Friday, February 29, 2008
Sunday, February 24, 2008
I’m still learning, and while I can feel like an alchemist baking one loaf, I can feel like a complete schmuck baking the next loaf. My goal is to be completely honest in my blog, and along with my successes, I’ll also share my failures. My baking experience Saturday was a failure. I tried baking the beer bread from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book The Bread Bible. Most beer bread recipes you’ll encounter are quick breads that can be mixed and immediately baked. In those breads the rise is achieved by using baking powder and beer, rather than yeast. The recipe I was trying was a traditional yeast-based recipe that involved two rises. The bread is similar to the Black and Tan bread at Wheatfield’s Bakery in my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas. After the first rise, I carefully shaped the loaf and placed it on parchment paper for the 2nd rise.
At this point the loaf looked like a work of art. I was proud of myself because shaping loaves is something that I don't always do well. However, I was about to ruin all of my work. I was in a hurry to get this loaf in the oven, so that I could watch the KU Jayhawks battle the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Big 12 basketball. I rushed the slashing of the bread. You'd think that slashing a loaf of bread would a be simple affair, but I've never quite mastered it. I admire bakers who can slash decorative designs in their loaves. I, on the other hand, usually end up mutilating my loaves and sometimes deflating them. This was the case Saturday. I put too much pressure on the knife and deflated my loaf. My loaf ended up being as flat as the Jayhawks played Saturday.
On Wednesday, March 12th, I'll attend a class on Crusty Artisan Breads sponsored by King Arthur Flour Company. That evening I'll be the annoying pupil in the front row asking all of the questions about shaping and slashing.
Get back on that horse,
Thursday, February 21, 2008
However, I also hate leftover nights because I don’t get the opportunity to cook or try a new recipe. Cooking is often an outlet that allows me to distance myself from the stress of the day. Leftovers can also be monotonous and lead to a major case of the blahs. I still cringe when I think about my bachelor days; five straight days of eating chili coupled with dreary, bone-chilling February weather drove me to the verge of madness.
To avoid the leftover blues, I usually try to incorporate a new recipe into our leftover meals. For example, leftover burritos might be complemented by a fresh batch of pico de gallo, guacamole, or cilantro lime rice. A new twist makes the meal feel fresh.
Food Court Bread Sticks
- 1 ½ cups warm water
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 to 2 cups bread flours
- 1/3 cup melted butter or olive oil
- Italian seasoned bread crumbs
- Parmesan cheese
Directions: (Note: The picture I posted is only half of the above recipe. I froze the rest of the dough for a later date. This is the third time I've made this recipe, and this batch of sticks wasn't as thick as my previous attempts. Typically, they'll be thicker. When I make this recipe again, I'll post new pictures.)
- Lightly coat a 7 by 11-inch brownie pan or similar pan with olive oil and set aside.
- Mix yeast and water. Let stand for five minutes to dissolve the yeast. Stir in the sugar, salt, oil, cornmeal, baking powder, garlic powder, onion powder, all-purpose flour, and 1 cup of the brad flours. Mix to a soft mass. Knead with the dough hook on the lowest speed of the mixer for 8 minutes, gradually adding more bread flour as required to form a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form the dough into a ball. Place in a greased bowl and cover with cling wrap, and allow the dough to rise for 30 to 45 minutes, or until almost doubled.
- Turn the dough out into the prepared pan and gently pat out to fill the pan. It should be about ½ inch thick. Lightly brush with oil and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Then let the dough rise for 15 minutes.
- Preheat the over to 425 degrees. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven, brush with oil, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
- Using tongs, lift the dough onto a cutting board and using a pizza wheel cut into ½-inch wide strips.
- Serve and enjoy.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
I knew that if I couldn’t take good, creative photographs, I would be the joke of the blogging world. My fellow bloggers would ridicule me and leave me emotionally scarred. I’d have to abandon my life, move to Oregon, and join a commune. The pressure cooker world of blogging was getting to me, and this was only my second week in the biz.
Then I realized that this wasn't how I rolled. If I get bucked off a horse, this cowboy gets back on it. It’s my nature to work hard. What I lack in talent, intelligence, and polished photographs, can be offset with diligence, passion, and my unique perspective. I think photographs are an essential part of a food blog, and I’m amazed at the high quality of photographs that accompany most blogs. There’s a lot I can learn from the blogging community. I’ll gradually learn how to improve the presentation of my food and take good photographs.
