So long and thanks for all the fish

Since excuses are totally lame, let me start off with several of them:  I recently acquired my dream job, I’m finishing up my second bachelor’s degree, I need to restore my focus on my long-time grammar blog, and I’ve been itching to get back into the realm of creative fiction writing.  Did I also mention I need time for my family?  Trying to maintain a cooking blog on top of all of this is, unfortunately, just too much.  It pains me to say it, but this will be my last post on MCYOD.

I really appreciate the support I’ve received from friends, family, and readers along the way.  I originally started this blog as a means of motivation; I needed that extra push to stop making excuses for being a terrible cook.  Thanks to the words of encouragement, the advice, and the ideas shared with me these past six months, I have made a tremendous improvement in the kitchen.  For that, I thank all of you who have been rooting for me!

Although I am bidding farewell to my blog, I am NOT abandoning my newfound love for cooking.  I will continue to educate myself, to experiment, and to venture outside of my comfort zone.  Sure, I’m going to do stupid things.  It’s inevitable.  But at least now I know that every single thing I do in the kitchen–even the stupid things–bring me one step closer to being an exceptional cook.  :D

Pan sauce, take one: steak

In the process of learning to cook, I’ve seen a recipe or two…or eighty-nine…for various meats cooked with pan sauce.  All along, I’ve steered clear of pan sauce.  I mean, have you seen the terminology used in relation to pan sauce?  FondDeglazeCaramelizeNape.  I don’t like words I can’t define!

Ah, but hasn’t the progress I’ve made all resulted from my learning things unfamiliar to me?  Crap.  I hate it when that thing called logic interferes with my resistance to change.

Having said that, my next Two Week Technique is—you guessed it—pan sauce!

I haven’t had a rendezvous with steak in quite some time, so for my first stab at pan sauce I chose a recipe for Steak with Pan Sauce (such a creative name, isn’t it?) that I found in my BH&G cookbook.

The first step was to heat a tablespoon of butter in a pan and cook the steaks for three minutes on each side.  The first three minutes went according to plan.

But then the stupid bleepity-bleeping steaks started to char on the outside…

At this point, they’d cooked for three minutes on one side and one and a half on the other.  Surely there was a problem.  I cut into one of them just to be sure.  Though the exterior of the steak was black and stiff, the interior was still entirely dark red and oozing blood.  [Insert frustrated cry here.]

I cooked the steaks for several more minutes before I was satisfied that they wouldn’t “moo” as I bit into the meat.  What resulted was two ugly steaks, and I hadn’t even started the “challenging” part of dinner yet!

The steps for making the pan sauce were simple:  add apple juice and broth, stir, add whipping cream, stir, add butter, stir, add more butter, stir, add more butter, stir, add evenmorefreakingbutter, stir.  But of course, I handled this all about as gracefully as a one-armed juggler.  By the time the sauce was finished, I’d worked up a decent sweat.

Thirty minutes of stress and cussing paid off when I tasted the food.  The sauce had a great flavor and texture and, despite the charcoal briquette-like appearance of the steaks, the insides were cooked to perfection.  HAHAHA, steak—IN YO FACE!

On a more serious note:  I do hope things go just a wee bit more smoothly when I make chicken with pan sauce…

Steaming, take three: pears and honey

When I plan out my Two Week Techniques, “dinner” is always the guinea pig. My mind simply defaults to dinner because I tend to stick to simpler breakfasts and lunches. But when I compiled my steaming recipes for the past couple of weeks, I found a collection of dessert recipes for food steamers. In this collection is a recipe for Steamed Pears and Honey. Pears? Honey? Applies to my Two Week Technique? A healthy dessert option? Count me in!

It all started with a pear.

Pears don’t scare me. I eat them all the time. I might even be as bold as to say I could eat one with my eyes closed. Seriously, I have never looked at a pear I’m about to eat and thought, “Crap, I don’t know if I can do this.”

But that was before I had to cut off the top of a pear and remove its core without destroying it. It took a paring knife, a butter knife, and several lucky moments during which I didn’t cut off my fingers, but somehow I managed to remove the core from the fruit.

Once I had created a substantial well in the center of the pear, it was time to add the honey.  Mmmmmmmmhoney.

Now all that was left to do was replace the pear’s hat—er, top—and start the steaming!

After 15 minutes in the steamer, I transferred the pear to a dish and removed its top (does that sound dirty?).  My kitchen was instantly filled with the warm, spicy scent of fall.  It was dessert with a built-in air freshener.  But what else can you expect from boiling honey?

When I sliced into the pear, honey oozed out in every direction.  It looked scrumptious and it tasted even scrumptiousier (it’s my blog, I’ll invent new words if I want to).  I was really pleased!

My two weeks of steaming had its ups and downs, but I did discover that I haven’t been utilizing my steamer nearly enough.  Just no meatballs.  Ever.

