Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Peanut butter...on noodles?!?!?!

It's been a long time since I've posted. Life and laziness seem to have distracted me from adding any new posts for an unforgivably long time. Since I last posted, I've done a ton of cooking, learning to do things like make pasta, taking pictures of some of it, and I'm going to try to get back into the swing of this blog. I learned today from The Pioneer Woman, one of my favorite food bloggers, whose Tasty Kitchen recipe site has a side food blog, that today is National Peanut Butter Lover's Day. Coincidentally, I happen to have some pictures I took the last time I made peanut noodles with chicken. The recipe is based heavily off of the Peanut Noodles recipe from Allrecipes along with additions of my own to make it a little closer to being Thai, like using rice noodles instead of spaghetti and adding chicken.

Here we have my list of ingredients. Red pepper flakes, sesame oil, soy sauce, creamy Jif peanut butter, apple cider vinegar, sugar, ginger, scallions (whiter parts only), rice noodles, baking soda, and chicken (not invisible, just not pictured). The proportions you get from the recipe linked above are largely fine but you'll likely end up adding more peanut butter at the end. Regarding the peanut butter, use any kind you like as long as it's not that natural stuff that separates. For this you want the emulsified stuff. Trust me..or don't and repent later.

The reason we have baking soda in this recipe is to treat the chicken in a way that is referred to as "velveting". Ever wonder how/why the meats you get at Chinese restaurants are always so tender and why your home stir fry isn't like that? That's cause you don't velvet the chicken. So, here's the super secret trick. After cutting up the meat, toss it with about a teaspoon of baking soda and let it marinate for 15 minutes. Before cooking it, rinse off the baking soda thoroughly and pat it dry. That's it. Baking soda as a meat tenderizer. Who'd a thunk it?

While the chicken is doing its thing, make and drain the rice noodles. Now let's make the sauce. In a bowl put your peanut butter...

Then soy sauce and water. My preference is Kikkoman, which you can get in almost any grocery store. Your other common option is La Choy which, in my opinion, is La Gross.

Now add your apple cider vinegar...

Then sugar and red pepper flakes. Now carefully whisk it all together. It will look like a horrible slurry but that's OK. Don't worry about it. It won't stay that way once it's in the pan.

With the sesame oil, sautee up your aromatics, ie. ginger and scallions...

Then set aside. This is common for stir fry cooking. Making aromatics, meat, and veggies separate then combining with sauce at the last moment.

Toss the chicken in the wok to cook...

Once it's mostly cooked, add the ginger and green onion back in.

Give it a few stirs then mix in the sauce and cook it for a minute or two to get everything nicely mixed together and cooked through. At this point, stop and taste the sauce. If you want to add more peanut butter, do it. I always do. Usually another couple tablespoons at this point.

Add in the rice noodles and toss to coat...

...and there you have it! Thai peanut noodles with chicken. Delicious, and packed with protein.

Happy National Peanut Butter Lover's Day!


Wilton Method - Fondant and Gumpaste

So, I'm done with Wilton courses. I've actually been done for almost a month but I just suck at fitting this blog thing into my schedule. I'm trying to get caught up before I buckle down for the GMAT. Below was my final cake for the Fondant and Gumpaste course. This course consisted mainly of making gumpaste flowers, something I don't think I'll ever do often. Joanna was much better at it than I so, should we ever recognize our dreams of having a bakery, she'll do gumpaste and fondant flowers while I do the buttercream ones.

This was kind of an experimental thing that I didn't spend too much time on as I was making this on a Monday night after work. I wanted to use my Wilton Sportsball pan, which I did for the main part of the skull. However, I used my old standby of the Hershey's chocolate cake recipe, which was a little moist for being shaped into a sphere. For the jaw, which rivals only Bruce Campbell's in size, I used a mini-loaf pan. Once again, I used homemade marshmallow fondant, although I didn't have as much success making it this time. I love the stuff, and it tastes a lot better than the boxed Wilton crap, but it is harder to work with and dries out quickly.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lace cookies

For those not in "the know" lace cookies are essentially a cookie that is made of baked caramel and chopped nuts. Due to the wonderful things that happen to sugar when you heat it to certain levels, you end up with these cookies that are light, crispy, immensely tasty, and lacy in appearance. I love chemistry. Perhaps that's why I like baking.

