Thursday, September 8, 2011

How to Avoid Baking Drug Free Brownies that Still Give You Cotton Mouth

Dear Tricia, I'll admit it, I'm not the greatest baker but I love to try and pretend like I know what I'm doing.  Whenever I make brownies, they always end up too dry.  What am I doing wrong?

I'd like to point out that its perfectly fine to not be a great baker.  If you were a great baker, then you've probably had some sort of faint idea that you should try and make a career out of it, which I do not suggest by any means at all.  Unless of course you enjoy the following: low income, no insurance, long hours, early hours, late hours, holiday hours, overnight hours, no overtime, lots of overtime, burns, scars, cuts, stained hands, an impossible schedule to coordinate a healthy relationship with another person, and a general lack of anything resembling a savings account. 

But good on you for giving it a shot, regardless of your career choice.  So let's talk because there are several things that could be happening here. 

First of all, if you're using the same recipe every time and getting dry brownies, there is actually a possibility that its just a crappy recipe.  Uh huh.  It might not be you.  That happens, especially when anyone and everyone can post recipes online without actually checking them or even just spell checking them.  (HeLLO!  There's a big difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, especially when it comes to things like baking powder and salt.) 

If you're generally getting dry brownies with more than one recipe, you have to remember that a baking time in a recipe is just a guideline.  Say, for instance, you preheat your oven for 5 minutes before you put in the brownie batter, compared to an oven that's been preheating since 1974, 30 minutes of baking is going to give you 2 drastically different batches of brownies.  So check on those guys about 2/3 of the way through the baking time and see how they're doing.  If they're almost done, you may need to take them out sooner than the recipe said.  (See that, recipe?!  You're not the boss of me!)   There's a common sense thing that eventually happens with baking- you check things to see how they're doing, and take them out of the oven when they're done, not when the recipe said.

Always make sure you measure exactly.  That's the difference between cooking and baking (ask any chef and they're usually one or the other but never both.  Total sacrilege.)  Flour should be leveled at the top of the cup, not randomly scooped out of the bag and thrown in the mixing bowl without seeing how much was really measured.  Because guess what?  If there's too much flour, your brownies are going to be dry.

Already over baked the brownies and now you're screwed?  Actually, no you're not.  You just have to make a simple syrup.  If you're prone to over baking things, it's always good to have a simple syrup on hand in the fridge to help mend the mess ups.  Just boil 2 cups of sugar and 1 1/2 cup of water until the sugar is dissolved.  Pour about a cup of this over the brownies and let them sit for an hour.  It helps add moisture to the brownies and can actually save you when you think you just went too far.  In baking anyways... not in life.  If I had a fix for that, I'd be writing this blog on a private island somewhere with a pet unicorn named Tupac.

On a side note:

I am still being courted a very well known publisher who's name rhymes with SchRandom ScHouse, and as much as they love yours truly, they love blogs with a large following even more.  What the Bleep Happened to My Rump Roast doesn't exist without its readers, and the more readers I have, the more I am able to blog because YOU email me the material.  If you love what you read here, share it on your Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else that might skyrocket my tiny blog into d-list super stardom.  As always, thanks for your support

Love, Tricia.

Monday, September 5, 2011

How to Cook Salmon if You're a Diet Vegetarian

Dear Tricia, How do I cook salmon? Love, your pescatarian friend who can't cook pescatarily.

Alrighty my non committal vegetarian friend (is it animals with legs you have a problem with?  Does that include shrimp?), you can do this.   Ready?  Set?  And here we go. 

My favorite easy recipe for salmon requires an oven and a stove.  You're going to start it off on the stove and finish it off in the oven, so go ahead and preheat that baby to 375 degrees while you get some honey, limes, and chili powder ready.

Let's pretend you're cooking 2 salmon fillets.  Are you pretending?  Ok, you'll need 2 tablespoons of honey, 1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice (use the real stuff here- the fake lime juice out of a bottle is like designer impostor perfume, except with produce.  Besides, you can buy 8 limes for a dollar at Fiesta right now.  Go get on that bargain train.), and 2 teaspoons of chili powder. Mix it up with a fork or a whisk until it's you know... mixed.

Get your salmon ready.  That just means taking it out and blotting it off with a paper towel to absorb any extra moisture.   Then take your glaze and pour it over both salmon fillets.  There's no reason to try and be neat here- just pour it over the salmon and turn it over to get the glaze on both sides.  While you're doing this, get a saute pan hot.   If the knob on the stove goes from 1-10, put it at an 8.  Let the pan get hot for at least a minute, and then add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Let that get hot for about 30 seconds.  Now take the salmon and put in your pan, skin side up.  If you bought the salmon without skin, then congratulations, you can skip that step of deciding which side to cook first.

You should be able to hear the salmon when it touches the pan.  If you can't, then you didn't get your pan hot enough.  (See my eggs and bacon video blog here for what that sounds like.   Plus, it'll probably make you giggle.)  All you're doing here is letting that glaze start to caramelize while the salmon cooks about halfway.  It's easy to tell when that happens because the color of salmon goes from red to light pink when it cooks.  You can see this happening just by looking at the side of the salmon.  In the meantime, DON'T MESS WITH THE SALMON.  Don't get nosy and start poking it to see what the other side of the filet looks like.  I'll spoil the surprise- it looks like a cooked piece of fish.  If you do this, you'll just break the salmon apart.

When half of it is pink, take a pair of tongs and grab on to both sides of the salmon.  When I say both sides, I mean the sides where you're watching it change from red to pink.  Don't try to slide the tongs up under the part that's cooking- that tear it up.  So, grab on to the sides and gently wiggle it loose from the pan.  If it's not coming up, you can take a spatula and try to loosen it.  Whatever you do, just flip the salmon over.  Then put the pan in the oven and finish it off in there.  (Very important- does your pan have a plastic handle?  Don't be stupid and try to put that in the oven.  Put the salmon onto a cookie sheet or baking dish instead.  Plastic and high heat don't go together very well.)

Let the salmon finish in the oven for another 7-8 minutes, or until there is a thin strip of red left in the middle of where you watched the magical color change that indicates done-ness.  Cooking it until its completely pink means you'll end up with dry salmon because even when you take the fish out of the oven, it will still keep cooking another 5 degrees or so.  So take it out when it looks just under done.
The reason why I say "OR until there is a thin strip of red left" is because it may very well take more or less time than 8 minutes, depending on how long you let your oven pre-heat.  I can't be responsible if you started preheating your oven last Tuesday and now your fish is over cooked.  And don't be afraid to let your own personal preference make the call.  I like my salmon pretty medium rare, and some people like it dry and hard as a rock.  Cook it how you want- you're the one responsible for that, now that you know how to cook salmon.

Go check out one of my other blogs on an easy fish recipe that you can easily substitute salmon for.  Let me know how it turns out!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Easiest Brisket You Will Ever Make and Then Promptly Devour.

Brisket.  That magically delicious cut of beef is crazy good.  I'm talking about getting downright ugly while you eat- that's how good brisket is.  And its actually so freaking easy to make that its retarded.  (I'm sorry- until a new word is given as a replacement for retarded, I'm still using it.)

First, do yourself a favor and get an overview of where brisket comes from on a cow here.  This is one of my proudest blogs its has pretty pictures too.

Then take inventory of your spice shelf.  You're going to take a tablespoon of everything that looks yummy and put it a plate.  No.  Seriously.  There's no recipe here- does garlic powder sound good?  Use it.  Oregano?  Go ahead.  Red Pepper Flakes?  You have my permission.  And don't forget salt and pepper.  You want to make sure you have enough seasonings to coat the brisket, so if you're only using 4 different spices, try 2 tablespoons of each.  (P.S.- coffee and cocoa powder can transform your brisket into a straight up Husband Catcher.)

Now take your brisket and roll it around in the spices.  Pat it down to make sure they stick, and while you're doing this, get a large skillet hot.  Once your brisket is coated and your pan is hot (if your stove knob goes from 1-10, keep it at an 8), add about 3 tablespoons of oil (I use coconut oil because I eat like a cave girl, but that's another blog for another time.  If you're super curious, check out this blog) to the pan and let it get hot.   Take your brisket and throw it in the pan.  Sear it on all sides, about 2 minutes on each side.  Tongs come in handy here- you can manhandle the brisket this way without burning your hands.  This is basically gluing the seasonings to your brisket and its adding some additional flavor by browning the meat slightly. 

To cook your brisket you have 2 options- use a roasting pan in a 300 degree oven, or a crock pot.  I happen to love using my crock pot.  I got it for $11 at Target and I use it all the freaking time because its hella convenient.  Come on- if you read my blog you know how much I love little smokies- how do you think I get those babies so plump and delicious?

