Friday, April 29, 2011

Sick birds don't cook

A lot has been happening, but not in my kitchen. I've been sick and incredibly grumpy because of it. Grumpy birds are dangerous. I've been downing cough drops, tea, and every cold medication I can find, but nothing seems to be helping. I just hope I'm not contagious, or my office is going to be very angry at me.

The week hasn't been a total loss: I beat Portal 2. Yes, this is a cooking blog, and I probably shouldn't dedicate an entire post to video games. But I don't think you really want me to detail how I ate nothing rice and beans this week, either.

Ye gods, that game was absolutely everything I could have hoped it would be. GLaDOS was perfect and witty all over again, it was a full-length game, there were more than two characters, and my Cube, my beautiful angel returned, and... oh, too many amazing things. It's inspired me to go play through the Half-Life series. I've started Half-Life: Source twice now, but never gotten past the 'Blast Pit' chapter. Hopefully this time I'll pull through. I'm also probably going to do something crafty in honor of the Companion Cube, but don't expect that for a few months. I'm rather slow.

I'm also extremely tempted to make Portal cupcakes, but my ideas aren't terribly creative right now. I'm also only 12 pounds away from my weight-loss goal, so cupcakes aren't exactly the best idea right now. Maybe if I made whole-wheat cupcakes. Although I think muffins are much better suited to being whole wheat, don't you?

I think that whole-wheat bread tastes much better than white. Many of my friends agree with me, but I know at least one who thinks whole-wheat is disgusting. For a while I thought he was absolutely insane, but then I remembered bananas nauseate me, and I can't stand the taste of egg. We've all got our food quirks, and I didn't really think the 'whole-wheat versus white' would ever be a problem. And it hasn't been. Until I decided to make calzones for our weekly get together, and I showed up with four pounds of whole-wheat dough.

I mentioned a few posts ago that I had bought a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and I bet you thought I hadn't used it yet. I've only used it once so far since our house is usually swimming in carbs, but I can't wait until I have an opportunity to make it again.

I am curious/nervous about using generic flour instead of King Arthur for making dough, though. I'll have to experiment on it and see how much of a difference in taste it makes.

This time I used 90% King Arthur flour. I had to top off the last cup of unbleached flour with some generic stuff, and this turned out fine.

I've read on a few blogs now that measuring out and preparing all of your ingredients before starting to actually cook is a big time-saver, and a much better way to cook. I'm trying to get in that habit, so we'll see if it really helps me. We'll see if I remember to do it more than once.

I hadn't really messed with yeast before arbitrarily deciding to make four pounds of dough. Except that time I made naan. I'm still trying to gain confidence in working with yeast, so... I took a picture at what the yeast mixture looked like at this point so I would know what to look for in the future. I swear I'm not crazy, just planning for the future.

Do crazy people say that? I hope not.

One thing I've learned in my short bread-making experience is that dough is always stickier than I expect it to be. Without fail, it will stick to my hands in new and creative ways, and I will be stuck with half of the dough on my fingers. I keep saying I've learned my lesson and that I'll use more flour in the future, but... it hasn't happened yet.

I made this dough on a Sunday night, for dinner on Tuesday. I kept it covered in the fridge, and it was very hard for me to not check on it every hour on Monday, but I managed somehow. Not that peeling the top back would have hurt it, probably. Bread is still a mystery.

For some reason, I've been on a vegetarian streak this week. I haven't had any meat since Sunday, when we had Easter ham. The truth is that I haven't wanted to cook because I don't want to spread my plague, and since I dislike cooking for just myself I've been eating incredibly simple dishes, à la rice and beans. But I promised to not bore you with those details.

In all seriousness, I've been eating more meatless meals because I know how many calories meat can bring to the table, and I've realized it doesn't have to be the focus of every meal. There was plenty of chicken available for the calzones, and I opted to not use any. Just sriracha, spinach, onions, and cheese. And I didn't miss the meat at all.

Mind you, I still could happily eat nothing but meat for an entire day. I've just learned that meat isn't the end-all be-all of culinary experiences.

Remember to poke holes in your calzones if you don't want them to explode. Because they can, and they will. These were incredibly simple to make, and were pretty fun to do with a group of friends. I'm curious if they'd freeze well. I really hope so, because I've been crazing a buffalo chicken calzone and if that turns out well, I see many in my future...

