Archive | May 2016

5/15/16

Southern Fried Chicken, Take 2. My first attempt at this was sort of a disaster. In case you haven’t read it, here’s a summary: the entire entry was a complaint about too much salt. In fact, even 1/4 cup of salt, which was the new number I set after that debacle (which contained 1 cup), was too high. My mom advised “a pinch”, but ended up adding more to it. I’m not sure how much it was exactly, but my guess is maybe 1/8 cup?

So how’s it looking today? Okay, again it looks good. I’d apparently added too much hot sauce this time, which is weird because I thought I added a buttload of it last time. In fact, I was positive that the amount I used this time was half of how much I used last time. Although maybe you couldn’t taste it last time because the salt completely overshadowed it.

The mashed potatoes weren’t mashed very well this time, because I took them out too early. I should’ve taken that recipe’s tip seriously: it’s better to overcook than under. It really is. I mean, I suppose it’s still possible to completely mash it when it’s undercooked…it’s just time-consuming and a lot harder. Literally.

I added garlic salt to the potatoes after I mashed them (close enough). Or was it just garlic powder? I think I used garlic powder, but meant to use garlic salt. I learned that those two go well together on a camping trip. We used instant mashed potatoes–the ones that spread out when you just add water. I forgot where the garlic powder came from in the camping world, but it was magnificent.

Anyways, at least the chicken skin was edible this time, and I survived further in the chicken-cutting process than I did last time. Mom still had to finish it off though.

How do you fry chicken without burning it though? The recipe says to wait until it is golden brown, if you don’t have a meat thermometer. If you do, you’re supposed to wait till it gets to 165°F. I just feel like most of the time, I’m just waiting on the thermometer though. Then, I end up slightly burning the other pieces because I’m waiting on the one piece that’s so close to 165°. Advice? Anyone?

Again, Mom made the green beans. I was too focused on the chicken and potatoes.

I got burned this time while frying. It was while I was clearing up the oil for the final batch of chicken (I couldn’t fit all the pieces into one pot). I didn’t see how close my finger got to the rim of the pan and…presto. As if lightning had touched the bone, I let out a silent “ow” and threw my hand back, away from the stove. It wasn’t serious. Like, at all. I just put some aloe on it. The only mark it made was this pink line. My first cooking injury, I suppose? Although it’s not really an injury, is it?

Oh, and apparently, you shouldn’t add water to the oil that you’re boiling while frying. Since water and oil don’t mix well (literally, at all), it’s the water that keeps popping and attacking your skin. I don’t know exactly, but that’s what my mom said. It sort of makes sense. Last time, I didn’t have a big issue with that, but today, I accidentally dropped the tongs so I just rinsed them off with water and then returned to the pot, but she stopped me and said I had to dry it off first. As annoyed as I was, she was right. (Aren’t they always?)

The chicken skin wasn’t quite what you’d see at a restaurant. You can’t peel it off easily, but now that I think about it, I took off the raw fat as I was separating all the pieces. Is that what makes the skin slide off after you cook it? If so, I’ll keep it on next time and maybe I’ll get it right. Third time’s a charm. Hopefully.

But now that I have an idea of how to make fried chicken, I think I can focus now on trying to turn it into the Fried Chicken Dinner from Sweet T’s. It might take a while. Or I may just have to get a job there and simply ask for the recipe. But I’ll get there. It’s on my bucket list.

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5/14/16

I should create a culinary bucket list. They’ll probably start out with simple tasks such as “I want to make the perfect pancakes” or “I would like to successfully crack an egg one-handed”. As I start checking them off, I could always create more challenges for myself and they could get more difficult as I go along.

Seriously though. I was watching the episode of Grey’s Anatomy where Teddy Altman (Kim Raver) advises her cardiothoracic surgical resident Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) to create a bucket list of cardio surgeries she’d like to do. Then, Altman could try her best to find those patients and give them to her.

You probably realize by now that this could also apply to any other career path, not just medicine and cooking. That’s why, if you’re able to, I’d suggest you do the same with whatever you do in life. If we don’t have those goals to push for, we don’t have the motivation to get us there. We’re just…doing work. There’s nothing to build up towards.

