Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fire! Earthquake! Sickness!

What a week!  Or has it been longer?

Sickness!

As you, my millions of loyal fans, know, my cooking hiatus started out with my mother going to the hospital.  I have great news here: no cancer!  She's home now and doing well.  She just needs to rest and heal.

I cannot express how relieved I am that she will get better.  Honestly, my mom is great.  I'm not ready to lose her.

Fire!

To make this week extra special, while mom was in the hospital we had a small electrical fire in the dining room.  Our water cooler decided that it wanted us to repaint the walls, refinish a little furniture, and give it a permanent vacation.

Fortunately, nobody was hurt.  But, we've had workers in the dining room now for three days ... scraping, priming, painting.  Looks like it's going to be a few more days of that.  Then, every single dish has to be washed.  We have a lot of dishes.

Since our kitchen and pantry area are currently in pieces (I'm getting new cabinets, yay!) ... my workspace is (was) the dining room.  Oops.

Earthquake!

Two days ago, there was an earthquake centered a mere 45 kilometers from our house.  5.4 on the Richter scale.  I was actually good and went to bed at a reasonable hour the night before.  So, I was up when the earthquake hit at 6:43am local time.  There was an aftershock about 10 minutes later. 

So ... it's been quite a week here.  Again, I apologize for the lack of posts.  When I get cooking faciilities again, I'll be back in action!

Oh, by the way ... did I mention that I'm getting a faver and a sore throat? 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Recipes to Rival

Quick note ... I joined another group.  Recipes to Rival.  With everyone doing super-sweet, they've turned to the savory side.  I like that!

Got to go for now ...

Wednesdays With Dorie For Mom

I was visiting my mom after the operation today.  She is doing OK.  Is rather weak and is in the ICU.  The doctor said that it's almost definitely not cancer.  I was so happy to hear that.

Anyway, my mom asked me "What are you making this Tuesday?"

I couldn't believe my ears.  Here's my mom ... pale, tubes all over the place, recently sewn up ... and she's asking what I'm doing for Tuesdays with Dorie.

I mumbled "some chocolate cake with a lot of ginger."  I figured she was just curious.

"Oh, I love gingerbread!  Please make it."

What am I supposed to say?  No?  Hah!

I need to gather some ingredients today.  And, I need to deal with some other issues.  So, I'm going to be a day late.

Still, it's for mom. 

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Medical Update

Well, my mother goes in for an operation tomorrow morning.  Eight hours from now.  Needless to say, I'm very nervous.  I haven't been able to concentrate all week.

I'm trying not to let it show when I visit her.  But, I know that she knows.

I'm hoping for the best ...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cake Failure

Well, as I was sitting down to prepare for today's Tuesdays With Dorie, I received an e-mail from my mother.

"come help me" was all it said.  I figured she wanted help setting up some software or moving some heavy object in her room.

Nope, she wanted help getting to the emergency room at the local hospital.  She looked bad and felt worse.  All thoughts about Tuesdays with Dorie left my head. 

To make a long story short, she's going to be fine.  She's weak but in stable condition.  I'm exhausted from hours of stress and worry ...

TWD?  The cake?  Another day.  I'm going to sleep.

Sorry.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Resolutions At War

It's Saturday night and I have yet to post for both today and Thursday.  I'd written that I resolved to post three days a week.  That is true.  My posting resolution is in conflict with another resolution.  My resolution to take better care of myself.  I figure drinking too many soft drinks is bad for me.

See, I'm a hard-core caffeine addict.  At least, I used to be.  I'm trying to quit.  I stopped drinking Coke Zero on Wednesday.  The headaches ... oh, my, the headaches.  They are insane.  I think it'd be less painful to get hit by a bus.

OK, so I exaggerate.  A little.

Needless to say, my motivation has taken a dive.  I'm setting new lows in thins-getting-done.  I've cooked once since I decided to do this.  Enchiladas.  I got pictures making the corn tortillas.  I'll post them in a bit.  Forgot to get the rest.  Just have this one.

Oh, very cool, I just received a text message as I type this ... the Parmesan cheeses I ordered from Cebu are waiting for me.  You know what that means: Parmesan Cheese Showdown!

