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It has begun…

by Shawnda on July 19, 2007

in Uncategorized

dscn0515a.jpg

The beginning of the end.

Our craptastic 1970’s galley kitchen is on its way out. We really did try to make it work. As you can see, we scraped off 30+ years of paint and attempted to refinish the cabinet doors. She truly was a lost cause.

Repeating to myself, “The drywall dust everywhere is worth it. It’s worth it…”

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RIP, Dear Oven

by Shawnda on July 6, 2007

in Uncategorized

In the two years that we’ve known each other, you’ve been one of the most consistent products that I’ve ever owned. Consistently inconsistent.

How you selected which dishes that you would treat as an offered-sacrifice and which dishes that you’d allow me to present to my family and friends without shame, I may never know. The first time I roasted a chicken, you pulled your weight and impressed the fam. When I got the insane idea that I’d cater our own wedding reception, you came through without fail and made me look like Super Woman.

But seriously. I am still wondering – How. The. HECK did you set that loaf of french bread on fire at 350 degrees after only 10 minutes?!

The irony of this week’s disaster was not lost – chocolate chip cookies were the first confections baked in your oven and also were the last. Perfect symmetry. It really was too bad that you chose to send that last batch to an air-hole filled rubbery grave. That one still stings a little – did you know that I used the last of the sugar to make that batch? There are no re-do’s when it’s 2:30am and all of the area grocery stores are closed.

I used to think how much you would be missed during that almost-mythical two month stretch of remodeling that we’ve been discussing since we moved in two years ago. That was until you forced me to rebake my peach layer cake in a toaster oven, One. Pan. At. A. Time.

But I do thank you for forcing our hand a bit. It’s funny how quickly all those big decisions can be made – the flooring, cabinets and butcher block counter tops have been selected. And so has your replacement. So I guess I owe you a half-thanks for your two years of half-service :P

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On the level

by Shawnda on May 15, 2007

in Uncategorized

Wilton Bake Even Strips

I thought I’d pass along a rave review for a new product that my mom gave me a few weeks ago:

One of the tastiest parts about baking at home is eating the leftovers created from leveling a cake. Warm, moist – and who’s gonna notice a couple of spoonfuls of frosting missing from the stand mixer bowl?

When you’re baking for profit, that leftover cake that you look forward to is suddenly a waste – and there’s just too much to justify nibbling on for a snack. Cake truffles are an excellent way to put to use left-over cake created from leveling but how about not having to waste so much to begin with?

Baking a cake in my oven at home is very different than the days of baking in the commercial convection ovens in my parents’ bakery. I’ve always blamed my oven for cooking the edges of the cake too quickly and causing the center to rise into the shape of the Astrodome. I knew wasn’t the pans or the distribution of the batter – it had to be the oven. The only thing I could do was score a nifty little cake-leveler from Mom and deal with it – then she gave me a tool to prevent the problem rather than just treat it: Wilton Bake Even Strips.

Mom saw the Bake Even Strips in a local craft store and picked up a couple of the packages since they were on sale. You wet the strips, wrap them around your cake pan, and then bake your cake. The wet strips are supposed to prevent “Astrodome Syndrome” by protecting the edges of the cake from the heat longer, resulting in an evenly-baked and, therefore, more level cake. I was skeptical, certain that the only thing that would solve my problem was a fancy new oven. I gave the baking strips a whirl when I made Dulce de Choco-leche Cake for Mother’s Day and boy, was I surprised! The cakes were level – smooth, flat, even. Darn-near perfect.

I didn’t have my camera handy at the time (shame on me!) but I whipped up another two-layer cake for the freezer and baked one pan “naked” and the other with the Bake Even strip (I have the small strips which fit 8-9 inch cake pans). I answered the phone while spooning out the batter and couldn’t remember which pan got the last scoop. I was too lazy to pull the scale out of the cabinet 4 feet away so I guessed – and guess wrong. The cake on the left actually has 1/2 cup more batter than the Astrodome cake. Ooops – totally not the point, though :)

If you have a decent oven you probably won’t even think twice about this gadget. But if you’re oven is like mine and refuses to play nice when it comes to baking cakes (and your husband won’t let you drop $3000+ on a Blodgett), they’re a cheap ($8) and nifty way to alleviate some frustration.

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Voodoo Kitchen

by Shawnda on February 1, 2007

in Uncategorized

Voodoo Chef
If cooking is a game, I lost last night. And I don’t mean a close game against a good team where the last team with the ball wins – I mean an all-out trouncing by a D2 school.

I swear, someone must have been sticking straight pins into a Foodie Bride-shaped Voodoo doll this evening. My kitchen could have been temporarily cursed or perhaps invaded by a ghost. I was a dead-ringer for that little girl in Poltergeist in my second or third grade school picture… maybe “they” are here!

I made ricotta cheese that turned out, well, not as great as it did last time. It was a little dry – not that big a deal because I could hide the dryness with the egg in the ravioli filling. The second batch of browned sage butter sauce turned out great. The second batch. I turned my back on the browned sage butter sauce for only a minute – I swear! When I turned back around, I had a saucier full of liquid charcoal. We have a smoker!

My sweet, sour & spicy carrots? Blech. I mixed some OJ, brown sugar, a splash of red wine vinegar and 1/4-1/2 tsp of Chinese hot mustard and poured it into a small roaster with carrots. The liquid evaporated before the carrots cooked though. I tasted it half way through cooking and the sauce was nicely flavored, I guess there just wasn’t enough of it. And then there was dessert.

Desserts are problematic enough for newlyweds as it is. No one makes a “Dessert for Two” cookbook that I know of. Baked goods don’t scale down easily – you can’t just cut a recipe in half and expect the leavening to be correct. You also can’t just bake an entire cake for only two people – it sits around for a week begging to be consumed. I work out of my home office quite a bit and I can hear the brownie sirens singing their sweet chocolate song to me even when I’m upstairs working. It’s almost a sin to throw away dessert so I keep a log of homemade chocolate chip cookie dough (minus the chocolate chips) in the freezer. I slice four 1/4-inch slices of dough from the log and set the pieces on a silpat mat while I make dinner.

After dinner, we mix in whatever we’re in the mood for into the dough (I keep dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and butterscotch chips, as well as walnuts and pecans on hand). We form the dough into balls, put them into the fridge for 10-15 minutes, and then bake ‘em up. Tonight, they baked flatter than anything I’ve ever seen before – think little chocolate chip crepes rather than cookies.

I’m actually glad Voodoo Kitchen happened on a Wednesday. I usually don’t cook on Thursday nights since Thursdays are basketball league nights. I’ll have a couple days to console my ego before I walk back in there again. Perhaps I’ll console my ego with a nice big bowl of La Madeleine’s Tomato Basil Soup while we watch Tivo’ed Gray’s Anatomy.

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