Saturday, December 20, 2014

Culinary Adventures

It's no secret, I love food.  In fact, I love food so much it's probably the main reason I go to the gym as frequently as I do (that and I'm now addicted to running and Zumba and lifting weights).  I love all kinds of food, from Kraft mac'n'cheese to buttermilk-fried rabbit leg.  Luckily for me, my husband is a huge foodie, too.  Since we've gotten married, we've done a ton of experimenting, with everything from the glorious, unusual mixture of Mexican and Chinese food that is Chino Bandino to eating at an actual Gordon Ramsay restaurant to eating everything our little hometown has to offer, from food trucks to three-course meals.  Yum.  That buttermilk-fried rabbit leg was super delish.

When I was a kid, my mom was busy.  She worked and raised me (with my dad), and so she knew how to make tasty food quickly and easily.  We lived off of baked chickens and spaghetti meals and stir-fries and tacos.  It didn't really change often, but it was comforting and homey and, most importantly, quick.  I didn't really learn to cook to well, though.  Oh, I could make spaghetti and tacos and stir-fries, but it was kind of more of a yes-I-can-feed-myself-in-college-if-I-have-to kind of a thing rather than a I-genuinely-know-what-I'm-doing kind of a thing.

Enter my husband: a man who not only took three to four years' worth of culinary classes, but also had infinite amounts of useless information and actually liked to cook.  Enter my coworkers: Erin and Carrie, two ladies who were gastro-queens, making homemade pestos and running our little school's gastronomy club and making everything look effortless and beautiful.  It took a while, but eventually the examples laid before me began to inspire me.

And now I can't seem to stop.  But I'm okay with that.  Mostly, I've been experimenting with baking.  My husband is the real "cook" of the family, I think.  However, I have learned several excellent things from him that have made my cooking much better.  I shall share.

Thing #1: seasoning.  You think you're over-seasoning; you're not.  Lay it all on there!  Yes, you should basically cover that with spices.  And many of them.  One spice is boring.  Unless it's steak.

Thing #2: how to make a perfect stove-top steak.  Rub with a high smoke-point oil (grapeseed is good; we would use avocado but hubby is allergic to avocado and even though he wants to try it, I refuse because I don't actually want to drive the EpiPen into his leg, even though I've practiced long and hard just in case).  Blot off extra oil with paper towel.  Season (heavily) with salt and pepper.  Put into already hot pan at high temperature.  Sear on each major side if thin cut, each side if thicker until beef is cooked to the right temperature.

Thing #3: what the right temperature of meat is.  Steak is best medium-rare.  I'm not kidding.  When I was a kid, my parents were very concerned about red meat.  Steak at our house was well-done, and whenever I went out to eat that's how I ordered it.  I'm pretty sure the first time my husband ordered medium-rare at a restaurant I literally flipped out, threatening him with mad cow and a hideous, drawn-out prion death.  Then I tried it.  I had no idea steak could be so delicious.  Now, the idea of a well-done steak send shivers down my spine.  The trick if you don't have a meat thermometer: use your hand.  The fleshy part of your thumb, as is, is the same feel as rare.  When you put your thumb and forefinger together and touch it again, it's medium-rare.  Middle and thumb, medium.  Ring and thumb, medium-well, pinky and thumb, well-done.

Thing #4:  ingredients matter -- sometimes.  For example, bacon.  If you want extra good bacon, get extra good bacon.  But, like, sugar?  Skip the overpriced organic kind and just get regular sugar.

But what I've really been enjoying is the baking.  So far, this year, I've made the following, from scratch, for basically the first time:

1.) Cheesecake (bourbon pumpkin and peanut butter chocolate fudge [both pictured below])
2.) Cookies (thumbprint with jam [pic], oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip, M&M, meringue, coconut macaroons, peanut butter, molasses [pic], gingerbread biscotti)
3.) Banana bread (stupid easy, stupid good.  Need more.)
4.) Pie (pecan, chocolate pudding, apple [pic] -- and three different kinds of crust!)
5.) Candy (coffee toffee, peanut brittle, homemade marshmallows)
6.) Cake (blueberry crumble [pic], lemon poppyseed, coffee cake, wedding cupcakes [pic], and some experimentation this weekend, I hope)

Basically all of these have been surprisingly easy and turned out great, which was a big first for me.  And I only started doing this in October, really.  I am so pleased by how easy so much of this was, and I am really starting to get excited for trying new things and pushing the boundaries of my culinary abilities.  (I have also purchased a lot more new equipment, including a new pie tin, a springform pan [favorite!!!], a hand zester/grater, an electric hand mixer, and my new early Christmas present -- a baby food processor that I am completely in love with.)  The best part is that homemade, I think, is always better than store-bought, and I am discovering how easy it is to make meals and snack and everything that is homemade, delicious, and easy.

This weekend, I'm baking for my husband's coworkers, because now I'm on Winter Break and can't slough off my extra baked goods onto my fellow teachers and my upper schoolers.  This weekend I'm making a plain French chocolate cake (, orangettes (, hot cocoa mix (with my new food processor!!!) and dreamy creamy scones (

Let the adventuring continue!