Sunday, November 30, 2008

Deb's Pie

I'm busily ensconced this weekend managing 60+ kids at six performances of the Nutcracker. It is a lot of fun, but it leaves no time for anything, inlcuding feeding my family. So we eat leftovers and go out to Dim Sum restaurants in between performances.

I did receive this picture from my intrepid friend, who was willing to try to tackle pie crust with my encouragement. Good job!

It doesn't have to be perfect, mine certainly never are, at least in the looks department. They taste fantastic, of course. I am practicing rolling. I recently bought a french rolling pin. It makes all the difference in the world! Here is what my friend had to say about making her crust:

"I had to add more butter and more water than your recipe says before I could even get it to ball up. And I am no good at rolling it out without it breaking apart.

I decided to shred frozen butter like it says in the Scones recipe from Cook's Illustrated. I unfortunately shredded my thumb knuckle only eight strokes into it, and so switched to cutting it into little tiny pieces and freezing it again.

No actual blood in the pie.

We'll see what everyone has to say tomorrow"

Now, my only comment is that she should have just used more ice water; the amount needed can vary every time you make a pie depending on the humidity, flour temperature, and who knows how many other factors. But, hey, she gave it a go, which is more than I can say for a lot of women out there who rely on store bought pie crust. Get with it, ladies.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Stress

If only I could just COOK, dammit, on thanksgiving. What's with all this CLEANING!!!

Since we had all of our kids here for a "Thanksgiving" dinner at the end of October, for the real Thanksgiving, my sister in law and I are making this meal for Thanksgiving. The best part is that she is an even better cook than I am (if that is possible). We are leaving out a few of the dishes because the menu is for twelve and there will be only seven of us, my smallest Thanksgiving dinner ever. My daughter is going to her fiancee's family and my son couldn't make it back from his military training. I will probably need either anti-depressants or lots of alcohol to get through it. I guess I'll probably go for the alcohol!

Anyway, good luck with your cooking endeavors tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Take Home Chef

If any of you read the comments that people leave, you will have noticed that on my last post Laura referred to the time she had to "fry six pieces of bacon". About a year ago she offered to help me organize my disgusting basement if I cooked dinner for her and some out of town guests. And she was providing the groceries! Boy, did I get the better end of that deal. But, you really should read her account of the night. Continued here.

And concluded here.

I hope you enjoy her story as much as I enjoyed the cosmopolitans she made that night. And boy, did I really enjoy them. A lot.

Mistakes I have made

So instead of merely dissing all of the cooks I know, I feel I should humble myself a bit and reveal some horrible kitchen mistakes I have made. I offer these to you in humility, so that you will know I was once where you are now. And that I am not perfect. Well, I wasn't perfect then, but now I am pretty darn close. At least in the kitchen.

1. Peanut butter rice pudding. It sounded good. I had all of the ingredients. I was having company and needed a dessert that I didn't have to go out and spend a lot of money on, because I was newlywed and poor. I had never made it before I served it to my guests. It was a disaster. Utterly. I served it up and took a bite. Horrible!!!! My guests didn't even feign politeness, they took a bite and didn't eat any more, either.

2. Brie tart. Another dinner guest debacle. I found some recipe in Bon Appetit and it sounded good. Too bad it wasn't good. It was bland. It was supposed to be an appetizer, but apparently my guest thought it was a dessert I was serving before dinner and said it needed more sugar. Maybe it did, since it didn't have any, it was a friggin' appetizer.

3. Garlic bread. I burn it with regularity. Drives my hubby insane.

I have countless (well, maybe not countless. Maybe a few.) other failures in the kitchen. The point is you have to be willing to fail in the kitchen. You have to take risks. Find a recipe you've never tried (maybe you don't want to try something new for guests. But that has never stopped me. I almost always make something new when I have guests). You will never serve interesting food if you are unwilling to make a mistake or two. Just like you can't succeed at anything in life if you are unwilling to first fail. We all learn from our mistakes. Even me. Ultimately, my much maligned friend Laura CAN become a good cook because she tries to improve and she is not afraid to serve something which didn't quite turn out the way she expected. And she has me to tell her when she screws up.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mashed Potatoes

Let me say, first of all, that I owe my entire blogging career to Laura. In more ways than one. She created this blog for me one day, because she was avoiding her own work and she likes to encourage creativity in others. Plus, as an added bonus, she is a doofus in the kitchen. (But what I really like about her is that she TRIES. She really does. And under my tutelage, she is improving. Somewhat.)

