Saturday, January 29, 2011

Grate Expectations

Note to self: when dealing with cayenne pepper, do not lean over bottle and inhale deeply.

The muffins went well this morning. Ironically, I think I did use about 3.14159 carrots: I found three quarters that totalled 5oz, but I wasn't able to grate them completely, so I added an extra piece to make sure I had enough carrot.

I also discovered that I was supposed to have mini muffin tins. I do have them, but I thought they were the wrong size - the recipe called for "deep" mini muffin tins, which I suppose means they need doctorates in philosophy - so I decided instead to use regular muffin tins, where I *knew* I had the wrong size.

Final verdict: The finished product looks disturbing. They're pocked, bulbous, orange ... things. They're tasty, but a little bland: the cream cheese was definitely needed. And the orange turned out to be more pronounced than the recipe indicated. Or maybe I just used a really big orange. I'm not sure the taste is fixable: I'd add more cayenne, personally, but not that might not be to everyone's taste. Still, there's something oddly addictive about them. Definitely an "eat with something" muffin, though. Very easy to overbake: it's hard to tell when they're done. Grease tin rather than using papers - it sticks.

After returning from rehearsal, we enter the "traumatize the dog" phase of this evening's festivities. Pounding the Skor bars requires a mallet and an amount of racket that convinces my little furry friend the sky is falling, I'm mad at her, or both. I'm a veteran at this tart: it's an easy assembly, and I was able to get the pseudo-raita started as I worked.

At this point, I went off the reservation, even after I had moved the reservation in the first place due to its proximity to Cucumberville. Due to long practice, it was late and I hadn't even started dinner yet, and I couldn't stand to grate anything else ... so instead of being grated, the celery and carrot went into thr Oskar. The Oskar is my friend. How good a friend? You know the saying, "Friends help you move. Real friends help you move bodies ..." If my Oskar ever commits homicide, I am right there with it.

So ... finely chopped rather than grated. I ran out of steam at about 3/4ths of a cup, and thought any more would be too much, anyhow. I used an appropriate amount of minced garlic rather than fresh. (The Oskar also helped me with the mint. Yeah, yeah, yeah.) And I'd grabbed low fat yogurt. All that said ...

Final verdict: Absolutely perfect with spicy Indian food. Would make again exactly as-is (which is very little like the original recipe) ...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cookie Tart Recipe Remix

Before providing the mad-scientist's concoction this recipe has now become, here is a summary of the changes, so you can make your own determinations as to whether to keep them.

Ingredients revised: 1. My mother and I first made this together, and neither of us can stand white chocolate chips, so milk chocolate chips were substituted. 2. Both of us thought that the peanuts made the whole tart too salty. So the next time, I tried crumbled Skor bars instead. Skor bars, if you're unfamiliar with them, are chocolate-covered toffee bars. They're dense, so they only melt a little bit, leaving crunchy bits. Skor bars used to be about as rare as hen's teeth (still waiting for a recipe with that ingredient), but you could always find them at CVS. Now they have magically reappeared in grocery stores, but if you don't find them in yours, try the nearest CVS. (I wasn't paid to say that. Honest.)

Treatment of dough: Not so much a change as a suggested method of getting an even crust.

Baking time: The big one, and - of course - a total accident in the discovery. I underbaked the crust once in the initial phase, and so when it was completed, it wasn't completely cooked through. However, that slight softness in the cookie crust does wonders for the way the flavors meld, especially if you have foresight and make it the night before. If, like me, you wouldn't know foresight if it bit you on the nose, it's still very good right after baking, but it comes into its own after time to set.

Sidebar: Jif is not optional, people.


