Tuesday, December 22, 2009

All I want for Christmas is a Clean Kitchen

Christmas if flying up on me and for all of the one of you that have been keeping up, I have done a bazillion cooking jobs for parties. Well, after having a vomitous maximus stomach virus, I decided to sanitize everything in the house. I MUST CLEAN ALL THE THINGS!

This brings me to the fact that I HATE dishes. Dirty dishes are gross. So gross in fact, that even though I am over the vomiting phase of this disease, I might have catastrophic vomit relapse because of having to do these dishes. Currently, I am stuck with a counter-full of dishes and only me to do them.

One of these days my children will be dish washing masters...


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Parties and Other Cooking Fiascos

I have been to no less than 6 million Christmas parties in the past week. This brough a montage of culinary defeats. Although, I must say, parties are like the office when it comes to the dumping grounds of my latest defeat. In some ways this is good: you can peddle off almost anything on a drunk. There is also some bad: i.e. the drunk tells you how awful it is.

Thankfully, I did not experience this with the latest recipe to give me an "aspic" whoopin':
Marbled Chocolate Cookie Bark.

The recipe sounds impossibly easy: melt white chocolate, melt dark chocolate, break up 10 oreos, mix 1/2 in each flavor. Mix 2T of peanut butter in the white chocolate for some odd reason. Then pour on a cookie sheet and swirl with a knife. Easy enough right? Wrong.

White chocolate is my nemesis. Well, one of them aside from the kolache. I can never get that stuff to melt without burning and forming a crust.

The recipe says, "microwave in 30 second intervals, stir". Ummm... 30 seconds in my microwave = crusty caramelized white chocolate brick.

Maybe the oven would be better. It all started out alright, but I looked away for a nano second too long and BAM! Crusty. WTF!

I accidently microwaved the oreos with the chocolate. I burned the hell out of the oreos and stank up the entire kitchen. So, I said, "the hell with it" as I normally do and mixed everything together. What came out was a reasonably ok snack. Neato side effect was that the final product had a mocha-ish flavor. Most of the bark got eaten, but it took some peddling.

Just got a text: "Did you take the candy home?"
I must have a fan!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mac & Cheese

Today, I am admitting defeat in the culinary world. Tonight's meal will consist of mac and cheese.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A 5 of 10

Soooooo Jon beared the latest batch. Knowing the fact that he judges his kolaches very harshly, he gave it a 5 of 10 woth a encouarging "this is the best batch yet."

I will get you my pretty...

A Solid "B" Effort

The bread machine kolaches weren't a total bust. They really didn't move at the office. I blame three birthday parties that produced enough store bought confections to make people bypass on anything homemade. I was forced to bring about a dozen back home.

Taste: They were a little yeastie. They have an internal texture that is close to right but they aren't as sweet as they are suppoed to be either.

Jon agreed to try one when he gets home. We will see if he yacks all over the place.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Missed Steps and Other Disasters

You know you have read a new recipe like 9 million times to make sure that you didn't miss anything? Well, I did just that and I still missed something. Apparently, you are supposed to let kolaches rise again after you fill them. Missed that step somewhere.

Although they came out looking pretty...sort of...they don't have the right texture. The right texture is soft, spongy, almost a bready cake. Sadly, they didn't come out like that. These kind of have a shell, like a yeast roll, with a bread middle. Thank God these were bound for the office in the first place so Jon won't have to endure another disappointment.

Maybe I'll return the machine after the weekend and get one more try in...


So the bread machine kolaches are in the oven. The rosemary loaf looks somewhat appetizing. Now I just have to wait the 10 minutes for the kolaches to cook. Keep your fingers crossed.

The rosemary loaf turned out better than expected. It's a little on the squat side but yummy nonetheless. I may have to invest in one of the machines.

Timer's going off on the kolaches! They don't look ready yet. I put them back in.

Bread Machine Mistakes and Other Lessons Learned

Bread dough left on any surface past 5 minutes first turns into a sticky goo, then into a rock so hard that it will cut your hands. You need a chisel to get it off the counter. Picture this: Inside the bread machine there are cakes of hardened lava. Cleaning this mess would have to wait until I got home from work.