Anyways, I actually did cook something today: breakfast. I wanted to make scrambled eggs. Looking at the photo, you can tell I still need help with it, but the recipe I found was called, “Perfect Scrambled Eggs“. Well, I followed the recipe exactly and it still needed more, which got me thinking, How differently are our standards of perfection?

Okay, I may have lied. This image is from the second attempt this morning: the first one really did follow the recipe. This second batch was for my mom and I decided to add the ham later. For this, I figured one slice of the leftover Oscar Mayer ham was enough. It was tough to determine when it was time to scramble though. You can sort of see it’s slightly burnt.

In my personal opinion, these scrambled eggs were bland. I felt like it needed more than just salt. Ketchup? Hot sauce? I don’t know. Just something to give it more flavor.

5/13/16

In celebration of my brother getting into medical school, I made a cheesecake–or rather, my mother suggested it and got the ingredients for me. For the record, he has made it before and it actually did look and taste like an actual cheesecake, which is why I think my mom wanted me to make that specifically. What that also means is that he’d naturally compare mine to his, so there’s that pressure point.

Looking at the recipe, I’m proud to say that I have finally completed a dish that The Food Network itself has claimed “Intermediate”. I’m not quite sure what determines difficulty level. I mean, it’s The Food Network, so obviously they have high standards, which means they know what they’re talking about. Picturing myself going through each step and then actually doing it, I found it to be easier than most of the recipes I’ve done in the past.

Obviously, cheesecake was for dessert. Dinner was nothing special. Just the usual chicken salad. Only this time, instead of strawberries, I added an orange. It wasn’t really by choice though; mostly because we don’t really eat oranges, but the recipe for the cheesecake included orange zest. That’s why my mom told me to buy just one single orange from the store.

So I assume we all know what a classic cheesecake looks like, but here’s an image anyway: Classic Cheesecake Why? I noticed that this particular recipe includes a topping, which I thought was weird because usually, the cheesecake is just the cake part and the crust. In this case, I actually noticed there’s a whiter layer on top, which I thought was part of a typical cheesecake. Why shouldn’t I? It’s literally called “Classic Cheesecake“.

Here’s mine: 

  1. Trying to mix the solids with the butter, I expected it to be more…moist. That’s why I used a mini whisk. Didn’t really work. I ended up just mixing it up with a spoon like I would Korean bowl dishes with rice (i.e. sashimi bowl, a.k.a. my personal favorite).
  2. This is the second time I’ve used the 9-inch springform pan. The first was my mother’s red velvet birthday cake.
  3. Spreading out the graham cracker crust was actually pretty fun. I have no clue why. Just was. I used the same spoon I used to mix, to flatten the crumbly layer.
  4. I baked for 15 minutes and just assumed it was a good shade of golden brown.
  5. You know, when my brother first told me how making the cheesecake was, he mentioned that there was so much cream cheese involved. I’d forgotten, but went ahead with it anyway. Two pounds equals 32 oz. That means four 8-oz. sticks.
  6. I didn’t do as much ingredient prep as I’ve advised to, but it didn’t really matter. The recipe wasn’t time sensitive, so I took my time measuring and adding ingredients.
  7. Still on the mixer step, one thing I forgot to use the scraper to make sure I got all the cream cheese stuck on the sides that the beaters couldn’t reach. I don’t think it was that big a deal though. I realized it sooner than later, so I managed to mix it with the rest of the cheesy “batter”. Looking at it though, I think it was still in clumps, which isn’t very cheesecake-like.
  8. When we first read the step about the boiling water, my mom had never heard of that when making a cheesecake. The recipe she uses didn’t mention it yet she always found that the ones she makes always break apart. We agreed that the boiling water was probably a key factor in keeping it together, but later, it says, “[The topping, I assume] minimizes the risk of the dreaded crack in your cheesecake.” I don’t know, maybe that’s just the outside of the cake instead of the entirety.
  9. That being said, I don’t think the topping was absolutely necessary. Before that, it at least looked perfectly fine. Next time, I’ll skip that step. And besides, the cake had way too much sugar and I think the topping was a factor in that.
  10. Speaking of an excess amount of sugar, according to my mom, you don’t have to substitute sugar if you plan on using less of it. If you want to reduce the amount of sugar, just do it. That being said, I think I’ll cut it down to 75% and see where that goes. Looking at the recipe, I might have to figure out 3/4 of 1 1/4 cups… I don’t math very well, but I think I get fractions: 3/4 times 5/4? Right, since “of” means to multiply? 15/16, which reduces to… Nope, I don’t want to do that. Never mind. I can’t math.
  11. Because I started this entire process at 2PM and my brother arrived at around 8PM, I knew that I wasn’t going to refrigerate it for “at least 8 hours” as the recipe wanted. As expected, when we ate it, it was lukewarm.

