Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Short but Sweet. And... Well, Soupy (TWD)

One hour to go before this becomes Wednesday with Dorie, so here goes.

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie assignment was creme brulee -- one of my all-time favorites. Only I've never tried to make it without a water bath before, so when Dorie's recipe said to just put it on a baking sheet, I was skeptical.

TOO skeptical.

I put it in a water bath anyway, and wondered how it would be different.

The difference is -- in a water bath, it takes a hell of a lot longer.

So after doubling the cooking time, increasing the temperature from 200 degrees to 300 degrees and cooking it another twenty minutes (until it was actually BUBBLING), I took it out and stuck it in the refrigerator.

The next evening, we took them out and brulee'd.

We cracked through the brulee (one of my favorite sounds EVER) and discovered that even after 100 freaking minutes in the oven, the custard had not set.

And it really didn't taste that great. In spite of the addition of cardamom (see, I TOLD you I was going to use it in everything from here on out) and orange zest.

I learned my lesson. Trust Dorie. (But I still wonder if the 200 degree cooking temperature was a typo.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

TWD: Dimply Plum Cake

One of the worst movies ever made was the 1999 film Deep Blue Sea, starring Samuel L. Jackson.

The premise is that a bunch of scientists are experimenting on sharks at an undersea lab in an effort to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease. The experiments lead to an elevation of the sharks' consciousness and intelligence... and they're pissed.

Samuel L. Jackson stars, with a supporting cast of... a lot of people you've never heard of.

And Samuel L. Jackson stars. I keep mentioning this because I'm sure that Mr. Jackson's salary accounted for an inordinately large proportion of the overall budget. Rather like the ground cardamom in the recipe for the Dimply Plum Cake. (I promise I'll have the Golden Child's college fund repaid by next semester.)

And like the cardamom, Samuel L. Jackson is responsible for the best moment of an otherwise forgettable film -- he is unexpectedly eaten by a shark. About thirty minutes into the movie. You're left looking at your watch wondering, "What else is there?"

Having another big name on the poster -- even a B-lister -- could have carried you contentedly through the rest of the film. Likewise, a nice sauce would have saved the pedestrian Dimply Plum Cake -- a sweet, buttery concoction to serve as the Edward Norton of dessert sauces.

Would Deep Blue Sea have been even worse without Samuel L. Jackson? Would the Dimply Plum Cake have suffered without the investment in cardamom? We'll never know. And I'm left trying to figure out how to incorporate cardamom into all of my cooking (reference next week's creme brulee), because by God, I'm going to get my money's worth.

(This week's recipe was selected by Michelle at Bake-n. It has gotten rave reviews from other bloggers... so maybe it's just me.)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

For the Foodies, Part II

The Golden Child moved into his first apartment a few weeks ago; his first real "go" at self-sufficiency. He lived in a dorm for a year, but that doesn't count. In his own apartment, he has to figure out where electricity, water, internet, and food comes from -- and what he has to fork over to get them.

A couple of months ago, I started cramming in whatever last minute life-training I could in the hope of catching up on the kind of parenting I had been putting off too long. I started dropping pearls of wisdom about paying bills on time, avoiding the multitude of credit card offers, nipping roommate problems in the bud, not becoming a roommate problem, etc.

And I tried to teach him that preparing food at home -- from scratch, with fresh ingredients -- was far tastier, healthier, cheaper, and more likely to impress women than ordering pizza every night. I dragged him to the Farmers' Market and narrated my dinner preparations like a taller, slower, more irritable Rachel Ray. (Sometimes he was even in the room -- most often, though, he would mumble, "Uh-huh... that's great, Mom" from the next room in between battle sequences on Final Fantasy XII.)

Mostly, I tried to teach by example. When he wanted burgers, I made the buns, ground my own meat (from TWO KINDS OF BEEF, no less), and sliced my own potatoes for homemade french fries. Later, when my mother asked him what we did for dinner, he said, "Oh, we just grilled some burgers." I made him call her back and tell her they were the best ^%$# burgers he'd ever eaten.

But something must have stuck with him -- probably the same way the "Ain't No Bugs on Me" jingle has stuck with me.

He called me last week and said, "Tell me how to cook asparagus."

He was in his kitchen, asparagus in hand, preparing dinner for his roommates. I said, "First, you need to trim off the tough bottom..."

"I know, Mom. I did that."