Today's lessons learned:
  • Dough is sticky. Use a lot of flour on your hands.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Boozey Brownies

I'm, uh... a little late to be doing a St. Patrick's Day post. I know, I know. More than a little late. But I made these, they were tasty, and I'm going to share them. You can make them next year. Or if you're just feeling particularly alcoholic someday and need some chocolate.

Boyfriend Bird threw a little party on St. Patrick's day. He and his roommate grilled some burgers, and I made Sriracha Joes because I am incapable of not making food for parties these days. I promise one day I will share that recipe, because it is my favorite sloppy joe ever. I could eat them for forever. But I took no pictures of them, so that'll be for a later post.

St. Patrick's Day is possibly the only holiday that is acceptably celebrated by getting black-out drunk. I didn't celebrate it this way, but I definitely watched some people doing so. And that wasn't even at the party; I saw some very inebriated people at two in the afternoon. Four of us went into a local city for a festival we had heard of. I personally knew nothing about it; I was just told there was some Irish festival where a bunch of bars had stuff set up outside and live music. Booze and music? How could that be bad? This was the day after I got my tattoo, so I was super nervous about it being outside and ruined in the sun, and it was still red and extremely sore. But I had a green halter top, and I couldn't resist showing it off. I'm so simple-minded some days.

Sadly, the 'festival' was a huge letdown. We couldn't find anywhere to park, had to walk pretty far (although we did see a lot of cute dogs), and once we got there, we realized that there wasn't really anything outside other than lines to get into bars. There were plenty of people in green, though. So we went to the only semi-outdoor tent, where we could hear live music, but once they had verified we were of age, they told us there was a $20 cover.

We just laughed and left. We ended up eating cannoli and tiramisu from a local Italian bakery. It's technically a chain now as it has 4 locations in the city, but it's only in the city, so it still counts as local! My family used to go there every time we went to the city, so it'll always have a special place in my heart, and it was nice to get to share it with some friends who had never experienced it.

After our little trip, we went home and made these brownies, ate, and drank. And all was well. The brownies reminded me of the black bottom cake my mother used to make, only the chocolate was lighter. The taste of alcohol didn't come through for me, so if you're a fan of booze-taste, make sure you brush the whiskey on afterwards! I just dumped the whiskey in the Guinness batter as I was mixing it, because I didn't have anything to brush with and didn't want to be bothered.

Recipe from Confessions of a Cardamom Addict
(Makes 20 brownies, with 165 calories and $0.50 per serving)
  • 3 ounces cream cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons Bailey's
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup Guinness
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 3 ounces chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup and 2 tablespoon flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon Jameson

    1. Preheat oven to 350.
    2. Mix together 2 tablespoons butter and cream cheese.
    3. Add 1/4 cup sugar and Bailey's until fluffy and delicious.
    4. Beat in 1 egg, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon flour. Set aside.
    5. Bring Guinness to a simmer.
    6. Remove from heat and whisk in cocoa powder, then mix in chocolate chips to melt.
    7. Stir in 2 tablespoons melted butter and oil.
    8. Mix in other egg and egg yolk, then 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar, and salt.
    9. Sift in 2/3 cup and 1 tablespoon flour.
    10. Mix until batter is smooth.
    11. Mix batters together in brownie pan.
    12. Bake for 30 minutes.
    13. Brush the top with more whiskey if desired.
    Today's lessons learned:
    • Don't trust word of mouth.
    • Cannoli are worth every calorie.
  • Monday, April 25, 2011

    Chocolate Eggs, Chocolate Bunnies, and Popsicle Molds

    What's this? Getting a holiday post up around the actual date of the holiday? How unheard of. Maybe I'll get a Cinco de Mayo post up before it's done and over with. But let's not count on that kind of planning from me.

    I had a lot of big hopes for Easter this year. Mama Bird and I had three slow cookers at our disposal, and I was armed with an alarming number of recipes which may have included a few for Cadbury creme eggs knock-offs.

