December 31, 2009

The Year That Was - 2009

Dilbert.com

It was a very good year, and I'm glad it's over. My mom is great for starting family traditions around holidays. We have a couple for New Year's. Besides eating ham, black-eyed peas, and cabbage, we have a shell game where you draw your fortune for the year. Last year, she had us doing the flying wish paper.

video

Just so you know, I totally got my wish, so I think it works, and I'm doing it again for 2010.

And here's my year in cities again; unfortunately, the list isn't as exciting as 2008 or 2007. With a new job, it was kind of hard to get away, but I have high hopes that 2010 will be a better travel year. All the cities where I stayed at least one night in 2009:

Lubbock, TX
New York, NY
Fort Worth, TX
Richardson, TX
and Dalhart, TX

You?

December 24, 2009

White Christmas

White Christmas

It appears that 2009 will go down in my book as a White Christmas... for two reasons. The first is that big, fluffy snowflakes started falling at 8:30 or so on the 23rd, and there are a couple of inches on the ground now. I have high expectations that the snow will last through Christmas day. If not, at least Christmas Eve is going to be beautiful.

The second reason we're having a White Christmas is that this week my sister got engaged to a man with the surname White.

Wendy Engagement

Wendy Engagement

A new baby and a new brother-in-law and a little excitement overload for me, but lots of wonderful things happening in my family lately.

And you know me, right away I wanted to gauge Wendy's fiancé's tastes and find out what foods he likes. So far, I know that he likes French Toast for breakfast. We celebrated his birthday (same as Nancy Kay's) and I found out he likes cheesecake better than layer cakes and isn't a big fan of chocolate or nuts. I can accommodate! He's very diplomatic about things, too. You know how I harass people about my cooking with "What do you think? What would make it better?," but he will not be nonplussed - simple, quick, polite answers and that's the end of it.

Pain Perdu Pain Perdu New York Cheesecake with Blueberries

I'm personally hoping for a few days of rest after Christmas to catch up on sleep. I usually do something memorably crazy when I go without sleep, like cutting open my finger while slicing bread, setting my wallet on top of my car and then forgetfully driving off without it (that's happened twice), etc. This week, Adam and I doubled with Sarah and John. We were playing Cranium, and then while trying to hand a game card to Sarah, I spilled a full mug of hot chocolate on the white carpet next to my date. Wow. He helped me clean up the mess, though. That's attractive.

There are budding snow drifts in my backyard. Snowball fight at my house tomorrow! followed by sledding on whatever hills or drainage ditches we can find. Merry Christmas!

December 21, 2009

Aunt Kimberly

Nancy Kay

My niece arrived at 5:42 pm. She weighed 8 pounds and was 20 inches long. Does she look like her mom or dad?

Katie1 Katie5

Porter7 Porter3

December 19, 2009

Airing of Grievances

I hope there is a market for my anger, because I've got a lot of it bottled up and ready to ship out. I have a lot of problems with you people, and now you're gonna hear about it!
Festivus 2009
My annual Festivus party was a typical disappointment. Serenity now!

This year the menu included a choice of three soups, a BIG salad, assorted breads (Marble Rye not among them), and Black and White Cookies.

I ain't no Challah-bread girl

Two races of flavor living side by side. Nothing mixes better than vanilla and chocolate, and yet somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the cookie all our problems would be solved.

The Black and White Cookie is a New York classic, and if there's anything that inpsires my angry Festivus spirit, it's anything related to New York. It's a dirty, nasty, cynical place, the least happy state in the Union. I spent the worst weekend of 2009 there.

But these Black and Whites were quite tasty. One of my guests commented that they tasted like muffin tops. Top of the muffin, TO YOU! I used the King Arthur Flour recipe, which was good, but the white icing was a disappointment. I think I'll try the America's Test Kitchen Baking Book Black and White Cookie Recipe next, or perhaps the original Utica bakery recipe.

Happy Festivus to all! I made a donation in your name to the Human Fund - money for people.

December 14, 2009

Cassata Siciliana

I wrote this post a year ago. Seriously. But I figure this is a good holiday recipe, so without further adieu, I present Cassata Siciliana.

