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  1. I’m bad at this…

    April 15, 2015 by Daniora

    Calendar

    No, really, you guys have no idea…

    For the first time in the lifespan of this blog, I had a plan. Not only that, but I had a plan I was excited about. February in French was going to be awesome. I was going to tackle all kinds of things that have been on my ‘want to try’ list for ages. I was going to learn some new skills and show off a few I already had. I had an entire month’s worth of projects and posts planned out.

    Yeah, it didn’t quite work out that way.

    I place some blame on the weather. This winter, especially the end, was downright miserable, even to someone raised in the frozen wastes of New England. It’s one of the first times I can say that I truly felt ‘snowed in’.

    Of course, that seems like a perfect opportunity to catch up on things and get some writing done. Or a good time to park myself in front of the tv for some sweet Netflix-driven binge watching. I chose the latter. Not a decision I’m proud of, but it is what it is.

    Worst of all, after missing a couple of my planned posts, instead of catching up or just picking things back up where I’d left off, I just fell off the wagon entirely. Not cool. Not cool at all.

    So, here we are, mid-April. I have no plan, no carefully crafted calendar of posts. And yet, dear reader, here we are again.

    I’ve got a few things on the horizon. I have some production work I want to do. Mold making and resin casting and the like. This will involve dusting off some old skills and picking up a couple new ones. I want to try my hand at live streaming while I work on some sculpture projects. I also have a huge cosplay project I want to do. So, rather than meticulously schedule themed projects, I’m just going to try and just write. Regularly. Some posts are going to be infinitely more interesting than others. Hopefully the good ones will outnumber the dull. Only one way to find out. Onward we go.

    Stick with me, guys. I swear this is going somewhere…


  2. Poulet en Croûte

    February 4, 2015 by Daniora

    IMG_6994

    Today’s recipe is another one from my childhood. My mom used to make this for us. It was one of those meals that always felt really special. I’ve put a couple of little twists on it myself, but at it’s heart, it’s the same.

    So, ‘poulet en croûte’ translates to ‘chicken in crust’. Loses some of the mystique in English, doesn’t it?

    The name is simple and the execution is even simpler. The beauty of this recipe is how impressive it looks, especially for the amount of effort.

    The ingredient list is short and sweet:

    Just four ingredients...

    Just four ingredients…

    • Chicken breast, one per serving. For this particular application, I used Perdue marinated chicken breasts. They were the perfect size for wrapping in the pie crust and were incredibly flavorful.
    • Sliced ham, one or two slices per serving. Mine was rather thinly sliced, so I opted for two.
    • Brie, sliced about 1/4″ thick. I usually use plain, but this time I accidentally grabbed herbed brie. I noticed my mistake and went to put it back, but decided that more flavor couldn’t be a bad thing.
    • Pie crust. I use the refrigerated kind that comes rolled. Each crust will be enough for two servings.

    That’s it. Now to put them together.

    Browning the chicken.

    Browning the chicken.

    The first step is to brown both sides of the chicken breast. This will add flavor and help sear the juices into the chicken. I had my pan a little hot, so some of the herbs from the marinate got a bit scorched, but there was no real harm done.

    Next, unroll your pie crust. Letting it come to room temperature first makes this a far easier task. Slice the crust in half. If you’re extra concerned about presentation, you can reroll each half to make it a more square shape. This will help later when it’s time to wrap the chicken, but isn’t strictly necessary.

    Ham...

    Ham…

    ... and cheese.

    … and cheese.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    In the center of the crust, place your ham. On top of that, place your brie. I was feeling saucy, so I put two slices. There is the possibility (well, probability, really) that no matter how well you wrap your chicken, some of the melted brie is going to ooze out. So, starting with more will increase the amount we’re left with, right? Yup, logic sounds good to me.

    Ugly.

    Ugly.

    Pretty!

    Pretty!

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    On top of the brie, place your browned chicken breast. Gently wrap up the edges of the pie crust. This is the part where you’ll realize that rerolling the crust to be the right shape might have made things easier. Never fear, however, it doesn’t matter how ugly this seam is because it will be on the bottom. Seal it as well as you can to keep the brie from escaping.

    Ready to go!

    Ready to go!

    Place the packets seam side down on a baking sheet lined with foil (because escaping brie). If you’re feeling fancy, and I frequently am, you can use a paring knife to cut a diamond shape in the crust, exposing the ham underneath. Brush a quick egg wash on the crust to help give it a golden finish.

    I warned you about the escaping brie.

    I warned you about the escaping brie.

    Bake them in the oven for 25 – 30 minutes until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165°. Plate and serve. Simple. Elegant. Delicious.


  3. Crêpes

    February 2, 2015 by Daniora

    IMG_6965

    Bonjour, dear readers!

