Partially Failed Cheesecake

May 12, 2009 Posted by bob in Cooking - (Comments Off)

Saturday I had a party for work, so I thought I’d throw together a cheesecake. I used the recipe I’ve used a few times in the past. Better Homes and Garden, by the way. Rather than melt some semi-sweet chocolate, I went instead with a bottle of Hershey chocolate sauce. I was getting to the bottom of the bottle, and I noticed that as I squeezed it would spatter out in neat randomness. So on top of the swirled cheesecake filling I sprayed the sauce, not realizing that it would ultimately be the cause of a huge problem.

The cake cooked fine, and after I took it out of the oven it still looked good, but the spots where there was sauce looked a little weak and were starting to crack. When the top of a cheesecake begins to crack, the cracks turn to crevasses as it cools down, and that’s exactly what happened. There were three pretty big cracks as it cooled. I looked around for something to fix it and found a block of milk chocolate that Erin had given me. I thought I’d shave chocolate onto the top to see if it would cover up the cracks. But the chocolate shavings weren’t as silky smooth as I thought, and they broke up into smaller pieces than I expected. It was time to go to the party, so I made the decision not to bring the cheesecake. That turned out to be ok, though, because there was already a lot of food there.

Aesthetically, the cheesecake was mediocre. It tasted great, though. Here’s a picture, but remember, it only looks average; it’s too bad I can’t make the web lick-able.

My Empty Cupboards Project

April 9, 2009 Posted by bob in Cooking - (Comments Off)

For about a month leading up to my move, I stopped shopping for food. I was trying to clean out the cupboards and start over fresh. It was surprisingly easy. For a long time I was fine with meat from the fridge or freezer, for a few weeks I had fresh vegetables, and I had plenty of snackish food for between meals.

During the week or so that I moved my stuff, I had a hard time finding the motivation or the time or even the utensils to take care of too many meals, so I had fast food a couple days and pizza or sushi from Safeway a couple days.

Now I’m in the new apartment, and the project continues. I haven’t filled the cupboards yet. With the exception of a single cupboard that has baking stuff like sugar, flour, baking soda, etc., ALL of the food is in the fridge or on the counter. Having it on the counter has given me incentive to eat it, as it’s in my face and in my way. But it’s been about three weeks since I’ve moved and I’m still working away at the pile. In fact, I think I could continue this experiment for about another two weeks and still be ok.

A while ago I ran out of milk and eggs, and that had a huge impact on what I could do. Without those basic ingredients, a lot of the food became impossible. I couldn’t make bread or bake or do any kinds of desserts. A few days ago I broke down and got just milk and eggs, and that’s helped me along quite a bit.

Some of the things I’ve been making have been… interesting. There was an omelet made with mizithra cheese and diced prunes (it was actually pretty good), homemade tortillas with beans and salsa, beer bread with tuna salad, and other dishes. One of my favorite discoveries was that raw Ramen is an excellent substitute for rice cakes. Just open the bag, split the Ramen in half flat-ways (it’s easy to do), and spread jelly or peanut butter on it.

I’ve been craving a lot of meat, though, lately. I’d love to tear into a hamburger or a steak. And some of the food that I have left is more of a side dish, not a main course. I think I may break down and get some meat or vegetables so I can have the side dishes in a decent meal.

Another of my discoveries in this endeavor has been the strangeness of expiration dates. Perhaps it’s because of the dry and mold-free climate of this area, but I’ve been eating food that’s expired sometimes years ago. According to www.restorationusa.com – you’re not really supposed to keep your stored goods in moldy/damp areas, ie. basements and such, but I had corn tortillas that expired in February of 2008, and they were still perfectly fine. They were a little dried out at the bottom of the bag, but I sliced them up and baked them to make chips. I haven’t really come across much that I felt uncomfortable about eating, and some of it was canned food over a year past it’s date. I think either we shouldn’t be so prudish about expiration dates on food, or we should be using a lot less preservatives.

Yet another realization was that food just seems to accumulate in the cupboards, and sometimes just never gets consumed. There’s no good reason for it, just entropy. I have a can of jellied cranberries that is a few Thanksgivings old, and I just haven’t done anything with it. I could easily have it as a side dish with pork chops, but instead other foods have a much higher turnover in my kitchen. I need to be better about keeping the cupboards tight. The good news, though, is that the average family could probably survive a lot longer than they think if they had to.

The experiment will continue until all the food is gone. Then we’ll go shopping and stock the cupboards more wisely. As I scrape the bottom of the barrel in the coming days, I’ll probably buy one or two things to supplement the meals, but this has been an interesting and difficult challenge.