While I don't have the recipe handy, you can find one easily online. However, I actually have a good ingredient shot for you for once. You see before you vanilla, light corn syrup, heavy cream, chopped almonds, salt, butter, flour, and brown sugar. In the back right, you also see a loaf of Trader Joe's sourdough bread. It's not part of this recipe but I highly suggest you check it out if you live anywhere near a Trader Joe's. It makes the best paninis ever. EVAH!

We begin by melting the butter, vanilla, brown sugar, and light corn syrup together.

At this point, you've essentially made caramel sauce. Don't stop now. Back away from the freezer. This stuff has a higher calling then ice cream.

Now add your flour. The amount of flour this recipe uses is minuscule.

Add your heavy cream...

Your vanilla...

And finally those chopped almonds. If you don't like almonds, pecans are a common and acceptable alternative.

Baking these is the tricky part. You only put a teaspoon, yes a teaspoon, on a wax or parchment paper covered cookie sheet for each. They spread REALLY thin and if you space them as closely as I did, it will bake into one layer at which point you have to work really quickly to cut them apart before it cools and hardens. There is no room to dilly dally here. Next time I make these I'll try using something to separate them like maybe baking them in mini cake pans or a large muffin pan...

This is the finished product. As you can see, very thin and lacy.

I also had this idea of making some into lace cookie sandwiches with melted chocolate, an idea I stole from Trader Joe's... I made a huge mess and only did this to about half of them. Next time, I'll use something like a squeeze bottle. Hindsight is indeed 20/20.

Here are the cooled lace cookie sandwiches though. So good they should be illegal.

This coming weekend I'm making Chinese food, I think. Cashew Chicken and my attempt to crack the secret of a noodle dish available only at once place in Pittsburgh. If it works, you'll get two posts.


You say tomato...and so do I. Enunciate!

I am a city slicker. I admit this. Born and raised in the suburbs, I've never dwelt farther than 15 minutes from the downtown of whatever city I've lived in. As such, when I speak of gardens, I think of a small patch of land perhaps occupying the footprint of a car or, if we're talking a big garden, something that still fits inside the typical suburban back yard. Apparently, they don't adhere to these scales out in the country. Joanna's family comes from Erie, PA and both her sets of grandparents live out in what I'd call "the boonies". Her maternal grandparents have what they call a garden. To my city eyes, it's a small farm.

We went up to visit a few weeks ago and helped pick veggies in this "garden" due to her grandpa's health keeping him from it. Let me be clear, this "garden" is enormous. We have brought back about 4 giant loads of vegetables and stuff was still rotting on the vine. The following pictures are of just one trip.

Let me also say that there's nothing like fresh veggies that don't come from a factory farm. I'm no "locavore" or anything but I can definitely appreciate home grown organic fruits and veggies. I also appreciate her family's generosity in giving us these veggies. People pay big bucks for the stuff we just had to go out and pick them.

One of the things we brought back was a TON of tomatoes.

A ton.

So, what does one do with tomatoes? Simple. Make sauce!

Not wanting to make a huge production out of this, I opted for a fresh tomato sauce that was essentially a light marinara. It reminded Joanna and me of the marinara we had at Lydia's, a fantastic Italian restaurant in Pittsburgh's Strip District that has daily pasta tasting specials. I digress...

The first step to good tomato sauce is getting off those pesky skins. The simple way to do this is dunk the tomatoes in boiling water for a few seconds then shock them in an ice bath. The skin slides right off.

Next you should core and de-seed the tomatoes. I got kind lazy with this and let some seeds stay in. Let's just say I wanted the sauce to be rustic.

You don't need a picture of it and I forgot one anyways but mince some garlic up and sautee it with some olive oil in a stock pot. If you don't want the garlic to burn, don't heat the oil first. Put it all in at once.

Once you've done that, toss in the tomatoes and have at them with a potato masher.

Then you basically simmer this mess until it cooks down a bit and thickens.

Now grab a crap ton of basil, courtesy of my roommate's herb garden, and chop it up. Yes, I'm a garden mooch.