Then came the real test question. "Do you have any olive oil?"

He said... get this... "Yes."

I cried.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

For the Foodies

I mentioned in my last post that my friend, Carol, is learning how to cook. Bless her heart.

Let the games begin.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I'll Try Not to Let it Go to My Head... After All, I Owe a Lot to the Little People


n.o.e at The Dogs Eat the Crumbs gave me this cute award. Warms the cockles of my heart, I tell you (I'm not really sure what cockles are, but if I have them, they must be tingling right now).

It's especially gratifying because I enjoy her blog so much. She has a wonderful curiosity about cooking plus creativity supported by skill and a very engaging writing style -- that all adds up to entertaining, informative food blogging that I highly recommend.

So for n.o.e. to recognize my blog -- it's like Michael Jordan saying, "Nice shot."

Now I get to pass the joy along to some of my other favorites. They represent a variety of personalities, but they are all consistently well written, vibrant, relevant, and often a little... well, twisted.

Carol's Essay Graveyard: Carol cracks me up. She's a long-time friend, former co-blogger (from the now-defunct Falafel Sex and Other Things Best Left Unsaid), and a very, very funny writer. She has a way of throwing back the curtain on stressful times to reveal the humor that's pulling the switches. (She's learning to cook, too. Her local fire department is staffing up for the occasion.)

Painting Chef
: ALWAYS a great read. Susannah is wickedly funny but has been known to charge out of nowhere to play double-dutch with your heartstrings.

Ezra Pound Cake: This blog (along with n.o.e.'s) is one of my favorite of the Tuesdays with Dorie blogs. If you ever doubted that food is a running thread through life, here's your evidence.

Jon and MacDuff in Boston
: I enjoy this blog because 1) Jon and MacDuff really LIVE, and I can enjoy the kinds of things they do without ever getting off the couch; 2) they obviously have a truly successful, well-rounded relationship; and 3) we have the same dog. (My Jack is pictured here; their Dixie is pictured here. I'm linking rather than posting the picture because A. I don't like posting other people's work; and 2. I want you to read MacDuff's post about Dixie. You'll want to immediately go out and adopt a rescued dog.)

The Barefoot Kitchen Witch
: Sure, the writing is fantastic, the stories are endearing, the kids are adorable -- Jayne nails all of the expected stuff. But the PHOTOS... the photos are superlative.

Ugly Food for an Ugly Dude: Mike is a funny guy who knows how turn a phrase. And he bakes. He's a keeper

Monday, September 8, 2008

When Stoners Succeed

I'm going to miss my Tuesdays With Dorie assignment again this week. It's not that I have anything against this week's selection -- in fact, I was rather looking forward to the Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops (selected by Rachel of Confessions of a Tangerine Tart). Whoppers ROCK. But I'm traveling again this week, so no dice.

Since you asked, though (and you'll be kind enough to pretend you did ask), I'll share travel stories.

This week, I'm back in Denver. I get to come to Denver a few times each year because my primary client is based here, so many meetings occur in lovely downtown. I love this city -- and the weather here, especially in the summer, when Arkansas is so miserably humid -- so I don't mind these trips at all. (Last year, I was able to tack a few extra days onto a business trip so I could fulfill a long-standing aspiration and go skiing.)

While in Denver, I usually stay at the Magnolia, a boutique hotel that holds a special place in my heart because of the wonderful Harry's Bar and because they have a milk and cookies happy hour every night.

This time, though, we're staying at The Curtis. (Not my doing, but probably for the best, since my last trip to Denver may have involved a little too much bourbon sampling, possibly resulting in an episode of eavesdropping as an aging bar lech tried to pick up a naive conventioneer, followed by the unsolicited declaration that he was full of shit, which doomed his chances of scoring. But that's another post.)

I knew I was in for a different lodging experience when the cab let me out at the curb in front of the hotel, right next to the sandwich-board sign that marked the valet parking stand. It read, "Dude! Where's my car?"

In the entry way, the words "Stay Happy" are spelled out in a rotating light pattern on the floor. Instead of a gift shop, there's a small section off the registration desk that sells retro toys, including the robot from "Lost in Space."

All of the guest room floors have a theme. My room is on the 13th floor (yes, there is one), and the theme is horror movies. When the elevator stops, the intercom plays a recording of Jack Nicholson saying, "Here's Johnny!" The doors open to a cutout of Nosferatu. A hallway mirror is etched with "We have traced the call. It's coming from inside the hotel."

