Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

I am awful

Posted: May 31st, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 24 Comments »

I have a kitchen full of hand-me-downs and gifts.
Examples:
Cast-iron skillet – hand-me-down from first roommate Hylton
Le Creuset Braiser – hand-me-down/bribe for helping Hylton move his couch down the stairs.
Everyday sautee pan with glass lid – Christmas gift.
Dutch Oven, 2 Saucepots – Hand-me-down from mom and dad’s old t-fal set.
Stockpot – hand-me-down from Hylton again.
All-Clad small saucepot – Hand-me-down from Hylton
Cake tins, pie plates, baking dishes – gifts/hand-me-downs.

I love hand-me-downs. I love dishes that tell a story. But at some point, you have to stop cooking in your mom’s old T-Fal and branch out. Someday you deserve a matching set. Or… you start to want a matching set. Which is more to the point.

And someday, because you think you’re a bit of a cook, you decide that instead of more non-stick, more special utensils, you want to get stainless. You decide that you want to be able to cook at screaming high heats, and pre-heat your pans to smoking, and generally be a badass, not to mention the novel concept of being able to go stove to oven to table without having to use aluminum foil on the handles of your cookware. And by you, I mean I.

And so you get a little adventurous. You start looking at Amazon, and find the set of your dreams (at least until you can register for a wedding and have people buy you the real set of your dreams….. helloooooo, lover) and you start to think.
Hellooooo, lover.

This set is from Cuisinart. I have a soft spot for Cuisinart, since it’s the brand of my lovely food processor, and my amazing grind-and-brew coffee maker that you can program to make coffee right as the alarm goes off in the morning. Swoon.

I’m kind of sunk.
This set is very affordable. Has great product reviews.
For a while, I flirted with the idea of the Rachael Ray stainless set…. with its adorable chubby, curvy saucepots, and its cute orange silicon handles. But then I started reading reviews. And the last thing I really need is stainless steel saucepots that leak at the rivets. Because as adorable as this thing is, and honestly if it had cheeks, I’d want to pinch them, I need stuff that will hold up under the demands and stresses of my kitchen. Demands and stresses like, “Shit I forgot to melt the butter, now I have to jack up the heat”, or “Shit, I don’t know the diference between simmer and boil so I’m going to hope for the best” or things of that nature.

These things happen.

So I’m pining. And thinking. About the day that I have a set of brand-new, 18/10, oven-safe no matter what, non-teflon-coated stainless steel cookware. And how the first thing I’m gonna do is go after that medium saucepot with a whisk. Or maybe I’ll get myself a metal spatula, and flip a pancake in that big skillet. Hehehehe.

I’m keeping the cast iron, Le Creuset, and the nonstick skillets Gie gave me, though, so keep your paws off. HEAR ME?!?!!?


Buckle your seatbelts

Posted: May 24th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 21 Comments »

This is gonna be a big one.

Saturday, Jesse and I walked to the BKLYN Yard, for Parked! Since they took down the link/info page on the BKYard’s website, instead please refer to the photo of the flyer. I’ll sum up: the PizzaMoto truck, a taco cart from the Red Hook soccer field vendors, the Green Pirate juice truck, and the VanLeeuwen Ice Cream truck (!!!!) were all present, parked in the lot, serving up their wares and showing their stuff. Highlights included watching the PizzaMoto Dough Maven do her thing with dough until they sold straight out of it, eating the delicious Margherita from PizzaMoto, having the Espresso ice cream from Van Leeuwen which was better than anything else, which is saying something, the delicious Green Pirate Hot Pink Lemonade, which involved beet juice, ginger, cucumbers, and some other crazy stuff. Also, the lovely Rita of the Pretty Girls Use Knives crew, joined us for some fun in the sun. Unfortunately, PM sold out before she got any, and the taco cart line was just. not. moving. So that was awesome regardless. Here are some pics of the aforementioned highlights:


And then…. there was the biggest amazingness of all. This is the item that made my day, and that basically justified the sunburn that I have and the money that we spent, even more than catching the VanLeeuwen truck and finding out about the taco cart and everything:
Andrew Knowlton!!! That’s Andrew Knowlton, the BA Foodist, frequent Iron Chef Judge, and all around hottie-pants. He’s even hotter in person, and let me just say, he was so low-key, totally chilled out, didn’t pull rank and try to jump ahead of the line for PizzaMoto, didn’t get shirty when they didn’t recognize him…. sigh. Andrew Knowlton, everyone.

