Sunday, January 30, 2011

Deadline to Win Giveaway Approaching

Howdy there all you readers. Hope you're enjoying your Sunday afternoon. It occurred to me that I never put a deadline for the Kersten Kolache Giveaway Contest, so I figure that is why there was not a big rush to get y'all's recipe in. Here's the dealio: If you want a chance to win, get your recipe in by February 6th. That is one more week. Right now we only have one person entered, so your chances of winning as of right now are 50/50.  Please post your recipe idea to this post Giveaway Post for your chance to win. It's easy to play and win.

Thanks a million!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Skinny Chef: Oxymoron or Complete Impossibility?

Someone wise once said, "Butter vs. Margarine? I trust cows over scientists." They are right, by God. Butter is THE most amazing food ever created. Recently, I had butter on a medium rare steak and it made me want make sweet sweet, passionate love on the table right then and there...while eating the steak. It was a true "When Harry Met Sally" moment. Rewind the VHS 10 years, and butter would have NEVER crossed my palate. My entire childhood, we were a margarine family. Tubs and tubs of hydrogenated, yellow goo is probably slathered in my arteries right now. *Sigh* Why, you ask, did we never have butter in the house? Butter makes you fat. Rolly Poley, blubber-butt fat. I'm was (and still am) terrified of being fat.

Well guess what kids, margarine makes you fat, too. It was developed as a feed to fatten up turkeys for slaughter. When the turkeys wouldn't eat it, it was re-marketed as a butter-alternative for human consumption. Yum. They don't tell you these things in science class.

Between the wedding and New Zealand trip, I have managed to shed a mighty 20 lbs. This is an astronomical achievement for me, as I hate exercise and love, love, love eating. However, it seems that cooking truly awesome food, especially of old-world origin, requires copious amounts of butter, eggs, and the occasional injection of lard. It has been a month to the day that we have arrived home from New Zealand, and the pounds are already packing back on.

Skinny me, back in the day. Notice the clear separation of chin and neck.

I have been chewing on this conundrum all morning: Is it possible to be a truly awesome chef and be skinny at the same time? You know, without being anorexic or something. It almost seems fundamentally wrong. How can someone who is so in love with food that they spend the majority of their adult life learning how to execute fabulous culinary delights be skinny? Ergo, are my attempts at cooking going to ultimately undermine my efforts to not return to a state of lard-ass-dom? It's an interesting quandary.

We used to see a lot of fat chefs on TV, but now they seem to be on the way out. Perhaps they all had massive heart attacks. Maybe, just maybe, the media only wants to do shows that have skinny hosts? Was there a survey panel out there that sat around one Wednesday afternoon telling TV executives, "You know, we love cooking shows, but we only want to see skinny people hosting them. Skinny chefs like this gem here:"

Dear Giada De Laurentiis, I hate you. Not only are you breath-taking,
I can't pronounce you name for the life of me.
"or this skinny-ish one:"

Rachel, honey, please lay off the caffeine.

However, there seems to be a trade off. These two cooks despite being beautiful, are so blatantly annoying that I want to throw a skillet through the TV when their shows come on. I wonder who would win in a cage match between these two. It would be hard to know because the audiences' heads would probably implode from all the inane screeching before a winner could be declared.  

Ladies, please. You are WAAAAY to excited to be talking about radishes.

What are your thoughts on the skinny/ fat chef conundrum?


Oh hell why not...

 or who would be the winner of the Annoying Skinny-Chef cage match?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why Does a Good Recipe Never Work Twice?

 Jon has been in such a rage about the Rock-tastic Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups that he has spreading the word about them around the office like a bad case of the flu. We got invited to a party on Sunday from one of his co-workers, Patterson, and Jon practically held the man at gunpoint to get him to say that we needed to bring some of the candies to the party. Patterson would say. (but not in Comic Sans, he has more discerning taste than that.)

