Friday, August 29, 2008

05. Mayonnaise

Date Cooked: August 28, 2008
Recipe: 5
Page: 76

There were a few reasons why I decided to torture myself today. I say torture because I can’t think of too many other ways to describe the process of making mayonnaise by hand. The first reason is that I am going to be away for a few days and I didn’t want to do anything that would leave me with a ton of leftovers. The second reason is that I want to start eating more salads so I have been looking though the salads section of the ‘Best’ book.

I actually didn’t select mayonnaise first. I had decided to make a salad dressing which you will see in a later post and one of the ingredients for the salad dressing was mayonnaise. I didn’t have any mayo in the house but I did have the ingredients for making it from scratch. Now in the ‘Best’ book they have several versions of mayonnaise but I decided on the plain one since it was going to be used as a base for the salad dressing. They also have the option of doing it by hand or using a food processor. The food processor version doubles the recipe and uses whole eggs instead of just the yolk. I was curious as to the difference in egg usage considering the only real difference to the recipe was the use of the food processor. After whisking by hand I can only assume no human can reach the whisking speed required to emulsify oil into a whole egg. Why did I try to whisk by hand? I thought it would be fun…

I think my entire arm seized up after the first 3rd of oil had been added. My brain could not actually coordinate my arm to move in a natural manner. I knew I wanted to whisk vigorously but my arm and brain had decided now was a time to have a little family spat. I took a momentary pause to help smooth over the brain/arm relationship and once both parties had come to an agreement I went back to whisking, this time following the agreed upon terms and proceeding a little slower. Surprisingly the mixture started to thicken up and soon I had a beautiful, yellow, creamy... mayonnaise?

It turned out pretty good. Would I make this again from scratch? Probably, but I would reserve it for occasions when mayonnaise needed to be spotlighted. I would definitely like to try some of the other variations since the addition of spices and herbs could make for a plethora of tasty options. Of course next time I will try the food processor. Might be easier.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

(OOS) Poppin' Fresh Barbecups - The Day Just Isn't Long Enough

Date Cooked: August 27, 2008
Source: Taste and Tell

Okay so these don’t come from one of my official sources, but right now I am on a blogging high and feel the need to post everything. Originally I was planning on cooking some Gumbo because I’m craving something spicy and I had never had gumbo before. Unfortunately things just didn’t flow smoothly after work and by the time I was able to hit the grocery store to grab the final few ingredients it was getting pretty late. So I needed to figure something out for dinner. I still had this image of these in my mind from earlier in the day and it seemed like the perfect time to throw something quick together. I’ll be honest, this would be the second recipe that Deb has done that I’ve now attempted. The first was the meat loaf.

I used ground pork and veal because I had some leftover in my freezer and I wanted to use it up. The barbeque sauce I had in the fridge was already pretty sweet so I did reduce the amount of sugar (even then they were still a little sweet). My little mistake though was the amount of cheese. The original recipe calls for a sprinkle of cheese (1/2 cup) for all the cups. I misread the recipe and used 2 ½ cups of cheese. I was laughing to my wife when adding the cheese marveling at what some people refer to as a sprinkle. Apparently I was laughing at myself. But I don’t think there has ever really been a time when I thought less cheese would be good and this was no exception!

They came out of the oven smelling great and were definitely filling. I thoroughly enjoyed more than my fair share of them.

Poppin' Fresh Barbecups
adapted from Taste and Tell
  • ½ lb. lean ground pork
  • ½ lb. lean ground veal
  • ½ cup barbecue sauce
  • ¼ cup chopped onions
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 can Pillsbury Flaky Rolls
  • 2 ½ cups shredded cheese (marble cheddar)
Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. In a skillet, brown the ground meat and drain. Add the onions, sugar and barbeque sauce and heat through for a few minutes.

Seperate the dough into 10 pieces and place each piece into the cup of a greased muffin tray. Press and shape the dough to line the cup. Place about 1/4 cup of the meat mixture into each dough-lined cup. Sprinkle each with cheese.

Bake at 400°F for about 10 minutes. Let stand for 1 minute; remove from muffin cups

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Thai Green Curry with Chicken, Broccoli and Mushrooms (Supplemental Recipe #2) - Drowning in Deliciousness!