    I love those creme eggs more than almost any other candy. Which is saying a lot, because I love mint. But those eggs... a shell of milk chocolatey goodness, covering the delicious, creamy center... oh, such fond memories of insane sugar rushes. I used to just eat the four packs in one sitting. This year, I bought myself a four pack, and have only eaten one so far, and it's been more than a week.

    Sometimes I feel like a responsible adult. Then I remember I spent Easter hunting for my basket, just like I did when I was five, and realize I am going to be a child for the rest of my life. Although my parents have certainly gotten better at hiding the baskets over the years.

    So despite my big hopes for cooking Easter dinner, I ended up contributing very little. I gave Mama Bird my slow cooker to use for the ham, and a scalloped potato recipe she ended up not using. I did get her to agree to have asparagus, make straw-berry spinach salad, and said I wanted to make hot cross buns. Fine, except I was away with friends all weekend, and got home around 2 on Sunday. When I walked in she had already made some egg bread dough in the bread machine, since I had told her none of my plans.

    I was slightly disappointed. Because I have developed some sort of cooking compulsion to make things from scratch if I have the time and ability. I had been looking forward to being crazy and making hot cross buns completely from scratch. I whined to her about how my hopes and dreams were being systematically destroyed. Then she told me we didn't have any raisins, and I decided that the grocery store was too much work for a Sunday afternoon, and I'd have to mess with her dough until I liked it.

    I am lucky Mama Bird loves me.

    'Messing with the dough' involved me taking some cinnamon and some sugar, and kneading the dough until I decided I was done kneading it. I have yet to master the kneading process, and obviously have no clue how to apply flour to my hands so they aren't just... a doughy mess. Every two minutes spent kneading right meant at least 5 minutes of trying to get the dough off my hands and back to the ball. But it worked well enough, and we had a delicious lump of cinnamon-sugar smelling egg bread.

    I let it rise as our family did our Easter celebration. For our family, that means the annual hunting of the Easter basket. We used to do egg hunts every year too, but since none of us seem to love the taste of hard-boiled eggs, we've slowly stopped doing that.

    Sister Bird and I hid Papa Bird's basket very well. It took him all of twenty minutes to find, and we delighted in his frustration. Then when it was our turn I found Sister Bird's basket in under five minutes, and left her to keep searching while I went to pop the hot cross buns in the oven.

    They came out of the oven before dinner was ready, but they had to cool they could be frosted. So we had our delicious dinner, and as Papa Bird and Mama Bird fluttered around putting away leftovers, I mixed egg whites and powdered sugar to use as frosting. I should have just used milk, because the amount of powdered sugar I would have needed to really thicken the icing was insane.

    I didn't want to use it all, so I opted to not make the icing thick. So we didn't really have crosses made of icing on. Meaning we didn't really have hot cross buns.

    We had warm cinnamon biscuits with icing. But they were delicious, so I'm okay with that. I am dreading making more icing to eat the rest with, though. Hopefully Papa Bird will take them away and spare me.

    Mama Bird did an excellent job of listening to me ramble about all the stuff I've been wanting to buy for the last few months. I had been planning on buying some popsicle molds so I could make fresh fruit popsicles, and have a steady fruit intake over the summer. So she bought me an adorable little set! They're already sitting in the freezer with some strawberries/milk, and hopefully I'll get to sample one tonight. I've already decided I'm going to have to try to make my own pudding so I can make pudding pops. Sadly, if you search 'pudding' on Tastespotting, you get a lot of desserts, so I will have to be creative in my search, But oh, there are so many possibilities...

    She also got me a mortar and pestle. That, combined with the 8 pounds of chicken sitting in my freezer, means I am going to be making something else out of the Indian slow cooking book. I'm sorely tempted to just make the vindaloo again, but I know I should try other recipes from the book. Either way, Mama Bird gets to benefit from my gifts, so she will know how grateful I am.

    I have a lot of food I need to share with this blog... I've got two muffins to post, some cornbread, something from St. Patrick's Day, some cookies, some calzones... I've certainly been eating well, but I've been holding out on you. And I may even change the layout (yet again) to something with less sparkles. Either way, it looks like my kitchen adventures are only picking up speed.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    'Authentic' Chicken Vindaloo has habaneros, right?