Sunday

I have some irrationalities regarding cooking. #1 – I decide, rather than plan, to bake, especially when reading about all the wondrous things that Deb from the Smitten Kitchen makes. #2 – I have a fear of cooking shrimp and scallops, as well as anything not in its shell that should be, like clams, oysters, lobster, crab, etc. I am not confident in my ability to cook them without overcooking them. Even though I’m much more likely to undercook them, since I’ll take them off before they turn opaque, I still am not confident.

Tonight, I remembered one fear (that of cakes sticking to pans) and moved on my way to recovering from the other (grilling seafood).
First, the grilling seafood. Leah made a spectacular-looking grilled shrimp dish back in March, and undertook the Bon Appetit Modern Fiesta for date night the other evening. She’s brave. I decided to challenge her braveness, and grill some shrimps of my own. I took a recipe from Epicurious, for grilled shrimp with a lemon-oregano dressing.
As per usual, I didn’t follow the recipe entirely. However, here’s the deal, here’s what I did:
**De-vein 1 pound of large shrimp (if you’re doing jumbo shrimp, get 2 pounds. go with what you can afford). Keep the shells on. Do this by using your kitchen shears (or whatever pair of scissors you feel like, just wash’em) to cut them open down the back, and pull the vein out. This is similar to how you’d butterfly them. Put them in the fridge.
**Mince and paste 2-4 cloves of garlic, depending on how many shrimp you’re cooking with 3/4 teaspoon of salt. The easier way to do this is to microplane your garlic into the food processor and add a half-teaspoon ish of salt. Then add the juice of 1 lemon, a few shakes of black pepper, and turn on the foodpro/blender. Drizzle in olive oil until it’s all emulsified and happy. Add a handful of chopped parsley (if you have oregano, use oregano) and mix. If it separates, you can just stir it up. No big whoop. You can also taste and mutate htis into anything you want.
**heat up your grill. Put 1/4 cup of the dressing over the shrimp, and after a few minutes, put your shrimp on some skewers and put them on the grill. I did not skewer mine, and I can tell you for sure that this is not a good idea. I lost 3 good shrimp to the gods of the grill. Don’t make my mistake.
After a few minutes, the shrimpies are done, and you can take them off, serve the rest of the dressing in a bowl along iwth either rice or bread, and do peel-and-eat shrimps. Paper towels for everybody!!! Yay!!!

The cake….

The cake tastes delicious. It does not look as awesome as Deb’s, but then again, mine never do. The grocery store didn’t have raspberries, and while raspberry-lemon is a gorgeous combination, I had to go with blueberries. And I like blueberry-orange, so I added orange zest instead of lemon zest. Also, no vanilla because our store doesn’t carry it.
The cake is delicious. And when it came out of the oven it looked….. too good to be true:
It was. When I tried to turn it out and cool it on the rack, the cake stuck, except for the center of the cake, which fell out onto the rack. It was sad. However, this cake is delicious and I think with about 3 more minutes of baking time, it will work brilliantly. Next time. Which might be tomorrow. Just sayin’.

In general, it’s been a great food weekend, and it’s got one more day, one more lovely day, and summer is here and I’ve finally learned when to turn over my charcoal chimbley to get the most use out of my coals, and basically….. It’s been lovely.


On allergies and preferences

Posted: May 20th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 21 Comments »

I’m not a person who ascribes totally to any philosophies of food or life. Except for these:
Be good.
Be happy.
Be healthy.
Be well.