Next time, I want to add fruit. My mom went to the store and bought strawberries, blueberries, grapes, different fruits that could work with a cheesecake (I’m questioning the grapes though). I think I’ll go with strawberries next time, just because it’s already a common addition to the dessert. I might need strawberry syrup to go along with it though.

This experience wasn’t too bad. I’d recommend this to a friend (therefore I recommend it to you). As usual, my biggest piece of advice is to always plan ahead. I didn’t get enough of a heads up in order to do this perfectly, but that doesn’t matter. There’s half of that cheesecake left in the fridge and tomorrow, I’m finishing my slice for breakfast. Because I am turning 23 in three days. So I can do whatever I want. Don’t judge. I’m adult.

5/11/16

Our family’s favorite meal is from a place called Sweet T’s. Every time we order takeout, we eat the same thing: Fried Chicken Dinner with mashed potatoes and fried vegetables on the side. Today, I wanted to make exactly that, in case I didn’t have to drive all the way there. (They don’t even get cell reception. I mean, what kind of savages live that way? I’m kidding. Sometimes, it’s good to unplug for a couple hours.)

This is the Fried Chicken Dinner, which is what I tried to replicate. I used Paula Deen’s recipe for Southern Fried Chicken, which was easy to follow. Just not easy to eat, which is sort of the most important step of the meal.

Paula Deen, who- or whatever told you that one cup of salt was good enough for the very first layer of this chicken was DEAD WRONG. That is too much salt, even for all those pieces of chicken, and the smallest chicken I could find weighed double what you said to get. Not only that, but when I added the salt, I didn’t even use an entire cup. I used what was left of the kosher salt we had, which took up about 75% of the measuring cup. As a matter of fact, my parents and I opted to take off the crust and just eat the chicken.

One of the biggest reasons why I even chose this particular recipe was because, not only was it simple to make, but it got five stars with 881 reviews. (Well, by the time I’m through with her, 882 reviews.) I didn’t read through all of them, but almost every single review on the first page had five stars. Every one except the one star that complained about the salt. I suppose I should’ve taken that as a hint, so that’s the biggest lesson I learned tonight: if there are reviews available for the recipe you are using, do your research and READ. THEM. ALL. While you are one person, and your taste buds and opinions differ from everyone else’s, chances are you’ll still find someone who has similar tastes. Find them and then cry together about the horrors of the salty fried chicken. (Just not over the chicken. There’s enough salt as it is.)

As far as those five-star reviewers go, my mom says that they probably knew just by looking at the ingredients that one cup didn’t seem right, so they made the appropriate reductions for a more successful outcome. That’s probably what I should’ve done: once I saw how much salt was in the bowl, I thought, Is she sure this is right? It does seem extreme. Oh well. It’s only one layer of salt. Plus, it’s Paula Deen. She’s famous. Yeah, fame doesn’t matter. I’m never trusting you again, Paula Deen. You use your abundance of salt to shield you from the demons who told you that one cup was a safe amount to coat the first layer of your chicken with. (I’ve been binge-watching Supernatural so when I think of salt, I think “demons”.)

Except that’s all part of cooking, isn’t it? Experimentation? See what works and what doesn’t? As I said in this post, it’s hardly ever going to be perfect the first time you try a recipe. For example, I learned that what doesn’t work is putting that much salt (or faith, apparently) into Paula Deen’s Southern Fried Chicken.