    I have led a sheltered life in terms of Indian food. Papa Bird dislikes curry, and so our family never really experienced Indian while I was growing up. The first time was in England, when we went to The Eastern Eye and I took terrible pictures. And I was smitten almost instantly with the foreign flavors.

    When we came back, I dragged Boyfriend Bird to a local Indian place, and then went to a different place with the family. And then I discovered The Indian Slow Cooker: 50 Healthy, Easy, Authentic Recipes, due to my obsession with cooking blogs. The book was written by Anupy Singla of Indian as Apple Pie.

    I'm proud to say I didn't immediately one-click purchase the book, because I'm trying to work on my impulse buying. Why, just today I managed to talk myself out of buying a box of cookie cutters. I looked through it on Amazon, saw a few things I really wanted to try, and decided that I'd make one, and if I liked it I would buy it. Like a little test-taste. And oh, rest assured, I purchased the book the same day I made the dish.

    I picked out Chicken Vindaloo, because I remembered a waiter telling me that it was one of the spicier things on their menu. I had been disappointed once I actually got the dish- it tasted wonderful, but spicy? There was absolutely no spice to speak of. So I decided that I was going to test and see just how spicy this could be. Besides, the group of friends I was cooking for this time enjoys spice quite a bit.

    They probably deserve bird names by now... I shall dub them Ninja Bird, Uncountable Bird, and Ocarina Bird. There. Moving on.

    I think Uncountable Bird and I have similar spice tolerances, despite him saying he had a very low one. I think mine is actually lower than I want to admit. Ninja and Ocarina Bird seem like they have a higher but also similar level, and Darth Bird's spice tolerance is absolutely stupid.

    Obtaining everything I needed for this was slightly tricky, in that it called for black mustard seeds and I didn't know where to buy those, and the Giant and Harris Teeter near me don't carry the chilis I wanted. Or any of the other peppers she listed. Darth Bird scored the mustard seeds, but I decided I wanted to make sure this vindaloo was spicy, so I just decided to get habanero chilis instead.

    Well, that plan certainly worked.

    Let's do a quick review of the levels of spicy here... the recipe called for 6-10 bird's eye chilis, serrano peppers, or cayenne peppers. The spiciness of a pepper can be measured with the Scoville Rating. In fact, if you're planning on substituting some peppers for another, it's not a bad idea to try to grab one from the same place on the scale. Bird's eye chilis rank from 50,000 to 100,000, which is nothing to joke around with. Serranos are only 10,000 to 25,000, and cayenne are only slightly hotter at 30,000 to 50,000. So I would have been disappointed if I had got a hold of serrano peppers after all. The only pepper that would really have given me heat would have been the birds eye.

    Habanero are ranked at 100,000 to 350,000. So the hottest bird's eye is as potent as the weakest habanero. Thank god I only put three of those suckers in.

    Cutting up the onions was actually one of the most time consuming parts of this. Partially because I cut up 12 onions, and partially because I realized I was starting to run behind and I sliced my index finger in the middle of the ninth onion. I then danced around my house, sucking on my finger and whining to my dog. It was nearly five minutes before it stopped bleeding enough for the neosporin to stick to my finger and not just the blood, and then I had to put a big band-aid on it. And call Mama Bird and ask her to chop the habaneros, because there was no way I was touching them with that big of a cut.

    I think my pain amused her.

    We had nearly uncountable onions.

    I also made homemade naan for this little adventure, which I think turned out pretty well. It was slightly less flavorful than I would have hoped, but it was received well enough. Mama and Boyfriend Bird both thought it went really well with hummus, so I guess I know what to do next time I want to mess around with hummus.

    This is where two of the major changes to this recipe were made. One was on purpose, the other was entirely accidental. As I said earlier, I switched habanero peppers for serrano, because that was what I had and because I wanted it to be spicy. The accidental change was a direct result of my inability to read, and instead of putting EIGHT inches of ginger root in the mixture, I only put one. That's a lot of missing flavor.

    I know this is a bad picture, but I just wanted to make sure that everyone was aware that you cannot grind peppercorns like this. It will not work. Just measure out ground peppercorns next time, unless you have a real mortar and pestle. And then, if you don't, don't dump this mixture in with the onion and watch with despair as they aren't ground at all, and you end up with pureed onions with some peppercorns and mustard seeds.

