Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Distracted Cook thinks she is a Daring Baker

A while back The Distracted Cook found the most interesting site that is all about cooking and baking. It's name is The Daring Kitchen and you can find it here: The Daring Kitchen.  After spending hours reading all over the site The Distracted Cook decided to take up the challenge and become a Daring Baker. Oh my!

This is the very first challenge that The Distracted Cook has answered, and I must say, I am in even more awe than before. The Daring Bakers is a group of excellent bakers with great senses of humor and personal style. You could not imagine the degree of professionalism exhibited by these bakers. I am in fine company and I hereby vow to try my best to keep up. I really do.

The January 2011 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.

You can imagine the dismay of The Distracted Cook when she saw what she was supposed to be baking! These are absolutely beautiful and inspiring desserts - just take a look! Visit accro again and scroll through those lovely examples of what you should be able to do by following the directions provided.

Now take a look at what The Distracted Cook tried to do. Really.

You  can tell from this beginning that I might have some questions. Undaunted, The Distracted Cook forged ahead. And, oh yes, as when I tested my first recipe for Leite's Culinaria which was also a baking escapade, I once again set the oven ON FIRE! Evidently my batters cannot contain themselves and proceed to drip over edges, leak out of bottoms, and generally become totally uncontrollable. But The Distracted Cooks knows what to do in such cases - turn off the smoke detector before she starts to bake! Yep. It works every time.

This was such a fun adventure. I decided to break it up into three days and it is a good thing because by the end of the first step my kitchen looked like it was hurricane season all over again. I am always amazed at how organized and NEAT most cooks are. I don't understand how that works - they must lie awake at night plotting out every move in their neat kitchens. I try really hard, but....

I decided to make a pink and yellow outer layer for my "Biscuit" and that seemed to work fairly well. The first problem that I encountered was this : the half sheet pan would NOT fit into any of my three freezers! Nope, not a chance. I have two side-by-sides so you know what that means. My old chest freezer died a few years ago and I really miss it at times like this. So, I used a smaller pan. That worked. 

I made some other colors to add some kick because I was going to put some of "The Stuff" in the filling. You remember The Stuff don't you? Pineapple and papaya simmered in sugar with some cinnamon for good measure. And it looks really pretty. I made the base and the wrapping and proceeded to cut it and try to fit it into a ring mold. Ha! Or rather HAHAHA! Asthe warned about getting sharp edges and making good matches, but somewhere between reading her advice and doing it The Distracted Cook fell off the turnip wagon. Look at this:

Pretty sad, don't you think? so I went about "fixing it up" for photos. Here is what you could see next:

A bit of improvement, but a long way to go to catch up with the other Daring Bakers! If you came over this afternoon, I would give you a taste. This is what you would get:

 It looks better if you look at what's left and not what I have already started eating!!

Now, don't YOU want to be a Daring Baker too?? You can, you know. Just go sign up. And I will see you here  again on the 27th of February when the next Daring Baker Challenge is revealed. 

The Distracted Cook Votes

Today the voting began for the Homie's Best Home Cooking Blog 2011 at the site of The Kitch'n. The blog for whom I test recipes, Leite's Culinaria  is one of the finalists and The Distracted Cook just went and voted! You can vote too! All you need to do is go to the link below and put a check mark next to Leite's Culinaria and the click "Answer the Survey." It's as easy as pie - or some other wonderful baking project. And that is a hint! Check back tomorrow for the latest post and the latest escapade of The Distracted Cook right here.

Here is the link: 

Now go vote for Leite's Culinaria!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Weekword =Mercurial

Our Weekword this week is mercurial and it was chosen by Carmen at The first thing The Distracted Cook did was try to find her trusty dictionary to be sure she was talking about the right word. Biomouse certainly chose an interesting one for us to ponder.

The definition that stands out most to The Distracted Cook  is:  flighty and erratic. Now that just about sums up the kinds of activities that go on in the kitchen of The Distracted Cook -  certainly when it comes to organization and planning. What isn't erratic in this place? Of course, I refer to it as breezy and spontaneous rather than flighty and erratic. Or maybe if we stretch a point, we could say disorganized and ever-evolving.

Perhaps erratic is just another synonym for distracted. Distracted behavior often looks a lot like erratic behavior. For example, trying to do two things at the same time keeps you jumping from one side of the counter to the other, dashing here and there while trying to catch the flour that is about to tumble onto the floor. If there were no sound on the television and you just saw the action, you would definitely consider it erratic or mercurial. May your kitchen NOT fit the description of this particular word! The Distracted Cook tries on a daily basis not to be The Mercurial Cook!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Recycle In The Kitchen

Most of the recycling that we do from the kitchen ends up out here in our Dirt Mixer. All those scraps and bits and pieces get put in the Dirt Mixer and after a few months they emerge as beautiful dirt ready for the flower pots or the vegetable garden.

What doesn't end up in the Dirt Mixer gets tossed into one of these:

All those boxes, newspapers, metal cans, recyclable plastics, and glass jars go into one of  these handy bins. From these colorful containers the fancy contents get dumped into the special roller bin that goes out to the curbside once a week for pickup. Just like this:

We do our best to make sure everything that can go to the curbside actually makes it out there. Other things go to the Salvation Army, The Goodwill Center, or to a friend's garage sale. 

