December 23, 2010

Stollen: My First Daring Bakers' Challenge

I am so excited to have completed my first Daring Bakers' Challenge! I decided to join the Daring Bakers because baking is my weak point. I know how to cook with intuition, but baking is a different story. It requires discipline and rigorous application of tried and true methods. It doesn't let you play around and experiment and tweak if you want a slight change. Or so I thought... As I slowly begin to bake more, and read more blogs that are devoted to baking, I've found that people who bake a lot do the same thing I do with cooking. It just takes practice, the same way learning to cook took practice. So each month I'll have a specific baking challenge. I'm going to try to follow the recipe to the letter the first time, then try to tweak it towards my own tastes- change flavors, textures, etc. And then try to find people to generously accept some baked goods from me so that E and I don't develop diabetes before we turn 30.

December 18, 2010

Brussels Sprouts with Mustard Tofu

Ah, the Brussels sprout! Seeing as it's related to broccoli, it's no wonder I love this veggie.  But the trick is to cook it right- when overdone, sprouts release a chemical, called glucosinolate sinigrin, that contributes to bitterness and stinkiness but which is also a potential anticancer agent.  Therefore, it is in your best interest to be sure not to cook the living daylights out of your sprouts.  I think color can be one of the best indicators- if you have bright green sprouts, with still a little firmness to them, they are not overdone, and shouldn't be stinky. (Don't go using these pictures as a reference for color, my ancient camera seriously misrepresents the beauty of a good sprout.)

December 13, 2010

Butternut Squash Ravioli

So.... I need a pasta machine if I'm ever gonna do this again. I love kneading bread, and I don't mind that my arms can get sore from it, or that 10 minutes of kneading can feel like 50 minutes of cardio- because it always produces good results (and sometimes sore arms).  It's worth it.  But rolling out pasta as thin as you can, giving it time to rest so it will stop fighting you by springing back after each roll, and then thinking you made it sooo thin only to have it come out surprisingly thick is just not for me. I need results.  Or maybe I should say, I knead results.  

December 11, 2010

Saga Jolokia Chapter 2: Chocolate-Jolokia Chili

I have never been a big chili fan, and it's all because of the beans. Despite a love of legumes, I have never been a fan of pinto and kidney beans.  They repel me, and I don't really know why.  There's probably some bad hot-dog association from the past.  (Just looking a can of beenie-weenies gets my gag reflex going.  Hot dogs are really gross- whether in a bun or in a soup.  That's right, a soup.  There is actually such a thing as hot dog soup.)  But that's completely beside the point, because this post is about chili, not hot dogs.  And while chili is frequently a topping for hot dogs, it is also a filler for bowls of bread and ceramic alike, a means for consumption of cheese and sour cream, and most importantly, an excuse to use obscenely hot peppers.  And over time, I have come to really really enjoy chili.  I still don't like kidney beans, but I'm ok with pintos.... as long they don't have hot dogs in them. 

December 8, 2010

Bacon Pecan Cookies

We had our first snow last weekend.  Snow is always magical in the south.  You spend days hearing it's going to happen, finding it hard to actually believe the forecast, but secretly hoping and praying it will happen (and preferably on a weekday as nobody works in the South on a snow day).  Then it does happen, all of a sudden you look out the window and there are these big, soft snowflakes coming down, melting right into the ground.  And two hours later, they're still falling, now accumulating and coming down faster, but still such big and soft flakes that it actually feels good to stand out in it.  And everything is so quiet.

December 5, 2010

Boozy Pork with Polenta and Roasted Broccoli

I love to cook with alcohol.  Meaning, I enjoy a beer or glass wine while cooking AND I enjoy splashing a little of my libation of choice into what I'm cooking.  I think booze can be utilized in so many different dishes, and often it's not even something I've planned in advance to do.  Sauces are an obvious place to put some wine or beer, or even liquor.  But I also like to use alcohol to deglaze sauteed veggies, add acidity to soups or marinades, and whet my appetite (oh I mentioned that already, right?). Plus, if you're cooking fish, they can really help remove the fishy odor when added to the pan.   

Anyway, I wanted to use some polenta in the pantry and since E's favorite protein is pig, I picked up some pork chops.  However, I am a big fan of having many colors on my plate- and pork chops and polenta seemed like too much in the yellow-brown vein.  Red wine to the rescue! A nice drizzle of buttery, oniony, red wine sauce over some crispy pork chops and creamy polenta... all topped off with a beautiful splash of green from the world's best vegetable- broccoli.  (You'll have to just trust me on the beautiful part- my camera parties like it's 1999 because that's when it was made.)

December 1, 2010

Thanks Given, and Doggies Treated Well

Thanksgiving was an amazing holiday this year.  E and I had our first family holiday as a married couple, and it was just perfect- although too brief.  The company was splendid, with endless rounds of Catch Phrase (awesome!) and Apples to Apples (not so awesome).  The dinner was fantastic, with all the regular favorites and some new ones as well.  The dessert was an adventure, as grilling pies is not as easy as a full belly and several glasses of wine had me believe.  And it was all topped off with a bonfire, complete with guitars, a mushroom the size of an infant, and a robust rendition of The Little Mermaid soundtrack.  The entire family, 7 people and 5 dogs (there are also 3 cats in the family, but I doubt they would have stayed past Les Poissons), all enjoying each other's company as the night wound down. Couldn't have asked for more...