The next morning rolls around, I drag my hungover ass into work. I

I drag home and start making the kolache rolls.

Before I started cleaning, I formed the walnut sized dough balls. Why? Because if these kolaches were like the others, it would take about 10 years to rise for the 2nd time. So I get my balls formed.

I wait the obligatory 2 hours.

The balls are actually moving along more nicely than I dare to hope. I almost did a smarty pants dance, but I restrained myself lest the kolache karma take over and disaster ensued.

I got smart this time and made them in disposable trays so that I don't have to spend 10 years cleaning my pans. I popped the kolaches in the oven and hoped for the best.
Then came cleaning the bread machine. GROSS! Never again would I leave a bread machine unattended!! If it were mine, I might have thrown it out to save the trouble. (Or at least rock, paper, scissored Jon for the chore of cleaning it.) Being that I HAD to return it, I scrubbed away and remove Mt. Vesuvius from the interior.

As I excavated, I wondered how the machine did on non-Herculean breads. I decided to start a rosemary loaf while waiting for the kolaches to bake. We'll see how that goes.

Recipe #2, Getting 21st Century on it

Recipe: "Mom's Bread Machine Kolaches"
 c/o Marilyn Tucker of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Yea so maybe I wimped out, but I wanted to make some kolache for a Czech girl's baby shower in my office. She was excited about the last batch, sorta. (Only because she hadn't had a real kolache in years.) She couldn't help but point out that they weren't as fluffy as they should be, and they were not poppy seed. Thanks Angel, enjoy your free breakfast.

In preparation, I asked around the office if anyone had bread machine. (I do not.)  In fact, I have never seen nor used a bread machine in my life. Jon's mom said that bread-machine kolaches are no good. We shall see about that!

So, quite by accident I emailed a lady with the same last name as my coworker in the next cube if she had a bread machine I could borrow. I get an email back that says, "Ummm... I don't have one, but Brenda in Building 5 has one she will let you borrow."

Now let me get one thing clear: I don't know the person I accidentally emailed, and I don't know Brenda in Building 5. However, I am now in possession of said bread machine. (Which by the way Brenda won in a benefit and had never used/nor knew how to advise on its use.)
So after a little Googling I have the dough going in the machine. It has an hour left unitl it is ready, so I decided to go out to dinner with a friend and pull it out when I got back.


Well, one too many margaritas later, I drag ass home and "OH SHIT!"

The dough has risen so much that is squeezed against the bread machine window and flopped over the sides of the bread bucket. What a mess! I dumped the dough into a well greased bowl, cover it, and stick in the fridge per recipe.

Have you ever tried to clean a bread machine while being drunk? Well, me neither. I gave it a cursory wipe and passed out in bed.

Czech Recipe #1...wins and losses

Jon was right. I was disappointed, but that is jumping ahead a little.

Recipe #1: "Kolaches"
c/o Helen Horak Nemec near Czech Village in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Recipe yields 6 dozen. (Really? I mean who needs 6 dozen in one sitting?)

This recipe sounded as unassuming as every other recipe in the book, so why not give it a shot? I was able to make 3 pans worth: two large jelly roll pans, and square cake pan. My logic was that the kolaches would be forced to rise up the sides of the pan and up against each other. (This is a rule my grandfather had taught me in order to make good, puffy biscuits.)

Results: Minor success. The kolaches in the square pan did fluff up some. (Not the 2 inches they are supposed to be, but a modest 1/2 an inch.) Thankfully, they were not pancakes or bricks.

I hung my head in shame and took them to the office the next day. My poor co-workers.
Thanks for nothing Helen Horak Nemec near Czech Village in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


I've missed a kolache debacle or two as my brain is getting clouded from the countless bags of flour I have wasted.

