Thursday, September 9, 2010

Egg cakes

If at first you don't succeed, figure out a better way to do it. Or, adapt what you are trying to do to skills that you already have. Now, this obviously doesn't apply to everything but sometimes it can work wonders. For example, I am not the most artistic person in the world. Sure, I love to knit, sing, play some instruments and decorate, so I suppose I have artistic tendancies, but I'm not that great at drawing, my handwriting is abysmal and I'm a horrid painter. Every Easter I am reminded of just how lousy I am at such artsy things when we pull out the eggs and the dye. My sister is fantastic at decorating eggs! Hers are always gorgeous and pretty and exactly how she intended them to look. Mine always look like they seer done by a 5 year old. And that would be an insult to most 5 year olds! I was, however, quite fortunate today in the discovery of a uniquely shaped baking pan. Egg shaped! It's kinda like a muffin tin, but the holes are oval and when the batter puffs up it should shape into little eggs! Now, I may suck when it comes to paint, but I'm actually quite good when it comes to icing! I think the reason for this is because so much of success with icing is dependant on the quality of the icing and having it prepared properly - and that, my friends, is my forte. I can whip up a gorgeous ganache, or a beautiful buttercream, in a heart beat. So I bought the stupid pan. I know I'll only use it once a year, but I will use it, and I will have the best tasting pretty eggs in town! Icidentally I also plan on making chocolates with them... Make the hollow halves, fill them with caramel or fudge or something like that, and then melt the halves together.
Today was a wee bit of a write off - I mean, besides my buying that pan. Gabe refused to sleep, and unfortunately I thought I would watch some TV while I was waiting for him to go down. The reason that was unfortunate was that it seemed to keep Gabe awake longer than not. So, finally around 2:00 he fell asleep while I was holding him on the couch. I went to lay him down 10 minutes later and... He woke up. Wide awake. Stupid me. He didn't sleep again for he rest of the day. Since I needed to get some things done like dishes and cleaning the living room I tried my darndest to do them while he was awake and for the most part I was successful. Then I only really had time to write some cards to people and to finally make dinner for Matt. I had planned on making sloppy joes since I had half a French loaf leftover and it was probably a little stale so I was going to toast that up for the buns, but it turned out we had no ground beef in the house. So instead I made French toast with some stale white bread that I bought on Monday and cooked up some sausages. I also whipped up a couple of syrups while I was making dinner. The only flavor I have yet to figure out how to do well is Irish Cream. It's actually one of my favorite flavors for italian sodas and the only one that I had to buy. So today I tried looking up what is actually in Irish Cream and there were so many various answers that I was really confused. I was hoping it would be an easy thing like how French Vanilla is just vanilla and almond, but no. See, Irish Cream is traditionally whiskey, cream and sugar, but the flavoured syrups that are around use everything from caramel to coconut. So, I finally decided to resort to what I always do - winging it. I had a tiny bit of the store bought Irish Cream left over and I started smelling it. It definitely had coffee, for sure there was vanilla (good vanilla, too) and I'm pretty sure caramel and chocolate undertones. Perhaps some almond, but we'll see about that. So, tomorrow I will be making my own Irish Cream syrup with only fresh ingredients (save the vanilla because it's nearly impossible to find vanilla beans in my town). I'll use crushed coffee beans, shaved dark chocolate, I'll caramelize some sugar and if I decide it needs it I'll crush in some almonds too. Hopefully I get the quantities right which, admittedly, would be much easier were I using artificial flavoring, but I've made enough syrups to know about how much flavor can be yielded from an amount of raw ingredient. For example, it only takes one mushy strawberry to flavor up to 3 cups of sugar syrup (as a side note, add lemon zest to your strawberry syrup to round out the flavor). So if I assume that the coffee, vanilla and caramel flavors are prevalent it should be pretty simple to figure out how to do that.
I've got a bit of a beef to lay out. I'm sure I've mentioned this story before but one day Matt and I were at a Mexican restaurant in town and I was commenting on how their salsa had too much cilantro for my liking (and by too much I mean any). Matt asked me what the cilantro tasted like and after trying to describe it to him and receiving funny looks in return I fished out a particularly large cilantro leaf from my salsa and got him to taste it. I asked him what he tasted and he said, "salsa". I found that extremely weird so I then asked if he could pick out the tomatoes and onions and peppers and he said, "Nope, I just taste salsa." I fired him that day :) Too often we tend to eat without tasting or smelling or really appreciating. We may acknowledge that something tastes good but we fail to examine why it tastes good. Is there a particular pairing of flavors that you like in it? Did the saucier add vinegar for a bit of je ne sais quoi? Is the fruit fresh or the cheese aged or do you simply love anything and everything umami? I noticed a case of bad cooking the other day when I was at Denny's (I know, I brought it upon myself). I ordered their Southwestern Steak Burrito because in the picture it had lots of vegetables. Well folks, all I can say is that sometimes pictures do lie. The first thing I noticed, other than the lack of vegetables, was the overwhelming taste of Worchestershire sauce. The meat had been soaked in it. The next thing I noticed was the unmistakable presence of Tabasco sauce. Not to say that Tabasco sauce is bad, but the way the flavors were layered there was no subtlety. You could taste each layer powerfully, and at the same time. It was an overwhelming taste where all they seemed to focus on was flavor in large quantities and they didn't seem to picky about what flavors they were. What if that burrito really had a lot of veggies? What if the steak was thinly sliced instead of chunked and if they added a touch of jalapeƱo to the Tabasco sauce mixture and they used about half the amount of Worchestershire sauce? Well, then I might actually look forward to the next time I eat at Denny's!
I think everyone needs to cook with their nose more. When I'm making a sauce or a roast and I get to the point of seasoning and cracking open my spice rack (and my spice cupboard - there are so many flavors!) I grab a few jars that I think will work and then I smell whatever I'm cooking and then smell the spice. If the smells go, I use that spice. This is a super effective way to improvise. So many people add spices just because that's what they always add but may I be the first to say that not every tomato sauce should have oregano in it? I myself am partial to basil, but not always. It depends on whether or not my sauce has brown sugar and chili powder in it. One of the easiest dishes to improvise on is apple crisp, or rather, fruit crisp. Are you going to use peaches and blueberries and maple syrup? Or maybe just peaches and rum? Or apples and brandy, strawberries and Frangelico, or strawberries, rhubarb and limoncello? Then are you using cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice or mint? So many choices!
Well I just made myself sufficiently hungry. I think perhaps I'll have some apple slices with cheese on it. ...good medium aged cheddar. ...Because I like the salty cheese and the sweet apple.

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

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