I think I can see where she thought we needed that much salt though: because it’s used to coat the chicken. Except salt isn’t the only part of that mixture. There’s also pepper and garlic powder, so why not just have more of one of those ingredients? I’m going to try adding more garlic powder next time because I didn’t taste any of it, and I’m pretty sure I would’ve rather tasted a little more garlic if it meant having a little less salt.

I suppose now is the time for the usual List of Thoughts during this painfully…briny process:

  1. Mashed potatoes were first because they were easiest, I’d already made them once before, and I could keep them stored in a warm place. I mean…I didn’t…but I could have.
  2. Holy crap, I have to take apart the entire chicken myself? Here’s the guide I used that wasn’t completely helpful to me: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Cut-a-Chicken/
  3. Never mind, got Mommy to help. And she taught me how to use a meat cleaver! Sort of. She took over after I couldn’t quite get it. Guess she was too afraid I’d accidentally chop off a finger. I wanted to use it like a hatchet though, you know? Swinging it from above my head, but then I was too afraid that I’d miss. How do people line that up so perfectly? Just by practicing? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Actually, unless you’re heading into a career of culinary arts…I think practice is all you’ve got time for.
  4. I felt as if setting aside the mixtures of ingredients in separate bowls was easier for some reason. I think it was because it was nice not having to worry about using the entire thing to cook with. Instead, they were set out the way a factory would organize each station: “Quick. 1, 2, 3. Done. 1, 2, 3. Done. Easy.”
  5. “Add enough hot sauce so the egg mixture is bright orange.” I sort of had a problem with this step. Your bright orange is different from my bright orange, Paula. Plus, there are still many different shades of bright orange. Should it be more yellow or orangy? What if I add too much red? Just add another egg? Am I overthinking this? Perhaps. But am I wrong? I hope not.
  6. I initially thought I had a good system going when I was dunking the chicken into each bowl: drop, drown, flip, drown. Then, it became: drop, flip, flip. After that, I just said, “Screw it. Drown the entire piece.”
  7. Stupid question: what is dark meat?
  8. I also looked up tips on how to fry chicken and I found it pretty resourceful: http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/common-mistakes/article/fried-chicken-common-mistakes
  9. Actually frying the stuff, I was surprised didn’t burn me as much as it typically takes me to fry vegetables. Although in the middle of it, there was this huge bomb that detonated at the center of the pan and honestly, I had to pause for a minute because I was in shock.
  10. I was also a little concerned with the skin during the frying process. I know that whenever they are professionally made, they rarely have skin peeling off, and I was wondering how they do that. If they screw it up, do they somehow fix it? You see the one at the top left corner? The skin peeled off just a little a bit from the tongs. Yeah, how would I fix that? Just leave it as is? Use a bandaid? What?
  11. Toward the last half hour of my cooking time, I ended up handing the green bean duties to my mom since I was still dunking the raw meat at that point. It wasn’t a huge deal since she already has her own recipe for making them anyway. I literally just told her to make it her way, which isn’t that far from the one I use (which is technically Rachael Ray’s recipe).

So what have we learned today, class? Don’t trust the chef as much as you think; if you can, rely on the reviewers, because there’s bound to be someone online who shares similar feelings with you. I read the one-star review, which was the only complaint I read, about the salt and I couldn’t help but think, “Dude, I’m with you 100%. I totally get how you feel. How we’re the only ones on the first page of the review results who feel this way, I don’t know, but good for you!”

In case you wanted to see how everything turned out: Of course, it looks better than it tastes. Trust me. But that was dinner. Although he hated how salty it was, I think my dad ate the most chicken. Then again, it probably seemed that way because he fed it to the dogs too. His, anyway. (That’s why that Chihuahua so fat, but I have more self-control. And like Joey Tribbiani says, “Joey doesn’t share food!” Except it’s my name obviously, not “Joey”.)

I’m going to try this again, but with 1/4 cup of salt. Instead, I’ll use more garlic powder in the house seasoning. See where that gets me.