I love my husband. I really do. However, candy making is one of those things that you have to stick with constantly. It's not like a cake you can pop in the oven and walk away from for like 30 minutes while it bakes. If you do happen to walk away from candy for even a split second, this happens:

Or this:



So let me just say this was not how I planned to spend my Saturday evening. I was hoping to have at least 100 more comments to moderate concerning the "What Recipe to Cook Giveaway" post. (Okay, maybe just like one. A blogger can dream can't they?) Or to clean up the ghetto hovel I live in like a @#$&$ adult. I mean, like most of my generation, I am like this most of the time. (that's by Allie, a waaaay better blogger than me.) I have to start doing better. Y'all know my dirty secrets...

At 8:30, I get started while Jon is supposed to be doing his share to clean up this dump. However, he totally disregards my demands to throw shit away and decides he wants to help. Apparently, he forgot what happened last week. Despite all this, we manage to get a little rhythm going. Then, I start to notice that something is really not working quite right.

FYI: I'm following the same recipe I gave you folks earlier for PB cups, but using the chocolate chip method instead of the Baker's Chocolate Method. This is because I didn't want to make one more trip to the poor-people grocery store today. 

I noticed that the chocolate chips are not melting down as well as the Baker's Chocolate. The chips do melt, but they form this nasty, thick film that looks like a toddler smeared his feces all over my double boiler.

"I'm here to F-up your recipe BIG time!"
The chocolate chip goo stuck to the spoon, the muffin cups, and made molten napalm burns on my hands no less than 50 times. It also didn't go near as far as the box of Baker's Chocolate. About half way through the candy making process, I start to notice we are painfully short of chocolate.

Me: Babe, we are almost out chocolate.
Jon: Here let me help scrape the bowl to get that last bit. *sizzling sound* Shit! That burns!
Me: Yea. So...I think there is going to have to be an emergency, mid-recipe chocolate run.
Jon: *fists on hips in superhero fashion* Allow me! *dashes out the door, down the stairs, and across town to Wal-mart.*

God bless that man for braving Wal-mart on a Saturday night in Texas.....moving on.

Jon: *bursting back through the door* Here!
Me: Perfect timing! We need a new bowl on the boiler STAT!

...and with the precision of a surgical/acrobatic team we trade bowls, unwrap Baker's Chocolate, and stir the mix with nary a missed beat.

I start to notice the Baker's chocolate forms this smooth, creamy texture that oh so easy pours off the spoon into the muffin cups. It is like magic again. It almost goes double the distance the bag of chips went, and because there is no scraping or stirring, the candies get cranked out quick. We now have like 50 of them hardening in the fridge. Unfortunately, I ate one and now I am still up blogging to you at 4 a.m. 

So here is the take away message: If you are going to make my Rock-o-licious Chocolate Peanut Butter cups, use Baker's Chocolate and you can spoon it in in no time. If you INSIST on using chocolate chips, my advice is to pipe that shit into the molds with a Ziploc bag.  

Oh, and beat your husband while he sleeps, using a sock filled with oranges because he volunteered you to bring 9 million PB cups to a party.

If you like what you see, please Follow Me for more recipes and cooking related antics.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Magical Candy Making

This weekend, I had to rearrange the kitchen to be more user friendly. During the engagement period, I just shoved kitchen-like items into various cabinets and hoped for the best. After having a wine bottle come crashing down on my head and a stew pan fall and bruise my leg, I needed something else to do while not to getting hurt in the kitchen. I decided candy making would be the next challenge to undertake. Molten sugar burns sounded fun compared to being skewered and concussed.

If you haven't figured it out by now, Jon and I are huge fans of the peanut butter and chocolate combination. It's in everything from our Thanksgiving pies to our wedding cake. However, before I undertook this endeavour, I flashed-back on the batches upon batches of chocolate I've burned over months. In no mood to relive THAT nightmare, I decided on using the old-fashioned, double boiler method. Microwaves and chocolate just don't jive people. They just don't jive. *very serious face, arms crossed*

Here's what you need to make *trumpets blaring*

Rock-o-licious Peanut Butter Cups
(I added the rock-o-licious part, you can just call them PB cups if you like)

1 (11.5 ounce) package milk chocolate chips*
1 cup peanut butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 package of mini-muffin cup liners or trim regular muffin cup liners to half of their height. (I tried both methods, and the big ones were just too much candy in one sitting. Yes, even for me.)

