April Fools Cake

This year I played a prank on the whole building. It happened in two parts. The first part was more of an anti-prank in that it was actually not a prank at all but everybody thought it was one. Here’s what happened:

The night before, I made a cake. A nice white cake (from scratch) with frosting (also from scratch). I put lettering on top that said “Happy April Fools!” in bright blue.

I brought it in to work the next day and kept it in my office until mid-afternoon, when I figured people had returned from lunch and were in the mood for some cake. I sent an email to the entire building saying there was homemade cake in the kitchen to celebrate April first, then set the cake out there. I had saved a couple pieces for myself so that I could try it and so that the cake would have been started and everybody would continue to cut into it.

Surprisingly, it took all of 30 minutes for the cake to disappear. When I was putting it in the kitchen people were asking me what was in it, telling each other they didn’t trust me, wondering if it had toothpaste or some other unnatural cake ingredient. I didn’t say anything to them other than that they should have a piece. Back in my office people were messaging me asking if there really was cake in there (not wanting to be fooled into thinking there was a cake that didn’t exist), and asking me if there was anything wrong with the cake. There really wasn’t. It was a pretty tasty cake. But watching people’s suspicion was hilarious.

Once the cake had been consumed, I sent out a second email to the building. This was part two of the gag. It said that the first cake had been consumed and that the antidote cake was now in the kitchen, but it was half as big as the first, so they should hurry. I got a few replies back that it was funny, and a few people went to see if there really was a second cake. This time there wasn’t a cake, because there was no need for an antidote (and I was baking the first cake late at night and didn’t have time to do a second).

In all it was a pretty innocuous prank, but in an office environment playing a prank on an entire building without getting in serious trouble is very difficult. The cake was really good, and people appreciated it. I’m pretty happy with the way things went, and a lot of people got a good laugh out of it.

Sweet and Sour Pork

Last night I tried a new recipe: sweet and sour pork. The book said it would take 30 minutes, but it was my first time trying the recipe, so it took a little longer. Boy was it worth the effort, though. There are a few separate things that need to happen; preparing the batter, frying the pork, cutting the vegetables, making the sauce, and combining it all. In the end, I took a bite of the pork and thought “THIS is what it should taste like.” It was literally better than any sweet and sour pork I had ever had. It made my night.

The Tomato Rose

There’s a garnish trick I’ve been wanting to try for a while, and I finally got around to doing it today. It worked fantastically well, and gave me a very attractive rose made out of tomato.

They’re actually surprisingly easy to make. Here’s the process, from left to right:

First, start with a tomato. I used cherry tomatoes in this experiment, but I imagine a full sized tomato would work as well. Starting at the top, use a sharp knife to cut around the entire sphere in one continuous peel. You should end up with a single long peel and a very juicy tomato inside. You don’t need the entire outside for it to work, but it should be as thin as possible and not very wide, either. Once you have separated your long skin from the tomato, roll it up. It won’t roll evenly, or even look right at first. Don’t despair. Turn it over. If it still looks odd, turn it over again. You want the outside roll to have the inside facing up like a rose does.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. My first try produced the best rose, but my second was mediocre. The third was good, and the fourth was intercepted by my mouth before it was finished.

A culinary cure

Bummed from my disappointing week and feeling the effects from skipping too many meals and eating irregularly during the week, I devoted some time on Saturday evening to making a good dinner. I had a mango and two plantains that I had purchased for experimentation, and they were starting to get the point of either use or refuse. Examining the other contents of my fridge and freezer led me to my creation: mango salsa chicken, fried plantains, and a fresh spinach salad.

The fried plantains were the easiest. I just put some oil in a pan and fried the plantains until they looked done. The salad was easy, too. Salads just take a while to prepare each of the pieces. In this case it was mango, tomato, celery, spinach, and walnuts. In retrospect, it was all easy. The chicken was just topped with some regular salsa and large mango chunks and fried in a pan for a while. After cooking, I topped with some more salsa. That was it. I prepared two chicken breasts so that I would have lunch the next day, and it turned out to be a fantastic meal. The wine was a Chateau St. Michelle Riesling, which happens to be my current favorite for casual dinner meals.This food is also good for plantar fasciitis cure

Mmmmm. Sushi.

Last week I went to a new place called Sushiya with some friends. They had some pretty tasty sushi, and I felt inspired. This weekend I created some masterpieces at home. While I really love raw fish, it’s not easy to acquire and I don’t think I’m capable of handling it safely enough to not get in trouble. So the sushi I made didn’t have any raw fish in it, but I was still able to make a wide variety of rolls. Here’s a pic of most of the rolls. I didn’t have enough room on the plate for everything.

Starting from the lower right, we have shrimp. Next is a fat roll of krab, avocado, and cucumber. Next is smoked salmon from my aunt and uncle, followed by cucumber and cream cheese. I played around with the seasonal fruit on the next roll, which is peaches picked from a nearby tree. After that is an inside-out roll with krab, avocado, and cucumber. Finally, there’s a roll with krab and mayonnaise. There was also a roll with krab, cucumber, and cream cheese, but that didn’t make it onto my platter.