Date Cooked: August 24, 2008

My wife has been a big supporter of my newest little project and she had requested that I make a Thai curry of some sort so I looked through the ‘Best’ book and unfortunately there were no Thai curries to be found. But The Best Soups & Stews did contain recipes for several variations of both red and green curry. So we settled on a green chicken curry simply because we had chicken in the fridge which needed to be used.

I was faced with a decision as to whether or not I should try to make my own curry paste. In the end I decided that if I liked the dish enough I would consider making it in the future, but for now I would just use store bought green curry paste which wasn’t too difficult to find. So armed with the many ingredients required for this recipe I dove in.

If I had been preparing this dish two weeks ago I would have just dumped everything together, cooked it and called the meal complete. That was the old me, uninspired, clueless and let’s face it, probably a little lazy. But since I decided to start this project I was determined to make changes to the way I approach cooking and food. One thing I have learned in the handful of dishes I’ve prepared so far is that I am slow and unorganized, starting before having everything ready. I have already begun to improve in this regards. Gone are the days of burning the chicken while I look for a clean knife to cut the vegetables. Gone are the days when I discover I am out of eggs after mixing the other ingredients together. Then I found out the broccoli florets I had in the freezer weren’t florets.

The recipe begins by reducing the green curry paste and some of the thicker/solid coconut milk until it separates into solids and oil and I must say this is a rather fragrant state and surprising since the smell of green curry paste by itself is not exactly pleasant to me. Add to this the rest of the coconut milk, fish sauce and sugar and simmer till the flavors meld. The aroma in my kitchen was fantastic! The chicken was added and allowed to cook for a few minutes before adding the mushrooms and broccoli. After a few more minutes in went the red peppers and hot Thai chili peppers.

As I seeded the hot peppers the only thought going through my mind was that it would probably be a bad day to decide to put my contact lenses in. What was truly absurd though was I had almost involuntarily rubbed my eyes. Not sure why I was about to do that but I can assure you that would have been a disaster.

Once the Thai curry was done I removed it from the heat and added the fresh basil, mint and lemon juice and wow! The smell was amazing! I don’t normally cook with fresh herbs mostly because the frequency with which they get used usually means they end up in the garbage before I get around to using them again but I must say after that fragrant experience I will make an effort to use them more often.

So after the dish was completed and the pictures taken I decided to have a bowl of it just by itself. I took the bowl out to our deck where Katt was busy mowing the lawn to allow her a chance to taste this dish (after all she requested it). As I called her name a little fly decided that the smell was just too amazing and like the kamikaze pilots of WWII Japan, he dove head first into my bowl of hot Thai green curry and with a pathetic little flutter promptly submerged and drowned. I’m pretty sure the look of disbelief on my face overshadowed the slight revulsion, but at least I knew my Thai Green Curry with Chicken, Broccoli and Mushrooms was worth dying for.

The Next Day

I brought a monster sized bowl of this for lunch at work the next day and it just didn’t have the same effect. The flavors had melded together too much and it had a milder uniform flavor. The fresh and truly enticing aroma of the mint, basil and lime juice was now blended into the rest of the dish. It was filling but definitely not very exciting.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

04. Pita Chips - A Second Place Side

Date Cooked: August 23, 2008
Recipe: 4
Page: 16

When I made the last batch of hummus I wanted to try my hand at the pita chips that the ‘Best’ book suggested. These pita chips couldn’t have been easier to make… well actually they could have. You need to brush oil on each cut slice, I hate brushing oil on things… especially when those things are several dozen cut pita slices. When I made the second batch I just spread oil on the full pita round before slicing them. Much quicker so I’m not sure why the recipe indicates cutting them first. With a sprinkle of salt these spent 10-12 minutes relaxing in the oven earning them a nice golden tan. They ended up crispy without the sometimes dried burnt flavor toasted bread products can get. These paired wonderfully with the hummus I had made.