*Let me just say that I used chips in one batch and 1-2 boxes of Semi-Sweet Baker's Chocolate in another. I preferred the Box-o-Baker's Chocolate myself. You can use the flavor you like most. Oh, I also didn't divide. I melted all at once.

Distructions Directions:

Microwave 1/2 chocolate chips in a microwave safe container for 2 minutes, stirring each minute. Don't EVER do this! Use a double-boiler, which is just fancy for a pot of boiling water with a metal bowl fitting snug over it. Trust me on this one; don't relive my shame. You have to use a bowl that the will not sit in the water. If the water splashes over the chocolate, it is ruined. See below picture for an idea. Be sure to stir regularly so the chocolate doesn't burn. Believe me, as soon as you turn your will. *dramatic music*

While the water starts to boil and the chocolate starts to melt, make the peanut butter ball like so:

In a small bowl, mix together peanut butter, confectioners' sugar and salt. The peanut butter loses its tackiness when you add the confectioner's sugar. I then made a PB ball, wrapped it in plastic wrapped, and put in the fridge to chill. To me, it made the PB even easier to work with. You don't have to do it, don't get your panties in a wad if you don't have time to chill it.

"Mise en place!" as Chef Anne would say.

Spoon melted chocolate into muffin cups, filling halfway. If you have hands of steel, you can make a piping bag out of a sturdy plastic bag and clip the corner. I tried both ways, each with their own advantages. You have to work quicker when piping because the chocolate cools faster. However, it is less messy. The spooned chocolate stays hotter, but gets everywhere on the way to the muffin cup. Messy Messy Messy! You decide what works for you. Here is me attempting not to scald myself:
Piping bag inside the oven mitt.
With a spoon, you can draw the chocolate up the sides of the cups until evenly coated (if you like). What I did is make a fat, quarter-to-half-dollar sized disc of PB from the ball and gently pressed it into the hot chocolate at the bottom of the muffin cup. If you look closely at the first picture, you can see that it sort of welled up around the PB disk. Don't press too hard or you will have PB at the bottom of your cup instead of the inside.

If you divided your chocolate, melt the remaining chocolate. Spoon/pipe over the peanut butter center and spread the chocolate to edges of cups. Then place the candies in the fridge to cool and harden. Here is how my came out:

Excuse me little niblit, you PB is showing. Oh my! 
These beauties were summarily nommed until gone. There were no survivors for the office.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cut Again and Other Wordlessness

That whole "Not Allowed to Use the New Knives" thing didn't pan out. How bad was it you ask? Big enough to require a band-aid this big:

A series of F-bombs were indeed dropped.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Without further delay, Mediterranean wraps

Okay, so the "we cook at home to save money on meals newly-wed challenge" dealio didn't quite work out perfectly. However, I managed to swing a couple of couple of meals so let's get started with how it all went down...

Big J picked Mediterranean wraps which is freaking awesome. ( I was secretly hoping so, because my workplace cafeteria makes them and I wanted to see if I could cheaply replicate.)

1 package of naan or pita bread. Naan is better but pita will work in a pinch (as it did for me that night)
1 small container of pesto (or make your own, it's not that hard)
1 tomato
1 package of mixed field greens or whatever salad mix you like
feta crumbles
1chicken breast per 2 people
balsamic vinaigrette of your liking. we go. I soaked the cubed (read: torn by dull knife...since I'm not allowed to use the new ones!) chicken in some balsamic vinaigrette and some "Mediterranean spices". These must be related to the mysterious "Italian spices". I really have no idea what they consist of.

Anyway, pour some olive oil in a skillet. When it is good and hot, saute your chicken pieces until thoroughly cooked. In the mean time, spread a tablespoon or two of pesto on your naan. Throw on a good portion of the salad mix, a couple slices of tomato, and a bit of feta. Throw your chicken on top and roll into a burrito-like shape. If you like, you can throw the concoction in the oven on broil for a minute or two to crisp up the naan on top. After it comes out of the oven, cut it in half and serve with some vinaigrette dressing to dip in. Of course you can eat it as a cool wrap, too. Just don't put it in the oven. Enjoy.