Here’s what I know:
I don’t own a thousand dollar camera. I’m not a professional photographer. I’m not an art director. I don’t have a degree in web design. I don’t have any formal culinary training. I’m just a guy from Kansas with a camera, a computer, and a kitchen who loves cooking, writing, and sharing my passion with others.
It will take time, but I’ll continue to improve as a blogger – I look forward to sharing this progress with you. This is a blog created by the people for the people.
Don’t ever eat anything bigger than your head,
PS. "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me." - Stuart Smalley
Monday, February 18, 2008
The first new recipe I’m profiling in my blog comes from A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman. If bakers had groupies, I would follow Ms. Goldman’s tour bus from city to city. Her ardent love of baking is contagious. I gained ten pounds just from browsing through this book. With most cookbooks, I might find a half-dozen or so recipes that I’d like to try, but with her books every recipe seems to be a keeper. I look forward to trying her recipes. If you’re shopping for a new baking book I highly recommend the book mentioned above and her book The Best of Betterbaking.com.
The first recipe I attempted from the book was for the Cheesecake Truffle Bombs, little chocolate-dipped, cheesecake bites. I like this recipe for many different reasons:
- It’s a tasty dessert, and since most party and dinner guests love cheesecake, it will be a real crowd pleaser.
- It’s a simple recipe that can be prepared in advanced and frozen.
Even though it’s simple, it gives the illusion that hours were spent preparing this delightful dessert.
- The base recipe can probably be adapted, so you can get creative and make a variety of flavors. I’d like to do a grasshopper bomb with some mint or work some fruit into the batter. If you have a favorite cheesecake recipe, I think you could incorporate it into this recipe. Guests will enjoying trying the different flavors.
- These cheesecake bites are just cute (I know that using the word "cute" isn't very manly, but I'll try to overcompensate in later entries by injecting a healthy dose of testosterone).
Cheesecake Truffle Bombs Recipe
- 1 pound Cream cheese, softened
- 3/4 cup Sugar
- 3 Large eggs
- 2 tsp Vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup Whipping cream
- Tiniest pinch salt
- 12 oz Milk chocolate, melted (Note: You may need to use more than this)
- 10 oz White chocolate, melted to drizzle over bites.
- Preheat oven to 350. Line a an 8x8 or 9x9 inch pan with parchment paper or foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. This step is essential. It will make it much easier to remove the cheesecake from the pan and cut it into bite-sized morsels
- Beat together cheesecake batter ingredients until smooth. I used a hand mixer, but a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or a food processor would also work. Pour mixture into pan. Bake until set about 30 minutes. Cake should be firm to the touch but not dried out or curling in at the sides. If the cheesecake cracks, don't fret; it will be covered in chocolate later, and we all know that everything looks better with a layer of chocolate. Cool well in fridge.
- After cooling the cheesecake, cut into 24-32 small squares or scoop out portions of cheesecake using a mini ice-cream scooper. (Note: This part was difficult for me. I’ve never quite mastered the art of slicing a cheesecake. It always looks as if a four-year old did the slicing. I’ve tried many of the tips offered up on successfully slicing a cheesecake. I’ve placing my knife under hot water throughout the slicing, and this helps, but I still struggle. Definitely place foil or parchment paper in the bottom of the pan in step 1 – this will facilitate the process.) Place squares or scoops on a waxed-paper lined baking sheet and freeze for two hours or overnight.
- To finish, using a fork to assist, dip and turn each frozen cheesecake portion in chocolate. Let set on wax paper lined baking sheet and then dip in or drizzle with another type of chocolate, if desired. With the truffle bombs on the baking sheet, freeze for a couple of hours. Then place Truffle Bombs in a zip-top freezer bag, and freeze up to 2 months. Serve frozen or chilled.
Tomorrow I’ll post a recent recipe I tried from one of my favorite cookbooks. When I began planning my blog, I was unsure about sharing recipes online. I didn’t know what the letter of the law said about reproducing cookbook recipes online. I wanted to be ethical and fair. I also didn’t want the FEDS kicking in my door, confiscating my kitchen gear, stomping my laptop to pieces, and locking me up at Guantanamo Bay (Sorry, I'm crossing the line here. One of my unwritten goals for this blog is to never mention politics. One strike for me). After some research I found the following two articles that made me feel comfortable about posting recipes online:
Can a Recipe Be Stolen? By Joyce Gemperlein from the Washington Post
Basically, the US Copyright Office states that it boils down to the following rule of thumb when posting someone else’s recipes online:
- “Mere listings of ingredients as in recipes, formulas, compounds or prescriptions are not subject to copyright protection. However, where a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection.”