While the pita chips were easy to make, I’m not sure how often I would make these. Currently I enjoy grilled naan for serving with my hummus so the pitas are a measly second place choice. Although while I sit here and type this I am actually thinking these pita chips sprinkled with a little cayenne or some other simple spices would probably be pretty awesome. Maybe I will try these again soon after all.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

01. Hummus - Where It All Began

Date Cooked: August 23, 2008
Recipe: 1
Page: 13

So this is the recipe that started it all. Back on that fateful day in the grocery store when I defied the corporate man and decided to spend my money making fresh hummus instead of buying a prepackaged container I’m sure they all just smiled. I was going to spend more money buying the ingredients to make the hummus than I would have if I had just bought the single container. Of course this doesn’t take into consideration the numerous batches of hummus I would be able to make from these ingredients so I win in the end!

The only difficulty I had in getting the ingredients for this recipe was finding the tahini, which is essentially ground sesame seeds, nothing else. I hit several large supermarkets until I eventually found it. In the past few weeks I have definitely discovered the stores in my area that carry the non-standard ingredients… I call them non-standard but considering the ethnic diversity of my community they are actually pretty standard. I’m just learning to open my eyes and look.

Hummus is really easy to make if you have a food processor and I was really surprised at both how good it turned out for a first attempt and how quick it is to make. I think I spend more time getting the food processor out and then cleaned up and put away than it takes to actually make. Well this would be true if I hadn’t discovered how to make it a truly smooth texture.

The ‘Best’ recipe makes mention that after rinsing the chick peas and towel drying them some lose their ‘skin’ making for a smoother hummus. Well I have found that if I take this to the extreme and remove the skin from each bean then I get a very smooth texture. Apparently I don’t have enough to do in the course of a day that peeling chick peas is an acceptable practice. But the results are worth it, a creamy dip without the slightly fibrous texture of the chick pea skin.

Since my first attempt at making hummus I have begun to deviate away from the ‘Best’ recipe. I have found that I like a spicier hummus with a little more garlic in it. A pinch in the ‘Best’ recipe usually translates into a half teaspoon or more.

I will continue to make hummus frequently. I always enjoyed it as a light dip and only ate it during family gatherings or social events, now I can enjoy it whenever I feel like peeling several hundred individual chick peas.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

03. Meat Loaf with Brown Sugar-Ketchup Glaze - What Is That A Ham?

Date Cooked: August 20, 2008
Recipe: 3
Page: 451

I’ve been wanting to cook this long before I even considered this blog (and since this blog is only a few days old that statement carries very little significance). Everywhere I looked I found a story of someone despising the meat loaf of their youth. I can’t say I had these same childhood experiences… actually if there was something I truly hated it was potatoes… so much so in fact that by the time I was in university I probably ate potatoes once or twice a year. Obviously this didn’t include fries, I mean how would one survive in university without fries… actually I wasn’t a big fry fan either… onion rings… mmmm…. Wait where was I going with all this? Oh yeah, meat loaf. I love ground meat. Take an animal, put them through a meat grinder and cook them up and I will devour with enthusiasm. So I really wanted to try my hand at this meat loaf thing.

The first obstacle was locating the ground veal for the meat mixture. Every grocery store around me that I thought would have it didn’t. So I started looking for butchers in my area that could fulfill this request. Had a short list ready when I was swinging through the local discount grocery store and what did they have… a rather fine selection of ground meats. I was surprised because this is that last place I would have thought to find ground veal… maybe prepackaged veal cardboard cutlets or something but not fresh ground veal. Local farms must have been overstocked on young cows or something for this to end up here. Anyway I am rambling again. I noticed the veal, grabbed it and said tonight I am making meat loaf! Actually I thought that, I didn’t say it out loud, that would have been odd and slightly crazy.

Putting the meat loaf together was simple enough. Even I can measure liquids and throw them all together in a bowl and mix. The fun part was taking this amalgam of meat and spices and molding it into a free-form loaf, no loaf pan in this recipe! I resisted the artistic urge to sculpt it into a masterpiece and went with a traditional rectangular loaf… except it was more like a square. Then it gets covered in bacon. Bacon-wrapped ground meat. I think I know why I selected this recipe.

There is a glaze for this meat loaf consisting of ketchup, brown sugar and vinegar. I am not someone who traditionally likes ketchup. In fact the only reason it is even in our house is for the kids. But since the recipe did call for it I’ll put my personal preferences aside (I’m sure eating ketchup will be the least of my concerns as I dive into some of these recipes).

