Thursday, October 18, 2012

Until toothpick inserted comes out clean

After my recent fudge fiasco I thought it might be time for me to branch out and try a new hobby (or, a sort of old hobby revisited).  I have always had an unrequited love affair with crochet but have never successfully made anything except a straight, single stitched scarf.  How hard can it be to make a beanie, really?  Don't they teach this in Hom-Ec class to pimple faced teenagers across the country who can't even scramble an egg? apparently, Home-Ec class doesn't even exist anymore.  And apparently I cannot crochet a beanie to save my life.  I tried three times, with three different yarns.  What I got was a lumpy, misshapen, monstrosity that I wouldn't use as a pot holder. 

Oh well, I made oatmeal cookies and they were excellent so, all fudge making aside, I will stick with what I know. 

I taught myself how to can things this week....well, at least I think I taught myself.  According to The Man if something is canned improperly you can get very sick or even die.  When asked how to tell if something has been canned properly his suggestion was to give one of the cans to someone I do not like first and see if they live.  So I put one of my newly canned jars of apple butter in his lunchbox.  Smart ass.

In all seriousness, his comment about the lethal potential of home canned goods turned me into a pillar of paranoia....I never knew that those country chic little jars of home made jellies and jams sold at all the local shops and festivals were quite possibly cute, cloth topped, hand labeled hand grenades of poison. 

After this seed was planted in my brain I was bringing The Man lunch at his job site one afternoon and he actually handed me a jar of home made (and canned) marmalade that one of the workers had given him to pass on to me.  I dropped that thing onto my passenger seat like a hot rock.  The whole way home I drove very slowly taking moments here and there to steal glances at the cheerful looking jar.  It just sat there with all the charm and allure of a petrie dish full of Ebola virus.  As soon as we reached my driveway I slowly and carefully removed my children from their safety restraints.

"Mama, what's that?!" L asks pointing to the delicious looking jar of potential hazardous waste. 

"It's nothing L, it's yucky, don't touch it!!" I bark out before being able to stop myself.

After parking the kids inside with a couple peanut butter sandwiches, I went back outside to address the issue of what to do with this jar.

I examined it.  It looked alright.  The seal on top was airtight...the ingredients inside looked okay...but I kept hearing The Man's words in my head...."bad"  "could kill you"  "could make you very sick"

I was torn.

So I relegated the jar to the bottom of my fridge drawer where I store other things I'm not sure what to do with like brussels sprouts and an extra container of marscapone cheese. 

I then set out to teach myself to can things in order to rid myself of some of the fear of the unknown.

Yesterday I made a giant vat of homemade pasta sauce...having read, reread, and cross referenced what I read on canning everywhere from online, to books, to the instruction manual that came with the canning kit I bought I felt confident I could handle it. 

I cooked, I sterilized jars, I filled jars, I boiled jars for X amount of time, I removed jars, I waited for jars to cool, and I checked the seal on those jars which was intact and did not "pop".

I successfully canned.

I then put all the jars of pasta sauce in the no man's land drawer next to the dreaded orange marmalade.  I then repeated the whole process with my favorite slow cooker recipe for apple butter. 

Because how do I know I did it right...really?

So, my plan is to wait a week or so and then open some pasta sauce and serve it with noodles....then wait and see if anyone turns into an undead, mindless, brain eating ghoul. 

I'm pretty sure I did it right.

Time will tell.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fold Gently

To my knowledge I have never had a problem making fudge.  It has always been relatively easy, you measure, pour, heat, stir, remove from heat, stir some more, and pour again....voila!  Fudge! 

For some reason this year it is not going quite how I remember it and my inability to be able to produce anything even remotely resembling tasty, creamy, delicious fudge is causing me to have a mid-cooking crisis. 

Maybe I'm not a very good cook at all.  Maybe everyone around me that has ever eaten a morsel of anything I have ever cooked has secretly been humoring me while in their heads they contemplate all the excuses they will use in future to avoid hanging out with me.  Maybe I've just been kidding myself.  Oh NO...maybe I am the woman that cannot knit even though she loves to do it and so every year her friends are forced to smile over "hand made" scarves that are too short, or gloves that would fit Edward Scissorhands, or sweaters that are supposed to be for a friend's new baby but have enough arm holes for the family pet!!!!

This is how my mind works, people.  As I stood at my counter staring at the solid chocolate cinder block that I had created in my kitchen my entire love and adoration of all things culinary hung in the balance.  If a stranger had broken into my house and held me at gunpoint at that moment I could have beaten him to death with that five pound cocoa flagstone...then to spite myself and in a fit of self loathing I could have eaten the evidence before the cops arrived (al la Roald Dahl's Lamb to the Slaughter ). 

Just as my total panic at having discovered that I actually don't know how to cook reached it's boiling point The Man had the misfortune of coming home from work. 

