Posts Tagged cooking

Ice Cream and Violins Day

This one is a bit of a weird one, even for me. I decided to make a form of vegan ice cream while listening to violins, but thanks to the Metrodome collapse this weekend, the Vikings game was rescheduled for tonight. This meant that while I could get away with noisily running the food processor in short bursts, there was no way G could have handled listening to an orchestra as his men got squashed by the Giants.

Vegan "ice cream"

Vegan "ice cream"

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to try this VegFamily recipe for awhile. I’m not vegan or even vegetarian, but awhile back I was on a big banana kick. The trouble was fruit goes bad really fast in my apartment, so I was finding myself with an increasing supply of black bananas. So we froze them, and G made a couple of loaves of banana bread.

We still had leftovers, so I found the recipe for “ice cream” made from bananas and tonight was the perfect opportunity to give it a try. Cathe Olson is totally right–it was “better than ice cream,” in its own way. I packed almonds and frozen berries in with the frozen bananas, and food processed the hell out of it. I used coconut milk as the non-dairy milk. (I admit, I may have cheated if I had any dairy milk, but my kitchen it getting pretty bare, so the universe insured my concoction was animal product free.) It came out very creamy with nut and berry bits, and I kept heading back to the freezer for an extra spoonful. I know coconut milk is high in fat, but I’m positive this is a much healthier alternative overall than regular dairy ice cream. It’s definitely worth doing again.

A parting tip: Before freezing bananas, peel them! Otherwise, a vegetable peeler does the trick.


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National Sachertorte Day


Successful Sachertorte

Despite difficulties, ultimately successful Sachertorte

As we have well established by now, I am not a particularly proficient cook, and baking is probably my worst arena. So seeing that today was a celebration for a rather intimidating cake was, well, intimidating.

The sachertorte is a unique Austrian chocolate cake that is supposed to be very light and fluffy, with a layer of apricot spread in the middle. It was invented by a sixteen-year-old under intense pressure from him boss to deliver something great that night for a crowd of hoighty-toighties. Hey, if a kid can do it …

If you can believe it, Wolfgang Puck’s recipe is one of the more approachable versions. Seriously, though, WHY does the Food Network refuse to convert measurements into American standard form? I don’t own a single kitchen item that measures ounces and grams. I have cups and teaspoons, and I hate math.

Anyway, my plan for the day was to run some errands, come home and make the cake, and then head over to a friend’s place for the evening. Not long into my erranding, G called, looking for the satellite radio, which I had taken with me. He’s a Vikings fan living in the land of green and gold. There usually is no  way for him to watch/hear the game other than the satellite radio. So even though I was across town with a list to do, I knew it was my girlfriend duty to return, radio in hand.

Thank God I did. Once home, I decided to just put off the errands and start the cake. It ended up taking me about three hours. Three. Hours. If I’d have started when I originally planned to, I never would have finished before our evening plans. Yes, I totally admit it took three hours because I had no idea what I was doing. I had to look up “how to make egg yolks look like ribbons” and “how many teaspoons are in one ounce of sugar.” I had to stare for awhile at my make-shift double boiler (one random pot set in a larger one) and tell myself no, this will not result in melting a pot or mysteriously causing the oven to alight (two things that have happened in my kitchen in the last month).

The double boiler ended up being the least of my problems. For whatever reason I had the darndest time separating eggs, and on egg number four I ended up with a little yolk in the whites. There was no way I was going to waste the eggs and start over, so I just went with it. Sure enough, yolk contamination makes it next to impossible to get “hard peaks.” By the time I finally mixed them to what passed as soft peaks if you squinted, I declared them hard enough and folded them into the chocolate/butter/sugar/yolk “ribbon” mixture.


When the cake came out, it was nowhere near as tall as the recipe probably intended. I’m positive this is because I didn’t do the egg whites correctly, but regardless, it tasted fine and was just thick enough to slice in half. The Puck method calls for slicing the cake into thirds and putting the apricot/brandy puree in between, but there was no way my cake could be split more than once. So I just added the excess to make a super-thick puree layer, replaced the top layer of cake, and covered the whole mess in melted dark chocolate . Voila. Or, however you say that in Austrian.