French Toast Sandwich

February 11, 2009 Posted by bob in Cooking - (Comments Off)

Continuing an effort to finish off a loaf of french bread before it went stale, I decided to try to make a good breakfast. I can’t remember exactly how I ended up with the idea, but the combination worked extremely well.

I took some brown sugar and honey link sausage and sliced it in half lengthwise. Then I made my french bread egg mixture with egg, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a splash of milk.

While the bread was toasting on the frying pan, I scrambled some eggs in another pan, then cooked the sausages in the pan with the toast. I grated some cheese onto the bread, then put the sausage and eggs on, and put the other slice on top.

It was pretty much the best breakfast sandwich I’ve ever had. It was delicious.

Erin’s Food Challenge

February 1, 2009 Posted by bob in Cooking - (Comments Off)

I recently received a pair of ingredients from Erin and was given the challenge to create an original dish with one or both ingredients, name it, and document it. The ingredients were wasabi cheddar cheese, and chili-cocoa powder. I tasted the powder and it was familiar but not extremely appealing. I tried using it as a rub on a pork medallion to see how it would work with other flavors. Again, familiar, but not extremely appealing. Almost done with the pork, I finally realized what it tasted like; mole sauce. Since mole is essentially chili and chocolate, this made a lot of sense. But I still don’t know what to do with it, so I’ll wait on that one.

The other ingredient made a lot of sense to me to use. I was at Safeway yesterday looking for something to eat, and I saw French bread. That triggered an idea for me; open faced grilled sandwiches. So I thought about what would go well on the sandwich with the wasabi cheddar. Obviously I’d need a green filler. I had spinach at home, but I thought sprouts would work better, so I picked up clover sprouts. I got a tomato, too, since that’s a staple for a sandwich. Then I thought about sushi and what goes into various rolls. I picked up an avocado based on that. For a meat, I had some salami at home, but I was a little worried the salami flavor would overpower or conflict with the cheddar. I also had some wasabi mustard at home that I thought about using in case the cheese wasn’t strong enough on its own. I saw a pear, too, and realized it would go perfect on the sandwich. You often have pear, cheese, and bread together. I checked out and headed home.

First, I sliced up all my ingredients:

Next, I started the bread. I sliced the loaf and heated some butter in the pan:

I toasted one side, then applied more butter and flipped the slices. While the bottoms toasted I put the slices of cheese on top to melt. I had to cover the pan to keep the heat in so that the cheese would melt before the toast burned.

Once I was satisfied with the bread, I added the other ingredients. Since this was an experiment, I decided to do 4 different sandwiches with the various ingredients:

On one sandwich is salami, sprouts, tomato, and avocado, with wasabi mustard as well. This one was really good. I think I would have used less wasabi and a milder meat, like turkey or ham, but it was still a really good sandwich.

The next one was mustard, sprouts, and pear. The pear turned out to be a really good choice, and it was also a tasty sandwich.

Next came the sprouts, tomato, avocado, and pear. This was my favorite. None of the flavors beat out the others, and it was all very good.

By the fourth, Hanne Eidberg was getting full. Plus, the fourth one had gotten a little too toasty on the bottom. I decided to pick everything off the top and eat just that. It was sprouts, tomato, and avocado, which are all very good, but the sandwich itself wasn’t noteworthy in any respect.

With my four sandwiches made and evaluated, the final part of the challenge was to pick a name. Since my favorite was the third, and it had green avocado, green sprouts, green pear, and greenish cheese, I wanted to give it a name, and incorporate green in the name. Some of the motivation behind the ingredients was from sushi, too, so I could incorporate the name soy perhaps. I think I’ll call it a “Soyless Green sandwich with tomato.” Don’t worry, it’s not made of people. But now I do wonder if I could put some kind of soy sauce in it. That could be pretty good.

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Mountain Cake

January 10, 2009 Posted by bob in Cooking - (Comments Off)

Nick’s birthday was in July, and Carolyn called me to ask if I could pick up the cake for the birthday party. She hadn’t ordered one yet, so I offered to make one instead. I knew Nick loves to go camping and hiking, so I thought I’d make the cake themed around that. I wanted to make an actual mountain cake, and it took me a while to think about how I would do it using regular cake sheets. I had 2 9″ rounds and 1 8×12, so I decided to go with that. I would have the 8×12 as a base, then somehow cut the 9″ rounds to make a mountain out of them. They came out of the oven just in time for me to go to a dinner at someone’s house.