    I just wanted to take a minute here before the main post to give you a little sneak peek at what you can expect for the month of February. When I set about restarting the blog, I made a wishlist of projects and recipes that I want to tackle. It became quite obvious fairly quickly that a large percentage of items on the list were French.

    This isn’t surprising; I’ve been a Francophile for ages. I took French in high school just because I loved it. Heck, even my all-time favorite movie is French. I thought it might be fun to lump a bunch of these projects together into one month long adventure.

    Presenting February ‘en français’!

    I don’t want to give away too much of what I’ve got planned. This will be a very food heavy month of posts. But let’s face it, what could be better than French food? I’ve got a few other tricks up my sleeve, some projects I’ve always wanted to try that I’ve given a French flair. And by the end of it all, there may even be a poodle in a beret (I sure hope that one works out).

    Without further ado, allons-y!

    ———————————————

    I’m starting off my French February with one of the most basic and most quintessentially French foods I could think of: crêpes.

    For those of you not in the know, crêpes are French pancakes. They are thin and light, frequently served with some sort of filling. Sitcoms and movies taking place in snooty French restaurants inevitably show someone serving Crêpes Suzette, a dish served ‘en flambé’ (on fire!), frequently, in the case of sitcoms, with hilarious results. They have this mystique about them, when in reality, crêpes are actually rather a simple, down home food. I mean, they’re just pancakes… but everything is a little fancier in French.

    I actually grew up eating crêpes. Well, a version of them. The were generally referred to as blintzes and were my favorite dish picked up from my Lithuanian grandmother.  Ours are filled with farmer’s cheese or a mixture of cheese and ham (or preferably Spam, because say what you will, but that stuff is delicious). They are served with sour cream or apple sauce. It remains the most requested meal when my sister comes home for a visit.

    Here’s the thing: we used to cheat. We always used a crepe maker. Instead of the traditional method of pouring the batter into the hot pan and swirling it around, you instead are bringing the pan to the batter. Dipping it in means that you are pretty much guaranteed the light, even coating every time. It even has an indicator light to tell you when it is ready. Really, very cheaty. But efficient.

    No more! Mostly because, well, I don’t own my own crepe maker. I have decided to learn how to make them properly by hand. I received an awesome new crêpe pan for Christmas (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and today we are taking it out for its maiden voyage.

    Why today? There’s actually a reason.

    When I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was going to tackle this little February ‘en français’ project, he asked if I was writing about crêpes on February 2nd. I replied that I hadn’t really decided and asked why.

    La Chandeleur. Look it up.”

    And so I did and was very glad of it.  In a world that is increasingly shying away from holidays for fear of offending someone, I am on a mission embrace more of them. There should be more holidays, more celebrations, not fewer. And ones that have a food based component, those are even better. This one is now on my list.

    Like Shrove Tuesday, it’s another Catholic holiday based on pancakes. Okay, so maybe it’s not based on pancakes, but that’s the part that we’re excited about today. La Chandeleur, Candlemas, or le jour des crêpes takes place February 2nd, 40 days after Christmas. As with all holidays, there’s a deep history and tradition to the celebration. For our purposes, we need only know that we’re going to celebrate it by eating crêpes. All the crêpes.

    Eat all the crêpes!

    Eat all the crêpes!

    I got my basic crêpe batter recipe from Crepes: 50 Savory and Sweet Recipes by Martha Holmberg. The batter is delightfully simple. Milk, eggs, flour, melted butter. That’s it. Of course, the batter part wasn’t what worried me; after all, I’ve been making it for years. I already knew most of the tricks, like letting it sit (mine sat in the fridge overnight) to let the protein in the flour become properly hydrated and to keep the crêpes tender.

    No, what I was worried about was the part between batter and plate…

    A quick note: documenting something like making crêpes while acting as your own photographer is no small feat. I had delusions of action shots and in progress pictures. Yeah, those didn’t happen. Nonetheless, let’s dive right in.

    It begins...

    It begins…

    My very first crêpe was an unmitigated disaster. It was, in fact, too embarrassing to document. Of course, there were a number of factors at work on that one. First off, my batter had separated a little. I thought I had remixed it enough, but I clearly hadn’t. The second was related to the quantity of batter for my size pan. Gauging how much batter to add is a bit of an art and takes practice. So it comes as no surprise that I didn’t nail it on the first shot. The last problem had to do with my new pan. You see, it’s nonstick. So while my cookbook advised me that I would want to add a very light coating of butter for flavor, it really doesn’t need it. This was, in fact, disastrous. The pan became so slick with even the lightest swipe of butter, the batter wouldn’t stick enough to cook. Whoops. Alright, well, after that one finished cooking, I had it another shot.  After all, I had an entire batch of batter to get it right.

