Aug 29, 2009

Question: How or why did you learn to cook?

For those of you interested in cooking or baking, where did your interest come from? For me, the biggest influence has undoubtedly been my mother. Mom is a terrific cook! Many of my favorite recipes are ones that I got from her—dill bread, floating island, pot roast and vegetables, Parmesan chicken, peach pie, chicken salad with fruit, Parkerhouse rolls, tomato soup, and so on and so on. Mom not only makes food that tastes delicious, she also makes dishes that are beautiful. Growing up, we’d have a green salad with violet petals tossed in, floating island with caramelized sugar strands, chocolate almond pie with delicate chocolate leaves. I don’t have the same flair for aesthetics or even the interest in spending time on such things since I usually just cook for myself, but I do appreciate the efforts of others. Mom’s passion for food has certainly carried over to me.

Also, as mentioned in a previous post, I’ve always been interested in watching the creative process that is involved in cooking. I don’t think that I’m very creative myself as a cook, but I love to watch others cook, whether it is family members, friends, or the professional chefs on television.

Of course, I also love to eat food. One of the reasons I decided to learn to bake was that my mom didn’t bake cookies as often as I wanted to eat them, so I learned to make chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal, gingersnap, and other cookies on my own. And then my interests spread from there.

And finally, there was an element of entrepreneurship that motivated my early attempts at cooking. With one of my friends in our Provo neighborhood, we set up a lemonade stand on the street in front of my house. But it wasn’t just lemonade. At different times, we sold homemade cookies, brownies, and suckers; frozen bananas; imitation pixie sticks (paper straws filled with dry Jello); etc. We certainly didn’t get rich from our efforts, but we did pretty well, and we had a lot of fun making things to sell.

So do any of you have stories to tell about how or why you learned to cook? Or maybe even why you don’t like to cook. Feel free to share your thoughts.

Bacon Wraps

½ pound sliced bacon
2 8-oz cans whole water chestnuts
½ cup brown sugar

Cut bacon pieces into thirds. Wrap each water chestnut with a piece of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Roll in brown sugar to coat. Place on a baking sheet and broil until the bacon is fully cooked.

Aug 25, 2009

Phil White's Chocolate Chip M&M Cookies

This is a recipe I used frequently as a graduate student in English down at Arizona State University. Whenever I was tired of studying, I'd whip up a batch of these large cookies and take them to school in a blue and white Tupperware container (which I still have) to feed my fellow grad students.

2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 pound butter
3 eggs
5 1/2-6 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 package milk chocolate chips
Chopped nuts (optional)

Cream sugar and butter. Add eggs and then dry ingredients. Use an ice cream scoop to measure and mold dough and then place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 15-20 minutes. Press M&M's into the partially baked cookies midway through baking.

Aug 23, 2009

Julie & Julia

I went to see the new movie Julie & Julia last night with some friends. The movie weaves together two stories--one about Julia Child learning to master the art of French cooking and the other of a woman who cooks her way through Julia Child's cookbook and writes a blog about it. Though it has some flaws, I thought that it was a delightful film. Meryl Streep's performance as Julia Child is terrific! I also loved the movie's sense of humor, its focus on relationships, and the depiction of lots of wonderful food. Especially the latter. I left the theater craving something really delicious. (By the way, I ended up having a crepe with strawberries, Nutella, and whipped cream. Yum!)

This past week, my mother told me for the first time that I used to watch Julia Child's cooking shows on television fairly regularly when I was about eight years old. She said that it was an early manifestation of my interest in cooking. While I recall watching Julia Child on occasion, I don't recall any particular devotion to her show. But I trust my mom's memory of many things more than I trust my own. Anyway, I do know that I love to watch cooking shows. I don't often make the dishes I see created on television, but I love to watch the creative process unfold before me. I love to see people who are passionate about food. I love the aesthetics of food. And I love how food is often an important element of relationships.