Not-So-Nutty Caramel Cookie Tart - Lindsey's Remix

1 roll (16.5 oz) Pillsbury slice-and-bake Sugar Cookie Dough
2 Skor bars
1/3 cup Smuckers Caramel Ice Cream Topping
1/4 cup JIF (r) Creamy Peanut Butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
1/4 cup milk chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350F. Cut cookie dough into even rounds and press in the bottom of an ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Use remnant dough to fill in holes. Bake 15 - 20 minutes until just shy of light golden. The crust will bake more later and when finished, it should still be slightly (but not significantly) underdone.

Put the Skor bars in a plastic baggie and pound them with a mallet until you have an assortment of small pieces. Measure 1/2nd cup - this is usually 1 3/4 Skor bar(s). Eat the rest.

Pour caramel topping, peanut butter and cinnamon into a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high until it starts to bubble - typically less than a minute. Mix together. Pour mixture (while still warm) on the crust. Try to pour evenly, as it does not spread well and will tear the dough. Stop just before the edge. You should have a small rim. Top with peanut butter ships, milk chocolate chips and Skor bars.

Bake again, 12 to 18 minutes or until edges turn golden brown. Cool completely. This takes a while, usually over an hour When ready to serve, run a knife along the outer edge before releasing the springform sides. Should be stored covered and at room temperature.

Menu Plan: Weekend of 1/28

This weekend is the time of ingredient substitution and whacky improvisation. Let's just call it: Whose Ingredient Is it Anyway? (I love Whose Line. Not for nothing was my CD of not-in-English songs entitled "Foreign Film Dub" and this is pretty funny.)

First, the base recipes:

Mini Carrot Polenta Muffins (with herbed cream cheese) from Teatime by Clare Gordon-Smith
Indian Cucumber and Yogurt Salad: Cucumber Raita
Nutty Caramel Cookie Tart

This weekend, I have a rehearsal for my Celtic-based harp group. As anyone with experience will tell you, leading a rehearsal for a group of harps is a bit like herding cats (specifically Scottish Folds and Manxes. What is it with Celtic felines and missing body parts?). I anticipate it will be at least a two hour rehearsal and I'm not going to feel like venturing into the uncharted waters of a new dinner recipe after that, so I'm going to buy some Patak's sauce and do one of my Indian throw-stuff-into-a-skillet-until-I-run-out-of-ideas-or-room meals. Potential candidates include chickpeas, dried cherries and corn. I'm familiar enough with the Indian flavor profile that I can kick up the spice level ... and will do so, for an excuse to use my raita. Is it still raita if you don't have the ... oh, getting ahead of myself.

I had mentioned last week possibly bringing the garam masala-chocolate gingerbread to sate the slavering, string-wielding masses. I decided not to because a) they're a very specific taste and b) there aren't really enough of them left. Instead, I'm making the carrot muffins. This will be the healthiest thing I've ever brought to a gathering even if I don't bleed on it. That means I'm shopping today so I can roll out of bed when-the-heck ever tomorrow and still have time to cook.

Obviously, the raita is for dinner. Since I'm allergic to cucumber, and since I'll already have extra carrots (I doubt I can buy exactly 5oz of carrots. I will be surprised if that's a precise number of carrots and not 3.14159 carrots), I'm going to be using half carrots, half celery instead. I'm thinking - and this is a wild guess because, gee, I haven't eaten cucumber - that the celery will be fairly close in texture.

Dessert is an old stand-by. It started life as an entry on a Pillsbury bake-off show, courtesy of FoodNetwork, and before it had been made the first time, it had been tweaked. Since then ... well, the original recipe is above for reference, and I'll post mine later. I need a name, but I'm lousy with titles. Yes, this is a terrible position for a writer to be in.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cooking Channel's motto

I just don't understood the Cooking Channel's motto.

"Stay hungry?" What's the point of that? A good part of my reason for cooking is to be not-hungry. Hunger, to me, indicates an uncomfortable state which one wishes to alleviate as soon as possible. I have a sense of the concept and what it's supposed to represent, but it's simply not what it sounds like to me. "Stay adventurous" would be preferrable, even if it's not a direct food reference.

