Let's eat!

Hi. My name's Carol, and I love food. No, you don't understand. I love food. If I were on the Titanic, I'd be in the galley (kitchen) eating up the chocolate pudding and the roasted quail. I go to most events, activities and parties just for the food. The company and the conversation are secondary. Here, I'll try to document everything that goes into my mouth. Aren't we excited? Oh, hey, are you gonna eat that?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oreos or Ginger Sandwich Cookies?

Last night, I took on the Herculean task of baking two different kinds of cookies. It's because I'm snack mom--for today's victorious basketball game, my son scored the most points! Another mom brought the healthy snack, oranges, while yet another brought apple juice for drinks.

Me, I knew I had to make homemade Oreos again from Sweet Pea's Kitchen. They were such a hit with some friends. Kids would go bananas.

One of the boys on my son's basketball team hates chocolate (and pizza, how odd), so I wanted to make another kind of sandwich cookie for him. I know his mom would ask me not to make a fuss, but I didn't mind. I love to bake, even when it keeps me up past midnight.

So, since I was on Sweet Pea's blog, I looked for other cookie recipes. Initially, I was going to do her Maple Cream Cookies, but then a week before the game I changed my mind. I wasn't into going out to the mall to buy maple leaf cutters just for these cookies. I also wasn't in the mood to roll out dough.

Then, her Ginger Sandwich Cookies with Cinnamon Cream Filling caught my eye. I didn't know how I missed this recipe the first time. I liked the ease of it. I only had to refrigerate the dough for an hour, then take out loaded teaspoonfuls, roll into a ball, roll in sugar, flatten slightly with the bottom of a buttered, sugared drinking glass.

My first mistake was in sending out my husband with a grocery list including ingredients to this recipe. He came back with all but the essential cardamom, because a bottle of it in the regular supermarket was $15. I considered substituting with cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg, vanilla extract, then remembered I could go to PCC Market and just get the amount I needed (1/2 teaspoon) at 20 cents.

The cream cheese filling sounded delicious, but I hesitated. Cream cheese. Could I leave the cookies out on the counter overnight? I couldn't make the cookies the day of the game, the game was too early. Would I make someone sick with bacteria on the softened, room temperature cream cheese? But the recipe said to go for it, it was okay in an airtight container for two days. It was even recommended, as the cookies soften by then.

I went ahead, after double-checking online about the cream cheese. You see, if there's enough sugar in the cream cheese, the sugar preserves it. But it has to be enough. In cheesecake (deja vu), there isn't enough, it's more cream cheese than sugar, so you refrigerate. But for the filling, there's three whole cups of powdered sugar for the one, 8-oz. block of cream cheese.

Another mistake I made was blanking out, staring at the expiration date of a container of ground ginger from Costco we had sitting in the back of the cupboard all this time of buying expensive, smaller containers of it. I was measuring out the second or third teaspoon of ground ginger into the flour mixture. I didn't feel like undoing everything, so I trusted it was the third tsp., and added the fourth.

Then, the cookies themselves came out way too flat. Maybe the dough needed to be in the fridge for longer than the hour and a half I left them there. The dough was kind of mushy still. Maybe I pressed down on the little teaspoonfuls of round sugared dough too hard. She did say slightly. Maybe the pans weren't the right size, or made of aluminum.

Anyway, I wasn't really satisfied with the way the cookies turned out, bigger and flatter than Sweet Pea's original, which were these cute little dome tops like the Oreos.

When I opened the cream cheese package, I noticed some excess moisture and a rank cream cheese smell. But by the time I just threw in the powdered sugar, it was too late to start over with another block fresh from the fridge. I second-guessed myself, maybe I should've microwaved the cream cheese on soften instead of leaving it out on the counter this long. How long did I leave it? I was up all night trying to remember if it was after I made the Oreos or halfway toward finishing the ginger cookies. It couldn't have been much more than three hours.

After reading a reassurance from some cooking message board that three hours was fine, I let it go. I really let it go when my husband taste-tested the ginger sandwich cookie, then ate another with a glass of milk, deeming them "wrong," which means so very right. He loves these better than the Oreos. Strange.