Roasting pan or crock pot, put in 1 chopped onion and then put the brisket on top, fat-side up.  Pour in about a cup of stock or tomato juice* and turn it on low.  (Or cover it with the lid and close the oven door.)  The brisket will be done in 4 hours, but I turn it on before I go to work and come back 8-10 hours later.  Holy deliciousness, Batman.  You just made yourself a damn brisket.

I'm not a big fan of recipes, but for my seasonings, I use the following:  garlic powder, coriander, oregano, parsley, red pepper flakes, coffee, cocoa powder, salt and pepper.  If you want to give this mixture a try for your first brisket making experience, it's pretty much a win win.  You're welcome.

*Please note that, if you're using tomato juice in a roasting pan and covering it with foil- the tomato juice can react with the foil and end up tasting kind of weird.  Covering your brisket with something else first, (like parchment paper) before you wrap it in foil will protect the tomato juice from splattering up and hitting the foil.  Let's avoid weird tasting brisket, shall we?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's a Twitter Party, Everyone!

Hi all!  If you missed out on my very first live Twitter Q&A a couple of weeks ago, then you missed out on a once in a lifetime experience.

Actually, you just missed out on a once in a 2 week experience.  It's time to do another one!  Huzzah!

My second Twitter party is coming up TOMORROW, Wednesday August 24!   If you're not on Twitter yet, now's the time to join.  Follow whatthebleep1 and send me your questions/ disasters/ all around f-ups starting at 7pm (CST).  That's right- get your questions answered in live time instead of waiting to read them on the blog! The last party was a huge success, so grab a cocktail, get in line early and start tweeting me!

Killer Guacamole From Outer Space

Dear Tricia, I need a killer guacamole recipe for a party.  Anything different? 

Yes, and first off, I would just like to profess my utter and undying love for avocados. A moment please.

Thank you.  That is all.

For guacamole, it's easy to instantly think "Mexican!" when you're adding ingredients, but you can also branch out and jump to a different continent for some avocado inspiration.  Today, we're going Mediterranean.

First you need to roast some garlic.  Go ahead and roast this entire batch, but you'll only use a couple of cloves for your guacamole.  Save the rest to add to other recipes, or just smear it on crusty bread, dig in, and avoid large crowds for a couple of hours.

Peel every clove in a head of garlic.  Then put them in a piece of foil drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, and wrap up the foil tightly.  Cook this at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the garlic is really golden brown.  This is making the garlic less garlic-y and more sweet.  Its absolutely delightful.

Then take 2 of your golden delicious roasty garlic cloves and smash them up on your cutting board with your knife into a puree.

In a bowl, mash 3 large avocados and mix in your garlic really well.

The mix in the following ingredients:

half a lemon, juiced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup roasted red bell peppers, chopped small (out of the can or fresh- no judgment)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

And if you like your dips spicier, add double your cayenne pepper and add a clove of chopped, raw garlic.  Mix everything up nicely and serve with pita bread and fresh slices of cucumber.   Hell.  To.  The.  Yes.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Quick Fix for Sucky Sauce!

Dear Tricia, If I tried to be ambitious and make my own pasta sauce, and it came out too thin, what can I do to fix it?

In need of a quick fix?  You've come to the right lady.  Good skills in the kitchen are all about improvising, and you can quote me on that.  (um... can someone please quote me on that?  And copyright it?  Thank you.)

If your sauce is cream based, you're in luck because you can just keep cooking it.  Don't boil the living daylights out of it, but keep simmering it on low-medium heat (that's like a diet boiling) until it thickens up.  Not working fast enough for you?  Add some grated cheese and stir it in until it melts.  That usually does the trick in a pinch.  A quick trick for your sucky sauce pinch, if you will.  Say that three times fast.  Now do it after 2 margaritas.  And... go!

If you've made something non cream based like marinara or a wine sauce, just let it reduce some more.  Reducing means you're cooking it down to evaporate some of the liquid out of it.  This also helps concentrate flavor.  However, if you're doing this to a giant stock pot full of 2 gallons of marinara sauce, you're going to need to reduce it for like 2 weeks to get it down.  First of all, keep the lid off.  Otherwise the condensation will stick on the lid, drip down back into the sauce and contribute to a never ending cycle of watery disappointment.  Then add tomato paste about a tablespoon at a time, and stir.  This is going to alter the flavor a little- make sure you adjust with salt and pepper. Continue to let it simmer and you should be good to go.  Still on the thin side?  Add some grated parmesan as a last resort.  Your lactose intolerant friends are going to get parmesan, and dammit they will like it!

For the sauce disaster prone- keep a roux on hand.  Here's what to do:

In a sauce pan, melt half a stick of butter over medium heat.  When it's melted, start adding flour and stirring until it looks like wet sand.  This shouldn't be more than 1/2 cup of flour or so. 
Once it looks like wet sand, keep stirring until the roux turns a golden brown.  You'll start to smell it cooking, and that's a good thing.  Anything less than golden brown will make a sauce taste like paper mache.  Gross city.

Keep this mixture in an airtight container in your fridge.  Anytime you want to thicken a sauce, just add it, a tablespoon at a time, to sauce on the stove and let it simmer.  Future sucky sauce pinches = resolved!

Now can we take a minute to revel in the grossness of the advertisement above?  Convenient, yes.  Haunting?  Also yes.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What the Bleep is Gluten?

It's video blog time, my friends!  Demystifying all that is gluten...  don't forget to subscribe and share your comments!  Special thanks to Hair by Jessica!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

How to Make Meatballs in a Pinch

I love meatballs and think that most meats should be available in ball form.  In fact, one of my first blogs ever wrote was tackling someone's meatball conundrum.  (Which ended up with a sweet thank you note that I also posted on the blog) I found a recipe that, though completely legit, has a few things I would adjust to make the process easier if you have limited ingredients, time, or space in your kitchen because hey, not everyone keeps fresh herbs in the house or has the time or space to sautee up a pan of meatballs. 

Here's the original recipe, published in the New York Times in 2007.  It's legit, but it's not always practical.

2 pounds ground beef

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan

1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh basil 

1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 eggs

3 tablespoons olive oil.
1. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except olive oil by hand, using a light touch. Take a portion of meat in hand, and roll between palms to form a ball that is firmly packed but not compressed. Repeat, making each meatball about 2 inches in diameter.
2. In a large, heavy pot heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add meatballs in batches. Do not crowd. Brown well on bottoms before turning, or meatballs will break apart. Continue cooking until browned all over. Remove meatballs to a plate as each batch is finished. Let meatballs cool slightly; cover and refrigerate until needed.

Here's my version:

2 pounds ground beef or ground turkey
1 cup bread crumbs (fresh is better, but out of the box will work in a pinch)
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan, or 1/4 cup parmesan out of the green can
2 heaping tablespoons dried basil
2 heaping tablespoons dried parsley
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt  or 3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon garlic powder or 2 teaspoons of already chopped garlic out of the jar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon of olive oil

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2.  In a small bowl, mix parmesan, bread crumbs, basil, parsley, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and garlic.  Pour a glass of wine and take a sip because wine makes everything more fun.
3.  Put beef or turkey in a large bowl and add bread crumb mixture to it.  Mix well with your hands and when everything in combined, roll meatballs in your hand about the size of a golf ball. 
4.  Spread oil on a cookie sheet (with sides is preferable) and cook in oven for about 30 minutes.  The size of your meatballs will determine when they are done, so give them a little longer if you made larger ones, or take them out earlier if you made smaller ones.

Hey, have you joined Twitter yet?  Now's the time to do it because I'll be hosting a live Twitter Party this Wednesday August 3 at 7:00 central time.  Follow whatthebleep1 and I'll solve your culinary dilemmas in live time.   Tell your friends too! 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Second Helping of Rubber Chicken

Dear Tricia, Chicken: no matter what I do, it is dry.   I've marinated it, quick fried little tenders, and they only time its not dry is when i do "chicken in a pot" stuffed with lemons and oranges and surrounded by veggies and drowned in white wine.  

Well kudos to you and your pot o' chicken.  Lemons and oranges?  That's so fancy sounding!  

I covered chicken waaaaay back when I first started blogging (here and here if you want to go back a couple of years), so its about time I talk tips on chicken again.  