I could go for "Stay peckish" but I guess a lot of people aren't particularly familiar with that word ...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Seeking!

Raita-esque (I'm pretty sure it's not proper raita without it, but I can take a raita that gets drunk on its lunch breaks) recipe withOUT cucumber. I love the idea of raita and it would be great with some of these hot curry recipes, but as previously mentioned, allergic to cucumber.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Casualties: Two

I did it again.

If I had a nickel for every time I forgot to put the butter out in advance so it would be room temperature, I'd have ... at least a couple of bucks. Enough to buy more butter, anyhow.

In the interests of sharing all the gory details, I did grate two knuckles on my left hand along with the freshly grated ginger for the cookies, but did not include the blood in the batter. I used the lemon zester. I have an odd method of using the zester: I hold the fruit stationary and run the zester across it rather than vice versa (or in this case, across the back of my hand. Not recommended).

Observation: recipe says to use the chocolate glaze OR the royal icing. I chose to go with the former. I also had enough of the Dutch-processed cocoa powder, so I did not have to go to another country, much as I might have liked to try New Zealand cocoa powder. I also did decide to toast fennel seeds for some (not all) of the cookies. Finally, I discovered that my cookie cutters were larger than the size suggested. I guess I have a big heart. Hearts. Two dozen of them, approximately.

Warning: if you make these cookies and use a stand mixer - and why you would beat something that requires this much mixing by hand, I don't know - be sure you put the lock on it. Even in the first steps, it's very dense, and I got to watch mine buck around the counter for a bit. Dough is very thick and sticky, even after refrigeration time. The combination made it almost impossible not to lick my fingers, since I'm one of those people who can't stand gooey stuff all over her hands.

By the time I got the dough in the fridge, I had molasses all over my so-called chef coat. It looked sort of gory, which is ironic, given the state of my left hand.

Final verdict: excellent cookies, very strong, but not very sweet. Toasted fennel seeds or some kind of topping recommended for texture. However, the glaze, while rich and thick, is almost imperceptibly sweet. I've made a few of Aarti's chocolate recipes, and she seems to favor a very strong, bitter chocolate. Next time, I will use a shade or two lighter, and if you want any sweetness in your cookies, I recommend it.

The white chicken chili went off without a hitch. Decimating the rotisserie chicken seemed much easier this time. Maybe I've got the hang of it. There were no guidelines in the recipe as to how to handle the seeds and veins in the peppers. I vaguely recalled when I watched the episode that the Neelys said to temper it: keep everything for a very spicy chili and remove for a milder one. In other words, hot chili is in-vein.

I decided to remove most of the seeds and veins from the jalapeno and by contrast, leave most of them in the poblanos. It turned out just a little bit too spicy for me - keep in mind that I have a high-but-not-ridiculous tolerance for culinary heat. I crumbled up tortilla chips in the soup as I ate and thought it added a needed element of texture. (If you just stick them in beforehand, they gush out.)

I ended up using two-thirds of my medium onion and for me, that was perfect.

Juicing a lime with grated-open knuckles, by the way? Not so fun.

Final verdict: Recommended. Cut back on pepper parts. Actually having had the chili, I think the lemon-pepper rotisserie chicken would have gone well with it. Such is life.

The Inner Editor Never Sleeps ...

Grocery shopping this morning, I studied the display of peppers thoughtfully. And I thought, "Hmm, I hope that's a typo and there's not another type of pepper called pablano."

I've never seen poblanos in person, so I was shocked with how big they were. They're also this particularly disturbing shade of green. I'm a little afraid of them crawling out of the veggie keeper and taking over the kitchen.

Who knew that the ingredient I would have to scour two stores for was a plain rotisserie chicken? I thought about using the lemon pepper chicken, but I've never made this recipe before, so I don't know how it would interact with everything else. Definitely the chicken disassembly carnage will be done ahead of time, as last time it took me forever.

