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..