By the time the meat loaf had finished cooking and reached the recommended internal temperature my mother-in-law had stopped in for a quick visit. As she stepped into the kitchen and looked at my wonderfully crafted meat loaf, glistening with a red-hue imparted by the glaze and bacon fat, she turned to me and said, “What is that a ham?” I can understand the question, after all my house did smell of bacon.

I enjoyed this recipe greatly. It was fun to put together and was moist and flavorful. If I was to do this again (which I can say I most likely will), I would probably put a little more hot sauce in the meat mixture and use a glaze with a little more bite. It had a nice flavor but that flavor was mild.

The Next Day

Re-heated pretty well and didn’t lose too much moisture. I only had a small piece since we ate a good portion of it the night before… I actually looked forward to eating this and had to resist the urge to eat lunch too early.

Corn Fritters (Supplemental Recipe #1) – Keep The Phone Handy

Date Cooked: August 19, 2008
Source: The Best Vegetable Recipe

Mashed potatoes weren’t a real challenge so I decided to step it up by introducing an element of danger to the meal! I have no problem cooking with oil but it is not something I do often. When I mention cooking in oil I am referring to deep-frying and/or using any amount over a tablespoon or so.We had a fair bit of corn in the house from a Sunday feast so I felt if I was to cook a recipe I might as well try one involving corn. My wife suggested the corn fritters and I thought they looked pretty good so we set to work.

Four cobs of corn got the ‘treatment’. This involved either cutting off the kernels or more violently grating them off. After this comes the lovely process of milking the cob… not exactly pleasant imagery but basically you scrape the remaining corn pulp off the cob. Word of caution, this process can be a bit messy. I’m sure I will be finding corn bits for days no matter how thorough I clean.

Mix all the other ingredients together to form a thick batter. Easier said than done. Apparently my four cobs of corn contained a lot of water so the recipe as stated pretty much gave me soup. I didn’t really want to deviate so I carefully scaled the recipe up in batch sizes and realized I probably had closer to double the amount of corn needed. Once I got a reasonably thick batter I moved on to the final stage, frying the fritters in oil.

I think this is where I made sure all flammable items were kept away from the stove and this was the perfect time for those kids to have a bath… far away from the stove. I basically learned a few things making these corn fritters that I will remember for future recipes involving frying in large quantities of oil.

• I need to invest in a larger splatter screen.
• I need to invest in a longer handle thin metal spatula.
• I’m out of burn ointment.

All things considered they turned out surprisingly well and I didn’t burn or undercook them which surprised me greatly. At the end of this recipe I would have to say they were a little dense (most likely the result of me trying to correct the batter) and they could have been seasoned more (which is a personal preference a pinch of cayenne should have been a teaspoon).

The Next Day
I had these reheated for lunch at work the next day since my batch size left me with plenty. Same thoughts as before but now they weren’t even crisp. What do I expect when I only have a microwave for reheating.

02. Mashed Potatoes - You Need A Recipe For That?

Date Cooked: August 19th, 2008
Recipe: 2
Page: 187

Recipe #2? Where did recipe #1 go? I’ll get to that one in a later post but on with the first posted recipe from the ‘The New Best Recipe’.

When I asked my wife to check the recipe for mashed potatoes she answered back with title of this post. It’s not that I couldn’t cook potatoes, it’s just that I am now trying to cook the ‘Best’ mashed potatoes. The recipe was pretty straight forward but there were a few things of note to a mediocre cook like myself.

It started with boiling the potatoes and then peeling them afterwards. Not a bad process but it does take considerable more time since you are handling a hot potato while trying to peel back the skin (which once I got going was pretty easy). The book suggests using a fork to spear the potato while you peel it but I found my potatoes kept splitting, so I just tried to hold them. Now that I think about it a glove would have helped. I also found that you waste less potato when peeling after boiling.

The recipe recommended using a food ricer / food mill to process the potatoes into a smooth texture but I don’t have one so I used the tools at hand (my arm and a potato masher) and went to work. This part didn’t bother me since I don’t mind a slightly lumpy mashed potato.

