Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cooking Failures and Triumphs, Part 2

So while I was making my hot cross buns, I had a little accident.

I was busily trying to mix up the dough with my hand mixer and I was getting frustrated because the dough was much sturdier than say, cake batter, and it kept sticking to my mixers. So I upped the speed and tried to get it to mix better. Then the batter began creeping even further up my mixers until it seeped into the innards of my hand mixer.

Long story short, RIP hand mixer.

Basically it overheated (luckily right as I was about to call it quits anyway), and then it wouldn't start back up again. I was even so crafty as to pull out the screwdriver and take the damn thing apart to clean out the dough that got stuck in there. I think I did a pretty good job and got it back together (minus a couple of washers that I have no idea where they came from), but it was too late. My mixer was done for.

This was exceptionally problematic because I had plans to make homemade pizza and banana bread later that day too and I now had no mixer. So I texted the hubby and this was roughly our conversation:

Me:"How much can I spend on a new mixer? Cause I just broke ours :( (i.e., Wal-Mart or Younkers mixer?)
Him: "Depends. What kind? The big stand one or hand one?"
(At this point I'm thinking, "What stand one?")
Me: "Hand one. Where's the stand one?"
Me: "Never mind, the hand one is the stand one. So can I buy a nice one or not?"

Didn't really get an answer before I dropped three Ben Franks on a gorgeous new 5-quart KitchenAid stand mixer. But my logic is that I would've gotten one eventually anyway, so might as well buy it now (while it was on sale, no less!).

So, not the end of the world, but definitely an avoidable hit to the bank account.

But what, you ask, was this week's triumph?

Duh. You have to ask?

Getting to set my food on fire was way fun and I felt like a super cool, expert chef. No lies. This topped my successful banana bread remake, the fabulously delicious and easy homemade pizza, and figuring out how to scald milk. Hands down.

Alright, I think I've updated enough for today. More to come soon I think.

New Recipe #1: Jumbo Shrimp with Chilies

So for my new recipe this week, I made Jumbo Shrimp with Chilies, although somewhat modified from the original. I got the original in a newsletter from Nudo (which I will blog about soon!) Here is basically how I made it:

1/2 lb. of shrimp (just enough for me by itself, probably enough for two if served with pasta, etc.)
Spicy salsa (a co-worker gave me a batch of homemade salsa because it was too spicy for her. I used probably two tablespoons)
Olive oil (probably about 5 tablespoons)
Salt (a sprinkle)
Grappa (Grappa is a grape brandy, I used about 4 tablespoons after a lackluster first attempt)

Mix salsa, olive oil, and salt. Add shrimp and mix well. Sauté in skillet for 10-ish minutes in an attempt to boil out some of the liquid (or next time just don't use so much). Add grappa, set on fire.


After flames subside, put in a bowl and eat. The result was a little on the spicy side, but not too much. I mostly focused on the exceptionally delicious part. I think this would be great over pasta, and it was my original intention to do so, but I got off work late and didn't want to mess with it. Also, I'm tempted to try out the recipe with my mango salsa as well. So many options and I'm so excited for all of them.

Yeast, Hot Cross Buns, Homemade Pizza

I finally got the ingredients together to make my great grandmother's hot cross buns. I had never made anything that used yeast before or anything that needed to rise before I made it, so I was pretty intimidated by this less-than-helpful recipe. Nonetheless, I am never one to let fear stand in the way of my cooking adventures, so I bought a couple yeast packets and went to work.

Lucky for me, my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook also has a recipe for hot cross buns (p. 157), so I pretty much followed the entire second half of that recipe as a guide for the missing half of my great grandmother's. Interestingly, the Better Homes and Gardens recipe started with "These slightly sweet rolls often are served during the Easter season," which made me realize that they are actually hot CROSS (as in Jesus) buns. More information about traditional hot cross buns can be found here.

Anyway, here is my modified recipe all in one piece:

1 c. scalded milk
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. butter
1/3 tsp. salt

Combine above and cool to lukewarm. Mix 1 tsp. sugar with 1 yeast cake, dissolve in 2 Tbsp. warm water. Add to above mixture, then add:

1 beaten egg
1/2 c. raisins
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
3 1/2 to 4 c. flour

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough (3 to 5 minutes total). Shape into a ball. Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease surface of dough. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double in size (about 2 hours).

