Thursday, April 28, 2011

Long Overdue

     

     I completely forgot about this banana bread. How could I forget banana bread? It is so comfy and homey, but it just totally slipped my mind. I think its this summery weather. Banana bread is a throwback to those chilly breezes of a week ago, now all is hot. Unfortunately, today it is hot and humid. I was supposed to leave work an hour ago, but I'm just sitting here chilling while the rain thunders on outside. Go rain go, I am safe inside.


     What do I have to say about this banana bread? I wish I still had some. I am starving...ahhh so hungry! I would totally venture outside to go food hunting, if I didn't have this precious laptop with me. Silly laptop, why are you so fragile? The poor thing is already cracked around the edges because I have dropped it so many times, I would not want to get it wet. I am also obviously not focusing. What was I talking about again? Oh right. Banana bread. That I finished. Which also finished a lot of my baking supplies:


     I suppose it is to be expected that after you make three layers of a cake and a banana bread, you will not have any flour or butter left. The butter is a sad thing though, it is very hard to eat bread without butter. So, what was the alternative? 


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Simple Life and Sandwiches

     

     Whew, the Great Cake really took it out of me. I mean, I've recovered from the making already but that was a Long post to write. I don't suppose any of you are attempting making it Right right now, but in case you have looked at the recipe, that was a long time of typing time right there. So, it's time to take a break. Slow down. Relax. And make some sandwiches.




Monday, April 25, 2011

The Great Cake Part V: The Great Cake

     

     What? We have actually reached the end? Can that be possible? Can the whole cake finally be on display four days after it was actually completed and a day after it was finally finished? Yes, yes it can. Welcome to the beginning of the end everyone, welcome to the post about the Whole Great Cake.


     Putting this cake together was a process that began on Wednesday night, with me taking the layers out of the freezer to defrost and then realizing I would have to wake up early on Thursday to actually put the cake together. When I start talking about waking up early you know something significant is happening: I Never wake up early. So, Thursday morning I woke up. One layer went onto the chopping board, I don't have a cake platter...., then the thinnest of frosting layers (I had to thin the frosting out with a little milk - but these little things will happen), second layer, thin frosting layer, third layer, thin frosting layer. This makes it sound like such a fast efficient little process. It was a little bit different.

 
 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Great Cake Part IV: Icing

     

     Isn't it amazing all the things you can do in advance when you make a cake? You can make the different layers and freeze them - wrapped in inordinate amounts of cling wrap if you are me. And, you can make the icing ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. It was rather hard for me to figure out how to ice this cake. With the different flavors, banana, chocolate, and butterscotch, I didn't want to pick a flavor of icing (like coffee) that could complement all three but would also add even more confusion to one's palette. I wanted something simple, not too too sweet, and easy to make in large portions. So what would that be? Buttercream.


     Saying I made Vanilla Buttercream for my cake makes me feel so...pretentious. It makes me think of Food Network shows like Cupcake Wars where they stand up and say, "Yes, and I made a delicious Vanilla Buttercream to go on top of the cupcake to enhance its flavors." It just sounds so fancy. But, a buttercream is really nothing at all. It is just what its name implies: butter creamed with sugar. That's it. Butter and Sugar. In my case, since I made a Vanilla Buttercream, the flavoring I used was rather a lot of vanilla, and there was also some milk to thin it out. But really, it's the easiest thing you could do. 


Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Feast

Look PN is back!     
     On April 20, 2011, PN and I had a Feast. It was an amazing feast. The table was loaded with delicious foods. And do you know what the theme was? Mexican. Can you believe I have never made Mexican food before? I mean, maybe you can if you have been following this blog and realized I never discuss south of the border cuisine. But, it was totally unintentional. It's just not something I think of making on a day to day basis, but I love Mexican food. Making it was actually fairly unintentional too, I just had that large pork shoulder on my hands (remember me hacking away at it?) and I couldn't figure out how to cook it while dealing with it as little as possible. Googling brought the best ideas to the forefront: use the slow cooker and make carnitas!


