the one where I discover Cooks Illustrated

So I have a confession.

I am a Cooks Illustrated virgin.  Never really thumbed through the magazine, never watched America’s Test Kitchen.  I’m more of a Bon Appetit/Food and Wine/ Williams Sonoma catalogue kind of girl.

But my new mixer came with a trial issue of Cooks Illustrated.  I signed up for that, and my 14 day trial of CooksIllustrated.com

Oh dear lord.

It’s like Consumer Reports, but for food!  Great recipes, amazing product reviews, I even know what kind of flour to use in my biscuits now (like I would have ever used anything other than White Lily.)  Not that I make biscuits, because that woud be baking.  And we know I’m the world’s most awful baker.

Thanks to their product reviews, I’ve figured out what kind of mandoline I should buy, picked out a food processor and blender (low end and higher end), and even found a not astronomically priced substitute for my much coveted Le Creuset dutch oven.

So this morning, I decided to give one of their recipes a whirl.  I am still staying with my grandparents out in the ‘burbs, so I had to run to 2 stores to find lowfat plain yogurt (I will refrain from obvious social commentary here) to make the lemon poppyseed muffins.  Yogurt instead of milk was a little weird, but I trust Christpher Kimball and Cooks Illustrated in a way that I have never and will never trust the Joy of Cooking.

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I hand whisked the batter, so as not to overwork it, and because whipping out the mixer to make muffins for three people seems to be overkill of the worst variety.

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It took the full 30 minutes in the oven, but the muffins turned out fairly well.  I didn’t have access to a real zester, so I peeled a lemon with a peeler and minced the peel as fine as a I could.  A zester makes a big difference in terms of evenly distributing things, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

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The muffins came out lofty and delicious.

That might be the extent of my culinary exercising for today.  Time to watch football and hope the Cowboys get a playoff spot…

PS: Check out DC Book Club for emmzzee’s and my best of 2008 book picks.

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Wherein my kitchen is re-outfitted

I live in a group house.  My roommates are great, but it is still a group house, as in not my house.  WHich means that there are other people using my stuff.  Generally I don’t mind, but the kitchen has become a point of contention on occasion.  I used to cook a lot mroe, but as the, um, cleanliness of the kitchen detriorated, I stopped.  Since it has gotten colder, I’ve started back up again.  And for some reason, our kitchen has remainded relatively clean.

My roommates have no idea how much it would behoove them to keep up with this trend.  My Christmas was almost entirely kitchen-oriented, which means I have loads of new toys to play with- a lovely new mixer, an apron that reads “I like to cook with wine and sometimes I even put it in the food,” a new set of pots and pans, a pizza stone, and a gift card I intend on using to buy some more  basic dishes, a silicone covered whisk for my new pots, perhaps a tiffin pail for delicious lunches, and dish towels, because all my new toys will be HAND WASHED, lest I have to bean someone with a 12-inch anodized skillet.

Of course, this means I will have to invite people over so as to show off my cooking skills and shiny new cookware.  I wonder if a nice mixer makes you a better baker…

smash burger

As I mentioned earlier, I hate leftovers.  So for dinner tonight, I tried Nick Kindlesperger’s Smash Burger recipe over at the Paupered Chef.

Since I am lazy, I went to the store and bought some admittedly suspect ground beef.  I say suspect, because I usually buy all my meat from Whole Foods or the farmers’ market, but here in the ‘burbs, it’s a 30 minute trip to Annapolis for Whole Foods.  Not exactly what I want to do when I’m just running down the street for dinner.  So I went to Shopper’s Food Warehouse.  Let’s just pretend I didn’t admit that and move on.

I followed his instructions exactly, only I made myself a double.  Well, two actually.

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And they turned out pretty well, although leaking a little more grease than I’d like.  I’m also an idiot and toasted two bottom buns for one burger and was left with two top buns for my second.  Go figure.

Leftover Boxing Day Miracle

Yesterday was Boxing Day, or the feast of Christmas leftovers.

I inherited a strage trait from my mother.  I love to cook.  I will cook all day.  I will sit down and eat.  And then, I’m done.  Unless they are fairly altered from the previous state, I’m not interested in leftovers, with the exception of sandwiches the day after Thanksgiving.  And even then, we usually use the turkey to make these.  Naturally, my roommates love this, because I am still working on cooking for one versus cooking for six.  So there are always leftovers.

So this year, I took a cue from the veggie stuffed baked potatoes in Whole Foods.

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I chopped leftover leeks with carrots and peppers from the crudite tray and sauteed with a little olive oil.