Brown Sugar Whipped Cream

This simple frosting is yummy on spice cake, banana cake, or angel food cake. Combine 1 cup brown sugar with 1 pint whipping cream and let the mixture chill in the fridge for several hours or overnight. Then whip the cream until soft peaks form. You may also want to add a teaspoon of vanilla to the cream mixture as you whip it.

Aug 19, 2009

Chinese Chicken Salad

Nothing fancy here. But I just find that it hits the spot sometimes. And so easy to whip up quickly.

½ head cabbage, shredded
2-4 green onions, sliced
1 package Top Ramen noodles (uncooked and without seasoning), broken up
2 cups diced chicken
1/2 can mandarin oranges, drained

Combine all of the above just before serving. Then garnish with:
2 T. sesame seeds, toasted
4 T. slivered almonds, roasted

2 tablespoons sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup oil
½ teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon accent flavoring
½ package Ramen flavoring

Combine ingredients, shake well, and pour over salad.

Aug 13, 2009

Peanut Blossoms

You can't go wrong with this classic cookie, which combines the tastes of peanut butter and chocolate.

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar

1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Blend in:
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Shape into balls and roll in granulated sugar. Then bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and top each cookie with a Hershey's chocolate kiss. Return to oven and bake 2-5 minutes.

Aug 9, 2009

Chicken Marbella

For something a little fancier, though still very easy to prepare, try this classic recipe from The Silver Palette Cookbook.

10 to 12 chicken breasts
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
1/4 cup dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine (white grape juice or apple juice)
1/4 cup Italian parsley or fresh coriander, finely chopped

In large bowl combine chicken, garlic, oregano, pepper, salt, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices. Chicken is done when pieces pricked with a fork yield clear yellow (rather than pink) juice. With a slotted spoon transfer chicken, prunes, olives, and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Pass remaining pan juices in a sauceboat.

Aug 5, 2009

Pear and Chocolate Cake


The key to this cake is the brown butter. It takes a few minutes to brown, but it's well worth the extra effort. The recipe recommends using a springform pan, but I don't see why this couldn't be baked in a normal cake pan and then sliced up, as long as you don't try to take it out of the pan whole. This cake would be great with a scoop of ice cream or some sweetened whipped cream, although it was delicious with just a glass of milk too.

1 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2-3 softish pears, peeled, diced
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks or chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick.

3. While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.

4. Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more. Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to lose volume, turn the mixture down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined—no more than a minute from when the flour is first added—and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.

5. Pour into pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top (don't worry, they'll sink in as it bakes), and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen via Dinner Party.

Aug 4, 2009

Baked Dijon Salmon

1/4 cup butter, melted
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs (or Ritz cracker crumbs) (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
4 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley (dried parsley also works fine)
4 (4 ounce) salmon fillets
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, stir together butter, mustard, and honey. Set aside. In another bowl, mix together bread crumbs, pecans, and parsley. Brush each salmon fillet lightly with honey mustard mixture and sprinkle the tops of the fillets with the bread crumb mixture. Bake salmon 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until it flakes easily with a fork. Season with salt and pepper, and garnish with a wedge of lemon or sprinkle lightly with lemon juice. Serves 4.

Aug 1, 2009

Caramel Pumpkin Cookies

This recipe comes from my cousin Julie via my sister. Per Julie's recommendation, it works better to use the caramel frosting as more of a "glaze." The glaze adds a delicious caramel accent. This recipe is a winner!

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
15 oz. can pumpkin
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Optional: add nuts or chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugars in large bowl until fluffy. Add pumpkin, egg, and vanilla. Beat well to combine. Stir in dry ingredients. Drop cookie dough by teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 10-14 minutes.

In saucepan, combine 1/4 cup butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Bring to boil, then stir 1 minute, until slightly thickened. Remove pan from heat and cool slightly. Add 1/4 cup milk and stir until smooth. Add about 2 cups powdered sugar, a bit at a time until frosting reaches desired consistency.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.