And as I was making the mashed potatoes, I couldn’t help but think of the “Mother’s Day” episode of Blue Bloods. Obviously, that’s one of my biggest TV obsessions–and you, Jamie Reagan (Will Estes), are not helping–as of October 21st. (Yes, I memorized the date because what attracted me first was Will’s birthday shared with my Broadway husband, Aaron Tveit.)

Anyways, I think of that one dinner scene because the niece, Nicky, got to make “the world-famous Frank Reagan Mother’s Day Mash. I don’t know, I just liked that she got to help out with Mother’s Day dinner, I guess. Oh, how do I remember this episode? I may have bought it on iTunes because of the fight that Jamie gets into with his older brother…

5/9/16

Writing this amateur chef’s blog, you can probably tell it’s similar to the film based on a true story, “Julie & Julia”. Although it has been out for seven years now, I can tell you the premise to save you from researching yourself: a woman who makes a living off of talking to survivors or family members of those lost on 9/11 in her cubicle leans toward cooking for the sake of her blog, which she started to maintain her sanity. Her goal is to go through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days, just so she can finish something important in her life. If you’ve seen this film, you probably understand the similarities between this woman and myself, only I’m not setting any limits to myself. I’m just making what I want, when I want.

Well today, I finally made something by Julia Child. Sort of. I still think I did it wrong. See for yourself: 

It’s just the sauce, but how does it look? I used a fruit blender instead of a food processor and, somehow I think that’s why it looked like a smoothie…or is it supposed to look like that? The texture didn’t worry me so much as the color. It was so…pink…like watermelon smoothie. Well, because of this, I was especially irritated yesterday while making dinner. I just felt like nothing was going right, so while the sauce simmered for an hour, I went to the grocery store to buy backup sauce, but I obviously didn’t end up using it.

The spaghetti is a separate recipe and that didn’t go so perfectly either. I think it was stress, which is weird because I’ve made spaghetti before. Not these exact recipes, but they’re not too different from what I’ve worked with. There’s not much that you can do to spaghetti to ruin it. Except leave it undercooked. The recipe said to stop boiling when the noodles are almost ready, but not quite (still chalky in the middle). I figured, we’ll just go along with that since it’ll still cook with the oil. I tried. I really did. In fact, the highlight of this whole experience was using a pair of tongs to mix the noodles. I think of it as flipping them so the oil and vegetables could imbed themselves into the spaghetti.

This dish was supposed to go with artichokes, which my parents really want me to make because they want to learn how to eat it? I was too frustrated just by the pasta, so I’m like, “No. Artichokes aren’t happening tonight. Deal with it.”

The sauce was also the first time I’d used a “bouquet” of greens. It was supposed to stay in the pot with the sauce so I guess it was supposed to be a like filter or a teabag. Just add all the vegetables into the filter and tie up both ends and just…throw it in?

Instead of orange peel, I went with lemon zest.

By the end, it just wasn’t right. I don’t know what it was, but there were a lot of things off with it. Maybe I’ll try again when I gain more experience. I guess I just wasn’t ready for you, Julia.

5/7/16

PANCAAAAAAAKES!!!!!

I’d already made them before in home ec, back in middle school, but I didn’t think it’d be that…oh, what’s a better word for “intermediate”? HARD! I mean, they’re easy, but once you start cooking, that’s when crap goes down. I remembered that when the bubbles form on top of the batter while the first side is cooking, it means it’s ready to flip, but instead, the outside bubbled and by the time that happened, the edges were already slightly burned. I had to go against everything I had previously learned and make do with what I had to do.

As far as substitutions go, I didn’t do much except use cinnamon instead of nutmeg. I don’t know why, but when I see the word “nutmeg”, I see “cinnamon”. I figured, Hey, why not substitute it then? I still don’t know what nutmeg is for sure, but if it’s anything like cinnamon, yum… Cinnamon pancakes? Heavenly.

Also, the ingredients specifically say that the eggs and milk have to be “at room temperature”. Why does that matter? Is it bad if it’s cold? Is it some chemical thing?