Pan di Spagna Cooking Class

One of the best things I did during my visit to New York was attend a cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education taught by a sweet little Sicilian lady. The theme of the class was Pan di Spagna (yeah, that links to Italian Wikipedia), which is Italian sponge cake, and it's useful for any number of desserts: cupcakes, biscotti, tiramisu. In class, we broke into small groups and each group made a different recipe using the Pan di Spagna recipe as the base. I made Cassata Siciliana.

I didn't get a lot out of the class in the way of new cooking skills or techniques, but it was a lot of fun, and I did get this recipe.

Basic Pan Di Spagna Sponge Cake
6 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon Fiori de Sicilia (available at King Arthur) or vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 teaspoons baking powder

Separate the egg whites and the yolks. Beat the egg whites with 1/2 cup of the sugar until stiff. Using the same beaters, beat the egg yolks with the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar until thick. Add the Fiori de Sicilia or vanilla and fold in the flour with one-third of the whites to lighten the batter. Fold in the rest of the beaten egg whites, spoon into two 8- or 9-inch layer cake pans and bake in a 350°F oven for 20 to 30 minutes.

Cassata Siciliana
*You will need to increase the Basic Pan di Spagna recipe by half for the Cassata Siciliana. We used three tart pans, instead of two cake pans.

Ricotta Filling
5 cups fresh ricotta
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup candied fruits, chopped
4 ounces chopped milk or semi-sweet chocolate or small chocolate morsels
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Beat the ricotta and the sugar with an electric beater until silken smooth. Place 1 cup of the ricotta in a bowl and set aside for the icing. Divide the rest of the ricotta between 2 other bowls and add the candied fruits to one and the chocolate and cinnamon to the other to make the two fillings.

Ricotta Icing
1 cup reserved ricotta
2 cups confectioners' sugar

Beat the ricotta and the sugar until smooth and of spreading consistency. Set aside.

Assembly and Decorating
3 layers of Pan di Spagna
1 1/2 to 2 cups Marsala wine
1/4 cup each red and green candied cherries, sliced in half
1 cup sliced blanched almonds

Place one cake layer on a serving platter or cake plate. Place the Marsala in a small spray bottle, and spray one-third of the wine on the first layer. Spread the ricotta and fruit filling on top of the cake layer. Place the second layer on top of the ricotta filling, and spray with another third of the Marsala wine. Spread the ricotta and chocolate filling on the second layer, top with the third layer, spray it with the rest of the Marsala wine, and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Spread the icing on the top and on the sides of the cake. Press the sliced almonds lightly all over the side of the cake. Place the cherries cut side down in a pattern around the top of the cake alternating red and green. Chill until ready to serve. This is a rich cake, and a small portion is very satisfying. Serves 16 to 20 or more.

Pan di Spagna Cooking Class

Pan di Spagna Cooking Class

I definitely recommend doing something like this if you have an interest in cooking at all. Nice change of pace after doing lots of touristy stuff in New York, and it was fun to meet different people and cook with them - probably the only time I'll play nice in the kitchen. I made the cake again once I got home.

Cassata Siciliana Cassata Siciliana

December 1, 2009

Breakfast of Champions, er, Champurrado


Winter weather is finally here! Not that I'm not a big fan of cold weather, but I like snow in December. It puts me in a holiday spirit. The rest of the season, the frigid air and short days are a little depressing. But I was very happy to see big, fluffy snowflakes falling this morning.

If the weather outside is frightful, and you need a beverage to warm you, why not try Champurrado?

Champurrado

Never heard of it?
Champurrado is a chocolate-based atole, a warm and thick Mexican drink, based on masa (hominy flour), piloncillo, water or milk and occasionally containing cinnamon, anise seed and or vanilla bean (tasting somewhat like a thick chai tea). - Wikipedia
I used my Indonesian cinnamon (Korintje Cassia) from Kalustyan's. Maybe that makes it less Mexican, but it works.

Champurrado Champurrado

And I threw in a snowman truffle for good measure.