Punch dough down. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Cover; let rest 10 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly grease two baking sheets; set aside. Divide dough into 20 pieces. Gently pull each piece into a ball, tucking edges under to make smooth tops. Place balls 1 1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Cover; let rise until nearly double in size (about 1 hour).

Preheat oven to 375°F. Using a sharp knife, make crisscross slashes across the top of each dough ball. Brush egg whites over rolls. Bake about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove buns from baking sheets. Cool slightly on wire racks.


Not gonna lie, this is pretty much what you would get if you made cinnamon raisin bread into buns, but they are delicious (particularly when they're fresh from the oven). Also, yeast is not that bad to work with (other than the smell...). I took the remainder of my batch to work the next morning where they were quickly gobbled up.

But before that, I decided to use my remaining yeast packet to try out Better Homes and Gardens' homemade pizza recipe (p. 150):

2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
1 packet active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup warm water (120°F to 130°F)
2 tablespoons olive oil

In a large mixing bowl combine 1 1/4 cups of the flour, the yeast, and salt; add warm water and oil. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping bowl. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (6 to 8 minutes total). Divide dough in half. Cover; let rest for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Grease two 12-inch pizza pans or large baking sheets. If desired, sprinkle with cornmeal. On a lightly floured surface, roll each dough half into a 13-inch circle. Transfer dough circles to prepared pans. Build up edges slightly; prick dough with a fork. Do not let rise. Bake about 10 minutes or until light brown. Spread pizza sauce onto hot crusts and top with desired meat (pepperoni), vegetables (skip), and cheese (smoked mozzarella). Bake about 10 minutes more or until bubbly. Cut each pizza into eight wedges. Makes 8 servings (2 wedges). 

NOTE: You can take half the dough and freeze it to use later and just make one pizza.

Now, this recipe was ridiculously easy and I didn't get a picture because I gobbled up that pizza so fast there was none left to photograph. This happened both times I made it. It was that delicious.

Also on the subject of breads, the co-op was having a sale on extra-ripe bananas, so I decided to remake my banana bread. This time, I baked it at 325°F for about 80 minutes and it came out perfectly. So, now we know.

Also, after much thought, I've decided to retire my goal of cooking one thing out of my grandmother's cookbooks each week. The main reason being that upon further inspection, they were not the best cookbook choices for this experiment. The PTA cookbook and my grandmother's handwritten cookbook were almost nothing but desserts, the omelets and crepes book was just omelets and crepes (and all of them had too many weird ingredients), the Pomeranian cookbook was hardly Pomeranian at all, and my Julia Child manual was more a lesson in how to cook than what to cook (and, quite honestly, I seem to do better developing my own style of how to cook than listening to Julia, or anyone else for that matter). Also, I'll be moving for school in the next couple months, so I'll probably have to give the cookbooks back to Grandpa before long anyway.

I think, in the stead of this goal, I'll make a new goal to make one new recipe each week, regardless of its origin. The point of the previous goal was to make healthier food, and I can better make that point if I have more sources available to me.

Yummy breakfast

Despite the fact that I've been seriously neglecting my blog recently, I have actually been keeping quite busy in the kitchen. Case in point:

Tell me how jealous you are of this beautiful creation.

Last week I made this amazing breakfast for myself. It consisted of a tomato, red pepper, and mozzarella omelet, whole grain sourdough bread with butter and strawberry rhubarb jam, and chocolate milk.

Now here is the (second) best part of this breakfast: The ingredients. (The best? The taste, of course!) In the omelet, I used eggs from a local farm, tomatoes from my home state, and organic peppers from Chile (the mozzarella was conventional, non-organic Kraft because that's all I had in the house at the time). The bread came from the co-op, the jam and milk both came from a neighboring state, and the chocolate sauce was organic and didn't have any really weird ingredients.

Overall, a great success and incredibly simple. I need to make more breakfasts like this. I think the main thing holding me back is having to get out of bed more than half an hour earlier than I need to be somewhere.

Monday, March 14, 2011

I Like the Juice (Juice Juice)

While I was at the co-op grocery store today, I came across some juicing oranges. A juicing orange is one with lots of juice inside and relatively few seeds, so it will be heavier than a regular orange. I bought eight of them and decided I wanted to try to make orange juice.