 

5/6/16

So there’s a culinary institute here and, based on what the students and alumni say, it’s a decent school and the job prospects afterwards are really good. That’s why I’m going to try to get into that school (although it’s a community college so there’s not really much to be unqualified for–I graduated from a university). While doing some more background research on this school, I saw that they had posted several recipes. I don’t know if they are originals or variations, but they say that those dishes are the ones that show up during class from time to time.

Naturally, I decided to try one, because might as well see what I’m up against, and get a head start on some of the lessons. I went through all of the recipes and decided that the Cheese-Stuffed Chicken Breasts were the easiest to start with. By “easiest”, I mean with the simplest ingredients to access and manageable instructions to work with.

I learned something valuable that probably ruined my risotto, since it was so full of greens: fresh parsley is NOT the same as dried parsley. The mistake wasn’t even thinking that I could substitute it because cooking it would somehow make it fresher because that’s totally the opposite of dried, as we’ve all learned in kindergarten; my thought process included the fact that it was still parsley. That’s it.

Okay, time to list my thoughts while making this actually-pretty-decent dish:

  1. Why are there so many greens involved in cooking? What’s “marjoram”? Does anyone else think of Harry Potter’s Aunt Marge when they read that?
  2. I don’t know what they mean by “flatten chicken breasts”. I mean, I do, but with what? A meat hammer? I just used my fingers to spread it out.
  3. It doesn’t say to do this, but I had to slice down the long side of each breast in order to fit the butter mixture and cheese. Just hoped that I wouldn’t actually cut through the poor thing. (I felt like a surgeon, being a Grey’s Anatomy fan and whatnot.) But no: the other side was still very much intact.
  4. Also, I wasn’t completely sure what they meant by “cut cheese into 1/2 oz. strips”. I mean, how do you weigh a slice of cheese? So instead, I cut the square slices in half and rolled those up.
  5. I thought it was going to be a struggle to keep the cheese inside the folds, especially with the butter, but it was actually sort of fun. I just made sure to keep the stuffed side down when I was done with them, hoping that gravity wouldn’t go against me and let the butter bleed through. I actually considered using pins, but I didn’t think I had something small enough to use on them. We have long wooden pins, but those are for measuring bread to see if they’ve been baked through.
  6. How do you administer bread crumbs evenly around a piece of raw meat? The beginning was fine. But as I kept going, it got harder to avoid clumps, even as I washed my hands between each piece.
  7. Okay, so the recipe specifically says to bake for 30 minutes, basting occasionally. What I did was bake for ten minutes, three times, so I could baste in-between. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s why this took so damn long to make. My parents got a bit impatient so they wanted a salad appetizer first, which I made during these ten-minute increments. Fortunately, I’m getting much better at salads, so staring at the recipe didn’t hold me back; it’s just picking ingredients and chopping.
  8. And, uh…I don’t know–is this normal? Comment if you see it. Just for fun.
  9. I had to cut all the ingredients in half, but ended up having to create another batch of the butter mixture. It didn’t take much to make it. I mean, it was just butter and wine (I didn’t add the extra greens). I didn’t use a measuring cup this time, because it was the rest of the wine, so I figured, whatever. It’s just for basting.

Ladies and gents, the final product:

I thought the chicken was lonely so decided to add white rice. It’s weird, right? But I’m still trying to learn the ropes in this adventure, so bear with me here.

Before I officially sign off, something hilarious happened at dinner: my dad thought his chicken was defective and that I’d forgotten that cheese center. He was more than halfway through the chicken breast and he still didn’t cross paths with the cheese. I absolutely knew that I put cheese in all three pieces, so it was there. Then, he gave me one last chance: “Okay, I’m about to cut off another piece. If this one doesn’t have any cheese, I’m done eating it. Got it?”

I said go ahead and as soon as he cuts it off, guess what we find at the center of that piece. It was like a Cinnabon that aliens had abducted and conducted shrinking experiments on! So adorable! 

I mean, look at it! Okay, it doesn’t look like a Cinnabon, but his did.

Anyways, give this recipe a shot, but make sure you find some sides that go along with it. Salads, fried vegetables, mashed potatoes, whatever you want.