Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Second Time Around...

We made Japanese Hamburger's again and this time they came out better. The first time they were yummy, but rather meat-loafy. The second time they were fantastic.

What did I do different? I wish I knew. I hate it when I do something better (or worse) the second time and have no idea why. It's taken me 3 times to be *almost* certain that my favorite brand of Silken Tofu is just TOO soft for Ma Po Tofu. When I add the cornstarch it winds up looking more like what I imagine Menudo looks like than Ma Po. It's delicious, but nothing I'd show on the blog.

Next time I'll use their Firm Tofu instead, that'll be the final test.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to make Japanese Hamburgers in an attempt to figure out what I did right. This is not something I'm dreading.

On the subject of Transcendental Foods, the parents brought me half a flat of Strawberries from Oxnard. Some kind of bribe I think. I had to do something with them.

This may not look like much.

But this was delicious. Strawberries + Homemade Sponge Cake + Whip Cream = Happiness. Plus, I'm very proud of myself for successfully making Sponge Cake! That's a lot of egg-beating.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Beautiful Days...

... lead to falling behind on the blog.

Finished the first book of 2009. Fledgling by Octavia Butler. I'm aiming to read more than one book a month, but had a rough start with another book that couldn't keep my interest. Now I'm reading Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake, which I am enjoying but is dense, dense, dense. So it may take a little while to get through.

Meanwhile there have been:

Delicious breakfasts. The only way I'm willing to eat eggs besides the (very) occasional egg salad or deviled eggs.

Baked Shrimp Scampi from Ina Gartens Back To Basics, another Christmas present. Delicious, easier to make than usual scampi, and would definitely be a great course for those dinner parties I'm going to have someday.

Beautiful days at the Getty Villa, where someone else made lunch for me, and I sat and enjoyed the view far more than the art.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Repulsion Cuisine

Around midnight one evening, laying in bed but not yet in asleep, I turned to the boy and said: "What's the opposite of fusion? Repulsion maybe?"

One of the many reasons I love this man is he always takes me seriously. He stopped and thought for twenty seconds. "Yeah, that sound good."

Earlier that day I'd been presented with a dilemma: What to make with potatoes. The potatoes were important. They were growing old, were probably already a little past-done, but salvageable. I knew I could make roast or skillet potatoes pretty easy. But while I had a ton of ground pork and could easily make Ma Po Tofu for the dozenth time, I just couldn't stomach the idea of Ma Po Tofu and Potatoes. That wasn't the kind of fusion cuisine I liked, it was more like repulsion cuisine.

I did have some drumsticks that the boy had purchased and then, like many grocery store inspirations of his, left to die in the freezer. The problem? I have this neurosis about chicken. I'm terrified of undercooking the pale pink meat. I'll eat it when others make it without batting an eye, but I fear my own abilities. Still, chicken and potatoes sounded much, much better than Ma Po Tofu and Potatoes.

Battling my fear, I paged through a new cookbook I'd picked up on the recommendation of a friend, Apples for Jam. Chicken Drumsticks and Wings with Orange Tomato Glaze caught my eye. I like the word glaze, so that was a good start. The basic ingredients were encouraging. The 2-2 1/2 hour cooking time sealed the deal. I could eat chicken that had cooked for that long.

Finally, I had a complete meal.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Please Don't Hit Me With Your Car

A Quick Note to Drivers Out There:

Please come to a full and complete stop when approaching the pedestrian crossing the street, legally, at the cross walk. While you may know that you aren't going to hit her, she does not feel so confident as she eyes your Range Rover rolling in her direction at a speed that would still hurt on impact. Let me remind you that she is less than 1/10th the size of your car, and considerably less durable. I know stopping in front of the crosswalk means approximately 10 seconds you cannot devote to Your Life, but at that moment the pedestrian is fearing for Her Life. So please, just stop the car for a moment.


Sunday, January 18, 2009


Maybe you know already, but I've got this thing about cooked fruit. I don't like it. Numerous times loving family members have presented me with just-out-of-the-oven homemade pies, and I've remained unmoved. Warm berries? Hot apples? No thanks.

Except for jam. I dig jam. Only, I don't like toast that much (I know, I know, wait until I tell you about my issues with cooking chicken later this week), so I am always on the lookout for good Jam Vehicles. Scones, for examples, are excellent at carrying jam. Lately though, I've been casting my eye in the desert realm. Enter, Jam Thumbprints.

