A burned thumb, smoke alarm, and a broken blind

And now, welcome to my adventures in apartment cookery. This is the beginning of what is shaping up to be an interesting start to my life living alone and to my first year living alone in my own apartment.

I’m prefacing this story thusly: The first time that I cooked a true meal in my apartment was last week. Although it’s my first experience using an electric stove, all proceeded with little incident. The rice was well cooked and didn’t stick to the bottom of the dutch oven, the chicken wings that I made were cooked through and browned well after a shot under the broiler, and the Sriracha glaze… let me tell you. The Sriracha glaze was perfect. The most I had to worry about was cleaning the sheet tray used to bake the wings, and wiping the glaze off the refrigerator that had splatter while it was being made.

This time, however, was altogether different. I wonder if it went down like this because I was tired… but let me tell you. It was the perfect apartment cookery disaster. Luckily, there was no fire and the food didn’t burn, but let’s recount this incident, shall we?

  • the rice ended up sticking to the bottom of the dutch oven. Not the biggest deal, but it’s annoying.
  • While trying to check on the chicken, I burned my thumb WHILE USING OVEN MITTS, and dropped the tray! Thankfully, the chicken stayed on. In fact, it stayed on a little too well as I had forgotten to oil the tray so it wouldn’t stick as much.
  • I go to make the sauce… and bullocks! I’ve forgotten the soy sauce at my mom’s house. Part of me wanted to go get it, but I stayed. I thought I could recover it… ha! I should’ve gotten the soy sauce.
  • the fire alarm goes off. I frantically drop all that is in my hands, and try desperately to shut it off, as I am cooking at almost 10pm on a Wednesday. In a caveman-like rage, I rip it from the wall and leave it dangling mercilessly.
  • I try to check on the chicken, and it goes off again! I don’t know what I did this time, but it goes off completely. I run to the sliding door that goes to the balcony (which really took all of 3 steps), fight the blinds, and open the door completely. Blessed silence.

In the aftermath of the incident, my thumb is under cool running water to try to stop the tingling sensation. A pot holder is somehow on the floor next to the door, where the fire alarm is located. The spatula that I used for the chicken was tossed onto a pile of something on the floor, and yet another pot holder was in the middle of my bedroom/living room. Although the food didn’t burn, that sauce that I mentioned earlier looked more like a chunky tomato sauce than the glaze I made last week… and it didn’t get on all of the pieces of chicken!

Admitting defeat, I take my plate of food and sit on the floor on my “picnic blanket”. It was then that I noticed something long and white lying across the floor. In my frenzy, I had knocked off one of the long blinds. *sigh* Why me?

I sit and try to eat with my non-dominant hand since the thumb that I burned is, of course, on the dominant hand. I’ve stuck it into a measuring cup with ice water as I eat, hoping that it will stop tingling. I hate that sensation.

Maybe one day, I’ll be a capable adult. Or have the sense to get a frozen pizza next time…

In Want Of A Burner

Let’s be real for a moment. Can we take a moment to be honest for a second?

Jetsetting is fun!

Granted, I do it for work, and I mostly explore the East Coast (and a bit of Canada) because I work regional flights… but it’s the most fun I’ve ever had on a job. I literally have a mobile office! I can be in Detroit in the morning, and in Huntsville, Alabama by evening. In a span of 2-3 hours, I can go to Rhode Island and come right back. AND… if I’m fortunate enough to have time in any of the locales that I visit, I get to explore the area and do my favourite thing: find good places to eat!

This is the life, right? RIGHT?

Well……

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to be land-locked any time soon! It’s just that one thing that gets old for me is eating out. Besides, my stomach doesn’t handle eating out well. The night before Easter and about this time last week, my stomach had been irritated, and I was back and forth between my room and the bathroom for HOURS (I’ll spare you the details. All I’ll say is “both ends”. It wasn’t a good time and I didn’t sleep). I was afraid it was my gall bladder because of how close together the incidents were. Thankfully, according to the doctor, it was not.

Plus, eating out all the time gets to be expensive. Although I do like to eat out at times, it’s mostly to give me inspiration for what I really like to do: cook!