Maybe a month or so ago, I inherited an electric juicer from... I don't remember. All I remember is that my husband brought it home one day for me. I thought it was kind of cool, stuck it in my cupboard and thought very little about it since.

Then today I pulled it out and made myself a little orange juice. I had no instructions, so I could already tell this was going to be an adventure, but it was actually very straightforward and easy. I cut two oranges in half and stuck the halves right on the juicer and watched as streams of yummy orange juice flowed down into the collection container. The two (smallish) oranges made about half a glass, so I think about four oranges per serving would be about right.

The juice was pretty good, but a little bit bland (I prefer tart orange juice). Of course, now that I know how easy it is to make orange juice, my next step will be making freshly squeezed lemonade, which will more than likely be amazing. Or perhaps I will make some citrus fruit blend with grapefruits and oranges and whatever else I find.

Nonetheless, I think we will be hearing more about my juicer creations in the near future.

In other news, I bought the stuff for my great-grandmother's hot cross buns, so I think I'll make them on Thursday this week. Also, I've been craving pizza like none other, so I think I'm going to check out the pizza recipe from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle sometime this week too.

EDIT: I made breakfast a few days later and had a full glass of orange juice (made with four oranges), and that was way too much! It dawned on me that it was like eating four oranges in addition to my breakfast. So, two oranges should be plenty for a small orange juice glass.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Oatmeal Crispies

For this week's recipe from my grandmother's cookbooks, I finally pulled a recipe from the PTA cookbook. I chose Mrs. John Palmer's recipe for Oatmeal Crispies because I had all the ingredients and it looked simple enough. The instructions were not fail-proof, but I was feeling adventurous. Here is the recipe (I halved it because I always make way too many cookies!):

1 cup fat (I used butter)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups sifted flour
3 cups quick cooking oatmeal
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Make into roll and chill or form into balls and press out with a fork. This recipe makes about 4 dozen cookies, and they are good.

Not gonna lie, when I first read the recipe, I said to myself: Oh cool. I don't even have to bake them.

But then I thought about it some more, because there's raw egg, baking powder and baking soda in the recipe. Wait a minute, I thought, why would you put baking powder and baking soda in something you weren't going to bake? And why does she call them cookies later? Cookies are baked.

So after a short debate with myself, I decided these were, in fact, meant to be baked cookies. Then I gave my best annoyed face to the more-than-likely-late-Mrs.-John-Palmer for not giving me some kind of baking instructions. Any kind of baking instructions. Seriously, who bakes cookies by chilling them?!

After looking at a few more cookie recipes, I decided to just wing it. I put them in the oven for 9-10 minutes at 350 degrees, and they came out perfectly. Win. And they were good. Double win.

I do want to try to make my great grandmother's hot cross buns recipe, but I need to buy raisins, yeast, and allspice beforehand. Maybe next week I'll be feeling that ambitious.

I started Food Politics this week, but it's been slow-going and I'm not even out of the introduction yet. I think I'm going to like it though, once I get enough time to sit down and enjoy it for an hour or two.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I finally finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle this morning. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it brought to my attention a lot of food issues that I hadn't thought of before, but there was one thing that just didn't rub me the right way.

The premise of the book is that Kingsolver and her family decide to eat nothing but local food for an entire year, but they seem to break the rules every chance they get! They start off immediately breaking the rules by allowing for several exceptions right off the bat. They are allowed to eat grains and olive oil based on the simple fact that those things just aren't available locally. Okay, I said to myself, those are kind of necessities and if there's no way to get those locally, it's at least a step in the right direction. Then, on top of that, each family member got one "freebie" food: coffee, dried fruit, hot chocolate, and spices. Alright, I'll let that slide too. In fairness, they were buying those things from farmers who got fair wages and practiced sustainable agriculture, which is also important, and everyone needs a treat now and then.

But then they went on not one, but two multi-week vacations over the course of the year. And yes, they ate local foods from their vacation sites, sometimes, but not always. And they ate at friends' houses who didn't follow their locavore lifestyle and even ate out at restaurants that didn't serve local food on occasion.

Now don't get me wrong. Kingsolver and her family did a much better job of eating local, sustainable, and organic food than I do and probably better than I ever will. They grew a huge garden and raised their own animals and bought plenty of food from local farmers. And the vast majority of their food was local. But the thing here is that this was hardly a change for them. They already ate out of their garden previously and bought lots of food from the farmer's market and made an effort to eat local whenever possible. My point is, how is this any different than what they already did? They stepped it up a notch, but they really didn't go all the way, as the book promised in the beginning.

