in other news, I still don’t bake

These cupcakes are completely fine.

These cupcakes are completely fine.

“Some people” might go around saying, How do you mess up cupcakes?, but I tend to find these are the same pedants likely to say things like, Seriously, how do you mess up boxed cupcake mix? Well, I don’t know, I guess I’m not as talented as you, Mr./Ms. Perfect. I hypothesize it’s either:

(a)   The Peanut oil I substituted for vegetable oil (surely not!)

(b)   The hybrid of half-and-half and eggnog I substituted for milk (all dairy! Can’t be a problem!), or

(c)   Dumping the bag of powder into the eggnog-peanut oil with a flourish, to then realize, oh #%&*, that was the frosting (lookit, packaging labeling was at fault here too) and then having to add the cake mix to the frosting-eggnog (and when does extra sugar go wrong, except medically?).

Sometimes you need to substitute, just like in Cooking, and if Baking can’t handle that I really see that as Baking’s problem. Adaptability is the key to today’s marketplace, Baking, so get with the program (and get a photo up on Linked In, for God’s sake; so amateur around here).

Actually, they tasted alright, but, according to Other Half, “some people” object to scraping cake off the paper wrappers with their teeth, so I GUESS I’m buying cupcakes for the office holiday party. Don’t say I didn’t legitimately try.

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cheesemaking, part 2: chevre

You know, we don’t have to talk about everything.

lactose intolerant

“I have a cheesemaking kit,” my friend L says. “In case you want to try that sometime.”

I am beside myself. Of course I want to try that sometime, and by sometime I mean immediately and for always. Making our own cheese? Just to have your own cheese on hand at all times? Is this nirvana?

“You do not have a great track record with dairy products,” Other Half says doubtfully. I ignore this. Yogurt is a temperamental diva, subject to fits of temperature (too hot! too cold!) and materials (did you use saran wrap?) and whimsy (apparently). I think we can all agree this is different. This comes in a kit. I am all about kits.

“I’ll bring it over,” she says. She doesn’t know about the hex on my place, which is probably the German word for “Things Go Horribly, Horribly Wrong in this Kitchen”. (Kuchenkatastrophe, my German-speaking friend says, but I’m genuinely not sure that’s expansive enough.)

“Okay,” I agree. I have forgotten about it too.

It really seems simple enough. Milk (that isn’t ultra pasteurized). Rennet (comes in handy kit). Citric acid (ditto). Dissolve citric acid into water, add the milk, heat, stir in rennet. Watch it get all weird and curdled (in a good way). Separate the whey (which looks like lemonade but SO isn’t. Just be cautious when pouring a glass of yellowish stuff in your refrigerator, is what I’m saying, as Other Half probably should’ve been later. Never mind about that.)

“This is the stage when it should be shiny and stretchy like taffy,” she says. We stare at it. Well, it is none of those things. It is lumpy and liquidy and somewhat tacky to the touch, the culinary love child of cottage cheese and preschool paste.

We give it some time. We stretch and squish and fold. It breaks apart in our hands. “It’s supposed to get all stretchy,” she says again.  She’s definitely looking stressed.

“It looks like ricotta,” I say hopefully. I don’t know why, like I might get partial credit if I come up with some kind of cheese! any kind of cheese! it totally counts!

“There is a way to make ricotta,” L says, “and this is not it.”

We manhandle our not-ricotta-and-yet-definitely-not mozzarella for another 15 minutes before she gives in. It’s just not going to be mozzarella. It has different dreams. I start digging around in my cabinet for tupperware.

“You can keep it,” she says grimly. Her disappointment with the situation is palpable.

I, on the other hand, am accustomed to these outcomes, and I am, frankly, delighted it’s edible at all. I can actually use this (and you know how we like cheese! any kind of cheese!). I am not that distressed to get to keep the whole pot.

“Did you make ricotta?” Other Half asks later, when he sees it in the refrigerator.

“Kinda!” I reply.

And we did use it. We put it on flatbread as a white pizza, combining the ricotta texture and the mozzarella taste, which is extremely efficient pizza-making, if you ask me; melted it into cheese toast the next day; crumbled it into a lasagna a few days later.