I also realized last night (when I was supposed to be sleeping) that I would need a cookie cutter for the cookies. The only one I could find on my shelf that was the appropriate size was heart-shaped.

Help, help! I'm making girly-girl cookies!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Menu: Weekend of 1/22

Plan of attack for this weekend:

White Chicken Chili
Garam Masala-Chocolate Gingerbread

Number of Google excursions: 2

I Googled: white beans (to find out if cannellini qualified) and "How do you tell if an onion has gone bad?" Apart from the obvious signs that one in my basket had sprouted not only leaves, but a top complete with jaunty hat. I suppose holding up the nearby fruits for their wallets would also count.

Substitutions: 2 in Chili (and one note), 3 (minor) in Gingerbread

Back, foul onions, back! (Yes, they've definitely gone bad for the purposes of this discussion.) Needing one large onion, I've decided to risk using the medium onion I have. If I cut it and it's obviously bad, then I will have less onion. Say, none. This will not bother me. Upon advice, using appropriate amount of minced garlic rather than cloves. Also chose to use cannellini specifically for the white beans.

I have an indeterminate amount of Dutch-processed cocoa powder and a full jar of what I am assuming is American cocoa powder, though I suppose it also could be Antarctic cocoa powder. It does not specify. Rather than buy more, I am blending. I don't have fine salt, so ... regular salt will do just fine. (I'm starting to hear oldies girl groups in my head: "It's so fine ... oh, yeah ...") By contrast, I have enough garam masala to make a hundred batches of these cookies. Approximately. I have no clue what egg white powder even is, I am not buying way too much of anything just for frosting, and I know that icing will work up just fine with confectioner's sugar and water ... so out that goes.

I've had some issues with bittersweet chocolate being too sour, but I've used Ghiradelli bars in the past and I think those are too high quality for little ol' me. I'm going to try a different brand this time before conceding and going to semi-sweet.

As to why these recipes, this will be the first recipe I've attempted from the Neely's. I watch them often and adore their interactions. I've actually had this chili recipe sitting out as my next cooked dinner since ... before Thanksgiving. I've been stuck in diet limbo ever since, and then I was tricked into buying smaller pants, so then I really didn't have a choice unless I wanted to use a crowbar and some lube (Hi, Faye!) to get into them.

As for the gingerbread, both my mother and I are gingerbread fanatics. I printed two somewhat off-beat gingerbread recipes for this Christmas, both of which she approached like a woman at an octopus petting zoo. (She's also not much for spicy.) We ended up making a mix of ginger cookies that weren't really gingerbread. Tragedy all around. But I've been crazing good gingerbread since, so it's time to unleash the dogs of garam masala ... which sort of sounds like a place in Mordor, if you think about it.

(For the record, it actually means "warm spice" and doesn't refer to a specific blend: every village / region has its own garam masala. I use a brand called Swad: Best Taste In Town produced by Raja Foods. If you use something else, your mileage may vary. Aarti probably intends this recipe to be made with her specific spice blend, available on her site - which I may attempt when I run out of the Swad. In 2015 or so.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kitchen Tips

Every profession or hobby has its own tips or tricks, and frequently, they're a matter of personal preference. As William Jackson once said, "If you get the best sound out of your harp by playing with your nose, play with your nose." (I do not recommend cooking with your nose, as it would be decidedly unsanitary.)

Being a new cook, every time I hear one of these culinary hints, I bask in the light of its brilliance. Truly, the ideal way to cut mango is an art for the ages.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

1. Always crack eggs into a separate bowl. (I've never had a bad egg or a double yolk, but it only takes one. Or two.)
2. If measuring liquid substances, measure the oil first. It helps everything after slide out.
3. If juicing a lemon by hand, hold it sliced side up to squeeze. It helps prevent the seeds from popping out in the bowl.
4. You can never have too much cinnamon.

What are some of yours?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Palette - A Study In Purple

Since part of the purpose of this blog is to evaluate recipes, I think it only fair to disclaim my (often very odd) personal tastes.