    But if you do, the peppercorns will soften up in the six hours of cooking, and it will be okay. Not perfect. But trust me, it really will not be as bad as you think it will.

    Overall, I was pleased with this. I thought it was a great level of spice; it wasn't overpowering, but it built with time so by the end of the meal I had a wonderful burn going. I made the mistake of giving myself too much rice, so I was completely stuffed and couldn't even finish my plate. I tupperware'd it up and it was just as delicious the next day.

    When Mama Bird told me that it wasn't spicy at all. Mama Bird is definitely insane.

    But Ocarina Bird's father, who dislikes curry, tried this and enjoyed it. So hopefully I'll talk Papa and Boyfriend Bird into trying some too. Otherwise, I guess I'm going to have enough leftovers to last me a week.

    Note: I am reprinting this recipe because you can already view it through the Amazon 'take a peek!' feature, and because I accidentally made a few changes anyway. If anyone tells me I really shouldn't post this, I'll take it down.

    Chicken Vindaloo adapted from The Indian Slow Cooker: 50 Healthy, Easy, Authentic Recipes
    (Makes 13 servings, with 260 calories and $1.65 per serving)
  • 12 medium yellow onions
  • 6 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 inch ginger
  • 20 cloves garlic
  • 3 habanero chilis
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 1 tablespoon black mustard seed
  • 4 pounds chicken
  • 1/2 cup water
    1. Cut up onions and saute, then add vinegar and cook until vinegar has evaporated.
    2. Puree the onions with rock salt, peppercorns, and mustard seed.
    3. Puree ginger root, garlic, habaneros (with stems removed), turmeric, coriander, garam masala, and cinnamon.
    4. Put chicken, ginger puree, and onion puree in slow cooker. Add water, and cook on low for six hours.

    Naan from Budget Bytes (Makes 8 naan, with 213 calories and $0.44 per naan)
  • 2 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1 egg
    1. Combine yeast, sugar, and water, and let sit for a few minutes.
    2. Stir in oil, yogurt, and egg until well mixed.
    3. In separate bowl, combine 1 cup of flour with salt, then wet ingredients.
    4. Continue adding flour at a half cup at a time until it's impossible to stir with a spoon and doesn't stick to your hands.
    5. Knead dough ball for about three minutes.
    6. Loosely cover dough and let rise for about 45 minutes.
    7. Cut into 8 equal pieces, and shape those into balls.
    8. Cut a skillet over medium heat and PAM it.
    9. Roll out one dough ball at a time, and place on skillet.
    10. Flip once the dough is golden brown on one side.
    11. Remove and serve warm if possible.

    Today's lessons learned:
    • Just use ground peppercorns.
    • Habaneros are spicy. Mama Bird is wrong.
    • 8 inches of ginger and 1 inch of ginger are very different.
    • If you let your friends draw on your hands with fountain pens, it may take a full week to come off. Very odd.
  • Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    What's a gnudi?

    Almost a month ago, I came across an interesting recipe for something called gnudi. At first I thought 'oh, I wonder if this is just some variation of gnocchi...' But all my internet sleuthing turned up very little. Searching now, there are many more pages for gnudi than there used to be.

    I had... approximately zero experience making anything like this. But wasn't that the point of making this blog? To give me experience trying things. So I decided that the worst thing that could happen would be I'd end up with little dough balls that weren't delicious, and I'd have to throw them out. So I set about assembling the ingredients.

    And then realized that the Harris Teeter and the Giant near me don't carry semolina flour. So I just sort of gave up on finding it, and complained to Boyfriend Bird a few times about it, until he learned that his father had semolina flour, which I happily 'borrowed.' It still took me a few days to get around to actually making them, but I was extremely nervous from reading the directions. They didn't look that complicated. Just make little cheesy balls, sit them in flour, and then boil. Pfft, if that was all pasta-making was, I could be running my own pasta shop.

    It seemed so flawless at first. It smelled beautiful, and it was SO MUCH cheese. I sort of wondered about how much cheese it was as I was doing it, but I didn't worry about it. I probably should have. I also probably should have not used Kraft grated Parmesan. I will regret that for some time.

