kitchen

Crap I Love (and Don’t Need) Right Now: Sustainability, Bitters, & Blaak

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I love stuff – it’s the most American thing about me! Here’s what I want right now:

I’m all for local and sustainable, but I’m also all for meat. Ethically, I love leather goods and would hate anything get needlessly disposed of, so I really eat steak to reduce waste. And that’s why I love this reusable, washable, canvas lunch bag: It’s got a of a butcher’s pig diagram. Give more meaning to your ham & swiss sammie while doing something good for the planet!

Available through Etsy store GirlsCanTell

Bitter Old Man! A guaranteed way to literally charm the pants off me is to make fantastic cocktails, and Bitters, Old Mengives everyone a leg up. With flavors like Roasted Macadamia and recipes named things like “Gangsta Lee’n”, Bitters makes every foodie home body the booze connoisseur.  I can’t wait to get my hands on some Krangostura, named for the Ninja Turtle antagonist. With hints of clove, mace, molasses, and orange and lemon peels, I’m looking forward to a bit of gin, ice, and maybe – maybe – a splash of club soda and slice of cucumber. Remember: Just a little dab ‘il do ya. Sweet, sweet sip of the close of summer.

Flavors available at BittersOldMen.com

 It’s Coming! (What’s coming?) Blaak! (…What?) BLAAK! Beekman 1802, aka the Fabulous Beekman Boys, are the fine purveyors of Blaak, a once yearly cheese coated in ash and aged in a cave for four months. A semi-hard cheese mixed of both sheep’s and cow’s milk, Blaak’s unique, but mild flavor has earned quite the fan base. While I got on the waiting list a couple of weeks ago, it was announced yesterday that the waiting list had reached close to 1000 people, so be sure to get on it quick if you want your own hunk of tangy heaven. At $48 this cheese isn’t cheap, but it comes as an entire 2lb. wheel, so it can easily be shared amongst a couple friends. There’s a number of things on their site that I can’t wait to get my hands on, and I already know their whipped Rosemary honey will be a stocking stuffer for some of my dearest loved ones.

Blaak Cheese and other fine products available at Beekman1802.com

Betty Crocker is Pissed

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“Combine brownie mix, 2 tablespoons water, and melted butter until smooth.”

Every once in while I like to bake on Sunday afternoons. It’s a nice way to wind down before the start of another week, it makes the house smell good without having to clean, and when I’m done I get a cookie. It was during one of those baking sessions that I saw Betty Crocker’s rage right out in the open, in plain English.

I was making brownie-cookie bars from a box mix when I received a stern talking to from the queen of quick cooking.

Resentment in print form.

I type up internal communications, descriptions of ensembles, write directions for auditions, and other informative notes for a website at work. So, when I saw “…melted butter…” twice in italics on Betty’s box I didn’t read it simple as melted butter. What I saw was the following:

“Combine brownie mix, 2 tablespoons of water, and MELTED butter. That’s right, people: MELTED. Because if we here at Betty Crocker receive one more phone call or pissed off email about your brownie-cookie bars not coming out right just because YOU used butter that wasn’t melted, we’re going to be pissed. And we’re probably going to tell you exactly where you can shove those brownie-cookie bars.”

This is not my photo and I do not take credit for it.

I immediately picked up on it because it’s how I wish individuals would read the informative sites I create. Yet the important bits always manage to be missed. What Betty used is attitude in language. There are different ways to use this attitude. For example there’s a shop near my home that uses the most pretentious punctuation that I’ve ever seen and it annoys me every time my eyes are accosted by the billboard:

Come. And get it.

Read: “Come shop here. And see why rich people are cooler then you. Buy something you don’t need. And get why we’re awesome. Shop here. Stupid.”

For crap’s sake. I just can’t stand it. I’ve never wanted to punch fragmented sentences in the face so badly before.

Advertisements are a whole other animal these days. In fact, I ditched cable just to purge our house from commercial demons, even though some ads can be so great. But it’s attitude in type face and punctuation that can either work for you or back fire.

I’m never going to Come. And get it. Until you Come to my house. And clean it.

