Thursday, January 31, 2008

Baker In The Midst

When I was younger, I once mistaken the movie title “Gorillas in The Mist” as “Gorillas in The Midst”, which left me pondering, “In the midst of WHAT?”

A teenager at the time, that kind of thinking kept my easily entertained brain busy for quite a while. Were they in the midst of a scientific breakthrough? Communication with aliens? Poo flinging turf wars? Why Coke Classic changed their formula? What could gorillas be in the midst of?

Deep thoughts; I haz them!

This past week, I almost witnessed a grown man cry over a brownie. As I mentioned earlier, I started a new job where no one knows who I am. I am a baker at heart. At my last job, they grieved me leaving not because they would miss ME, but my baked goods. Especially the cakes. So, I decided to try my new environment with a simple pan of blondie brownies. Nothing special, just flour, sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips. The reaction I received was nothing short of remarkable. You would have thought these people had never seen a home-baked treat before.

Now I’m in like Flynn, especially with the IT bubbas.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Here Piggy, Piggy!

One of the things my husband and I have in common is our love for latin food. He's orignially from Key West, Florida, and I was born a bit north of that near Tampa, Florida. Both areas are rich in latin culture, which brings an an abundance of influence to the culinary scene. Both of us grew up with latin food in our lives as much as other kids did eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We are both very lucky to have had that kind of ethnic exposure.

His sister can make a flan that will bring tears to your eyes, and I, my friends, bring you a Spanish Roasted pork that will make you weep. It's not something to be rushed, but the end result is nothing short of ecstasy. For this, you will need:

Spanish Roasted Pork

1 Pork Shoulder Picnic (anywhere from 5-9 lbs, depending on how much you want)
1 - 2 heads of garlic, peeled (large cloves to be sliced in half length wise)
Sazon Spanish seasoning by Goya (found in the ethic section of the grocery store)
Adobo all purpose seasoning by Goya (again in the ethnic section)
4-6 T olive oil

Now, the first thing you want to do with your piggy is give it a good rinse off and pat dry. Grab a small knife, then make slits in the piggy for the garlic cloves. This little piggy was about 9 lbs., so we used about 1 1/2 heads of garlic cloves. A smaller piggy probably just needs one head worth of cloves.

Next, stick the garlic cloves in the slits you made. Be sure to do this ALL over the piggy, skin side too.

Once that is done, sprinkle anywhere from 3-5 packets of the Sazon seasoning total all over the piggy. Follow that with a LIGHT dusting of the Adobo seasoning. Be careful with the Adobo, as too much will make the piggy too salty. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place Mr. Piggy on a heavy bottomed roasting pan (not aluminum), skin side up. Add the olive oil to the bottom of the pan (or you can do that before you put Mr. Piggy in...'prolly easier). Cover Mr. Piggy and roasting pan completely with a large sheet of tin foil and roast 3-5 hours. One hour before finishing, remove the foil and continue roasting. Our piggy took the enitre 5 hours because he was so big.

Once Mr. Piggy is done, remove from the oven and slice off the top fatty skin and discard. Do not drain the grease from pan (I know this goes against everything that you've ever learned about healthy eating, but trust's worth it!)

Use a fork and knife to slice/shred meat off Mr. Piggy. Discard bones.

Then toss the meat with the grease/juices, and all its porky goodness. Try not to moan too loud when you try this.

We ate ours with white rice and red beans...HEAVEN!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Under Pressure

Whew! What a week! Sorry I've been MIA, but I've been hit by a professional and physical trifecta this past week: new job, upper respiratory infection, and new thyroid meds, which make me want to climb the walls at 2 a.m. and do things like repave the driveway. Basically, I haven't slept since November.

I've worked at the same cushy government job for the past 4 years and was getting lazy. I knew I had backed myself into a professional niche, and it would be hard for me to get out of if I ever needed to find other work. Plus, hubby and I worked in the same office (yes, I KNOW...) and I'd be lying if it I didn't say it had some sort of effect on our personal life. I needed to find myself again. So I started a new job last week while trying to overcome a nasty virus (again) AND not sleep. The good thing about being over medicated on thyroid meds is not gaining an ounce over the holidays! Score!

