Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Making grandmothers proud!

I'm sure you all know the cliche, and hopefully have experienced it as many times as I have: walking into your grandparent's house, getting the round of hugs, noticing all the familiar knickknacks on the shelves, the embarrassing pictures of you and your siblings on the walls next to pictures of obscure relatives you may or may not have even met...then all of sudden, the scent hits you. You know it well, and it draws you into the quaint kitchen where your grandmother has made so many family meals over the years...the wonderful smell of fresh homemade bread. Anybody who knows me knows that I grew up LIVING for that moment. Nothing else quite like it, is there? And yet, it's becoming a bit of a rarity. After all, who has the time to spend 4 or 5 hours tending to the kitchen these days? Well, I'm here to buck the trend and make grandmothers everywhere proud!

Giving credit where it's due, Jenn's best friend Beth gave me the idea for this one, and it was a no-brainer for me. I'm always open to suggestions(in fact, I encourage them!), and this was one I absolutely couldn't refuse. So, I asked Jenn for her Namie's recipe for homemade rolls, we picked up the ingredients, and off I went! I know this probably goes without saying, but I had zero experience doing this kind of thing. The closest was my chocolate chip banana bread(check out the archives from last March), but this is a different kind of beast.

Anyway, it appears that I still have difficulty with the most elementary of cooking tasks, because when the recipe called for "1 1/2 cups of boiling water", I poured exactly 1 1/2 cups of water into the kettle and stood there with what I imagine was a very vacant look on my face. When Jenn came into the kitchen I told her what I did, and she casually remarked the blatantly obvious fact that I missed: naturally, when water turns to steam, it leaves behind a smaller volume of water than what you start with. Universe: 1, Adam: 0.

After that was sorted out, I poured some yeast into a measuring cup with water and vigorously stirred it, and waited for it to rise..which never happened. So I called her in again, stood there with that same damn vacant look on my face, only to be informed that yeast needs to be left alone for 10 minutes in order to rise, THEN must be stirred. Universe: 2, Adam: 0.

Once I had that under control and added the flour things started to look up for me. I thrashed and pounded on that dough, taking out all my aggression towards the universe on that pile of soon-to-be bread. For 20 minutes, the beating continued, and when I heard all the little yeast-ies begging for mercy, I stopped and let them puff up for a while. The recipe called for the oven to be on 350, but you must know, our oven is a piece of junk. Seriously. If(when) I eventually blame a failed project on the oven, rest assured that statement will be at least 60% true. Maybe. Ok, 40%.

So, yeah, into the oven it went, and I waited with crossed fingers, hoping that if I could succeed in any one recipe, it would be this one. And by gum, I did it! This is easily the most pride I've felt in anything I've ever cooked. Take a look, if you will, at my ultimate culinary achievement thus far!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Like Kraft Dinner, only edible!

When I started this little experiment over a year ago, I did it with two major purposes in mind: first, to actually teach myself to be a slightly less useless person in everyday life. Second, to win the heart of a beautiful girl who still needed just a little bit of a shove to cave in to my irresistible charm. While I'm still working on the first part, the second was deemed a brilliant strategic victory for me and we were engaged a few months later. I figured the ol' blog had served its purpose, and updates petered out as the summer of 2011 moved on.

Then a few weeks ago, Jenn mentioned that she missed being wooed by my unique, wonderfully charismatic musings on the delights of the culinary world, always accompanied by unmatched wit and style. Maybe not in those words, exactly, but that's the gist of it. And she's right: just because a goal is accomplished, doesn't mean the game is over. So, here I am, back in the game, ready to entertain you, embarrass myself, and maybe even make some food worth eating!

Today's menu: homemade macaroni and cheese, using a recipe famous within Jenn's family. This was very intimidating for me, because I'm trying to reproduce something that she has completely mastered. But I'd been having mad cravings for it for weeks, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and make it myself, then write about it.

Boiling water is something that even I can do, so putting elbow macaroni in water and watching it boil is almost as easy. While that's going on, I cut up about of cup worth of cheese(various types of cheddar, but I would've added some mozza too, if it had been handy. Give it a shot!) and waited. And waited. At some point, a revelation hit me: I have no idea how long it takes this macaroni to become tender enough. If this were the old Adam, I would've ended up with crunchy, half cooked pasta because the recipe was under the grievous assumption that the cook has prior knowledge/common sense about the subject and didn't list an exact amount of time. But this is the new, humble Adam, and I shouted across the house at Jenn to come look and give me some hints. Eventually I figured it out, drained the(fully cooked) macaroni and put it in a casserole dish with the cubes of cheese and mixed them together, and covered it while I started on the cream sauce.