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I reheated the creamed potatoes over a double boiler (keeps them from getting gluey and brick-like)

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and mixed them in with the vegetables

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I also reheated the leftover chicken, just because it was there, and poured myself a glass of Caymus Conundrum and kicked back.

Success!

Christmas Eve Crudite

tree

Christmas Eve is very simple in my family, because we are very lazy.  We never decorate the tree until Christmas Eve, so we don’t do a big dinner.  THere’s also usually a lot of wrapping, pie and cookie making and lots of drinking and singing along to a bevy of Christmas music (some good, and some not so good).

Anyway, Christmas Eve dinner is traditionally crudite, wings, and a cheese platter.  My grandmother orders them from the grocery store, and we munch while we wrap and decorate.  The added benefit of this is that after a giant breakfast Christmas morning, we snack until we eat dinner around 4 or 5.

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This year, we I made the trays.  I picked up wings and chicken tenders.  For the cheeses, we had munster, cheddar, brie, and pepper jack.  For crudite, mini sweet bell peppers, carrots, celery, tomatoes and English cucumber.  Toss out some crackers and a bowl of olives and you’re done.

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Lou was also kind enough to stop by my grandparent’s with Christmas cookies- chocolate chip meringues, Rice Krispie treats with peanut butter and pretzels, peanut butter blossoms, shortbread, popcorn balls with cranberries, pecan cranberry tarts and white chocolate cranberry chunk cookies- all homemade.

Panettone? Srsly?

Yesterday, in my many wanderings (tangent: what is about the holidays that makes people so rude?  I almost had to get out of the car and beat someone on multiple occasions), I was given instructions to pick up a panettone from somewhere.  My mother and her siblings spent 6-7 years in Bavaria, so our Christmas traditions skew towards the German, not so much the Italian.

She got me.  I picked up a cranberry panettone from Trader Joe’s and it is downstairs being turned into French toast as we speak.  Sweet.

I’ll be twittering Christmas breakfast and dinner prep here.  I’ll try and remember to tag, but if not, oh well.

everybody’s waiting for the man with the bag…of booze

I never understood the phrase “drown your sorrows.” It sounds like something a sad, morose person does by themselves at a seedy bar in low light.

I am a social drinker. Don’t get me wrong, I will come home a drink a bottle of wine with dinner. But that same bottle just tastes better with company. Drinking is a lot like smoking, I think- there are a few dedicated souls who will do it no matter what, but for many, it’s about camaraderie. So I don’t drown my sorrows. I prefer to be a darkly humorous cynic of a drunk in bad times, and a happy and gregarious one in better times. I am also a social drinker because around Christmas, the general public (and occasionally my family) force me to seek refuge in cocktails to make it through.

Moving on to the point of this post- holiday booze recommendations. I like cheap plonk. There, I said it. Franzia, Boone’s farm, Andre, bathtub Tenley vodka- I’ve had it all. That being said, if ever there were a time of year to go all out, this is it. Festivus, Christmas, Hanukah, whatever- the last half of December is made for champagne and gold stilettos, fitted silk dresses and dangly earrings, elbow length gloves and purple belted coats.

Or, maybe that’s just me.

Here’s what I find myself drinking this time of year:

Paringa Sparkling Shiraz: little on the sweet side, but I love it anyway. Available at the Whole Foods on 14th and P.

Moet White Star or Taittinger Brut: Classic. Taittinger makes me feel like I’m in one of their old posters. As for the White Star, I drank it on my birthday, I will drink it at my nonexistent wedding, and I will request that people drink it at my funeral.

1+1=3 Cava: Cheap, bubbly, dry and delicious.

Zardetto Prosecco: Even cheaper, available EVERYWHERE, and delicious in morning cocktails. Speaking of which…

Pointsetta: I hate mimosas, because I don’t like fresh orange juice. So I have them with cranberry instead. I also skip on the GM, because I developed an aversion to it working in a restaurant.

Yellowtail Shiraz: in this recipe for cranberry mulled wine. Chuck everything in a CrockPot and let it simmer. Trust me, buy the 1.5 L magnum and make a double batch.

Sam Adams Winter Lager: readily available almost everywhere. I hate the Boston Lager, but I love the Sam Seasonals.

Maudite and La Chouffe: not exactly seasonal, but I find myself drinking them more than normal

Lindemans Lambic Framboise: Because every year, my little sister insists on drinking far too much, with disastrous hilarious results.

Hangar One Kaffir Lime vodka: because gimlets are appropriate year round.

Anything from the Gibson: if you haven’t been, go. Now. (Just make sure you’re not there when I want to go, so I can have a table.)