That being said, Kingsolver did an excellent job of making me appreciate and understand the importance of purchasing local food. I already knew it was important because you put money back into your local economy and it's fresher and all that. But one thing I never really thought about was all of the fossil fuels it takes to get food from all over the world to the grocery store. If we ate locally grown food instead, the fuel cost would be practically non-existent. Even doing something as simple as buying fruits and vegetables at the farmer's market instead of the grocery store would make a huge difference.

One other thing I really liked about the book was the inclusion of so many recipes they used to make locally produced breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Once spring starts to roll around, I'll have to try to make some of these when the produce is in season.

I also appreciated the alternating format of the book. Most of the story is told through Kingsolver, but her older daughter, Camille, had an essay related to Kingsolver's story at the end of most chapters. And Kingsolver's husband, Steven Hopp, interjected with relevant facts and statistics throughout the narrative as well. The writing is charming, witty, and endearing. I could feel the happiness, worry, pride, and panic in Kingsolver's words, and her passion fueled my desire to eat better. I think the next book I'll work on is Marion Nestle's Food Politics. Michael Pollan referenced this one several times in his works, so it's likely awesome.

On that note, I went to the co-op grocery store today and picked up a few more local items than usual. After I went through nearly two dozen eggs last week, I snatched up a carton of my usual cage-free organic eggs. But just as I was about to walk away, I saw a row of plain egg cartons and all that was stamped on them was the name of the farm and the city where they farmed. My city. Without a second thought, I checked the local eggs for cracks and put back my usual eggs. I also found a brand of cottage cheese made on a farm only 20 miles from where I live, so I grabbed some to make lasagna this week. I also got another whole chicken from a local farm, and I bought bread baked at the co-op rather than baked elsewhere and then shipped to the co-op, so it saved a little gas there.

Also, one of my cooks at work read about my poached egg fiasco and gave me a little pep talk (re: made fun of me). So I watched him poach a couple eggs this weekend, and retried poaching eggs on Saturday afternoon. Here are my results:

Much better!

Basically, my problem was that I was trying to keep all the white intact, when really only the inner whites need to cook with the yolk and the rest just melt away. So pretty much all you have to do is drop the egg in the water and don't touch it til it's done. Sorry Julia, but you made that way more complicated than necessary.

Eggs Benedict with Paprika

Friday, March 4, 2011

Poached Eggs and Hollandaise

For this week's recipe from one of my grandmother's cookbooks, I chose to make poached eggs and hollandaise sauce from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I made deviled eggs last night, which my husband and I nearly instantaneously devoured, so I was kind of on an egg kick already.

I loved the scene in the film Julie & Julia where Julie attempts to make poached eggs, and I thought there was no way it could be that hard. My cooks at work do it all the time and it never turns out like that soupy mess she made. But I hadn't yet done it myself, so I figured now was the time to learn.

I felt like the poached egg thing was kind of cheating because I already knew the basics on how to poach an egg (just break the egg over boiling water and wait til it's done cooking), and so it wasn't much of a recipe. So, I opted to do two "recipes" this week and finally learn how to make hollandaise sauce as well, because, let's face it, I wanted to learn how to take angels and unicorns and make them into the most delicious elixir known to man.

Surprisingly, Julia's recipe did not call for angels, unicorns, or any other mythical creatures. I chose the blender recipe (p. 81-2), which is actually incredibly simple and still tremendously yummy. Julia claims an 8-year-old child could make it, and I'm fairly certain that's still true. Here is the recipe, it makes about 3/4 cup:

3 egg yolks
2 T. lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
Pinch of pepper
1 stick butter

Place the egg yolks, lemon juice, and seasonings in the blender jar (or the Magic Bullet).
Cut the butter into pieces and heat it to foaming hot in a small saucepan (or microwave).
Cover the jar and blend the egg yolk mixture at top speed for 2 seconds. Uncover, and still blending (or not, in my case), immediately start pouring on the hot butter in a thin stream of droplets. (You may need to protect yourself with a towel during this operation.) By the time two thirds of the butter has gone in, the sauce will be a thick cream. Omit the milky residue at the bottom of the butter pan. Taste the sauce, and blend in more seasonings if necessary.
(*) If not used immediately, set the jar in tepid, but not warm, water.