In a hotel, there is precious little that can be heated in a microwave, and even some of your options are limited to what can last 9 hours in a lunch bag without any real refrigeration. Unless you’re going to one special place in a certain location, eating out loses its novelty. I find myself longing for ingredients and a burner over which to combine them and make something delicious.

I know I’ve had this gig for 6 months, but I’m still trying to figure out what to bring when I go away. Nuts, tea, protein bars, instant oatmeal (kind of depressing, but it works in a pinch), sometimes fruit that won’t bruise easily, and the occasional cup of ramen when money is tight seems to be the pattern. It sustains you through a 4-day stretch away from home… and if you’re lucky enough to be near a fast food place, you can grab a quick sandwich to supplement any residual hunger.

The days off have been happy times; the cast iron skillet hits the hob, and I turn the knob for that familiar clicking of the pilot that lights itself. It’s not to say that good meals are scarce on the road, but there’s nothing like cooking for yourself, and assembling things in exactly the fashion that pleases you. Things got so deep at one point that I even missed salad. Yes, salad. It was that serious.

My schedule says I’ll be home tonight, but since I have 3 more on-call days, who knows? I look forward to the next time I can round up some ingredients and enjoy something Rachel-made.

A life-update post is soon to come. A LOT has been going on and is about to happen soon.

Ciao friends!

Empanadas, Not Enchiladas!

This post is brought to you by lard, which was purchased for me by Tina, a woman that I work with. Thank you Tina for introducing me to lard. We’ll see how my thighs and gut thank you later. (ha, j/k. sort of.)

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I confess, this lard sat in my house for a WHILE. I was unusually tired, so I did very little that involved standing after work, unless it involved getting a shower. Admittedly, I was reluctant to do even that. Needless to say, there was no cooking done by me at the house.

One day, however, I decided to get myself together and make these empanadas. It seemed that whenever I told people I was making these, they would say “Oh! Enchiladas!” “Um, no…” I would reply. Enchiladas are more like a Mexican manicotti. It’s not that enchiladas involve pasta, but they’re constructed like the Italian counterpart. Empanadas are more like a miniature turnover. Before baking, they resemble pierogies. We’ll get to that later, though.

The beauty of empanadas is that you can stuff them with whatever you wish! I used a basic recipe from Food Network, but I stuffed only 1/2 of the empanadas with beef, like the recipe suggests. I stuffed the latter half with mushrooms, though. I rarely eat mushrooms simply because I’m the only one at home that likes them; however, I made an exception since this was my experiment.

Editor’s Note: The recipe suggests using a 3″ round cutter to make your empanadas. If you’re like me and don’t have one, or couldn’t find one at the store, use a cup as your cutter. I used a small tea cup that measure 3″ across.

When I’m making something, I will oftentimes “start” it so that I commit myself to finishing. Late one night, I made the dough, which was easy to do. The recipe calls for lard and butter in the dough, so do not consume if you’re dieting. You could use all lard if desired, but I used both lard and butter. Just a note: I could see the fat streaked in the dough. It was my first time using lard for something other than frying. Needless to say, I was shocked!

About 3 days hence, I now had all my ingredients, and was ready to throw down!

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Rolling out my dough was easy enough, but putting in the right amount of filling was a little tricky. I was using a spoon, but I wanted to be greedy generous as possible with the amount that I put in the little round shells. I ended up with extra filling towards the end for both the beef and the mushrooms! I may make them into a savory tart or a larger turnover. Hey, it was delicious!

My final verdict on this recipe? There were some ingredients–mainly the almonds, cinnamon and raisins–that I thought were a little strange to put in. I thought it may turn out sweeter than I wanted. However, with the savory flavors added by the cumin, beef and mushrooms, and the heat from the serrano chiles, it wasn’t at all sweet. It lent more complexity to the filling. I was also a fan of the almonds in this; they gave this something rough and crunchy in the midst of the soft filling.