The absolute easiest way to cook chicken without turning it into a mouthful of boot is wrapped in foil, in the oven.  Whether you prefer chicken breasts, thighs, tenders, whatever- season it, wrap it in foil, and cook it at 375 degrees until its done.  If you cook chicken tenders or something smaller in size like that, just line a pan with foil, put the chicken on it, and cover it with foil.  You don't have to individually wrap them or something.  That would be a HUGE waste of time and foil.  The great thing about cooking chicken this way is that you don't have to do much, just throw it in the oven and let it go.  This is when I make a cocktail, but that's just me.  Tenders are usually done in 10 minutes at the most.  Chicken breasts, depending on how large they are take closer to 25-30 minutes.  You can also experiment with new ways to season chicken without putting in a bunch of thought or energy.  Even if you just throw a clove of garlic and some sprigs of fresh herbs (hello, that's like ZERO effort) in with the foil, the chicken is still going to get some great flavor because its steaming inside the foil.  Steaming is what makes flavors infuse into the chicken.  Infuse- use that one to impress your girlfriend next time you cook dinner for her.  

If you want to step it up and put a little more effort into your dinner, you can start with a hot pan, add some oil, and just sear the chicken on both sides to get it brown.  Then finish it off in the oven like I talked about in the effort-less paragraph, but have your oven temperature at 400 degrees.  This helps keep the chicken juicier than just cooking it entirely in the pan, which tends to give you a chewy outside and some rawness in the middle.  This also gives you a lot more color on the chicken because the proteins brown in the pan.  That's called the Maillard reaction- when proteins brown. The name comes from a guy named Maillard.  It's not french for anything (actually its French for "buff" whatever the hell that means), he just wanted to name something after himself.  

Ok, here's a little secret if none of these tips are working for you: FREAKING EVERYONE overcooks their chicken.   That's one of the reasons why I get emails about chicken being dry or rubbery.  It's really that simple- don't cook it as long.   I wonder if people are so afraid of the slim-to-none chance of getting salmonella, or some other strange illness that Fox News is trying to make you live in fear of, but either way, there is a difference between cooked chicken and chicken that's been cooked until its awful.  Get a thermometer if you're not sure.  165 degrees is the magic number.  If you're cooking by color, pink chicken might even be safe, depending on what you've marinated the chicken in and how much hemoglobin happens to be in the tissue.   

What to do when your chicken is already over cooked?  Easy- make tacos.  I wrote a blog on making authentic pulled tacos that taste like Mexico and not North Dakota.   All you have to do is pull the chicken apart into little pieces and follow the directions on the sauce, you just skip the part about cooking the chicken, since you've already cooked the daylights out of it.   Mmm Mmm pollo.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Chicken is Old and Boring

Dear Tricia, I'm bored with chicken.  I always grill or roast it and I need something new that's hopefully not too difficult for me to ruin dinner.

Chicken can be boring- I totally get it.  I have a couple of ideas to save you from your mundane poultry lifestyle, and luckily the first one I've already covered in my NYC Tacos, Texas Style post from a while ago.  These are great because you can make a big batch and just heat it up as you need it, and it's really delicious when you're drunk. All you need to do is stock your spice cabinet with a few things that will serve you well in your taco making future.

My second glorious idea is actually really simple but it can pass as kind of gourmet if you're trying to impress someone.  (Or just yourself, that's cool too.)  You take a chicken breast (skin on or skin off, its up to you) and sit it on a cutting board in front of you with a sharp paring knife. 
 That's this little one:

 Not this one:

So if you're right handed, you put your left hand on top of the chicken breast and hold the knife in your right hand.  Holding the knife parallel to the counter (or cutting board, or whatever you're cutting on top of) take the knife and cut a pocket along the side of the chicken.  Cut as far over to the other side of the chicken without cutting that side open.   What you're trying to do is make a safe little house to stuff some awesome fillings into without them leaking out of the sides.

Once you've cut a pocket into the chicken, season both sides with salt and pepper.  Now let's talk fillings options.  You want to pick things that aren't messy.  If you're going to use cheese, that's great, just make sure that you stuff the cheese towards the side that's closed, not the side you cut into.  This way the cheese doesn't leak out and make a mess.  We're going for non-messy here, Messy McMesserstein.  Here's some ideas, but you can get as crazy as you want.  You know me- I'm all about encouraging you to screw around in the kitchen.  Have some fun you rock star.

Bacon (cooked), pecans and blue cheese
Pepperoni and mozzarella
Roasted red peppers and pesto
Sausage (If you're using raw sausage, make sure it's cooked all the way through before you serve the chicken.  We'll get to that in a sec.)
Olives and artichoke hearts
Spanish Rice and pumpkin seeds
Gummy bears
Just seeing if you're paying attention
Mushrooms and onions

Once you've got your selected stuffing, (and you don't need a whole lot, just a few tablespoons per chicken breast) just put it inside the chicken.  Get as much as you can in there without it just falling out and making a mess.  And remember, if you're using cheese, stuff it in first so it's up against the closed side. 

Then get your oven heated to 400 degrees.  Have a pan ready and get it hot over medium high heat.  That means if the numbers on the knob go from 1-10, it should be at a 7.  When the pan is hot, pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the pan and let that heat up for a good 10-15 seconds.  Then put your chicken breasts in the pan.  Did you hear the chicken start to sizzle?  Good, that means your pan was hot enough.  Were your chickens silent?  Then your pan wasn't hot, and that's not going to ruin dinner, but it won't give your chicken a really pretty brown color.  Next time don't be afraid to crank up the heat, ok?  Don't pussyfoot around here.

Cook the chicken on one side until it's halfway done.  How can you tell?  Well look a the side of the chicken where you cut into.  The part that's still kind of translucent and pink is the raw part.  The white part is cooked.  When it's half white and half pink, it's half done.  Then you flip the chicken over on its other side.  Give it about 2-3 more minutes here.  Then put it on a cookie sheet or sheet pan and put it in the oven.  Even better if you can have the cookie sheet already hot, inside the oven to accelerate the process. The whole process on top of the stove should take you 8 minutes tops, unless you're cooking some monster huge chicken breasts.  What are they feeding those chickens?!

You're going to let the chicken finish cooking in the oven because I've found this makes the chicken more tender and juicy, plus it lets you have a minute to make a cocktail.  Bonus.  The chicken should be done within 10 minutes.  Again, just make sure there aren't any pink parts.  And if you've stuffed the chicken with raw sausage, the chicken is done with the sausage is completely cooked.  Be really careful with that.  No one likes a raw sausage surprise.

After the chicken is done, pull it out of the oven and let it rest for a few minutes before you serve it.  This keeps all of the juices inside the chicken, and not leaking all over your plate.   That's tip three for keeping things non messy. 

Are you ready to try this one at home?  Go have fun and send me your photos and comments.  Easy as pie, right? Easy as chicken pot pie.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Basics of Cookies- It's All Here!

Over the last few years of writing this blog, I have received tons of very specific baking questions; about cookies being flat, or why butter needs to be room temperature, or whatever else it is that befuddles you about baking.  So today I'm going to give you the Cliffs Notes of baking cookies.  It's ALL in here.  You must have caught me in a good mood!  (Or maybe it's the margarita.  Oh, summertime...)

On your ingredients:

Unless you have a recipe that specifically calls for you to keep your ingredients cold, It will always  help if you have your ingredients at room temperature.  This is especially important for eggs and butter.  (See my blog on Why Eggs and Butter are the Axl Rose and Slash of Baking for the science of it)  Eggs and butter don't like to mix together because they're both made mainly of fat, but if you have them at room temperature, they get along better.  Its kind of like those mean girls in sororities who hate each other, but after a few beers they're best friends and crying about how much they love each other.  Heat is the beer in this situation.  It makes everyone a LOT friendlier.

Baking soda, baking powder, and salt are all the same thing- they're forms of sodium.  And under a microscope, sodium and sugar look very similar.  Sodium looks like little glass boxes with perfect corners and sugar looks like a little glass box with a lot of jagged edges.  Both of them help incorporate air into cookies.  We'll get to how much of that you want in a minute.  But cookies recipes that have you cream your butter and sugar together should tell you to cream your sugar, salt, baking soda, and/or baking powder together.  Go ahead and mix sugar, salt, and your baking soda/powder at the beginning and let them join the butter party.  Everyone's invited!

Extra stuff like chocolate chips, oatmeal, raisins, whatever should always be added last.  That means DEAD last.  Wait until you've added your flour and what's in your bowl is the perfect example of cookie dough.  Then you can add your extra stuff.  Why?  Because I said so.  And because it keeps the chocolate chips, fruit, etc in tact so that you get whole bits of delicious surprises as you bite into the cookie.  Oh, and because that extra stuff tears up gluten, which makes your cookie more crumbly.  It's not the end of the world or anything, but if you want to know a brief overview about what the &%!@ gluten is, read this blog.

