Archive for the 'Cooking' Category

Published by PaintingChef on 04 Jun 2012

Zucchini bread, gift ideas and a metric ton of judgement in just under 1500 words. You are welcome.

So, I have a garden. It’s the third year I’ve had a garden because I refuse to count my sad little tomato plants in pots when we lived in Augusta because planting tomatoes and peppers in pots in Augusta is like sticking them on the surface of the sun and that is why baby jesus, Al Gore, Walt Disney and Steve Jobs invented sun dried tomatoes in jars, right? (Because they invented everything.)

And while my garden has gotten a little better every single year, it never fails that each year, there is one particular crop that is very… shall we say… prolific. (Other descriptors up for consideration were overwhelming, kind of an asshole and kudzu-adjacent.) For the past two years, it’s been jalapenos. I have canned and pickled and stuffed and grilled and given oh so many bags of jalapenos away that it is slightly ridiculous.

(In unrelated news… I now eat spicier foods…)

But this year? Zucchini. I have mountains of zucchini and so I am making every kind of zucchini bread that I can find. And… giving most of it away because something about sweet bread with vegetable in it never sits quite right. (Also on that list? Carrot cake. Just… no.)

I have, however, found one particular zucchini bread that I adore. Probably because it has onions. And herbs. And cheese. Oh, and baking mix… you know, like Bisquick? (Although I am I Pioneer Baking Mix girl, myself). (Also? While we are talking about secret shame cooking? I feel you should know that my side dish of choice when we have hamburgers is Velveeta Shells and Cheese. With a little splash of heavy cream. You may now judge me…)

(This is SO long and we haven’t even gotten to the pictures yet…)

But combine my garden, my plethora of zucchini (which is not as good on puffy eyes as cucumber because I totally tried and they are STICKY) and a very timely email from one of the greatest stores on the entire internet, UNCOMMON GOODS, asking me if I’d be interested in reviewing a few products and since I already pink puffy heart love Uncommon Goods because it is one of my top three places to go for all kinds of gifts ideas, I let the email sit in my in box for at least 10 minutes before replying so I wouldn’t sound too desperate…

Hey, you know how I love to cook and I’m always like… I’m going to blog about cooking! And then I never do… THAT IS OVER! We are making Zucchini Parmesan Bread!! Now with pictures!! More exclamation points!!!(!!)

I will go ahead and tell you that while this is a bread recipe, the measuring is allowed to be very lax. This is good because at the end of this 12 page post when I actually attempt to type out a recipe, it is going to be a best guess scenario. Add whatever you like in this bread. I did…

First go to your garden and find the zucchini that you meant to pick three days ago but didn’t because you were chasing a dog and discover that it has tripled in size (the zucchini, not the dog). WAIT! Pick some herbs first! Whatever looks delicious. Oh? You don’t have a garden? Haha! Now I am judging YOU!

Kidding… gather these things…

Baking Mix, zucchini, onion. eggs, butter, garlic, salt, parmesan cheese, herbs.

The recipe calls for vegetable oil. Butter is more delicious. Use that instead. Melt it and stir in about 2 cups of baking mix and 5 eggs.

Now we chop things! Do you hate to peel garlic? I do too and I’m paranoid about the chopped garlic in the jar. One time I went to one of those home parties and they sold dehydrated garlic and they were all JARRED GARLIC HAS FORMALDEHYDE which… duh, of course it doesn’t. But I’m still scared of it now so I use fresh. Also because I like how it looks in a bowl. But I hate the mess, I’m TERRIBLE at chopping garlic. I get the paper everywhere and somewhere I read about a trick with 2 bowls but I can’t figure it out.

However I have TWO awesome thing to tell you about. Two separate little garlic choppers that I think are so very cool. First? This twisty business. Fascinating. I used the bottom of the container to whack the cloves to break the paper and the put a couple of gloves inside and twisted away. Also? Dishwasher safe and east to take apart. Love this.

Other garlic chopping mechanism? This groovy little rocker thing. You just roll it back and forth over a peeled garlic clove and kind of scrape off the garlic cubes. I like this one too but not as much because apparently garlic has sort of a skin? And it sticks to the underside of the rocker and is kind of hard to clean. But still? Kind of cool. (This picture is misleading… the garlic clove goes UNDER the rocker. This was cuter.)