Cake Mania + "Worst Chef" in Training = Lessons Learned

Last night I got a wild hare up my "aspic" and decided that we needed a cake to brighten up our ghetto hovel of an apartment. Besides, it would give me the opportunity to use about 50 of the gadgets so graciously bestowed upon us for the wedding. Of course it wouldn't be exciting at all if there wasn't some kind of mayhem let's get started.

Dinner of Jonathan's less-than-the-desirable-amount-of-onion stew was served up and devoured while listening to the inane ramblings of the AT&T associate trying to upsell us on cable when we only called for a password reset. Wow, was that a run-on sentence? Anyway, I was craving something sweet. I have been all week. Seeing how we blew through all the Christmas candy already I had to be more creative. I dove to the back of the pantry to see if I could rustle up some old cake mix or brownies. Nada. *grumble*

I threw open the cabinet of cookbooks and pulled out the Williams Sonoma Yellow Cake recipe that accompanied a lovely set of 8" round cake pans so generously given to me by a coworker. A cursory glance at the ingredient list and away I went, sifting flour here, measuring carefully there.

Following directions. That was the #1 lesson on the last Worst Cooks in America. I double and triple checked the measurements, and I think I did pretty well...except for the butter and sugar. Two lessons were learned last night: Butter takes forever to soften at room temperature even if you chop it into smaller blocks. Melted butter is almost just as bad for your recipes. It makes your pastry not as fluffy. So when a recipe says, "ingredients at room temperature" don't get cocky. My frozen ice-block butter got pseudo-chewed up in the blender. I ran some scalding water on the outside of the bowl to try to help soften. Didn't work too well. Then came the sugar. The recipe called for 2 cups. All my measuring cups were dirty, save a 1/2 cup scoop. So I carefully scooped, leveled each scoop, then slowly added to the mixture approximately 4 times. I say approximately because J distracted me in between what might have been the end of scoop 3 and I might have thought it was scoop 4. So I'm not really sure if 2 full cups made it in. It takes all my mental energy to cook, distraction derails the tiniest of details. how my milk was yet again expired. I did, however have powdered milk, which I mixed with water to make a milk-like substance. I think that it may have contributed to the texture of this cake, which is pretty dense. Moving on.

I carefully grease and flour the pans, carefully halving the batter into each pan. Then I notice a glop of something in the bottom that isn't moving. Re-enter the ice-butter. I try to mix in the butter/sugar blob conglomeration into the remaining batter in the bowl and pray for divine intervention. You see, I'm what Chef Robert Irvine calls "a hider". I attempt to hide something that doesn't come out right or pretty. Chef Irvine will find out! He will smash you with his giant, meaty biceps which he got from tenderizing sides of beef by hand. Fear Chef Irvine... *cowering under my mom's butcher block*

"I will kill you with this whisk!" -Imaginary Chef Irvine in my head
So now I slap my pans into a horrible oven WITH NO WINDOW OR LIGHT!!!! God, how I hate this oven with knobs so old the temperature markings are half rubbed off/covered in some toxic goo from previous tenant. Not MY toxic goo! I swear! Scout's Honor! We have been doing dishes religiously with the help of a glamorous pair of dish gloves given by gingerific gal pal Sam. Thanks to her, I can now do dishes with minimal gagging. Sort of. See here's proof:


The next thirty minutes are spent pacing anxiously...

Finally, it is time to pull out the cakes. Per the instructions, they were cooled in the pan on a rack. A rack, might I add, that has followed me through at least 4 apartments and never been used. I racked and waited some more. Patience is a virtue, and has it's benefits. Behold a kitchen miracle...

Dear Williams and Sonoma, I love you.

So now comes another period of waiting until the cake cools completely. I give up on the waiting game and go shower. I come back afterwards and feel the cake is sufficiently cool. Is it truly cool? Not sure, it was after 9pm and I was ready for bed so I was forging forward regardless.

The next step is to cut "the dome" off the top of the tops of the cake. Good thing I had these awesome Wustof knives from Williams Sonoma. Serrated blade away!  *saw saw saw, slip* SHIT!

