Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tons of Butter and Other Things I'm Now Buying In Bulk

I'm Becoming Paula Deen

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Foodie Stumble Through Washington, D.C.

For those of you who live under a rock and could not guess where I was from the out of focus  obviously professionally shot photo of me in the mysterious, Plexi-glassed kitchen, I was in the Smithsonian standing in front of Julia Child's Kitchen....and I was squeeing myself.

Julia's Kitchen for those of you who cannot make it there; here is a higher quality slightly more professional photo tour of its awesomeness.

What was I doing in Washington D.C. you ask? Lobbying for better food labeling, food handling/processing, or clearer marking of genetically modified foods? Sadly no. Instead, I was learning about a doctoral program, seeing the campus, and generally trying not make a fool of myself with the folks that will be deciding what I do for the next 5 years of my life. While Jon and I were there, we decided to take in some sights as well.

The last time I went to D.C. I was not the bumbling fool well-versed culinary genius standing before you wait...that's a lie. I was exactly the same. I just didn't know that I would fall ass-backward into blogging about it at that time. That's why I was not so keen on visiting the kitchen over say...the memorials the last time I was there.

This year, I had exactly 2 things that I wanted to see: Julia Child's Kitchen, and the Jaleo Restaurant. Jaleo was a restaurant I first heard about while watching Iron Chef. Jaleo's Executive Chef, Jose Andres, smacked down my future baby's daddy (and apparent upstairs neighbor), Bobby Flay, during battle goat. When I heard that Andres' restaurant was in D.C., I just had to go. I don't travel to New York or Las Vegas (where Flay and many other challengers have a lot of their restaurants) so I feel like this was one of the few opportunities I would have to eat at Iron Chef quality establishment. More on that later.

This moment is for Julia...

It's too bad it's behind greasy, smudged Plexi-glass.

Me: "How's the picture look?"  Jon: "Great! Totally in focus and everything!"

Notice the clock says 12:20. It is always lunch time in Julia's kitchen.

 Every pot has a purpose.

There were quite literally a MILLION people in there trying to see it. I didn't realize that so many people were interested in seeing her kitchen. Getting these three pictures with no one else in them was enough to get about 1,000 piss-faced, hurry-up scowls. That's okay though. This was my moment with Julia. The first thing that struck me was the color of cabinets; Tiffany Blue. My wedding was in Tiffany Blue, the hovel is decorated in Tiffany Blue, I am at one with Tiffany Blue.

Tiffany Blue is the worst color to try to match for weddings, just fyi. If you are a perfectionist bride, choose another color for the love of God or you will be bald from stress and broke because you practically have to custom dye everything.

The next thing that struck me was how low the stove was. She had the cabinets raised because she was exceptionally tall for a woman. If you do the flash tour linked above, you will notice that it appears a good four inches or so lower than her cabinets. That may not seem like much, but if you are constantly bent over like that, you are going to throw out your back. Here's a picture of it, but it doesn't quite capture the disparity in height. Perhaps that why she had a stool perched there on the other side. So she could sit while she fussed over pots.

 (C) Jeff Kubina
Of course, this range was an incredible improvement over her earlier stoves, like the one seen here.

Another thing that struck me, which I guess it shouldn't have being that I was in a museum and all, was how well used everything appeared. The pots and pans were battered and scorched, jars were full with peeling labels, utensil handles were bent. It reminded me of walking into my grandmother's kitchen as a child. It just goes to show you how blinded by media perceptions we (meaning I) really are. When you watch cooking shows on TV you see nothing but brilliant counters with shiny pots, pans, and appliances. See Exhibits A, B, and C below.

Still too exited to be talking about radishes, Rach.       Image (C) CelebPulp
Chef Anne, I hate to categorize you in the same universe with R.R., but when you say, "big meat" you scare me a little and make me think dirty thoughts. I hope this does not affect our potential future BFF-ness  (Image probably (c) of Food Network)
The Anti-Christ. No explanation required. Image found here.

Another thing that surprised me is how cluttered and random the kitchen appeared. Again, I shouldn't be because Julia actually lived and cooked in that kitchen, putting things in places that were convenient for her regular use. Not like today's TV chefs that have everything symmetrical and neatly stacked/contained. (Review the above if you don't believe me).

Julia really loved knives, but she did not own a knife block. I thought that was interesting. She instead chose to have her knives within easy reach on a magnetic strip. Julia Child was, in fact, childless. Good thing though, so she did not have to worry about any emo neighbor kids getting ahold of her knife collection. Just an interesting observation.

