giggling when he looks at me. I have a loving family who supports me and one another. And I have, unbelievably, the time and good fortune to ENJOY all of it.

I keep thinking that one day I’m going to wake up to a normal life, instead of this charmed one that I currently have. There are people out there who deserve this more than I do. There are people who can’t take the time to appreciate all that life has to offer, because they’ve been forced to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of just trying to survive out there. I’m not saying that I’ve not had hard times, because I have. But I am saying that right now, in my life, I couldn’t possibly wish for more. I’m a lucky girl, and I hope that luck holds. In the meantime, I’m going to continue to slowly simmer things down until they’re as sweet as they can become, because I can and by virtue of the fact that I can, I should.

OMG, I’m crying like a little bitch now. I’m going to go fight with some pork loin.

Mein Schnitzel

Okay, before this blog commences, I’d like to note something. Despite the fact that I look very, very “Hitler Youth,” I have a vague tendency toward cuisine that is not in keeping with my physical appearance. This is me- My whole family is similarly tall, blonde and wholesome looking, with a slight air of “village pillaging” about us. We’re Norwegian/German. We’re vikings. We’re proud. And we’re terribly, unforgivably lazy. But somewhere in my blood lurks the hunger for culinary adventure…the need for spice and depth…the complete rejection of all things published in the cooking annals of Family Circle. I am the girl who makes tamales, curries, collard greens, and wontons. I can’t explain this, except possibly to say that almost all aspects of my personality are in direct contradiction of one another, so why should this be any different?

Anyway, today I embraced *a portion* of my roots and made a dinner SO German/Austrian that I could hear strains of “How do you solve a problem like Maria” coming from the back of my fridge. My hair spontaneously braided itself into pigtails and my Nike’s turned into wooden clogs. I looked like this-

HAHAHAHA. Kidding. Although it should be noted that this is, in fact, a picture of me on Halloween, and I was, in fact, a little bit sauced on hefeweizen beer (to get into character, of course). Anyhoo!

Back to dinner. Here it is, in all its Oktoberfest-esque glory:

Schnitzel. And spaetzle. And braised cabbage with apples. A squeeze of fresh lemon and a drizzle of mustard cream rounded out the party. It was delicious and soul-satisfying, as it always is to go back to your roots (unless your roots involve pickled herring, which is why I am electing to ignore my Norwegian roots, culinarily, for the time being).

Pre-season cake

Look what I made! It’s for Chris’s grand rounds this week (the last time this quarter that I have to spend all Thursday night preparing food for 20 doctors so that they have adequate energy stores to pester my poor fiance with idiotic questions for an afternoon). I made him three GIANT calzones, chock full of italian cheeses, meats, and antipasti veggies. I made him a huge tub of homemade marinara for dipping. I made him a 4-layer chocolate cake stuffed with almond frosting and covered in orange frosting. But most importantly? I made a STATEMENT.

That statement is “Send me back to Colorado, because San Antonio is like a special, cordoned-off sector of hell on Earth, that has outsourced its torture jobs to things like fire ants and humidity.” Also, “I like football.”

I hope it helps them keep in mind who should get the Colorado slot when Chris finishes his fellowship in two years…