    My second attempt. A little thick here and there, but not bad for a rookie.

    My second attempt. A little thick here and there, but not bad for a rookie.

    My second attempt was much better. I managed a mostly even coating on the pan, a little thick in a few places, but not bad. Mostly round. As it cooked, the edges curled up the way they were supposed to. Then I got to use my fancy new crêpe turner to flip it over (I know, I’m ridiculous).

    Curling edges mean it's almost ready.

    Curling edges mean it’s almost ready.

    Crêpe turner, to action!

    Crêpe turner, to action!

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    I was worried about overcooking them, and so this one got turned a little early. It’s a bit anemic, but not horrible. Certainly edible. Most importantly, I was learning.

    A little light, but I assure you, still tasty.

    A little light, but I assure you, still tasty.

    By about the third one, I kinda had the hang of it. Getting the batter to swirl at the right speed to cover the whole pan takes a bit of doing, but it’s not impossible. I let it cook on the first side for a little longer, waiting for a little browning to appear at the edges. When I finally flipped it, I was ecstatic.

    Et voilà!

    Et voilà!

    Not that it was entirely smooth sailing after that. A few times, I didn’t quite get the batter around the edges and little holes appeared. Some of them I was able to fill in adequately with a few more drops of batter. Others, not so much. All evidence of imperfection had to be immediately destroyed. Delicious, delicious mistakes…

    Quick! Hide the evidence! Om nom nom nom...

    Quick! Hide the evidence! Om nom nom nom…

    By the end of my batch of batter, I had made about a dozen really quite lovely crêpes out of the 20 or so that I made. Not a bad ratio for my first time out, I thought. And even the bad ones weren’t terrible. Properly filled or folded and no one would be the wiser.

    What to do with the crêpes once they’re made? That is a subject for another post entirely. Or a whole series of posts, really. The possibilities are endless. Not gonna lie, most of mine were eaten as is, rolled up and scarfed down right from the pan while they were still warm. They can be made ahead and reheated, served with a variety of toppings, fillings, or even be made into a cake. The important part is that now we know we can make crêpes any time we want… which will be all the time.


  4. Making Marshmallows: Part 2

    January 28, 2015 by Daniora

    IMG_6669

    So, in the last post, we went over the basics of how marshmallows are made. Once you have a good grasp of the concept and a couple of successful batches under your belt, you can start expanding your marshmallow prowess.

    Before I get back into the marvels of marshmallows, you’re gonna need something to do with the piles of them you’ll be creating. Sure, there are lots of possibilities.  You can absolutely just eat them as they are. Dip them in chocolate or melt them on cookies. There are even entire cookbooks dedicated to various permutations of s’mores that can be made. As there is about two feet of snow outside my door right now, though, I’m going to suggest the classic choice:

    Hot chocolate.

    Here at the Nerdly Home, however, we do not stop at powdered packets of Swiss Miss. Not that there’s anything wrong with powdered hot chocolate. It is certainly convenient in a pinch, and many of them can be quite tasty. No, what I’m suggesting is actual drinking chocolate.

    ‘What’s the difference?” you may ask. And if you do, I’ll know that you’ve never had drinking chocolate before.

    There seems to be no real consensus on the ‘proper’ way to make drinking chocolate. This actually works in our favor. We can now adapt the recipe entirely to our own personal preferences. Try new things. Experiment! With chocolate! For science!

    It's schmallow time!

    It’s schmallow time!

    The basic building blocks of drinking chocolate are 2 ounces of finely chopped chocolate and 8 ounces of milk. The milk is heated and the chocolate is melted into it. Simple enough, yes? Good. Now comes the fun part.

    Your choices in chocolate are almost endless. You can choose your preference of milk or dark (or white, I suppose, but that’s not really chocolate). Or try a mix. Use leftover chocolate chips or candy bars. I’ve even used a few slices of a chocolate orange. Some recipes call for also adding cocoa powder and sugar to the mix. I personally haven’t found either of these necessary; I generally prefer to simply add more chocolate if it’s lacking flavor.

    There are also options when it comes to your milk. Skim, whole, something in between, all fine. I haven’t tried using non-dairy milk, but I’m sure it would work just as well. Some even suggest using half and half, but that’s a bit much for me. A little splash of cream at the end is decadent. Whipped cream on top? Why not!

    The final step is deciding if you’re going to add any extra flavorings to your chocolate. Cinnamon and chili turns it into Mayan chocolate. A tiny pinch of salt can help balance the sweetness of the chocolate. Cloves, cardamom, and allspice are also contenders. Maybe a shot of espresso to give it a kick. And you’ll rarely go amiss with a splash of vanilla. These are all options you can change based on your taste and mood.