If you can live within those 4 theories, then who am I to tell you anything about your life? Or your dining choices? You can be picky, you can be open, you can be whatever you want to be, as long as you’re good, happy, healthy and well.
However. I just got an e-mail from a coworker wondering at the nature of food allergies, and thinking it was ridiculous that a roommate would freak out that the coworker had cut a pineapple on the counter, and not wiped up the juice or washed the knife, since the roommate happens to be allergic to pineapple.
Apparently, food allergies were a new thing to this coworker.

I’m not here to judge, most of the time. But this girl’s attitude toward food allergies was shocking at best, dangerous at worst. She mentioned that she thought allergies were weird, and would never presume to ask someone to make food to accommodate any of her food preferences, and was taught to just eat what was put on her plate. This is a girl who was raised in a range of cultures, in a very trans-world world. Part of her life in India, part in the UK, part in the US. And yet nowhere in her entire life had she ever heard of anyone having a dangerous peanut allergy. Never saw the markings on all packaged foods saying “this contains nuts or was processed in a facility that processes nuts”. Never heard of celiac disease or lactose intolerance or people being allergic to strawberries.

At first, I tried to be calm and rational, told her that I really thought the allergy question was interesting. People could die from them. Etc etc.
Then, she came back to say that she found needing to accommodate someone’s preferences strange, alien, that it wasn’t something she would ever imagine.

I’m sorry, but to all my readers, let me make this very, very clear:
Allergy is defined by dictionary.com as:

al⋅ler⋅gy


1. an abnormal reaction of the body to a previously encountered allergen introduced by inhalation, ingestion, injection, or skin contact, often manifested by itchy eyes, runny nose, wheezing, skin rash, or diarrhea.
2. hypersensitivity to the reintroduction of an allergen. Compare anaphylaxis.

Preference is defined by dictionary.com as:

pref⋅er⋅ence


1. the act of preferring.
2. the state of being preferred.
3. that which is preferred; choice: His preference is vanilla, not chocolate.

As you can see, there is a distinct difference between an allergy and a preference. Namely, the aspect of choice!!! Do you think anyone out there would choose to suffer from diabetes (which I group as an allergy because it’s an extreme case where the body is unable to process an enzyme) or a severe peanut allergy that could cause anaphylactic shock?? Do you think anyone would choose to have to read every single label for elements or trace bits of peanuts, or wheat, or strawberries, or shellfish? I mean, let’s not even start with the allergies like to pineapple juice (which is in most fruit punch, check your labels) or citrus fruits (try to find something that doesn’t contain citric acid that’s packaged…. let me know when you do) or eggplant or any of the 8 million things out there. Coconut!! My dad is allergic to COCONUT! Granted, he just has to make sure that he doesn’t eat the dark chocolate truffles that are filled with the stuff, and he only gets hives, but why would anyone choose to have to deal with that????

My grandmother is allergic to penicillin. Shouldn’t the medical community have to accommodate her allergy? What is the point of trying to save her life by administering something that would end it??
Similarly, why is pineapple, or strawberries, or shellfish, or wheat gluten or whatever so important to my coworker that she can’t understand the concept of it being deadly? She’s a vegetarian, and was taught to politely decline meat. Which is great for her! Go for it!! But if you can decline meat because of personal tastes or religious reasons or whatever…. why can’t your roommates ask you to just wash the countertop to get rid of the pineapple? Or make a specific knife and cutting board for pineapple, so that the roommate doesn’t have to come in contact with it?

For me, there’s no ingredient or recipe that’s worth causing a friend pain. I don’t care if it’s just that you get itchy after eating pepperoncini – which I never cook with – tell me! I always ask. I don’t see any reason to make someone have to take a Benadryl after a meal with me. I don’t have any recipes that I’m so attached to I couldn’t change them or scrub them altogether for a dinner party with a friend with specific dietary restrictions. I can take the bacon out of my mac & cheese, or, genius, make a pot of cheese sauce without bacon. I can read labels to make sure all my ingredients are Kosher, or make sure that I’m using all vegetarian ingredients if you’re into that. I can use rice pasta, or make risotto, or cook only chicken or cook no chicken. I can accommodate you. Because I don’t want to make you sick!!! I don’t want you to worry about your dietary rules or your religion or the new lifestyle choices you’re making. I want you to be happy and healthy and good and well.