But Betty Crocker’s message? I felt instant sympathy for the Lady and her staff. I not only read that message loud and clear, but I felt for her, and learned something. Next time I’m editing informational explanations and procedures on our website I’m going to use italics on the important and often repeated bits.Maybe then somebody will get it.

After all, using italics seems to be much more effective than, say,

“Combine mix, water, and melted butter, Ass.”

A Little Pop-Me-Up for Your Day

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*People are just the worst: In an attempt to help a fellow traveler in distress, Gary Koelling allowed a man from Switzerland to check into a hotel using Koelling’s credit card. The free check-in wound up costing Koelling $41,000 or six nights at a ritzy New York City hotel, plus incidentals at just over $6,833 dollars a night. What does this teach us about helping our fellow man? Stick to reviewed and established charities, and when in trouble as a tourist, contact the local police department or embassy. Especially in New York.[Gawker]


*Speaking of horrible people, if you’re wondering what to get those hated ones on you list, look no further: Gifts for People You Hate is bound to have the perfect present for the people in your life you just can’t stand.

*Facebook bought Gowalla. What does this mean exactly? It means that if you enjoy using Gowalla you have less than a month to continue doing so before Facebook completely shuts it down. Someone might want to let Mark Zuckerburg that a little competition is healthy. [CNN Tech]

*In other news, delightful science has attributed smoking cigarettes to loss of nipples. You read that correctly. Apparently there has been a correlation between smoking and nipples falling off on women who have had their breasts lifted (though I assume it could happen to breast lifted men as well). Smoking is bad for you, people! When will we finally get that through our thick skulls?!  Though, maybe this is giving hope to those individuals with superfluous nips, such as Lily Allen, Chandler Bing, and Krusty the Clown. [The Chart]

*The Muppets are pure good. Like, good for your soul good. In their latest flick they put on a telethon to help others and, so often, helping others in need is the message they send out (with the exception of giving a stranger your credit card. Duh.). While many would find this message of hope and brotherly love heartwarming, those [insert any expletive here] at Fox Business “News” slammed the Muppet creators and writers for having an anti-capitalistic agenda. Of course. Which is why all dvd sales and movie tickets were non-profit based. And why the muppets weren’t completely portrayed as rich in the film. Of course, now those last two points are just flat-out lies, like what spews from the mouths of the “reporters” on Fox. And I recommend not reading the comments on this particular article. You’ll waste both energy and brain cells. [Blastr]
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*Ugh. That last Pop Byte made me all cranky. Let’s bring a little joy into our hearts with a list of what gifts to get that comic book fan in your life! I, for one, would love a pair of Wonder Woman socks even though, let’s face it, she really got the short stick when it came to gadgetry. A lasso that makes people tell the truth?! Insert stalker girlfriend joke here. [GeekOut]
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Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando is  kissing their Jaws ride goodbye, along with a few other historical notables. I hate to see Jaws go, it was a classic albeit expected, but what, pray tell, might Universal be thinking? Well, Stage Two, of course – Stage Two of Harry Potter the Wizarding Experience. Man, the kids that acted in those movies are set for life and they’re barely old enough to sophomores in college. [The Baltimore Sun]
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*J.J. Abrams, you’re tearing me apart! The newest Star Trek gunk churned out from the rumor mills is that Benicio Del Toro will not be the villain in the Star Trek sequel, but the evil character will, in fact, be KHAAAAAAN! I like Khan, I remember Khan, and to this day I hate the idea of bugs in or near my ears because of Khan. But I was equally excited to see what Benicio Del Toro could have done with a part in Star Trek. Good things we have, like, a million years for things to change before the movie comes out (May 2013). [Blastr]
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*And the Star Trek news doesn’t stop there. Peter Weller has signed on to act in the upcoming sequel right as Benicio  signed off. Can’t put a face to Weller? That’s probably because so few people have actually seen it: He was RoboCop. [Variety] I wonder if they’ll do those awesome RoboCop ads, too…
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*While we’re discussing aliens, do you think you might have ever been abducted? Than look no further – Here’s a list of six telltale signs that you’ve been taken by extraterrestrials at some point in your life! Be careful in your analysis, though. Many of these symptoms are similar to a hot night out on the town with your good friend Jack Daniels. [TheSmokingJacket]
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*Nothing makes me cringe more than “ironic fashion”…except for maybe ironic facial hair… Anyway, hipsters every where line up in droves each year to purchase bad holiday sweaters from Salvation Army, Buffalo Exchange, and other used clothing gold mines. I myself bought one from Tee Fury yesterday, actually, but it was a t-shirt of a bad holiday sweater so it doesn’t count (okay, fine, it does. Judge away.). Designers are now totally in on this trend and currently sell – at insane prices – horrible holiday sweaters. If I could ever afford anything from the Stella McCartney line, the last thing it I would purchase is an ironically bad sweater. Ugh. [Fashionista]
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*Sure, I can make Peking Duck, but it would be far tastier as a Peking Romulan Bird of Prey! Cooking needs no longer to be unGeeky with these fantastic Kitchen accoutrements. Be it an Enterpriseing pizza, darth cookies, or needing your drinks on the rocks with a Gotham feel, we’ve got your cocina needs met. Just yet another list of gift ideas for the Michelin starred nerd in your home. [Blastr]
*It amazes me how so many nations can remain so incredibly sheltered in today’s day and age. I take my technological outlets and freedom of press for granted far too often. I say this because Saudi Arabi has announced it believes giving women the right to drive will cause them to have promiscuous sex. I can’t even begin to crack jokes on this. Cultural differences are one thing, but oppression is merely oppression. Besides, it’s the back of parked station wagon’s that cause promiscuous sex, not the act of driving itself. [HuffingtonPost]

