Fun Friday

What if Batman and Robin had their own cooking show?

Applegeeks Lite

Applegeeks Lite

Chopsticks

Chopsticks are an interesting and versatile utensil that have always been a part of my life. I actually find it easier to eat spaghetti out of a bowl with chopsticks, than on a plate with a fork and spoon.

And they aren’t just for eating either; there’s many a time when I’ve used them for cooking. Long chopsticks make a great stirring utensil for tall stockpots or stir frying. I’ve used chopsticks to pop items out of tiny jars, in replace of tongs, and even for draining pasta directly from a pot.

There are many kinds of chopsticks – Japanese have pointy ones, Chinese have ones with blunt ends, Korean-style chopsticks are metal and flat. I hate the sound of any kind of metal rubbing together, so eating at Korean restaurants are usually a careful experience for me.

I’ve been asked before how you eat rice with chopsticks. Well, in some cultures, the rice is stickier so that you can easily pick it up in clumps with your chopsticks. In the Chinese culture, you pick up your bowl, bring it close to your mouth, and use your chopsticks to shovel the rice. This is perfectly reasonable in Chinese settings, but in other cultures it is considered rude. There are actually quite a few universal etiquette rules as well, along with the culture-specific ones.

Children are taught how to use chopsticks at a young age. Nowadays you can buy fancy schmancy kid-sized chopsticks that are connected at the top like these easy training chopsticks or these Hello Kitty chopsticks that come with finger loops (fyi – those two are affiliate links, just trying something out and if I don’t like it I will remove).

But when I was growing up, we did it the old fashioned way, using only a pair of short chopsticks (take-out chopsticks are usually the right length), a rubber band, and a piece of paper.

To be honest, I never could hold the chopsticks in the absolute correct position and at some point my parents gave up and just let me use this modified grip I adopted. I can actually use the correct form now but it takes me forever to eat that way, so I usually don’t bother.

As to how to wash them, my mom taught me this little trick as I got a little older and started helping out with the housework. Soap ’em up with your sponge – individually if they have food caked on them but you could also do a few at a time if there’s no debris. Then, under running water, gather a bunch of them in your hand (I would say no more than 6-8 chopsticks as it gets more difficult to handle when you add more than that). Holding the bundle in one hand, bring your palms together under the water with the chopsticks pointed in a vertical direction, and rub your palms together while being careful not to drop any of the chopsticks. The chopsticks will rub together and make a clattering sound while the soap is rinsed off. Easy peasy.

Berry cobbler

Berry cobbler

Berry cobbler

I was invited to a BBQ a couple of weeks ago and decided to bring a dessert. Unfortunately I only had a short time to pull something together, so some of my normal desserts were out due to lack of time or missing ingredients. I did have a bag of frozen berries sitting in my freezer, however, and so I hopped on the Internet and found a fairly simple berry cobbler recipe. The original recipe can be found on Cooks.com; however I made a few adjustments.

Berry cobbler

3 c. mixed berries, frozen or fresh
1 c. all-purpose (whole wheat) flour
1 c. sugar
1 egg, beaten
5 tbsp. butter or margarine, melted

Pour berries into 8 x 8 x 2 inch pan. If you wish for a sweeter cobbler, sprinkle with a small amount of sugar and mix. Don’t put too much as the fruit will be sweet already. My berries were frozen, so I put the pan in the oven while the oven warmed up.

Stir flour, sugar and egg mixture; it will resemble coarse meal. Sprinkle in chunks over berries. Drizzle melted butter over top of cobbler. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 -40 minutes until the topping becomes golden and the berry mixture bubbles.

This tastes best when hot, and goes well with ice cream.

Creating your own salad dressing

Last night, I decided to make my own salad dressing for the first time, instead of using one out of a bottle. I’ve seen salad dressings being made on cooking shows all the time, and I knew it wasn’t hard to do.

Before I started I did a quick Google search for recipes, but nothing really caught my fancy. I had quite a few of the ingredients that the various recipes said I would need for a salad dressing, and a number of vinegars to choose from. Should I use balsamic? Red wine vinegar? Mustard? Do I want something creamy or a light vinagarette?

The salad leaves I would be using had a bit of flavour on their own, so I decided that I needed something with a strong taste of it’s own. Except for Caesar salads, I generally don’t use cream dressings anymore.

The Brûlée Blog’s Honey Mustard Vinagrette

2 teaspoons whole grain dijon mustard
2 teaspoons liquid honey
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
one part apple cider vinegar
one part extra virgin olive oil

Mix throughly, adding the oil gradually as the last step. This makes a strong mustard tasting vinagarette, so you may want to adjust the amount of mustard depending on your personal tastes. I added the amount of vinegar and oil until the dressing became the consistency that I wanted. I ended up with enough dressing for 3-4 large servings of salad.

I’ve seen similar recipes with pressed garlic and/or sugar added to the dressing, but I didn’t think it needed either of those at all.

Foodie TV

One of the main reasons why I have cable TV is so that I can watch my food shows. Looking back, I actually began watching cooking shows way before I could even boil water. The two earliest shows in my memory are of Martin Yan on Yan Can Cook and of James Barber, The Urban Peasant, who sadly passed away this past December.