    The directions said that as you combine everything, it should become light and airy. No. No it did not. I tried to whisk it for at least twenty minutes, but it just stayed... solid. I was quite concerned at this point, but figured 'well, I'll just see what happens.' I don't know WHY I didn't think to just put this on the electric mixer and let it work its magic, but apparently it didn't occur to me. So I carried on with my experiment.

    The next part was easy. Stack cheese balls in flour, and let it sit in the fridge? Okay, I can do that.

    It made so many more than I expected... it completely filled the biggest Tupperware container we had.

    On that note, I absolutely love those things. That may sound odd, but in our house it's been nearly impossible to find matching containers and lids. Mama Bird recently bought a bunch of new containers. So now I don't have to spend half an hour trying to pack up food whenever I want to put it away. I need to start putting date labels on things, but I never remember that until I'm staring at the container four weeks later and wondering what the chances of the food still being good is.

    This may be one of the few pictures I have shown on this blog I actually like. Because I took the extra five minutes to go outside, judge the light a little, and take a 'nice' picture. It's still not perfect- I know now that if I had a lamp, I could have gotten rid of that huge shadow. And maybe I could have found some construction paper to hide the road in the background. But y'know... at least I'm aware of my shortcomings.

    Anyway, how did they actually taste? The site described them as little explosions of ricotta and Parmesan covered in a gentle pasta shell. To me, they tasted just like Parmesan. That was it. I could only eat two and I felt sort of ill from the amount of cheese. A complete failure, honestly. Jujyfruits Bird tried them, and he was polite about it but I think he hated them too. They sat in the fridge, with me trying them once or twice more and disliking them every time, until I just threw them away in frustration.

    Not everything I cook can turn out well. I'm just glad these weren't really for anything.

    Gnudi from The Paupered Chef
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 4 cups semolina flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 10-12 sage leaves

    1. Combine ricotta, Parmesan, eggs and yolk, nutmeg, and chives in a bowl and combine. It should be light and airy when you're finished.
    2. Fold in the flour until it's combined, until it's firm until to roll into balls.
    3. Roll the ricotta mixture into balls and place in a dish with semolina on the bottom.
    4. Arrange the balls so they aren't touching, and cover with more flour when there is no more room.
    5. Put in the fridge and leave overnight.
    6. Allow gnudi to come to room temperature and boil a pot of water.
    7. Melt butter over medium-high meat, and when it begins to brown, add sage leaves, and then remove from heat.
    8. Put gnudi in boiling water and cook until they float.
    Today's lessons learned:
    • Cheese is strong.
  • Monday, April 11, 2011

    Lamb Chop Shoulders

    There's a wine store right next to my job that does weekly wine and beer tastings. So every Friday at 5, some of us will head over there, try some nice drinks, and then go back to work. Well, that's not entirely true. I go grocery shopping and then home afterwards, but almost everyone else goes back to work.

    I'm one of the only younger people at my office who comes in 'early.' Early being before nine. Many of them come in at nine or ten, some of them come in even later sometimes. I understand the appeal- why wake up earlier, you're doing the same number of hours, after all- but I like to be home, I guess. I like getting home before it's dark, (maybe) cooking dinner, and just sitting around. The past few days I've been consumed by Pokemon Black. Yes, yes, I know, I can't complain about people in my office coming in later and then talk about Pokemon in the same paragraph. This is why I don't consider myself an adult.

    But back to the wine tasting.

    I had no real love for wine at the start of my job. Even now I tend to like sweet dessert wines over dark, 'full-bodied' red wines. I don't love the bitterness, although I can like it. Almost a month ago, I bought an expensive bottle of red wine, because I liked it, and as we were tasting it the store owner told us that it would go well a fatty meat, such as lamb. And that got me thinking.

    I've had lamb all of twice in my life, and I had certainly never cooked it. So of course I bought an expensive bottle of wine and then immediately went to the nearby Harris Teeter and started looking for lamb.

    It actually took me a few weeks to settle on a recipe for it, and the first time I wanted to make it for my friends, I brought the wrong bottle of wine. I pulled it out of the bag I had brought it in, held it up to the light, and noticed that it was distinctly white. So with a sigh, we ordered pizza that night. I may have been the only one sighing that night, but I was quite upset about it. So the next Tuesday night, I subjected everyone to my little adventure.