    Of course, there is one other way to add extra flavor to your already decadent drinking chocolate. You can always float a few flavored marshmallows on top. Yes, that’s right. Flavored marshmallows. While vanilla is a classic flavor, it is by no means the only one. The possibilities, I have discovered, are endless. Some are certainly more successful than others, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying things. Because science.

    The simplest way of changing the flavor of your marshmallows is to substitute a different extract in place of the vanilla. Peppermint marshmallows are a popular choice, since mint and chocolate go so well together, and they are the result of this kind of simple swapping of flavorings. You can also add a couple of drops of food coloring to the mix to tint them, helping to indicate the flavor. There are a variety of other extracts available that you could use to make your marshmallows a little less ordinary.

    I was looking for something a bit more involved.

    My first foray into alternatively flavored marshmallows was a big one. With my love of all things pumpkin, I took a leap and tried out pumpkin spice marshmallows.

    It's like a pumpkin pie, only light and fluffy.

    It’s like a pumpkin pie, only light and fluffy.

    The process was very similar to the vanilla marshmallows, just with the addition of pumpkin puree into the gelatin and the extra spices. The resulting marshmallows were yummy. They had that classic pumpkin spice flavor that I, as a dyed-in-the-wool New Englander, crave the second there’s that first hint of crisp autumn chill in the air. The consistency of these was tricky, though; they were extra sticky. No matter how many times I tossed them in the powdered sugar, they would inevitably wind up all stuck together into one mega marshmallow again. I have a feeling that this is the result of the extra moisture added by the pumpkin puree.

    The less-than-ideal solution that I eventually stumbled upon was letting them sit out in the open air for a couple hours. This let the very outer layer get just stale enough to keep the moisture contained. They lost some of that heavenly soft texture, but they didn’t stick together anymore.

    Browsing through marshmallow recipes, I found lots of interesting options. The next one that caught my eye enough for me to decide to give it a try was a gift from my new favorite organization: the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (seriously, they have maple recipes for everything). Yup, that’s right. Maple marshmallows.

    From top to botom:  Coffee, maple, vanilla

    From top to botom:
    Coffee, maple, vanilla

    The cool thing about this recipe is that you replace the sugar and the corn syrup with maple syrup, which you then cook down. For this recipe, I do recommend using the candy thermometer as recommended. It’s basically the only way to know when you’ve boiled enough water out of the syrup. Added benefit of making these: the house smells like maple syrup for hours. Delicious.

    I happened to have some leftover maple sugar in the cabinet from a previous baking project. I remembered learning that if you found yourself in need of powdered sugar, you could put granulated sugar in a food processor and pulverize it. I was a little concerned about the confectioners’ sugar overpowering the maple flavor, so I did make a little bit of maple powdered sugar to mix in. It worked perfectly, with one exception. I opened the top of the food processor too soon and inhaled quite a cloud of maple powder. It’s alright, though. I have Canadian heritage; that stuff’s probably in my blood already.

    The third and final marshmallow adventure for this round was completely irresistible. Coffee marshmallows. When melted into a nice, rich hot chocolate, the resulting beverage is a mocha delight.

    Gelatin blooming in cold espresso.

    Gelatin blooming in cold espresso.

    The flavoring for these beauties comes from replacing the cold water used to bloom the gelatin with strong, cold espresso. It’s a neat way to add flavor without changing the process or consistency. This recipe also adds a little cocoa powder. This helps add color to the finished marshmallows and balance out the harsh coffee flavor with smooth chocolate notes. I also added some cocoa powder to the powered sugar I used for dusting. It helped them retain their identity as ‘not vanilla’ marshmallows and added just a little more flavor.

    This is certainly not the last time we’ll talk about marshmallows. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m rather a fan. I’ve got a lot of things that I still want to try. Almost any flavor out there, there’s probably a marshmallow recipe for it.


  5. Making Marshmallows: Part 1

    January 26, 2015 by Daniora

    Marshmallow pile

    Some people will tell you that cooking is art. Some say that it’s science. There are plenty of valid arguments for both sides.

    Making marshmallows is freaking magic.

    No, I’m serious here. It is one of the most delightful feats of alchemy turning sugar, water, and gelatin into light, fluffy marshmallows. It’s something that requires a little bit of know how and the proper tools, but really, what doesn’t require those things.

    Telling people that I’ve made marshmallows is invariably met with a level of incredulity that none of my other endeavors face. I’ve made a name for myself as someone who can do anything. I’ll chalk this up to my vastly varied interests and eclectic skill set. Somehow, though, these same people who tell me that I can do anything are the same ones who say “You can’t make marshmallows”.  As if somehow to imply that these confections simply appear from some other dimension to make gooey s’mores or melt in our hot chocolate.

    Not that the truth is much less miraculous.