True Thai Taught in the slums & Perfect ChocoChunk Cookies

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I don’t hide the fact that I truly enjoy food. It’s part of the reason I have an all American waistline. I believe that what and how people eat can be very indicative clues to their culture and lifestyle. Two of my friends were recently able to go to different parts of Thailand. Part of their trip was a culinary experience and, after some digging around on the internet, they found a woman who would teach them to cook real Thai food in a very honest setting while in the slums of Bangkok. They brought these recipes back to the states with them and cooked them for us last night.

Needless to say, all the courses were beyond wonderful. The evening started with roasted silk worm larvae in sesame oil and cilantro. I can tell you that they tasted a bit like roasted tomatoes with the texture of steamed edamame. I can tell you this because that is what I was told. I’ve eaten crickets before and enjoyed them, but I could not bring myself to eat worm larvae. It was poor of me to at least not try it and I should have.

Next up was Pomelo salad. A pomelo, also known as a “Citrus Maxima”, is a giant grapefruit. Friggin’ huge. And delicious. Thai Pomelo salad is a dish normally called Yam Som – O; it’s fresh, flavorful, and filling on it’s own. The salad was made of pomelo, shrimp, coconut flakes, shallots, hot peppers, cilantro, and garlic with a dressing of lime juice, coconut milk and a dash of fish sauce. It was fantastic, the shrimp perfectly done, and the pomelo adding both sweetness and a bit of tartness that made the entire dish spicy and, yet, refreshing.

The third course in our evening was easily one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten all year. It was, to put it simply, amazing. The levels of flavor were such that I rarely, if ever, had experienced them before. It was a soup called Tom Kha: creamy coconut soup, with thin, small mushrooms that acted more like noodles, lemon grass, perfectly tender shrimp, and hot chili oil. This soup cleared your sinuses, but not in an unwelcoming way; I’m generally a coward when it comes to heat, but I could have eaten this until the cows came home. It was so flavorful that the spiciness was only secondary, though it helped that I had a beer to quell some of the heat. I wish I could have a big, heaping bowl of this soup right now and I’m not even hungry. It’s something that I know I will search for whenever I visit Thai restaurants in the future.

The main entree of the evening was classic pad thai, served with sugar, as it is the usual accompaniment to this dish in Thailand. Also, everything was eaten with forks and spoons, as it is not customary to eat these meals with chopsticks. Needless to say, dinner was fantastic.