Ur Doin' it Wrong, Or Keeping Your Lid on Tight

As I mentioned earlier, Santa brought me a new pressure cooker for Christmas and I've been all over it like Michael Jackson at a Boy Scout meeting! Turns out, I've been doing it wrong all along! The bloody user's manual sucked major green donkey weenies, and I couldn't figure out what the hell they were talking about. I thought the pressure cooker was broken because it wasn't coming up to pressure. I mean, after all, I WAS following the friggin' manual! Hey, guess what? It came with a bloody video too, and BLAM, I watched and learnt' it. I'm sooooo smrt! I wasn't putting the lid on entirely right, but now I'm back in business. Last night I made a kick-butt beef stew from a recipe I downloaded on Miss Vickie's Pressure Cooker website, and I'd share it with you, but I had to pay for it! Tough bea-yach she is!

It was worth it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Free Books!

So Santa was pretty good to me this past holiday; he even brought me a new pressure cooker! I've never used a true pressure cooker outside of pressure canning, so you know what that means? More cook books!

I go down to my local Border's book store, and they didn't have what I wanted. Friendly advice from the Jedi Masters over at The Cooking Forum (I love that place!) told me to go with any pressure cooking cook book by Lorna Sass, peticularly "Pressure Perfect". So, Border's has this thing where they will order any book (within reason) and they will call you when it comes in. Piece of cake, right? I order "Pressure Perfect" and go home with dreams of pressure cooked sugarplums dancing in my head.

About week or so goes by and I hadn't heard from Border's about my book. I call, and it hasn't come in. Out of curiosity, I turn the little computer printed order form they gave me over, and notice this:

Now I put in those little pink arrows and underlines, but I want you to pay particular attention to the red outlined box labeled "Important". Notice that it says that you might qualify for a "7 days or it's free" offer? So, I do a quick read, and according to me, I'm elligible. Here's how the dialog with the Border's employee went over the phone:

Me: "So, it says here that I'm can get my book free, since I ordered on the 28th and today is the 7th!"

Them: "Well, um, is the back of the order form signed?"

Me: "No."

Them: "Well, it isn't good unless the back is signed by a Border's employee."

Me: "Who's responsibility is ensure it's signed?"

Them: "Well, we are."

Me: "Then how am I to know that?

At this point, I get transfered to about 3 other people, and finally dicker (heh, I like that word) it out with the manager. At first, they tried to tell me it was over a holiday, so I wasn't elligible, but the order disclaimer excludes Thanksgiving and Christmas only. Then they went back to the whole "it wasn't signed" bit, but it's their job to fill the order form out, not the customer's. They dropped the ball.

So in the end, I had them and they had to offer the book to me for free. So, my friends, if you ever special order a book from Border's, make sure the back of your computer printed order form is signed (where I have the pink arrows) and count your calendar. I'm off to experiement with my new pressure cooker and some kick-ass recipes!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

It's All About The Pizza, Baby!

When people come to visit Florida from out-of-state (aka "Snowbirds"), they're often shocked to find that it actually does get cold down here! Granted, we don't get the snow and ice our Northern friends do; however, it does get pretty chilly at times.

This past week, we had weather down into the teens, which is enough to make a Florida Gardner (that's me too) cry. You see, one of the perks of being down here is the benefit of two growing seasons and gardening ALL YEAR. The downside is two growing seasons and gardening ALL YEAR. A girl can get pretty darn tired, and sometimes I wish I could just pack it all up at the end of the year! So, what do we do when the weather gets frigid and our little green babies are in peril? We do the "Bedsheet Boogie" and cover our little darlings with bedsheets, clothespins, and Christmas lights. A solid freeze can end up costing hundreds of dollars, not to mention watching something you've babied all year shrivel away to mush.

Anywho, I didn't come here to talk about the weather; I came here to talk about pizza baby! When the weather turns cold, I want cheesy, melty, crunchy, carb-loaded pizza. And since we're watching our pennies, I can make my own pizza darn it! Besides, there's no limit to what you can do with a pizza; I always like more sauce.

I present to you another wonderful recipe from The Cooking Forum! I've made this a few times and it's always wonderful. The crust is a little on the thick side, which I like; however, I feel that it could use some flavor. So feel free to add some spices (garlic powder, etc.) or even a little shredded cheese to the dough when you're mixing.

Also, the key to a good homemade pizza is to NOT OVERLOAD the pizza. That means go easy on the toppings that might make the dough soggy, for example tomatoes and mushrooms. The above example was a lovely tomato and basil combo and I sliced the tomatoes really thin.

This does take some time, but it is worth it. You will need a baking stone for this, and be sure to cut the parchment paper so it won't overlap your baking stone, or else it will catch fire. Trust me!