At about that point it got a little stiff, though: less of a “hard cheese” and more like “drying concrete mix” so we gave up on it. We love our cheese, but we understand there are limits.

I’m prepared to try another round, though. L’s kit makes 6 kinds of cheese, so come on over anytime!  The kuchenkatastrophe always likes a new challenge.

yogurt, part deux

I know it seems like an unreasonable amount of time between yogurt updates, for those of you on the edge of your seats, but just to remind you: I had to wait for warm weather to set in around these parts, since we still have not solved the riddle on whether it’s possible to make yogurt in cold climates. It’s probably not a riddle, but I spend my googling time on other things, and haven’t gotten around to looking it up, okay? But it’s been warm in June, so one night I brought home another quart of whole milk, fended off Other Half from eating it with cereal, followed the steps, turned the oven on and off within 2 minutes this time, wrapped the bowl in plastic wrap AND a towel, and placed in the oven overnight.

Was I more optimistic the next morning? Yes!  Well, actually, I totally forgot about it and only remembered when Other Half – who was about to bake something for breakfast – calls from the kitchen, “Hey, why is there a bowl of milk in the oven?”

Dammit! Again? I dash into the kitchen to examine my second failure.

“Well,” Other Half offers, “it kinda smells like yogurt.” I lean in. It DOES. I stir it around. It’s a little thicker, actually. I mean, thicker than milk, which doesn’t seem to say a lot but is still an improvement from my first attempt. I decide to put it in the refrigerator for awhile to see what happens.

Hours later, it’s…definitely thicker. A little. And definitely still smells like yogurt. But it’s still….definitely really thin. I remember that I read somewhere that you should strain yogurt through cheesecloth to get Greek yogurt-like consistency. I have cheesecloth! This could work!

Except it doesn’t; it doesn’t do anything except promptly pour 3/4 of what I have through the cheesecloth into the drain. Epic fail, I would mutter to myself if I were in my 20s and/or possibly early 30s, maybe stretching into 34. This self-sufficiency movement may not be for me. I see, faintly, in the distance, a lifetime of Chobani stretched out before me.

I guess I’ll live, if that happens. Just don’t expect me to be the Yogurt Lady after the Apocalypse is all.

Of course, the worst part is that I see my Yogurt Making Friends the next week and have to explain the situation. They shake their heads in puzzlement. “I’m just going to have to come over and make it with you,” they say. “I think once you get a feel for it it will all make sense.”

I feel resigned and skeptical about this approach, but I’m willing to try it, for argument’s sake. Updates soon. Struggle to contain yourself.

dammit! this explains all those years of burned onions.

45 minutes, people. 45.

yogurt, part one

Leading with a success story.

I’m feeling confident these days, chiclets, what with the tremendous success of the Honey-Lime and Brown Sugar-Red Wine Vinegar mustards, and not-terrible almond butter, and the shakshula (poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce from the recipe at Smitten Kitchen, which was yummy AND looked super pretty). Then I made scones and lemon curd last weekend, which were fab. (I’ve been informed that this is the secret to awesome scones: 1. Use buttermilk instead of water. Ok, well, I’d say 1. Use a mix, if you don’t happen to keep all those dry ingredients in your kitchen, which I don’t, and 2. Use buttermilk instead of water.) I made the lemon curd from scratch, which involved squeezing a lot of lemons and cooking it with sugar and eggs and butter, and I did not mess it up! Though I did cut the recipe in half, because it originally called for 12 lemons to make 2 cups of lemon curd, and WTF? am I running a bakery now? Who can eat 2 cups of lemon curd in a week? I only finished 1 cup because I took some to my book club and then the rest to a family breakfast. I got a general thumbs up from those people, however, so it goes in the Win column.

It’s true these were mitigated by the middling successes/general failures, if one needs to use labels, of the marshmallows* (all three of them, which DID taste like marshmallows but with the chewy consistency of, say, octopus) and the Burned Walnut Brandy, which Other Half supportively agreed “tastes like alcohol”, followed by supportively questioning, “what’s that aftertaste? Some kind of nut?”