So please, fellow cooks and eaters, please remember these other rules:
#1 – ask your guests about any dietary restrictions.
#2 – guests, don’t be afraid to TELL YOUR HOSTS what you will/won’t/can’t/choose not to eat.
#3 – let’s all be a little more flexible, yeah? If you just don’t like spinach, mention that, but say that you’ll eat it if it’s given to you. If you’re deadly allergic to oranges, obviously shout that one out. If you’re a vegetarian, please explain what you mean by that, so people don’t go assuming things (meatitarians, i’m talking to you!!!!)

For heaven’s sake, don’t force people to eat what’s put in front of them just because you were raised that way. It worked for me, that “eat what you’re fed” raising. I’ll eat anything, and I definitely will eat plenty of it. But it didn’t work for my little brother, who is about as picky as they come, and whose dinner or unwanted something-or-other I always ate at home as kids. He’s now the underweight, picky vegetarian one. And I’m the one with the cooking blog. What’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander.
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So honestly…. let’s remember. It’s an allergy. Not a choice.


They’ll never know you’re just….a bagel Part Deux

Posted: May 17th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 26 Comments »

For the recipe, as well as sponge and dough-making details, please click here.

Bagel Day 2
Saturday morning, the bagel odyssey continued. This part was considerably easier, as well as considerably scarier.
I started by setting up my water bath. I used my Le Creuset braiser, since it was wide enough for several bagels at once, and wouldn’t require 8 gallons of water to fill. While the water was heating, I added the required tablespoon of baking soda and tablespoon of honey (still didn’t have any malt syrup) and let it all come up to temperature. I pulled out one of the pans of bagels, and boiled half of them for about 2 minutes per side.
Here is something else you may not know about me. I love Cosi’s square bagels. My company used to get them for us on Mondays. I always picked an Asiago Cheese – so of course when making my own bagels I decided to top them with cheese. I’m generally not a fan of pre-shredded cheese that you buy at the supermarket, because I don’t like eating stabilizers. But it melts so nicely – so I topped some of our first test batch of bagels with shredded Mexican cheese blend. Basically, after they boiled, I picked the really hot bagel up off the slotted spoon and pressed it into a pile of cheese. In later batches, I mixed some chili powder with the cheese, which added a little somethin to the party. The rest I left plain, although in later batches I added some kosher salt/garlicpowder to make a garlic-salt bagel. Mmmm :)
The bagels baked for 5 minutes at 500-degrees. Then, in theory, I rotated the cookie sheet and reduced the heat to 450. When I baked the test batch, I actually remembered to do that. When I baked the other 2 pans of bagels later, I definitely forgot to rotate and reduce on the first pan, but remembered on the second. I’m not sure whether I noticed a difference.

And now, some photos, to give you an idea of what it all looked like, from boiling onward:

To sum up, these were pretty good. Next time, I will definitely be using all purpose flour and my wheat gluten (in case I forgot to mention it before, add 1 tablespoon of wheat gluten to every 1 cup of flour to get high-gluten flour) instead of whole wheat. But it was pretty darn good. And considering how scary I thought it would be…. pretty darn easy. Try these. They’re fun.


They’ll never know you’re just….a bagel

Posted: May 17th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 23 Comments »

One thing you folks may not know about me is that I’m very very susceptible to the power of suggestion. So when so many of you get together and start talking about and eating and making bagels, and one of you waxes poetic about lox on bagels (fine there’s only 2 of you), I get bagels in my head.
And I think about them.
And eventually….. I want to make them. Luckily for me, I couldn’t make them last weekend. I was too busy celebrating my birthday and throwing a party and eating brunch with my friends. But this weekend…. bagels were on.