    So, let’s start at the beginning. There are five basic ingredients to a marshmallow: gelatin, water, sugar, corn syrup, and flavoring. Simple enough and readily available. The real secret lies in how you put them together.

    Vanilla marshmallow

    Vanilla Marshmallows

    Ingredients:

    • 3 (1/4-ounce) packages unflavored gelatin
    • 1/2 cup cold water
    • 2 cups granulated sugar
    • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

     

    1. Prepare a 9″x9″ baking pan with cooking spray and plastic wrap (more about this in a bit)
    2. Bloom the gelatin: Place the 1/2 cup of cold water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Sprinkle the unflavored gelatin over the water. Let stand for 10 minutes.
    3. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water. Place saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil; boil rapidly for 1 minute. Remove from heat, and, with the mixer on high, slowly pour the boiling syrup down the side of the mixer bowl into gelatin mixture.
    4. Beat on medium high speed for 12 minutes until white and fluffy.
    5. Add vanilla extract and stir for 1 additional minute until well combined.
    6. Spray a spatula with cooking spray. Pour the marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly with the prepared spatula. Cover with additional plastic wrap. Allow to sit for 4 hours or overnight.
    7. Dust a cutting board with confectioners’ sugar. Turn the set marshmallows onto the cutting board. Remove all plastic wrap. Cut marshmallows into desired size (I like mine about 1″ square) using a sprayed sharp knife. Place confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl. Working in batches, add marshmallows to bowl and toss to coat. Finished marshmallows can be kept in a plastic bag or airtight container.

     

    And just like that, you’ve made marshmallows from scratch. Now, there are a few little tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way that make the job easier.

    Marshmallow is extremely sticky stuff. Preparing your pan is one of the most important steps. I usually use a glass pan, but as I was making several batches, I wound up moving to aluminum pans, which worked out just fine. I first spray the pan with a light coating of cooking spray. This will help keep the plastic wrap in place. Next I line the pan with plastic wrap, leaving enough overhang on the edges that I will be able to fold it up to cover the marshmallow while it sets. Don’t worry about getting it smooth; the wrinkles won’t be noticeable in the finished marshmallows. Once the pan is lined, I then spray the plastic wrap with cooking spray.

    Prepared pan

    Aluminum pan lined with plastic wrap and generously sprayed with cooking spray.

    I’ve been through a few different recipes for marshmallows. Many of them require using a candy thermometer to bring the syrup up to the proper temperature. None of the recipes agreed on exactly what that temperature should be. Getting ingredients to the right temperature for the right amount of time is, of course, the trickiest part of any sugar work. However, it seems to me that this more simple process of letting it come to a rapid boil for 1 minute resulted in the best texture and consistency. Some of the other batches wound up a bit tougher, almost rubbery. These were soft and fluffy.

    Double, double toil and trouble;  Fire burn, and 'shmallows bubble.

    Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and ‘shmallows bubble.

    I know a stand mixer is rather a large item to be a necessary piece of equipment. I suppose this could be managed with a hand mixer, but it’d be a trickier proposition. It’s nice to have that 12 minutes of ‘set it and forget it’ to clean your cooking utensils of hot sugar syrup before it hardens. It’s this process of whipping air into the sugar syrup as it cools that turns it into the fluffy, sticky mess we’re looking for. This is so magical, in fact, that I made a time lapse of it…

    The beginning is a little rough from all the steam clouding the lens as the initial heat is released from the syrup. And right at the end, if you watch the side of the bowl carefully, you can see a big splatter… That would be the part where I was focused so much on capturing the time lapse, that I neglected to think about how hot the mixture still was and how volatile vanilla extract is. So, yeah, that’s basically the result of all the alcohol in the extract I thoughtlessly dumped into the bowl vaporizing immediately. Whoops. They turned out just fine in the end, though.

    Now this is some professional set up...

    Now this is some professional set up…

    Stay tuned for more marshmallow talk where we’ll talk about just some of the flavor possibilities.


  6. Now that I have your attention…

    January 16, 2015 by Daniora

    Water Dragon

    I know, I know. Using a post about bacon to get your attention was a cheap trick. But hey, it worked.

    So, after being all full of New Year’s enthusiasm, I promptly fell off the wagon for two weeks. But we’re back now, and I wanted to take a few moments to talk about what you can expect here in the future.

    See, up until this point, I have been striving for perfection. A noble goal to be sure. Here’s the thing, though. Perfection is unattainable and exhausting. Every post was based around a project almost exclusively created for the blog. They took up hours of time completing and photographing, followed by an extensive and detailed write up. And when things went wrong, the projects were generally abandoned (with the exception of the orange marmalade).  When I was doing things that were interesting enough to write about, I had no time to write. And when I had the time to write, I had nothing to write about.

    So, I’ll be taking this blog in a little bit of a different direction. Or, at least, going about things in a different way.