During this sequence of events, I found out that milk can burn. Yes...milk can burn. What the hell? I'm sure that goes against several laws of physics, but whatever. When I managed to get some milk to the point where it was hot but not hot enough to violate nature, I added a mixture of water and flour and stirred vigorously to both keep it chemically stable and make it nice and creamy. When that was accomplished, I poured it over the macaroni, threw it into our completely out of whack oven, and let it bake for half an hour.

Man, oh man, was this ever a good idea! It was damn near as good as Jenn's own mac and cheese, and let me tell you, folks, that's a HUGE victory for me. So, if you doubt your abilities as a cook, take heart! Even an ogre like me can be taught! Until next time, readers!

P.S. I'll post a picture later if I get the chance!

P.P.S. I have nothing against Kraft Dinner! In fact, I even eat the little microwavable cups of the stuff...what that says about me, well, I'll let you decide..

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Oriental Adventure: Part II

Have you ever seen the episode of Seinfeld where George thinks his parents are avoiding him? After they abruptly hang up the phone on him and make the excuse that their Chinese food had arrived, George gets suspicious. The next day, he sneaks around their house and discovers a distinct lack of leftovers in the fridge, apparently proving his suspicions correct. While recounting the experience with Jerry he says that he knew that were avoiding him because "Where there's Chinese food, there's Chinese food leftovers!!" This was one of the few moments in Seinfeld where I didn't really get the joke...until now.

Feeling adventurous after a thrill-a-minute day of right-angle trigonometry and vector math, I knew it would be difficult to keep my heart rate at such a high level, so I decided I would order something that I had never even heard of and give it a shot. Enter the Dragon...Bowl, that is. Yeah, so there's this Chinese place here called The Dragon Bowl and I figured if there's any place I could get something I couldn't pronounce, this would be the spot. After asking for a takeout menu and browsing for a few minutes, I knew two things for certain: first of all, I had no idea what most of that stuff was, and second, I refused to get my usual side order of fries(my "security blanket"). Eventually, I settled on "beef foo young" and "deep fried wontons", sat down, and had a staring contest with the giant pink fish in the aquarium while I waited.

Now, I had(and still have) absolutely no idea what the heck I ordered, so when I got back to the hotel, it was like unwrapping a Christmas gift. Except after you open a Christmas gift you usually know what you're looking at. Take a look at the picture at the bottom of this entry. Using my advanced, Batman-like powers of deduction, I figured that the item on the left was the deep fried wontons, and by process of elimination, the beef foo young was on the right. There was also some kind of red sauce, which was pretty good, too.

Anyway, the wonton things were kind of like nachos..I might be waaaay off, but it seemed like some sort of deep fried flat bread or something. Very crunchy, and more like something I'd eat as a snack while watching a hockey game, rather than as a meal. Also, and maybe they're supposed to be this way, but they were a little bland, although dipping them in that red stuff fixed that little problem.

As for the beef foo young, it was nothing like I expected. I envisioned some sort of stir-fry type of thing, but when I opened it, it seemed like a bowl with some kind of crust on top(like the delicious mushroom soup I had at a fundraiser with Jenn several months back). I quickly discovered, however, that there were several layers of this crust. In fact, the entire dish was like a stack of pancakes that were stuffed with random things like noodles, vegetables, and of course, beef. At first glance, it seemed like a rather unappetizing combination of breakfast and dinner, but it all blended well. In fact, I couldn't taste any single ingredient above any others, it was more like a food harmony. Definitely something I'd be willing to try at other Chinese places, so I could actually have a point of reference.

Oh, getting back to the little Seinfeld anecdote, I was utterly shocked at how quickly this stuff filled me up. I mean, it's not like it's a huge portion...and anybody who has seen me eat pizza and garlic fingers knows how much I can pack away when I'm hungry, but holy crap, I could barely eat half of this before I felt 30 pounds heavier. Looks like George was right about the leftovers(and about his parents, incidentally, who actually *were* avoiding him). Good old TV, it's never led me astray!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The world's most underqualified food critic!

Guess what? I'm not going to talk about clowns today. That's right, no space clowns, no fast food clowns, no clowns, period! Well, other than this opening spiel, that is...

So, anyway, I'm in currently in the second week out of six in which I'm in a hotel room in another city, doing electrical training for my job. It's a great opportunity for me, and will certainly help me in the long run with career advancement and whatnot, but sweet jumbalaya it is freakin' boring here!! Away from home, my lovely fiance, and awesome, there's nobody here to listen to my rapier wit, clever anecdotes, and humorous observations...AND, I don't even have a kitchen. No kitchen = no cooking. You might be thinking, "Forget this! What's the point in visiting a cooking blog by a guy who doesn't even have a damn kitchen??" Well, that's a cynical point of view, isn't it? Luckily, I can't actually hear you say that, because it might just hurt my feelings.