Recipe from Homesick Texan

November 28, 2009

All Thanks We Give

Thanksgiving was a little different for me this year. I didn't host dinner at my house, and I didn't do much cooking. Although, the Friday before Thanksgiving we had a potluck Thanksgiving meal at work, and I brought the turkey and gravy and a dessert.

United had a sweet deal going during November, where if you spent $100 in the store, they gave you a coupon for a free turkey (up to 22 pounds). Here's the part you won't believe, I never spent enough to get a coupon. I haven't spent $50 in a single visit to United in months. I don't buy groceries or cook anymore, and it's pretty pathetic. So Mom gave me one of her turkey coupons, and I picked up a free turkey.

Roasted Turkey

I rubbed butter all over the turkey's skin, then sprinkled it with salt and pepper. Under the skin, I put more salt and pepper, plus some rosemary and orange and lemon zest. I am much better at carving turkey than I was the first time I roasted a turkey. Via NYTimes, a video on how to carve a turkey.

Turkey Lurkey

For dessert, I made a really simple recipe, Paula Deen's Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cakes - so easy, I feel guilty admitting to it.

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake

This cake has legions of devoted fans. It was reviewed on foodnetwork.com by 2,141 people, with an average five-star review. Some of the reviews are a little morbid, though, with postings like "Pumpkin Pie is dead to me..." and "mom's favorite-before she died." Is that a recommendation or not?

Thanksgiving 2009

Lots of delicious food at Thanksgiving dinner with my family. I returned to my cake baking roots and made two desserts as my contribution:

Pumpkin Cheesecake Thanksgiving

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake and the Chocolate Blackout Cake with Coconut Buttercream

November 19, 2009

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

I have a standing weekly date at Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and if I'm not recovering from kidney stones, and he's not rebuilding schools in Puerto Rico, and I don't bail on him, and he doesn't have to drive to some tiny outlying town for work, it's on.

I order the Little Cheeseburger with mayo, grilled onions, and grilled mushrooms. He gets the same thing "man-sized," and we share an order of cajun style fries. Highly recommend it.

Five Guys Burger

November 16, 2009

Remember When I Cooked?

I haven't served a decent meal at my house since before the Frog Legs. I can count everything I've cooked or baked since August on my fingers. I've already told the story of the Red Ribbon Red Velvet and Chocolate Truffles, and now I'll recount the rest for you:
Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping

I find that Paula Deen's recipes are usually overkill in one aspect or another, and in this case it's probably butter. But if loving butter is wrong, I don't want to be right. This is a good recipe, very sweet, very rich and buttery. The improvements I would try: reduce the butter in the crust, halve the streusel recipe, bake it for 10 minutes longer than it specifies, and perhaps add pecans to the crust and/or streusel. This recipe did get lots of compliments, though, and I would definitely make it again.
  • A cake for Robert and Laura's wedding
Robert & Laura Wedding Cake

The cake's components: Kahlua Fudge Cake, Chocolate Ganache filling (basically this recipe, but use half semisweet chocolate and half bittersweet chocolate, and use 2 cups of cream per pound of chocolate instead of 2 1/2 cups), and Vanilla Buttercream frosting. On taste, this one ranks with the best, but I still haven't learned how to smooth frosting properly.

Robert & Laura's Wedding Cake

I got an invitation to attend a recipe exchange this weekend. The theme is desserts! Obviously, this is my kind of party, but which recipe should I take? The hostess said "easy to medium" level of difficulty, but it's a sliding scale, that is, what are we calling easy? Like Mystery Fruit Salad easy or Gianduia Cake easy?

Gianduia

Frankly, I'm feeling so busy these days that anything more taxing than the Mystery Fruit Salad sounds like too much work. Perhaps I can rise to the occasion, but I need suggestions. Help!

November 12, 2009

Bun in the Oven

Katie & Porter Baby Shower

Those crazy kids Katie and Porter are going to go and make an aunt out of me. I am very excited. I have a feeling I'll be one of those doting relatives that sees any mildly cute kid's outfit or toy and buys it immediately for which to gift the child. I'm determined to be this kid's favorite aunt, and since for now I'm the only one living in the same town, I think I can best the competition.