I mixed some wasabi and soy sauce and had a small plate of sesame seeds and watched a movie while I went to town on the sushi. It was a great night. In case you were wondering, the peach sushi was good, but not with the soy sauce.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice
  • 5-7 pineapple rings (or you could use tidbits artfully arranged)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 8 Tablespoons butter (they get used for different parts)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 Cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 400.

Get a cake pan and put it on the stove at medium low heat. Melt the 4 tablespoons of butter inside the pan. Then add the brown sugar until it’s melted. Turn off the burner and then mix in the pineapple juice until it’s an even mixture. Arrange the pineapple rings in the bottom of the pan in one layer.

Melt the 8 tablespoons of butter (about 1 minute in the microwave) in a bowl, stir in the milk and egg, and beat well.

In another bowl, add all the dry ingredients and stir. Combine the two bowls and stir until even.

Pour the mixture in the bowl over the pineapples in the cake pan and spread it evenly in the pan (it’ll be hard to do).

Bake for 35 minutes. Let it cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, maybe even longer. Gently separate the cake from the edges of the pan. The next part is the flipping, which can be tricky. The easiest way is to place a plate upside down on top of the pan. Pick up the two together, and flip it over so the plate is right side up, the cake pan is upside down, and the cake is sitting on the plate with the pineapples facing up.

 

Brownies

  • 4 eggs, beaten until fluffy
  • 1 Cup sugar
  • 1 Cup flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 12 oz package of chocolate chips
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla

Melt together chocolate chips and butter (microwave for about 1 1/2 – 2 minutes). Beat eggs and add in everything else. Put in greased 8×12 (or 9×13 works, too) pan and bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes until everything but the center comes out clean with a toothpick (this way the last little bit will cook after you take it out of the oven and it will be soft and moist without being overdone).

 

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup raisins
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  2. In large bowl, cream together butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Stir together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Gradually beat into butter mixture. Stir in oats and raisins. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased (greasing the pan makes the cookies spread too thin) cookie sheets.
  3. Bake 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown. Cool slightly, remove from sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

 

Cooking is all about the timing

And getting the timing right on dishes you’ve never made before is TOUGH. Tonight I tried three things I’ve never done, and somehow it all managed to work out. The first part was the pork loins, which I had never done in the oven on broil before (I recently got a broil pan, so I’ve been experimenting with it). To go on that I prepared a red wine, shallot, and butter sauce. As a side dish I made broccoli with cheddar cheese. In the end, it all came together, and I had a delicious meal, but it was rough deciding how long to do each thing and when to start and stop processes.

The red wine sauce was the hardest. I started out with a little butter and cooked the diced shallots until they were darker. Then I added about 1/2 cup of red wine and reduced it. Finally I added a stick of butter and mixed. Unfortunately, the butter melted too much, so it was a softer sauce than I wanted. I put it in the freezer to harden a little. Meanwhile I had boiled some broccoli, put it in a glass pan and shredded cheddar on top. It went in the oven, which was already broiling the pork, and doing a fine job of it. Since I give myself permission to criticize my own work, I have to say the cheddar could have used a minute less in the oven (it was underneath the pork, so it wasn’t getting the brunt of the broiler, but it still melted the cheese a little too much), the fat around the loin was slightly crispy, and the wine sauce was slightly runny. But if I was sitting at the table and someone set the plate in front of me, I would have thought it was a fantastic meal and wouldn’t have even noticed. This is definitely one I’ll be repeating.

Coconut Shrimp

These will turn out fantastic. They’re best served warm or right off the frying pan.

This isn’t a recipe so much as a process.

  • Remove the shells from the thawed, uncooked shrimp. Traditionally, the tail part is left on, but it’s annoying at eating time, so you can take the whole shell off if you want.
  • Rinse off the shrimp an remove most of the excess water, but leave them damp.
  • Heat a frying pan to medium heat and put about two tablespoons of butter in. Have lots more butter available.
  • Prepare a shallow bowl with flour in it.
  • Beat two eggs into a second shallow bowl and put that next to the flour bowl.
  • Put coconut flakes into a third shallow bowl and put that next to the egg bowl.
  • Put a paper towel between the coconut bowl and the frying pan.
  • Put a paper towel after the frying pan.

You should have an assembly line that looks like the following:

  • Shrimp
  • Flour bowl
  • Egg bowl
  • Coconut bowl
  • Paper towel
  • Frying pan
  • Paper towel

Put about 15 shrimp through the assembly line. First dip them in the flour bowl, then dip them in the egg batter and let the excess drip off, then roll them in the coconut, and place them on the first paper towel if you don’t have room in the pan. Put the shrimp in the pan for about 2 minutes on each side. Watch the butter and add more as necessary to make sure there’s enough that it doesn’t start burning. Also watch the coconut flakes that fall off. They have a tendency to burn after a while, and then they stick to the new batches of shrimp and look bad, so occasionally you may have to just wipe the pan clean and start over with new butter. After the shrimp are lightly brown, take them out of the pan and put them on the far paper towel so they can dry off a little (that is, so the excess butter can soak into the towel).

Serve immediately.