Once the sauce is done, only then put in the fresh basil. Serve it immediately.

This resulting sauce stands well on its own or would be a great base if you wanted something to doctor up further. If you ever thought making sauce was daunting, now you see it's not.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wilton Method Course III

Fondant, gum paste, and tiered proof that, for me, every day is Halloween.

For this cake, I also took a crack at making Marshmallow Fondant. It's not difficult to make and tastes far better than the rollable boot leather than Wilton sells as premade fondant. The recipe can be obtained from Confections of a Foodie Bride

Here's the final result of my efforts. Butterscotch cake with vanilla buttercream covered by marshmallow fondant. My coworkers loved it.

Eat Breakfast Like A King!

It's been forever and a day since I last updated this little blog o' mine. I could come up with infinity plus one excuses, not to mention enjoying exercising the godlike claim of being able to add finite quantities to the infinite, as to why this is so. The reality is that real life has impeded my efforts. My current IT contract is coming to an end so I've been doing things like job hunting, figuring out new certifications to go for, and working lots of hours. In the kitchen I've also done quite a bit, including making my first multi-tiered cake, making pasta sauce, and baking lace cookies, all of which I've never done before and have chronicled for your amusement. As well, Joanna and I have both obtained a trove of recipes from our respective paternal grandmothers, may they rest in peace, and have been concocting the idea of making a blog of cooking through family recipes while compiling family cookbooks. This blog will likely wait until after we are married but it's something to look forward to from me, the King of Procrastination.

But first, let's talk about corned beef, one of the many reasons I wish I was Irish. When I think of all the ways to cook meat, boiling is typically not at the top of the list. In fact, just about the only time I'd think to boil meat would be if you asked me "Mark, how can I ruin a perfectly good piece of meat?" However, corned beef defies all my logic in being the best thing to ever come from a meeting of brisket and boiling water. It's incredibly simple to make. Fill a pot with water. Put in corned beef brisket, spices (I use the spice packet that comes with it plus mustard powder, fresh parsley, and fresh thyme), potatoes, and cabbage. Boil for hours until done.

Once you have this versatile piece of meat, enjoy it with every meal. Have a plate of corned beef and cabbage for dinner (don't forget an accompanying Smithwick's), have a corned beef sandwich for lunch, and for breakfast....drum roll please...have HASH!

I don't care who you are, you can do this:

Take those potatoes from boiling with the corned beef and cut em up:

Chop up some onion to go with them because everyone loves onion and it makes your breath smell so appealing:

Start the onions sauteeing on a really hot griddle first then throw in the potatoes too:

Having given the potatoes and onion a head start, toss on the corned beef:

Mix it all together until it is heated through and the potatoes are a little crispy:

Then consume it with a couple of eggs (I like over easy but cook them how you like, this is America) and an English muffin.

Finally, join me in the realization that God must be Irish.


Friday, July 31, 2009

Do you cook?

Why not?

Joanna sent me an interesting article today from her favorite periodical, the New York Times, that explores the loss of the art and joys of cooking in the home. While I'm not totally on point with everything Michael Pollan says, and consider Joanna and I living proof that people do watch Food Network and then attempt to recreate what they see, it does make you think. I'll surely think twice the next time I'm tempted to purchase frozen veggies or anything in the way of a pre-made meal. Sometimes, such shortcuts are unavoidable in our hectic modern lives but I completely agree with him on the importance of the social aspects of cooking and like the idea that cooking is the cornerstone of civilization. I know that, for myself, I'm much more inclined to cook when it has the social component of sharing a meal with others. If I'm the only one eating, that's when I gravitate towards the simple, the mundane, the overprocessed.

I suggest you check out Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch. It is a long read but worth it. Read it, make dinner with those you love, and remind yourself what it's like to stop rushing and actually taste your food.

I also highly suggest you stop by Joanna's blog and pick yourself up a couple of the food memoirs she's reviewed. Hearing other people speak of their love for cooking does wonders to stoke the flames of that passion within you. Whether you're a fan of brash and brutish chef's like Anthony Bourdain, as I am, or you prefer more refined views, I am confident she'll have something for you to read.