    1. Posts will be, on the whole, shorter. But I’ll be happy writing regular shorter posts that sporadically writing massive tomes. And I think you’ll all be happier reading them.
    2. More ‘in progress’ posts. I’ve got a few bigger projects on my list, and so in order to have time to work on them and still make regular posts, I’m going to share my process with you.
    3. I’m trying a bunch of new things. My project list has an increasing number of things that I’ve never tried before. And I’m excited to learn. That means that posts will also probably contain more missteps. Admitting failure is not something I’ve ever been particularly comfortable with, so this’ll be an adventure.
    4. I’ve also got a lot more projects for me coming up. This is kind of a new thing for me too. I usually make lots of stuff for other people and almost nothing for myself. Well, this year I’ve got a lot more ‘selfish’ projects to do. Which, of course, isn’t to say that I won’t be making lots of things to give away.
    5. I’ll be doing some “catch up” posts documenting some of the things that I finished but never got around to writing about. I’ll include some of the in progress photos if I have them available.

     

    So, that’s the plan. Now you know the plan, and I know the plan, so all that remains is for me to stick to the plan. And if you guys keep reading, I’ll keep writing.


  7. Oven Cooked Bacon

    January 2, 2015 by Daniora

    IMG_5480

    It took 39 posts before I wrote about bacon.

    I, for one, am rather tired of the whole ‘bacon all the things’ movement. Bacon, in point of fact, does not make everything better. A blasphemous statement, I know. Sometimes the truth hurts.

    That is not to say, however, that I don’t think bacon is absolutely awesome. Because it is. Especially good bacon. In a fit of high spirits at the grocery store one day, I picked up a package of Wright brand thick cut applewood smoked bacon.  I figured it would be good for BLTs, especially since it was so thick and hearty.

    … I have been ruined for other bacon. I’m not sure I’ll be able to go back to the regular ol’ stuff. Certainly not if it’s going to be eaten on its own.  It just has a depth of flavor that cheap, thin sliced bacon can’t hold even hope to match.

    But I digress (as I often do)…

    What I’ve really set out to do here today is talk about the process of cooking bacon. While I happen to feel that I have above average cooking skills and am fairly handy in the kitchen, I am freaking terrible at cooking bacon. It either winds up overcooked, undercooked (or occasionally, miraculously, both), and I inevitably burn myself.  No one is happy in this scenario, least of all the bacon.

    Enter oven cooked bacon.

    I’m not entirely sure what horrible thing I did in a past life in order to have to spend 33 years of this life not knowing about oven cooking bacon. Thankfully, I seem to have atoned for any wrongs, and now I never want to cook bacon any other way. It’s so easy, practically foolproof, and you don’t have to stand there and watch it while it cooks. And so, without further ado…

    Oven Cooked Bacon

     

    1. Preheat your oven to 400° F.
    2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. This step is important for a few reasons. First, the rimmed pan keeps the bacon grease from running all over the inside of your oven (duh). The foil makes clean up 100% easier, but it also allows you to make a little spout at one corner when you need to drain off said fat halfway through cooking.

      Foil lined pan

      Foil lined and ready for bacon.

    3. Lay the bacon out in a single layer. It’s okay if the pieces touch, but they shouldn’t overlap.

      Magnificent Bacon

      Gloriously magnificent bacon.

    4. Put the pan of bacon into the oven. The cooking time is going to depend on a few factors: how crispy you want your bacon, how much fat it has, and how thick the pieces are cut. I find a total cooking time of about 20 minutes works well for that thick cut bacon that I’m so in love with.
    5. Halfway through the cook time (so, 7-10 minutes depending on your bacon), check to see how much fat is in the bottom of your pan. This is another thing that varies every time. If there’s a significant amount of fat pooling in the pan, you’ll want to drain it. This is where that foil lining comes in handy again. You can pull one corner up a bit to form a spout to help make draining easier.

      Foil spout for easing draining.

      Foil spout for easy draining.

    6. Put the pan back into the oven to finish cooking. As it nears completion, be sure to check on it from time to time. As I said, this method is nearly foolproof. Nearly. It is still entirely possible to ruin a batch of bacon this way, which, let’s face it, is a crime.
    7. When your bacon has reached the desired level of doneness, remove it from the oven. Place your bacon strips on a plate of paper towels to drain.
    Finished bacon

    Ta da!

    Et voilà! Perfectly cooked bacon, ready for anything. Including just being eaten. Or…. made into an exquisite BLT with avocado. Because avocado makes everything better.

    #bacon

    #bacon

    No longer must I face the shame of not being able to properly cook bacon or having to depend on others to cook my bacon for me. This has been a much needed step towards becoming a better person.