So today she called and mentioned that she was going to the mall to look for a new computer. I needed to re-supply my teenage daughter in the unmentionables department, so I immediately insinuated myself into her plan.

We got to the mall, and I dropped her off at the Mac store and went happily off in search of undergarments. Later, as we passed the Williams-Sonoma store, a picture of a potato ricer caught my eye.

"Hey", I said to her, "I like that potato ricer better than mine; it has holes in the side, so you get less resistance when you press the potatoes."

"What do you us the potatoes for? Hash Browns?" she asked.

"No, you dork, you make mashed potatoes out of them", I replied. Now, mind you, I didn't really expect Laura to be familiar with potato ricing. It is a little known way of making mashed potatoes. So, I was simply doing my best to educate her. But of course I had to throw in the "dork" comment. Just to make sure she knew I still loved and respected her. But then, she said something that made me stop dead in my tracks and slap my forehead with my hand.

"Why do you need that? You just use a blender."

Now Laura will dispute that she said blender and I will allow that what she meant was mixer. But still, even saying mixer would cause me heart palpitations. Let's just get this straight right now, and anyone who disagrees with me on this is just plain STUPID: YOU CANNOT MAKE MASHED POTATOES WITH ANY TYPE OF ELECTRIC APPLIANCE!!!!!

Let me begin this tirade by saying that I have made mashed potatoes with a mixer, but not for at least twenty years! I was young and foolish and uneducated. I grew up with a mother who didn't really like to serve starches, as she was of the opinion that they made you fat. So typically we only had mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. And after I was married, I didn't have a mixer so I used the potato masher that my husband had bought at the Goodwill store. (When I met him, that is where he got all of his kitchen accessories. And his wardrobe. But I reformed him.) I still have said potato masher. Well after a couple of years Steve bought me a hand mixer for Christmas one year. I was so happy. No more hand mixing cookies with a wooden spoon. No more beating egg whites with a whisk and a copper bowl. (Okay that is the way you're SUPPOSED to do it, but what a pain.) I stated making my potatoes with the mixer. And I turned them into gelatinous, glutinous, gloppy messes. Never use a mixer, okay? Just don't do it. Here are the three acceptable ways to make mashed potatoes: put them through a ricer, or a food mill, or mash them by hand.

Putting your potatoes through a ricer ensures fluffy, creamy, smoooth potatoes. Mashing by hand gives you a little lumpier, but still tasty product and a food mill will give you good sturdy, but not really fluffy potatoes. Hence, my love of my ricer. It is so not hard. You can do it! Yes you can!

Mashed Potatoes

Boil some potatoes until tender, but leave the skins on so that they don't become water-logged. (I will let you peel them first if you must, but at least try it my way once, okay? Would I steer you wrong? No, I wouldn't) Peel them with a paring knife and put through the ricer. Put them back in the pan and add melted or really soft butter. I don't know how much, use your judgement. Then add copious amount of cream or whole milk and stir. That's it. And don't let me hear your whining about how you use margarine or low-fat milk because it's cheaper or better for you. Really, I don't care. Go ahead, your mashed potatoes just won't be as good as mine, so why not aspire to greatness? It's not as hard as you think.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Perhaps the most important food holiday ever created, Thanksgiving inspires more anguish, hand-wringing, and contradictory turkey advice than any other single meal of the year. I, frankly, am sick of reading the "brine your turkey, don't brine your turkey, baste every fifteen minutes, don't open the oven door until it's done" arguments. All these "experts" and their absolute certainty that their way is the only way to cook a turkey advice make me a little crazy! I have spent inordinate amounts of time reading all the different advice for Thanksgiving dinner. I have used several different methods for cooking the bird and have found some better than others. SO, I have developed my OWN annoying litany of turkey do's and don'ts. And why should you follow my advice as opposed to Alton Brown's or Martha Stewart's? Because I am the goddess of real world cooking, that's why. Plus I am always right about everything. The sooner you realize that, as I tell my husband, the happier we'll all be.