Although I did follow a recipe, I’m glad I chose that one out of all of the recipes I looked at. I’ll definitely use this again and play around with my fillings and spices. I’m also going to note that I didn’t measure out the few spices that were in this dish. I felt no need to do so. There are measurements, but I did it to taste. The amounts I used were mostly likely equivalent to the amounts in the recipe.

If you desire something substantial, these won’t stick unless you eat quite a few! If you want something that will fill you up, I have 2 suggestions:

1. Make them bigger than the recipe.

2. Eat them alongside rice or a salad. They would compliment a salad well.

Have fun with your empanadas! If you have leftovers, don’t despair; they can easily be frozen until you’re ready to enjoy more (and I know you will be!)

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By the way… if you’re thinking of taking lard out of the recipe, I’m here to be your voice of reason: DON’T DO IT! If you’ve never used lard to make a dough, here’s some info on that:

1. I don’t know what I was thinking, but lard doesn’t smell pork-y at all. In fact, it doesn’t smell like much of anything.

2. It makes a crust so flaky that you can visibly see the layers, even if you have 4 eyes, like me.

3. Said crust dissolves in your mouth when you eat it. It’s also crisp.

My final word on the subject? Add butter if you so wish, but do not take away the lard!

Cooking Fails

Well, let’s start the year with some cooking fails, shall we?

I know when I usually talk about the things that I cook, I’m usually talking about something delicious that I’ve made in the past, or I’m referring to a particularly delicious  meal. However, let’s just go on with some things that I’ve flubbed up, since that seems to be the theme of my week in cooking. It’s sad, but true. Even the best cooks mess it up sometimes.

Let’s start with the yogurt made with plant-based milk.

I have a yogurt maker that I haven’t used for a while, and I’ve been long toying with the idea of making a yogurt with coconut milk. The idea came to me at Trader Joe’s one day quite some time ago when I saw the cans of coconut milk on display. Well, when I paid a visit to Mom’s Organic Market in Bryn Mawr, I saw that they had yogurt starter culture, which I was unable to find at the natural/organic market closer to my house. I was very excited to see this! After having a morning that was particularly bad, I felt that a food experiment was in order. I grabbed some starter culture, and the requisite amount of milk.

I didn’t attempt to make the yogurt until Tuesday or Wednesday, however. I heated up the milk, waited until it cooled to the right temperature, then put in the starter culture. After I had felt that it adequately dissolved, it was distributed into the glass jars and placed in the yogurt maker overnight.

When I woke up in the morning and checked the yogurt maker, what I discovered was a far cry from the yogurt I expected. What greeted me looked more like the inside of a snow globe. “Maybe it needs more time”, I thought to myself. I set 6 more hours on the yogurt maker, and went to work. I came home, and it still didn’t turn out. I ended up wasting 5 c. of coconut milk and a package of starter culture. I think I know what happened and how to fix it next time, but it was still most disappointing.

Let’s also make mention of the unenjoyable grilled cheese from last night, and the hot chocolate that made me choke this morning. The only bit of encouragement I got was that my whipped cream game has improved.  I made whipped cream for the hot chocolate, and it was much sweeter and more firm compared to the last time I made it. Powdered sugar is much better for whipped cream than the granulated. Just a suggestion.

Although I had a couple of fails, I’m in no way fazed by this. I think my first mistake was trying to do at least 2 of these things while I was tired and incapable of thinking clearly. I think just not having worked with these things was also part of the problem. Whatever the reason, here’s hoping that this will not mean that I’ve lost my touch in any way, and will define my forays in the kitchen for the remainder of the year.

Happy New Year to me.

The One Man Show For a Mulit-Part Stew

Here’s a story, a grudge match for the ages that went down in cooking school. This is a stew that I had been yearning to make since I first heard of it in French class. When I had the opportunity in my hands-on class to make it, I jumped at it.

The contender: Rachel, a 20-year-old cooking student (at the time).

The reigning champion: Pot-au-feu.

Now for those of you that have never made pot-au-feu, it has MANY parts! There is a roast chicken (or turkey) involved, horseradish root that is cut down, then there are a million different vegetables that are cooked to go into it, AND the actual broth itself.