     The slow cooker is my friend. I rubbed a bunch of spices onto the pork, and put it into the slow cooker with chicken broth (made courtesy bouillon cubes, I love those things and had almost forgotten I had them, tsk tsk) and then got to enjoy lovely stewing pork and spices aroma while I spent the day baking with AN. Yup, this was that same day. It's great to remember so much hard work. Even though, it doesn't really seem like work to cut a pork shoulder into quarters and dump it into the slow cooker, but hey, it counts if I get a meal out of it!


Friday, April 22, 2011

The Great Cake Part III: Banana

     

     The last layer! The final piece! The end! Well, not the end. After all, there is frosting and all that jazz to go. But still, getting to the last layer of cake is pretty exciting. Ya, ya I know there are only three layers. But I've never done this kind of cake project before. Picking all the layers myself, doing them one at a time and freezing them. I am just an amateur, and now I'm going to be amateurishly gleeful at getting to the third layer of my three layer cake.


     All this glee was compounded because AN and I actually made the chocolate and banana cake layers on the same day. We are so efficient! And I made a lot of other food! (Recipes to come later). Man, it was a good day. Making anything with bananas is also so satisfying. AN was pureeing (i.e. mushing) up the bananas and the smell that comes from that is just like baby food - in the best possible way. It's so homey and comforting and simple. Yes, I'm waxing eloquent on the smell of mushed up bananas. But, they really smell super good! Try it.


     So why did I decide to do a banana layer on my cake? Other than the joy of mushing up bananas? I suppose banana cake is less common than banana bread. It is just the moister, sweeter, slightly fancier version. Mine included a little bit of expresso powder, which I guess elevates it, but you can put that in banana bread too. Banana cake is just an excuse to take banana bread further. To take it into the realm of icing filled desserts instead of just homey comforts. The banana deserves recognition too! And where best to get that recognition? My cake of course. And I just love banana-y desserts. I made banana bread this day too, don't think I don't love it. Happiness all around in banana land.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Great Cake Part II: Chocolate

     

     I had issues with my butterscotch cake. It came out a little bit flat. I sat there and stared at it, lost and sad. Why are you flat? I asked it in my mind. Did I not substitute well enough for self rising cake flour? Do you just hate me? And, then I realized something. At home the round pans are all 8 inches. I have never even thought about it. How big is my pan? 9 in round. Ah.


     So, my other cake layers required some googling around. Also, Nigella didn't have the kind of chocolate cake I wanted (plain and easily stackable). She is still the best though, don't you doubt it. The first way that I google for recipes involves going to my favorite food blogs and searching their websites. I hit gold very quickly at Joy the Baker's. She makes me happy, you should read her blog. But other than that, she also has a great recipe for a Double Chocolate Devil's Food Cake that makes exactly enough batter for two 9'' rounds! All I had to do was cut the recipe in half and I was done.

I still ran out of bowls though- yay the rice cooker!
     But, it was not just me. I was cooking with someone else: AN! Meet AN, she is super great and she has suffered through chem lab side by side with me all semester. Yay being done with Chem lab! Yay celebrating before we were done by making cake together! Cooking with AN was great, for one thing I did not have to go running to the computer every two seconds to check the ingredients or how much to measure. For another thing, I only had to do half (or less than half) the work because I had the excuse of taking pictures while making her do things. Huzzah.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Full to the Brim

     

     I am full in so many ways. My apartment is full of delicious foods. My oven was full, my slow cooker is full, my fridge is full. I adore this fullness. I am also full myself, I have eaten far too much. My dinner was amazing, absolutely amazing. Are you looking at it? Are you jealous? You should be. You might also be wondering where Part II of the Great Cake went, don't worry it is coming. I just thought it might get monotonous if I kept posting one cake after another (or not as suspenseful). So, we are looking at my dinner tonight instead. And drooling. At least I am.


     This dinner was a very spur of the moment thing. I happen to have a very large pork shoulder defrosting in my fridge. Well, I had taken it out of my freezer yesterday to defrost. As you have probably guessed, it did not. It was still frozen solid when I took it out of the fridge this morning. So I dumped the whole thing into a brine. By 2, the edges were a little more thawed. Exasperated, and extremely hungry, I began hacking away little pieces of it and throwing them into a bowl. And I mean little bite-sized pieces. I threw them into said bowl, covered them with Korean marinade from H-Mart, and then promptly forgot about them. (That was the Great Cake Part II's fault).