I'm also hoping that a new baby is a good excuse to buy a decent camera, with which to take thousands of pictures of said baby. I voiced this opinion to Katie a couple of weeks ago, and the baby seriously hiccuped or burped or made some kind of noise from the womb to affirm that it is indeed a good idea.

Katie's co-workers gave her a baby shower last week. I collected pictures of Katie and Porter as children for a slideshow:


The hard thing about not being the oldest child in the family is that there are precious few pictures without the older siblings in them. And Porter, being the third child, is lucky there are pictures of him at all! Abby watched the video and said, "Wow, you guys dressed up a lot." I didn't even notice. I suppose we did dress up a lot as kids, putting on plays and fashion shows and for Halloween.

I made chocolate truffles for the shower. This is one of my favorite recipes. This time I took three different flavors, raspberry, almond, and coffee (Chambord, Amaretto, and Kahlua).

Marmee's Birthday Party

Perfect Chocolate Truffles
Recipe from Cook's Illustrated
Makes 2 dozen 1-inch truffles.

Ingredients
Ganache
9 ounces semisweet chocolate or bittersweet chocolate, chopped coarse
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 tablespoons Cognac , dark rum, Grand Marnier, Framboise, Kirsch, Frangelico, Amaretto, Kahlua, or port
Chocolate and Cocoa Coating
8 ounces semisweet chocolate or bittersweet chocolate
2 cups Dutch-processed cocoa powder , sifted

Instructions

For the ganache:
1. Melt chocolate in medium heatproof bowl set over pan of almost simmering water, stirring once or twice, until smooth. Set bowl aside.

2. Bring cream, butter, and corn syrup to strong simmer (about 160 degrees) in non-reactive pan over low heat. Remove pan from heat, cool for 5 minutes, then whisk into chocolate. Whisk in liquor.

3. Refrigerate mixture until it cools to 80 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Either in bowl of electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment or with handheld electric mixer, whip mixture at medium speed until slightly lightened and thickened to a texture like store-bought canned chocolate frosting, 25 to 30 seconds.

5. Spoon ganache into large pastry bag fitted with 1/2-inch plain tube. Hold bag perpendicular to pan and with tip about 3/4 inch above work surface, and pipe 3/4-inch mounds (pulling tube away to the side to avoid leaving points) onto parchment or wax paper-covered baking sheet. Alternatively, scoop mounds with tiny (less than 1 tablespoon) ice cream scoop or melon baller.

6. Refrigerate mounds until hardened, at least an hour.

For coating:
7. Following directions in step 1, melt coating chocolate, then cool to 90 degrees, making certain that no water comes into contact with chocolate.

8. Arrange chilled truffle mounds, bowl of melted chocolate, and cocoa-filled high-sided roasting pan on work surface. Working one mound at a time, dip palm of one hand about 1/4-inch deep into melted chocolate, pass one truffle mound with other hand to chocolate-covered hand and close hand around mound to coat, re-dipping hand into chocolate every third or fourth mound.

9. Drop coated truffle into cocoa; roll to coat using fork held in now empty clean hand, leaving truffles in cocoa until chocolate coating has set, about 1 minute. Repeat process until all mounds are in pan of cocoa.

10. Gently roll 5 to 6 truffles at a time in medium strainer to remove excess cocoa, then transfer to serving plate or tightly covered container. (Can be refrigerated for up to one week.)

Notes: These truffles are meant to look like the real thing—small, irregular mounds instead of perfectly spherical balls. If you decide to omit the liquor flavoring, reduce chocolate from 9 to 8 ounces. For microwave-oriented cooks, you can melt the chocolate at 50% power for about 3 minutes. The ganache mixture is quite forgiving. If it cools too much in step 1, place the bowl in a larger pan of warm water and stir the mixture until it has softened and warmed up. If this overwarms the mixture, cool it again as directed. The same flexibility applies if you overwhip the ganache by mistake. Simply warm it over the hot water, cool it, and whip it again. One person alone can dip and coat the truffles, but the process is simpler with a second person to roll coated truffles in cocoa and lift them onto a clean pan.