But there’s some kind of analogy about horses and getting on them again after getting thrown off, not that I would do this literally because I don’t like horses anyway and I don’t think I could be held responsible for what I would do if one actually threw me off, but the point is you shouldn’t be permanently put off by your middling successes/general failures and face your fears. Also, stay away from horses.

To wit: for some time now, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of trying to make yogurt, other than the fact that I’m scared of poisoning myself.

Other Half is adamantly against it. “We can just buy yogurt, and no one has to die or waste milk,” is something along the lines of his argument. People who make their own yogurt, however, are always telling me how it’s so much better than store bought yogurt, and “it’s so easy! Anyone can do this, trust me.” (I’m a little concerned these are the same people who can make apple butter in their sleep, but I’m not going to be put off! See above re: getting back on horses.)

So last Sunday, I pour a quart of milk (and I used whole, because the recipe said whole milk was best) into a saucepan, heating to an almost-boil, then poured it into a bowl and added the candy thermometer so I could monitor the point when it reached 110 degrees. Meanwhile, I turned on the oven for 10 minutes, turned it off, stirred in the starter yogurt when the milk reached the right temperature, covered it with a damp towel, and set in the oven overnight.

The next morning I opened the oven door with an excited flourish! to find: a bowl of cold milk. Yeah, it didn’t work. At all.

I email two of my friends who make their own yogurt all the time. What did I do wrong?

“Oven was too hot,” said one. “You killed the starter yogurt cultures. Next time, leave it on for only a few minutes.”

“Oven was too cold,” said the other. “You need warmer weather in general. Also, make sure you use organic yogurt.”

“You don’t need organic yogurt,” said first friend. “Any kind works. But did you use plastic wrap? Plastic wrap is key.”

I didn’t use plastic wrap, the recipe only mentioned the towel, and I still don’t understand how many minutes I’m supposed to leave the oven on for before I turn it off. In fact, my recipe specifically says, “Don’t get hung up on the temperature of the warm place.” But apparently I DO need to get hung up on it, because it’s VITALLY IMPORTANT. If it requires warm weather, how do people make yogurt in the winter? If it can’t get too hot, does that mean you can’t make yogurt in tropical countries? Why don’t cookbook authors explain these things??

Here’s my compromise: I’m going to wait to try again until this weekend, which is supposed to be warmer. I’ll think about the organic thing. I’ll turn on the oven for exactly 4 minutes and then turn it off. And I’ll break out the plastic wrap. Updates soon.

*(I do have another recipe for marshmallows, but didn’t get around to trying it before spring and now it’s too late. I don’t drink hot chocolate in warm weather. It’s just not right.)

i wanted to title this post curry me likesa but i restrained myself

I’m  visiting family in Malaysia, and last night we made curry laksa.

Not from scratch. Let’s not get hysterical. I bought a paste from the local Tessco along with coconut milk and fresh longbeans and sprouts and silken tofu (supposed to be firm but I couldn’t find it…or it was there and I can’t read Malay, which is completely possible) and fried tofu and fresh shrimp with heads and long, long antennae and all, which gave my sister-in-law a bit of scare when she pulled them out of the grocery bag expecting produce, not sea aliens. I put my brother on shrimp duty, because I had to do it last summer in a thai cooking class and I wanted to share the wealth, though in fact beheading, deveining, and peeling shrimp might not be like wealth at all and does not appear to improve upon repetition.

No, I mean, I was willing to do it, I just had to get everything else started first and…it worked out that those things took the same amount of time as shrimp duty. It wasn’t a scam, Erik, I swear.

I learned from the thai class not to overdo the coconut milk (blech…it can get way too sweet really fast), so used more water to thin it out and stir-fried the beans, sprouts, shrimp and tofu, then piled them on the noodles in a bowl, poured over the curry sauce and topped with fried tofu and sliced hard boiled eggs.

I think it turned out great! And I am not dissuaded by the fact Erik reminded me afterwards that there are, in fact, a lot of Malaysian restaurants in Malaysia that serve curry laksa and do not wreck your kitchen or require you to spend an hour mangling sea aliens. I feel there’s value in learning how to do that at least once. I’m stocking up on curry laksa paste before I leave.

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