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I picked up a packet of lemon pepper pappardelle pasta a couple weeks ago at Trader Joe's, and have been looking for something to make with it. Lemon and pepper automatically suggest seafood or chicken, but I didn't strike upon the exact one until I ended up with a bag of langostino tails this past weekend. At which point my shellfish obsession kicked in and I had to have a buttery lobster sauce to go with the lemony noodles. Hello, mornay.



Adapted from the highly rated Allrecipes Lobster Mornay Sauce, with piccies because cream sauces can be tricksy like that.

Read more )
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Okay, so being the World of Warcraft geek that I am, I got sorta excited when I saw there was a cooking column in the WoW Insider blog that shared real-life versions of game items. Items, like, say, Baked Salmon (skill level 275, uses Raw Whitescale Salmon and Soothing Spices). This glee turned to disappointment, however, when I found that the WI version of it was covered in dairy products (sigh. lactose) and needed wheat germ. Wheat germ WTF? So off I went to Allrecipes and dug up a more appropriate recipe for us — not only is it free of dairy, but it uses completely normal ingredients that all fall under “salmon” or “spices”. In my opinion, this comes way closer to representing the base material, while being much more palatable for my household.

Baked Salmon with white rice and a side of veggies. This dinner got the official seal of NOM NOM NOM from the boy, who can get somewhat skeptical over my cooking experiments, so I am quite happy with the recipe.

Read more... )
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I have a slight obsession with bread machines. My parents got our first one in the early 90’s, when I was in junior high. I remember trying out many experimental concoctions (with varying degrees of success) using that poor machine, and am amazed at how long it survived despite the abuse I put it through. Noting how attached I’d gotten to it, my parents gave it over to my ownership when I moved away to university. It went with me through two schools, countless LA apartments, and finally ended up here in our little home. That trusty old machine only recently met its end this past winter, when after fifteen years of loyal service, it hurled itself suicidally off of the kitchen counter with the force of its own rotating mixer blade and a particularly heavy dough load. Cracking itself into several pieces on the tile floor, it was officially out of commission.

There was a mourning period. It lasted about two weeks. Hearing my tale of woe, my parents surprised me with yet another machine this past Christmas. A bigger and better one, even. Amazing how far technology can go in a decade, eh? And with it, I have now moved on to bigger and better recipes. Which I plan to share here. Welcome to my cooking blog!

Today was banana bread day. I always buy extra bananas when we go to the grocery store to make sure that there is a banana bread day every week and a half or so. Banana bread is too good to not have around for longer than that. I use a modified version of the Allrecipes Banana Bread for Machines.

As per usual with my cooking posts, a step-by-step pictorial with the recipe is after the jump.

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The very first time I encountered cioppino was at a high-end restaurant -- the sort of place that was located on the top floor of a very tall building and frequented by people in evening wear headed to the opera -- and it had soaring menu prices to match. Despite the dent left in my pocketbook, it became an instant addiction. I have since ordered it at several different restaurants with varying levels of affordability and quality, but it has never disappointed my seafood cravings. Like most people in recent times, however, we've started cutting back on eating out in an attempt to assuage our much put-upon bank accounts. A good seafood stew became one of the top things on my list of "learn-to-make" items at that point.

Considering that the original cioppino was a working man's meal (created around the 1800s by the Italian fishermen of San Francisco), it's suitable that it should be brought back up-to-date as a hearty-but-affordable dish for home cooking. With this in mind, I started putting together a cioppino with more realistic ingredients for the busy and budget-minded, who might not be within convenient range of a local fishmonger. I must say it was very tasty.


Recipe and notes behind the cut. )
pierydys: (Default)

Mirrored from The Velvet Kerfuffle.

The very first time I encountered cioppino was at a high-end restaurant — the sort of place that was located on the top floor of a very tall building and frequented by people in evening wear headed to the opera — and it had soaring menu prices to match. Despite the dent left in my pocketbook, it became an instant addiction. I have since ordered it at several different restaurants with varying levels of affordability and quality, but it has never disappointed my seafood cravings. Like most people in recent times, however, we’ve started cutting back on eating out in an attempt to assuage our much put-upon bank accounts. A good seafood stew became one of the top things on my list of “learn-to-make” items at that point.