When sharing recipes I’ll clearly state the source of the recipe. Also I’ll limit the number of recipes I share from any single cookbook, and any literary elements will be rewritten with my own personal twist.
I’m choosing to share these recipes because I want to give you a glimpse into my kitchen, and I want to share recipes that I love. LOVE – that’s the word I associate most often with food and cooking. I just want to share the love.Love and happiness,
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Before Todd Snider took the stage, the house music consisted of a recording of an Elvis Presley concert from his stint in Vegas. Most people prefer the young, snarled-lip, hip-shaking, vivacious Elvis, but I have a fondness for the high-collared, sequined jump suit, sedentary Elvis. Sure the music is a little overly dramatic and comes across as a production, rather than the spontaneous combustion of his early music, but I still like it. I think it stems from my youth when my mother would put records on the turntable when she cleaned house on Saturday mornings. This was the one time during the week that we would get to listen to music, and although I didn’t have a choice in what was played, loved it. I trace my love for music today back to those Saturday morning in our trailer in Pomona, Kansas. Artists such as Elvis, Johnny Cash, the Dave Clark Five, and Tom T. Hall were part of the Saturday morning playlist. While I listened to the music, I loved studying the album covers . One of the covers consisted of Elvis in his sequined glory, and I remember wanting to be able to wear clothes like that. Before I die I will strut around for a day in a sequined jump suit.
One of the songs played before Todd Snider took the stage was “In the Ghetto,” a song written by Mac Davis. I remember from his album covers that Mr. Davis had a hairy chest that many women found sexy. I’ve abstained from waxing my chest for almost 20 years because I’m waiting for the resurgence of hairy-chested sexiness – I’ll be ready. Anyway I remember Mac Davis from his song “It’s Hard to Be Humble.” I need some of his music for my Ipod. My experience Friday night is a testament to the power of music and its ability to return an individual to his or her childhood.
One of the songs that Todd played Friday night was “I was Lookin’ for a Job Before This One,” a song about a guy who hangs drywall for a living. Each time I listen to the song I think about a conversation that I had with our contractor when we were going through a recent kitchen renovation. He told me that guys who did drywall work could be very tempestuous, and their drug and alcohol use could make working with them a challenge. He told me a story about a group of guys who were hanging drywall for him who didn’t show on the job for three days. On the fourth day, a group of them pulled up to the job site in a beat-up late 70’s Monte Carlo. One guy hopped out of the car, grabbed a cooler at the site, and jumped back in the Monte. As they were pulling out of the drive, the contractor ran over to the car and asked them where they were going. One of the guys responded, “Dude! We can’t stick around – the crappie are bitin’ at the lake.”
I wish I had a job where the fish determined my work schedule. Someday I will write a short story about drywallers.
In my next entry I promise to talk about food. I have a feeling that all of this rambling has hurt my blog’s credibility. In the next entry, I plan on trying a recipe for Cheesecake Truffle Bombs. Until then.
Love and happiness,
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Last night I caught the Todd Snider show at the Granada Theater I won’t give you a review of the show, but Todd’s show is a testament to what a barefooted guy with a guitar, harmonica, great songs and stories can accomplish in an evening. I was thoroughly entertained and left the show being an even bigger Todd Snider fan, and his music will be heavy rotation the next few weeks. The highlight for me was a new song inspired by Dock Ellis, a pitcher for the Pittsburg Pirates who threw a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD. Todd said that he wrote the song because he felt that there weren’t enough songs about hallucinogenic drugs and sports out there. He might be right.
I was skeptical of this story, so I did some research. According to snopes.com, his LSD no-hitter is the gospel truth. From what I read about him on snopes.com, he was like the Hunter S. Thompson of major league baseball.
Chalk one up for truth being stranger than fiction.
This is just one of the many strange stories surrounding Mr. Ellis. I think, the Dock Ellis story should be translated to the big screen. I could see Don Cheadle in the title role.