"Hi honey, what's for dinner something smells excellent!" is what he swears he said....but what I heard  was actually more like:

"I'm home, what disgusting concoction have you brewed in that tainted cauldron you wicked old hag?"

Without ever taking my eyes off of the brown block of Fudged up fudge I blurted in a high pitched wail:

"Order Chinese!! I don't know how to cook anything!!!  My life is a sham!!!!"

I then turned tail and ran into the bedroom to fold laundry...because surely I must still be capable of doing that.

To his credit, The Man did not acknowledge my outburst, nor did he ask why I was making new free weights out of Tollhouse chocolate chips, he simply chiseled a piece of the brown brick off with a butcher's knife and ate it. 

"The flavor is really good!!" he declares enthusiastically "It's just a little hard...maybe it cooked too long...someone with as much as you have going on is bound to make a mistake sometimes!  This just makes me love you more because now I know you are human!"

Back off, ladies, he is mine.

Reluctantly, I finally managed to reenter my kitchen later that evening after we ordered absolutely inedible pizza from the pizza parlor down the street.  Not only one inedible pizza, but two since I called and told them the pizza they sent was inedible and they decided to fix it by sending me another of the same caliber so I would have a matching set. 

If they can get away with being that bad and people still pay them for their food, one day of being incapable of making fudge is surely not insurmountable....

And if the few people that I do call my friends have secretly been lying to me all these years when claiming to enjoy something I have prepared for them....well, then I must say they are pretty darn good liars and I am happy to have them on my side!  Ha!  This is what passes for looking on the bright side in my book. 

You should have heard the sound that slab of concrete confection made when it hit the bottom of the trash can....I think there was an Earthquake in Japan on that day.  Or, in the least, the birds outside took hasty flight and the groundhogs that live under the house looked up in terror. 


Monday, October 1, 2012

Whip until frothy

So, allow me to clarify, in my previous post I confessed my obsession with cooking.  I attempted to wax poetic about how it has been a running theme in my adulthood and has really matured with me and helped me in many ways. 

I said I love to cook, but that in no way means that I am perfect at it.  In chatting with The Man in my Life recently I have gotten the impression from him that I give off a sort of "everything I do turns to gold and nothing I ever do stinks" kind of vibe.  This is something that I detest about myself but that I am sort of chained to.  I am a perfectionist.  I put my all in everything whether it is raising my children or doing laundry.  Why bother doing anything if you aren't going to try your best?  That being said, I am convinced that just because you try your best does not mean that you will always succeed. 

Just because I make a lot of pies does not mean I have quite perfected my crust technique.   Just because I bake a lot of cookies doesn't mean that I don't sometimes open the oven and see flat as a pancake ovals and think to myself 'WTF?!'  Shit happens, my friends, and sometimes our best just is not good enough. 

The trick is to not give up.  To look towards those moments when you put forth your best effort constantly every day to no avail and then one morning just as you are getting to the brink of total discouragement you hear your children arguing.  You stop mixing up your muffins and you listen before intervening.  Then, just like that, your three year old son says 'Sister, that hurts don't bite me.' and your two year old daughter replies in her cutesy voice ,'sowy' and your son replies 'I forgive you, give me a hug.'  That one brief shining moment of perfection when you smile so big you feel like the top of your head might open up like a PEZ dispenser and start doling out candy coated pellets of sunshine.  That's what it's all for.  That's what the struggling is about.  For that warm glow that seems to surround you as you realize that you managed to do something right and as you take those piping hot muffins out of the oven you look at them and think that even they look extra perfect this morning.  Life is freaking GOOD!!

It's also a roller coaster because that high only lasts about as long as it takes for you to put those muffins on a cooling rack.  Because by then someone is yelling that the cat pooped on the bedroom floor again, and the phone rings with someone reminding you that you missed a doctor's appointment, and you reach in the fridge for milk for your daughter and realize to your chagrin that you just use the last of it for the damned muffins. 

Being a perfectionist isn't about being's just about striving for it, but realizing that it's okay to be flawed.  That's what bothers me sometimes.  I am told so many times that I give off the very same vibe that The Man mentioned.  I am told that I am a mannequin.  An emotionless, housekeeping drone that thinks she can do no wrong.  In reality I curse like a sailor, have a penchant for blurting out exactly what I am thinking at inopportune times and in not so nice ways, and have been known to get caught up in the Law and Order: SVU marathon vortex (curse you TNT) in which the pile of clothes I was supposed to be folding sits untouched on the couch next to me while I stare mindlessly at the screen for an hour and my children run wild.

Sometimes I find myself hating those things about me...but really those are the things that make me's the need to hide those things that I don't like.  The need to always have my ducks in a row. 