So chop your garlic. And your herbs. I think this is dill, chives, parsley and maybe oregano. Chop, chop, chop and stir. Add cheese. And eggs. Salt.

Now slice your onions very thin. This is a hand mandolin. I already had this and I use it all the time.

Stir all this together until it looks kind of… well, gross if we’re being honest. Decide that the batter is probably too thick and gloopy and splash in some cream. Because you have no milk but you have 2 cartons of cream. Because you bake cakes ALL THE TIME. (Spoiler alert… this cream will end up being a miscalculation because zucchini has lots of water in it…)

Now take your zucchini and peel it in a few places. I think this is pretty. Also I had this very cool little bugger to try out and wanted to peel the zucchini. I also used it to slice some of the zucchini really thin but ended up going back to my mandolin. But look! It can also peel wavy strips! And julienne (which is actually very, very cool and I plan to use in the very near future.) Downside? REALLY hard to figure out how to take it apart to clean it. But the center pops up and you turn it to choose a blade. I dig this. Patrick can take it apart. Also? I forgot to take pictures of most of this.

Stir the zucchini slices into the batter very gently.

The directions say to bake this in a 9×3 pan but I like to put it into loaf pans and give one away because Patrick and I will not eat an entire pan of zucchini squares before they go bad. My pans are dirty. I will take back judging you about not having a garden if you will overlook my dirty pans. It’s only fair. Divide the batter into 2 pans and sprinkle the top with some more cheese and a little pepper. Because it’s pretty… Unlike the pans…

Bake. Like 350? Until it’s brown and puffy?

Now I have to tell you something. I adore Uncommon Goods. And when they contacted me to review products it was all I could do to not choose some jewelry and be like sparkly! Pretty! I sacrifice. For YOU. Also? I lie. I adore kitchen gadgets. I have loads of them and Uncommon Goods is a great place to find them. My father is also a kitchen gadget geek and father’s Day is coming up. I’ll probably try and find him some kitchen-y goodness at Uncommon Goods.

Actually, I buy lots of gifts there. I love getting people wedding gifts from Uncommon Goods because while it may not be something off their registry, it’s something beautiful that they will treasure. I check there for birthdays, baby showers, mother’s day and holiday gifts. Uncommon Goods. Seriously. Do you guys know about this place? And they give money to charities when you buy things too! I dig that.

You know… so… go make some zucchini bread…

I’m pretty sure this is where I’m supposed to tell you that Uncommon Goods provided me with the gadgets I mentioned above. But all the opinions are my own. And I really do love them as much as I said I did. And not just because they gave me stuff.

Recipe… you probably need a recipe, right?

1/2 cup melted butter
5 eggs
2 cups Baking Mix
1 cup Parmesan Cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
3 cups thinly sliced zucchini

Mix it all together. Bake at 350 until golden brown and puffy. Don’t add cream.

Published by PaintingChef on 26 Sep 2011

Drama. Fully Baked.

For all my talk and dreaming about wanting to someday do this baking thing for real, I have to tell you… when the opportunity actually arose it was total shitballs insanely stressful. Granted that probably had something to do with my agreeing to sell my first cake on the same weekend that I was hosting a dinner party for my mom’s 60th birthday at my house for 15 people but details… right? I made a cake. And I SOLD it. For cash money. And it was a hit and it was glorious and everyone was thrilled and they all lived happily ever after, the end.

Ha. HA! HAHAHA! Not so much, right?

Let’s talk about just how many cakes I ACTUALLY made, shall we? I should back up. My mom is turning 60, technically today (although there has recently been some question as to the actual date of her birthday when she went to get a new social security card and suddenly she has two different birthdates on all her official government-y forms. Still. We say it’s the 26th because that’s the date we’ve always gone with in the past. My secret opinion is that she has no birthday and hasn’t had one since 1994 because the woman DOES. NOT. AGE. Hey universe! You jackhole! Why didn’t I get that gene?