After I let it set and cool while we were gone, we gave it a try. I have to admit: It’s a pretty tasty dessert. G was ridiculously excited about licking the chocolate out of the bowl, and I realized I could have just melted chocolate over the stove and he’d have been just as impressed. But nonetheless, I achieved a version of sachertorte complete with apricot filling and chocolate glaze. It’s incredibly sweet and rich, and while this cake is not for the faint of kitchen skill, I’d say it’s worth the effort. Once a year.


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National Fritters Day

Today was one of those super-long days. I had to go to work early and then I had my technical college course this evening. My original plan was to just pick up some fritters from some Madison hole-in-the-wall, but after some Googling, I realized that would actually be pretty tricky. Other than a possible corn fritter-like dish at a Caribbean place, I wasn’t finding a great fritter source.

I refused to sit this one out, though, since I’ve never actually eaten a fritter. I knew I had to hang in there at the end of the day and make some. I didn’t have time for a grocery store stop, so I had to make do with what I already had in the kitchen. No cornmeal or canned corn, so corn fritters were out. I’m still well-stocked in apple bars and apple hash, so apple fritters weren’t that appealing. I had apricot preserves (for the upcoming Sachre torte Day), but no apricots proper, so, well, you get the picture.

What I did have was a fresh, crisp red pepper. I was determined to make it work.

After checking my Pillsbury and striking out, I found a red pepper fritter recipe from the U.K. Times. I truly love the Internet, by the way. The recipe called for ham, but all I have is some really old deli-style turkey slices, so I kept my fritters vegetarian.

Remembering my hard-learned lessons about frying during Homemade Bread Day, I right away pulled out the cast iron rather than an aluminum pot. I also learned how to peak egg whites while making the fritter batter. All by myself. It was the most gorgeous foam ala poultry product ever.

The batter recipe was super simple: flour, baking powder and cayenne. As usual, I had to improvise a bit and went with paprika, which I happened to have. I also had to convert some of the measurements from metrics. Just so you know, 100 grams of all purpose flour comes out to between 3/4 to one cup. And 50 grams of Parmesan cheese is touch more than a half cup.

Red pepper fritters

The recipe calls for only a tablespoon of vegetable oil, but this must be a typo, or else those British folk have a very different conception of fried food than we do in the Midwest. Either way, most other fritter recipes are deep-fried, so I just did that. After playing around the amount of time these buggers needed to cook, I figured it out and came up with a plate of them.

Overall, they weren’t bad. A bit bland, though, so I’d probably add some sugar or go much heavier on the spices. G used hot sauce on his, and I went for honey. The only hitch was it was so late by the time I made them that I didn’t have the energy to make anything else, so fritters pretty much made up my entire dinner tonight, which isn’t really something I recommend. But whatever, I’m just so freakin’ proud of the fact that I was able to successfully fry something!

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Eat a Red Apple Day

I cannot believe it’s already been a year since I’ve last posted. Holy jeepers.

But yes, it has been a year, and even though many things have changed, some haven’t. I’m still in Wisconsin, I still can’t cook, G still is my daily hero and Koda still eats, well, everything.

And on that note, it’s time to get at it.

McIntosh apple

Eat a Red Apple Day seemed like a straightforward way to jump back into holidaying. An apple a day, a holiday a day–seemed like a nice symmetry. Today the first snow of the season fell here in Madison, and though it was light, it was noticeable, and I remembered how utterly cranky winter makes me. It doesn’t help that I’m surrounded by folks at work who have either recently survived the stomach flu or are on the brink of it. So an excuse to ingest some extra antioxidants wasn’t something I was going to complain about. (Random factoid of the day: In the average apple, there’s only about 8 mg of vitamin C. A medium orange has 70 mg.)

After scheming briefly about whipping up some apple burgers or apple pasta, I decided to keep it simple. Tucked in the back of my cupboard were a couple of packages of Kari Lee’s caramel apple mix. My mom gave them to me forever ago, but I’m generally not a big apple eater, so I just never got around to picking up some fruit and making the bars. Tonight was the perfect occasion, so I braved the ridiculous cold and went to the grocery store for some McIntosh apples. After a careful reading of the five directions and a little help from G with the mixer, I produced some genuinely decent bars! I keep picking at the pan, and after a little Googling, I found out I better savor them: It doesn’t look like Ms. Lee is selling this particular mix anymore.

Even though I made dessert first, I also wanted to incorporate apples into an actual dish tonight. Again, I considered the burgers, but again, I chickened out. I could probably handle making a breadcrumb coating, but a breadcrumb and oatmeal coating? That could get way too tricky for this gal.