    This was one of the more expensive food adventures I've set out on. The wine and lamb were by far the most expensive parts, but we just didn't seem to have a well-stocked pantry this week so I had to buy a lot of parts for it. Some parts- like the fresh mint I bought only for this- ended up being a mistake because I left them in the fridge, only to be remembered hours after the food was gone. I don't even remember what we ended up doing with it, I just hope it wasn't completely wasted money.

    We all thought the lamb smelled very nice as it was cooking, but...

    I think this actually smelled the best. The wine smelled amazing, and with the veggies and the cooked lamb just sitting nearby, it was just... amazing. I can't even think of a more descriptive word. I wanted to eat it right then, but everyone was watching, so it wouldn't have been very subtle. And the lamb wasn't done cooking yet.

    Sadly, my picture of the final plate was terrible. The flash went off, washing everything out, and I felt weird enough taking a bunch of pictures of people cooking with my friends. They didn't say anything, but I mumbled a few excuses about wanting to show Mama Bird. After the first picture didn't come out, I just decided I'd edit it and fix the lighting. But no, that picture is much too far gone for that.

    Oh well. Imagine that, but sitting on a plate on a bed of pasta.

    The pasta mixed incredibly well with the sauce, absorbing just a little, but enough to be delicious. I believe everyone enjoyed this, I know I did. However, I probably won't make it again- partially because it wasn't cheap, partially because it wasn't easy on the calories, partially because we also drained that bottle of wine, and partially because there are other ways to cook lamb I want to experiment with.

    Braised Lamb Chop Shoulders from
    (Makes 4 servings, with 793 calories and $7.58 per lamb chop)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 shoulder lamb chops
  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 3 large celery ribs
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 14 ounces tomatoes, diced
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3 -4 sprigs fresh mint, leaves removed and rolled up,cut in thin strips
    1. Trim excess fat from the chops.
    2. Heat oil and brown chops on both sides, roughly five minutes each side.
    3. Remove lamb from pan and set aside.
    4. Using the same oil, add quartered onion and saute.
    5. Add chopped carrots, celery, salt, pepper, and lemon slices.
    6. Saute about 15 to 20 minutes.
    7. Stir in wine, and bring to simmer.
    8. In separate bowl mix together tomato, curry powder, cumin, coriander, garlic, and soy sauce.
    9. Add tomato mixture to pan and stir.
    10. Return lamb chops to pan and cover with mixture.
    11. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for an hour.
    12. Mix water and cornstarch. Stir into pan and bring to a boil, and let simmer until the sauce is thick.
    13. Serve and sprinkle with fresh mint.

    I've been up to a lot of cooking recently. I made cookies for a friend, black bean 'gloop,' Jalapeño Cheddar cornbread, and even more cornbread in the form of muffins. I completely failed to take pictures of the cookies, but everything else will be showing up eventually. This week I'll (hopefully!) be making naan, possibly sugar cookies, and some slow-cooked chicken vindaloo. I also splurged (again...) and bought Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day because everyone in the cooking blogosphere seems to love it, and the idea of making my own bread intrigues me. True, I don't often eat sandwiches, but Mama Bird will when we have the meat, and... and I wanted the book. Sigh. Maybe I'll save money next month...

    Today's lessons learned:
    • De-glazing is the process of getting food off the bottom of the pan, not the burnt black stuff.
  • Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    CthulhuTech Punch

    In case you have someone avoided noticing this, I spend a lot of time looking at pictures of food online. Sometimes I branch out and look at pictures of drinks online.

    (In case the mountain of dice in the background of this picture didn't alert you, my friends and I are sort of nerdy.)

    We've been playing a game called CthulhuTech for a while now. Not quite a year, but more than nine months. It's nice to know that we'll all get to see each other twice a month, and since someone is always driving at least an hour, we normally make everyone dinner, too. Darth Bird made us 100% homemade lasagna the first time, which may or may not have ruined me for the lasagna of mere mortals. And... a bird I have not yet named made delicious German Beef Rouladen and spätzle. I have made boring safe things, like Sriracha Joes and meatball sandwiches. But so far, everything has been completely amazing.