There are, however, the Kitchen Recyclables that start and end in the kitchen. These are the real treasures!
The best of the Kitchen Recyclables are the recipes that have been handed down through the generations, sometimes in the script of the original cook, but more often scribbled on a piece of paper as the cook shows and tells us how to make that special dish in that very special way. 

My Mom sent me off into the world well prepared to face just about anything. Before my husband and I left for the hills of Utah as newly weds, my Mom gifted me with The Joy of Cooking, one of her family's cast iron skillets, and the belief that I could do anything if I put my mind to the task. I still use that skillet, have passed on the cookbook to my youngest daughter, and still firmly believe that I can cook just about anything. I know that I can do it if I put mind to it and just keep trying till I get it right! An example of that is in the photo below. I have been trying for three months to make the perfect poor-boy bread. It has to have a thin, crackly crust and be airy and holey inside. This is what it looks like right now:

One of the other great gifts my Mom gave me was sharing her recipes . She would write to me in Salt Lake City almost every week to give me more ideas of what to cook. She had a lot riding on these letters - I was the daughter who never really cooked much, or at all, actually. After about the seventh grade I just concentrated on the eating part and left the cooking to someone else. By sending me recipes each week she kept me in touch with the daily life and customs of my home place, New Orleans. Not only that, but she also instilled in me the curiosity about the local foods wherever I was. I also learned to ask those local cooks to share their recipes and show me how to make the wonderful things that they cooked.

This is what my collection of recycled recipes looks like on an ordinary day, although it usually is NOT all over the floor like it is here:

 I make the resolution every year to put them into some sort of order, but as soon as I start cooking all of that organization flies out the window! I made that same resolution this year - want to work with me on this? Let me know how you organize your recipes.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Weekword = Recycle

This week our Weekword is recycle. When The Distracted Cook first read that, she thought "how do I fashion that into a kitchen post?"  Will this turn into a really boring post with no good pictures? Most likely - who wants to see pictures of landfill and stacked newspapers on a blog about the kitchen? But on second thought,  what better place to think recycle than in the kitchen. After all, a cook does that almost every day. And The Distracted Cook is no exception. Just think of the ways that you can recycle in the kitchen:

1. Composting, of course ranks way up there.
2. Recycling all your paper boxes (cereal, crackers, grits, Cracker Jacks) and metal cans and glass jars is really neat.
3. WAIT - don't put those glass jars in the recycle bin yet. How about using them in the kitchen at least one more time before tossing them out? They are great for storing left-overs!
4. Left-overs! The original recycled goods. We refer to them as "use agains" instead of left-overs because we change them up a lot.
5.  Soup-potting is another way to recycle all those scraps and peels from the vegetable drawer. Not exactly left-overs but definitely recyclables.

Let's talk about composting. If you are into gardening then composting should become your best friend. All those potato peels and coffee grounds and tea leaves have a place to go now, and important things to do. The Distracted Cook has a strange yard ornament sitting in the side garden that looks like a cement mixer. It is, however, a dirt mixer! Every other day I take my little pail out from under the kitchen sink and empty its contents into this dirt mixer. After giving the crank a few turns, I walk away thinking of all the great soil that will come tumbling out in a few months. I keep that pail in the kitchen to hold all the scraps, peels, and leaves from the fruits and vegetables that  we cook. If it doesn't get used for soup-potting, it goes into the compost pail.

If your kitchen is anything like The Distracted Cook's kitchen, then you know what I mean when I say the kitchen is the place for recycling to happen. How many cans, bottles, jars, and boxes do you open in a week? And it is just so easy to flatten the box and fling it into the recycle bin in the laundry room right next door. And the metal cans? In they go too! The glass jars are another story, however. There are just too many good things that we can do with a glass jar before we aim it at that bin. A few good things to use them for are holding plant cuttings on your windowsill, keeping stands of parsley and cilantro in the refrigerator, using them for making salad dressings, or filling them with water to clean your paint brushes.

And then we have left-overs. It isn't hard for The Distracted Cook to end up with left-overs with only two of us here now. It is hard to scale back all your favorite "serves 4-6" recipes to just 2, so we keep on cooking the same old way. Using left overs is a fun thing when you really think about it. The first night's dinner is splendid with all the great side dishes and the main Star dish. Then the second time around you get to mix Monday's sides with Tuesday's Star and toss up a new salad and voila! it's Wednesday dinner. And there is always the added bonus of grabbing a bunch of condiments and dressing up sides and Star and getting some new tastes as a result. Now that is recycling in all its glory!

Another really good way to recycle is to keep the soup pot going on the back burner of the stove. I had never really thought about it before, but all those carrot tops and parsley stems and onion peels can be simmered in some water to make a really nice vegetable broth. The first time I did that I wasn't so sure about it. Sort of like the first time I made shrimp stock....didn't look all that good during the cooking stage, but the result was magic. I just read somewhere that you can collect all your clippings and scraps for about a week (aha! keep them in one of those large glass jars in the fridge!) and then put them in your soup pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for about 45 minutes. Let the contents cool, then strain through a fine mesh strainer. Voila! Vegetable stock!