  8. Squash Pudding

    January 19, 2014 by Daniora

    SquashPudding

    I think it’s true of every family that there are certain dishes that we grow up with that we assume everyone else knows about too. For me, squash pudding is probably top of the list.

    bill-cosby-jell-o-pudding

    Here in the States, when we hear the word “pudding”, it generally conjures images of Bill Cosby selling SnakPacks of vanilla and chocolate swirl. This particular recipe uses the British meaning of pudding, savory ingredients bound together with eggs and flour which are baked, boiled, or steamed to hold them together.

    Squash puddings takes butternut squash, which is delicious and perfectly good for you all on its own, and transforms it into something calorie laden and irresistible. One of my nephews refuses to touch vegetables; I’ve seen him pick tiny pieces of chopped spinach out of pasta sauce. He will, however, sit down to a heaping pile of squash pudding and devour it without blinking an eye.

    Squash Pudding

    Ingredients:

    • 8 Tbs butter
    • 2 tsp salt
    • 5 Med butternut squash (8 cups mashed and drained)
    • 1 Tbs dried onion flakes or fresh minced
    • 4 tbs dried milk
    • 4 eggs
    • 4 tbs Wondra flour
    • 4 tbs brown sugar

     

    1.  Mix all ingredients together, making sure butter melts completely. Beat until smooth.
    2. Spread in baking dish and sprinkle with bacon bits (if desired). I am personally pretty done with the whole “bacon makes everything better” bit, but in this case, I really do recommend it. The salty bacon really does a lot to balance the sweet squash.
    3.  Bake at 300 degrees for 1½ hours.

     

    A few notes from my own personal experience.

    First of all, this recipe works equally well using frozen squash. It’s so convenient just to grab a few of the oh-so-attractive frozen bricks from the store and throw them into a pot. I’ll admit that I almost never go through the trouble of boiling and mashing fresh squash anymore.

    Secondly, a word on Wondra flour. Wondra flour is ground superfine, designed to mix more smoothly into liquids like gravy and prevent clumps. In a pinch, I’ve used regular all purpose flour instead and have yet to encounter a problem. I find a good whisking manages to eliminate any little clumps that might appear.

    Thirdly, and very importantly, remember to remove the squash from the heat when you whisk in the eggs to prevent them from cooking before they’re mixed in. Not that I’ve ever done that, mind you…

    This is one of my favorite side dishes and is one of those simple, handy recipes that can be prepared in advance and reheated for mealtime.


  9. Gluten-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes

    December 14, 2013 by Daniora

    IMG_7711

    You may have discovered by now, dear readers, that I am a fan of celebrations. Any excuse to gather people together, have good food, and generally promote warm and fuzzy feelings is fine by me. Recently, it was our store manager’s birthday. While working retail may not be my ideal situation, I at least have the advantage of working in a place where we all feel like family. So there was no way this occasion was going to pass by unmarked.Edit

    Here’s the catch: He’s gluten-free.

    I’m not one to panic about such obstacles. I was, however, determined to make something outstanding. I’ve cooked for vegetarians, vegans, diabetics, and people with nut allergies (fortunately, not all at the same time). Adding a few gluten free recipes to my repertoire wouldn’t be bad. Chocolate and peanut butter are his favorites, so I went looking for something.

    Flourless chocolate cake is a popular option for going gluten free. My problem with this is that it tends to be super rich and heavy. Not ideal for a casual mid-afternoon in-the-breakroom celebration. I really wanted cupcakes.

    Fortunately, I stumbled onto this recipe from Chocolate & Carrots. It had all the qualities I was looking for. Perfect. Alright, here we go…

    Gluten-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes


    Ingredients

    • 1 (15.5 oz) can of reduced sodium black beans, drained and rinsed

     

    Wait, what? Did I read that right? Yes, yes I did. Okay, okay, no one panic. I mean, beans in desserts aren’t entirely unprecedented. There are Chinese red bean cakes, for example. ::deep breath:: Alright, I’m sure these will be good. Let’s just keep going and see where this all goes.

    Gluten-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes


    Ingredients

    • 1 (15.5 oz) can of reduced sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
    • 4 eggs
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, or coconut oil
    • 3/4 cup cane sugar
    • 5 tablespoons special dark cocoa powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 12 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, unwrapped

     

    1. Preheat oven to 350°.
    2. Line a 12 cup muffin pan and spray with cooking spray.
    3. Blend the beans, 2 eggs, vanilla and sugar in the food processor (or blender) on high until completely blended.
    4. In a small bowl combine the cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda.
    5. In a large bowl, beat the butter/coconut oil until fluffy.
    6. Add the remaining two eggs and beat well after each egg.
    7. Beat in the bean mixture.
    8. Beat in the dry ingredients.
    9. Beat for 1-2 minutes.
    10. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place a Reese’s cup on the top.
    11. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until the cupcakes are cooked completely.
    12. Allow them to cool completely before icing.