Inside my room, the desk has a framed picture of an arched, hissing black cat.

There's a Dudley Do-Right Bobblehead in the bathroom. Still trying to figure out the horror film connection with this one.

The water (the kind you have to pay $X.XX for if you drink it) is in a flask-shaped bottle with risque-looking demons called "Liquid Salvation Ultra-Hydrating Water." I'm a little scared to try it, but how can I NOT?

The alarm clock is a convertible Volkswagon. (Duckie, my traveling companion, is quite enjoying himself.)

My favorite detail, though, is the "Do Not Disturb" sign":

So now I'm off to bed in my kitschy room on the Horror Movie Floor of the Stoner Hotel. More later -- including details of an award graciously bestowed by one of my favorite foodie bloggers (thanks, n.o.e.!!) and more lame excuses about how upcoming travel will make it hard to keep my baking commitments.

But first... I have some alcohol to metabolize.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Oh, No I DI-unt

You'll have to read that title out loud for it to make sense.

This week's TWD task, selected by Stefany at Proceed With Caution, is Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters. I opted out of this one. The planets just weren't lined up right -- I was traveling the week before and the thought of baking cookies didn't motivate me out of my "thank God I'm finally home" lethargy.

So instead -- random travel notes!

I landed in Minneapolis on Sunday at a very-respectable 4:00 pm, plenty of time to drive from the airport to my downtown hotel, get checked in, and maybe even take a nap before my 7:00 dinner engagement. I picked up my rental car, programmed the hotel's address into the GPS, and blithely drove toward the tall buildings, following the directions so kindly provided by the lovely woman in the Garmin.

"Exit to the right. Drive three miles." I exited to the right and drove three miles.

"Enter the highway in one point three miles." I entered the highway in one point three miles.

"Exit to the right onto 35W." I exited to the right onto 35W.

"Drive two hundred twenty miles."

Now... I had never been to Minneapolis before. But I was pretty sure that you should be able to get from the airport to downtown without going through Des Moines.

An hour and a half later, I got it all figured out and checked into my hotel.

Minneapolis is a very, very pretty city -- lots of trees in the downtown area. On the way to dinner, I asked my friend a question I ask wherever I go: "What is the local cuisine here?"

She thought about it for a second or two, then said, "Anything on a stick."

After a Monday full of meetings in Minneapolis, I caught a late flight to Detroit. In case you ever wondered what second-string NASCAR drivers do for a living when they can't race anymore -- I'm pretty sure they're driving the Hertz shuttles at 1:30 in the morning at DTW.

Friday afternoon, I was finally able to make my way home. I arrived back at DTW in time to get a late lunch before flying south -- and indulged in some iPhone photography (a neglected art).

I ate at a sushi bar in the Northwest terminal. My expectations for airport sushi were pretty low, granted -- but if your sushi is served within ten minutes of ordering it, be very, very scared.

I learned a valuable lesson about unfiltered sake on this trip. When this bottle arrived, I thought how odd it was that it was clear. I verified that it was, indeed, unfiltered, and drank it. As I got to the bottom of the bottle, the liquid I poured into the little sake cup turned milky. All of the sediment was at the bottom. It was ... something less than pleasant.

I've been spoiled. Every time I've been served unfiltered sake before, the servers have shaken the bottle up before turning it over to me. I didn't know to shake it myself. I felt like George HW Bush trying to use the scanner in the grocery store.

The other amusing thing about my airport sushi experience is that several giggling Japanese tourists stopped to take pictures of each other in front of the restaurant sign. I suspect that the Japanese version may not have been an accurate translation.

There are two things about the Northwest terminal at DTW that fascinate me. One is this really cool fountain they have at the intersection of the concourses. The picture I took sucks, so I won't post it here -- but I found a video on YouTube:

The other thing is the tunnel you have to go through to get to Concourse C. It is wide, with a low ceiling -- and a laser light show to rival anything you've ever seen set to Pink Floyd music.

If I were a stoner, I would be simultaneously thrilled and terrified by this.

(Good thing I'm not a stoner, right, Mom?)

Next week: Denver. (The Denver trip was supposed to be last week, but there was some trouble getting hotel rooms. Some big meeting or another was going on. Probably Shriners.)