Considering that the original cioppino was a working man’s meal (created around the 1800s by the Italian fishermen of San Francisco), it’s suitable that it should be brought back up-to-date as a hearty-but-affordable dish for home cooking. With this in mind, I started putting together a cioppino with more realistic ingredients for the busy and budget-minded, who might not be within convenient range of a local fishmonger. I must say it was very tasty.


I took Allrecipes’ Southern California Cioppino as my base, with quite a few tweaks. There were many other more traditional recipes available, but being here in SoCal, it felt rather appropriate to start with a tribute to our local flavors. The consistently high reviews it got on the site didn’t hurt either.


The dry ingredients lineup. A very aromatic blend, as you can see. I substituted some of the dried stuff for their fresh counterparts to cut back on preparation time.


The wet ingredients lineup.


The canned ingredients, which take the place of a lot of the fresh ingredients that one would use if they were more readily available, in season, and/or affordable. These are all canned shellfish, so also have the added advantage of being pure meat instead of whole-in-shell, which ends up taking a lot less room in the pot and a lot less work to eat when served. Definitely worth it when you’re having one of your lazy days and don’t feel like dealing with a big mess of shells after you’ve had dinner. Using canned also let me incorporate a larger percentage of seafood in more different varieties than I otherwise would be able to.


The frozen lineup, once again chosen for convenience. I splurged a little on these because they would be the most obvious and chunky elements of the stew. Plus, we have a Trader Joe’s nearby that carries a good variety of interesting frozen seafoods.


Using a large stock pot (this recipe makes a LOT of stew), I started with 1/4 cup of olive oil. I then tossed in 6 tablespoons of dried minced onion and 1/2 cup of water, which equals 1 cup of minced fresh onion without the mess and tears. By heating these three up together, I hydrated the dried onion faster and kept the oil from crackling and spitting as much as it would if I’d added the water into already-heated oil. I could probably have soaked the onion in water beforehand, but I was doing this on a tight schedule.


4 chopped carrots and 4 chopped stalks of celery went in next.


Followed immediately by 4 peeled and cubed red potatoes and 1 tablespoon of garlic powder. I went for the powder over the minced garlic because I wanted the garlic taste without the random bits in the stew. Also, it was a lot less messy to deal with than fresh garlic. The vegetables were sauteed in the oil and juices for about 10 minutes, until they started to get tender.


The next step was to basically dump in all the wet ingredients, herbs and spices. 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, 2 cups of tomato juice, 2 8-ounce jars of clam juice, and 1/2 a cup of sweet cooking sake went in. The original recipe used white wine, but I usually have sake around and it makes a virtually indistinguishable substitute. I tossed in 2 tablespoons of dried parsley flakes and 2 tablespoons of dried cilantro instead of their fresh equivalents, using perhaps a bit more than I would have if they had been fresh. Both have such a nice, fresh smell that it’s hard to overdo them. 2 teaspoons of dried basil, 1.5 teaspoons of dried oregano, and 1 tablespoon dried thyme followed. I added 1 full teaspoon of California chili powder, which is a bit milder than normal chili powder, and 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. 1 teaspoon each of salt and ground black pepper.

The heat was reduced and this mixture left to simmer for 1.5 hours as our guild raided Naxxramas. About an hour in, I stopped by to stir the broth and have a quick taste. Sprinkled in a bit more salt, pepper, chili powder and a smattering of the Italian herbs. Although I’m known as something of a spicy food wimp, there’s lots of room to wiggle with the flavoring of this stew.


At about an hour into the simmering, I added the canned seafood comprised of 2 small tins of white crab meat, 1 small tin of chopped clams, 1 large can of whole oysters and 1 large can of boiled baby clams. I tossed all of these in with whatever juices were present in the cans, which wasn’t very much overall but added to the seafood flavor. I prefer to add these canned products in earlier than the fresh stuff to give them more of a chance to soak up the broth and mingle together with the vegetables. At the 1.5 hour simmer mark, in went a bag of defrosted Argentine red shrimp (sweeter and more lobster-like than normal farmed shrimp), two cubed fillets of mahi mahi, and a bag of defrosted bay scallops. Oh, and a few normal shrimp that I had leftover from a previous night’s dish. This was left to simmer for another half an hour.