I have lots left over. Most people and all children (except for the anti-chocolate boy) love Oreos. The basketball team, their siblings, and the refs went for them most, leaving the Ginger Sandwich Cookies for... my husband's gig mates tomorrow night?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Willows Lodge Room Service Breakfast

Vacation to me is room service, usually breakfast. I picture myself in my white, terrycloth robe, warming my hands on a large mug of coffee, gazing contemplatively out of the sliding glass windows, a tray of wonders on my bed, a lap away.

We capped off our Willows Lodge overnighter this morning with such a breakfast. Okay, the breakfast itself -- omelette for Eddie, toast for James, poached eggs for me -- was mediocre. Slightly burnt toast. Stale, cold potato chunks. MIA salt and pepper we had to retrieve. Tepid, weak French-pressed Starbucks (my fault). Fatty, chunky ham. But fresh-squeezed orange juice!

I usually go for an Eggs Benedict. That's the ultimate vacation breakfast room service food. But I'm trying to lose weight. I supposedly was caught with high blood sugars of a pre-diabetic (I blame the Mint Life Saver). So I went for the safer poached eggs.

Maybe I need another night.

Barking Frog's Artisan Cheese Plate

Lamb and Bell Pepper Fireside Pizzetta

I arrived at Woodinville, WA's Willows Lodge yesterday looking forward to its Happy Hour menu of garlic fries and fried calamari with Chipotle remoulade. I left obsessing about an entirely different menu item altogether: the Artisan Cheese Plate, found in the desserts, Happy Hour and dinner menus.

Mini-Soft Shell Crab Po-Boy, Fries

What happened was, we walked into our hotel room after checking in -- free room, board and food thanks to my musician husband who got paid in gratis instead of dollars -- and saw a white plate with, "Welcome Back!," written on top in dark chocolate, and covered with little bites meant to go well with wines.

I don't know about you but I think I'm an Artisan cheese plate person. I seem to go crazy whenever I'm near a platter or plate full of little bites of things, whether it's hummus, pita, and olives, or cheese, fruit, and jams with crackers and bread.

Fried Calamari, with Gremolata, Chipotle Aioli

Of course, I can't seem to replicate such plates at home no matter how often I've tried. I usually just end up littered with excess stale bread, overly sweet whole-wheat crackers, bitter fruit, and an upset stomach.

I may have figured out the formula finally. The Artisan Cheese Plate served at Willows Lodge is a thing of beauty, the perfect snack food for the many millions of times I've felt hungry after hours but not hungry enough to eat a full meal.

The stand-outs on this plate were the French bleu cheese wedge, A La Francaise crackers, and fig jam. Together, they became a culinary masterpiece. If you find bleu cheese terribly rank, it won't be when married with the succulent, syrupy fig jam. Fig jam is less sickeningly sweet when eaten with the tart, sinewy, salty bleu cheese. The crisp, unsweet, hearty cracker underneath is the perfect, neutral, sturdy texture between both worlds.

Plus, these purple grapes were out-of-this-world sweet, ripe, and juicy. I normally don't even like dried fruits, but I was wolfing down dried pear and apricot like there was no tomorrow. In combination with all these other Artisan cheeses -- a tart but creamy cheddar and a creamy, Gouda, and the smoked almonds, which taste so meaty you won't need to ever eat charcuterie.

Artisan Cheese Plate, Pellegrino

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Farfalle w/Sausage, Tomatoes, Cream

I've always wondered what sausage and pasta would taste like, ever since I saw Everyday Italian celebrity chef Giada de Laurentiis make her Orecchiette with Turkey Sausage and Broccoli Rabe years ago. I thought it odd and scraping the bottom of the barrel for her to use leftover pasta water to loosen up the dish if it turned out a tad too dry. Besides, I wasn't feelin' the sausage part of the recipe.

Fast forward to last night. I've been feelin' sausage (no comment) a lot more, since making turkey sausage-based soups. I think what generally scares me about sausages is I associate them with fatty pork and that burning doggie stink I always associate with breakfast sausage. Plus, they come in those casings made of some animal's stomach lining. Gross.