I blessed to have a wife who doesn’t mind if I go out to occasionally hear live music. I just know that there are few ground rules that I have to follow. I limited myself to two beers at the show because I know that excessive drinking could result in harsh consequences upon returning home. Early in our relationship, when I was still courting my wife, I learned this lesson the hard way. At a wedding reception I attended with her, I drank too much. I could share some extreme exaggeration to illustrate how much I drank. Like my man William Faulkner said, "Sometimes a dog has to fight a bear just to know he's a dog." I had to fight that bear, but that’s not the point of the story. The point of the story is what happen the next morning. At 8:00 A.M. my wife decided that it would be a good day to rearrange our furniture. Five minutes into this endeavor I could smell alcohol sweating from my pores, and with each piece of furniture I moved I silently vowed to never place myself in this situation. That day I learned that my wife played hardball, and if I chose to get in the batter’s box with her in on the mound, I better be prepared for a little chin music. At least LSD didn’t play a role in this tale.
Anyway, the night of the Todd Snider show I was a good boy. Not only did I only have two beers, but I was able to pickup some groceries on the way home. Chalk one up for a guy getting wiser in his old age.
I’m going to wrap things up. I know – you’re thinking: What about Elvis, drywall, hairy chests, and the other miscellany that were promised in the opening of this blog. I’ll save this for another day. I need to leave something that will keep you coming back for more.
Love and happiness,
Thursday, February 14, 2008
While most men dream of owning sports cars, boats, big trucks, or a motorcycles, I dream of cooking over a Viking range, upgrading to an industrial-sized Hobart mixer, or owning a lunch wagon/catering truck. I guess I’m just wired a little bit differently.
As you can see, the price is reasonable:
This $3,000 purchase would also allow me to live out my childhood, Smokey and the Bandit fueled fantasy of owning a vehicle with decorative decals. If I could just add “T” tops to the lunch wagon, I would be living my dream.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
I’m now 38-years-old and I’m setting out to dispel this myth. Last week one of my wife’s co-workers delivered a late Christmas gift, a raspberry pie from Marcon Bakery in Washington, Kansas. I thought it would be a great opportunity to test my mother’s theory about consuming pie for breakfast, so this past Saturday I started my day by devouring a slice of pie for my breakfast (However, I drew the line at doing this while watching cartoons. I didn’t want to push things too far. I have to maintain some semblance of civility).
The first bite of pie triggered a flood of endorphins, leaving me giddy, irrational thoughts ricocheted in my mind. I had visions of starting a bakery. I’d call it the Giddy Up Pie Company. I could wear chaps as I baked. I then envisioned myself quitting my job, purchasing a VW van, and trekking across America seeking the perfect pie. Apple. Cherry. Meringue. Chess. Shoe-Fly. My mind soared with delusional thoughts – grandmothers, dusted with flour and brandishing rolling pins, encouraged me to cross over to the dark side. Before I acted irrationally, I landed back to reality. I realized I was just a guy enjoying a great piece of pie.
After one day of pie for breakfast I decided to cease my experiment. It was just too risky. Chalk another one up for Mom – as always she knew best.
However, I did learn that I love receiving a pie as a gift, and I’m flirting with the following idea: Once a month, I’ll eat something to start my day that won’t meet any mother’s criteria for a nutritional breakfast. Perhaps, a little moderation will keep me out of the gutter.
Save the pie for dessert!
Monday, February 11, 2008
However, I have a few initial goals for my blog.
- This blog will be an escape from the daily grind of life, and it will be a celebration of everything that makes life worth living - food, family, friends, music, travel, and anything else that catches my fancy. Sometimes we lose ourselves in the bills we have to pay and the deadlines we have to meet, so this blog will give me the opportunity to live more unconventionally and reclaim my life.
- This blog will be an ongoing expression of my gratitude for the many gifts I’ve been bestowed in this life.
- I will write at least four entries per week. Writing is rarely easy for me. It’s like trying to drive a nail with a jagged stone, but I’ve reached the realization that I’m happier when I’m writing – even if it’s done poorly. There will be entries where my writing soars and other entries where it plods along making little progress, but either way, I’ll be heading towards my destination. This blog will be an outlet for my writing, and I hope to gradually gain an audience. Having an audience brings my writing full circle.
- I will have fun.
I’m looking forward to this process, and I hope you join me for the journey.