Done. 3/4 cup of Heaven ready to go. This recipe is much more lemony than the one we use at work, but it's quite amazing and I have zero complaints. However, since it's on the lemony side, I would not be opposed to halving the amount of lemon and focusing on the delicious buttery goodness.

Next I began to make my poached eggs. Here is Julia's recipe:

Pour 2 inches of water into the pan or skillet and add 1 tablespoon of vinegar per quart of water. Bring to the simmer.
Break one of the eggs, and, holding it as closely over the water as possible, let it fall in. Immediately and gently push the white over the yolk with a wooden spoon for 2 to 3 seconds. Maintain the water at the barest simmer and proceed with the other eggs in the same manner. After 4 minutes, remove the first egg with the skimmer and test with your finger. The white should be set, the yolk still soft to the touch. Place the egg in the cold water; this washes off the vinegar and stops the cooking. Remove the rest of the eggs as they are done, and poach others in the same water if you are dong more.
(*) The eggs may remain for several hours in cold water, or may be drained and refrigerated.

Alright, I said, this seems simple enough. I broke my first egg and, mere centimeters from the water, I dropped it in. I went for the wooden spoon, but it was already too late. The whites had gone everywhere. I tried to keep them together, but it just would not happen. Here is the final result.

I'd like to call this style of egg "Poached Scrambled"

So, that was an utter failure. For the second egg, I ditched the wooden spoon and went for the larger silicon spoon thinking, the only reason Julia didn't use a silicon spoon was because she didn't have one. I decided this time to put the spoon in the water so that it would be immediately ready to rein in the wily whites. I tried to get even closer to the water when I dropped in the second egg, and once again the whites went everywhere. I did manage to keep the egg intact, though, as you can see below.

This one actually looks like it could've been served at the restaurant, but certainly not one of our best.

So Egg #2 was a solid improvement, but I wanted more. This time, I thought, what if I crack the egg into the spoon and then put the spoon and egg in the water simultaneously? Brilliant, I thought. So I set the spoon down on the stove top, cracked open the egg over the spoon and then...

Yeah... that's Egg #3 down there.

The egg managed to slide right off the spoon, through the heat coils and down through the dip pan into limbo. I momentarily panicked not knowing how to get the egg out of there. Will it fall into the oven? Will it just burn up when I use those coils next? What if my stove smells like eggs forever?! Luckily, the drip pan actually comes right off and I could stick my hand and a paper towel down into limbo to snatch it up.

Not to be deterred by this obviously bad idea, I tried it again. This time, however, I realized that there's more in the egg than can fit in the spoon, but I managed to keep it mostly together until it got to the water, where it once again went everywhere.

Egg #4

The end result was better than the poached scrambled monstrosity known as Egg #1, but not nearly as good as Egg #2, in which the yolk was still soft, but I figured I at least had enough egg to make a sort of Eggs Benedict with my creations.

I toasted and buttered a large piece of sourdough bread and topped it with Egg #2 and Egg #4 and then smothered the whole thing in my hollandaise (which I reheated immediately prior). It was phenomenal.


I garnished with a little paprika, but forgot to take a picture afterward (actually, I was just really hungry). But as I said, great breakfast and once I master egg poaching, it should be relatively easy to repeat.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


My co-op grocery store recently carried a brand of fair trade organic blueberries called Interrupción. I was intrigued by the asterisk logo that very much resembled the "belly button" (where the stem meets the fruit) of the blueberry.

Image borrowed from

 So because I was a sucker for the clever logo, I checked out their website, where I learned that they carry many fair trade and organic products besides blueberries and the logo was merely a coincidence.

Regardless, this is an incredibly amazing organization. What they do is help farmers become certified fair trade and organic by helping foot the upfront costs. Once those goals are achieved, they encourage the producers to reach the pinnacle level of alternativo, in which they must complete at least five projects that go above and beyond fair trade and organic, such as: providing education for community children, creating renewable energy sources, initiating public health programs, and more.

They value transparency. My carton of blueberries tells me which Chilean communities grew my blueberries and the website tells me how many workers they have and how much money went toward social initiatives in 2009. The website also tells me they've put some of their more recent social initiative money toward rebuilding workers' homes damaged by last year's earthquake.