Baking soda and baking powder are NOT the same!  Read this ancient blog I wrote to find out why.   Make sure you use what your recipe calls for. 

On mixing:

If a recipe tells you to "cream the butter and sugar together," that does not mean that you should beat the shit out of those two ingredients.  With most cookie recipes, you want to just combine the sugar and butter until they're blended.  (Room temperature sugar and butter, remember?  Don't make me repeat myself.)  If you incorporate too much air into the cookie, it spreads out and gets flat and crunchy.  And judging by the emails I get in my in box (which is, for all of your fan mail/ questions/ Whole Foods gift card donating needs) you all prefer soft, chewy cookies like we all grew up with out of the Soft Bake package.   Try to hold back.  Just blend the butter and sugar (and salt and baking soda/baking powder) until they're combined.   Then move on to the next step. 

Eggs are usually the next step.  We've already gone over that you've let them get to room temperature.  So now that you've mastered the art of letting an egg sit out on the counter for half an hour or so, make sure you don't add it too fast.  If you have 2 eggs to add to a recipe, add them one at a time.  Add Egg #1, and let the mixer blend it in.  At first the eggs look like they're separated- you'll actually see little fat bubbles that don't want to mix.  But if you're patient, and if your butter and eggs were room temperature, it will eventually blend together.  Then you want to turn the mixer off, take a rubber spatula and scrap all the way down to the bottom of the bowl to make sure you mix in any butter/eggs that have been left alone at the bottom, untouched.  Like little orphans.  Please.  Don't ignore the orphans.  Then, and only then, can you add the next egg.  If you happened to be making the most giant batch of cookies ever and you needed to add 100 eggs, you obviously wouldn't add them 1 at a time.  You'd add them like 1/4 at a time.  Use your common sense here, people. 

On Baking:

Let's talk preheating.  You preheat your oven for a reason, people!  If I can quote myself here from yet another ancient blog, "While a hot oven will force a cake into its submission and make it rise like no one's business, an oven that's not pre-heated will basically just sip a cocktail, nudge your cake and ask, "Do you want to bake or what? Yeah, I didn't think so."  Put your cookies in the oven to BAKE.  If your oven isn't hot, what's the point?  A slow, painful death to the chocolate chips?  There's so much happening: high heat makes water turn into steam which helps things rise, which helps baking soda finish its very important job, which makes sugar caramelize into golden pieces of heaven... Just preheat the damn oven until it beeps at you, ok?  And then give it another 10 minutes or so for good measure. 

Chill the dough before you scoop it out and lay it on a pan.  Even better, scoop it out, lay it on the pan, and then chill it.  Freeze it, even.  This gives you a chewier, softer cookie every time.

Your recipe doesn't always know how long to bake your cookies for.  12-15 minutes doesn't always mean 12-15 minutes.  I remember working a pastry externship at a lovely restaurant in San Francisco with a very lovely chef who went on to star on many a Bravo and Food Network TV shows, and if there's one thing I learned there, its that you don't bake things for a certain amount of time, you bake them until they're done.  Every oven is different.  How cold or hot the weather is affects baking.   Humidity affects baking.  So if your recipe says 12-15 minutes and after 15 minutes you look at your cookies and they're still doughy and undercooked, then leave them in there longer.  WE ALL KNOW WHAT A COOKIE LOOKS LIKE.  Trust yourself to make that decision to say "Yes.  This cookie is finished and I will now remove it from the oven because the time has come."  The same goes for cookies baking much faster than you think.  If those suckers look done at 9 minutes, then you better take them out before their prescribed time of 12-15 minutes.  And if you don't and you burn them, it's your fault.  You saw they were done, didn't you?

If you bake a lot, I recommend investing in a couple of good sheet pans.  Home bakers call them cookie sheets, but we in the industry (or we who used to be in the industry and have since escaped, thank the universe) call them sheet pans.   They're usually made of aluminum, they have durable sides, they're uber sturdy and will last you a gazillion years if you treat them right, and if you line them with parchment paper instead of coating them with butter and flour, they're super easy to clean.  Do yourself a favor and purchase a couple from a restaurant supply store, not Williams Sonoma or Sur la Table.  As much as I love those two stores' cookbook selections, they'll charge you triple for a shopping experience with better lighting.  Not worth it.

On what to do when you've messed up:

Cookies a little over done?  Too much baking soda and the texture is all funky?  No problem.  Freeze it and save it to blend it into a milkshake when you want to eat your feelings.  Crumble it into a bowl and pour milk over it and pretend like you're 8 years old watching Saturday morning cartoons eating a Cookie Crisp.  (God, how I MISS Cookie Crisp.  Damn you, diets!)  Puree it up and use it instead of graham cracker crumbs for a cheesecake crust.  Homemade chocolate chip cookie crust?  You just made like 14 new friends.  Puree it up, freeze it, and rim a martini glass in it for some kind of decadent signature holiday drink.   You can do that with almost anything!  I once drank a martini in a glass rimmed with pretzels.  I don't remember much after that, but I'm pretty sure I enjoyed it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

What the Bleep Happened to My Breakfast?

Here it is, my pets- my inaugural video blog all about breakfast.   Post your comments below and let me know if you love it or hate it.  Special thanks to Jessica Albritton at Hair By Jessica for her magic work.  As always, thanks for reading (and watching)... now go tell the world what you've learned!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

How to shop for chocolate like a cheapskate

Dear Tricia, When making chocolate cakes, what do you think gives you the most chocolate taste: melted chocolate chips, baking chocolate or powdered cocoa?  You know, the most bang for your buck?

Awesome question, with kind of a definite answer, and kind of not.  Let me back up for a moment and explain the difference between the 3 chocolates in question.

Chocolate chips are almost always semi sweet or bitter sweet.  Sweet is the operative word here: it means that sugar has been added.  Any time sugar has been added to chocolate, there is less cacao (not to be confused with cocoa- sorry all you Dyslexics), and cacao is what gives you that chocolate-y taste.

Unsweetened baker's chocolate is 100% cacao.  (Side note, remember what we all did as kids?  You mom would be using it in a recipe and you would insist on trying it, even though she warned you that you wouldn't like it.  And you'd try it anyways and be so surprised that it was awful?  Ok, back to chocolate now.)  By itself, bakers chocolate it gross, but once you add it to a recipe with lovely fat and delicious sugar, it gives you great chocolate flavor.

Cocoa powder, simply put, is roasted cocoa beans that have 75%-90% of the cocoa butter removed (cocoa butter is what gives chocolate that melty, buttery feel in your mouth), and then pressed and ground into powder.  It also gives you great chocolate flavor.  Some, but not all cocoa powders are 100% cacao.

The first thing I have to address is that the recipe used is a huge variable here.  A recipe made with a lot of egg whites is going to give you a lighter tasting chocolate cake than one with butter and sugar and loads of cocoa powder.  Knowing that, lets talk bang for your buck.  I'm always up for a bargain.  (Picture me shopping at Fiesta yesterday for produce- 20 limes for a dollar?  Hell yes.)  To try and be as accurate as possible, I have taken prices of chocolate from my local Fiesta Super Mercado (in Dallas, home of our national champions, The Dallas Mavericks, thankyouverymuch) and averaged them out with prices from a supermarket outside of Chicago and prices on  I do not recommend purchasing your chocolate off, by the way.  Its kind of overpriced.  Stick to Fiesta.  Plus, all those limes....

On the back of any box of Hershey's cocoa powder, there is a conversion chart for using cocoa powder instead of bakers chocolate or semi sweet chocolate chips.  Since I'm only on my first cup of coffee, I'm going to use their chart as an example to tell you which gives you the best deal.

Let's pretend you're using a recipe that calls for 2 ounces of bakers chocolate.   If an 8 oz box of bakers chocolate costs $6.84, then each 1 oz square costs about 86 cents.  That means you're using about $1.72 worth of chocolate for your recipe. 

Your average 8 oz can of cocoa powder costs $3.59.  It takes 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder to equal 1 ounces of bakers chocolate.  So for this recipe, if you substitute cocoa powder instead of baker's chocolate, you'll use 6 tablespoons of cocoa powder.  If there are about 45 tablespoons of cocoa powder in a can, that means each tablespoon costs about 8 cents.  So 6 tablespoons equals about 48 cents worth of cocoa powder.   (Are you listening, Mrs. Bilbrey?  I was paying attention in fifth grade math.)