So what’s the next Two Week Technique going to be?  Well, I’ve already started and I’ll be posting about it tomorrow…so stay tuned!  Oooooh, the suspense…

Steaming, take two: meatballs

Lesson learned:  meatballs belong in the oven.  Let me explain.

Because my current Two-Week Technique is steaming, I found myself perusing the recipes at foodsteamer.org.  When I saw a recipe for Mini Chili Tomato Meatballs, I was ecstatic.  After all, I’m a girl who loves her meatballs (no dirty jokes, please).

Things started off about as uneventful at meatballs normally do.  I mixed my ingredients together, shaped them into balls, and arranged them neatly on a sheet of parchment paper placed inside my steamer basket.  Nothing out of the ordinary here…yet.

Once the water was boiling, I placed the steamer basket over the pot and set the timer.  I left the little darlings to cook.

Ten minutes later, I approached my stove and the sight was horrific.  First lesson:  steamed meatballs should be made with extra lean beef.  Greasy meat drippings, anyone?

I scooped the meatballs out of this mess with a slotted spoon, genuineley thinking this mother of a grease pool was no big deal.  Gross, yes, but problematic?  I ain’t afraid of no grease!  And they looked like regular ol’ meatballs, so surely they would taste like regular ol’ meatballs.

Considering the number of flavors packed into these meatballs (tomato paste, garlic, onion, chili pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and freshly ground salt and pepper, to name a few), there was a HUGE flavor deficit in my meal.  The meatballs were so flavorless I couldn’t even taste the meat itself.  I am convinced–though I may simply be making excuses for a bad recipe–that all of the flavor was left behind in the puddle o’ grease.  Whatever the reason, I took one bite of my meatballs and the udon noodles they were served with, and I tossed it in the trash and made myself a ham and cheese sandwich.  I’m not particularly fond of “cardboard” flavor.

Steaming probably isn’t the best choice for prearing meatballs.  Fattier ground beef is an equally poor choice for preparing meatballs.  Keeping a supply of lunch meat, cheese, and bread while teaching yourself to cook is of the utmost importance.  So many lessons…gotta love it!

Steaming, take one: potatoes

Many of you are already aware that potatoes are a major foe of mine in the kitchen.  The battle isn’t against any kind of potato in particular; bakers, reds, babies, sweet potatoes, they are ALL on my can’t-cook-worth-poo list.  I always manage to overcook my sweet potatoes and undercook my other potatoes.  Every.  Single.  Time.

At my bridal shower a couple of months ago, I was given a big freakin’ steamer pot.  Back before I moved out of my parents’ house, I used their steamer pot–once–to cook some broccoli.  Now that I have one of my own, I figured I’d better become friends with it and see what beautiful magic we can make together.  I chose to start with potatoes.

I’ve been on a sweet potato kick lately, but my husband dislikes them.  Therefore, I figured I’d really put the steamer pot to the test by using it to cook a sweet potato and a russet potato at the same time.  I chopped each potato into about 20 small cubes, tossed them in the pot, and set the timer for 15 minutes (the minimum time recommended for steaming potatoes).

At 15 minutes, I lifted the lid and used a fork to poke one cube of each of the types of potato.  For me, this is always the defining moment in my attempts at cooking potatoes.  I have a terrible habit of assuming that if the fork can penetrate the top 1/1000th of an inch of potato, it must be done (and I learn the hard way, when chewing half-cooked potato, that my assumptions need some tweaking).  Tonight, I was smart enough to set the timer for five additional minutes when I didn’t feel the fork pierced the potato quite smoothly enough.

So what was the verdict?  BEAUTIFULLY cooked potatoes!  I squished them up with a potato masher and a little bit of butter (and a handful of cheese in my husband’s) and they were by far the most well-cooked potatoes I have made to date.

I think my steamer pot and I are going to get along juuuuuuust fine.  :)

PB&J Cake; or, giving my cake pan the middle finger

As it turns out, the third time really is a charm.

I have nearly ruined one cake and completely ruined another because for some stupid reason I couldn’t get the cakes to not stick to the inside of the pan.  I’ve always loved baking and have never been too particularly bad at it–except for when it comes to turning a cake out of a pan.

After ruining my last cake, which had been intended for a friend who is battling cancer, I was instructed by this particular friend to practice a new cake and to bring her one once I had broken the curse.  The cake I was ordered to make is a Peanut Butter and Jelly Cake, which can be found in the latest issue of Food Network Magazine.

Instead of covering the cake pan in greased parchment paper, as the recipe instructed, I followed my mom’s advice and bought a can of cooking spray made specifically for baking.  I doused the ever-living crap out of the pan; I mean, I’m surprised there was any cooking spray left in the can by the time I was finished.  Not this time, cake pan.  Not this time.