Monday, April 18, 2011

The Great Cake Part I: Butterscotch

     

     What is this Great Cake you ask. How can there be Part I of a cake? Is Part II just icing? No, that would be lame people. (Though of course there will be an icing part eventually). The Great Cake is a cake I've been planning for a while now. It is the cake for my last English class. You know, the class I talk about all the time? The one where I get to read and write children's books? It's going to end. This is amongst the most distressing things in my life right now, the fact that this class is going to end. And you may think that is silly but it is not just me- you should have seen the faces of everyone in my class when my professor that we wouldn't have a writing assignment due this week because it was the last class. We looked like someone had died. Puppy dog faces all around.


     So, we are having a party on the last day of class. People are bringing food (like crazy sounding kinds of pretzel which I am quite excited about), and I am bringing the Great Cake. So what is the Great Cake going to be? It is going to be three layers: Butterscotch, Banana, and Chocolate. The icing, well I have yet to decide that. Suffice to say it will be delicious. And today, we are starting at the beginning: Butterscotch. Why are we starting with butterscotch? Because I always knew what recipe I was going to be using for the butterscotch cake layer, and I wanted to make it NOW.


     This recipe and I go far back. For one thing, it is a Nigella recipe. Have I talked about Nigella Lawson yet? Domestic Goddess extraordinaire from Britain? She is probably one of the main reasons I started baking so much. I got completely obsessed with her book, How to be a Domestic Goddess, I think freshman or sophomore year of high school. Whenever I thought of making anything, it came out of that book. Cakes for every family member's birthday, desserts for every dinner party, Nigella was always my first go-to person. So, Sophomore year, when I had to decide what cakes to make for my grand birthday sleepover (of course I had a grand birthday sleepover, do you doubt it? Me and SZ, HJY, KK, GR, LL, and PL - I love that I have already mentioned most of these people and I have had them around for so long, it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside) they came out of Domestic Goddess. They were a chocolate mousse cake, snickerdoodles (which aren't a cake, but it was important to have a non-cake dessert as well - to me), and the Butterscotch Layer Cake.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What to Do?

     It rarely happens that a day comes and I have no idea what I am going to cook. There are either days where I know there is no way I am making anything or days where I know exactly what to do. But, days like this? Days where I am going through my grocery list in my mind and nothing is inspiring me even though I have a whole exam to procrastinate for? These days are rare. I don't like them. I need clarity, Right Now. Maybe if I talk it out with you that will help.

This is my life 
Me: Hi.
You: Hello.
Me: I have frozen chicken, but I was going to make curry on Thursday with that.
You: I thought you promised NO you would make Asian food on Thursday?
* Note: You are knowledgeable
Me: Oh. Right. So, should I make pork shoulder on Thursday? Should I make the chicken curry today?
You: That would make sense.

     Yay! Thank you all you people. You may think that was all a show, but I had no intention of making chicken curry at all today. And now I do! This talking to you, or the internet I suppose, thing really works. Especially if the you or the internet is just your alter ego. The internet does contain a lot of people alter egos. It is interesting to think about, my thoughts spin wildly out of control. But now they have a direction: chicken curry.

It was good...I promise, I just couldn't take proper pictures...
     OK, well, I have chicken. I also have spinach! I would totally have forgotten and it would have wilted, that would have been sad. I was having a conversation with CV once where he said that he thinks he has only ever eaten baby spinach and not real spinach. And, right then, I could not remember the difference between baby spinach and spinach at all. I think I have got it (kind of): you have to prep spinach by taking the backbone out of it (you know, that stick in between the leaf) and spinach is darker and..um..crinklier. Baby spinach is lighter, flatter, and easier to cook with because it requires less prep! But I bought spinach, and I'm pretty sure saag chicken (which is what I plan to make) would not be saag chicken with baby spinach.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Work-Arounds

     

     How to work around a stove you are scared to use: 1) Buy microwavable meals and feel sorry for yourself (I tried this last night, and it didn't work out so well). 2) Leave a slip for the maintenance man so he will actually be able to come fix it (Still working on this one, at least I picked up a slip, that's progress). 3) Wonder if you can finagle a dish that only involves toasting bread (this is still a thought in progress). 4) Realize you are being a complete idiot because what do you need a stove for when you own a SLOW COOKER.

