Category: Cooking

Minfulness at the Writing Desk

Licensed for use under Creative Commons

Chef’s use the term “mis en place” in reference to having everything ready prior to starting to cook a meal. I will be honest, I have only begun to cook that way recently myself. Last night I made four different dishes for dinner, and I completed the prep work of chopping, slicing, dicing, and putting the sauces together before I started cooking.

I believe I mentioned in a previous post that I see working in the kitchen as a perfect time to practice mindfulness. This has been a place and time that really works well for me. Since it means being present in my current state and task, it has really reinforced my adherence to preparation as an important step in my cooking practice. One potential drawback is that I tend to tune out my children whining or arguing, and my wife nagging.

Okay, a drawback for them really, as it works out quite well for me.☺

I have done the same when I am writing. For example, when cooking, things might get scorched if I wait to chop up the onions in the middle of cooking. When writing, coming up with character names is one of those tough things for me. I tend to scorch my brain when I try to do it while writing. For my writing mis en place, I will often brainstorm a whole list of names, ready for me to use while I am writing. I can cross the names off as I use them, all while barely breaking my stride.

Another thing that I borrow from the kitchen is the idea of there being a finishing point to the preparation. Even if I prepare for multiple meals, there is a finite number of preparatory tasks before I settle down to cook dinner. Preparation is a starting off point, not a destination. Admittedly, this is less well defined at the writer’s desk.

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Making Soft Pretzels at Home

CompletedPretzels Making those soft, buttery mall pretzels is really easy to do at home. It is a fun recipe for the kids to help make, and a great snack for them too! These can be great for movie night, or game day.

 

 

 

 

 

Making the dough

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve 1 package (or 2¼ teaspoons) of yeast in 1½ cups of of warm water and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Stir in 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1 cup of bread flour and 1 teaspoon of salt. Continue slowly adding 2 more cups of flour until the dough comes together. Kneed until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Place in a bowl sprayed with nonstick spray, and then spray the top surface of the dough to prevent it from drying out. Cover and let rise for one hour.

 

CutInSections

Prepare your Factory/Cut the dough

Preheat an oven to 450º (230º C).

In a small baking dish, combine 2 cups of warm water with 2 tablespoons of baking soda. This helps to give the outside that brownish, crunchy texture. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Note in the picture to the right, I have a little assembly line set up.

After the dough has risen, roll into a log, and cut into 12 pieces.

 

RolledOutRoll out the dough

Roll each section out into a three foot long rope. The pretzels will swell quite a bit when baking, so don’t worry too much about making them too thin.

 

PretzelShapeRoll each rope into that familiar pretzel shape. Push down on the ends a little to get them to adhere to the pretzel body. Dip into the baking soda water, and place on the parchment lined baking sheets.

 

 

 

Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown. While cooking, melt the butter and prepare your surface for  adding the topping(s).

BakingSheet

 

 

Top and Serve

Once they are done, brush with melted butter, and top with coarse (Kosher works) salt, or other desired toppings. We love cinnamon and sugar as a topping as well!

FromTheOven

 

 

 

 

It makes one dozen pretzels.

CompletedPretzels

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recipe

1 package (or 2¼ teaspoons) of yeast

2 tablespoons of brown sugar

1 teaspoon of salt

1½ cups of warm water

3 cups of all-purpose flour

1 cup of bread flour

2 cups of warm water

2 tablespoons of baking soda

2 tablespoons of melted butter

2 tablespoons of kosher (or other course) salt

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Healthy: The Score so Far

The last couple of weeks have brought visits from family, which always involves food. I did not follow my workout schedule either. I still worked out though,  and as of Saturday, I was at 209 pounds. That would have me two pounds lower than the previous week at 211. I started at 220, so overall that is 11 pounds. I feel pretty good about losing 2 pounds on a week where I did not follow my diet and exercise plans very well. This last weekend brought a visit from family, and a few (hundred) extra calories, so I am sure it will be another slow week. If I can end the week still at 209, or at 208, I will be satisfied.

We have a big dinner on Christmas eve, and everyone keeps telling me that all diets are off on Christmas eve. I guess they are afraid I am going to pass of some low fat tofu casserole on them or something. 😉

Making Pickles for the Apocalypse

One of the wonderful things about being married to someone who loves speculative fiction is that my wife gets to talk about things like what we will need to do to deal with the Apocalypse. There are Zombie Ants people, it could be real! So of course, the lost art of canning and pickling is an important survival tool. Pickles do not need refrigeration until they are opened!

I used the recipe from Sharon Howard, and I have used it multiple times, and it usually works great. I thought that it really is a great recipe, so I did not see the need to copy the whole thing here and go through it as I would for another recipe that is not available elsewhere. I do have some tips though, as I have run through this recipe a few times.

Pickling and canning, as we are all probably aware, was a big part of the history of mankind, as refrigeration was not always as readily available as it is now. I think it is a lost art. Homemade pickles are so much better than the store-bought, mass produced kind. I remember making jams with my parents when I was young, and it is something I remember with fondness. So give the pickles a try!

Here are some tips:

1) You can get the jars that you need at Walmart or any similar store. I recommend getting the wide mouth jars, because you may need to stuff some of those cucumbers into the jars. Even though you may still have to cut some of the cucumbers if they are too large to fit, the wide mouth jars just make it so much easier.

2) The pot to process the jars is totally worth it, especially if you think you may use it once again. The pot makes it so much easier to process the jars. Processing the jars is when you put it in boiling water to kill off any unwelcome microscopic critters, and to seal the jars.

3) Once you process the jars, the top of the jar will bow upward for a long time. Do not panic, it will still likely seal after it cools down for a while. It is sealed when you push down on it, and it does not come back up.