In the end the potatoes were good but I can’t really say they were the ‘Best’, at least not for my wife and I. With the amount of cream (1 cup) and butter (1/2 cup) we found them a little heavy. I thought they tasted great but we prefer a lighter, fluffier potato. In the end a rather good start to my little project.

The Next Day:
I was a little surprised. These reheated in the microwave for my lunch at work the next day really well. Probably all that fat in them. Normally I find reheated mashed potatoes really dry. Not these.

How Did I End Up Here?

Welcome everyone to my first blog post! I have always had a fascination with food and especially cooking. I have a collection of cookbooks and magazines and I am a faithful viewer of ‘The Food Network’. In fact, I would be probably be quite happy if it was the only channel I had. My son on the other hand would probably have a fit without Playhouse Disney. Recently, I had discovered the absolutely thrilling world of food blogging. As I dove into this world I soon discovered a vast community of home cooks with little formal training other than a love for good food and the satisfaction of preparing it. Everyone has their own reasons but what I took away from it was an inspiration to do it myself. So I kept telling myself I should start a blog. But that wasn’t enough… yet

Anyway despite this interest in the culinary arts, I am a less than stellar cook. The basics often elude me (such as cooking chicken and blanching vegetables) and I feel proud whenever I throw more than two things together in a pan and call it dinner. Prepared meals are a frequent staple in our kitchen. It was on a recent grocery trip that another incident started pushing me to do this blog. We passed by some hummus and my wife asked me to grab it. That day I had read a recipe for hummus on a food blog, Closet Cooking, and thought to myself “why buy hummus for $5 when I can make it for $10”. So defying all economics based logic I grabbed the ingredients to make my own (I have a decent memory for things, in a list of 10 items I will remember all but the most crucial). I’ll actually post more on this event in a later post but let’s just say it turned out very well, and nobody was unhappy about my choice to make hummus.

It was a small recipe but it definitely made me feel a sense of accomplishment. But I still wasn’t blog ready. I mean a bad cook writing about his mediocre attempts at cooking just wasn’t enough for me… I needed a gimmick. And that gimmick came in the form of Carol’s French Laundry at Home. I loved the concept of cooking every recipe in a book and while ‘The French Laundry Cookbook’ was well above my capability, Teena’s The Gourmet Project tackling the mammoth ‘The Gourmet Cookbook’ brought me down to a more realistic level. But that wasn’t the book for me either. I have several of the ‘Best’ series of cookbooks from The Editors of Cook’s Illustrated and I love them. The recipes are great but it is the instruction and explanation of every dish that I enjoy. It lets me understand why a recipe is prepared a specific way and how the ingredients come together. It brings out the scientist in me and brings back memories of university chemistry labs. So there it was, the book (or series of books) that I was going to use to get started. In particular I was going to focus on ‘The New Best Recipe’ book. The ‘Best’ recipes cooked by the worst cook. Well maybe not the worst, just a mediocre cook.

And I guess that is how I ended up here… I love food, I want to be a better cook, and since everyone eats to live (except for the true food aficionados living to eat!), it’s not like I wasn’t ‘cooking’ before. At least now hopefully it will be better and more exciting, and my family will enjoy it.

So I hope that this continues for awhile. Thanks for stopping in and I hope to see you back.

Index of Progress


31.4% (11/35)


17.9% (7/39)


13.6% (8/59)


27.8% (37/133)

Rice and Grains

20% (6/30)

Pasta and Noodles

13.1% (8/61)


36.8% (25/68)


25.6% (10/39)


16.7% (6/36)


23.1% (3/13)

Fish and Shellfish

14.6% (7/48)


0% (0/13)


18.3% (21/115)

Eggs and Breakfast

34.4% (11/32)

Pizza, Calzones, and Focaccia

20% (6/30)

Quick Breads, Muffins, and Biscuits

7% (3/43)

Yeast Breads

12% (3/25)

Cookies, Brownies, and Bar Cookies

7.8% (4/51)


6.4% (3/47)

Pies and Tarts

8.1% (3/37)

Crisps, Cobblers, and Other Fruit Desserts

11.1% (2/18)

Puddings, Custards, Souffles, and Ice Cream

2.7% (1/37)
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