Turkey do's:

  • Brine. It actually does make the turkey moister. Just make sure you keep it cold while you're brining. You can put the turkey in one of those really big ziploc bags and add a brine of 2 cups of kosher salt and 1 cup of brown sugar with some peppercorns thrown in and dissolved in 1 quart of boiling water. After it cools, add about one more quart of cold water. Then put the whole thing in a cooler and surround with ice. Or if you live in a cold climate like I do, put it in a big pot and leave it in the 35 degree garage.
  • Give the bird a good massage. With butter that is. All over. Season with salt and pepper. If you're feeling adventurous, you could rub some of that butter, mixed with herbs of your choice under the skin of the breast.
  • Stuff. I know, I know, you've read all the Cassandra warnings about not stuffing your turkey. Guess what? We've all been stuffing our turkeys for at least as long as I've been alive and I don't know anyone who's died from eating turkey. Just make sure you cook the damn thing long enough. To 165 degrees in the center of the stuffing. Nobody wants to eat the stuffing that's not cooked inside the turkey anyway.
  • Baste. Every fifteen minutes. A lot. I start with a stick of butter until the turkey starts to render some of its fat.
  • Put cheesecloth on the breast. You are pretty much trying to cook two different kinds of meat (white and dark) at the same time. Soak a piece of cheesecloth in butter and lay on the breast. Then baste both under and on top of the cheesecloth. Take the cheesecloth off for the last twenty to thirty minutes.
Turkey don'ts
  • Don't use one of those awful turkey bags. You are then not roasting, you are steaming.
  • Don't cover with foil. Again, you are then not roasting. You are steaming.
  • Don't even think of using Alton Brown's method of not opening the oven door. I did it once. Most dried out turkey I ever made.
  • Don't deep fry. While it is delicious, this is Thanksgiving. Save that for your Super Bowl party or something. Have a little self-respect!
That is about all there is to it. Pretty simple, really. For straightforward directions on how to roast a turkey, consult the Joy of Cooking. Call or email ( if you need help. I'm more fun than the butterball hotline. Plus, my first piece of advice will be to tell you to open a bottle of champagne and have a glass. You can't cook a turkey if you're all stressed out, can you?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Teriyaki Sauce

My friend Denise tells me that in Japan people use Kikkoman teriyaki sauce. And I nod and say, "Oh really? That's nice." I don't think she has ever tasted my mom's teriyaki sauce. It is the most incredible marinade in the world! You can marinate just about ANYTHING in it. Steaks, chicken, lamb, you name it. It makes that stuff in the bottle taste like watery brine.

Once, when Steve and I still lived in California, his parents were visiting and so we were obligated to either drive all over the Southland visiting their various siblings, nieces, nephews, and cousins, or get it over with in one fell swoop by having them all over to our place for a barbeque. If you have ever navigated the traffic for hours on end in LA, you know I chose to have a barbeque. I bought some huge piece of beef or another and sliced it paper thin. (You can do this by partially freezing the beef, making it pretty simple to slice with a knife.) I put it in a huge vat of some sort and poured the teriyaki over it. Now you may think that buying the bottle is so much easier, but let me assure you, it is just as simple to whip this up. It is THAT easy. And so delicious. If you read the comment from my last post, you'll notice my mom said that flank steak is the best cut to use and I will certainly defer to her experience and wisdom on that point, but I think I used sirloin.

Now Steve is from an enormous Italian family. They are a great bunch, for the most part, like any huge family. But there has been very little non-Italian intermarrying until the last fifteen or twenty years. So they had a different set of food expectations than I had anticipated. I remember some crazy uncle coming in and anouncing, "Oh boy, I get sausage!" Because to Italians, if you're going to have a picnic, and you're going to grill, you're going to grill sausage. Still a young bride, I blanched a bit and swallowed hard and said, "Um, we're having teriyaki." Nobody said much of anything else, and one of Steve's cousins took me aside and told me not to worry about it, Old Uncle So and So would be fine. If this happened today, I would probably look at him and say, "Sorry, you want sausage you better go the deli down the street. We're having steak. And if you don't like it, oh well." Or I'd at least think it while smiling and shooting fireballs out of my eyes.