Let's talk a little about fillings. The traditional fillings of a Czech kolache are prunes, poppy seeds, and cottage cheese. Being that none of those sounded appetizing, I usually go with apple, cherry, strawberry and the like. Jon loves poppy seed. He would eat a dozen poppy seed kolaches if he could.

So during this attempt, I scrounged up a poppy seed filling recipe via my little Czech Cookbook. Let me just say, the directions in this book are not the clearest. Basically you add milk, sugar and 1/4 cup of poppy seeds to a skillet and cook for X amount of time. Well, I cooked for that X amount of time and had poppy seed milk.

I kept cooking until it became a black milk. "Maybe I am not cooking this hot enough," I think to myself. So I crank up the heat.

After 30 minutes, I still have this slushy concoction in the skillet. I don't know why it won't thicken. I get the mess to a boil, simmering it down to something like a consistency of cold bacon grease. I shovel it into the kolaches and bake.

Result: Nastiness!!!! Jon was kind enough to eat one and spare my feelings. The others he begrudgingly took to his office. Poor fellow.

The Czech Museum and Ulterior Motives

So, Houston has a Czech Heritage Museum. I think to myself, "What a way to spend a afternoon with Jon and his parents.They will think I am such a great girl being interested in their cultural heritage."

 Well, I had an ulterior motive or two.

Ulterior motive #1: Scope out the place as a wedding reception site. The Texas Wedding Magazine boasted that it was as cheap as $30 per person. Well... it was nice, but way too small to accommodate his Catholic family of 10,000 and my family of 4. So scratch that.

Ulterior Motive #2: Peruse gift shop for authentic Czech cookbook. Result: Major success! *Smarty-pants dance!* They had one specifically for Czech kolaches and sweets. "Yee haw!" as we say in Texas.

I dashed home and gathered the necessary kolache ingredients right away. Jon was not pleased to say the least.

"I don't want you to get upset when they don't come out right," he says. "I don't want to come over and find you crying on the floor again."

Did I mention that Jon is oh so supportive of this kolache project?

No Help From Others and Other Failed Missions

For awhile now, I have been trying to get Jon's grandmother to teach me what I am doing all wrong when it comes to making kolaches.

She seriously laughed out loud when she found out I was stirring everything by hand. "Use a mixer!" Okay, Grandma H, I'll do that.

Grandma H lives about 2 hours away. She says, "Call me when you want to learn." Well I have called, and called, and called. "Now's not a good time" is always her answer. There is never a good time. I swear his family has something against me.

"She has to prepare for it," Jon informs me, "She makes like 12 dozen at a time. It takes a lot of mental preparation, plus she has to go to the store."

I offered to buy everything in advance and bring it the 200 miles so that she doesn't have to go out. No luck.

"THE HELL WITH IT times two!!!!!!!

I decide to take another stab at it on my own. I gave the stand mixer a whirl, and I think I burned up the motor. The kolache dough climbed the mixing blades, embedding itself in the machine's plastic casing.

I guess I will have to register for a new one if Jon and I ever get engaged.

Third Attempt: Why fat and processed flour matter

During the third attempt, I had ditched my last recipe and written down one I had located elsewhere on the Internet. Much to my frustration, Jon's mother was not too helpful with advice. It was like she was hiding the family recipe from me so her boy would dump me. "Oh dear," she chortled, "you don't make kolaches off of recipes. You have to learn in person." Oh screw it.

At this time, I was in the middle of health food kick. All organic, hormone-free, cage-free goodness was only what was good for me. I had on hand some whole wheat flour full of fibery goodness. Low fat milk and margarine to boot. What could possibly go wrong! I would just lose a bunch of calories and add to the overall health of the beloved treat.

Ummm yea right.

So I gruel over stiff batter beaten by hand with a wooden spoon. I lovingly pour my $10 bag of organic wheat flour into my low fat, scalded, organic (read $5 a gallon) milk. Then, I mix in the tub of margarine as a substitute for the 300 sticks of butter the recipes seem to require.

At this time, Jon steps in and says "smells good in here". Turns out, the dough was actually starting to smell like it was supposed to. I do a mini-victory dance, known in this household as the "smarty-pants dance".