The class had an odd number of students, so I took on this challenge myself. I desired to make it, so I had at it.

While people were going so smoothly though the different phases of their soups, I was wondering the whole time what I had gotten myself into. It was taking forever for the bird to be done, I had to start on the other vegetables, and I had never cut horseradish root before! It felt like I was drowning in broth and diced vegetables, and the whole time, I was wondering what could be wrong with me. Yet, I still persisted. I wanted to make this.

Meanwhile, people were getting to the presentation portion, and I barely had everything cooked. I was nowhere near ready to plate a thing! My chef looked over, and I felt the pain in my chest. This chef was one of my hardest. “What are you doing? Tell somebody if you need help!” He immediately sent one of the other students to help me finish and plate everything.

I walked sheepishly into the presentation room with someone else carrying my platter. It didn’t look half bad, actually. Everything was laid out on a big platter with the broth in the middle. The breast of the chicken had been sliced, and the rest of the parts were part of the presentation as well. Even though I had worked my butt off, I did a walk of shame into that room because I was the last one in there. I wanted so hard for it to be done right… yet, I felt like I had failed.

Then, the most remarkable words snapped me out of my self-pity.

My chef, who was known to be tough, said in front of the class: “I have to commend Rachel. She picked the hardest of the soups to do, and did it all by herself.” He even made the class clap for me. I don’t remember whether he clapped or not, but he sure did nod his head my way.

I walked a little taller that day, knowing that I had taken on a big challenge and conquered it. Moreover, someone whose opinion I respected at that time, took note of my tenacious move. It didn’t feel that way at the time, but I’ve always been a sucker for a challenge.

After all that, I don’t remember what it tasted like! I can tell you this, though; working for it and being recognized for that effort made it taste like victory.

Life is too short…

to eat bad food!

Ha! You knew I was coming out with this! Even if you didn’t, now you do.

It’s not just about bad food, really. The thought behind it is that life is too short to eat things that aren’t worth eating. If it doesn’t have real ingredients, isn’t to your standard, or you simply don’t feel like eating it, why bother?

Are you doing it to say you ate? What happened to actually enjoying food?

I like thinking about eating this way: The FDA recommends that I get in a certain amount of calories a day. If I’m only allotted so many calories a day, why would I waste those calories on stuff that is sub-standard or that I don’t feel like eating?

Now this is where I add my caveat: Just because Miss Rachel said that you should eat what you want doesn’t mean that you should go consuming buttloads of butter and sodium or fat-laden foods, then wash it all down with 1/5 of whiskey. That will catch up with you, and that’s no good. I’m merely suggesting that you be more selective. (End Caveat)

If you like sweets, eat the good stuff when you do indulge. If ice cream is your thing, don’t let me hear about you eating that non-fat stuff with artificial sweetener in it. That is NOT a treat! If you’ve been behaving, eat your fat! You know it tastes better than that other mess! Plus, if you get it at an ice cream store, the person behind the counter will thank you for not asking for that. If you do ask for it, I hope you know how to duck because they may throw the scoop at you. I had such a job and I’ve tried scooping that stuff. It’s pure evil, I tell you! EEEEVILL!!!!!

Keep it healthy, but if you don’t like salad, there are other healthy options. You’re not stuck in just eating one or two things for the sake of being healthy. There are things that one can eat that won’t kill you, yet are actually enjoyable to eat (shocking, I know!).

I’m a very moody cook/eater, so I love mixing things up. If I’m not eating something that I want to eat, sometimes I won’t eat altogether. I know that’s horribly picky of me, but it’s true. I once lost weight like that. At least I can say that I ate what I wanted, even if I’m a few pounds lighter for it.

We are always encouraged to be frugal with money, so why not do the same with calories? Spend ’em on what you think is worth it! Even if it’s 2 calories, if you don’t want to eat it, don’t bother! Find out what you really want, and go for it… within reason, of course.

Get the best ingredients that you can afford, eat well, and never say no to ice cream or bacon (unless you’re willing to take a jog around the town afterwards).