Katie & Porter Baby Shower

If the predictions are right, baby Rondella should arrive around Christmas.

October 31, 2009

Halloweenie

For Halloween, I went as a website - not even a particularly good website, or one I frequent, mind you, but a website nonetheless. Okay, so it might be a little 2007, but by the time people in Lubbock catch on to something, the trend has already faded in the civilized world.

Liberry Kitteh Liberry Kitteh
http://icanhascheezburger.com/

I dressed up at work on Friday, October 30. I had the ears, face paint, tail, and signs to set at the reference desk. Unfortunately, very few people were at the library since it was a Friday (and its being Halloween Eve possibly affected traffic as well), so my awesome costume and lolspeak signs were not seen by many. I did see some other fun costumes: the Tattooed Ladies of TX Library Association, a pirate, a Super Trooper, and my personal favorite, a Texas Tech coed. Sight unseen, I correctly guessed most of the components of that costume: big, blond wig, t-shirt, short running shorts, and UGGs. There was a little boy of 5 or younger that came trick-or-treating to the library, dressed as a Bumblebee Transformer. Someone said, "Don't hurt me!," and he quickly retorted with a loud, "It's just a costume!"

Mark dressed as another website, People of Walmart, which I found hilariously ingenious. He also sent me a scary and disturbing birthday card:

Even though that is a terrible picture of me, I can't resist sharing. This is the result of not having taken a good picture since the 1980s. I involuntarily screamed when I saw that card, and it was awkward because I screamed loud enough that I needed to explain to the people around me why I screamed, but I didn't really want to go there.

Among the Halloween candy I got, and I guess it was actually birthday candy: Seattle Chocolates Coconut Macaroon Truffle Bar, Vosges Mo's Milk Chocolate Bacon Bar, and my favorite bar for awhile, the Vosges Red Fire Chocolate Bar.

Oh, and no Halloween is complete without a little mischief. Here are a couple of "Costume Crimes" from the BYU Police Beat:
October 24: A boy in a gorilla suit was reported attempting to scare girls in Wyview Park. Officers located the monkey man, asked him to go home and he did.

October 29: A suspiciously dressed male was reported entering the law school. He was dressed in all black, was wearing a leg holster, a bulletproof vest, a portable radio, and five rounds of shotgun shells across his chest. The individual was carrying a black bag that contained two Airsoft pistols. The suspect turned out to be a law student and was called out of class for questioning. He stated he was dressed up for costume day; however, he was the only one in the class dressed up in costume. He was directed to remove his vest and was released since he was not violating any federal or state laws.

October 21, 2009

The Spinster Librarian

I've had a lot of interesting dates and pseudo dates in the last few months. It helps my self esteem to count any one-on-one time with a single guy as a date, and I'm sure they're all really into me, too. Definitely some highs and lows (very lows!) in the mix.

I could write a book on relationships. I guess everyone thinks that. Here's one piece of advice: If you're in a long-distance relationship, demand some kind of collateral from the guy, like a piece of expensive furniture that's worth more than he is. Hopefully all three of you will be in the same location at some point in the future, but if not, you and the furniture can make a very happy couple. Or it can be good kindle for a fire when you're ready to burn all the pictures, cards, and gifts he gave you.

You can't get that kind of golden advice just anywhere. Here's another one: keep the top of the backrest of your leather couch dusted. If you're snuggling up on the couch and your date tries to put his arm around you, getting an armload of dust is a real mood-killer.

So here's the thing, what do we think about online dating? I've had friends that have met some crazies that way, but let's face it, I'm dating crazies anyway. I've kind of tried that scene before. It was more to make new friends, not love connections, and it worked only passably for that.

You're hot enough for me to expand my dating profile location radius

My dear friend Kim keeps telling me to try it, but I don't know. The Lubbock market is a small pond, but I don't think I'm in a position to strike up a relationship with anyone out of town, either. Any advice, opinions, or funny stories appreciated.