Rice and Beans Indian Style
     Guess which one I'm on now? Yes, I realized I have a slow cooker. And, in the process of making a dish in said slow cooker, I realized that only the back right burner on the stove had smoke coming out of it and that was only when the oven was on. So, I'm pretty sure using the other burners is OK. Yay me!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Uh-Oh

     Something has gone wrong. A glitch has entered my smooth sailing. My plans have been thrown for a loop.

     The Stove is Smoking.

     What does it all mean? Last night, DL was baking cookies. The oven was fine, the first batch came out lovely. I was sitting, quietly studying for my chem exam, and suddenly I looked up.

     "Does the air look smokey to you?" I asked.
     DL looked around, as though seeing it for the first time."Yes."

     We ran to open windows and doors. Making sure the smoke detector doesn't go off trumps figuring out what's wrong, every time. Finally, we reached the stove. Smoke was billowing (OK not billowing - but definitely issuing in streams) out of the righthand back burner.

     I started fanning away at it with an oven mitt. DL started doing the same. My conscientious neighbor looked into the apartment and asked what was wrong. He got us the emergency maintenance number, I called and left a message.

     Oh the adventures we have at 1 am at night!

     Long story short, I can't cook. I have poor mise en place sitting in the fridge, waiting for the maintenance people to fix whatever is going on so I can use the stove in good consciousness once more. Meanwhile, I got to eat out for lunch. That's always fun. AND it's 80 degrees out and Gorgeous so I really shouldn't be allowed to have any complaints. I have plenty of excuses not to cook today. I will just leave you with this. Even though I took this picture last year, you get the general idea of what campus looks like in April:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Indian-Ness

     I am not a great displayer of Indian-ness. I am not in an Indian groups on campus, I do not have many Indian friends. But, when I am in the kitchen, my Indian-ness is generally on full display. Open the kitchen cabinet and you will see it stocked with spice box and various other boxes and bags of spices: chana masala my mom ground up at home, chaat masala I just bought yesterday, even that giant bag of coriander seeds from the grocery store. 

Chickpeas in slow cooker pre-becoming true chana masala
     I experiment a lot with Asian food, which feels "fancier" to me, and Western food, which is generally just super easy, but in the end I always return to Indian food. It is easy for me cook, stocked as I am, for sure. But it is also familiarity and home and comfort. So, when I think of how I need to make a good, well-rounded meal for myself, it most always ends up being Indian. I have parathas in the freezer, they are like thinner, layered, buttery naan-type bread? (I have the frozen Pillsbury ones - super good, super unhealthy too probably, but super good). I have spinach for veggie. And what will hold my meal together? My most favorite food of all: Chana.

Figured I should just put a picture: This is a Paratha
     Chana, or Chana Masala as you may know it, is chickpeas. I guess you could think of it as a chickpea curry? Curry is such a huge umbrella term. Chana the way I make it is not exactly the chana masala you get in restaurants (it's a lot less liquidy), so I would just go by the picture a little bit below. It's also ridiculously easy to make. Especially if you are lucky enough to own a slow cooker, which I am. Making chana really has more to do with owning things than any kind of fancy cooking: you need to own chickpeas, chana masala, and either a slow cooker or just a big pot. Look at that, we're ready to go! 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Where Did all the Fruits Go?

     

     Yes, the fruits. Stop thinking bad thoughts, of course I mean the fruits that come from plants and trees (note the picture of strawberries). When was the last time I had a fruit? I don't even know. Fruits just never seem to strike me as necessary grocery shopping. Veggies, always, meat, most always, and a random variety of things (kidney beans, spices, and all that) - but fruits just never seem to factor in.


     It's a good thing that DL (who is visiting from New Zealand) feels differently. He buys fruit! There is fruit in the house again! And, I have actually eaten some. Why? (I mean, there shouldn't be reason, but there is, so now I am making a question for it - don't judge.) Well, the reason is: I made it into a tart! Which also makes me sound like some awful person who hates fruit. I don't hate fruit, just in the winter – and this rainy gloomy time which feels like winter – fruits just don't feel Right the way they do in the summer. And, a lot of them just look plain sad.