Now let's talk chocolate chips.  Those guys, semi or bittersweet, have sugar in them- completely different than our sugar-free friends we just priced out.  If you use them in place of baker's chocolate, you want to make sure you take out about 3 tablespoons of sugar for every ounce you use.  Just a head's up.  But for consistency, let's price it too.  Chocolate chips weigh the same as baker's chocolate, they're just in little delicious kiss shapes.  The average price of a 12 ounce bag of chocolate chips is $3.36.  That means every ounce is about 28 cents.  This means your recipe will use about 56 cents of chocolate. 

It looks like cocoa powder is going to win here, but if you want to get really technical, chocolate chips and cocoa powder are actually going to come in pretty damn close because when you use the chocolate chips you have to take out some of the sugar.  Less sugar means less money, and every bit counts.  If you take the sugar variable out of the equation, cocoa powder is going to be your cheapest bet.
And here's a helpful hint- anytime you use chocolate in a recipe,  add a little bit of fresh-brewed coffee. It brings out the chocolate flavor and you'll never taste the coffee.  What else have we learned here?  That I has friends all over the country who can give her a heads up on regional chocolate prices, I totally love a bargain, and I'm a secret math genius.  I also clip coupons.  You heard it here first. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

This is why your friend's mom's cookies don't kick ass anymore

Dear Tricia, My friend's mom bakes awesome oatmeal cookies but, recently they have been coming out thinner than usual.  Why?

3 reasons, and I'll make this quick because I need you to fix that problem, make a new batch, and send them to me pronto.  Words can't describe my love of oatmeal cookies.  I can get seriously ugly on a batch of those suckers.

First, you know how when you bake, you always read to cream the sugar and butter until its light and fluffy, and the butter turns from yellow to almost white?  Well that's a prime example of what you don't want to do with cookies.  Cakes- yes.  Cookies- no.  Over creaming the butter and sugar just makes the cookies spread out more, and they get thinner and flat.  Picture the sugar granules punching little air pockets into the butter- its like watching one of the Kardashians, or Toddlers and Tiaras on TV, and slowly, your brain just gets filled with air.  This is great for cakes, because it makes the cake rise up, but with cookies, it just makes them spread out.  So keep those Kardashians and mini drag queen-looking lady babies away from your cookies. 

Second, make sure your oven is fully pre heated.  Get that oven entirely up to temperature before you even start making the cookies.  If you put a tray of cookie dough into an oven that's not hot enough, the butter just starts to slowly melt out and the texture of your cookies will suck.  If you put your oven into a primed and hot oven, the water inside of the butter evaporates and the steam helps the cookie rise.  Pair that with the baking soda, and your cookies are doing the job they were meant to do.  So give them a nice office to do their job in.  Cookies like heat.  They're like those iguanas, laying out on a scorching hot rock Mexico, soaking it all up, the crazy bastards.

Third, baking soda is what makes cookies spread.  This is important- you need your cookies to spread out a little.  But make sure you're measuring correctly, because extra baking soda means extra spreadage.  And double check that you're using baking soda, not baking powder.  Don't get those 2 confused because they do things totally different.  Read this blog from a billion years ago to find out why.

Ok, suggest those things to your friends mom.  Tactfully, I hope.  You don't want to be all "Your cookies aren't awesome anymore and Tricia said this is why."  And let me know how it turns out!  (After you send me a batch, of course.  Thank you.)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cook this Tonight

Dear Tricia, Cod: what the heck can I do with it?  Preferably easy.  Preferably so easy my husband can grill it.  Thanks.

Unless you have a fish grilling basket (that wire contraption that protects the fish while it's grilling so that it doesn't fall apart on the grates), cod isn't the best thing to grill because its super delicate and thin.  However, the technique and kind-of-a-recipe that I'm about to share can be done in an oven or on a grill.  Ready?  Grab your fish.  (Wash your hands first, you grossy mcgrosserstein.)   I made this last night with halibut because it was on sale and I had just finished another day of work on a weekend, so I wanted to cook something fast and easy.  Here we go!

Pre heat your oven to 375 degrees.  Take a big piece of foil (big enough to wrap your fish entirely) and spread it out.  Put your fish on the foil and season it with salt and pepper and a clove of chopped garlic.  Then take whole sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme and put them on top of the fish.  For a 3/4 pound filet, you'll want to use about 3 sprigs of thyme and 2 sprigs of rosemary.  Then take a couple of pats of butter and place those on top of the fish.  Wrap the fish in foil and put it on a sheet pan.  Throw that sucker in the oven for about 12-15 minutes, or until its fully cooked.   "But Tricia, how will I know when it's done?"  Fish is done cooking when its no longer translucent (meaning it's solid white), and definitely done if you start to see little solid white globs of protein start to seep out of it.  This is called albumin- you'll see it when you cook chicken and pork too.  Its totally fine if you see it and eat it; that just means it's done cooking.  The reason why this recipe works so well is because its a) not messy, b) the herbs and garlic basically steam with the fish and you get that yummy, herby flavor with pretty much zero effort.  You can make this with any thinner, white fish, like tilapia, halibut, or turbot.

As I said before, you can "grill" this too- just put the foil on the hot grill instead of in the oven and close the lid.   Having this on the side while you're grilling burgers, etc, totally ups your fancy factor.  Then when you open up the foil for your guests, all "ooh la la" style, they'll think you really know what you're doing, and you can just smile and pull one of those "What, this simple thing?" reactions.  I love those.

Cod, huh?  Did you know that cod has been a super duper traded fish since the Viking days?  That's the year 800 if you've ever read a history book.  Cod was like corn is to us- it was a huge staple that survived all kinds of plagues and kept money rolling back and forth between countries.  And then in the 1400's when Portugal got all into the cod trading scene, they found out about the killer profitable cod fishing in North America, way before Columbus even came around.  Suck on that, Columbus.

We're moving on up...

Hey all!  I was featured as a guest blogger on (a)musing foodie yesterday!  It's a super fancy-looking blog that touches on all things food with really gorgeous photos, to boot.  (And its approved by yours truly, as I've made it plain and clear that I hate most food blogs.)   I talk some more about eggs, the most commonly emailed topic I receive in my inbox.  Head on over and get your daily dose of irreverent cooking know-how! 
As always, thanks for supporting my blog, and don't forget to enter to win a gorgeous bottle of Syrah from Flat Creek Estate Winery and Vineyard.  Hurry up!  The giveaway ends Tuesday!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Flat Creek Estate away a bottle of heaven!

In partnership with Flat Creek Estate and our dedicated drones at RAW Marketing, we will be giving away a bottle of Flat Creek Estates Syrah to one lucky fan who we draw from the combined entries.  I tasted this bottle of heaven at the Buffalo Gap Food and Wine Summit back in April and, even in my vino-induced haze, knew that this was by far the best of all the wines there.  (And there were a lot.  I tasted ALL of them.  And then I went back for refills just to be sure.)  It turns out that that these Texans at Flat Creek know what the heck they're doing with grapes and a barrel. 

Just enter your name and email address below to enter! The contest will run from 8:00am Saturday, June 4th to midnight Tuesday, June 7th. One lucky winner will be drawn from the entries at random and will be declared   "THE WINNER!"  The winner will then be announced Thursday afternoon on our Facebook page and by email.

"This wine is 100% Syrah & 100% harvested from Flat Creek Estate vineyards that are a decade old this year. Syrah is one of the best reds for Texas and this Syrah just keeps getting better. Starting two years ago, the vineyard training method was changed to the Smart-Dyson method allowing greater fruit production while improving already excellent fruit quality. This training method is visually very attractive as it produces a "curtain" of vines extending to the vineyard floor & reaching toward the sun. The Syrah vineyard welcomes you when you enter the Estate."

  • Fill out the form below (your info will be kept confidential and I promise not to sell it to naughty websites or flood your email with spam about black market pharmaceuticals).  I need your contact info if you win!

    Oh, and if you would like to know more about Flat Creek Estate, and follow everything they have going on, you can find their Facebook page here: Flat Creek Estate.

    Good Luck! go my pets, and spread the word!  Who doesn't like free wine?  And GOOD free wine, at that!?

    Monday, May 30, 2011

    How to be a wine snob without knowing anything about wine

    Dear Tricia, I know that pairing red wines with red meat is and white wines with white meat is the standard rule, but that's really all I know about wine.   I'm not good at this kind of thing- is there anything else you can tell me that's easy to remember, but makes it sound like I know what I'm talking about?

    You sound just like me.  "Just tell me enough to make people believe what I'm saying."  This didn't go over well with my chef instructors at the Culinary Institute of America, so I stuck around for the whole 2 years to learn everything I could instead.  But with wine, you'd have to start reading now and not stop until you were 120 years old to learn everything. And then after a 5 minute break, you'd still have to keep reading because trends change so quickly.  There's a lot to learn, so here's the Cliff's notes.