Dinner and a Book

I'm a hypocrite. I'm a bad piano teacher; I don't practice. I'm a bad librarian; I don't read books. I could rationalize it somewhat when I was in grad school, but now that I'm past that, I've found other lame excuses. Over the last few months, I've been socializing at such a breakneck pace, I didn't have time for it. I've realized that I'm not going to miss meeting any fabulous men if I cut the outings down to 3-4 nights a week.

If I weren't a librarian, I'd like to be a sociologist or maybe a behavioral economist (except that would involve that pesky math stuff). I ordered a slew of books in that vein that have been on my Amazon wish list for awhile:
Which one of these things is not like the other? That very work-related book on the bottom, which was the most expensive and least enticing of the lot. It also had these goofy pixelated cover graphics. Thank you, library world, for being stuck in the 20th century as usual.

So when I can, it's no phone, no accompanying friends, just me and a book at home or in a restaurant booth if I really don't feel like being home in my lonely house. Last week, it was Cancún for the Durango Special: juicy, marinated grilled chicken and shrimp smothered with melted cheese; served with rice, guacamole, and pico de gallo; with Predictably Irrational. It is a little hard to concentrate with Tejano music blaring in the background, but the food was great, and the book enthralling. Last night, it was Lean Cuisine Linguine Carbonara with The Black Swan. I've been excited to leave work every night and get home to my books; when it's to get home to my cats, then you can really worry.

Last night, I read until I fell asleep, ignoring any calls, texts, emails, calendar reminders all evening. I did get a call at 5:45am or so this morning. In a case of friendship fail, I had forgotten to set my alarm clock to wake me up so I could drive some friends to the airport for an early morning flight. Already fifteen minutes late, but luckily I arrived at their house two minutes after the call. I think all was well, but maybe a little reading is a bad thing.

October 13, 2009

Ship of Fools

Intel "Rockstar" from Crystal English on Vimeo.


In my foodie world, Christopher Kimball is like a rock star. The bow tie is hot; the food snobbery, condescension, and choosiness about ingredients is attractive. He's the editor and founder of Cook's Illustrated and the host of America's Test Kitchen. Cook's has been a go-to recipe source of mine for awhile now. Their recipes are almost always perfect in terms of flavor, technique, etc. I feel comfortable making their recipes for dinner parties without a dry run, because they rarely give me any trouble.

Kimball wrote an Op-Ed article inspired by the closing of Gourmet magazine. He lamented the shift of loyalty away from experienced, credentialed chefs and towards untrained cooks and the democracy of the Internet, read food blogs. My favorite quote from Kimball's piece is: "The world needs fewer opinions and more thoughtful expertise." He talked of food media specifically, but it's the same issue for all of them - radio, television, publishers, recording industry - and it's a similar problem in libraries and academia as well: Why would you want to pay for anything when you can find what you want online for free? Why would you want something that requires more effort than a Google search?

So I set out to write a ditto blog post, complete with passion and exclamation points, railing against "the democracy of the Internet." I was prepared to support all of Kimball's assertions.

And then I started writing.

Duh, I'm completely guilty of succumbing to the democracy of the Internet, where content is free and conveniently accessible. I don't have cable or even local television channels these days, because I usually just check YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix for whatever I want. They've got Matlock. Purchasing music? Why would I want to do that? There are more free radio stations and free sample downloads than I could ever listen to. Magazines and newspapers - a complete waste of money if I can get their content online for free. Most products of the mass media are complete drivel anyway, but it's also a factor of my pretentiousness to isolate myself from all of it.

I didn't read Gourmet. Any Gourmet recipes I've made came from the free site Epicurious. My mom has a few cooking magazines at her house, and I've never looked at a single one of them and thought it was something I'd want to subscribe to. I don't buy cookbooks. When I need a recipe, I always search food blogs, Epicurious, and yes, the Food Network site. You can bet I'm right there reading all of the comments and reviews written by inexperienced anonyms.

What was I going to rail against? I'm part of the problem.