    But apparently just cooking for friends wasn't enough for me, because I branched out into looking at drinks. And I came across Kaiser Penguin's website, and a drink he called Cthulhu Punch. And I automatically knew that there was no way our group could get away with not drinking that immediately. It became affectionately known as 'our rum dream.'

    CthulhuTech Punch adapted from Kaiser Penguin
  • 1 ounce Appleton V/X
  • 1 ounce El Dorado 15-year
  • 1 ounce Kraken rum
  • 1 ounce Aalborg Akvavit
  • 1 ounce blood orange juice
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 1 ounce creme de almond
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
    1. Shake with ice, and pour.

    So boozey. The original called for Kummel, but we could not find that. It also used orgeat syrup, and I could not find any and just substituted something with an almond flavor because I didn't want to try to make it, despite the instructions on the site. The nice thing about making this with a group of friends was that everyone bought just one bottle of rum (except Darth Bird, who was thoroughly committed to the dream), so it wasn't terribly expensive. I was a bit afraid of first, thinking that was that so rum in it the drink would be amazingly overpowering. But with all those different boozes mixed in the bite of the alcohol was nearly gone, leaving just the flavor. The blood orange and lime gave it a great citrus kick too. We are definitely going to make more of these next time we're nerding out.

    Today's lessons learned:
    • Some states have strange liquor laws.
  • Monday, April 4, 2011

    Spinach and Cheese Lasagna Rolls

    Lasagna rolls have been on my list of things I've wanted to make for a very long time. I bought the lasagna noodles a long time ago, and then once they were out of sight, they were certainly out of mind. Yes, if I had a witty bird-brain joke, it'd certainly go right here.

    I surprised Mama Bird when I told her these were vegetarian. She informed me that Papa Bird would be very disappointed, as he gets a lot of his meals from raiding our leftovers. Apparently Papa Bird doesn't like cooked spinach. He also doesn't like curry powder. I'd call him crazy, but Boyfriend Bird dislikes it as well.

    (Actually, I think they're both crazy.)

    But back to the lasagna rolls. I did not get many good pictures, partially because my camera's battery was dying, partially because I was hungry and rushing, and partially because I forgot. Take your pick.

    These come together very easily, though. It's as simple as making the noodles, mixing everything up, rolling them, and popping them in the oven. The original recipe calls for breading the rolls before baking them, but Mama Bird and I opted to just put sauce on them and bake that way. I think I would have enjoyed the crunch that the breadcrumbs would have given them, but they certainly weren't lacking in taste.

    The only other alteration to this recipe is that I have no idea how much mozzarella we used. Mama Bird had bought a block of mozzarella, and when I told her the recipe needed some she just grated up the rest of it. I saw it in the bowl five minutes later and just assumed she had measured it because the recipe was sitting right next to said bowl. So I just mixed everything else up in the bowl, and it wasn't until the rolls were going in the oven that she asked what I did with the rest of the cheese.

    Ignore the 'lack' of meat in this recipe, with this much delicious cheese, you won't miss a thing.

    You cut the lasagna rolls in half, so you don't just taste pasta. I only boiled 10 pieces of lasagna at first, and ate one. Our pan wasn't entirely full, but we had to make more anyway because I apparently understuffed the rolls. I think they were fine that way, but maybe you want even more cheese in every bite.

    Here is another plate that, if only I had plated it well, could have looked amazing. But I was hungry, it smelled good, and Mama Bird was already eating. Waiting was not an option.

    Spinach and Cheese Lasagna Rolls from My Kitchen Addiction
    (Makes 25 rolls, about $1.48 and 414 calories per 5 rolls)
  • 12 lasagna noodles
  • 5 ounces fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • 4 ounces mozzarella cheese
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese
  • 1.25 cups marinara sauce

    1. Preheat oven to 425.
    2. Boil lasagna noodles according to directions. Drain and set aside.
    3. Cook spinach, drain and shred.
    4. Combine spinach, ricotta, cottage cheese, mozzarella, Parmesan, and salt and pepper.
    5. Cut lasagna noodles in half and put about a spoonful of cheese mixture in each half.
    6. Place seam-side down in PAM'd tray.
    7. Pour marinara over top and bake for 20 minutes.
    Today's lessons learned:
    • Make sure Mama Bird has measured the mozzarella before you just use it blindly.