Rule#1 - anyone who goes shopping for bagel essentials after Happy Hour gets what she deserves.
Case in point: I went shopping for my bagel stuff after happy hour, and as such, I missed the key difference in my flour choice. I picked up WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR instead of ALL PURPOSE FLOUR because I read the tag on the front of the shelf at Whole Foods, instead of the actual BAG OF FLOUR in my hand. Oy.
Rule#2 - do not start bagels, which require a significant amount of time in their early stages, at 10pm.
Case in point: When I got home from happy hour (which turned into 4 happy hours, I’ll admit) and Whole Foods, I decided it was the perfect time to start making bagels. Because Jesse said that he’d prefer them for breakfast on Saturday. And I live to make him happy (no I’m not being tongue in cheek – I actually kinda do). So I started bagels at 10 pm. Which means that they weren’t ready to be put in the fridge overnight until roughly 2am. Brilliant is my middle name.

For the record, I used the recipe from Smitten Kitchen for Peter Reinhart’s Bagels. Deb’s dad (SantaDad) gave them his Bronx-Childhood Seal of Approval, which is really all I need in the way of endorsement. I’m also not going to speak specifially about the amounts and stuff for the recipe – read it on SK, because it’s a novel in itself without my blathering.

Bagel Day 1:
It’s always a little nerve-wracking to begin a baking project knowing that you don’t have the correct ingredients. However, knowing that High Gluten flour was difficult to come by, I purchased a box of vital wheat gluten, which is not as hard to find at Whole Foods as you might think. I still have no idea what instant yeast is, but WF doesn’t sell it, and Google said I could use it interchangably with Active Dry, so I did.
I had decided that if I didn’t see the desired results from the sponge after the 2-hour sit, I would throw the whole mess away and start again on Saturday. My stomach sank when I realized that I would have to add a TON more water to make the sponge reach the “thick pancake batter” consistency, because of the density of whole wheat flour as compared to APF. I mean, I’m all for improvising and adding more of whatever you think you need, but there’s a difference between that and setting yourself up for embarrassment and wasting 6 hours of your life.

The sponge got puffy. It seemed encouraging. So I added the rest of the flour and salt and yeast and Vital Wheat gluten and mixed it all up. I didn’t add malt powder or syrup because I didn’t have any and couldn’t find any at Whole Foods. So…. too bad.
Let me just tell you. 10 minutes of kneading ends up making your shoulder hurt. Specifically, my right shoulder. And the dough never quite got as satiny as I was hoping, but then again, what do I know?
I shaped my dough into 3-ounce balls. I think next time I will go with the 4.5-ounce size on half, because there is no way that I need as many bagels as I ended up with. But yes, pull out your kitchen scale and start weighing dough balls. You’ll thank me.
After a short (20-min) proof, I poked my thumb through the center of the funny little dough balls and made bagel holes. These also had to proof for 20 minutes, and then I did one of the silliest tests ever for bagels. Basically…. you drop a bagel into a bowl of cool water, to see if it will float or not. I’m not sure why. I don’t really want to question it, though, because it worked brilliantly and the bagel instantly floated, so I threw all three cookie sheets into the fridge and went to bed.

Bagel Day 2 coming soon!!!


Maybe I’m the lucky one

Posted: May 3rd, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 20 Comments »

There are some things in this world that I’m just bad at. Origami. Math. Shooting 3-pointers with a defender’s hand in my face. Y’know – things I can accept that I’m bad at by a fluke of genetics or disposition or whatever. So I don’t continue to try them, because I know I’m bad at them.
There are things that I’m just pretty good at. Making bread. Having neat handwriting. Taking naps/falling asleep anywhere. I do them and I enjoy them.
Then, there are things that make me think I’m a glutton for punishment — things that I am not all that great at, but keep trying anyways. Things that make me disappointed because they don’t go as well as they should…. things that ruin my mood because I’m following the directions very carefully (or as carefully as I can) and I’m really encouraged….. and then…. bupkus.
Like making Cinnamon Rolls. I’ve mentioned before that I’m just a little bit mystified by them. They’re kind of like making bread, but they’re also kind of more like making muffins. A little like making brioche, I would guess. Somehow….. it never quite does for me what it does for others.
Today…. I decided to follow Deb’s advice, and make these cinnamon rolls. I had all the ingredients, I had nothing to do today besides wash dishes and clean, so…. I tried it out.
Something went awry.

