cooking


They say that you can tell if someone is a real chef by looking at their hands: hard core chefs’ hands are covered with scars, cuts, and burns.

Yesterday, while dicing onions, I sliced a dime-sized chunk off of my thumb, by the knuckle.  The wound keeps bleeding through bandaids, so there are little smears of blood all over my laptop.  That is exactly as creepy as it sounds.

This new cut matches nicely the bulging red scar from my last run-in with a knife. I am proud to report, though, that last night’s mishap with the chef’s knife did not deter me from finishing the overly-elaborate dinner I’d planned for last night’s book club meeting.  I just wrapped it in a bunch of bandaids and continued chopping.

I’m choosing to believe that this latest battle scar is evidence that I am a hard core chef, rather than draw the more-obvious conclusion that I am a huge effing klutz.

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Reminder! My Earth Day giveaway is continuing through 5pm tonight- go enter to win a cool hand-made prize!

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In addition to my shiny new dri-fit shirt, the Shamrock Shuffle swag bag included a lot of ads and coupons.  Most were for things I had no interest in (Chicago Marathon! Indianapolis Marathon! Champaign Marathon! Twin Cities Marathon!  Sweet goodness, how are there so many crazy people out there keeping all these marathons in business?)

But among all the ads for crazy-long runs, there was a coupon for $10 off a $50 purchase at Whole Foods.  Ooh baby.

We live walking distance from a Whole Foods, and while I do go there fairly regularly, I am VERY limited in what I get there.  This may be more than you wanted to know, but I am one of those crazy annoying people who frequents like 4 grocery stores: the little produce market for cheap veggies, Trader Joe’s for cheap snacks and string cheese, Jewel once a month or so for things you can’t get anywhere else, (like Triscuits and pretzel-flavored goldfish) and Whole Foods.  At Whole Foods, I limit myself to things that, to me, are worth the insane markup: chicken and ground turkey in those fairly rare times we eat it; fancypants cheese for company; the brand of hummus we love that’s not available at Jewel or TJs; gorgeous berries when they’re on sale and/or in season; and bulk dry goods, like barley flakes and quinoa, that can be hard to find other places.

So usually, because it’s so close and because I don’t buy too much there, I’m in and out of Whole Foods for substantially less than $50.  But this coupon presents the perfect opportunity to try out some yummy new and/or exotic food items.  You know, something like thai-spiced sweet potato chips, or wasabi-roasted pistachios, or $10 vanilla extract.  Something I would never buy otherwise but which might, just might, be worth the crazy price tag. I could, obviously, just get a bottle of wine, or some stuff from their deli takeout counter, but that doesn’t seem as special.

So tell me: are there any wacky, crazy-delicious food items that you think might be available at my local Whole Foods that I should try?

Today was my day to bring in breakfast for our office.  We trade off Fridays, and it’s a good system- every Friday I get free breakfast in exchange for bringing it in every 12 weeks or so.

There is a DEFINITE hierarchy of breakfast-bringers in our office.  It’s a startlingly regular topic of conversation.  There is one woman who is notorious for bringing whatever random half-eaten foods she has around the house. (1/3 of a wedge of brie anyone?  perhaps a moldy strawberry?)  Our most senior resident just brings in a dozen dunkin donuts.  (People groan, but he can get away with it because he is, and I’m not exaggerating, 82 years old.)

Early on in my tenure here, I established myself as a real contender for the title of “favorite breakfast bringer.”  I love to bake, and breakfast for the office is a perfect time to test muffins, scones, quick breads, etc.

Today was no exception.  I wanted to try something new and fabulous.  For Christmas, I got this cookbook:

Now, people all over the blogosphere LOVE this cookbook, and it is beautifully designed and all of the recipes look positively drool-worthy…But.  I have tried five recipes out of there now, and three of them have outright not worked properly, one was only meh, and only one was truly delicious.

Undeterred, I decided to try their recipe for lemon loaf, which calls for a truly alarming quantity of butter, plus sour cream, plus EIGHT eggs.  And the expensive, lovely Meyer lemons I just found at TJs.  I tried not to think about its calorie content as I whirred the ingredients together in the food processor as instructed, poured it into pans, popped it in the oven and an hour later….