When I was young, I was diagnosed with food allergies. Not the swell-up-and-die kind of allergies, but the feel-miserable-and-crabby kind. For several years, I was on a strict elimination diet followed by a rotation diet. That is to say, I could only eat certain foods once every five days, not that I was required to spin around constantly.

This had two effects. One, it contributed to my love, appreciation and obsession for / with / by / to food. I don't have a sweet-tooth; I have an everything-tooth. Two, it created some bizarre eating preferences, including foods I still don't eat because I never developed a taste for them, foods I may or may not still be allergic to, and foods I have a dysfunctional, bipolar relationship with because I ate too much of them while on said diet.

Cheesecake is the major one. I was obsessed with cheesecake while on-diet because it was virtually the only dessert I could eat. After too many cheesecake inhalings, however, I grew sick of its issues. After time (years) away, I apologized to the cheesecake and we started seeing each other again.

So without further ado (all right, there probably will be more ado during, but for right now), the list:

Allergies: Fish. This is my only bona fide can't-keep-it-down allergy. Unfortunately, my body has developed a smell-related defense mechanism and I can't even be in the same room with cooking fish. Or any kind of seafood. I may actually not be allergic to shrimp, shellfish, etc, but myself won't let me close enough to it to find out. This is sadly not the only conspiracy I am committing towards myself.

Probably Allergies: Mushrooms, zucchini, cucumber. (I used to be allergic to these things and there's no reason to suspect I've been "cured" of the allergy.)

Mild Allergies: Tomatoes, wine. I can't do raw tomatoes, but cooked ones are fine. Wine is fine in moderation. However, I don't get drunk: I go from tipsy to sick. Yes, I am boring at parties.

Irrational Dislikes: Beets (texture), asparagus, melon, spinach (except baby or leaf). Onions in anything other than moderation. Typically, when a recipe calls for onions, I will halve or omit them entirely. You have been warned. I am not terribly fond of turkey and will usually avoid it.

Irrational Likes: Apricots (fresh, but not rude), pine nuts, sun dried tomatoes ("sundry-ed" tomatoes, as my family calls them), peanut butter, any kind of beans, cheese - the sharper the better, ginger, cilantro ... I will use an unholy amount of cilantro in a recipe unless prevented by the forces of someone else eating the dish. Garam masala. Dried figs. Peanut butter. I could happily sit and eat an entire jar of peanut butter.

Here's the confession that might get me kicked out of ye olde girls' club ... I don't really care for chocolate. I don't dislike it, but I prefer dark chocolate, and nine times out of ten, I'd rather have peanut butter or ice cream. Or ice cream with peanut butter. Or ice cream with pine nuts ... no, wait.*

* = If you've not baked with toasted pine nuts, try it in place of walnuts or almonds. They have a very subtle sweetness that is positively addictive in cookies.

Anyhow, this is just so folks know where I'm coming from when I kick up the spice level (I like it hot) or cut ingredients. Your mileage may vary. (Hopefully not a lot, given the price of gas these days.) Happy cooking!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Why "Evil Overlady?"

(More quotation marks! Appropriately punctuated, at that. I have to take refuge in my competence in *some*thing.)

So some of you may be wondering (or not!) about the title of this blog. When I was poking around, trying to come up with a clever / cute / funny handle, I was originally looking for something that would highlight my difficulties. So being left-i-capped, the first idea I had was, "The Sinister Chef," but then I thought ... that's not funny at all.

But evil overlords are sinister. And perversely funny. And it certainly fits the grandoise plans I seem to get myself into. If there were a "The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord (In The Kitchen)" list (see Evil Overlord List - one of the best pieces of literature on the net), I would be flagrantly disobeying most of it.

Some day, I will be conquered by a plucky group of misfit souffles. Until then ...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Evil Plans (Purpose and Format)

The purpose of this blog is to a) entertain; b) provide reviews and commentary upon recipes; and c) hopefully make the reader feel better about their own kitchen mishaps.

