Learning from food while learning about food.

Today was a good day. I woke up early and went skiing. It the last day at Bluewood, and there were lots of people there. The skiing was decent, but not perfect. It got a little warm and the sun melted a lot of snow, making it really heavy. We would hit a sunny patch and slow down to the point of almost falling over. In all, though, we had lots of good runs; flying through the trees, going over jumps, speeding down racing hills. It was great.

After I got home, my fridge looked a little empty. I was able to pull together enough ingredients for a pizza, and it turned out fantastic. I used alfredo sauce on half, marinara on the other half, chicken pieces, and sliced portobello mushrooms (why, you ask, do I have portobello mushrooms when I claim to have an empty refrigerator? *shrug*). As for cheese, all I had was a bit of moldy cheddar, but I cut off the mold and was able to spread the rest out over the pizza. I enjoyed my pizza with a good Chateau St. Michelle Riesling.

I have been avoiding the part of my story that is relevant to the title, though. It happened when I was spreading the dough. I got a pan, lined it with oregano infused olive oil, and began spreading the dough into the pan. I spent far longer than I should have trying to spread it out over the whole space. I kept spreading it too thin, and it would develop holes in the middle. I’d pinch it back together, but the dough just wasn’t enough for the pan. Eventually, I realized that it was arbitrary that the dough should fit the pan. It didn’t have to. I just needed to have some dough in the pan spread out enough for me to put on ingredients. Then I thought about how I’m spreading myself so thin just so that I can fill every hour of the day with an activity. It’s not right. There’s not enough of me. I should fill enough of my life to make me happy and make the filled part better quality.

Coconut Macaroons

325* for 20-25 minutes. Do it for less than you think, or they’ll get too hard and not chewy

  • Mix dry ingredients together
    • 1 1/3 cups coconut
    • 1/3 cup sugar
    • 2 tbsp flour
    • 1/8 tsp salt
  • Add wet ingredients
    • 2 egg whites
    • 1/2 tsp almond extract (vanilla works just as well for a different but still good taste)

 

Another fabulous dinner

After a very successful day at work in which everything went exactly as planned and I was more productive than a chainsaw in a bamboo field (you could argue that that’s destructive, but cut me some slack), and a good day of racquetball where my cheapo racquet was like a sword that struck down those who wished to oppose it, I felt like making a good dinner.

A perfectly cooked New York steak started the meal, accompanied by blanched asparagus and fettucine in marinara sauce. The kid in me demanded chocolate milk, and I was happy to oblige. Leftovers tomorrow are going to be awesome.

Making a great dinner

Last night I made a decent dinner. Decent may be an understatement, but I’ll let you decide. Wild sockeye salmon in garlic butter, sauteed mushrooms (also in garlic butter), asparagus, a baked red potato, diced tomatoes in a spicy vinaigrette, and accompanied by sourdough french bread and chai tea. It was actually to my benefit this time to have a small kitchen because I was cooking so fast that having pieces further apart would have given me more trouble. I even had my timing correct so that all of the dishes were ready at roughly the same time, and believe me, knowing when to start the water boiling so that it’ll be boiling 3 minutes before the salmon is done is as much an art as it is a science. The neat thing was that I was able to do all the prep work as I was cooking, so from start to finish was just about 15 minutes.

Sometimes quick dinners turn out very well. The other night I combined the two ingredients in my fridge that were not condiments. My cod and celery combination actually turned out to be a spectacular dish. Sometimes I make a horrible mistake; do not ruin salmon with barbeque sauce. But those are opportunities to learn.

If there’s one thing I learned from Iron Chef, it’s that ingredients are the building blocks with which gustatory art is created, and creativity and willingness to match ingredients, coupled with a foundation of knowledge about the indredient and what it can and cannot do, are an extremely important set of skills in cooking. I didn’t learn to cook from Iron Chef. Who uses white truffles or foie gras regularly anyway? No, their knowledge of exotic ingredients is useless to me. What I learned is how to use timing, how to use smells, how to think about the ingredients, and how to come up with creative solutions for new dishes.

Haystacks

  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 3 oz chow mein noodles (just a bunch of noodles. you adjust the amount as you mix.)
  • 16oz package of butterscotch chips.

Melt and mix the pb and butterscotch chips on medium low heat. Remove from heat. Add a bunch of the noodles. adjust recipe to taste. Drop spoonfulls of haystacks onto a cookie sheet and cool. Try to make them bite size, which can be fairly difficult.

 

Lemon Squares

350* 20 minutes

  • Crust:
    • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup butter
    • 1/4 cup confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
  • Topping
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/2 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 2 tbsp lemon juice

Blend crust ingredients thoroughly. Press evenly in 8x8x2 square pan and bake for 20 minutes. Beat rest of ingredients together. Pour over crust and bake 20-25 minutes more. Do not overbake. The filling puffs during baking but flattens when cooled. When cooled, dust with confectioner’s sugar.

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies

375* 8-10 minutes

  • Mix together
    • 2 1/4 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
    • 1 tsp baking soda
    • 1 tsp salt
  • In a separate bowl:
    • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
    • 3/4 cup brown sugar packed
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • 1 cup butter, softened
    • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
    • 2 cups (12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Mix gradually mix the two together and drop rounded spoonfulls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

 

Rice Crispy Treats

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 45 marshmallows
  • 5 1/2 cups rice crispy cereal.

In a large saucepan, over low heat, melt butter and marshmallows, stirring until melted. Remove from heat. Stir in rice crispy cereal. Using a buttered spatula, press mixture into a buttered 13×9 pan. cool.

 

Aunt Diana’s Pecan Pie

Diana Dunnington 11/2005

Preheat oven and bake at 300 F, 60 Minutes Place pie on center rack in oven

Combine:

  • 1 C dark brown C & H sugar (Don’t substitute sugar brands on this one. All other brands are white sugar with caramel added and change the flavor and consistency of the product)
  • 1C White corn syrup (Karo)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp real vanilla

Beat:

  • 3 whole eggs until very-very frothy

Stir: all above together. (set aside ½ cup of mixture as reserve)

Add: 1 ½ C pecans and stir (I use pecan pieces and don’t chop them up.)

Pour filling into a 9” raw single pie shell (You can purchase the shell in the frozen section of most grocery stores, or use a cook book for instructions)

Bake 60 min. Watch to make sure the top does not get to brown. I like to dress the top with a few ½ pecans to make it look extra special.

Cool, then refrigerate. Be sure to refrigerate left overs.

**I reserve a 1/2C of the egg mixture before adding the nuts and filling the pie shell. If I find I have room for any of the reserve mixture I add it before cooking. If there isn’t room, I dump it.

 

Apple Streudel

350* in a 13x9x2 pan for 45-50 minutes

  • Pour bready mix into pan, then spoon apple mix over it. It’ll displace the bread mix, not make layers.
    • Make apple mix: melt in large sauce pan on medium heat for 15 minutes or until thick
      • 1/2 cup butter
      • 8 cups apples (about a 5 pound bag)
      • 1 1/4 cups sugar
      • 1/4 cup bisquick
      • 1 tsp cinnamon
      • 2 tsp nutmeg
      • 1 tbsp lemon
    • Make bready mix: blend in bowl and pour evenly into pan
      • 2 tsp vanilla
      • 3 1/3 cups bisquick
      • 1 14 cups sugar
      • 2 cups milk
  • Make sprinkle mix: easiest to pour in shot glass, cover with hand, and shake. Then sprinkle over filled pan
    • 2 tbsp sugar
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon