July 28, 2008

Midnight Confession

Something about the wee small hours of the morning makes confessionals seem like a great idea. I'll go first.

I like the name Herb. It sounds like the name of a 1950s heartthrob with perfect hair, who wears a tuxedo to breakfast, smokes like a chimney, and still has perfect white teeth that sparkle when he smiles. I really like the Herb Alpert song "This Guy's in Love with You." I can't decide which video clip of the song I prefer. I mean, the first has all the classic elements of a music video: meadows, waterfalls, ocean breezes, and kisses on the beach at sunset. But the second has a charming, clad-in-black Herb singing while seated on a giant, Sesame Street-sized letter H, and literacy is important.

The neighborhood association won their suit, and I had to mow my lawn this weekend. Front yard only, though. I'm baby steppin' it.

It’s unfortunate that I let things get this bad with the neighbors. It used to be that Carmen and I would take evening walks and criticize all the houses and lawns in the neighborhood. We’d get back to my house and agree that my house was one of the best looking on the block. Now when Chet and I ride bikes around the neighborhood, he’s kind enough to point out the rare, “Honey, that lawn actually looks worse than yours!” It’s okay. I got him back by anonymously ratting him out for breaking the water restriction ordinance.

I discovered something awesome. You're supposed to fertilize the lawn on Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Labor Day, but if you don’t fertilize or water your lawn, it won’t grow, and then you don’t have to mow it. If you don't plant flowers, you don't have to water them either. No reason to weed. The mower will cut those weeds down to size, then they'll probably constitute the only green spots in the lawn. Or let the weeds grow and call it xeriscaping. That is brilliant and has the appearance of environmental-friendliness, which is admittedly canceled out by the fast food wrappers and beer cans littering the yard. Perhaps I should just fill in my lawn with gravel or pave it to make an extra large driveway. Driving past that always signals that the homeowner has thrown in the towel.

The next house I buy is going to be an apartment. With a 500 sq. ft. kitchen and maybe a living room and bathroom.

Remember the good old days when people communicated sarcasm in writing without peppering the text with those stupid emoticons? :p Pepperidge Farm remembers.

July 24, 2008

Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.

Raw milk: Panacea or Poison?

Selling raw milk is illegal in many states. That's the government at work protecting us from the real dangers in the world.

Alton Brown on unpasteurized milk, via the Good Eats Fan Page:
"Holding the milk at 145 degrees for 30 minutes [pasteurization], nukes the nasties while preserving some of the body, the character, the flavor of the milk. Heating milk to 161 degrees for 15 seconds [ultra-pasteurization] kills everything, good, bad, and indifferent... It also shuts down enzymes, and knocks off a bunch of nutrients. In other words, it kills the milk. But since that method is a hundred times faster...it's the one most often employed by the dairy industry. Which is why most American milk tastes like [a] shirt."
I have two quarts of unpasteurized cream left over from the wedding cake. I'm trying to find just the right starring role for that stuff before it spoils. What higher calling is there for dairy than ice cream? Tonight I experimented making ice cream with unpasteurized milk and cream. Oh. My. Gosh. I don't know if this was just a good flavor combination, or if using raw milk makes that much of a difference, or whether I was just really really hungry, but the ice cream tasted delicious.

Coffee Heath Bar Ice Cream
Makes 1 quart
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 ounces evaporated milk
2/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 tablespoons Kahlua
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/2 cup toffee bits
Stir together all ingredients except toffee bits with whisk until combined. Pour into ice cream maker to freeze. While machine is running, put toffee bits in freezer to chill. Near the end of machine cycle, add toffee bits. Mix for an additional 1-2 minutes, or until toffee is evenly distributed. Transfer ice cream to plastic container and freeze until firm.

I think those measurements are right. I added ingredients incrementally to taste. Might need some more espresso powder. Adding some chopped semi-sweet chocolate would be good. The vanilla bean is totally optional. I have at least a dozen beans left over from the wedding cake, which had vanilla bean frosting.

Next up: I bought some pre-made cannoli shells, ricotta, figs, and pistachios to make Emeril's Cannoli.


Too much espresso. I'll never get to sleep.

July 23, 2008

Zao Gao

One of my favorite Chinese expressions that Katie has taught me is "zao gao" (rhymes with wow), which means "messy cake." The Chinese use the expression as a substitute expletive of sorts: darn, what a mess, too bad, etc. I said Zao Gao many times while making Katie's wedding cake, but I think it turned out alright in the end.

Katie & Porter's Wedding

The thing I wasn't happy with were the little piped white pearls at the base of each layer. Unfortunately, I didn't cut the support pillars short enough, and I had some air space between the cake tiers that I had to hide with frosting. That made it difficult to pipe uniform and level pearls.