I get all proud and teary-eyed over my whole wheat, kolache-smell-alike dough and begin to cut it into the "walnut size" balls every recipe calls for. Now, to let them rise for the 14th time... I wait.

I wait some more....

I turn on all the lights in the kitchen to warm it up.....

I turn on the stove to heat it up some more....

*Tragedy strikes*

The balls kind of spread out instead of fluffing up.

At this point, the dough balls had been "rising" for hours. I finally said, "The hell with it!" and popped them in the oven.

Well, turns out that butter fat and processed flour has a place in pastry baking. At least in kolache recipes.

These kolaches were gooey (again) and tasted like stale, wheat bread that has been sitting in your grandmother's pantry since WWII. All four dozen kolaches in this batch were AWFUL.

So, I did what every corn-fed American white-girl does when they have food they need to get out of their house in a hurry: I took them to the office. ALL my baking disasters have been pawned off on my co-workers.

People in office settings will eat anything as long as it does not try to pass as healthy. It must have something to do with cubicles, florescent lighting, and corporate servitude.

Usually, things are snatched up in minutes. Not today. I had to spend hours guilt-tripping people to eating the kolaches I brought. I took my pans home later that day, hanging my head in shame.

I cried and boo hoo-ed like a small child when I got home. I think I seriously weeped into my flour pail. Jon came home to find me curled up on the kitchen floor.

"You'll never marry me," I waled at him.

He sits down next to me and tries to be comforting: "Don't worry babe, most of the people except my grandma can not make kolaches too well. You have to be like... a grandma to do it right."

At the rate I am going, I just might die an old maid before I get this right.

Second Attempt

"Okay, okay!" I told myself. "The next batch will be easier. You rushed through the first one, probably over kneaded the dough. Let's try this one more time."

This time I made sure I had enough of every ingredient and went to town. I stirred, I poured, and scalded milk appropriately...sorta. The batch came out a gooey mess.

Jon and I each ate one and threw the remaining 6 dozen in the trash. Boo.

The First Attempt

Okay, looking back on my first kolache attempt, I was a little cocky. The main problem I had was actually locating a recipe. I searched the Internet quite a bit until I ran down a recipe posted from an old "Texas Monthly" article. So I gave it a whirl. I mean, how many recipes could there be for bread with fruit in it?

For those of you who are confused: a kolache is a fluffy, pastry kind of like a danish. The difference is that the texture is much fluffier and buttery. Not heavy and sugary.  Many people think of a meat and bread combo as a kolache. In Czech, a meat/bread combo is a "kloboshniki" which is probably as butchered a spelling as you can get. I just called those "pigs-in-a-blanket", but I am a little redneck I guess.

So...I digress.

I gathered up all the ingredients and went to work. Little did I realize that the recipe made 6 dozen kolaches!!! It took every bowl, pan, and surface in my 600 sq ft apartment to produce the dough. Six and a 1/2 cups of flour! Crap! FOUR sticks of butter! GEEZ!

Well, needless to say, I was skimpy on some of the ingredients and a little too generous with others.

Results: This batch has been dubbed, and will forever be referred to as, "apple biscuits". The breading came out white like a Bisquick biscuit. They were not what I would call soft, but they also weren't so hard that it would roll off the table and kill the cat. Very frustrated, I resolved to make a new batch...the next time I found 8 hours of free time during graduate school.

Welcome to the Kersten Kolache Project

In the vein of the Julie/Julia Project (but not near as famous or wild), I am embarking on a project to score a win in the heart of my Czech boyfriend. It all started a little over 3 years ago. He took me to his little Czech town in south Texas and introduced me to the sweet treat know as a Czech Kolache.

"Jokingly" he stated:
"I'll marry you when you can make a good kolache." 

So it began...

I wish I would have started chronicling this a bit earlier, but as you will probably figure out, I am lazy and a procrastinator (maybe I am not too different from Julie Powell after all).

So let me start from the beginning. The first attempt...