Gross, greasy, fallen cakes.  Like a brick.  No crumb at all- just mushy grainy greasiness.

If there is anything more culinarily frustrating then trying an awesome-looking recipe that ends with pulling cakes out of the oven at 10 pm and discovering that they are too terrible to bring to work the next morning, I haven’t found it.

Worst of all, because I have a reputation to maintain around here, I felt like I couldn’t just show up empty handed.  So I had to start over.

I knew I couldn’t use the same recipe- I’m not a total idiot- so I turned to one of my go-to cooking sources: Smitten Kitchen.  She recommended Ina Garten’s lemon loaf cake, and when I looked at the recipe it seemed a lot more logical (cream the butter instead of melt it; use buttermilk instead of sour cream; a little more flour, a little more lemon).  So I tried it.  The cake crowned nicely, and looked good enough to bring into the office.

Lemon Loaf

We just cut into it and it is AWESOME.  My reputation remains intact.  My coworkers will not stage a mutiny.  Best of all, I get to eat tasty lemon cake all morning.

I really want to give Baked another chance, but this may have been the last straw.  The only other possibility I can think of is that my oven temperature has gone wonky, so I’ll be heading out to buy an oven thermomteter this weekend.  If there’s no temperature problem, I think it’s curtains for Baked.  Sorry, pretty cookbook!

As I noted a few weeks ago, I try to bring my lunch to work regularly, both for cost-saving purposes and for health purposes.  (Have you ever looked at the nutrition facts for some of the standard work lunch fare?  Chipotle, just looking at the sodium content of your burritos nearly stopped my heart.)

We also, like the good yuppies/hippies we are, subscribe to a community-supported agriculture program, which gives us a box of fresh veggies every Saturday that we use for the rest of the week.  I love the CSA program, as it forces me outside of my broccoli/baby carrots/romaine salad comfort zone.  There always comes a point, however, when we’re more than halfway through the summer and I’m starting to feel the strain from the constant wondering of what to do with the dregs of the box come Thursday and Friday, before it all starts over on Saturday.

Currently, I am the proud owner of:

  • one ear of corn
  • one green bell pepper
  • one small leek
  • two habanero peppers
  • two small (and slightly bug eaten, if I’m honest) bok choy

I feel incredibly guilty when I fail to use what is in the box before the next wave of veggies arrives, like I’m some sort of big CSA failure.  So I decided to put it to you, brilliant readers: I have two dinners, a packed lunch, and one weekend breakfast to make before the next box of veg arrives.  I feel quite strongly that I do not want to go to the grocery store between now and then, but you can assume (since it’s true) that my kitchen is well-stocked with basics (eggs, flour, spices, milk, pasta, etc.)  What should I make for dinner, lunch, dinner, and breakfast that will use up the bulk of this veg?

Today is the last day in the office for a girl I work with, and because (1) I like her very much and wish her well and (2) I like baking, I decided to bake her cupcakes for her last day.

I whipped up a batch of my favorite cake batter (Cooks Illustrated fluffy yellow cake), baked the cupcakes, and set about to make my most favoritest caramel frosting to put on top. (Okay, fine, there was probably also a reason (3) for this baking expedition, and that reason was probably hormonal. Sometimes, only a caramel-frosted yellow cupcake will do.)

I finished putting together the frosting and swiped my finger along the side of the bowl to taste the insane deliciousness and got….

Onions. The frosting tasted like onions. Just a hint, really, and the flavor was of caramelized onions, which are pretty good, but still. ONIONS.

Some investigatory sniffing of various pots, pans, and utensils revealed the culprit: the wooden spoon I’d used to stir the caramel was used a few days ago to make a tomato sauce and appears, (despite thorough washing) to have stubbornly held on to eau des oignions, transferring the flavor to the finished frosting.

In short, I had to start over. Not ideal. But at least I figured it out before I frosted the cupcakes. End of story, right?

Except, um, the onion frosting was sort of good, though, in its own onion-y way, and I am sort of embarrassed to admit this, but it is still sitting in my fridge because I couldn’t bear to throw it away. (I have to throw it away, right? There is no use for vaguely onion-scented frosting? None at all? Anyone?)