"Jon HELP!!!! No not me, SAVE THE CAKE dammit!"
I'm not allowed to use the knives anymore as I sawed a nice gash in my finger that didn't stop bleeding for like 30 minutes. Thankfully, no cakes became a biohazard. J took over the rest of the cutting whilst I donned a big bandage.

After the bleeding was contained, I set about to stacking and icing in my pjs. I laid down wax paper and iced on my beautiful cake pedestal...from Williams Sonoma. Here's the final product, yellow cake like grandma used to make. I was filled with glee, despite looking like a mad woman.

FYI- the caking was f-ing delicious.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Two Chefs + One Kitchen, a Happy Marriage Does Not Make

Last night was the official beginning of the "We cook at home to save money and pay off massive debt" Vacek Newly-wed Challenge. How did we do? Well let's recap.

Last Night's Recipe de jour: The Illustrious Porkie Pine Meatball

Only at about 4pm did I realize that my pressure cooker went ka-put before the most recent move, so that sort of threw a wrench into our plans. So now I have thawed ground beef and no idea what to make.

Also in the news: It is the coldest week in Houston so far this winter. This comes into play later.

So I arrive home freezing my knickers off. (It's is a balmy 46* here but that is very cold for us). Jon is feverishly trying to find the end of season football bowl-of-the-week, while cursing our pauper-like living situation. Alas, we do not have ESPN. (I jump around in glee, fists pumping in the air). I make the suggestion that we move the beef stew that was planned for Saturday (when the Arctic blast moves out) to tomorrow (as the hard freeze arrives). I think we should start the crock pot and get it going today for tomorrow's lunch/dinner just in time for the hard freeze. He agrees with the idea, but not the mode of cooking. Thus far, my crock pot experiments have been sub par to say the very least. Beef Stew was also his one meal of the week to prepare, so he decided that he was going to make it his way.

By this point I am already hungry, which means I have little room for shenanigans. My temper flairs as my blood sugar goes down. I offer Jon two dinner alternatives since the meatballs are scratched. He fiddles around awhile before deciding on spaghetti. For me, this is like a 10 minute meal. Brown beef, dump in pasta sauce, boil noodles, voila! Dinner. Meanwhile, J is lolly-gaggin around the kitchen trying to get this stew started. He starts rummaging through the spices to find something season the stew with. Being that I set up the kitchen, I try to help out.

Me: What are you hunting for little Ninja?
J: Not sure, I'll know when I see it.
(He's looking in the baking spices)
M: Um snookie, the spice rack is over there with a plethora of spices, why don't you try there first, you're kind of crowding me. (Only 1 large burner on this stove that I need to heat the sauce)
J: Mmmhmmm *rummage rummage*
M: *starting to fume* Babe, I promise what you are looking for is probably over there.
J: Mkay *various bottles now on the counter*
M: For the love of God man! What are you looking for!?!!?
J: Found it! (Tony Chachaere's Season salt)
M: You are going to put Cajun spices in a beef stew...? *eyeballing his stew pot contemptuously*
J: What's your problem?

Oh no he didn't!!!!

So now begins the circling of the bowl, so to speak, as we jockey for stove space and spew heated rhetoric back and forth.

M: This onion is for you, I got it so the stew would not be bland. (very small onion. He hates onions but admits they are a necessary evil)
J: K. *chops about half of uber tiny onion into minuscule pieces for the stew meat now browning on the stove*
M: *Eyeballing meager rations of onion usage*
J: What?!
M: That whole onion was for your stew. I picked the smallest one I could find for you. *said in an overly dramatic way. As in "I gave my left kidney...FOR YOU!"*
J: Well, I am saving some for you to use on something else.
M: *Blood sugar dangerously low* What the hell am I going to do with a half of a miniature onion!?
J: *blank stare*
M: *face palm, slaps tiny half-onion in a bag. Tosses into fridge*

 (Dinner 95% complete by this point, blood sugar at critically low levels. Supernova impending.)