Nowadays, I watch a variety of cooking, entertainment, and informative food shows. Some will actually teach you something, and some are just for mindless entertainment. Here’s a list of what I currently like:

  • Top Chef – Fun, but you still learn about food and see innovative cooking. One of my favourite shows.
  • Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares – The UK version only, please. Here you see a softer, thoughtful and smart side of Gordon Ramsay as opposed to the screaming demon that Fox wants you to see. I can’t stand the US version.
  • Hell’s Kitchen – Okay, I know I just said I didn’t like the screaming bad guy that the US sees when they look at Gordon Ramsey, but I can’t help myself. This show is fun. And every once in a while, the good side of Gordon slips past the editors, like last season when he offered to pay for Julia to attend culinary school. I wish they’d show that side of Gordon more. And pick contestants who can actually cook. They seem to have less and less experience every season.
  • Good Eats – Alton Brown is my hero. I haven’t actually cooked from any of his recipes, but he has so much food knowledge and I love his humour. I have followed a couple of his gadget tips though, like buying kitchen shears that can actually come apart so that you can wash off the food contamination from the scissors’ joint.
  • Good Deal with Dave Lieberman – I find his recipes easy to follow and simple to cook, and yet very tasty. I’ve actually passed on his recipes to other people, and they rave about the taste. Too bad the show isn’t in production anymore.
  • Chef School – Interesting show that follows culinary students through their classes and life while at school. It’s not fast paced like Top Chef or Hell’s Kitchen is, but I’m finding it a nice compliment to reading Michael Ruhlman’s book.
  • Ricardo and Friends – At first I wasn’t sure I liked this show, but it’s starting to grow on me. He’s got a great sense of food; I just wish his ingredients were more realistic regarding what I have access to in my city. His Antipasti Loaf really caught my eye and I’m going to have to try and give it a shot sometime soon.
  • Chef at Home  – Michael’s Smith’s home cooking show; his Chef at Large show is good too, but I think I’ve seen most, if not all of them and I’m not interested in repeats.
  • Cook Like a Chef – This is a fantastic series that I used to watch before I started cooking myself. Now that I’m cooking I’d like to see them again, but they are rebroadcasting the episodes in the early morning. I wish they would bring this one back.
  • Diary of a FoodieGourmet‘s tv show about food from around the world. Beautiful stuff. I just wish I remembered when it was on so that I could watch it more often.
  • Jamie at Home – This is the first cooking show of his that I’ve actually liked. Before this, the only thing I’d watch with him in it was Jamie’s School Dinners.
  • Ace of Cakes – For pure entertainment value only. I like to see the creative designs. And guess whether or not the cakes are going to collapse under their own weight.
  • No Reservations – I’m putting this down even though I’ve never seen this show. I desperately want to, but it’s not broadcast on the channels that I have access to and I don’t have satellite TV. I wish, wish, wish they would put out whole seasons on DVD instead of just a couple of episodes at a time. I loved Tony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour.

That’s the majority of what I’m watching right now, although I will occasionally catch bits of other shows. I know there are great shows that I’m not watching like America’s Test Kitchen, but I haven’t gotten around to them yet. Soon, I hope.

Cooking milestones

I made this recipe again over the long weekend, and that’s when I suddenly realized that when I originally made the pasta dish I had also made my first roux. I had also cooked with wine and clam juice for the first time.

I never really thought about or cared about roux before, but after reading The Making of a Chef I’ve started obessing over some of the things that Ruhlman talked about, like roux. His section on the bread baking class enchanted me and I can’t stop thinking about no-knead bread recipes and bread makers. I really do not need another appliance in my kitchen right now.

Who knew this “learning to cook” thing would give me so many new things to obsess about.

On cooking with the Internet and cookbooks

Everyone who knows me, knows about the love affair I have with books. They’re scattered all over my house and I’m ecstatic when I receive a bookstore gift card. I even used to work in a bookstore a long, long time ago. So when I started cooking, I also started to buy cookbooks. I’ve bought items like a couple of the Moosewood books, a Chinese cookbook, a Jamie Oliver cookbook, one-pot dishes books, slow cooker books, vegetarian books… the list goes on. I’ve got a nice little collection now – enough books to last me at least a few years if I cooked one recipe per day. But do I use any of them? Not really.

I’m not sure if this is a result of working and reading on the Internet a lot, but I’ve found that 99% of the new recipes I’ve tried have come from blogs, e-mails, or Google searches. I’ve made recipes from some of the blogs that I’ve listed in my blogroll. I’ve made some from the US and Canadian Food Network websites, from Epicurious, and from Cooks.com. I’ve even bookmarked items from Cooking for Engineers, a great step-by-step site. I started to notice my bookmarked favourites getting bigger and bigger, so to help me organize all my online recipes I created a folder in my searchable e-mail account titled Recipes and started e-mailing myself items that I find on the Internet. I have 47 e-mails in there, some of which have multiple recipes within them. Who needs cookbooks when you can open up your laptop and cook from there? Be careful of spillage on the keys though – that’s even harder to clean (and more expensive to fix) than sauce marks on your cookbook.