Good thing these sausage-based recipes leave room for turkey or chicken instead and require you to remove the casings. I had three turkey sausage links left from a previous Minestrone with Turkey Italian Sausage recipe at For the Love of Cooking. I used these, along with two more chicken Italian sausages recently bought -- to round out the pound requirement -- for Sweet Pea's Kitchen's Farfalle Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cream.

I didn't have fresh basil (except for one wilted leaf left over), but I had fresh Italian parsley, plus lots of dried. It's probably against some food law to use dried parsley in anything but screw it, I did, because I liked the greenery finishing off the Pecorino at the end.

It was weird to use some pasta water to loosen up the pasta dish, even if I could've gotten away with not using any. I also accidentally dipped my entire left hand into the bowl of blazing-hot pasta water (third degree burns!).

Tastes alright. Basic, not overly flavored. Just a comforting dish to whip out, reminiscent of penny-pinching casseroles. Speaking of... I'm of a mind to finally try Nigella Lawson's Chicken and Sausage bake. Maybe if I replace pork sausages for turkey...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Spicy Chicken Soup

Is it possible to feed your hunger from just smell alone? I swear that's what happened to me last night, after I made this Spicy Chicken Soup, as featured in Sweet Pea's Kitchen.

I was so hungry, but I had to finish this recipe as it was already getting way too late (10-11 p.m.). But by the time I finished it--almost to the letter, give or take the salt (which she mentions in the directions but not in the ingredient amounts)--I was full. This soup gives off a very spicy, heady scent. Must be the mix of cayenne, chili powder, garlic, onion, and jar of salsa.

The only part that was a bit of a pain was the shredding of the six poached chicken breast halves. At first, I thought I could get away with a Costco bird, thrown in after the fact. But then a crucial first step is in flavoring the poaching broth which would become -- after an hour -- stock for this soup.

My husband came home after a late-night gig toting a pork burrito. He left out a plastic bag of pickled carrots and chiles, so I threw those into the pot. Why not? They'd blend well with the jar of chunky salsa, which is loaded with pickled vegetables.

If a spoonful is any indication, we're all in for a treat for the next few days in this chilly winter. I plan on giving away lots of leftovers to my more health-conscious friends.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Turkey Italian Sausage Minestrone

I used For the Love of Cooking's Minestrone with Turkey Italian Sausage as a base from which to make my own version, tonight.

As usual, I dreaded having to do it with other things to do -- getting Valentine's Day cards/treats for all 25 of my son's classmates for his party Monday, stocking up on banana chips, kim chee, and roasted nori, adding another pair of sweat pants for my son who prefers them over jeans -- but I wound up making the soup early in the evening as opposed to the usual late-night frenzy. I even had time to hang out with my son on the couch after the soup was made.

For soup, it's smart to have all the ingredients prepped and ready to go in the pot, even if it is an elaborate pain. I'm OC-D about cleaning as I go. Making this soup goes fast if you do prep. I followed most of the base recipe to the letter, except for exacting amounts of canned chicken broth (they come in 14.5 ounces per can, and Math ain't my strong suit) -- I used four, I didn't have fresh sage leaves and wasn't about to buy just one to chop so I used a little dash of the powdered sage, I used Ditalini, not Orecchiette, and I threw them in right out of the box to cook in the luscious broth...

I also threw in a Yukon gold potato, chopped, and extra carrots and celery I had left over, just for the heck of it. I always like more vegetables than less.

The Minestrone soup I made tastes like a blend between Minestrone and Clam Chowder, without the clams. Probably the addition of potatoes. It'll be perfect to buttress against the rainy, windy weather lately.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

More baking?

Yeah, that's what I thought too. But honestly, tonight's going well. After a nice family dinner together out, the husband went off to check out his musician friends at a gig and the son went promptly to bed (school night), leaving me all alone and free to create magic in the kitchen.

For some reason -- maybe the ease and simplicity of Sweet Pea's Kitchen's recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread -- it wasn't as big of an ordeal or as time-consuming (into 3 a.m.) as her Lemon Loaf was. I had all my ingredients laid out and ready, including the four, room-temperature eggs. I didn't question the inclusion of room-temperature water (sounds a bit plain, but oh well). I just put the wet ingredients together smoothly, then dutifully, carefully folded in the dry--at first in dribs and drabs, then the rest of the bowl out of a fear I'd overmix, poured into a 9x5 and a loaf pan a little larger.