Everyone's favorite part of the cake seemed to be the ganache filling. Ganache has only two ingredients: chocolate and cream. It obviously makes a difference if you use good chocolate. Good cream, on the other hand, is hard to come by around here. The grocery store I frequent just stocks one variety: ultra-pasteurized heavy cream. Mom has been buying milk from a local milkman who sells raw milk, which has a much better flavor than pasteurized. He hooked us up with some cream. You have not seen cream like this before. It is so thick you have to stir it with a spoon, and it pours out of the jar like syrup, not like milk. It's got a slightly yellow tint to it. It tastes like sweet butter, instead of a flavorless fat glob like regular cream. I credit the success of the ganache to said cream. More on that later...

Katie & Porter's Wedding

This is the only mishap of the wedding of which I'm aware. After Katie and Porter cut and fed each other their ceremonial cake slices, the lady that was hired to cut the cake and plate it for the guests came over. She reached up to remove the top tier, which is traditionally the tier that the bride and groom save and eat on their first anniversary, and when she moved it, the bride and groom cake topper toppled off and crashed. Both the bride's and groom's heads broke off. I couldn't see it all from my vantage point, but apparently heads were rolling.

July 15, 2008

Cooking with Kimberly

What should I name my Food Network show when I'm the next Food Network star?

Tonight I made the final round, two rounds actually, of chocolate wedding cake. I'm also still working on cleaning out the fridge and freezer. Tonight I tossed some unused raspberry frosting that somehow got relegated to the back corner of the fridge. It was originally pink but was now white and brown and fuzzy. Also found a lime that rolled to the back of the fridge. It had turned brownish yellow and concave.

A great recipe to make when you need to clear out your fridge and freezer is homemade ice cream. I made two batches Sunday. First, I made a batch of vanilla ice cream, recipe courtesy Auntie, then another of raspberry. That used up some dairy, plus cleared the freezer of two Cuisinart ice cream freezer bowls. And if you have frozen fruit on hand as I did, you can mix it in to the ice cream, or boil it down and make a sauce.

Raspberry Ice Cream

Raspberry Ice Cream
Makes 1 quart
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 ounces evaporated milk
2/3 cup sugar, plus 1-3 additional tablespoons
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 tablespoons Chambord, separated
fresh or frozen raspberries, optional
Stir together milk, cream, evaporated milk, 2/3 cup sugar, vanilla, and 2 1/2 tablespoons of Chambord with whisk until sugar dissolves. Pour into ice cream maker to freeze. While machine is running, combine fresh or frozen raspberries with remaining tablespoon Chambord and 1-3 tablespoons of sugar to taste. At the end of machine cycle, add raspberries and any accumulated juice to ice cream mixture while machine is still running. Mix for an additional 1-2 minutes, or until fruit is incorporated throughout. Transfer ice cream to plastic container and freeze until firm.

**For vanilla ice cream: use only 2/3 cup sugar total, increase the vanilla extract to 2 teaspoons, and eliminate the Chambord and raspberries.

Other late great adventures in cooking with Kimberly:

Father's Day DinnerFor Father's Day dinner, we had Grilled Tequila-Lime Chicken Breast, for which I used a Lawry's marinade of the same name. I don't grill outdoors. My Le Creuset Square Grill Pan substitutes perfectly. Also had Mashed Potatoes and Fire-Roasted Corn Salsa. For dessert: Key Lime Pie served with Whipped Cream flavored with Coconut Rum.

Banana-Caramel Coconut Cream PieA rather weak addition to the many pies collection: Banana-Caramel Coconut Cream Pie. I had a homemade pie crust that wasn't doing nothing, so I filled it with a bunch of stuff that was easy to throw together. I filled the bottom of the pie shell with caramel, then layered sliced bananas, vanilla pudding, and whipped cream flavored with dark rum on top of that. I sprinkled the top with toasted pecans and coconut.

TiramisùWe had Gul and Matt over for dinner. We had Caesar Salad and Chicken Marsala, and I thought Tiramisù would be great on the menu. Tiramisù is Italian for "pick me up," and it's one of my absolute favorite desserts. It's comprised of Savoiardi lady fingers soaked in espresso and rum, layered with a mixture of mascarpone cheese, egg yolks, sugar, and rum, cocoa powder sprinkled on top, garnished with dark chocolate shavings.

