2 New Foods

Neither turned out well enough to post about in full, but I’ll keep trying.

This bread was the first time I followed a recipe from this immense volume; a volume that has only ever served as a reference to me before.  I was surprised at how simple it is to make bread.  And even though my dough didn’t quite rise as much as it was supposed to, biting into this bread warm out of the oven literally took my breath away.

And the February challenge has been met.  Homemade gnocchi, baby.  But I didn’t have a ricer, so I mashed these with a fork.  Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to mashed potatoes, my family’s beliefs are deeply entrenched in camp-ricer.  I own 3.  But they are all back at my parents’ home, gathering dust on my closet shelves.  If you look closely, you can see the chunks in the middle of some of these little potato pillows, which would not have happened if 1) I was not lazy and had just mashed the potatoes thoroughly, or 2) had a ricer to do the job right in the first place.  But I enjoyed the process, and learned a couple of things for the next time…and you can bet there will be a next time.

I know I haven’t posted recipes for you to follow, but if you haven’t tried either of these from scratch before, do take the time.  Watching each of these take shape in your own hands is so worth it.

January Challenge

The first of my cooking resolutions is complete!  Pretty successfully, too.

There was no particular reason for me to tackle meringues first, except that I happened to have the 3 egg whites, ¾ C sugar and ½ t of peppermint extract necessary for baking in my pantry already.

What I didn’t have was the pastry bag (I used a large Ziploc with a hole cut out of the corner) or the patience to paint 2 red food-coloring stripes down the side.  So mine are not nearly as attractive as Joy’s.  But she gives me something to aspire to.

I was nervous about making these high-maintenance little treats, so I got everything ready ahead of time.

Why hello, whisk attachment.  It’s been a while.

Joy heats her egg whites and sugar over a pot of simmering water for a minute or 2.  Though my go-to cooking reference doesn’t include this step, I figured dissolving the sugar might give me a smoother meringue.  Besides, I was in no position to deviate from the recipe.

I mustered up some patience, and beat the eggs to stiff peaks.

I stirred in the peppermint extract, and then I piped away.  Though the Ziploc method doesn’t give you particularly even cookies.  Perhaps I just need to develop a steadier hand.

Then I set my babies in a 175 oven, and left them alone for 1 hour and 50 minutes.

These meringues are light and airy and would make an elegant dessert sandwiched with a layer of chocolate ganache.  Maybe that will be next year’s resolution.

12 Months of Resolutions

I make the same two resolutions every year:  be a nicer person (it’s not always sunshine and rainbows around here) and take more pictures.

Last year I added: remember to send friends and family birthday cards.  And I did pretty well.

This year, I’m going to add another—a challenge of sorts.  I’m tackling 12 tasks I’ve always wanted to try in the kitchen.  One per month, all year.  I won’t make any promises, like which recipe I’ll try in which month, or which day I’ll post, but I promise to try my darndest to get them all finished.  And no cheating blogger tricks like getting them all done and setting up the posts in advance.

Some of these may not seem as much of an undertaking as others, but my goal isn’t to become a member of the Daring Kitchen.  I’m just setting out to do some things that I’ve never done before.  So here I am, ready to meet these challenges head on!

The list, in absolutely no particular order whatsoever:

1.  Fry something!  Namely, onion rings.  I bought a candy/oil thermometer and we all know I’m now the proud owner of a Dutch oven.  So what am I waiting for?  Perhaps it’s to answer the age-old debate…thick or thin?  When that’s a question of Ina vs. P-Dub, I really don’t know what (or whom) to choose!

2.  Meringues.  These come from Joy the Baker, and they are stunning.  My mother-in-law makes this crazy-giant meringue cake and it is out of this world.  So take the normal trepidation with which one might approach making these confections and triple it.  But they’re melt-in-your-mouth irresistible, and I must learn to make them for myself.

3.  Make fresh pasta.  Period.

4.  Along those lines, I want to make gnocchi from scratch as well.  Gnocchi is my go-to food in restaurants, because I like to order things I can’t make myself.  I have about 20 different recipes for it, but have been holding back.  Again, don’t quite know where to start.  Giada?  Lidia?  Mario?

5.  Find a good use for the dough-hook on my mixer.  To date, I’ve only used the whisk and paddle attachments.

6.  Master the Art of French Cooking.  No, not like Julie and Julia.  Like Ina.  Her Barefoot in Paris cookbook is the least-touched of my volumes.  I’m aiming to make 10 recipes from the book in one month this year.  I know that’s a lofty goal, but it’s worth a shot.

7.  Figure out Royal Icing.  I think I will invest in this cookie cutter, because I want Bakerella-style cupcake cookies.  Annie’s Eats has a post on Royal Icing that makes me think I can do it.

8.  Take a cooking class.  I have always, always, always wanted to do this, but may have to wait until grad school ends in July.

9.  Make truffles.  Difficult?  No, it shouldn’t be, but I have several recipes calling my name.  Truffles are just another one of those recipes that are just sitting in a folder gathering dust.  I need a little kick in the right direction to make my own.

10.  Go wine-tasting.  It doesn’t have to be in Napa Valley, although that wouldn’t be too terrible.  Just a local winery that can teach me a thing or two how to put what I drink with what I eat.

11.  Stop buying chicken stock!  Everyone swears by homemade and it’s a habit I’ve been wanting to get into.  I don’t know if I’m quite ready to cut up the bones to release the marrow, but I can take baby steps to start.  Love and Olive Oil just published a photo-filled, step-by-step guide, so I no longer have any excuses.

12.  Make something out of phyllo.  My first try at Spanikopita was a bit of a disaster, and I need a second go-round with a dough that dries out in seconds.  This time, I will emerge victorious.

12.5  Okay, I know I said 12, but I have a bonus.  I’m sure I’ll be feeling ambitious at least one of the months of the year.  I want to pop my own popcorn, too!  My mom and I used to do it when I was little with the Jiffy Pop skillet, but I’m going to pop it for real this year.

Just looking at this list is overwhelming!  Do I start with what’s easy and build on my successes?  Or do I tackle something truly challenging, before the stress of the spring semester sets in?  You’ll just have to wait and see.