Coming soon.  But, for now ... more Ibuprofen!  That way I can do my third (and last) resolution ... play more golf.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

TWD - Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins

It's Tuesday!  That means it's time for Tuesdays with Dorie!  This week, we've got Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins chosen by Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake.

I love cornbread.  Yes, you loyal fans know that I love many foods.  Cornbread is another favorite of mine.  I remember my mom making tamale pie as a child.  I loved that (still do).  Without cornbread, tamale pie is just ... well ... not the same.

And, I love sweet cornbread with honey and butter.  Oh, I could get sick eating too much of that.  Actually, I have.  I think I'll avoid the getting sick part and eat almost too much.

I liked this recipe.  It was quick, easy, and went together well.  I liked that Dorie advised us to not stir the batter too much.  Far too many people stir quick bread batters until they're smooth.  That results in not-so-delicious output.

I modified this recipe a little.  Around here, we can't normally get red bell peppers.  What we can get are related, but bitter with a nasty skin.  Again, not-so-delicious.  I wasn't going to put those into the delicious batter made with corn meal expensively imported from the US.

Also, buttermilk ... another non-starter here.  I just used regular milk instead.  Couldn't get buttermilk here if I wanted to.

Lastly, the sugar.  I know my family.  They'd want this to be a little sweeter.  I increased the sugar by a tablespoon.

Anyway ... here's what I did ...


Procedure

Mixed the wet ingredients together well.  Used one of my favorite tools ... a whisk.


Whisked together the dry ingredients, too.  Then, whisked in the wet.  Finally, whisked in the corn.

Sensing a pattern here?  I like my whisks.


I spooned the batter evenly into one of my silicon muffin pans.  Some rats ate at one of the holes when we shipped it over here.  Very annoying!


I baked the batter for 20 minutes.  A nice golden color, toothpick comes out clean ... done!


Recipe made one dozen (minus one) muffins.  Evil rats!

Test Results

Primary Test Group:  Yummy, kuya!  Is that all?

Potential Improvements

I would prefer them slightly sweeter.  I like a sweet cornbread.  Yes, I know hard-core purists will say "that's not real cornbread".  I say that hard-core purists take the fun out of life and should take up some kind of useful habit ... like drinking.  Perhaps that will let them relax.

Potential Variations

So many.  I'm not sure I'd modify this much.  The tooth was good, it was nice having the whole corn.  I might consider replacing some of the all-purpose flour with masa harina (corn flour).

Conclusions

Winner.  Definitely would make again to go with some BBQ.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

TWD (Catch Up) - Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies

Due to various illnesses, injuries, and equipment malfunction during the months of November and December, I am very behind when it comes to Tuesdays with Dorie (not to mention the Daring Bakers ... imagine, I missed their pizza bake!).

I'm trying to play catch-up now.  The leaders of both groups have been kind and let me stay on even though I missed a few events.  I suspect it's that I bothered to contact them and explain the circumstances.  You know, not just drop out of sight with no word.

Still, I'd like to thank the leaders of both groups for being understanding!

Today I'm doing Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies.  This was selected by Ulrike of K├╝chenlatein.

Since this recipe is from a book in print (Dorie Greenspan's Baking), I'll not post the exact ingredient list.

Now, I have no complaints about this recipe.  It's simple, tastes good, and seems relatively foolproof.  The complaint I have is about cookie recipes in general.  In this recipe's case, it claims to make fifty two-inch cookies, 1/4 inch thick.

OK, so let's look at this for a bit.  I'm going to be very generous.  There is about 4.5 cups of material in this recipe.  Now, the liquid parts will soak into the dry parts.  I'm going to ignore that because ... well ... I'm being generous.

4.5 cups is about 1.1 liters.  Or, 1100 milliliters ... 1100 mL.

The cookies are 2 inches in diameter and 1/4 of an inch thick.  That's 5 cm in diameter and 1.25 cm thick.  We'll just treat them as a simple cylinder for the sake of computing their volume.  So, their volume is height * area.  The area is the Pi times the square of the radius.  So, the area is apporoximately 19.6 square cm.  This makes our volume 1.25 cm * 19.6 square cm ... which is 24.5 cubic cm.  By sheer coincidence, a cubic centimeter is also a milliliter (oh how I love the Metric System so).