My co-op grocery store stopped carrying them the last time I went in, but I hope to see them and other products again soon. On their website is a listing of where they regularly carry products, in case anyone lives near any of these places.

This Week's Cooking Failures and Triumphs

I'm not sure if this will be any kind of weekly segment, but probably something I will do every now and then. I had a couple epic moments in the kitchen this week and I think they need to be shared, so that everyone can behold my incredible feats and my egregious defeats.

First, the bad. As I mentioned in my last post, my husband had a little accident when we last made red velvet cake, and ended up dropping half the batter on the floor. Here is the story:

We made the batter together and then I made plans with my sister. So once the batter was made, my husband was supposed to put the cakes in the oven and we'd make the frosting and frost the cakes after I got back. As I'm about to step out the door, I hear the two dreaded sounds no one wants to hear come from the kitchen: *CLUNK* and *insert string of profanities here*

I step back in to find a huge glob of red batter in the middle of the floor. My husband had been wiping the edge of the pan where we'd spilled some batter. While doing so, he had accidentally moved the pan to the edge of the table and when he let go, it tipped over to its doom.

From my perspective, I had left him alone for one minute in the kitchen and disaster struck, and out of sheer shock I said a few things that I probably shouldn't have. I left the house before more unwarranted comments escaped my fiery lips.

Then my comeuppance came. On Monday, I was under the weather but made plans to go to my internship anyway around 1 PM. Before that I decided to go to the grocery store because we were getting low on the essentials. When I got back and began putting things away, I realized that we still had the ingredients for mango salsa and it needed to get made sooner rather than later. I looked at the clock (it was about noon) and decided I had enough time to make it before my internship and then I could pack it for lunch to take to work after my internship. So I pulled out the ingredients and began making it. To get an idea, here is the recipe (however, I was making somewhere between 1.5 and 2 batches at the time):

1 medium mango, seeded, peeled, and diced
2 Hatch chili peppers, seeded and diced (when these aren't in season, I use 2-3 jalapenos)
1/4 cup diced red pepper (about 1/2 of a pepper)
1/4 cup diced red onion (about 1/2 of an onion)
2 t. chopped cilantro
1 t. lime juice
1 t. olive oil
1/4 t. salt

Combine and serve on meats such as pork, poultry, or fish. It's also great in a breakfast quesadilla**. I got the recipe from the grocery store and am absolutely in love with it.

So, I seeded, peeled, and diced the mangoes. Then I seeded and diced the jalapenos. Then I seeded and diced the red pepper. Then I cut up the red onion. I put all of the tiny little chunks into a container with a lid and began shaking it to mix them all together.

Then, the lid came off.

And the next thing I know, the last 45 minutes of my life were sprawled all over the floor, wasted.

All I could do was stand there and stare at the huge mess I'd just made. I was so sick and tired and upset I couldn't even cry, but believe me, I wanted to. I kept staring at all my hard work, willing myself to come up with a way to fix everything. I seriously considered throwing it all in the strainer and just giving it a really good wash. But I finally accepted that it was hopeless, scooped up my all my effort, and threw it in the garbage.

I texted my husband to tell him what happened and that I knew exactly how he felt after he dropped the cake. Though I lost everything and he only lost half his work, I was at least fortunate enough be without anyone to say awful things to me when it was all said and done.

In the end, I had just enough time to throw some salmon in the crock pot before I left for my internship, so I still had dinner made, but it was probably my most tragic moment in the kitchen to date.

Yesterday though, I triumphed. I have a few recipes that call for a whole chicken and I really enjoy making them. The Honey-Basted Chicken I made yesterday can be found here, but I make a few changes. First, I just use whatever potatoes I have on hand and skip the sweet potato altogether. It's worked pretty well. Second, I don't really measure anything in this recipe, I just kind of estimate it pretty liberally. Third, I have yet to buy kitchen string, so I haven't been tying the legs and no one's been the wiser.

Now, when I bought whole chickens at the regular grocery store, the neck and giblets were already removed, so I didn't really understand this whole nonsense about removing it. Further, I wasn't really sure what giblets were, because we pretty much exclusively bought boneless skinless breasts at my house. So when I started buying whole chickens at the co-op grocery store, I found that the neck and giblets were still very much attached to the chicken. I found the giblets while I was acting incredibly grown-up and making my chicken dance around like it does in old Looney Tunes cartoons, when the giblets unexpectedly dropped out of... you know where.

