07 December 2011

The book is out!

If you go to the PM Press website, you can order the book directly from them. In this version, I've got a bunch of spelling corrections, the recipe for the Demonic Mushrooms (essentially, spicy stuffed mushrooms), and corrections to amounts/times/temperatures. I'm very excited that it's finally here! Hooray!

01 December 2011

Pretzels, redux

As mentioned in this post, I made pretzels. A friend of mine (called GrauFrau) from an online cooking forum had a couple of comments:

Finally had time to try this! A few notes: The recipe is great. Smell, taste, and texture are perfect. However, I made one significant prep error. I should have rolled out the pretzels HALF as thick as I wanted them to be when finished. They looked nice until I dropped them in the solution, at which point they bloated up like crazy. So they look ugly, but that's ok - they taste wonderful!

The solution I used for dipping was close to 4 tbsp of the baked baking soda (Na2CO3) in the liter of boiling water. The dough floated almost immediately, and I kept each one in for 30 seconds. I baked them at 425F and turned them at 14 minutes, saw they were getting a bit too dark, and pulled them 5 minutes later. Next time I might try 400F and look at them at the 10-minute mark. Oh, and in case anyone doubts the necessity of the soda dip - see that hideous albino pretzel in the low left corner? I didn't dip him, just to see what he'd look like. He was baked right along with everyone else. I suppose it's still edible, but ew.

Anyway, definitely a great recipe. I'll be doing lots with this one. Now I can make my own pretzel rolls!

So, to review: roll them thinner than you think you'll want them, and you'll be in good shape. Thanks for the awesome picture, and for the tips! The baked baking soda she refers to is 1 lb of sodium bicarbonate, baked in the oven at 350 for an hour. If you'd like to do this too, use the opportunity to bake off some potatoes, butternut squash, roast some peppers, whatever. No sense in using up all that heat for one thing. It makes the baking soda stronger, and gives the pretzels a darker colour, like GrauFrau's came out. I can't be bothered to go through the extra step, and will continue to just do them the regular way, but if you're feeling like you want that good strong dark pretzel colour, give the whole baking the bicarbonate of soda thing a shot.

Thank you especially for doing one without the soda dip, so that everyone can see how important it is to follow every step.

Rice cooker Quinoa

Use a rice cooker! I'm serious. I was in a hurry, and decided to just try it out to see what happens. I used 6 "cups" of the millet & quinoa (50-50 mix), and filled the water to the 8 cup line, just as if I were making brown rice. I hit start on the regular white rice cycle, and let it go. At the end of the cycle, the rice pot beeped, and I had perfectly steamed millet and quinoa, cooked at the same time. They were cooked to perfection, and not sticky at all.

I find that if I make quinoa or millet by itself, they don't cook up as nicely. The quinoa tends to the overcooked stage, with the little swirly thingies falling out. The millet tends to the mushy, and sticky as heck side, with the whole thing becoming a globby mass. No thanks! From now on, I shall cook it in the rice cooker, and wind up with fluffy, tender, perfectly done millet and quinoa. From there, it's easy enough to use the grains just like you'd use rice.

If you don't have a fancy rice cooker with all kind of cycles, fret not! I did it with the rice cooker at work (which just has an on and an off button), and it came out perfectly there too. I just did the same measurement: 6 "cups" (and by "cups", I mean for you to use the measuring cup that came with the rice cooker; if you lost it, 1 "cup" is equal to 3/4 cups by dry measure, so do the conversions as necessary) of millet & quinoa, with enough water filled to the 8 cup line. If you have a larger cooker, I'm sure you could do 8 "cups" with water filled to the 10 cup line with similar results, but I'd suggest you don't experiment with this one. I know it may be tempting, but I've tested this out a few times, and it's always worked out with this ratio.

What to get your cooking friends.