    You can stick with the red wine and red meat rule or the white wine and white meat rule, but you also want to think about sauces or how the meat is prepared and go with that.  For example, chicken or pork with something lighter like pine nuts and braised leeks is going to do well with a white.   But chicken or pork in a hearty caper and shallot sauce would pair well with a red.   All you have to remember is with something is heavier, you want to pair it with a red.   Did you just pair a red with a white meat?  You rebel, you.  

    Anytime you've got a super rich, heavy food, like duck or sausage, you want a really tannic (read: it makes your mouth start to pucker) red to help cut through the fat.  This is where you leave the realm of drinking wine that tastes nice and move into really complimenting your dinner and making it taste even better.  It's yin and yang.  Regis and Kelly.  Cheech and Chong.  The same goes for something fried- you want something help help cut through the oily flavor and texture.  Think of your basic tempura shrimp, and this counts even if its just take out, you want to pair it with an acidic white to help cut some of the oil.  Think pinot grigio or any un-oaked* white from Chile or Argentina.

    Let's talk "oaked" and "un-oaked."  All this means is whether or not the wine was aged in oak barrel or a steel barrel.  Steel barrels give white wine a crisp, drier flavor and body.  California wines are mainly aged in oak barrels, and that gives them a heavier, richer body, which I happen to hate.  Millions of people think otherwise, but whatever, it's my mouth.  I once had an organic chardonnay that tasted like I was making out with an oak tree.  It was Bonterra and it was nasty.  Never again, Bonterra. You disappoint me for life, regardless of your organic namesake.

    Food and Wine magazine came out with a list of new wine pairing guidelines a little while back and there were a couple of good points for you to remember if you want to sound like you know what you're talking about.  "Serve an un-oaked wine with anything you would squeeze a lemon or a lime on." That citrus, clean flavor acts like a little squeeze of lemon on any kind of fish, even salmon.  Yeah, throw that one at your friends and watch them look at you like you know a thing or two.

    For spicy foods, alcohol makes things taste spicier.  So drink something lower in alcohol content.  (Remember that post I wrote about getting jalapeno in your eye?  You would not want to pour wine in your eye.  Just a heads up.)  You can't go wrong with a reisling when you're eating spicy food.

    For desserts or hors d'oeuvres, you can never go wrong with champagne.  And as I've said before,
    offering your host or hostess of a dinner party a bottle of champagne will always go over much better than a Chinese finger trap.  Who doesn't love a little bubbly?  Someone with no soul, that's who. 

    The most important rule of wine is to drink what you love and not take it too seriously.  If you're going with what's trendy, just know that wine trends change all the time.  Remember when "Sideways" came out?  Paul Giamatti's character made his love for pinot noir and his hatred for merlot very clear.  Coincidentally, merlot sales dropped 2% that year, while pinot noir sales went up by 16%.  But if you love merlot, then keep drinking merlot with whatever you like.  Having the confidence to know what you like and what you don't makes you more much more credible than spewing off a bunch of random wine vocabulary words.   And if anyone gives you any bull, just tell them you're into non traditional, alternative wines right now.  No one ever knows how to respond to that one.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011

    Your Alfredo Sauce Blows and This is Why

    Dear Tricia, Alfredo sauce is supposed to be one of the most basic Italian sauces to make but mine never seems to come out just right. I've used several different recipes some with a roux some with out but it just doesn't taste as good as the ones in the restaurants. Any suggestions?

    After a couple of emails with this particular reader, I received a couple of links to recipes that produced said less-than-stellar results.  Tyler Florence's recipe on the Food Network website was one of the culprits, that bastard.

    I'm going to back up for a minute and talk Alfredo sauce.  Alfredo is one of those sauces that has been adopted by Americans as one of our favorite comfort foods.  Its what you want to eat when you want to eat your feelings or maybe when you take your high school girlfriend on a fancy date to the Olive Garden.  Its predominant ingredients are butter, cream and parmesan cheese.  And a heart attack.  Italians don't recognize Alfredo as a traditional sauce.  Their version of Alfredo is simply pasta with butter and parmesan, or Fettucine alla Romana.   Our bastardized version has upped the ante with the extra cream and lots of it.  Here's Tyler's ingredients:

    1 pint heavy cream
    1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
    1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
    Freshly cracked black pepper
    Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

    You know why this recipe doesn't taste like the ones you've had in restaurants?  Because there's no effing salt in it.  That doesn't make it a bad recipe either, because parmesan has salt in it.  But it's not nearly as salty as what your line cook is preparing behind the scenes and that's why you think its lacking.  Cooks are notoriously heavy handed with the salt: that's just how we're wired.  Hell, I'll salt a filet mignon 3 times while its on my grill in the back yard.  It brings out the flavor.  Salt is our taste buds' friend.  Do not be afraid of it.  Embrace it and your taste buds will reward you.  Start with 1 teaspoon and work from there.  If you want more, add some more.  Want less?  Be my guest.

    I started looking around at other Alfredo recipes (which you won't find in a traditional, credible cookbook because it's not a classic sauce.  The closest thing you'll find to it is bechamel.)  and noticed only about half of them use salt.  Again, this isn't to say it's a bad recipe, but if you're used to tasting the Alfredo sauce at the Olive Garden, then there's your culprit.  Talk about heavy on the salt: corporate restaurants have their stuff jam packed with sodium and preservatives.  Holy crap its scary.   I have a hard time believing that stuff doesn't come frozen out of a bag, thawed out and serve en masse.  I hate to burst your bubble.  The Culinary Institute of Tuscany that you see advertised in their commercials isn't a REAL school.  They do not send their $8.50 an hour cooks to Italy to learn authentic cuisine.  That.  doesn't.  happen.

    Sorry, done with my rant.

    The other culprit is your cheese.  Real parmesan reggiano has a much stronger taste than Americanized, fake parmesan cheese.  If you're not using the real thing, you're not getting the real flavor.  That's like ordering a Red Bull and vodka at the bar, and the bartender handing you a stale cup of coffee with cough syrup in it.  So try the real parmesan reggiano along with the extra salt.  That should solve your dilemma, because the technique of the recipe is fine.  Let me know how it works out for you.  You can thank me with a bowl of endless bread sticks. 

    *Side note, I have no problems with Tyler Florence, whom I've never met.  Sometimes I just get a kick out of calling people names for no reason every now and then when I'm having a rough day.  Sorry Ty Ty.  Can I call you Ty Ty?

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    Corn Porn

    Dear Tricia, My cousin and I were discussing fresh corn. Some people like to eat it fresh off the stalk, (if they’re lucky to have a garden), some like it cooked soft. How long should it be cooked?  Is it a personal choice?  What’s the best way (to keep the fresh taste) to cook corn,  boil, grill?  

    Excellent question.  First off, if I may, I'd like to give a shout out to the great state of Colorado and their Olathe sweet corn because it's the BEST corn I've ever had.  Its so good, in fact, that they have a sweet corn festival every August, in honor of their lovely local export.  Loverboy performed at the festival in the early 2000's wearing a purple jumpsuit and, rumor has it, he looked more like a singing eggplant than a rock star.  I can't blame the guy for shaking his purple ass for a paycheck.  Hey, everybody's working for the weekend.

    There are 5 different types of corn and the corn you're referring to is sweet corn.  Pop corn is an entirely different type of corn than the kind you eat off the cob.  And the corn that is grown for animal feed (its called dent corn) is different as well because its higher in protein.  Flour corn, which is really high in starch, is meant for grinding.  Have I lost you yet?  Sweet corn is higher in sugar than the other types, which is why it tastes so damn good.  This is why some people prefer it raw- its sweet right off the stalk.

    When you cook corn, the starch inside of it converts to sugar.  And since sweet corn is already higher in sugar, the extra starch that turns into sugar makes it even sweeter.   So, raw sweet corn isn't going to be as sweet as cooked corn.  There is no rule for how long to cook it- its entirely your preference.   The best way to keep the taste is also your decision.  The only difference between grilling and boiling it is that you'll get that roasted, grilled taste if its cooking over an open flame, while boiling will just soften and cook the corn.