I used Cooks Illustrated's recipe, and first made these around Christmas, and they were eagerly gobbled up by my father and brother. The cookie is tender, moist and dense and the perfect vehicle for the sweet jam. They were a winner from the first bite, and I had to make them again.

The thing about these cookies though? They taste great after dinner of course, but there is an even better way of eating them.

The slightly bitter green tea cleanses the palate and makes each bite taste like the first. I love combination's of food and drink that belong together. Things like apple and gorgonzola in the same salad, or the way feta, parsley and kalamata olives belong together in all kinds of dishes. But I'm also always looking for components of a meal that enhance one another. Like how homemade burritos taste better if I'm drinking a Corona. Or the way clam chowder needs a good sourdough. As the flavors come together in my mouth, they become more than the sum of their ingredients.

As part of my self-education on cooking and food, I'm seeking more of these transcendental moments.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cooking Loves Knitting

I think that becoming a skilled knitter has actually helped me become a better chef as well. Patterns for more complicated knitted garments can be intimidating and overwhelming. Time and time again I've watched people read through patterns like they were some kind of novel and exclaim: "But I don't understand what it means here in step 10."

In such cases I always urge the customer to just go ahead and start, and if they take the pattern one step at a time, by the time they get to 10 it'll make sense. (Of course, occasionally a pattern is poorly written or wrong, but usually by then you can also Figure A Way Around It.)

As another side note, I've heard the occasional novice knitter refer to patterns as "recipes."

Which is all to say that I'm a lot less intimidated by long recipes these days. I do them one step at a time, and at the end I usually have something tasty, if not always what I was going for.

Or I can just keep making a recipe I've already made once. "Ebi no Chiri So-Su" from Let's Cook Japanese Food! is a new favorite of mine. The main ingredient in the sauce is ketchup -- which illustrates why I'm really loving this book. While the accomplished Japanese chef may wow you with their tempura and sushi, the average Japanese person is more interested in how they can get more mayonnaise or ketchup into their diet. And since this book represents the latter, they are also very simple.

Too bad taking good pictures of food at night isn't like following a recipe...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Next Year I'll Ask For Photography Books...

This year I asked for, and thus received, a fair amount of cooking related paraphernalia for Christmas. I've already used two of these gifts.

The Le Creuset Dutch Oven (which I may occasionally refer to as 'my precious') was put to work to make this Almost No-Knead Bread recipe from Cooks Illustrated. I've wanted to make this forever, but even after I got the dutch oven I had to wait for a good time with 8 hours to rise.

Whenever I wait to do something though, I tend to end up doing it on impulse when I can't stand to wait any longer. So, on a Friday night at 11pm I sent the boy for a quick trip to the local store for the instant yeast I thought I'd had, and then threw the dough together in about five minutes. It was supposed to be left standing at room temperature, but since it's chilly here I put it in our oven where it was kept a little warmer by the pilot light.

Saturday friends came over and I pulled this baby out for it's almost-no-kneading and second rising, and then popped it in the oven. It cooked faster than expected, and burned on the bottom, but it was still absolutely delicious. I'm going to invest a few $ in an oven thermometer, because I suspect my oven sometimes runs a bit hot. Next time I make this (which will definitely be soon) I'm going to do the Rosemary-Parmesan version.

My younger brother gave me "Let's Cook Japanese Food!" by Amy Kaneko, and I've already tried out two recipes, including the shrimp seen in my previous blog. Those were delicious.

So was this, "Mapo Nasu", spicy pork with eggplant. I've made "Mapo Tofu" using another recipe, the main difference (besides tofu vs. eggplant) was this one had no miso added. I missed that flavor, so next time I will try adding it to this recipe.

I was pleased with how the eggplant came out, since they have given me trouble before, though one of them was a little tough. I think I'm going to blame that individual eggplant since the rest were quite yummy.

I've still got a few Christmas gifts to experiment with, some money at amazon that might go towards cooking gadgets, and I think I need to work on my camera skills...

Saturday, January 03, 2009

This year I am going to...

Keep cooking new things...

Keep reading...

Keep going to the beach...

Keep having a good time with the boy...

And blog more about it.