So, if we take the total volume of the ingredients, 1100 mL, and divide by the volume of each cookie, 24.5 mL, we get about 45 cookies.  A whole 10% less than 50!  So, there's no way this recipe can possibly make 50 cookies of the size it claims.

Now, the dough was actually closer to about three cups in size.  That's closer to 733 mL.  That has a theoretical yield of approximately 30 cookies.

What to know how many cookies I made from this?  Yes, you guessed it ... 30.

Procedure

I whisked together all of the dry ingredients.  Ooh, look at that big, big whisk.  I like that one very much.


Next, I creamed the butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla together.  That big red block behind the mixer is a transformer.  It changes the power from 220 volts to 110 volts so that my American-bought KitchenAid doesn't fry itself.


All the wet ingredients creamed and ready to receive the dry ingredients.


This is after I added the dry ingredients and scraped down the sides of the bowl with my silicon spatula.  When using a scraper blade like I am here, be sure to be careful when adding the dry ingredients.  They like to puff up and out.


I decided to use the cut-and-bake option.  So, here's my dough getting ready to go into the fridge for a couple of hours.


Here's the dough rolled, sealed, and about to get cold.


OK, fast forward 2.5 hours.  I pulled the dough out of the fridge two hours after I put it in.  Rolled it into a more cirular form.  Then, sliced it in 1/4" slices.

I baked the cookies for about 10 minute (rotating at the half-way point).  Here they are after they came out of the oven and received a generous dose of cane sugar.




Test Results


Primary Test Group:  Very good, kuya!  Make more!

Potential Improvements

Next time I want to try rolling the dough out.  Use my cookie cutters.

Potential Variations

Maybe use brown sugar on the top and see how the flavor goes with the cookies.

Conclusions

These are good cookies.  They'll definitely be made again!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

TWD - Cheesecake Results

.Whew!  Just made it again!  These past few days have been really busy with all kinds of unforeseen "fun".

Making cheesecake here can be fun.  Just getting the cream cheese and sour cream can be a driving adventure!  Sour cream is available in two stores within 25 miles of here.  Cream cheese in maybe four stores.  And, neither is cheap.

Still, that's part of the fun for me!  Finding the things which are hard to find ... or making replacements when they can't be found.

Enough of my babbling, onto the results!

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Delicious!  The starving demons ate most of it very, very quickly.

Test Group Random House Visitor:  Wow, delicious!  Did you really make this?

Potential Improvements

Shorter, denser ... oh, right, that would make it a New York style cheesecake.  For what it is, it is good.  I just prefer what I prefer.

Conclusions

This is another good recipe from Dorie. It's just not to my liking.  I'm rather picky.  Cheesecake is New York-style ... period.

A lot of people love this cheesecake.  It has a nice texture and is rather unique in being so tall.  Honestly, that's what I didn't like so much.  The height.  It was out of balance with the crust which I love so very, very much.

Tall-and-Creamy Cheesecake.  Was it tall?  Yes.  Was it creamy?  Definitely.  Was it good?  No question, yes. Was it great?  I didn't think so ... but, many did.

I think the real question is: would I make it again?  Sure.  My family loved it.  And, I think that's the real test.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

TWD - Tall and Creamy Cheesecake

I told myself that I'd start posting on a regular basis.  And, here I am!  Of course, I barely made it in time.  Still, it's Tuesday for the next few minutes.

I'm doing last week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection.  I looked for pears for this week's and was unable to find some ... not even in cans.  So, I elected to go with something yummy.  I'll find some sweet mangoes and make this week's on Thursday.

The fact that I love cheesecake almost as much as I love pizza had no effect on my decision.  None.  Really.  Honest!

Dorie's Tall and Creamy Cheesecake was chosen by Anne of Anne Strawberry.

Procedure

I preheated the oven to 350F (175C).  And, I put on a large pot of water to boil.

Then, I took some graham cracker crumbs.  They're not simply for sale where I live ... so, I let the graham crackers have a few thousand turns in my food processor.


Got a little melted butter.


Stirred the melted butter and a little sugar.  Dorie mentions in her book that she likes to use her fingers to to mix these up.  I, of course, wanted to do as Dorie suggested.  Those who try this should remember: wait until the melted butter is a reasonable temperature.  When it comes out of your microwave, it's hot.  Hot butter will burn you ruining your day and probably your manicure.