Dessert was vanilla ice cream with fresh blended mango poured over the top. I don’t have a picture of that because I inhaled it. We ended the evening with excellent conversation and the Vice Guide to North Korea. I highly recommend watching it. It is on Netflix Streaming as well, so you have no excuse to miss out. Hey, have you watched Troll Hunter yet? I’m thinking of watching it again…

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Cookies Make a Baker a Better Person

So, I’m super picky about chocolate chip cookies. Often times I found recipes result in bland, merely sugary sweet crackers, and, all too commonly, these baked treats seem to come out of the oven flatter than Kate Moss’s chest. A few months ago I decided I’d had enough. I wanted to make a cookie that was just as delicious to look at as it was to eat, something fluffy and chewy, and just all around awesome. This led me to the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I have yet to find any cookie recipe that even comes close to matching the quality of this one and every batch earns me accolades as a chef to those munching away on them.

First thing: This ain’t no TollHouse guide. Take everything you’ve ever learned about baking cookies and chuck it out the window. Fire it out of a canon into the sun, because it’s that worthless. Then preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a big bowl mix together 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1 3/4 cups flour. Then put it in the corner and forget about it for a while. Now comes the fun part: Take 10 tablespoons unsalted butter and melt it in a sauce pan. Melt it and then start swirling the pan, over heat, until the butter is browned and nutty smelling. You want your house to smell AMAZING? Bake these cookies. Just like the look and taste, even the aroma goes above and beyond in mouth watering goodness.

You then take this gorgeous, transformed butter and pour it over – you guessed it – more butter. In a heat proof bowl, mix the melted 10 tbsp butter with 4 more cold tbsp unsalted butter. Stir or swirl until everything is melted. Add 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar to the butter. Have you figured it out yet? The base of this cookie batter is a caramel! I know, your mind is blown. Take a minute. Regroup. Then let’s get back to baking.

Once you stir in the sugars, the mixture will look pretty gritty. That’s okay, the magic of adding eggs changes everything. Remember, though: we’re essentially making a caramel, so one egg is okay, 2 yolks are better. To the butter & sugar mixture add one full large egg and one additional yolk, a dash of salt, and vanilla extract. I generally also add a 1/2 tsp of almond extract; I find its flavor helps keep the cookies from seeming too sweet and adds a little something unexpected to a well known snack food without getting too far from the basics. When it comes to the eggs, separate them with your bare hands. Do it. We all have sinks and soap. Use your hands. I bought a fancy egg separator from Crate & Barrel for $4 that is just shit. Doesn’t work at all. It would have been a better use of money to buy lottery scratch-off tickets. See the useless uni-tasker below. Just use your freakin’ hands.

After the addition of the eggs, the directions get a little picky. Whisk the mixture for 30 seconds. Then let it sit for 3 minutes. Do this 2 more times, so that you whisk a total of 3 times, 30 seconds each time. The batter will completely change from dark brown and gritty, to thick, golden, smooth, and shiny. Also, make sure you don’t taste the batter at this point. It tastes just like a gooey, somewhat liquified Werther’s Original candy and you may not be able to stop guzzling it once you start.

Now you can add the caramel mixture to the flour and baking powder. Try to incorporate everything together without over mixing. Limit your stirring with a spatula or wooden spoon for right around a minute. Finally, add 1 1/2 cups of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips. It really is best to use these. The different in cost between those and any other brand is minimal. They melt much better in the cookies as they’re flatter, thinner, and larger, and have a better flavor. They really make a difference in these cookies.

You may find the batter to be so buttery that it is difficult to get the chocolate chips to stick to it. I find that essentially cutting the chips into the batter and gently folding everything helps embed the chocolate into the batter without over mixing anything. After trying this recipe with regular chocolate chips, I can tell you first hand that the shape of the Ghirardelli stick much butter to the batter. You may have to get pretty handsey in forming these and it really does seem like a lot of chocolate. And there’s a good reason for that: It is a lot of chocolate.

At this point, the original recipe states to divide the batter into sixteen servings to make rather large cookies. I don’t like my cookies that big, so I generally make 20, 8 per cookie sheet, and 4 on the final. They’re still very large cookie, but not crazy in size. I bake them for 5 minutes, then rotate the cookie sheet in the oven and cook for an addition 5 – 7 minutes, just until the edges are barely turning brown. If you can master pulling them out of the oven at the right point, you wind up with a chewy cookie with a bottom that is crunchy due to being caramelized and crisp. It makes for an amazing treat and added punch to an already fantastic treat. And, like a child, I enjoy mine with milk.