Served! You can see how chunky yet hands-free it turned out, which is just the way we like it.


Since I made a pot big enough to serve a large dinner party, I ended up freezing 4 bags worth of the stuff for future meals. I’m a big fan of frozen soup — it’s so easy to heat up again and takes up minimal room in the freezer.

Taste analysis: While using fresh, intact seafood would have probably made for a fancier-looking stew, and might have added a different flavor on the whole, I was very happy with the results of my canned/frozen version. This is the second time I’ve made it this way and my guests are always impressed with the restaurant-quality of it. It’s warm, filling, mildly spicy and packed to the brim with seafoody goodness. I actually prefer it to some the other stews I’ve paid for, since a lot of restaurants seem to feel the need to go overboard with the hot spices. I like that herbs are given more emphasis in this recipe, giving your mouth a chance to deal with the other elements without being burned silly.

Convenience analysis: I don’t think I’ll ever chop another onion or garlic clove again if I can help it. While the texture of the fresh stuff might matter in some recipes, I don’t think it makes as much of a difference in something like this, where everything is stewed together for so long that it is falling apart anyway. Similarly, the canned and frozen seafoods were much easier to find at my local markets and could be stored for a much longer time than the fresh versions, giving me the option of stocking them for future recipes without fearing they’ll go off. Since the closest place with fresh seafood I trust is about a half hour drive, it also cuts back on gas and time.

Financial analysis: Obviously, if gas and time weren’t an issue already, the price of typical fresh seafood would be. We live in suburbia. As close as we might be to the beach, we’re still paying more than we would be if there was a local fish stall to buy from. By using what I did and splurging only on specific items, I make it possible to afford this dish more than one or twice a year. Given that a whole pot is about 8-10 servings’ worth, each serving has more variety and content than would be found in a restaurant’s bowl, and a typical bowl goes for anywhere from $20-40 at said restaurants? I see no wrong here at all.

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Lactose is the bane of my existence. Well, not the only one, obviously. But a significant one nonetheless when you're severely intolerant to it, living in a country where it is omnipresent, and not given much choice in avoiding it other than turning to often off-tasting specialty foods or chain-popping expensive enzyme pills. Considering that 60% of the world has some form of lactose sensitivity and America is a country of immigrants, it really is rather silly that more thought isn't given to this by food manufacturers. I don't know how many times I've come across somebody asking for dairy substitutes only to have some ignorant lactose-consuming "expert" advise them to "use the real thing", assuming that the person making the request is just being cheap or trying to lose weight. My usual response in these situations is to point out that "quality" is subjective, depending on the consumer. Especially when partaking of one person's "quality product" will lead another person almost directly to puking and other unpleasant side effects. Leaving soapbox now.

At any rate, rich dairy products are especially hard to avoid when you have a fondness for cream-based desserts. Entirely soy-based ice creams tend to have a bit of a beany aftertaste and the only brand of Lactaid ice cream available in our area is plain vanilla. Born out of all this dietary adversity is my ongoing quest for the perfect lactose-free ice cream recipe. I don't claim to have found it yet, but I have had quite a few trials that ended up as qualified successes. One of which I will talk about now.


Yes, Cool Whip. Details behind the cut. )
pierydys: (Default)

Mirrored from The Velvet Kerfuffle.

Lactose is the bane of my existence. Well, not the only one, obviously. But a significant one nonetheless when you’re severely intolerant to it, living in a country where it is omnipresent, and not given much choice in avoiding it other than turning to often off-tasting specialty foods or chain-popping expensive enzyme pills. Considering that 60% of the world has some form of lactose sensitivity and America is a country of immigrants, it really is rather silly that more thought isn’t given to this by food manufacturers. I don’t know how many times I’ve come across somebody asking for dairy substitutes only to have some ignorant lactose-consuming “expert” advise them to “use the real thing”, assuming that the person making the request is just being cheap or trying to lose weight. My usual response in these situations is to point out that “quality” is subjective, depending on the consumer. Especially when partaking of one person’s “quality product” will lead another person almost directly to puking and other unpleasant side effects. Leaving soapbox now.

