Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Feelings & Food

Have you ever realized how much we eat due to our emotions?

We celebrate a birthday with a good meal, we console one another with a box of chocolates, we connect over a cup of coffee.  It is as if there is an intrinsic connection between our heart and our stomach.  We could go on and on with the number of phrases that link these two, so I know I am not profound nor the first to assert this statement.

However, in past weeks, I have realized a few things about myself in regards to this phenomenon. I realized that with my different emotions from being really happy to being extremely sad, it greatly affects my desire and what I cook.  Here would be a good scale to figure out what kind of mood I'm in, based on what I cook

  • Really happy, joyful exuberance = make a dessert and share it! (bring it to the office, share with small group, have people over, etc).  This is me when I'm contentedly happy and the world seems good again. 
  •  A good or just normal day = dinner can range from ordinary (mac 'n cheese + dijon mustard + tuna over wilted greens) to fun and playful (shredded brussel sprouts with hoisen sauce and a poached egg). 
  • A bad day = pasta + sauce; frozen pizza; 
  • Extremely sad, stressed, or worried = no eating involved but rather fasting and praying (and normally many tears involved and some of the crying where you struggle to breathe in parts and make that little 'uh-uh-uh' sound).  
I recently celebrated a birthday and I'm honestly quite keen to start a new year. I had a wonderful 26 and a rough 27, so I'm hoping that 28 falls back in line. 

I found what it is that I really want in life, and I think it took giving up what I already had to find out what I really want. But in these past few months, there have been many more nights of fasting and praying than joyful exuberance and I want to get back to that place. I will wait on the Lord and his timing, for to him and through him alone be the glory. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Halloween Eyeball Brownies

I really like cooking for different themes. I was staying with friends in Chicago over Halloween and I wanted to thank them for their kind hospitality for extending my stay as I was there while NYC braved Hurricane Sandy.

This brownies are very simple (see below) and my all-time favorite.  I baked the brownie in a standard 9x13 in pan and then I used a cup to cut out the perfect circles. I covered the brownie with whipped cream in which I had added a few crushed raspberries.  To make the brownie look like an eyeball, I did the following:

Take a handful of fresh raspberries and crush them. Put in a small saucepan and cook over med heat until the juice is reduce and the sauce has more of a syrupy consistency. Add a little sugar, to taste, and a little squeeze of a fresh lemon and a bit of lemon zest, this will add to the brightness of the sauce. Strain to remove the seeds.  Use a spoon and make the 'bloodshot' eyeball.

For the pupil, place a chocolate chip in a raspberry and use this as the center. It was a really fun dessert to serve and was extremely tasty.

Ultimate Double chocolate brownies

¾ c. baking cocoa
½ tsp baking soda
2/3 c. butter or margarine, melted, divided
½ c. boiling water
2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. salt
½ c. coarsely chopped pecans (optional)
2 cups (12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chunks

In a large bowl, combine cocoa and baking soda; blend in 1/3 c. melted butter. Add boiling water; stir until well blended. Stir in sugar, eggs, and remaining buter. Add flour, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the pecans and chocolate chunks. Pour into a greased 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Bake at 350oF for 35-40 minutes or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of pan. Cool. 

Vanilla Extract

Making Vanilla extract has always fascinated me. The taste of fresh vanilla makes you realize why people would actually choose to eat vanilla ice cream vs. chocolate ice cream, but so often the real stuff is substituted by artificial vanilla extract.

Vanilla extract, simply stated, is extracting the vanilla flavor from fresh vanilla beans (also called 'cavier') and the vanilla pod using vodka. The flavor is more stable in the alcohol and allows the vanilla to stretch further than if you were just use the vanilla beans.

The pods have a remarkable amount of flavor in them and chopping them extra fine allows you to get more flavor out of them. As a side note - vanilla bean speckles in "vanilla bean ice cream" are normally spent (already extracted) vanilla pods that are finely chopped.  If you were able to taste these little black speckles, which you think are contributing to the flavor, you might be sadly surprised.

This photo was taken at time 0, 11/19/12.  I'll put a few more updates as they happen, you can see that after 5 minutes of being in the vodka, the liquid is starting to turn brown and the chopped pods have settled to the bottom.

To make your own vanilla, check out this website:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My new favorite beef stroganoff

This is a recipe transformed.  I will warn you that it takes a bit of time in the oven, but it is worth it.  I cooked the meat the night before so that I had plenty of time to let it bake without rushing it because I was so hungry for dinner.
The finished plate

To Plate:
 - Make your mashed potatoes (keep them lumpy), make them like a volcano - you will fill the stroganoff inside the volcano. Add a sprig of parsley and cracked black pepper on top.

To make the stroganoff:
-Buy cubed chuck roast. This is a cheap cut of meat because it is tough if you don't cook it for a long time with moisture.

-Heat together oil & butter (oil for heat resistance, butter for flavor, 2:1 ratio)
-Pat the meat dry with kitchen towels and season with salt/pepper
-Pan sear until you get a nice color.
-Place in a baking pan which has a lid (you'll bake it covered and is very important to keep the moisture inside the pan)
-After removing the meat from the frying pan, use the juices to saute 16oz of sliced portabella mushrooms. Add to meat (add small amount of butter if more liquid is needed). Repeat for 2 large shallots, finely sliced add to meat/mushrooms.
-To the remains in pan, add 1 cup beef broth, 1 T. dijon mustard, 1 T. worchester sauce, 3 T cooking sherry, salt, pepper, and 1 can (undiluted) cream of mushroom soup. Stir and bring to a boil.  Pour over the meat. Put the lid on and place in the over for 2 1/2 hours at 300F.  The meat should be very tender, almost flaky when you cut into it.

I made my meat the day before and left it in the refrigerator overnight and then re-heated to serve. The sauce has a nice rich consistency and creaminess from the mushroom soup and the mushrooms and shallots add depth of flavor and the mushroom really shines through.

The beginning

This is not the beginning.  If you really want to get to the very beginning, you will have to go back to my first memory of baking, with my mom, at age 3.  I remember she let us pull the kitchen chairs up to the counter where she was doing something, anything, and let us help.  That day happened to be pie and with pies come scraps of dough that are perfect for little girls to get their hands full of flour.

But, today is not that day. I have had many more days in between with experiments in recipe following, 4-H fair baking, bakery decorating, food science and engineering testing at Purdue, and tinkering at my day job.  But the fun begins after the 5pm bell blows and I get to come home and create in my kitchen.

I love to cook for others and I want to practice the art of gourmet cooking techniques, especially plating and creating my own ingredients. I wanted a place to share that with others and that is the purpose of my blog. I want you to join me on this experiment as I make good, interesting, not-so-good, and re-purposed food that will hopefully excite and inspire.

Happy cooking,