In light of the second goal, if the recipe is available online, I will link to it. If the recipe is in a book or magazine, I will provide the specific source ... if I have any clue where I found it in the first place.

My recipe adventures tend to be limited to the weekends for two reasons: time and weight maintenance. I'm on a moderate diet during the week and cut loose on weekends. However, I do like to play around with a lot of specialty sauces and mixes during the week, and if I think these are intriguing / bizarre / good enough to share, I shall feel free to.

If I'm going to cook a particular weekend, you'll likely see the recipes Friday and then the gory aftermath Saturday. Comments on the shopping itself possible, seeing as I have traumatized the workers at my local grocery store asking for things. Sometimes, it's an easy answer, but come on, *I* would have put condensed and evaporated milk with the MILK-milk. Ditto coconut milk. Oh, if only a grocery store operated like a search engine.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My "'"Culinary Background"'"

My experience in the kitchen really does deserve not just one, but three sets of quotation marks, and because I'm a writer and a terminal grammarian, they are formatted correctly (double-single-double). Anything else would be sacrilege.

Up until about August of this year - eek, last year! Curse you, 2011 - I didn't cook. I lived on microwaved meals with the occasional helping of boil-and-serve pasta. Weekends usually involved fast food or random blitzkriegs on the IHOP. (Come on, haven't you had irresistible cravings for sugary pancakes?)

True confession: I watch some skill-based reality TV, and I've always loved FoodNetwork's shows for their general entertainment value and wholesomeness. I've watched them even when I'm dieting, apparently to excise sundry masochistic impulses. So I followed last season's Next FoodNetwork Star, and (like many people, I'm sure) I adored eventual victor Aarti. I decided to watch her show for fun. Then I decided, in a leap of crazed ambition, to try and make her first dessert, with the eye - if I didn't manage to implode my kitchen and permanently traumatize my dog - to trying dinner.

One batch of pistachio pops later, I was off.

Google is my friend. I have Googled everything from what, precisely, constitutes a simmer (while frantically babysitting a frying pan and trying to determine whether or not it was doing said) to whether or not honey goes bad to where you measure a pan to figure out what its dimensions are anyway.

I had carpal tunnel surgery on both wrists a few years ago. This means that my wrists currently are subpar for any twisting, turning or pivoting action. I have already had more incidents than I care to think about where I am flying frantically around the kitchen needing to add an ingredient to an already heated pan and I cannot get the jar open. I have run it under hot water. I have slammed it with a knife. It still will not open. Holding jars over the floor threatening to shatter them and orphan their countless baby jar-lets meets with mixed results.


My mise en place setup currently includes "open the bloody jars first." (By this stage in the game, they may, in fact, be bloody.)

My mother is a great cook, and she provided me with a lot of helpful hints which I am only now starting to remember. Or misremember, as the case may be. Through various complex circumstances, I currently have access to a massive stock of ingredients and supplies which are not my own, which leads to intriguing discoveries like the fact that I have garam masala (more on that later), twenty flavors of extract, turbinado sugar and no rice.

I am left-handed and will cheerfully blame any number of my kitchen shortcomings on the fact that kitchen implements are designed with right-handed people in mind. But sometimes, I have a point. Take something as basic as the square spice containers that have a half-circle opening. The flat part is meant for leveling. Ever tried to do that left-handed?

I've always had somewhat of a knack for desserts and cookies. I think this may be because it involves less chopping. Knives are not my friend. Except in fiction. And then really they don't have enough reach. Don't bring a knife to a sword-fight, folks.

As a musician and a writer (for which I get paid) and occasionally an artist / photographer (for which I do not), I have an overabundance of creative impulses and am likely at some point to jump ship from recipes entirely. This will undoubtably happen before I have enough generalized know-how not to make something that tastes like paste.

Stay tuned ...