The last time I tried to cut out the neck, I really had no idea what I was doing, and I ultimately cut most of the back of the chicken off. I knew this couldn't be the right way to do it because I've gotten whole chickens with a back and no neck before. There has to be a way to keep the back intact, I thought.


So this time, I again did no research and began playing with my chicken to figure out how to get this blasted neck out. I grasped the end of the neck and began pulling it around, willing it to wriggle loose and slide right out.

And then it happened.

It didn't just slide right out, but it did loosen its grip on the rest of the chicken. I wriggled it some more and it loosened again. I grabbed a knife and started sticking it inside the chicken to cut some of the pieces that were holding onto the neck and spine.

Slowly but surely, the neck began it lose its grip on the chicken. I began pulling it out the top of the chicken and the chicken began trying to turn itself inside out, but was still remaining more or less intact. I got to the point where I could stick my hand inside the neck hole and break the neck's grip on the legs. Once I disconnected the legs, I managed to wriggle the neck and some of the ribbing right out. A bit was still left in there, and I went after some of it, but I managed to get out the majority of it without severely damaging the appearance of the bird.

Here are my treasures:

Not the best picture and very horror-film-esque, but the spine is that big thing on the right, the giblets are the dark blobs on the bottom left, and the pink-ish stuff on the left is the saggy lady bits (Both of my giblet-ed chicken have had really droopy lady parts for some reason unbeknown to me, so I cut off the extra parts). At the top left is one of the thigh bones I pulled out kind of on accident.

And here is my happy but spineless chicken:

Note its casual yet mildly sassy pose.

I think it may have been easier to pull everything out of the big opening where the droopy lady bits reside rather than the much smaller neck hole, so I'll probably try that next time, but this was still a big success in my book.

The recipe is delicious (my favorite part is hands down the potatoes), but one problem I've had over and over is that my whole kitchen fills up with smoke while its cooking. To the point where I have to open my back door and my kitchen windows and run a fan or two and my smoke detector probably went off. The bird gets a little blackened from the honey glaze, but the smoke starts before that even. I think it may have something to do with the bird juices, and maybe I just need to do a better job of not spilling them all over the pan or maybe that's what tying up the legs stops from happening. So this may be a better recipe for later spring when the doors and windows all already open, but I'm gonna keep making it and maybe one day figure out how to avoid the whole smoky house problem. But that'll just have to be a triumph for another week.

**Breakfast Quesadilla Recipe (1-2 servings)
Mix 1/3(ish) cup of mango salsa with 2-3 eggs and scramble.
Grill one tortilla and sprinkle shredded cheese over whole tortilla.
Once cheese is melty, add salsa egg mixture to one half of the tortilla.
Add crumbled bacon (about 2 slices) on top of egg mixture.
Fold over empty tortilla half. Remove from grill, cut and serve with sour cream.

Peanut Butter Soup and Banana Bread

So after three weeks, I'm finally back. I could try to give you some sort of long-winded, trite explanation, but I'm pretty sure I can just boil it down to being lazy. My cooking has suffered slightly, but rest assured, I have maintained my goal of trying one recipe each week from my grandmother's cookbooks. Sort of.

I kind of wimped out the week after making crepes, so I did two last week to make up for it. I still have to do one this week, hopefully today if not tomorrow.

But on to the main dish, I say. Last week I made two recipes from the Pomeranian cookbook (and for those interested, here is more information on Pomerania). My mother's side is very German/Pommern and I believe this cookbook is our very extended family's collection of Pommern recipes. My grandpa, being the semi-pro genealogist/historian that he is, could probably give me a very detailed explanation of where this cookbook came from and who all these people in it are and more than three generations worth of information on Pomerania, but I'm behind on my blog so I'm going to skip all that today.

The two recipes I chose were Wallace H.'s for Peanut Butter Soup and Beverly D.'s for Banana Bread. Now, I know what you're thinking: Neither bananas nor peanuts are grown in are these considered "Pommern" recipes?! I should probably clarify then that these are, in all likelihood, Pommern-American recipes, but they seemed pretty wholesome overall, so I tried them anyway.