There are certain kitchen things that you can never have enough of. They're the things that you reach for all the time, but are so ubiquitous that you don't even think about it. Also, when those things start going bad on you, you keep using them anyway, because laziness is preventing you from replacing them. I therefore make this list of stuff that any cooking person would be happy to get from anyone s/he knows.

1) Rubber Scrapers/Spatulas: You would be amazed at how frequently these things get used, especially in baking. Your hand will never get that bowl quite as cleaned off as the rubber scraper. If the person intends to use it for cooking, please get one that's rated to high temperatures. You can generally find these at restaurant supply stores for less than $2 a piece. There is no cook that I know who would say, "Oh, but I already have one rubber scraper." They get a lot of use, and are endlessly wearing out.

2) Pastry Brush: Not to be confused with a painting brush. Again, these get heavy use, be it for brushing oil onto bread before baking, brushing marinade onto whatever you're roasting in the oven, brushing sauce onto stuff on the grill, or whatever other brushy things you can think of. And, as usual, these get worn out with startling regularity.

3) Silicon Baking Mat: If the person doesn't already own one or two, they'll love them. If they /do/ own one or two, they'll thank you for expanding their collection. I get annoyed at having to use parchment paper all the time to prevent sticking on my baking sheets. Instead, the baking mats do an excellent job every single time, and you don't need to grease them. Everything slides off with the greatest of ease. They're very useful to have around.

4) Wooden Spoons: I'm so not even being funny here. Wooden spoons are used constantly, for stirring, especially if the person owns a lot of nonstick cookware. Unfortunately, they get kind of grody looking over time. Some folk would consider this a good thing. I don't. Give them enough use, and the spoons will start to splinter off. Ew. However, just like the pastry brushes and spatulas, one feels way too lazy to go buy a new one, even though one knows that a new one would be a pleasure to use. This is where the friends come in. You'll generally get a, "Thanks! I was meaning to replace mine anyway."

5) Vegetable Peelers: I linked two different kinds, because wars have been fought over the superiority of the y-peelers versus regular peelers, and I'm not about to get involved in that particular battle. (For the record, I loathe y-peelers. Just saying.) If you look in anyone's drawer, either the peeler sucks (these peelers I've linked are the kinds to AVOID at all costs) or is horribly blunt. In this particular case, I'm going to ask you to get the specific brand that I linked. Every other peeler I've used is horrible and isn't worth the money. Yes, that includes the nicer brands, like Kuhn Rikon or Zyliss. Get that specific brand, and you're good.

6) Storage Containers: (Especially glass ones. They're really nice to have around, and most people aren't ready to splurge on them.) This is actually a good gift for anyone, because they're so versatile. I'm forever looking for stuff to put my food in. Even if you got me Gladware, I'd still be happy. Why? Storage containers get lost. Their lids get lost. You loan them out and never see them again. They break. You can never have too many of them, as long as you keep throwing out the ones that are nasty or broken or lid-less (as I do).

7) Bar Towels: For some reason, kitchen towels seem to be designed by people who don't cook. They've got all kind of designs on them, and are made of thick terry cloth, which is difficult to keep clean looking. They're not very absorbent, or heat resistant, because they've frequently got polyester blends in them. Ew. Bar towels, on the other hand, are excellent kitchen towels.

None of these gifts is terribly romantic, or expensive. They're commonplace things, which most people could pick up at any store. They're things that folk will reach for every day, and think of you when they use them.

You're welcome.

If you have any ideas to add onto my list, let me know, and I'll do so.


Kitchen Timers: Why didn't I add this to my first list? Even if the person you know already has a kitchen timer, they will definitely be happy to have a second. Why? Because you're not always just timing one thing, especially when cooking elaborate dinners. You want to time the oven for the veggies roasting in there, while also timing the pasta that's cooking in the pot. And frankly, I don't want my phone in my kitchen to behave as a timer. I want to be handling something I can pick up with wet fingers, and that's cheap enough that if I break it or damage it, I won't care.