Go cry somewhere else emo kid.

One thing she thought every cook should have was a mortar and pestle. Don't ask me why. I'd probably just end up dropping it on my foot or something, but here is hers.

"An Essential Kitchen Tool"

Another, more surprising, component of the exhibit talked about how Julia didn't start cooking until later in life. And, like myself, she was not always successful. I think it was quintessential Julia to want to teach others and show that she had lots of obstacles to overcome to achieve what she did. It makes one feel almost as if she were your friend instead of some soulless celebrity cook

I am not alone.
What touched me the most about the exhibit was the obvious love between Julia and Paul. It was thick in the air like a peppered, white gravy. So much love passed in that kitchen, and as you can read from the picture above, she admitted that there would be no "French Chef" without her beloved Paul. I would not be "The Project" without my beloved Jon, either.

It was a great experience and I found myself welling up with tears as we walked out. The exhibit moved me, and I can't tell you why. It was like being at a celebration of life for a recently departed friend. It's exactly the same way I felt when I watched the end of Julie and Julia, the movie. You see the Smithsonian kitchen kind of fade into the the actual kitchen, with Julia cooking away and Paul coming in with a package that turns out to be Julia's first published cookbook. Julia has changed the lives and inspired many servantless, American cooks like myself. I was just lucky enough to see a small glimpse into her every day life.

Thank you Julia, for everything.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Celebrating a Milestone with a Cake Wreck

This week, my blog got its 6,000th page view. This is a totally awesome feat considering the humorless garbage I post on here. Of course, the bulk of the people are looking for wedding cakes with butterflies on them, but that's besides the point. Hopefully, those folks are sticking around long enough to read other content and enjoying it enough to visit more often than once. You never know, or can guess, what brings a person to the site unless you directly ask them...and they actually respond.

I'm rambling...let's get our ugly cake on.

A few of you from the beginning probably remember the incident of the exploded Banana Cake Bomb. If not, refresh your memory. The main reason this cake went so horribly wrong the first time was because I used a pan that was WAY too small for the batter. Only after I had coated the inside of my in-law's new convection oven did I read the fine print that said, "Requires a over-sized pan." Armed with this knowledge, (and some over-ripe bananas) I thought it was time for a banana cake redo. And as we've learned, kids, knowing is half the battle.

See, told you so.
 If you haven't noticed, we tend to buy a lot of bananas with the best intentions of eating them. Only later we find the forgotten fruit causing a serious gnat infestation in our fridge a few weeks days later. When looking back over the history of the blog, it is sad how many times I have had to find an emergency preparation method for bananas. Just do a search for the "banana" at the top and you will find a good deal of the posts. The sad thing is, I really do love bananas, I'm just really bad at choosing a healthy snack over Rock-o-licious Peanut Butter Cups. I mean, who would choose a banana over awesome-tastic candy? But I really DO love bananas. See, I had this awesome sushi the other night that had bananas in it.

Dragon-Naner Sushi. om nom!
So, instead of making banana cake or pudding, I went for the cake. I had intended to make a cake when the blog hit 5,000 page views, but I procrastinated. Shame on me. This was probably a jinxed cake from the start. Kind of a, "have you learned nothing about procrastinating" warning message. I mean really, who bakes a cake at a weird, random 6 number anyway? Well, I do. Therefore, we have a wreck.

I started by trying to avoid coating my horrible stove with banana napalm by halving the recipe. My thighs have no need for an over-sized cake anyway. The baking was uneventful, thank God, and I had 2 beautiful rounds of cake resting on my stove. They needed to cool before being iced with cream cheese, so what did I do? What any red-blooded American would: went out for a sushi dinner, ran full speed into Spec's Liquor at 8:56 p.m. and slid my bottle of Jack Daniels over the check-out scanner before the 9 p.m. close like I was stealing home plate, drove home, drank profusely, and passed out watching Iron Chef: Battle Cabbage. What? Isn't that what you do on any given Saturday night?

I woke up the next morning, went to the kitchen to make breakfast, and noticed my two cakes still sitting on the stove top. Hmmm....guess they're cool enough to ice now! Well, the napalm-like material of the bananas thwarted my ability to get them out of the pan in a single piece. They crumbled, stuck, and generally made a huge mess of my counter top. I whipped up some cream cheese icing and started spreading icing on the first layer. Obviously, the icing was too cold as it pulled tons of little crumbs up when I spread the icing. *sigh* Icing a cake when you are hungover does not usually end well. Long story short, I ran out of icing and was too lazy tired to make any more. So here it is America, my "Woo! I've got 6,000 hits on My Blog" banana cake wreck.