    By the way, if you ever have the urge to make ice cream, save the corn cobs (rinse them off first) and make corn ice cream.   Its kind of amazing.  Just take your basic vanilla ice cream recipe:

    2/3 cups sugar
    2 eggs
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 2/3 cups milk
    1 cup heavy cream
    2 teaspoons vanilla

    Beat the eggs and sugar together.
    Heat the milk, cream, salt and vanilla.
    When simmering, slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs while whisking.
    Put the entire mixture back over low heat and constantly stir until it coats the back of a wooden spoons.
    Strain and chill overnight.
    Pour into ice cream maker and freeze (follow the manufacturer's instructions)

    Except, you want to let about 2 or 3 corn cobs steep in the hot milk and cream for about an hour first.  Get the milk and cream hot, put the corn cobs in and just leave it on super duper low heat.  Then take out the cobs before you mix it with the sugar and eggs.  Its to die for.  It reminds me of Corn Pops cereal.  I gotta have my Pops...

    Corn season officially started in May and goes until about September, so its the best time of year to find out how you like your corn cooked best.   And then it'll be October, when the Texas State Fair begins and we can enjoy corny dogs with gusto.

    And yes, that cornfield in the photo above is real.  Uh huh.   America is funny.

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    Wine and Dessert and Yum and Yes Please.

    Dear Tricia, Can you make dessert with wine?  I need something new to make for dessert and I think I want to try doing something with wine, but I'm not sure how or with what.

    Absofreakinlutely.  There's a couple of ideas I have for you- one is super amateur if you're not feeling so adventurous or if you're pressed for time, and one requires just a little more work. 

    1.  Pouring a really yummy dessert wine over fresh fruit.  Seriously, it's that simple.  Cut up some strawberries and peaches, put them in a little bowl and pour a sweet dessert wine over it- no more than a quarter cup or so.  Then toss the fruit in the wine, sprinkle some raw sugar (the brown sugar that has really big grains) on top, and put a little dollop of whipped cream on it.  You can use the stuff from the can- I don't judge.  It's really light and summery, and it takes like 18 seconds.  You can also do the same thing with sorbet.  Just pour a little bit of wine on top and serve it in a martini glass.  You just took dessert and made it uber fancy.   Your rich neighbors will be oh so impressed.  Even better, take the fruit, top it with the sorbet, AND pour the wine on top and serve it all in a nice glass.   Holy yes please.

    My favorite wine to do this with is St. Supery Moscato.   All of their stuff is awesome, but the Moscato is good enough to make you want to drink it straight out of the bottle with a straw.

    2.  Poaching.  Don't be afraid of that word.  Poaching is not as hard as it sounds, especially when it doesn't involve eggs.  You can poach pears in white or red wine here, just pick whatever you like the best. 

    Pour 3 cups of wine and 1 cup of sugar in a pot.  Bring it up to a boil so that the sugar dissolves.  While you're waiting on that pot to boil (because that's kind of boring and I'm sure you'd rather be doing something else), take a pear and peel it with a vegetable peeler.  Then you want to cut it in half, lengthwise.  When your wine and sugar has come to a boil, turn it down until its just barely bubbling.  So if you boiled it on 10, you want to turn it down to about 4.  When it's simmering, take the pear halves and put them in the wine/sugar/heaven concoction.  All you're doing is cooking them so that they get soft, but while they're softening up, they absorb all the flavors of the wine, that lucky little pear. 

    The pear slices will want to float up- sometimes you can take a big metal bowl and press it down on the pears just until they're submerged.   If you pour water in the bowl it keeps it weighted down and the pears in the wine.  See that?  You're like a poaching McGyver.  You want to cook the pears until they're tender, just enough so that if you try to put a butter knife in the pear, you shouldn't have to push very hard at all.  Think of the texture of canned pears- that's what you're going for.  When the pears are soft, leave them in the pot and put the whole thing in the fridge.  If you stir the liquid around often, it'll cool down faster.  I know, you're thinking "But Tricia, why don't I just take the pear out of the liquid?  It'll be so much faster that way."  It'll also dry the pear out and no one will want to eat your gross dried fruit with a thick skin on it.  This way the pear stays moist and keeps absorbing the flavors at the same time. 

    When it's cool, scoop out the middle part where the core usually is and get rid of that.  Serve the pear with a little spoonful of creme fraiche in the scooped out part and drizzle it with honey, straight from the bottle.  Throw a few crushed pistachios or almonds around it and you're done.  Freaking sweet, my friend.

    My favorite white wine to do this with is any riesling, but like I said- just pick your favorite and go with it.  There's no wrong way.   For reds, anything by Fall Creek is killer.  Again, their wine, especially the shiraz, is so good you want to just take a bath in it.  The thought has totally crossed my mind on multiple occasions. 

    Now go impress your friends with your new found dessert skills.  Go forth and be fancy.  And if someone will buy me one of those wine rack bras, I totally promise to use it and give you a full review of its merits.

    Monday, May 9, 2011

    The refrigerator nazi is ruining my lunch break

    Dear Tricia, At work we have a fridge Nazi who doesn't want anything stored in the fridge. I used to go shopping for my lunches each week and store them in the crisper bin. With my busy schedule of full time work and full time grad school, I need to leave my lunches at work. Now that I can't, what do you suggest I can buy that doesn't require refrigeration and can be kept in my pantry that the Nazi has lovingly dubbed my "Holocaust cabinet?" (Seriously).  Side note: I usually have tuna in packets, nuts, canned soups and Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers.

    Heh, you said crisper bin.  That's so funny- it makes you sound so polite and stuff.  Except when you call people Nazis.  Its weird though that Fridge Nazi gives you space in the pantry, but not the fridge.  That makes no sense to me.  Who is this person??!

    You've got a good start going with the tuna packets, etc.   I like that.  Don't forget that chicken and salmon also come in cans and packets.    Toss that stuff in some mayo, mustard and relish and slap it on some bread for a quick chicken salad sammy.   Keep a can opener at work.  Amy's also makes really good organic chili that kinda blows my mind.

    Here's something that's kinda interesting though when it comes to making sandwiches or tuna salad with mayo: people freak out about mayonnaise being left out.  I had a super Type-A client (we recognize our own kind in a heartbeat) who was really specific about her gourmet picnic menu because she didn't want any mayonnaise in it.  "It'll get us all sick in the hot sun!," she told me.   Ok, I get that.  I don't want hot mayonnaise either.  If you read my deviled egg blog in April, you'll know that I HATE mayonnaise, whether it be hot or cold or covered in kisses from David Bowie in his Labrynth costume.  But guess what?  It won't get you sick if you leave it out.  The pH of mayonnaise is actually too acidic to host any kind of bacteria.  For instance, if potato salad goes bad, it's the potatoes that get you sick, not the mayonnaise.  If anything, the mayonnaise helps preserve the potato salad longer.  So if you decide to make a sandwich with some mayo on it, don't worry about keeping it cold.  It's the other stuff on the sandwich you want to think about.

    When it comes to keeping things cool, people tend to forget that you've actually got a 4 hour window of leaving food out at room temperature before you're at risk of getting sick.   This comes in handy if you get to work at 9 and eat around 12:30.  You're good to go.  Seriously.  Don't worry about it.

    You know what's really good?  Asian tuna salad.  It's just like regular tuna salad with mayo and mustard, but instead of relish, you throw some sesame oil and sriracha in there and add some sesame seeds.  All of those extra things are non-perishable.   Yum yum doodle dum.

    Peanut butter and bananas rolled into a tortilla is such a guilty pleasure of mine.  That little bit of heaven is A.O.K. to leave out, the bananas just turn brown.

    I know that, should the health inspector read my blog, they would freak out over me saying this... but cooked bacon is safe.  Bacon is so well-preserved by the salt that its cured in, that you should have nothing to worry about when you wake up on Sunday morning and find the bacon you left out after cooking it at 2am on Saturday night.   I fully support your decision to eat that.

    I wish I had a better solution for veggies and fresh fruit- those guys just need to stay refrigerated after they're cut.  But if you're game for stocking up your Holocaust closet for a few days, a lot of it will be fine for a few days if its not cut.  Think about shopping in your local grocery store: which veggies and fruit are set out at room temperature?  Apples, bananas, avocados, tomatoes, onions, pears, oranges... use that as your reference. Other really yummy non perishable things to add to your lunch to make it feel more veggie-friendly: dried sugar snap peas (I think they're marketed as snap-eas), dried carrot or beet chips, and dried cranberries. 

    I looked up the definition of Fridge Nazi on and here's what I found:

    One or a group whose sole purpose of existence is the stocking of delicious, predominantly gourmet, food in a refrigerator. In the case that said sustenance is consumed, Fridge Nazi becomes livid with indignant fury at perpetrator of such a heinous and ignominious infraction of eating food from a refrigerator.

    Sounds like your Fridge Nazi is the kind that doesn't even contribute to the fridge, they just boss you around.  No worries- you're in grad school!  Someday you'll be Fridge Nazi's boss and will be able to stock your own personal gold and diamond encrusted fridge with all kinds of delicately perishable items covered in David Bowie kisses.