While the cake baked, I made the peanut butter frosting out of peanut butter, regular butter, powdered sugar, and milk.  I would almost forfeit an entire year’s salary in exchange for eating a bowlful of this frosting daily without becoming obese.

When the cake came out of the oven,  I waited anxiously while it cooled enough that I could try turning it out of the pan.  It was a defining moment in my culinary self-teachings.

Awwwwwww yeah!  IT WORKED!  With the hurdle of uncertainty behind me, I continued onto the fun part:  the transformation from cake to PB&J.  First, I cut off a thin layer on the top and bottom of the cake with a serrated knife so that the cake looked like a big slice of bread.

Next, I cut the cake into two equal slabs and piled the bottom layer with peanut butter frosting and some of my grandma’s homemade raspberry jelly.

Finally, I replaced the top layer of the cake and cut it in half diagonally.  It’s hard to tell it’s not just a boring PB&J sandwich!  (Disclaimer:  I don’t think PB&J is boring at all.)

Last night we had dinner with my parents and I brought this over for dessert.  It was a hit!

Handmade pasta, take three: ravioli

After my last batch of homemade pasta turned out gray and smelly, I was doubting my decision to make homemade ravioli.  If there’s anything I’m good at, it’s learning from my mistakes–so, I figured out what went wrong and I fixed it and tried again.  In this case, my method of storing my fresh fettuccine in the refrigerator was to blame.  I proceeded with the ravioli, but this time I planned to freeze them until it was time to cook them.

I prepared the dough as usual (I’m getting to be a pro at this!) and used my pizza cutter to cut the dough into 2-inch squares–and yes, I measured them with a measuring tape!  Earlier in the night, I’d browned some ground beef and stirred in about 3/4 cup of ricotta.  In the middle of my first dough square, I plopped a small amount of beef mixture I’d measured using a melon baller (this was PERFECT).  I blanketed the mixture with another square of dough and squeezed the two squares together around the meat and cheese.  Then I trimmed the edges of the ravioli with the pizza cutter and I had my first, and damn near flawless, handmade ravioli!

It took me an hour to complete the rest of the ravioli–although, my stepson and even my husband contributed to the cause and made their own!  When the last of the dough had been used up, I was so proud of my ravioli I almost teared up a bit.  Never had I imagined I could pull off something like this:

I slipped these babies into a freezer storage bag and popped them in the freezer, crossing my fingers they’d be edible the next night.  When the next night (i.e., last night) rolled around, they cooked up fabulously!  I was slightly afraid they would come open in the boiling water and leak out beef and ricotta, but every single one stayed perfectly intact.  And–holy smokes–I couldn’t believe how good they tasted.  I will NEVER purchase pre-packaged ravioli again!

I had my doubts after the fettuccine incident, but I can say with certainty that this Two Week Technique has been my most successful yet.  Next up will be steaming, since my grandmother gifted me with an amazing steam pan set when I got married!

Handmade pasta, take two: herbed fettuccine

I’m going to mentally return to my first batch of homemade pasta–the bowties that turned out to be such a success.  You see, revisiting the successful moments in my mind is what keeps a girl like me sane.  Otherwise, I’m left to dwell on my second (and failed) attempt at homemade pasta.

The goal of round two was to make basil-and-thyme fettuccine noodles.  In the beginning, all seemed perfect.

I did struggle a little cutting the dough; who has the patience to cut perfect, even fettuccine noodles by hand?  (Hint:  not me.)  Cutting the noodles so they were the same length and width was a challenge.  They still looked pretty good when I was finished, considering!

And that’s the last hopeful photo you’ll ever see of my basil-and-thyme fettuccine.  Since it would be a couple of days before I’d need the pasta, I followed the recipe’s instructions to store the noodles in an airtight container in the fridge.  My guess is that my container wasn’t quite airtight enough, because when I opened it, this is what I saw:

Gray.  Gray.  Gray.

They smelled funky, too.  Not “bad,” just not “good.”  Not like fresh pasta.  My fettuccine joined my Cream-Filled Cake Roll in food heaven.

Tonight I’m going to make some ravioli.  Somehow crossed fingers just don’t seem like enough.

Oh, before you move on from reading this:  does anyone else see the resemblance between this egg, soy sauce, and garlic mixture, and a big ol’ puddle of vomit?

Happy eating!

Trash can cake

Today I’m driving to a nearby town to visit one of my good friends, who is currently battling cancer.  She loves my blog and she’s always cheering me on, giving me pointers, and sharing her recipes and cookbooks.  One might say she’s my biggest fan.  :)

I wanted to bake her something special, so I turned to my new BHG Bridal Cookbook and picked out a recipe for a Cream-Filled Cake Roll.

[Photo source: Better Homes and Gardens]

I want to preface what you are about to read by saying I really did have confidence that I could pull this off.  I really, really did.  As it turns out, my confidence is no match for my terrible cake-making skills.