I chose the peanut butter soup one because, well, it sounded awful. I couldn't believe someone would make something so ridiculous sounding as peanut butter soup and actually eat it. And then I thought, well, if it sounds so bad, it's probably actually surprisingly good or no one would try it. So I did try it. Here is the recipe below:

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup diced onion
1 large rib of celery, diced
1 1/2 T. flour
4 cups chicken stock or broth, hot
4 oz. creamy peanut butter (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 t. salt or to taste
1 1/2 t. lemon juice

In 4 quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and celery. Saute till limp, 3-5 minutes. Stir in flour all at once. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Gradually whisk hot chicken stock, bring to boil, then reduce to simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Strain soup to remove vegetables. Stir peanut butter, salt, and lemon juice into strained liquid. Return to saucepan to reheat to serving temperature. Makes about 6 servings.

I did end up sauteing the onion and celery very well done, but since I was straining them out later, I wasn't too concerned and figured the burnt-ness might add some extra flavor. I used organic peanut butter instead of traditional to make it a little healthier, and I don't know if it was that or the fact that it was peanut butter that made it kind of hard to fully stir it into the soup, but I think with more heat it would've been a little better mixed.

Bottom line though, it was interesting. I didn't hate it, but I didn't really love it. I enjoyed the nutty flavor from it that you don't really taste in soup, but because it was essentially broth, there really wasn't much to it and I didn't find it very satisfying. I considered adding things to make it more filling, but I didn't have any great ideas about what would taste good in a nutty soup like this. If anyone else has an idea, I'd be willing to retry the recipe. Otherwise, I think once was enough for me.

The banana bread recipe was chosen because, let's face it, who doesn't love banana bread? I don't think I've ever made it, but I know a lot of people do it all the time and so it's something I've always wanted to make. Plus, this recipe doesn't call for nuts and I hate nuts in my baked goods. There's just something about having crunchy bits in my soft and moist breads and cakes and cookies that just ruins it for me, so to have a recipe on hand that excludes them seemed perfect. Here is Bev's take on banana bread:

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 large or 3 small bananas
3 T. milk or cream
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt

Mash the bananas. Mix in the order mentioned. Bake in a moderate oven, 350 degrees, for 45 minutes. More milk may be added if the batter is too stiff. This bread is nice if baked in empty tin cans to make a round loaf.

The recipe was easy enough. I didn't even use especially ripe (re: BAD) bananas. They were on the brown side but still very much edible. I didn't really understand the bit about tin cans so I just put it in a glass pan about the size of a medium loaf and cooked as the directions called. When I pulled it out of the oven, it looked perfectly brown on the outside and light and tasty on the inside.

Then I let it cool down and it became obvious that the inside was not quite done yet. I probably could've done the toothpick check and seen this, but it looked too good to not be done. If you're going to use a glass pan like me (rather than this whole tin can business), I would recommend lowering the temperature slightly (maybe 325°) and going for an hour or so. In the end, there was a bit of goopiness in the middle, but it was quite delicious despite this. I'll definitely remake this at some point and see if I can perfect the cooking time.**

I still haven't found something in the PTA book, and I think the real issue is that 90% of that book is desserts and I'm a little dessert-ed out. I will eventually make something, but I also need to find a recipe in Julia Child's holy grail of French cooking. So we'll see what I'm in the mood for today.

Also to note, my husband and I made a combined red cake and it turned out...interesting. First, we (re: my husband) dropped one of the layers on the floor right before it was to go in the oven, so we made a little cake with two layers instead of the full thing. Whether it was the missing batter in the oven or my insistence on using butter that hardened the remaining cake, I don't know, but it was not as moist as before, though it still tasted good. We compromised on one tablespoon of cocoa (to my husband's chagrin) and went 50/50 with butter and shortening. We used my recipe for frosting in its entirety and it actually turned out even better than the first time because it thickened up much more. We'll have to keep tinkering away at this until it's perfected, but I think we need a break from red cake, which is probably why I made this fabulous (and fabulously bad for me) S'mores Cake last night.

I have been keeping busy and have a lot to catch up on, so I'll post more today/tomorrow.

**EDIT: My friend (who suffers the same problem with her banana bread as I did mine) offers this advice: Banana Muffins. Her loaf recipe makes about 18 muffins, bake for 20 minutes.