Now that doesn't mean that I don't still use a LOT of Cook's recipes. Kimball followed up his Op-Ed with a post on his blog titled Ship of Fools? and I agree with his statement (down in the comments section) "I have had hundreds of people tell me over the years that the one thing that Cook’s has done for them is to build their confidence — they realized that they were not lousy cooks, they were just using lousy recipes." I have said many times that being a great cook doesn't take that much skill or innate talent, you only need start with a good recipe. Going through the process of cooking through dozens of Cook's recipes, with their precise instructions, helped me build a knowledge base of the fundamentals of cooking.

And yet, Adam Roberts of Amateur Gourmet made a good point when he tweeted "Chris Kimball, your recipes might work, but your magazine is the dullest, most brain-numbing one around. Blogs r better." (His more gramatically correct opinion is here.)

What do you think?

October 6, 2009

Fluffernutter

What's your favorite sandwich? The favorite sandwich of the Massachusetts legislature is the Fluffernutter, a sandwich made with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. And if you try one, it might become your favorite, too.

Have you ever heard of a fluffernutter before? I really can't remember when I first ate one. I do have a memory of visiting Washington, DC in my late teens. My family ate dinner in Union Station at some tourist trap that advertised world cuisine and had an entrée on its menu for each of various countries. Do you know what it listed for the United States offering? The fluffernutter. And Scott ordered one. It's not that he was foolish to do so. It was simply remarkable to me that of all the things that could have been on the menu, the fluffernutter was the thing chosen to represent the United States.

It's a very northeastern thing. The Marshmallow Fluff made by Durkee-Mower in Lynn, Massachusetts can't even be purchased in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Colorado, Utah... I like this Mister Rogers video about how it's made.


I've half a mind to order a case of the fluff if only to support a small US company that's still in the family and still making their product one small batch at a time. It's probably the only business using Comic Sans on their site that I'd patronize. And after all, the shipping costs couldn't be that much - it's just fluff.

My personal favorite thing to order at Sheridan's is a vanilla custard concrete with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, so I may venture to try a few of these Fluff recipes. And you've got to listen to these catchy jingles:
Fluffernutter Theme
The Flufferettes

Update: You can purchase Fluff at United Supermarkets and World Market in Lubbock. Hat tip to Brent!

October 4, 2009

Remember When We Cooked?

I attended a "cooking demonstration" on Thursday night, where two cookbook authors were promoting their cookbook "Remember When We Cooked?" That was pretty much the most ironic title ever for a cookbook, because for most of the recipes, the two ladies on stage merely combined a couple of ingredients from a can or the freezer. I don't think I'm shattering their reality by saying what they were doing wasn't cooking. One of the ladies even said, as she poured several cans of fruit into a bowl for "Spiced Hot Fruit," "This is my kind of cooking, dumping." The same woman later said she didn't go in for that fancy stuff like kosher salt. Here is one of the recipes that they demonstrated from their cookbook:
Mystery Fruit Salad
Serves 12

6 crisp apples
6 bars (2 ounces each) Snickers
12 ounces whipped topping

Cut apples into bite-size chunks. Cut Snickers into small pieces. Combine apples, Snickers, and whipped topping in a mixing bowl. Chill before serving.
Maybe you're like me and surprised that anyone had the need to write that one down, not to mention that it's being passed off as a fruit salad. The ladies seemed like your stereotypical sweet, rural, baby boomer soccer moms, and I say good for them creating a moneymaking opportunity out of a cookbook that any community church's ladies society could have put together.

But back to their cookbook's title, "Remember When We Cooked?" I didn't think it was a reference to the days when grandma went out and caught, killed, plucked, gutted and roasted a chicken for dinner, but I thought at least they meant the good old days when grandma combined flour, sugar, eggs, and milk into something without opening a can or boxed mix. Even the ridiculous opening sentences in the A-J's writeup - Really, all they require is water, electricity and a table. Then stand back and watch the magic - make no allusion to, you know, food! being involved in their recipes.