So that's the beginning of the Recycle Saga in the kitchen. Tomorrow we will explore the The Distracted Cook's best attempt at recycling and that is her Recycle Recipes.  Every cook who has a recipe box is a recycler. I dare anyone to open a recipe box and not find a recycled recipe. Recycling recipes is one of the best ideas cooks have had in the last few centuries, I am sure. Recycling Recipes connect generations, families, cultures, and interests. Look in your recipe box and find the one that was your first recycled recipe. Let us know if you have sent it on to another recipe box to be recycled again!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Weekword = "simplicity"

What is Weekword? Weekword is just about what it sounds and looks like - week, word. Each week a word is selected and bloggers are invited to participate in being creative in using or defining the word.  So, of course, The Distracted Cook had to be one to say "count me in." Never having known about Weekword before, I am flying blind right now. I can hardly wait to see what the seasoned Weekworders do. I know that I will learn a lot and find many new blogs that will fill my head with wonderful visions and ideas. If this sounds like something you would like to do, then you should visit the site I did to see what this is all about:

The challenge is to somehow be creative in using, thinking about, illustrating, or just plain musing about the word of the week. When I first saw this word, my immediate reaction was that NOTHING is simple in the life and kitchen of The Distracted Cook.

But,  that is not quite the truth. In reality, there is an inner simplicity to all of our lives if we just can figure out how to connect with it.

For me, it has always really been about getting down to the very basics of any issue. I like to think in terms of structures and outlines and building blocks. I usually try to reduce something down to its bare bones so that I can understand it and learn from it. That is a good practice for me, especially in the kitchen!

When you really think about it, almost all our attempts to produce something in the kitchen are just elaborations on some very simple ingredient, technique, or procedure. Sounds pretty simple to me. And when things look really complicated I take my trusty highlighter and start underlining like fury! My cookbooks end up looking like some exhibit in a graphics shock experiment. But it works! It really works. And so I do believe in this week's Weekword. I know that it is a word from which I can move forward. I know that simplicity is a concept that works in my everyday life and in all that I do. It is a Lifeword for The Distracted Cook.

Don't you think it would be fun to be a Weekworder too? Visit the Silver Linings 4 Me blog at blogspot and join the rest of us who are working around this week's word.

Yes: Weekword = Simplicity!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Twelfth Night - Christmas Cake #12 - Galette du Roi

January6, 2011. Twelfth Night. Epiphany. The beginning of the Mardi Gras Carnival Season. Tonight is the night that we celebrate with our Galette du Roi, or King Cake. Growing up in New Orleans meant one kind of King Cake, but living here in Baton Rouge I have found another variety. This cake comes from a bakery in Lafayette, Louisiana named Poupart's. We get our poor boy bread from Poupart's the rest of the year and it is almost as good as the King Cake. There are only about two or three places to get Poupart's items in Baton Rouge and my neighborhood grocery is one of them. We are very lucky.

 This time of the year we make sure to get to the grocery store early enough to get one of the King Cakes that they deliver to Baton Rouge each day. Last year I waited until January 6th to go get one, and "OH, NO", there were none to be had! I was at the store yesterday and there they were - only three left! I quickly picked one out and put in into my grocery cart. I certainly was not going to run the chance of missing out again this year.

Of course, if you do happen to be too late almost every grocery store in town has King Cake by the dozens. When we moved away from Louisiana there was only one kind of cake - the traditional cinnamon and sugar filled breakfast cake sort, topped with that purple, yellow, and green sugar.  When we returned after nine years away, oh my gosh! Blueberry, cream cheese,  banana split, strawberry, caramel - well , you get the picture. But for me, none of these has quite the magical powers as the original King Cake. That is,not until I discovered Poupart's Galette du Roi.

Ah, this is a cake indeed. It is a puff pastry concoction with an almond paste filling. It is light as a cloud, with a whisper of almond that seems to float above the plate when you cut into it hot from the warming oven.

Peeping out of the top of the cake is the "baby" and whoever gets the piece within which it hides is crowned the King or Queen. This lucky person will rule over the evening's revelry and will also provide the cake for the next week's gathering. These babies have suffered the indignities heaped upon them by the modern food and safety regulations, and the baby can no longer be baked into the cake for fear of someone choking on it. So the bakeries perch the pink baby either on top of the cake or hide it under the cake for the buyer to place somewhere inside the cake. I remember the days when I was much younger and the baby was a glass doll about an inch high that was in the cake. But most usually it is the pink plastic baby that we find (or hide!) See his head sticking out down there in the lower right hand corner?? If that's your piece, you rule!

There are many recipes for King Cake, but traditionally every family in the city has their favorite bakery from which they buy their cakes. And truth be told, it is a whole lot easier to just run by and pick one up than it is to spend the day in the kitchen watching over rising brioche dough! And certainly much easier than making puff pastry sheets and then making the galette du roi. So, let's enjoy this right now!

For the next few days we will be studying the rest of our Christmas Cakes. They are, obviously, not just good at Christmas time but rather all year long.