As usual, I had some concern about unmolding, because I wasn't satisfied with how I greased and floured the loaf pans. The bottoms bubbled. I actually prefer going in there with a paper towel loaded with softened butter, then flouring the bejesus out of it. But this time, for ease and quickness, I used Pam cooking spray. Too much. Wrong move.

I almost paid for it when the pans wouldn't unmold after 15 minutes (five minutes longer than the 10). I used a plastic fork and then a rubber spatula to coax the sides and after almost giving up, praying to our Holy Mother (once a Catholic...), both breads came out without incident. The second one, in the 9x5 pan, had a few microscopic pockmarks, but I can live with that.

One of the pumpkin chocolate chip breads -- made with thawed roasted sugar pumpkin flesh from the holidays -- will go to a neighbor I have never met (but my husband has) who has allowed lots of playdates and sleepovers at her house between her son and mine. She also gave James daffodils to give to me to help speed my recovery from minor fibroid surgery.

The other pumpkin chocolate chip bread is for a musician friend who bought up chocolate bars to help my son's basketball fundraiser and made sure his audience at Willows Lodge on Thursday nights bought some too. I think I gave Ej and his wife Nancy a pumpkin bread before. I should really switch it up next time.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lemon Loaf (Cake, not Bread)

Not just any lemon loaf (for some reason I keep calling it plain Jane lemon bread). A really time-consuming, delicate lemony lemon-glazed, lemon-syrupy in all the cracks and crevices lemon loaf from Sweet Pea's Kitchen.

On a random whim, I saw it listed in her index and decided to try it. Not a recipe to try on a whim on a late Saturday night, my friends. I was up until 3 a.m. with it, in the fourth stage -- there are many, many parts to it, so pay attention -- before I gave up finishing with the glaze until the next day.

Despite the time-consuming recipe -- it's supposedly from New York baker Bill Yosses, as featured frequently by Martha Stewart -- it's well worth the trouble, if you've got a wonderful, caring friend to take care of for having taken care of you all these years, or, in my case, a musician friend of my husband's coming through with crucial notes from a recent Oz Noy Trio Jazz Alley gig.

Art won't know what hit him.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Homemade Oreos

Myself, I hate Oreos. Blech. What's in the filling? Lard, I hear. You can have it. My husband, Eddie, will gladly take it, and several dozen more. Everybody I know, especially men, seems to love Oreos. I came across Sweet Pea's Kitchen and her recipe for Homemade Oreos. There's the same recipe (in terms of ingredients) in several different incarnations on many other food blogs, but Sweet Pea's is the best. The ingredient list may be the same, but the directions are better with her, including the goofy measurements (1/2 stick plus two tblsp? Just give me the cup!).

I didn't have a piping bag (another food blogger's suggestion), so I tried to use a Pampered Chef frosting pump. Big mistake. I couldn't squeeze enough out to save my life. I went back to Sweet Pea's recipe, where she practically suggests you simply take a ball of the filling -- butter, vegetable shortening (not lard!), powdered sugar, vanilla extract, put it in the middle of an upside-down cookie, then top that with another cookie, right-side up, press lightly. That worked out much better.

My problem, as always, is trying to figure out how big to make the chocolate cookies. I made them too big for the first two batches, more than two tablespoons. Then, for the last batch, four left, I tried to make them smaller, guesstimating the size of a real Oreo. They turned out much better but ease up on the nine minutes of baking time.

I also had trouble with the amount of filling, mostly because I had that snafu with the Pampered Chef frosting pump, abandoned it, had to make more filling, made too much, and tried to go back and refill extra, plus jumbo-sized the remaining four cookies. I'm crazy. It's the taste that counts more than the looks, right?

Be careful when you mix the dry ingredients with the butter and the one, lone egg for the dough. I'd make sure the butter was real soft and cut into pieces. All the flour and cocoa began flying out of the stand mixer even on low. I had to cover it with my body at first. Mental note: I need a plastic attachment cover.