They are not as airy as I’d like. They are not as light as I’d like. They are kind of heavy. Some of them burned. I’m not in love with them. I think it’s me. I think I need to find out what the difference is between instant yeast, rapid rise yeast, active dry yeast…. etc. I think I need to read and research a bunch of recipes, find out the similarities and the differences, and do some work. Because it’s hard to make delicious Cinnamon Roll French Toast if you can’t make cinnamon rolls all that well.

In a bit of a funk over the failure of my cinnamon rolls to double in volume during the second rising, I was feeling incredibly uninspired for dinner. I went to the grocery store and honestly could not think of a single thing to make. This may be because the stench of the fish counter an hour before closing on a Sunday evening was overpowering. But it was also a funk and a little bit of a cooker’s block. Eventually, after my fifth pass down the protein case, I settled on the beef cut up for stir-fry. I decided to make an asian chili-beef noodle soup. Even though I’ve never actually MADE such before, or even seen a recipe for it. So I wandered the aisles, squinting because my glasses are the wrong prescription, trying to figure out what would go in such a soup.
I eventually settled on the Stir Fry Beef, Angel Hair pasta, Beef Stock, Carrots and Scallions. I was concerned that my typical hot sauces wouldn’t provide enough kick, so I had to do something I wasn’t happy about.
I had to buy…… Sriracha.
I know, I know.
There’s no way to make authentic or even pseudo-Asian Chili dishes without sriracha. But it’s SPICY!!! I order the mild wings whenever we go out for burgers and wings. I reworked my go-to wing sauce so that it included tomato paste and cumin instead of the quarter-cup of hot sauce alone. I don’t like curries unless they’re warm, not spicy.
Plus, I really hate the rooster on the bottle. But the real reason I bought it had nothing to do with authenticity or real Asian flavors. It had to do with the fact that if the soup sucked, I was pretty sure I could just throw in some Sriracha and torch the soup and blame it on the hot sauce.

It was that kind of a day.

In any event, I made the soup, and I knew going in that I would have to marinate the beef somehow. Meet……
The marinade. Or, at least, part of it. Cumin, Chili Flake, Garlic, Tumeric and Chili Powder got rubbed all over the steak pieces, along with some salt. This all got put into a ziploc bag with about a tablespoon of vegetable oil.
Then, came the heavy hitters…
Red Devil, Sriracha (the other red devil) and Soy Sauce. All sprinkled (judiciously) in the Ziploc with the meat. Those sat around while I painstakingly trimmed carrots into julienne (seriously. I am sick) and sizzled up some minced garlic cloves (3), a diced shallot, and a tablespoon of olive oil. I added in the carrots and about a teaspoon of sriracha, followed by about the same of Soy sauce. Then, I added a can of beef stock and a small box (16 ounces) of chicken stock (weird??? yes).
While that came up to a bubble, I heated up a small saute pan for the beef. Get it pretty f’ing hot. You want to sear the outside before the inside is cooked. Add about a tablespoon of vegetable oil (safer for high heat) and half the beef. Stir around, no more than 60 seconds, then remove to a plate and add the other half of the beef. Same drill.
The soup was boiling, so I splashed in some more Red Devil, probably a tablespoon which was too much. Start with a teaspoon, taste, and add more.
Then, I added in an eighth of a package of capellini (angel hair) and set to work turning scallions into matchsticks. When the pasta was cooked (about 3 minutes, maybe 5….) I threw in the beef and the scallions, covered, and turned off the heat.

After 3 more minutes, the beef was warmed through, the flavors were all melded, and we were good to go:
Shockingly, it was delicious. It was VERY hot. But it wasn’t the “set your tongue on fire” kind of hot. Rather, it just heated up the back of my throat in a very pleasing, “I might start to sweat soon” kind of way.
Or, in an “I might make this again soon” way.

Just don’t expect me to give Sriracha a place next to Miss Salsita. I’m not that kind of girl.