On my way home, I stopped by Winco for some ingredients. I picked up some chocolate ‘rocks’, dried papaya, and gumdrops. Then I started the process. I decided to do two mountains of different sizes, and cut them so that I could maximize use of the cake and have decent looking mountains. The result is the stepped kind of thing, and if I had to do it again I think I’d trim it so that it was more sloped and uneven like a real mountain. I struggled with the frosting. I had made a bunch from scratch, and tried to use food coloring to get a mountain color, but ended up with a brownish green that didn’t please me. Further, there wasn’t nearly enough of it. Fortunately, I had some brown frosting in my cupboard, so I used that for the base and first layer. Then I used the green, then I covered the peaks with my homemade white frosting. Now frosted, I started to add the decorations. I used the chocolate rocks like little boulder fields and large rocks sticking out of the mountain. Some people actually thought they were real rocks. I sliced the green gumdrops into a forest of little trees sticking up. And I carved the dried papaya roughly into a person shaped thing, though it was way out of scale. Finally, I used a tube of blue frosting to show a waterfall down the mountain into a stream that spelled out Happy Birthday.

It was a total of about 3-4 hours of work, and with the exception of the chocolate rocks, the gumdrops, and some of the frosting, was entirely from scratch.

Fudge Fudge Fudge

May 2, 2008 Posted by bob in Cooking - (Comments Off)

The last few weeks I’ve been working insane hours. Some very important stuff is happening at work, and there is a lot of potential for some huge things to happen, and I’m right in the middle of it. It’s very exciting. Ten or twelve hour days most days. There was a bit of a party at work today and I promised to bring a dessert. Last night I got back from work at about 11 pm and started the fudge.

There were three batches; one after another. The first batch was regular chocolate with walnuts. After that I did mint and chocolate. The third was white chocolate with walnuts. I put them in the fridge overnight to harden and went to bed.

In the morning I got up early to cut it up and realized I had made a mistake. The fudge was fine; tasty in fact. But fudge is wont to stick to the pan, and I had forgotten to line the pan with wax paper or saran wrap. It didn’t affect the fudge at all, but it did mean I had to spend a lot longer extracting it from the pan, cutting it up first and pulling each piece out of the pan. Oh well. Next time I’ll remember and it’ll go faster.

I got a lot of mileage out of the fudge, too. I had made a lot for a reason. First was the party. Then it ended up in the kitchen for everyone to enjoy. I brought some to one of my weekly meetings. I also made up special plates for some of the admins who have helped me lately. I had to arrange some pretty crazy travel in the next couple weeks (From Pasco to Boston on United Airlines, Boston to Florida on Northwest airlines, then Florida back to Pasco on Delta. The Boston to Florida part was a close call and there was only one flight that would have gotten me from one meeting to the next on time, and I managed to get the flight). Our travel people were great, and they’ve always been great, so I promised them some fudge. Today I delivered, and they loved it. I also brought it around to some of my coworkers and project managers. It’s amazing how much giving people sweets gets you on their good side, and it comes back in great ways when you need a favor. More importantly, though, it’s just nice to see people enjoy the things I make.

Key Lime Pie

Posted by bob in Cooking - (Comments Off)

This weekend I tried another kind of pie. I’ve been wanting to do a key lime pie for a while, and I promised the admin at work that I’d bring in something nice for her. I was having dinner at a friend’s house, too, so the pie got to pull double duty.

Anyway, I used my typical nilla wafer crust, then followed the recipe for the lemon filling, which was surprisingly easy. The recipe said to use whipping cream when you serve it, but I needed the pie to last a few days and didn’t want to bother carrying separate whipping cream around, so I took the meringue recipe from the lemon meringue pie I had made a couple weeks prior and used that instead. I baked it for a quarter hour, and it came out just right. I was of course worried that the filling hadn’t solidified, but with the meringue on top there was no way of knowing until I cut into it.

Fortunately, at dinner it turned out to be perfect. It was very sweet, but it tasted perfect. The next day my admin and manager got slices, and a couple other people. It went over really well with them, too. It’s definitely a dessert I’ll do again, and it was pretty easy to do, too.

Brownie King

April 11, 2008 Posted by bob in Cooking - (Comments Off)

My last two pans of brownies have been my best ever. Modesty has no place in describing the awesomeness of these batches of cookie/cake goodness. If I had scaled up production, I could have created world peace.