On a side note I made the mistake of making baked potatoes last night.  I asked The Man to pick up potatoes at the store on his way home and he brings home a bag of monster spuds.  Huge.  I thought why not have a baked potato?  I never make them because by the time a potato is baked I usually don't want it anymore.  But it was still early and I was planning on grilling a flat iron steak on the cast iron skillet so why not? 

Those mothers took forever to cook.  After an hour and a half at 375 degrees I said to hell with it, if they aren't done they aren't done but this woman is hungry.  The Man then proceeds to drive me crazy at the table by peeling off the skin and mashing them with his fork, after asking where the foil went (I bake my potatoes in the buff, sorry).  I laugh and ask him why he didn't just request mashed potatoes and he replies that they taste better baked.  I smash mine up on my plate and take a bite and say I have to agree.  Touche, my darling. 

I think I'm gonna fry pork chops tonight...and thanks to the peeler, slicer, coring gadget I bought yesterday I may make apple sauce too!

I also want to make this cake

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Saute until translucent

Some people like to cook.  Some people love to cook.  Some people, namely myself, feel so compelled to cook that it transcends like or love and jumps straight into the world of compulsion. 

On a typical morning I open my eyes and think, 'Hey, I am awake...what should I cook today?'  People in my life have always been put off by this.  I have often heard,"We haven't even had breakfast yet and you are asking me about dinner?!"

But a good meal takes planning.  I don't want to decide at noon that I would really love some slow cooked, pulled pork bar-b-q because, come on people, to do that right takes all day.  Breakfast is easy.  Dinner is art.

No, I do not work at some upscale restaurant.  I am just a stay at home mom who spends the majority of her time picking toys up off of the floor and wiping noses.  I drive a mini van for crying out loud.  Nothing fancy here.  I just really love to cook food. Some people watch football on Sundays, I watch marathons of the latest season of Hell's Kitchen.  While those football fanatics are screaming at refs about foul balls, or bad passes, or some other error in judgement that I know little about I am sitting on my couch screaming obscenities at the morons in Chef Ramsey's kitchen that can't even saute a scallop.

Because I can do that.  I have practiced.  And no one in my house even likes seafood. 

The act of cooking in itself is cathartic, really.  Many times the stresses of the day have just melted away in the wafting garlic scented steam floating off of my Paula Deen cookware.  I may have two small children grabbing onto each leg while screaming pint-sized profanities at each other ('booger head!' 'stink butt!') but in my mind I am in an open air kitchen in Tuscany listening to Dean Martin sing "That's Amore".  Food can do that.

It is fall now, which means pie season in my house has officially opened.  No license required.  We are killing some pies around here and I am mounting a photo of every one on my Facebook wall as tribute and trophy.  My children L, who is almost 3, and D, who is almost 2, sit at their little IKEA child table and roll out salt dough and set it into tin pie plates while their Mama stands at the kitchen counter and feeds her addiction.  Pumpkin pie, Apple pie, Dutch Apple Pie, Pumpkin Mousse Pie, Chocolate an effort to make room on my counter I have carried pies to my neighbor's houses.  I give cookies away at the gym where I am a member.  I take cupcakes to people at stores that I regularly frequent.  Every time I am met with the same look of concern for my sanity and I think 'What has this world come to that a person can't create something delicious in their kitchen and bring it to the people in their daily lives as a small way of saying thanks for being here?'

I have been really lucky in my life.  And I can't lie and say I have always been a good, or hard working, person.  It took me a long time to mature and having two children in two years helped with that.  I spent a lot of my young adult hood drinking, and partying, and looking down my nose at life and people who valued it.  But even then I cooked.  I once woke up from a drunken night of revelry to have my fellow partiers all telling me what great enchiladas I had made the night before.  Sure enough, even inebriated beyond the point of being coherent I had been standing in a kitchen over a stove cooking. 

Then I got sober and right after that I got pregnant for the first time and after he was born I got pregnant again (I guess nobody explained what causes that to me, huh?) and then my husband and the father of my babies went to work one day and never came home.  My then husband suffered a traumatic brain injury on the job and spent seven months in a vegetative state.  Every day that he was in the hospital I went and stayed with him.  The whole time I was pregant with my daughter D.  And the whole time I cooked.  Pies, cakes for AA Meetings, cookies, spaghetti, casseroles, whatever I could cook I cooked. 

And I still believe to this day it helped save me.  I did not lose my sanity even when he finally died after struggling for so long. 

And now that the little ones are turning three and two I cook even more than I ever have.  Every day is a new reason to cook something delicious.  Every night me and the kids and the new man in our lives sit down to a meal and talk about our days.  It brings us together and I am happy to be able to be a part of that.  It makes me feel that there has been one cohesive theme through all the turmoil in my life and that theme wasn't negative or sad or was good.  Life is good.  Food is good.

And food has to be cooked.

the best easiest salisbury steak recipe ever