So, for the sake of your nails, wait until the butter has cooled some.  Or, do what I did, just use a fork.


Here's a close-up of the finished crumb-butter-sugar mixture.  It seems deceptively dry.  Just lightly buttered crumbs.  Don't be discouraged, this is how it is supposed to look.


I wrapped the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with a couple layers of aluminum foil.  Made sure I was careful.  I knew the cheesecake was going to spend 90 minutes in water in the oven.  Didn't want my yummy cheesecake to get destroyed before I had the opportunity to eat it.


Take your skin-burning crust mixture and put it into the bottom of your pan.  Press a relatively even layer across the bottom.  And, make it go about half-way up the side, too.

Ooh, look at the lovely yellow lighting.  I mentioned that I was working on my photography skills.  Here, I failed.  Eek.  Sorry!


Here's my mixer doing its job.  I have the side-scraping blade in that I purchased.  Notice how it does a good job of scraping the sides and incorporating all of the material.  Definitely worth the money I paid!

This cheesecake isn't heavy like a New York style cheesecake (my favorite, by the way).  It gets a lot of mixing.  Lots of air gets into the filling.


The filling ... finally done.  Everything incorporated.


Poured into the springform pan.  Oh, looks almost good enough to eat already!


I put the springform pan into a large roasting pan.  Then, I filled the roasting pan halfway up the side of my springform pan with the boiling water.

OK, here's the pan in the oven. 


Ahh, the finished cheesecake.  It came out of the oven and the top was very wobbly.  I was worried about this.  I thought maybe it was undercooked.

Still, I trusted the recipe.  I let the cheesecake sit on the cooling rack for an hour.  Then, transferred it to the fridge for cooling overnight.

Waiting overnight for a cheesecake ... not a good thing.

To Be Continued

Tomorrow we'll have the test results.  I'm still a little concerned about the texture.  We'll see.

Mmmm, cheesecake for breakfast ...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Year's Resolutions ... An Exercise In Futility?

Every year, the vast majority of us make resolutions for every new year. Most of those resolutions revolve around improving ourselves in one way or another.

Most of us also fail miserably at our resolutions. Not due to lack of trying or lack of trying. It's just that we have our habits, our vices, and we like them.

This year, I'm going to try something different. I'm not going to resolve to lose weight, not going to resolve to exercise every day for two hours, not even going to resolve to eat better (although, I _am_ giving up Coke products ... I like the way water makes me feel ... that makes keeping this resolution a lot easier).

I'm resolving to build discipline in myself. Yes, you read that right: discipline.

I spent a lot of time this holiday season doing self-examination. I suspect many of us do when we're not at a party or recovering from a party.

Now, if you've gotten this far in this rambling post and are anything like me, you're asking yourself "why should I care? and, how does this apply to your cooking and the blog?"

Good questions! I'd ask those myself.

Up until now, my posting has been random, sporadic, periods of maniacal posting followed by lulls. I want to stop doing that. I will stop doing that.

I need a schedule. I'm thinking about posting on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. I don't have a staff to help me take care of the writing, photography, editing, cooking, and food styling, so I'm going to have to have enough time to do it ...and have time for my life, too.

I have a second resolution: I want to do better photographs.  I'm going to try starting immediately.  So, if you see pictures going downhill at first, please be patient. 

I'm going to continue my quest for pizzas and Italian food in general.  Same with Dim Sum and Chinese food.

Besides that, I'm just going to keep cooking and loving it.  The new year is here ... time to enjoy ourselves and appreciate our lives.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

Wow, what a week! It's flown past so quickly.

I've been doing some minor catering here. Lots of fun. Nervous, too. Want to make sure that I do my best.

Rather diverse. Pizza, Nor Mai Gai, cookies, beef pot roast, cheese sauce, potato rolls. I need to practice more with these so that they become natural.

I'm also talking with a new coffee shop here about supplying them with biscotti. Very cool. They're interested in pizza, too, if I can freeze it for them for later baking.

Last night, we spent an hour shooting off fireworks. Just fantastic! We recorded the first 40 minutes of the display. When the stores open and I'm able to get a cable to connect our camcorder to my PC via FireWire, I'll post the video.

Legal "Made in China" fireworks. Makes a pyromaniac like me so very, very happy.