The Cream-Filled Cake Roll was a series of new firsts for me, starting with the concept of beating eggs until they form soft or stiff peaks.  My stepson assisted me with much of last night’s cake-making, so we took turns operating the hand mixer, ooh-ing and ahh-ing as the eggs turned creamy and foamy.

The process of beating the egg yolks and the egg whites (separately) took about half an hour (come on, eggs, I don’t even spend that much time on you in the morning!).  We were finally able to fold the yolk mixture into the egg white mixture, followed by folding the flour mixture into the egg mixture.  Mmmmm, cake goop.

So far so good, right?  I poured the batter into my parchment paper-covered, well-greased pan, and let the oven do its thing.  At this moment in time, confidence was still high.  No way my 60 minutes of prep time wouldn’t pay off!  In the meantime, I made the cream filling by beating together whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla.  My stepson and I sliced up fresh raspberries (sampling along the way) and I folded them into the mixture while he washed all of the red juice off of his hands and face.

With the filling done, the next hurdle was to get the cake out of the oven and onto the towel coated with powdered sugar.  When the cake came out, I diligently followed the recipe’s instructions to immediately loosen the edges of the cake from the pan.  I turned the pan upside down over the towel; at this point, a big slab of cake should have slipped out of the pan’s grasp and landed cleanly on the towel.  Since a picture is worth a thousand words:

The “big slab” of cake on the towel was missing chunks, all of which had stuck to the parchment paper.  All of its holes made it the Swiss cheese of cakes.  Stifling a scream, I pulled myself together:  it’s still salvageable, I told myself.  I continued to do as the recipe indicated, rolling the towel and the cake into a spiral.  Once cooled, then maybe, just maybe, I could still turn this into an edible (albeit ugly) cake.

Again, since a picture is worth a thousand words:

When the time came to unroll the cake and the towel, the cake had stuck to the towel so badly I couldn’t even remove it.  Furthermore, it had cracked into a million little pieces while cooling, so it was no longer a holey cake–it was simply a collage of cake scraps.  After several unsuccessful attempts to remove chunks of cake from the towel, I dumped everything in the trash can–towel included– and said good riddance.

My stepson asked if I was going to try again, but at 11 o’clock at night, my sanity depended on my surrender.  When I told him that I would not be attempting it a second time, he responded:  “Well, you could always just bring her some flowers.”

It’s apparent that my cooking has improved ten-fold since I started my blog in March.  But when it comes to fancy cakes, I am a LONG…long…longlonglong way from improvement.  To the friend for whom this cake was intended, I’m sure you’ll be reading this at some point, and I’m sure you’ll understand that it’s the thought that counts.  Going forward, I’ve heard Costco sells some nice desserts…

Handmade pasta, take one: bowties

As much as I’ve grown to love cooking, I didn’t miss it one bit while I was on my–wait for it–HONEYMOON!  After the most incredible week in San Diego with my husband, I half-assedly opened the bridal edition of my BH&G cookbook and struggled to find motivation to cook anything.  Following the excitement of our honeymoon–Seaworld, the San Diego Zoo, Mission Beach, zip lining over the Safari Park, and surviving rush hour traffic in a city three times the size of my own–standing over the stove felt like the equivalent of watching paint dry.

I’d flipped through half the cookbook with a peculiar absence of interest when I stumbled upon the chapter about handmade pasta.  Suddenly, my mojo was back.  Time for Two Week Technique:  Handmade Pasta Edition!

The biggest reserve I had about attempting handmade pasta was that I’d be doing it without a pasta press.  But hell, what would I be learning if I did things the easy way?

Surprisingly, rolling out the dough wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d thought it would be.  Back in the day when I didn’t know a cheese grater from a garlic press, I couldn’t properly operate my rolling pin to save my life.  I’d primarily used it while trying to roll out sugar cookie dough, which resulted in a trip to the grocery store to purchase a tube of Pillsbury cookie dough because my own batch had stuck to the rolling pin like paste.

After I rolled out the dough, I cut it into a rectangle and then cut that rectangle into many rectangles.

At that point, I took each rectangle and squeezed together the top and the bottom to make bowtie shapes.  After the first of four batches, my stepson wanted to help and we busted out a whole tuxedo shop’s worth of pasta bowties.

The recipe stated the bowties could be dried for up to two hours.  At the two-hour mark, many of them were still pretty doughy and flexible, but I really wanted to follow the rules on this one.  I transferred them to a Pyrex container and crossed my fingers.

The bowties sat in my fridge for a night and tonight, I whipped up some turkey meatballs with spaghetti sauce to serve with the pasta.

Although I do feel I made the bowties just a smidge too big, the taste and texture were just what I had hoped for!  I’m definitely ready to take on more handmade pasta–next time, with a little bit of pizazz.  :)