My Friends Love Me and Other Wordlessness

My two loves, birds and cooking.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

April's Fool: That Would Be Me

Setting: I'm driving down the road on a Monday evening, trying desperately not to fly off the most pot-hole ridden street in Houston. I'm listening to NPR and decided that I am going to blow my head off if I heard just ONE more story about civil unrest or natural disasters. (I get it, it's a bad situation over there. Can we just have one other story type or must my entire 2 hours of commute each day be this: tsunami, earthquake, Libya, nuclear meltdown, Egypt, Gaddafi, nuclear power, Libya, Libya, Ivory Coast, Rick Perry dicking over education and making a lot of racist comments, Libya, Libya.)

*Suddenly my phone rings*
(So weird, my phone just rang as I finished typing that)

It's my lovely husband. He has come into a possible barter situation with some high end baking tins for muffins. He said that our buddy Patterson was in possession of said tins and was willing to barter for Rock-o-liscious Peanut Butter Cups.

A far better picture of Patterson than my earlier portrait.

Jon asked me what a fair barter was for the tins. He started at 6 dozen PB cups.

That doesn't sound like a lot until you realize that would be the equivalent of 36 packages of the store bought Reese's. That's a package a week for most of a year.

I get a little dizzy. That is a lot of work. I waver. Do I really want these tins THAT bad? In a shaky voice, I tell Jon that I feel that number might be a little high. Would Patterson settle for a smaller number? We proceed to seriously barter for the next 5 minutes until we agree on 4 dozen. I still feel a little shafted, but I detour to the poor-people grocery store for chocolate.

At the store, I found a few bricks of bulk melting chocolate for a reasonable price for the very first time. I carefully read the package to see if it was the dreaded milk chocolate that would cause problems noted in previous posts. Although it had some different ingredients than the baker's chocolate, I got it anyway to save time and money. A one pound brick of  bulk chocolate was the same price as a half pound brick of the Baker's chocolate.

Yes, I like my chocolate with Jack...

I drag ass out of the store, get home, cook dinner, then set to work cranking out candy. I started melting the bulk chocolate, which, by the way, melted horribly like the milk chocolate did for some reason. After about a dozen are complete, Jon stepped in to start helping. He sweetly started me a second pb ball, and started chopping the second brick to melt. After awhile, he steps out to go watch the NCAA Championship Game. I put two completed muffin tins of candy in the fridge to harden.

Jon stepped back in a few minutes later to help me finish of the 3rd and 4th dozen. I sigh with exhaustion. Then, Jon asked if I could make him a special one (read extra fat with 2 layers of peanut butter and chocolate.) I told him I would, except there was a slight problem: we were coming up a little short on chocolate for the 4th dozen. We were about 5 cups shy. He told me that was OK and not to worry about making the full dozen, that we would just stop when we ran out of chocolate.

I got upset because that meant I would have to, at some point, pay Patterson the additional 5 or so cups I owed him. This meant another trip to the store, and another evening making a mess of the kitchen. Jon seems oblivious to why I am upset despite my whining clearly thought out communication. Then he  begins to realize why I'm so upset when I say, "I am almost to the 4 dozen, I just want to finish them out with whatever chocolate we have in the cabinet."

Jon: *blank stare* Four dozen?
Me: Yea, you said Patterson wanted 4 dozen for the tins.
Jon: Yea, but you only have half a dozen here and 1 dozen in the fridge. You're not even close to 4 dozen.
Me: Umm... open the fridge

The only food in our fridge

Jon: Oh my...
Me: What?
Jon: I was only joking about the 4 dozen. You couldn't tell?
Jon: I was only joking about that number, you just had to make a few for Patterson. I didn't honestly mean for you to make a whole 4 dozen.
Me: *facepalm*

*On a side note, I am now the proud owner of 2 restaurant quality muffin tins. Jon took some of the cups to Patterson at work today. Here is Patterson's response: "These are better than Reese’s!  They’re hearty like they’re full of sustenance.  You should sell give me some of them around Christmas."

Keep dreaming Patterson, you should have enough to last you until about Christmas if you only eat 2 a week, for the rest of the year.

My new pans