So I proceeded to thread the steak onto bamboo skewers that I had soaked in water for a while. Steve fired up the grill and started laying them on the grill. He started flipping the first ones he placed as soon as he filled up the grill, these babies only take about two minutes or less. Total. Not per side. You can overcook these into dried out beef jerky really quickly. But it's not that hard to turn out moist, succulent morsels of meat really quickly. You simply must try this recipe. It is that good. Oh, and the Italian relatives raved about it. They had never had anything like it and it was a HUGE hit. Just like it is everytime I make it. Thanks, Mom!

Mom's Teriyaki Sauce

1 C brown sugar
1 C soy sauce
8 T lemon juice
1/4 C vegetable oil
1 tsp ground ginger (this is the only place I don't follow Mom's recipe: I use fresh ginger. I'm sure she doesn't mind!)
1 clove minced garlic

Mix together: For flank steak, slice on bias and marinade for 3 days in a plastic bag

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What Will I Ever do About Priscilla?

Picture of Hannah and Priscilla at Starbucks.

I must reiterate to you all that Priscilla is a really good cook. Which is why I get so annoyed when she does stupid things in the kitchen.

A couple of days ago, I was over for a cup of tea (okay wine) and she was starting to make dinner. (I had already made most of my dinner, tacos, and I just had to go home and fry up the taco shells. You don't actually think I would use taco shells from a box, do you? Or salsa from a jar? Do you? How long have been reading this blog?) Prissie was trying to decide whether to cook the filets she had, or some pasta. Did she have any bacon to wrap around the filets, I asked? No. Any great ideas about a quick sauce? No. She thought she might marinate them in teriyaki sauce (one of my mom's recipes) but they could only soak for forty-five minutes. STOP RIGHT THERE, YOU GOOBER! Teriyaki is a great marinade, but it needs at least four hours, preferably longer. So she mixed up the teriyaki and put the steaks in to soak until the next day. Good thinking, Priscilla, glad I could help. (We won't go into why she shouldn't use $9.00 a lb filets for teriyaki. That was a losing battle with her, I assure you. She hates beef and so she must do anything she can to disguise its taste.)

So, she was going to make some pasta. Now, I learned ninety percent of what I know about Chinese cooking from Prissie, but Italian is NOT her forte. She overcooks pasta until it is mush. She mostly uses sauce from a jar. Her pastas come out with some really weird sauces she makes up on the fly. So anyway, she starts throwing pasta in a pot of boiling water and overcooking it. But guess what? She still hasn't decided how to dress the pasta! Here is a tip for Italian cooking: put the water on to boil and start making your sauce. Most pasta sauces can be made in under twenty minutes. Put the pasta in to boil just at the last minute and cook it a minute or two under what it says on the box. It should still be a little firm to the bite. Just tonight I made a sauce with sauteed shallots, porcini mushrooms, sage, and cream. I also added fresh cracked pepper and some of the porcini soaking liquid. I simmered it until the cream had reduced by about half and topped some homemade gnocchi with it and a grating of parmesan. Yummy!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sorry I have neglected you

Oh Faithful Reader, oh my raison d'etre, how could I have been so callous, so hard-hearted to neglect you for two long weeks? I was freakin busy, that's how. Get over it!

While I was away from my blog I attended a little soiree at my friend Laura's house. It was Halloween and the livin was easy. I whipped up some Sweet and Spicy Popcorn Balls to bring and headed over in time to shove Alex out the door with Laura's husband for some ritualistic pagan candy gathering. Steve was late as usual. Laura had been stressed out about her party for a few days. I tried to calm her. "It's an after trick or treat party", I told her,"You don't have to make dinner; just put out a few munchies!" I gave her a recipe for Chicken Wings Pacifica and told her to put out a few chips. Nobody, I knew, but didn't tell her, would have high expectations.

Well, lo and behold! She pulled off a great party with some RATHER impressive snacks. I especially liked her Apricot -BlueCheese- Honey-Pistachio-Pepper Thingys. There is no recipe, just smear some dried apricots with a good quality blue cheese, sprinkle with salted, roasted, pistachios, drizzle with some honey and finish with a grinding of fresh pepper. They were yummy. And here is photographic proof of her prowess:

BTW, that's my plate.