Since I just started getting back into the groove with this little blog thing, I don't want to wait until the end of September to write about something, so I'm gonna take the easy way out. Instead of finding ways to ruin basic food staples and making a fool of myself, I'm going to judge other people on their cooking skills! Yep, for the next month, I'm gonna do what other, more important people do for a living: be a food critic! With the obvious difference being that I'll have no point of reference to compare anything to. So, join me, won't you, as I stumble from one restaurant to another(on company money, of course), trying things I probably can't pronounce while attempting(likely in vain) to compare it to something..ANYTHING, I've eaten before.

Come to think of it, this will probably be just as humiliating for me as cooking was...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rippin' off Ronald

Clowns are inherently creepy. This is not opinion, this is scientific fact. Don't believe me? Go back to chapter 2 and see for yourself...go ahead, I'll wait. There, you see? Creepy...and Ronald McDonald is no different. He's like the pied piper of fast food, smiling and giggling all the way to the bank as kids(and adults) all over the world follow him through the golden arches into a wonderful world of cheaply made toys and deep fried goodness. I'd probably smile and giggle too if I had the kind of marketing pull he does. That's why I don't feel bad for ripping him off with this entry: homemade Egg McMuffins(with bacon, not sausage). Truth be told, this one was Jenn's idea, and she did the cooking, but now I know how to do it too, so you can wipe that smirk off your face, Ronnie, you've got one less way to get into my wallet!

So, it starts off easy enough, just some good old English muffins, toasted with butter. Easy enough, right? Even I can manage that...most of the time. The next part takes a bit more effort: fried eggs. You may recall my first little experiment involved scrambled eggs, which I now LOVE...and since I'm stubbornly resistant to change, I have yet to make them any other way. Not that frying the eggs seems more difficult; if anything it looks a bit easier, just plop them in the pan with some oil or pam and let the magic happen. Jenn prefers hers slightly runnier than I do, but it's all good. Once you've got the eggs going for a minute, throw a slice of good old processed cheese on top, let it melt, and you're almost ready to go, just one more step: the nearly perfect food, bacon!

While I'm on the subject of bacon, I'm going to tell you something very important: floppy bacon is awful. I mean, really, really awful. Like gnawing on an old raw foot. There's nothing worse than ordering something with bacon on it and getting some flabby, reheated mess instead of the crispy, smokey flavored piece of heaven you had envisioned, so it's just better to stay home and do it yourself.

I gotta say, homemade Egg McMuffins are some of the quickest, easiest, tastiest snacks I know of. And to think...that stupid clown sells millions of them to lazy people everyday despite the fact that you can literally make them in the amount of time it takes to wait for one at McDonalds. know, maybe he's not so dumb after all...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Could it be...? Yes, a comeback is in the works...

Ah, it's been a while, hasn't it, my friends? Of course, I'm going forward with the likely flawed assumption that anybody even remembers about this little experiment of mine, and I'm probably just talking to myself at this point. But I digress.

Yep, I've been pretty busy as of late...the new career is going well, life is going great, and, oh yeah...I got engaged to the greatest girl in the world! So, while the lovely Jennifer and I begin to plan our life together, there's just one thing missing: my cooking skills have somewhat stagnated. Yes, yes, I get the joke..."what skills?", you say to yourself, smugly. Touche. Anyway, this blog was pretty good motivation for me to keep the ball rolling, so I figured I might as well give it another shot. Besides, from what I understand, my unique form of self-humiliation provided much amusement for many people...curse you people and your ability to successfully cook store-bought pizza...

So, I'll try to update every week or so and bring a little laughter to your day. Besides, what else are you gonna do with your time at the office? Work..? We both know that's not gonna happen.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A few tidbits of info

You've probably noticed a lack of updates as of late, and I apologize for that. It's with good reason, though! I recently started an amazing new career which, when I factor in time spent studying technical manuals, and the hour long commute to and from, cuts deeply into my blog writing time. I'll still update from time to time when I come across a recipe I'm particularly interested in, but it won't be as regular an occurrence. Still, you can rest assured that my new-found appreciation for the world of culinary delights isn't going anywhere, and when I screw something up, you can bet my humiliation will be up here in every minute detail for the whole world to read about!

I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank Jenn and her family for a wonderful turkey dinner over the Easter weekend. Great food, great company, and great hospitality...couldn't ask for anything more!

Oh, one more thing, I just passed the 1000 visitor mark, too. I know it's not exactly viral, but hey, I'm proud to have attracted that many people to witness my little journey! Thank you!