    Sunday, May 1, 2011

    So... do you just boil the wine, or what?

    Dear Tricia, I have no idea how I'm supposed to cook with wine.  I don't know what to cook in it, when to add it, or what kind to use.  Please help this clueless reader.

    No need to be embarrassed of your clueless-ness here.  I understand how daunting it can be to try something that seems oh so gourmet, but its actually very easy and you have lots of options.  Let's talk fancy pants vocabulary first.  When you're talking about cooking with wine, what you're usually doing with it is deglazing the pan.  You know how after you cook meat or veggies in a pan and there's that layer of brown residue stuck to the bottom?   Well that brown stuff is where all the extra flavor is.  It's called fond and you want to get it off the pan and into some kind of sauce.  Pouring a small amount of liquid in the pan usually does the trick.  That's what deglazing is: pouring some kind of flavorful liquid in the pan to get the fond off the bottom.  You can use stock, you can use vinegar, or you can use wine.  Wine is great because it gets the fond off the bottom and adds tons of extra flavor at the same time. And it looks like you know what you're doing.
    So let's pretend you're cooking a nice chicken breast in that pan.  And when you're done with the chicken, you take it out and set it aside and wonder, "Hmmmm, how can I get this delicious fond off the bottom of the pan and create a lovely little sauce to pour over the chicken and impress my girlfriend?  Oh, I know!  I'll use some white wine and it'll be so good that she'll be ready for make-out city later!"  So pour in about a quarter cup of wine (usually you'd want to use something you're ok with drinking, not that bottle in the back of your fridge that's been open since last Halloween)  and stir it around with a spoon or a whisk.  The little brown bits will be released from the pan and then you want to wait while the wine cooks down to a teeny tiny amount, which is called reducing.  After its reduced in half  (which is really a mere few spoonfuls), add some a touch of chicken stock and about a tablespoon of butter.  Whisk in the butter, throw in a bit of salt and pepper,  pour that over your chicken breast and you're done.  See?  You've learned the words reduce, deglaze and fond all in 2 paragraphs.  Watch as I expand your horizons even further.   Yeah.  Get ready.
    Let's talk Italian food for a hot minute.   When I make marinara sauce (and I say that word like an American does, not like Giada on the Food Network with her overly-enunciated Italian accent, jarringly thrown in the middle of a sentence) I like to brown my onions, peppers and garlic and then get the fond (yeah, it comes from vegetables too) off the bottom of the pan with some red wine.  I pour in about a half a cup and let that reduce until its almost syrupy.  There's no rule here about how much to pour in.   You could pour in an entire bottle and let it reduce, it'll just take longer.  (And then what would you have to drink while you're cooking?)  After its reduced, I'll add the tomato sauce and then season it up.
     So let's go back and review this.  I know it sounds like a lot at first but it's super easy.  Add the wine (while the pan is still over high heat) and let it reduce by half.  Add a touch of stock, a tablespoon of butter, and season it.  
    As far as what kind of wine to use with what, you usually want to use red with something heartier, or with red meat. White wine is great for fish and chicken.  Again, use something you'd want to drink.  Cooking with wine is not a way to get rid of bad or old wine.  Then your sauce will just taste like old wine sauce.  Eww.
    When you get comfortable with sauces, start getting creative.  Put some chopped up artichoke hearts and a squeeze of lemon in white wine sauces.  Add some capers and fresh herbs to red wine sauces.  And always season and taste it.  Salt and pepper go a looooong way, especially if you're trying to get to make out city with your lady later. 
    Let's also talk about open flames for a second.  You know how when you're watching chefs on TV and they pour some wine in the pan and it all catches on fire for a second?  Looks fun, right?  Well mostly likely that's not going to happen in your kitchen unless you tip the pan and try to invite the fire into the alcohol.  Also, wine doesn't have as much alcohol in it as cooking with sherry or hard liquor.  Those guys will flame up no problem, but if you're using a gas stove and are afraid of becoming a burn victim, just pour it in and don't tip the pan.  

    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    What the bleep happened to your eggs?!!

    Alrighty my little pets, I started asking for your "what the bleep happened to the eggs?!" photo submissions on my Facebook fan page over Zombie Jesus Day weekend and  I thoroughly enjoyed them all, especially the ones of cute kids staining their hands dying eggs.  My favorite, however, was from reader Andrew Chandler, who had a spiritual What the Bleep moment in his kitchen.   Andrew, thank you for sending in your photo of "zen eggs," fried in sweet cream buddha... er butter.

    Thank you to everyone who sent in your photos- I loved seeing all of them!   On to the next major holiday- my birthday!  Feel free to send me lots of birthday wishes and bottles of bubbly.

    Monday, April 25, 2011

    Deviled Eggs Without the Mayo= Magic in Your Mouth

    So lately I have found myself a little stressed out with trying to find time to blog, work a full time job (that includes planning the catering for weddings that are all going to take over my life starting next month), take care of my home, keep up with some kind of fitness routine that leaves my ass cheeks free of dimples, and have a tiny bit of free time to just... hang out.  Not the case lately.  So yesterday has been in the works for 2 weeks: I purposefully had planned a day of only partial work and a lot of fun.  I knew it had to include cocktails and Mario Kart, and it happened to be that yesterday was also Zombie Jesus Day.  What's something you must take part in on the day of the risen Zombie Jesus?  Deviled eggs.  Yessiree, nothing screams Easter like those fantastic little half moons of paprika dusted heaven.  (Plus, they're awesome if you're on the Paleo diet, like myself, which is something I'll have to blog about later.)  It's pretty frequent that I toot the horn of old school, kitschy kitchen favorites like lil' smokies and green bean casserole and of course, deviled eggs SO fall in that category.  They're just too good to make fun of.

    My dilemma yesterday was making them without mayonnaise.  Yes, "Mayonnaise" is the title of one of my favorite Smashing Pumpkins songs, but it is NOT one of my favorite foods   I find it pretty repulsive, all jiggly and strange-smelling.  Zombie Jesus told me I needed to find a way to make deviled eggs sans mayo.  

    A traditional deviled egg recipe calls for you to boil your eggs, cut them in half, scoop out the yolk, and mash it up with a bunch of mayonnaise, some mustard, salt, pepper, and whatever seasonings your cute little face desires.  Like this one- let's take a Paula Dean recipe, since she's a fan of the high-fat cooking  (And making one syllable words sound like 5 syllable words, bless her southern heart):

    7 large eggs, peeled and boiled
    1/4 cup mayonnaise
    1 teaspoon mustard
    1 1/2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
    salt and pepper to taste
    paprika to garnish

    Halve eggs lengthwise.  Remove yolks and place in bowl.

    Mash yolks with fork and stir in mayonnaise, relish and mustard.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

    Fill egg whites evenly with yolk mixture, garnish with paprika.

    If you tried to make this recipe and just took out the mayo, it wouldn't work.  The egg yolks just get grainy when you mash them up- they need a binder.  A binder is any ingredient that holds the other ingredients together.  Like mayonnaise in a potato salad- it binds everything together so that your Aunt Sue can glop it all on your plate with one swift thwack of a wooden spoon every 4th of July.  I wonder what mayo binds up in your stomach?  Food for thought.

    So if you take out the binder, you need to find something else that binds it instead.  And I think I tweaked it enough to make it work just about the same.   It paired perfectly with my Bloody Mary and Mario Kart.  Here's my version, free of the mayo and of the southern accent:

    7 large eggs, peeled and boiled
    1 raw egg white, or 3 tablespoons egg whites from the carton
    1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
    1 1/2 tablespoons mustard
    1 1/2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
    salt and pepper to taste
    paprika to garnish

    I just subbed out the mayo for an egg white and olive oil and upped the mustard.  And coming from someone who hates mustard too (I know- I'm SO weird!  I don't get it either, it's just how my taste buds like to be treated), these deviled eggs were awesome.  I also added some cayenne pepper to make them have a little bit of kick.  Feeling creative?  Try these ideas:

    1. Add some chopped up brisket to your egg yolk mixture and then go find yourself a long-term lover with those bad boys.

    2. Add some chopped up sun dried tomatoes to the egg yolk mixture, and top them with crumbled goat cheese and fresh basil.  It's your new dish for girls' night and they're all going to treat you like you just won Top Chef, except you don't have that annoying, overly-dramatic, TV-ready personality.

    3.  Add a heavy dash of chili powder, fresh cilantro, and a little bit of cooked, finely chopped bacon.  Uh huh.  It's magic.  In your mouth.  You're welcome.