    Peanut Butter Frosting

    Ingredients

    • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
    • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
    • 2 cups powdered sugar
    • 1/2 – 2/3 cup whipping cream (heavy cream)
    • 12 miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
    1. Beat the peanut butter, butter and powdered sugar until combined.
    2. Add in the whipping cream and beat until light and fluffy.
    3. Use a piping bag with your favorite decorating tip and decorate the cupcakes or use a knife and spread to decorate the cupcakes.
    4. Decorate with a mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

     

    Okay, not going to lie, the whole beans-eggs-sugar concoction in the food processor was kinda gross looking. I did my best to press on and finish the batter. When it was all together, it looked and smelled like cupcake batter. I was starting to feel better about things.

    IMG_3685

    Then, I added the mini peanut butter cups. This really made me feel better about things.
    IMG_3686
    As they baked, I couldn’t help but feel like these cupcakes were a lie of GLaDIOSian proportions. They certainly did make my house smell chocolatey.  Once they were out and frosted, I was really happy with how they looked. There was only one test they had left to pass.

    IMG_7706
    I brought them in to work the next day. Let me tell you, they were delicious. They were light and fluffy, not at all heavy like a traditional flourless cake. This peanut butter frosting is amazing; it’s definitely a recipe I’ll be using on other chocolate cupcakes.

    I would make one minor change to the entire process. I think it would work better to let the cupcakes bake about 5 minutes before putting the mini peanut butter cup in the center. As it was, they sank to the bottom instead of being stuck in the middle. Other than that, I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.


  10. Typographic Art

    November 21, 2013 by Daniora

    IMG_7705

    They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. There are times, though, when a dozen or so words can make a very pretty picture.

    Typographic art is very popular these days. And for good reason. Text based art is can be adapted to any style, mood, or theme. It can be painted, a decal, or framed. It’s also really easy to do yourself. I used Photoshop for my own text art project, but even something as simple as Word will work. There are lots of great resources for free fonts, dafont.com being my favorite. If you’re one of those people with lovely handwriting or someone who does calligraphy, you can make them by hand instead of producing them digitally.

    Commercially made text prints and vinyl decals are readily available just about anywhere that sells home goods or framed art. There are also plenty available on Etsy, either as prints or as downloadable files you can print yourself.  With just a little time and some creativity, though, you can put together your own text art that will perfectly suit your specific taste and needs.

    My kitchen is a hallway. It’s a long, thin room with a pretty awkward wall at the far end. That wall was empty for months after we moved in. I thought for a while that I would try and create some sort of window type of wall art, since the kitchen lacks any openings other than the doorway. I tried finding something that would suit my needs, but nothing seemed quite right. I also ran into the added challenge of having to choose something that wouldn’t be too obtrusive since the sink is right against the wall. The last thing I needed was to hang something that we would knock off the wall every time we did the dishes.

    IMG_7704

    Then I wound up with a pile of frames from a yard sale. There were four matching 8×10 black frames. I decided they would fit perfectly in the space that I had to work with. It was then just a question of finding something to put into them.

    I thought at first that some food-based photographs or illustrations would work. Again, I scoured the internet, but I didn’t find anything that really caught my attention. When I was browsing on Etsy, I did find a few posters that were typographic art of quotes regarding food. I liked them, but none really fit my needs, and I couldn’t find four that went together.

    Well, this art degree has to be good for something. I sat down to find quotes about food and cooking that fit my personality. A quick Google search yielded more results than I could handle. I had to pare it down to four, content in the fact that when I got bored with these, I could always swap them out for new ones.  It was then a fairly simple matter of choosing fonts and arranging the words in a pleasing manner. I added colored backgrounds, y’know, for color. One could just as easily put the text over a stock photo or something with a little more interesting than a plain color field, but this worked better for my purposes.

    Once I was happy with the way they looked, I took the file down to my local Staples to have them printed on card stock. I could have printed them at home, but having them printed out had a couple advantages. The first was that with a colored background I’d be using a TON of very expensive ink. A color print on card stock usually runs about $1. Secondly, with large fields of color like these, I find laser printing generally looks a lot smoother. All I had to do then was trim them out, frame them up, and hang them.

    The finished product.

    The finished product.

    Of course, hanging them is easier said that done. I know, they’re not perfectly even. Then tend to not hang perfectly straight. In spite of that, I adore them. They’ve been up for almost a year and I have not yet felt compelled to change out the quotes yet, so I must have chosen well.

    As a bonus, here’s the file of the prints that hang in my kitchen. Feel free to use them yourself!

    Additional bonus. Kinetic typography is a thing. There are videos. I adore them. Here’s one all about words.