Rachael Ray came to the rescue on this one. After searching for “weird apple recipes” for awhile, I just went to the Food Network and found Ray’s recipe for apple hash. Sounded unique enough for a holiday dish, so I went for it.

Perhaps I’m smarter than I was last year. Simple recipes seemed to work out really well tonight. For the hash, I baked some potatoes, cooked some apples and onions in olive oil, threw it all together and there it was. Apple hash. It’s an interesting mix of textures, with crispy apples and soft potatoes. The big surprise to me was how well the apples and onions went together. It’s a combination worth remembering, actually.

So overall, a simple fruit gave me a simple start to my holiday season. Can’t complain, but I’m still cold.


Caramel apple bars and apple hash

Caramel apple bars and apple hash

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National Parfait Day

I had planned to celebrate today at McDonald’s or Culver’s or a similar fast food joint. Quick, straightforward ice cream with toppings–some may call this a sundae. On Parfait Day, I call this a parfait. Cooks Recipes disagrees with me, saying that a parfait is a ” layered dessert which is served in tall, narrow footed ‘parfait glasses’ (or simply stemmed wine glasses).”

I’m still not convinced that a food is a food because of the dish you serve it in. Water is water whether you sip it out of a Nalgene or lap it up from a plastic bowl. A Snickers bar is still a piece of chocolate and peanut candy whether you eat it raw out of the wrapper or fried off a stick. And so on, and so on.

The word “parfait” translates to “perfect” in French. So I argue that the essence of a parfait is simply whatever type of frozen, layered dessert you consider perfect. I think a bowl is the optimal, i.e. perfect, dish out of which to eat ice cream covered in stuff.

"Fried" Ice Cream ingredients

I say all of this in defense of the parfait I had today. I’m spending the holiday weekend at my parents’ house. And of course my mother had the perfect solution for today: Mexican “Fried” Ice Cream, Rachael Ray style. Take vanilla ice cream and put it in a BOWL. Crush up a couple of handfuls of corn flakes in your hands, then spread liberally over the ice cream. Drizzle honey on top, then sprinkle on some cinnamon. I also added some whipped cream for kicks.

I’m telling you, this thing actually has the flavor of real fried ice cream. And it only takes, like, two minutes to make, which is definitely my kind of cooking. Perfect.


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Fibonacci Day and Eat a Cranberry Day

Math and cooking are two things that, perhaps not surprisingly, go well together. This may explain why my engineer partner can handle the almost anything in the kitchen, whereas my writerly soul gets nervous about how long to microwave Ramen noodles. Today, though, is a day that celebrates both a mathematical sequence and a common food. In theory, this should have terrified me.

The Fibonacci sequence is one of those math things you learn in elementary school that seems almost miraculous when you’re nine. 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5. Appears random, but wait: 0 + 1 = 1, 1 + 1 = 2, 1 + 2 = 3, 2 + 3 = 5. Ooh. Ahh.

Truthfully, while I remembered something called the Fibonacci sequence existed, I had forgotten what it actually meant until today. (November 23, 11/23, 1-1-2-3 in case you missed it.) The Fibonacci sequence is named for Leonardo of Pisa, called Fibonacci, who wrote a book about arithmetic in the 1200s. (Thanks, Wikepedia.) Fibonacci didn’t discover the sequence–it had been noted in Indian mathematics for a long time–but he introduced it to Western intellectualism, so he’s the one who got the credit.

I had no plans to celebrate Fibonacci Day. However, something strange happened while I was celebrating Eat a Cranberry Day. I cooked Fibonacci.

Now, honestly, this was a total coincidence. Maybe the universe is trying to be cute and friendly with me after Have a Bad Day Day. Or make me feel better after my failed attempt at Start Your Own Country Day. (Yup, my country lasted all of ten minutes after G got home. I should have spent more time training Koda in border defense tactics.)

I had planned to prepare a half bag of cranberries the way the bag told me to. Boil a cup of sugar and a cup of water, then add three cups of cranberries and bring back to a boil until the cranberries pop. Take them off the heat, pop them in the fridge, and your snack will be set in a few minutes.

