Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I adore Rachael Ray, and not even in the guilty pleasure way that I love "Party in the USA." Yes, she is completely overexposed (Rachael Ray bedding, anyone?), but "30 Minute Meals" is still one of my favorite cooking shows. Many of the quirks that put people off; her use of nicknames, her over the top facial expressions, the somewhat maniacal giggle are, to me, quite endearing. Plus, more importantly, I have tried many of her recipes and I have yet to find a dud (I can't say the same thing to you, Tyler Florence!).
While I am certainly not alone in my Rachael Ray appreciation (there is a reason that the woman is practically an empire), in much of the food blogosphere she is treated as an object of scorn. The amount of hatred that is aimed at her is absolutely staggering. To be honest with you, I can understand some of the criticisms. There is the aforementioned overexposure, and the fact that most of her "30 Minute Meals" are more like 45 or 60 minute meals, but people act like she is the culinary antichrist (I think that that title has been taken), and I just don't get it.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Though I just recently began posting, I actually decided to start this blog in April. Since then I have been incredibly inspired in the kitchen. My interest in cooking had been growing steadily over the last few years, but there were still some dishes that I had trepidations about tackling. Since I made up my mind to start writing about my kitchen exploits, however, I have been imbued with a new culinary confidence, ready to take on my kitchen phobias.
My most consistent cooking fear revolved around dough (I mentioned this in my opening post). I was comfortable when it came to most cakes and quick breads, but any recipe that included yeast or required kneading or rolling-out (shudder) filled me with anxiety. Since I have had this blog related burst of inspiration, though, I have made croissants, multiple pizzas, fresh pasta, and enough bread to raise our air conditioning bill because of the constant heat from the oven. Still, there is one dough-based dish that still strikes fear into my heart: pie. Oh yes, the thought of making pie dough fills me with dread.
You see, pie dough has been my nemesis. In a previous post I briefly touched on these issues, but I didn't expound on the problems that I have had. I have made quite a few pies in the past, and while my crusts were, for the most part, passable, they were far from perfect. My crusts were sometimes soggy, always tough, either pasty white or overly brown. And flaky, that adjective which is bestowed upon the very best of pie crusts, would never, ever be used to describe one of my "masterpieces." As an admitted perfectionist, this absolutely rankled.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
One of my favorite guilty pleasure foods is the eggplant Parmesan sub at my local pizzeria. It is made up of a crusty sub roll bursting with thin slices of deep fried eggplant, marinara sauce, and enough mozzarella cheese to cover a small pizza. It is absolutely delicious, in the way that anything deep fried and cheese-covered is delicious. Unfortunately (or maybe not), the guilt tends to outweigh the pleasure. For this reason, I am constantly on the lookout for eggplant parm sandwiches that are more kind to the conscience (and waistline).
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
When I first started cooking, I would follow a recipe exactly. If I couldn't find an ingredient, then I wouldn't make the dish. I was too new, too uncertain to heed my as yet unidentified cooking instincts, and I was too inexperienced to know that trial and error is one of the best ways to become a better cook. My strict adherence to recipes led to some disasters, such as the enchiladas that turned into soup (thanks a lot Tyler Florence). I had the suspicion that the filling didn't need all of that chicken stock, but the recipe told me to do it. I ended up in tears on more than one occasion.
Now that I have a few years of experience under my, uh, apron, more often than not I don't follow recipes to the letter. I am cooking for myself and my family, and I know what we like, so I taste as I go and adjust accordingly. It seems obvious to me now, but a few years ago I was so caught up in following directions that I forgot to actually check and see if I liked the way the dishes tasted. Of course I still make plenty of culinary mistakes, but now I am much more relaxed about them.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
I am a little embarrassed to admit that I made my first adult trip to a farmer's market this summer. The fact that I hadn't been to one since I was a small child led to some pretty unrealistic expectations. In my imagination there were stalls as far as the eye could see, filled with a dizzying array of fresh fruits and vegetables. I was obviously living in denial, since I knew that the farmer's market was in a Best Buy parking lot. As you can probably guess, I was a little disappointed when I saw four small stalls, all of which were missing the purple carrots and fresh cranberry beans of my fantasies.
After the initial disappointment wore off and I came back to reality, I appreciated the fact that there actually was a rather sizable selection of fresh, local produce that I wouldn't be able to pick up at the supermarket. There weren't any purple carrots, but I did find some purple bell peppers, cute green heirloom tomatoes, a basket of zucchini, fresh beets, and some blackberries that made their way into a delicious crumb cake. Also, at one of the stalls, next to the zucchini and yellow squash, I saw some squash that were a bit of a mystery to me. I had eaten tiny yellow and green pattypan squash once before, but these were bigger and a very pale green. Since I am a big fan of summer squash I bought a small basket and headed home to start googling.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Last month I made my first homemade pizza dough, and it changed my life. Well, perhaps I am exaggerating, but the truth is that since then I have been obsessed with making pizza. The pizza stone that was still in its box a year after I bought it has taken up permanent residence in my oven, my list of bookmarked pizza recipes is growing at an alarming rate, and sometimes I find myself daydreaming about what I can put on a round of dough (roasted beets and goat cheese, yes please!).
This fascination with homemade pizza started with a recipe on my very favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen (if you have not yet perused this site, well, what are you waiting for?). Deb had posted a recipe for a zucchini and goat cheese pizza that rocketed to the top of my "Make Now!!" list. I was a little intimidated by making my own crust, but Deb made it seem so easy that I decided to give it a whirl. As it turns out, making pizza dough is ridiculously easy; you stir together some ingredients, knead them on the counter for a couple of minutes, then let the dough rise for a while. The zucchini pizza was fantastic (goat cheese makes my heart sing!), and I have used the same crust recipe for a few different pizzas, including a traditional tomato and mozzarella, a garlicky white pizza (recipe coming), and this, a Buffalo chicken pizza.