60. That’s big. So I wanted to do something big and in all my thinking and ideas and brainstorming while in the shower (because when deciding between shaving my legs and brainstorming, I’m generally going with brainstorming unless I’m wearing a short skirt that day) I came up with several ideas all of which were immediately rejected until I finally landed on DINNER PARTY! With people! And wine! And cake! And dinner!

Immediately after planning this party and inviting people and confirming people (not in a Catholic Jesus-y way, just hey! You comin’ to mah house? Word. kind of way) I get another phone call (from someone I’ve just invited to said party) and she’s all Hey! Make another cake! I’ll totally pay you! And I’m all… more cake! Let’s do it! Then I hung up the phone and proceeded to FREAK THE FUCK OUT. The cake baking was the easy part. I love me some Friday afternoon baking while the Sirius Lithium channel wails the angsty anthems of my misspent youth and I’m mixing up a zillion cakes and cooking them and brushing them with Frangelico and just loving the whole zen experience of it all. That shit is better therapy than all the hours I’ve ever spent on the smelly couches of various doctor’s offices. Better couches and more cake. That’s the key to therapy. Look into that all ye doctors.

Anyway. The baking, that’s the easy part. My issues generally appear when we get into the structural integrity of the whole mess. I love a big tall cake. Nothing prettier. And I learned from my grandmother that those big tall cakes need a little help. Much like an underwire bra. But with drinking straws. Which would make a really terrible bra but for cakes, they work quite nicely for helping everyone stay in line and where you want them to be. Discipline straws. That’s what they are. HOWEVER. My second big weakness is time management/patience. I want to see my big tall cake NOW! Not after the layers have firmed up in the fridge for a few hours and are nice and easy to deal with. Who wants COLD cake?

So. Um.. All that said, what I should probably tell you at this point is that the FIRST three layer vanilla bean buttermilk cake with hazelnut syrup, black cherry filling and cream cheese frosting cracked into a zillion pieces and was thrown away at about 11:00 at night. Fine. That’s not entirely true. All but one piece of it was thrown away. I ate that piece while crying into my plate and it was GLORIOUS with the salt of my tears of self-pity and failure. And then I. Started. Over. (With the cake that was intended to be my mother’s birthday cake therefore I spent another 3 hours on Saturday morning baking MORE cake layers when I should have been cleaning the house and by that time shit was just rolling down hill but the wine! The wine saved the day!) By about three o’clock in the morning it was time to actually write “Happy Birthday” on the cake and can I just tell you something? Up until this point, I thought that when my very experienced cake decorator of a grandmother wrote on the cakes she sold to people and it looked like serial killer scrawl that you would find on the wall of a really freaky murder scene that it was because she just… wrote like a serial killer. NOT SO MY FRIENDS. I like to think that I am capable of having very nice handwriting. See? Look…

Yet an innocuous phrase such as “Happy Birthday” suddenly looks quite menacing when rendered in festive pink icing (and no, there is no picture, I love you far too much for that, internet). It’s the truth. And no matter how many times I scraped it off and started over, it still looked the same! I was HORRIFIED and at 3:00 on the morning of September 24th, 2011, I established my first rule of my as-yet-non-existent cake business. WRITE YOUR OWN SHIT ON YOUR CAKES. I will decorate them with lovely swirls and flowers and edible deliciousness but I refuse to be the reason your guest of honor looks at their cake, screams and has nightmares for a year while curled in the fetal position, shaking, drooling and mumbling about the hand of death until the men in white coats show up with the happy juice and make everything all better. Not gonna do it.

I’m not sure I have a second rule yet but I’m certain it will involve being paid in valium or xanax. I can’t lie. I threw more than one spatula in Patrick’s general direction and there were multiple incidences of dramatic sighing and flopping on the bed while declaring myself a complete and utter failure at life. It wasn’t my finest hour(s). I’m not proud. Lucky for everyone, my aim is REALLY bad.

Published by PaintingChef on 16 May 2011

The things we aren’t talking about today.

Books? Again? More? Oh sure, why the hell not?