The first batch was on Easter where we cellebrated the new . I was invited to an early Easter dinner on the morning of, and asked to bring dessert. By the time I got home, I had only an hour to make a dessert, clean myself, and drive 15 minutes over there. Frantically looking through my recipe books, I found that all of the desserts had 20 minutes or more of prep and 40 minutes or more of baking, with another hour or more for cooling. Fortunately, a butterscotch brownie recipe required only 10 minutes of prep and 30 minutes of cooking, which would have it coming out of the oven the minute I was leaving. I hurried through the recipe and poured it into a round cake pan and into the oven. I cleaned myself up and got dressed, then made a nice white vanilla glaze with butter and powdered sugar and vanilla. I already had a chocolate glaze from the cheesecake a few weeks before, but I wanted to have the black and white sauces to play with in the presentation, especially since the brownie was a very light brown (it didn’t have any chocolate in it because it was butterscotch), so the black, white, and light brown would work out well. A quick stop at the grocery store on the way for vanilla ice cream, and I arrived right on time. After dinner I went into the kitchen to plate the brownies. I put a slice of brownie (which was still warm from the oven) onto a plate, then put two round scoops of ice cream on the plate next to it. I heated the sauces in the microwave for a few seconds, then drizzled them over the brownie and ice cream. Here’s a photo:

It went over pretty well.

Last night I made the second pan. I had promised the group admin at work that I would bring in brownies this week for her. I wanted to make something besides regular brownies, so I found a recipe that had cream cheese filling and nuts. I made the brownie part, then I made the cream cheese part, which had cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. I poured part of the brownie mix into the pan, then the cream cheese mix on top of it, then finished with the rest of the brownie on top, careful to cover all the cream cheese mix with the brownie. I took it out of the oven at just the right time: when the toothpick doesn’t quite come out clean, so it’s still moist, but it’ll cook for a little bit longer after you’ve taken it out. I brought it in to work and offered it to coworkers, brought it in to meetings, and distributed it to all the admins and other people who might come in handy when I need a favor fast. It’s fun to cook, fun to see other people enjoy your food, and it’s saved my butt a few times when I needed paperwork handled or something done. It’s also good for getting people to remember you. Anyway, this batch of brownies went over really well. I got a few emails from people amazed at how good they were. I’m eating one now and I can say it’s way up there on the list of best things I’ve baked.

I apologize for the bragging, but I was very proud of my latest brownie attempts, and they were completely from scratch and weren’t your standard chocolate brownie. These were GOOD.

April Fools Cake

April 10, 2008 Posted by bob in Cooking - (Comments Off)

This year I played a prank on the whole building. It happened in two parts. The first part was more of an anti-prank in that it was actually not a prank at all but everybody thought it was one. Here’s what happened:

The night before, I made a cake. A nice white cake (from scratch) with frosting (also from scratch). I put lettering on top that said “Happy April Fools!” in bright blue.

I brought it in to work the next day and kept it in my office until mid-afternoon, when I figured people had returned from lunch and were in the mood for some cake. I sent an email to the entire building saying there was homemade cake in the kitchen to celebrate April first, then set the cake out there. I had saved a couple pieces for myself so that I could try it and so that the cake would have been started and everybody would continue to cut into it.

Surprisingly, it took all of 30 minutes for the cake to disappear. When I was putting it in the kitchen people were asking me what was in it, telling each other they didn’t trust me, wondering if it had toothpaste or some other unnatural cake ingredient. I didn’t say anything to them other than that they should have a piece. Back in my office people were messaging me asking if there really was cake in there (not wanting to be fooled into thinking there was a cake that didn’t exist), and asking me if there was anything wrong with the cake. There really wasn’t. It was a pretty tasty cake. But watching people’s suspicion was hilarious.

Once the cake had been consumed, I sent out a second email to the building. This was part two of the gag. It said that the first cake had been consumed and that the antidote cake was now in the kitchen, but it was half as big as the first, so they should hurry. I got a few replies back that it was funny, and a few people went to see if there really was a second cake. This time there wasn’t a cake, because there was no need for an antidote (and I was baking the first cake late at night and didn’t have time to do a second).

In all it was a pretty innocuous prank, but in an office environment playing a prank on an entire building without getting in serious trouble is very difficult. The cake was really good, and people appreciated it. I’m pretty happy with the way things went, and a lot of people got a good laugh out of it.

Sweet and Sour Pork

February 21, 2008 Posted by bob in Cooking - (Comments Off)

Last night I tried a new recipe: sweet and sour pork. The book said it would take 30 minutes, but it was my first time trying the recipe, so it took a little longer. Boy was it worth the effort, though. There are a few separate things that need to happen; preparing the batter, frying the pork, cutting the vegetables, making the sauce, and combining it all. In the end, I took a bite of the pork and thought “THIS is what it should taste like.” It was literally better than any sweet and sour pork I had ever had. It made my night.