The BEST Pizza

2 –cups bread flour, plus more bread flour if the dough is too wet and for dusting the work surface
1 -teaspoon instant yeast
1 -teaspoon salt
1 –tablespoon olive oil, plus more olive oil, for brushing the dough
1 -cup warm water

PIZZA SAUCE (Makes enough for 2-3, 13x18 inch pizzas)
1 (28 -ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 – minced garlic cloves
2 -tablespoons olive oil
1 -teaspoon oregano
1 -teaspoon ground fennel
salt and pepper, to taste

1 -full recipe pizza dough
1 -tablespoon olive oil
2 -teaspoons dried basil (or 8-10 leaves minced fresh) -
8 -ounces mozzarella cheese, slices (use the real stuff NOT pre-shredded crap!)
1 1/3 -up to 2 cups tomato sauce (depending on whether you want a thin or medium pizza)
1 -medium onion
1 -cup sausage (precooked and browned in a skillet) -
1 -cup shredded mozzarella cheese - (shred yourself)
1 -cup shredded mild cheddar cheese


DOUGH: In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the plastic dough blade, pulse the flour, yeast, and salt to combine; about five 1-second pulses. With the machine running, slowly add the oil, then the water through the feed tube; continue to process until the dough forms a ball, about 15 seconds. Generously dust the work surface with flour. Using floured hands, transfer the dough to the work surface and knead lightly, shaping the dough into a ball. Lightly oil a 1-quart measuring cup with cooking spray, place the dough in the measuring cup and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside in a draft free place until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 - 1/2 hours.
Note: I used my Kitchenaid mixer. The dough should be pliable, but not wet. If it cannot be handled or hand-kneaded, add more flour a little at a time.

PIZZA SAUCE: Mix this up while the dough is rising, giving the flavors some time to meld.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. This may take as long as 30 minutes, so allow enough time for the oven to get hot. Remove all racks except the one holding your baking stone, for easier positioning of pizza onto the stone.

BUILDING: When the dough has doubled, grease hands with olive oil and remove it from the measuring cup, placing into the middle of a lightly floured board. (A silpat placed on the work surface makes cleaning up easier.) Being careful not to deflate all the air in the dough, roll dough into a ball and set aside. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cut parchment paper and set aside. Do NOT cut parchment larger than your pizza stone.

Oiling hands again, gently stretch the dough, shaping it into a large rectangle on the parchment paper. With palms, stretch and flatten the dough until it takes the shape you want it to have, keeping a slightly thicker edge for the crust. Dock the surface of the dough with your fingers to "texture" the surface and hold the toppings. Oil the dough before building the pizza. Place finely cut (or dried) basil across the top of the dough. Add Mozzarella cheese slices on top of the basil. Spread a thin, even layer of the pizza sauce, adding onions, pork sausage (or your choice of ingredients), shredded Mozzarella and mild cheddar over the top of the dough. You can really use any toppings you'd like.

BAKING: Position the baking stone on the bottom rack of your electric oven, or on the floor of your gas oven. Lift the parchment paper and slide onto the bottom of a sheet pan, then quickly slide pizza onto the baking stone. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges of the crust are browned. Check the bottom of the pizza for doneness before removing from the oven. Using tongs, transfer pie onto oven rack and set aside to cool a few minutes. Cut with a pizza cutter and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A New Year

Oh my. That was hectic. One minute you’re toodling right along, and the next…BAM! Here comes another year!

I can’t say that Christmas and the New Year were the best, in fact it they both really stank. You see, I found out that hubby had certain financial responsibilities that he wasn’t really taking care of. He wasn’t exactly ignoring them, but he wasn’t taking them seriously enough, and now they’ve gotten out of control. All along I was under the belief that he had things as good-as-gold, but he didn’t and plans for the New Year have changed.

Some of the changes are for the better (a new financial planning approach), and some a little more depressing (staying in sucky Florida for another year). You see, ever since we went to the Pacific North West last year for our honeymoon, we both completely fell in love with the area and decided THAT was the place for us. We had a plan to transition jobs and physical locations. We’ve kept an eye on the housing market here and the job market there. We’ve started sending resumes; we have no children, and didn’t have significant debt. We have good jobs and advanced degrees. Piece of cake.

Or so I thought.

I understand what happened. I understand this new debt ($25k) wasn’t spent on trivial things; it was spent on needed things (not wanted), but I still feel betrayed. I did all the right things before we got married: I checked his credit score, saw what bills he was paying, and how much he brought in. But somehow, he didn’t feel safe to tell me what was happening in between that time and now. So here we are; concerned for the future, and me a bit bummed and hurt.

I wish I had more positive things to share with you right now dear readers, but time will settle things down and another year will have its way.

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