It’s not like we’re going to talk about painting… oh no. That would just remind me that I’m NOT painting and that I actually have a couple of paintings that I really need to do but all the NOT painting I’m doing to avoid attempting those paintings I’m supposed to be doing is going to be oh so very loud. As always, they are in my head. I know exactly what I want to paint. That’s never been the problem. I’m just too… scared to try and translate it. My artistic abilities are raw, at best. I can’t draw, I can’t manipulate the paint once its on the canvas. I don’t know how. So I end up covering and covering and getting frustrated and throwing a temper tantrum and then I just start drinking.

But I want to paint something for my new niece’s (NEW! NIECE! GORGEOUS AND PERFECT IN EVERY WAY!!!) nursery. I have a friend opening a restaurant and he’s reserved a spot on a wall for me and I. HAVE. NOTHING. My grandfather is turning 90 this summer and we are all going up to the Vineyard for a whole weekend of festivities and I know EXACTLY what I want to paint for him but I’m thinking my dad would love it even more but his birthday is in two days and we all know that THAT isn’t going to happen… but maybe it could? Maybe it’s in my head enough? Maybe… just maybe… he would certainly like it better than a golf shirt, right?

Hmmmm… I think I shall sketch this afternoon and just SEE how it goes…

And chef-ing. Let’s not talk about that either. I actually would love to talk about that. I would love to talk about the delicious beer onion and barbecue chicken grilled pizza I made for dinner this weekend. And how good it still smelled when Patrick heated it up for lunch a few minutes ago. Or my current obsession with fish tacos but how I always kind of say that quietly because it sounds oddly dirty to me. I can’t talk about the big three-layer cake I’m making for my mother’s retirement party (RETIREMENT!!) next week because I have no idea what it is going to look like.

I would actually kind of love to talk about ALL of that. But can I? Is this a food blog? Can you have a food blog if you had weight loss surgery? There are so many gorgeous food blogs and so many people who stun me speechless with their baking and cooking and talents. I? Made mint julep cake truffles and didn’t even remember to take a picture of them until I was holding one half eaten in my fist last week and only had my Blackberry camera on me. It was, to say the least, a tragic picture of chocolate gore. Tasty, tasty chocolate murder.

How when I stand in the kitchen, my thoughts slow down and become more mellow. Whether I am baking or grilling or braising or roasting, it all makes me calm. How just the right amount of thyme can make squash and zucchini melt in your mouth like butter. And if I close my eyes, I swear that I sense my grandmother sitting right there, sipping coffee and smiling at me, telling me to just trust my instincts.

Or about the Easter meal I cooked for a group of friends and family. Beautiful barbecue chicken, perfectly grilled and sweet and smoky and oh so moist and tender that I ate it cold out of the fridge two days later. Summer vegetable succotash served cold and loaded with fresh basil. And my favorite summer salad with strawberries, goat cheese, praline pecans and crisp spinach leaves. We all sat down and someone said it looked like a magazine spread. I? Was two (four) glasses of wine deep and probably would have dropped my camera had I even tried to pick it up. Not that it ever occurred to me any damn way.

(Oh look… we’re back to drinking. What a shock.)

What was the point? Oh yeah. I read books this weekend. “The Hunger Games” trilogy. All of them. Couldn’t put them down. Can’t stop thinking about them. But I’m still not reading those damn vampire books. I tried and I hated every single second.

Published by PaintingChef on 27 Jul 2010

No worries… my “Life? Do it THIS way” book should be out any day now…

Good Intentions… Muffins! Muffins will be great to have for breakfast! Muffins for breakfast will prevent me and Patrick from making our separate stops at McDonalds for biscuits in the morning. MUFFINS FTW!!!

Execution Error… When purchasing muffin mixes, I generally stock up and like to have a variety to choose from. Somewhere in that stocking up, I, just for shits and giggles, threw in a box of chocolate-chocolate chunk muffin mix. Naturally… this was the only one I could find. NUTRITION FAIL!!

Good Intentions… ADD FRUIT! I have raspberries in the freezer! That would be something, right? HEALTHY FRUIT!!! FTW!!!

Execution Error… They are in the freezer. And throwing them in the batter all frozen-y will undoubtedly yield some excess moisture in the baking process and probably screw it all up? Because baking is kind of science-y? So I threw in a fistful of chocolate chips instead. BAKING SUBSTITUTION FAIL!!!