But, as you know by now, I don’t read directions well. I dumped a cup of sugar into the cranberries, then realizing my mistake, plucked the cranberries out of the sugar and tried to brush them off. Along the way, I remembered my mother’s strong advice about the need to actually sort and wash cranberries, so I did that. Since the berries have been in the fridge for an uncomfortable amount of time, there were a lot of bad appl–err, cranberries, and by the time I’d sorted out the good ones, I was left with a little more than two cups.

In my infinite cooking wisdom, I figured since I was already off track, I might as well experiment. To the cup of sugar, I added a half cup of water and a half cup of brandy (my mother uses orange liqueur in her cranberries and it’s great, but that stuff is pricey). I then was concerned I didn’t have enough sweetness, so on a whim I added about three scoops of grape jelly. I also added a dash of cinnamon as an afterthought.

Once I got the cranberries into this mixture, the apartment absolutely exploded into the scent of autumnal, Thanksgiving-style muskiness. It was great. Once the berries popped and I pulled them off the heat, I tried the mess. It was like eating candy with a bit of a mulled spice tang. It was hard to leave them in the fridge, but they were burning my mouth, so it had to be done.

And so, I have created Fibonacci Cranberries.

0 cooking skill required
1 cup sugar
1 cup liquid, half brandy, half water
2 cups cranberries
3 spoonfuls of grape jelly
5 minutes approximately to get the berries popping once you’ve added them to the boiling mixture

Veni, vidi, fibonacci.

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National Vichyssoise Day


Vee-shee-swaz. Vee-shee-swaz. Vee-shee-swaz.

Yeah. I didn’t think you could say that three times fast, either.

This soup, made mainly from leeks and potatoes, is an American dish created by the head chef of the Ritz Carlton in 1917.  (Thanks, WiseGeek.) There is some debate as to whether its origins are actually French, but either way, it’s become a traditional summer soup best served cold.

Yes, today is November 18. I have no idea why a summer soup is getting attention now. It’s kind of cruel, actually, to evoke memories of warm weather when the sun sets by 5:00 and I shiver the whole walk home from work. Just in case you missed it–it gets dark at 5:00.

Vee-shee-swaz is yet another food I’d never heard of before attempting to make it. I skimmed a few Internet recipes before deciding to do this the old-fashioned way and crack open a cookbook. My childhood was spent eating recipes from the Pillsbury Cookbook, and during my college days my mother picked up a copy for me. I’ve made a few simple things from it, but usually the book just sits on top of the fridge, taunting me.

Today, though, I opened it and sure enough, it offered a straightforward Vichyssoise recipe: three medium sliced leeks, three medium potatoes, two tablespoons of butter, a half teaspoon of salt, two cups of half-and-half, and four cups of chicken stock. And like several previous food-related holidays, I didn’t have quite the right ingredients. So I made do.

G and I had picked up a bundle of leeks during our epic grocery shopping trip yesterday. (And by the way, we did achieve frybread and Indian tacos tonight in addition to my soup. The kitchen absolutely exploded.) However, I forgot to pick up half-and-half. I’d spotted online that sour cream can be used as a  substitute, so, forcing myself to overcome my hatred of the dark and the cold, I trucked over to the gas station near our house and picked some up.

Anyway, back to the leeks for a moment. I have no idea how to handle leeks. They’re an onion-like vegetable–and definitely can make your eyes water–but when a recipe says chop up three leeks, I don’t really understand. Does that mean three of the stalky leafy things? Or three whole bunches? Or something else entirely? I decided to disregard the three leeks thing and just chopped up the whole bundle. My eyes were stinging, which made me think of onions, and since I wasn’t sure I had enough leeks for the soup, I decided to chop up an onion. Close enough, right?

I sautéed the leeks and onion in the butter and frantically peeled four potatoes. Three just didn’t seem like quite enough to compensate for the mound of leaf material that I was starting to second-guess. Once the leeks were tender, I added the potatoes and four cups of chicken broth, covered the mess with a lid and let it simmer for 20 minutes.

Once the potatoes were soft, I dug out my small food processor and set up an assembly line to scoop out the soup into the processor, blend it until smooth, then dump it into another bowl and repeat. I finally hit bottom on the seemingly bottomless pot, and once it was all pureed into greenish goo, I added two cups of sour cream and the salt. I mixed thoroughly, and then G popped in to stick his finger in the bowl.

“Delicious,” he said. And so it was. And I’m glad, because we have a giant pot of it chilling in the fridge–we’ll be eating vee-shee-swaz for lunch for the next several days. Bon appetit!

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