4) To the recipe, I added several whole peppercorns to each jar. You could also add peppers of some sort, if you would like the heat. The only thing you do not want to mess with is the salt, vinegar, and water ratios. These ratios are important for the preservation of the pickles. If you do find it too intense, you can add a little sugar to balance out the taste.

5) If for whatever reason your jars do not seal, no need to panic. Don’t process it again, as the pickles will end up being ultra-soggy. Just put them in the fridge, and make them refrigerator pickles instead.

That’s it really, easy-peasy, mac and cheesey. It is a bit of work, but lots of fun, and you have great tasting pickles in a couple of months. Plus, you will have something to eat when zombies take over the earth. I can hear my wife’s eyes rolling from the other room. 😉

Chicken and Waffles; Had to be Done

I have never had chicken and waffles before. At least, that is what I would have said before last Friday. Being as how I am a writer, a therapist, an college instructor, and a human, I love it when my interests come together.

There is such a deep tradition in many of the African-American dishes from the Southern US. I want to tell some of those stories at some point, because to me it is such a testament to the enduring nature of the human spirit. Here a race of people were cruelly treated, separated from their lands of origin, and enslaved. This had a tremendous impact on African-American cuisine. They were separated from the lands, and the plants and other ingredients that were familiar. In addition, they were given scraps and bad cuts of meat to work with. Then from this came a cuisine that not only made use of these poor ingredients, but was old traditions adapted toward their new forced home, and somehow managed to actually be delicious as well! Wow, that is quite the story.

Plus it also means I get to eat, which is something I favor highly, as you may already know.

In poking around on the Internet, I was able to find some information out about Chicken and Waffles. Thomas Jefferson brought the waffle iron back from France, and Americans really took to waffles afterwards. There is a long tradition of slapping some meat on some bread and calling it breakfast. Much meat was prepared fresh from the pasture, so a chicken makes sense as an easy breakfast meat, especially once the slaves were freed and made their way North to have farms of their own. There are some debates about where exactly the Chicken and Waffles came from, and who was the first to sell them at a restaurant. But we do not really need all the exact details to enjoy the rich flavor, steeped in a rich tradition.

So, last Friday I took the plunge. I used Costco frozen panko breaded chicken strip tenders, because it was Friday and I did not want to work all night. I made the waffles with Bisquick mix, and I added marjoram and a touch extra salt to their recipe for more savory waffles. I left the waffles in extra time, to make sure they were nice and crispy. I topped the waffles with chicken strips, and drizzled gravy on top. It was very good, I must say. Not good for for a diet, but it was a fun treat.

I also tried the waffles and chicken with maple syrup on top. It was good, but I think I prefer the gravy. With the gravy, my wife said they were like eating a chicken on biscuits, with gravy, which I think was a perfect  description.

My Cooking Magazines: A New Cooking Goal

I love cooking magazines. I like looking through the magazines during my free time, and see which recipes I would like to try. I recently noticed, though that I have tons of them, and many recipes I want to “try someday,” but have never actually attempted. Well, no more! I have decided that I am going to go through my magazines and make at least one recipe from each magazine. If I cannot find a recipe I want to make, then there is no need to keep the magazine. I have some from back in 2004!

Also, I want to try an cook duck. I love duck, but I have never made it myself before. Maybe I will find a recipe in one of these magazines…

Cinnamon Swirl, Streusel Coffee Cake Using Mexican Crema to Bake With

This, to describe it in a highly technical sense, is “nummy.” Years ago, my wife did not realize that I did not always have other copies of recipes. So she would throw them out when she found them in the kitchen, as she figured I could just print them out again. Then I would say, “Where am I supposed to print out out from if I don’t remember where I got it?” So we have worked on this over the years, and she recently threw out another important recipe. Arg.

Anyhow, the first recipe thrown out was a cinnamon swirl coffee cake, with a streusel topping. I have tried over the year to recreate it, with no success. I recently found this recipe though, and it is pretty darn good. Of course, it is me, so I had to change the recipe from the original. None of the changes are noteworthy, except that I replaced the sour cream with Mexican Crema. Crema is smoother, creamier, and on average, much less tangy than sour cream. So it really appealed to me to use in baking, because these are textures and tastes in keeping with what I was hoping for in the cake.

Ingredients

Streusel Topping

  • 1¼ cups brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (if you use unsalted butter)
  • 1½ cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons ground cinnamon

Cake

  • ¾ cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt (1 ¼ teaspoons if you use unsalted butter)
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • ¾ cup Mexican crema
  • 1¼ cups milk
  • 3¾ cups All Purpose Flour

Directions

Preheat oven at 350°F. Lightly grease a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.

Combine all of the streusel ingredients except the butter, until well mixed together. Add butter, and stir once again,  and set aside.  I sometimes need to add a little more butter, this may be because of measuring flour by volume instead of weight.

Combine filling ingredients until well blended, and set aside.

Beat together the butter, salt, granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powdered, and vanilla until well-mixed and smooth.

Add each egg individually, and beat after each egg until well-mixed.

Mix together the Mexican crema and milk.

Alternately add flour (1 cup at a time)  and crema mixture (in approximately four equal portions) , beating to combine after each addition.

Pour half of the batter into the baking pan. Note that it is easy to add too much, which makes the top layer more difficult to add, so be careful. Spread out to the edges.

Sprinkle filling across the top of the base layer.

Add the remaining batter to form the top layer.

Gently swirl, using a butter knife, being careful not to completely combine the filling into the batter.

Sprinkle the streusel topping over the batter.

Bake approximately 75-80 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. I use a really thick baking pan, which may add to the cooking time. You should start checking it at 50 minutes. You can usually wiggle it a little and look to the center to see how close it is. If it is still a ways off, the center will jiggle when you wiggle.

Remove the cake to a cooling rack. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before serving. Best served warm, right from the pan.