Good Intentions… Well, technically, I suppose they are still muffins and they are for breakfast. There was a valiant effort made. I thought about breakfast and made muffins and here they are in all their chocolate-chocolate chip glory. And then tomorrow I’ll go to the grocery store because I haven’t been in like… three weeks? And we are out of everything under the sun but still I can barely fit anything else in the fridge because of all the take-out containers? LEARNING FROM YOUR MISTAKES!!! FTW!!!

Execution Error… Man… those non-cupcake cupcakes would be DELICIOUS with cream cheese icing on them… GOOD JUDGMENT FAIL!!!

Good Intentions… I will take a “muffin” for breakfast. But then there will probably be a sugar crash at some point. I should try and do something to prevent that. PLANNING AHEAD!!! FTW!!!

Execution Error… Cold pizza? That seems reasonable. Chocolate-chocolate chip muffin and a piece of cold pizza. Yes. This is perfect. BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS!!! FTW!!!

NUTRITION? FAIL.

Published by PaintingChef on 20 Jul 2009

Some would say they see a theme developing. Or perhaps call this a trifecta. I’ll just call it the moment I realized my life was going to continue to happen.

Friday was Patrick’s birthday. It was the day he finally worked his way out of “Mexican 30” limbo (at the ripe age of 453) and, even more tragically, the day I once again became his older woman by nine whole months. An amount of time that would be significant in the baby-incubating realm were I to ever get my Busted Uterus and Punk-Ass Ovaries to properly incubate said fetus.

None of which is the point of this entry.

I have taken on the role of official Birthday Cake maker in my family. Something that I think would make my grandmother very proud because every ounce of baking knowledge that I possess came directly from her with two exceptions (the secret to chocolate chip cookies and the perfect pound cake; two things that I will NOT be sharing. You are welcome…)

I think my mother is secretly grateful for my choosing this role because she confided in me that baking just makes her sad now. But I think we all mourn and grieve in different ways because whenever I open my pantry to gather ingredients I feel my grandmother in my heart. As I gather flour, sugar, eggs, vanilla beans and butter, I feel like she is standing next to me, reminding me not to overmix brownie batter or teaching me the perfect way to temper egg yolks. I can close my eyes and see her perched on a stool, pushing aside a looming deadline for half an hour without a second thought to place her tiny hands over mine and gently guiding me as I practiced the lacy designs that she could do in her sleep.

And so I’m not sure what happened Saturday evening as I was assembling my husband’s birthday cake. Two layers of vanilla bean cake with a strawberry filling. I know something went wrong as I was making the strawberry-almond filling. Somehow I just didn’t have the touch to thicken the filling. Perhaps a forgotten ingredient. Maybe just a lack of patience. I don’t know. But I do know that as I watched that filling ooze out from between those two cake layers I just wanted my grandmother. I just wanted to hear her voice tell me not to worry, that it would be easy to fix and then we would just “cover our sins with icing”.

As I stood in the middle of my kitchen, tears streaming down my cheeks, I just whispered softly to her, asking her to help me. Not because it was a big deal that the cake wasn’t turning out. Not because I was afraid of not having a perfect cake for Patrick to blow out candles on (we are YEARS from that!!). But because this was the part of her that I was carrying on. This was how I was honoring her. And I didn’t have all the answers which meant I still needed her. And that’s tough shit because she’s gone.

But as I stood there quietly crying, praying that Patrick wouldn’t stand up and see me, I started to feel calm. I started to feel… not so helpless. And I started to just get a little damn creative. As I stood in front of my pantry reasoning out what would fix what had turned into something that can only be described as a bleeding cake. A few deep breaths and I remembered the cans of pastry filling I’d bought on a whim a few weeks ago. Almond, raspberry, blueberry! And as I “patched things up” and “covered my sins” it dawned on me that maybe she really had taught me everything she knew. Because sometimes the secret is just stepping back, taking a few calming breaths and making it work.

I still miss her everyday. People say that it gets easier. So far that hasn’t happened. But for the first time since she died, I finally feel like I’m going to be okay.

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