One of the most beautiful things I've read in the New York Times lately is Michael Pollan's Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch, which discusses among other things, the popularity of the Food Network amongst people who couldn't boil water properly, and how the amount of time spent on food preparation has an inverse relationship with obesity. He wrote:
I spent an enlightening if somewhat depressing hour on the phone with a veteran food-marketing researcher, Harry Balzer, who explained that “people call things ‘cooking’ today that would roll their grandmother in her grave — heating up a can of soup or microwaving a frozen pizza.” Balzer has been studying American eating habits since 1978; the NPD Group, the firm he works for, collects data from a pool of 2,000 food diaries to track American eating habits. Years ago Balzer noticed that the definition of cooking held by his respondents had grown so broad as to be meaningless, so the firm tightened up the meaning of “to cook” at least slightly to capture what was really going on in American kitchens. To cook from scratch, they decreed, means to prepare a main dish that requires some degree of “assembly of elements.” So microwaving a pizza doesn’t count as cooking, though washing a head of lettuce and pouring bottled dressing over it does. Under this dispensation, you’re also cooking when you spread mayonnaise on a slice of bread and pile on some cold cuts or a hamburger patty. (Currently the most popular meal in America, at both lunch and dinner, is a sandwich; the No. 1 accompanying beverage is a soda.) At least by Balzer’s none-too-exacting standard, Americans are still cooking up a storm — 58 percent of our evening meals qualify, though even that figure has been falling steadily since the 1980s.
So perhaps the dump-and-stir brand of cooking the ladies did at the demo was in fact cooking.

September 29, 2009

Red Ribbon for Red Velvet Cake

South Plains Fair 2009

The South Plains Fair is back in all its glory. A few hours there is enough to last you for a year until it returns. The freaks of the town come out of the woodwork for it, and that includes me. They even shipped Eddie Money in for a pretty pathetic concert. I don't ever want to get old or listen to his songs again.

The typical assortment of fair foods is available, with nothing too shocking to report. The hit of the state fair, Deep Fried Butter, hasn't made it west to Lubbock yet. The only new vendor I saw was the frozen chocolate banana stand, which I fully expected to see the Bluths manning.

South Plains Fair 2009



As usual, my focus was on the women's building and the culinary competition. This year proved to have no shortage of cake wrecks. I was completely befuddled by a Best of Show decorated cake that had strange blue smears on top and Goldfish pressed into the sides and by the cake with off-center pecans and crumbs scattered on top.

South Plains Fair 2009 South Plains Fair 2009

But what do I know? I delivered my Red Velvet Cake entry with pride, saw another red velvet cake already in the display case, and snickered at it. It's not really fair for me to enter. How could I lose? My cake is twice as big and much better looking. Well, if you can't tell from the picture below, the cake that I laughed at got a blue ribbon, and mine, a red.

South Plains Fair 2009

I wish the judges had to give me feedback on why my cake came in second. I think I should challenge the winner, Theresa, to a Throwdown. She's probably a very nice person, but when it comes to baking, the gloves (cooking mitts?) come off! I think I could take her.

Red Velvet Cake

My undefeated fair run is over, but I guess when you think about it, red is really the best color ribbon to award to a Red Velvet Cake.

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
from Cook's Country - Serves 12
ingredients
Cake
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
Pinch salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder
2 tablespoons red food coloring
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar


Frosting
16 tablespoons unsalted butter , softened
4 cups confectioners' sugar
16 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch salt

preparation
1. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and eggs in large measuring cup. Mix cocoa with food coloring in small bowl until a smooth paste forms.

2. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as necessary. Add one-third of flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add half of buttermilk mixture and beat on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl as necessary and repeat with half of remaining flour mixture, remaining buttermilk mixture, and finally remaining flour mixture. Scrape down bowl, add cocoa mixture, and beat on medium speed until completely incorporated, about 30 seconds. Using rubber spatula, give batter final stir. Scrape into prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes then turn out onto rack to cool completely, at least 30 minutes.

3. For the frosting: With electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Beat in vanilla and salt. Refrigerate until ready to use.

4. When cakes are cooled, spread about 2 cups frosting on one cake layer. Top with second cake layer and spread top and sides of cake with remaining frosting. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 3 days.