Arrosto di Maiale Al Latte (Milk-Braised Pork): This one is probably worth a post by itself. The photo you see is from Adam Roberts of Amateur Gourmet. Get thee over to his blog immediately. I saw this recipe on his blog last September and have wanted to try it since then. I ended up doing a mashup of Adam's recipe and this one from Kevin Weeks. The recipe uses butter, flour, olive oil, a huge pork loin, whole milk, garlic, sage, and lemon. As Adam said, "How could that taste bad?" You need to know that I chopped 20 cloves of garlic for this recipe. My house smelled like garlic for a week and the neighbors filed complaints. It was delicious.

July 9, 2008

Cold Feet

I scored a library gig. The hours leave something to be desired. The staff's music selection is what I would characterize as Indian Pop. My stomach is very impressionable. Tonight, I got intense cravings for chicken tikka masala or palak paneer or a curry. India Palace isn't open at this hour, so I came home and ate a frozen vegan samosa. Not bad.

It's a good thing I'm chipping away at my frozen dinners, too. I need all the freezer space I can get right now. You see, I started making wedding cake a few days ago, and I'm storing cake layers in the freezer. It is countdown time to the wedding. I'm the only one with cold feet. I did my strategic planning for the wedding cake. I made a detailed schedule for mixing, baking, whipping up the frosting, assembling, and decorating the cake, plus lists of the materials I need, and risk assessment for a list of mortifying fears: the cake will collapse, the frosting will melt, and the blue color of the buttercream will not be uniform. It's all in a sexy Google doc à la the one I also created to house all the wedding plans. It didn't take long to see that I was the only one editing that thing. I shouted, "I need e-mail addresses listed for all the vendors!" to no avail. Guess we don't have to ask which sister is getting married and which one is making long-term plans with her spreadsheets.

Wedding CakeWe had an engagement party/cake tasting throwdown contest two months ago to choose the perfect cake for Porter and Katie's wedding. The winner in a close race was the family favorite Bobby Flay Chocolate Blackout Cake. Their wedding cake will have a vanilla bean buttercream frosting tinted blue and white "pearls" piped around the base of each tier.

I'll be cleaning out the freezer and fridge, so be wary if I offer to feed you. Might want to check the expiration dates on that yogurt. My dress for Katie's wedding is hanging in the living room as a constant reminder that I'm not supposed to be eating anything that has more calories than ice chips do. I'm trying to lose that lingering baby weight. Not the weight from a pregnancy, just baby fat I've been hanging onto for about twenty-five years.

July 4, 2008

Independence Day?

I read this NY Times blog entry about letting go of childhood and cried. Then I read the comments and cried. Kind of weird because all those words were written by a bunch of mothers who were lamenting that their children had grown up and gone away and that part of their life was over.

I still get nostalgic in the summers for my childhood. It was so wonderful to read or play the piano all day or go swimming or even work on the farm. The grass was greener and the sky was bluer and the air was warm and the world did seem magical. In August, our family would pile into the Suburban and drive up to the mountains and stay at the Storybook Cabins in the forest. I remember being fascinated at all the pines that lined the winding roads. It was so strange to be surrounded by earth and trees, unable to see miles into the distance as I could at home. Daddy probably remembers that, too, because one time around a sharp turn on a mountain road we hit a wild turkey and smashed the windshield. All of us children were small. Mom dressed us in matching shirts and jeans. The pictures are cute. We didn't complain about leaving our friends behind or missing work or some event at home. We looked out the car windows during the drive; we didn't have laptops or cell phones in front of our faces.

Cousins would come for a visit. I would sit on the window seat and stare east down the road, looking for their family car to come into view. I was supposed to be dusting, but I would steal away to search out the window every few minutes. Granddaddy and Grandmother often invited us to dinner. We kids rode our bikes over, and Mom and Dad walked. Granddaddy would grill hamburgers that were always delicious. Grandmother would butter hamburger buns and put them in the oven so they'd be nicely toasted. We ate on the porch seated around the green picnic table. I liked to eat Cheetos with my hamburger. Then we would have homemade banana nut ice cream for dessert, with pecans from Granddaddy's trees. The sky would be dark, but Katie would circle the house on her bike riding as fast as she could. We'd race our bikes home, smashing Junebugs or dodging frogs all the way. I've been missing my grandmother lately, wishing I could tell her about some recipe I'd made or a funny story about my piano students or about my sweetheart.

I remember being sad and crying in the months leading up to Wendy moving away to go to college. I was so sad that the phase of life where we all lived in one place was ending. Of course most things can't stay the same. It's a good thing that we're all getting older - it beats the alternative - and doing new things. When I was a child, I thought that my parents walked on water and that my family was perfect, and I still do.

Family at Yangmingshan Park, Taiwan