Me: *putting on pot for noodles*
J: What are you doing that for?
M: Ummmm....noodles. Wouldn't be spaghetti without noodles now would it?!!!!!
J: How much longer do you think it will be before dinner's ready?
M: *Staring at him in disbelief* However long it takes to boil the noodles. I have been trying to hold out until you get to a pseudo-stopping point with your stew.
J: *big sigh*

Oh no he didn't!!!

M: *Fuming around the kitchen, plating dinner* Are you ready to eat yet?
J: Do carrots need to go in the pot with potatoes, or do they not need to cook as long?
M: They probably need to go together. Are you ready to eat yet?
J: Do you like the carrots this size (baby carrots) or do you want them cut?
M: Usually I like them smaller, but dinner is getting cold, just throw them in.
J: *chop chop chop chop*
*KABOOM, blood sugar meltdown*
J: It's important that I make it the way you like it, it will only take a minute, just chill.
M: *Banging head on table*

New rule: Only one cook in the kitchen at a time.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Back from the dead (or from the Wedding)

Hello sad sad readers who enjoy posts of kitchen mayhem. I am back from the brink of wedding insanity. I'm a little thinner (20 lbs to be exact!), and a little (read  A LOT) worse for wear. I am now also Mrs. V. If you know the story of why this blog was started, please know that all has come to pass according to luck and divine mercy/intervention. No, I have not learned to make the world's most divine Czech Kolache, but I have gotten kudos from Jon for a "solid B effort". (Which I just discovered was posted exactly 1 year earlier than our wedding date). And because J has such low low standards, he has settled and taken me for his wife. On a side note, the "Solid B Effort Kolache" and other Kolache tales made it into the Matron of Honor's speech. Ha!

Now let's get down to business.

The wedding cake was not as tasty, nor did it turn out exactly as I hoped. It was still more delicious than any other wedding cake I have ever tasted and was beautiful enough to fool the masses. Even the staff at the cake place were eager to see how it came out. Here is you some food porn:

Me to Cake Place: "Like Martha Stewart's version but with white birds and turquoise wind blowing the flock up the side of the cake

Somehow the birds are now flat to the cake. Not much flying.
Thanks to some very generous friends and family, I have a pretty awesomely stocked kitchen. I was lucky enough to get an awesome stand mixer, bread machine, gourmet cooking pots, and Wustof knives from Williams Sonoma. I got drawers full of misc. gadgets to play with. Much cooking-related joy abounds.

On the other hand, my kitchen, though large for an apartment, is rather ghetto. I know that the electric stove works, but the oven is another story. I have yet to bake anything in it since coming home from the honeymoon. My dishwasher is crap, it is literally being held together with trash bag twist ties right now (ties implemented by the previous tenant I might add). The top shelf threatens to fall any moment. I know I should have the landlord come do something about it, but I just can't handle one more thing on my "to-do" list.

Tonight starts the official "We are saving money by cooking at home" post-wedding challenge. The goal: Pay off 3 loans (student, car, wedding/honeymoon) in 1 year. I am to cook 5 days a week, Jonathan is to cover 1. He has agreed to do the bulk of other chores to even the work load. We wasted a lot of food pre-wedding during our "courtship" time or what not, so we have decided that each week we sit down and plan the following week's menu and shop for those ingredients only instead of having random supplies. This week was $60. I know that is a lot for a week's worth of groceries, but we had to buy a lot of staples (ketchup, mustard, toothpaste, toiletries) because we have been out of the country 3 weeks, and we used/did without all of this stuff pre-wedding so it wouldn't spoil while we were gone. So we now have milk, bread, eggs, flour, meat, and a variety of veggies.

I have started recording the Food Network's "America's Worst Cooks" and am watching and trying to learn as much as possible. I thought I was bad until I've seen some of these folks. I'm thinking about applying to be on the show nonetheless. We'll see how that goes. Williams Sonoma also has cooking technique classes for free throughout the month, so I am thinking about crashing some of those as well.

Until then, may your meals fill your belly without leveling your kitchen. Here are some wedding and food related escapades from our honeymoon in New Zealand. More to come later. Enjoy.

Mr. and Mrs. Jon V

Nom noms left for us at our honeymoon suite!


Tui Beer and Apple Cider