At any rate, rich dairy products are especially hard to avoid when you have a fondness for cream-based desserts. Entirely soy-based ice creams tend to have a bit of a beany aftertaste and the only brand of Lactaid ice cream available in our area is plain vanilla. Born out of all this dietary adversity is my ongoing quest for the perfect lactose-free ice cream recipe. I don’t claim to have found it yet, but I have had quite a few trials that ended up as qualified successes. One of which I will talk about now.



The usual suspects. I decided to go for chocolate this time, since I didn’t have any handy fruit around and we had plenty of cocoa left over from my holiday baking bonanza. I’ve read through a lot of homemade ice cream recipes, but can’t say that this follows anything in particular. It’s in the same family, surely, but that’s about all I’m willing to commit to.


I started by scalding a cup of Lactaid milk and dissolving 1 packet of gelatin in it, to give the finished product some stability. I’ve made earlier batches without gelatin, which tended to melt much faster and turn liquid after being out of the fridge for a bit. I usually prefer agar because it’s what my mother always used in her cooking, but it’s not as readily available in most Western-style supermarkets. Next, half a cup of cocoa powder went in to be dissolved. I tend to prefer powder over solid chocolate because a lot of the solids have odd waxes that can give the boy a stomachache. I might try melting down a higher-end chocolate next time, though, for reasons I’ll expand upon later.


Whisked mixture until smooth. Took a quick taste-test and found that it was on the bitter side. Added 2/3 cup of sugar to sweeten it up, and let it all melt together completely.


The chocolate mix then got tossed in the blender along with 6 oz. (1 small tub) of plain greek yogurt, for its live cultures, dairy creaminess and an extra bit of tanginess. 2 squirts of chocolate syrup were added, mostly because I had it around and don’t believe one can ever have enough chocolate. It all got blended on a fairly low setting.


Finally, 8 oz. (one tub) of Cool Whip went in to lend its unique creaminess to the mix. This would be the space normally reserved for heavy cream of some sort. Despite the scorn heaped upon Cool Whip by would-be food snobs, it’s remarkably low in calories (25 cal per 9 grams) and delightfully lactose-free. It wouldn’t be such a popular and enduring artificial topping if it didn’t have some appeal, eh? I made the mistake this time of just popping it in the blender and mixing up the whole thing like a giant smoothie. In retrospect, I probably should have folded chocolate mixture into the Cool Whip in a large mixing bowl, to preserve the airy texture. I’ll be doing this next time.


Resulting mixture went into the freezer for a few hours to harden. Yes, I might have poked at it a few times to see how it was coming along :-)


When solid enough, it scoops like a gelato, rather dense but still very creamy. I shaved a few curls of chocolate over the serving for garnish. If allowed to thaw, it becomes a very decent chocolate pudding.

Taste analysis: I mentioned earlier that this was a qualified success. The reason for the qualification is because I believe it would have turned out better if I had used better ingredients. I happened to have Hershey’s products on hand, so I used them, but I would have probably been happier with a richer chocolate powder (possibly Ghirardelli or the like). A melted-down bar of good wax-free chocolate — a hunk of Belgian, or one of the many bars we brought back from Finland — would probably have worked, too. It would have probably also eliminated or lessened the need for additional sugar and syrup, which led to a strangely high-pitched sweetness in this particular end product. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it did rather taste like some of the cheaper ice creams that I’ve had as a child. It hits your palate at the wrong level for chocolate, and you can’t help noticing that artificiality. I’m certain this is more the fault of the chocolate than the Cool Whip because I’ve used the whip before to make a wonderful strawberry sorbetto that had no cloying taste whatsoever. The strange part? It only feels weirdly sweet in ice cream form. When thawed into pudding, it tastes amazingly similar to the very rich Belgian chocolate pudding that I’ve bought at Trader Joes… pretty impressive considering its low dairy content.

Texture analysis: I don’t have an ice cream machine, nor do I particularly feel the need to get one since my kitchen is already pretty cluttered. I also enjoy the denser iced creams, like gelatos and sorbettos, so the freeze-and-scoop method suits me pretty well. Those wanting a lighter product might do well to invest in an ice cream machine to inject more fluff into the finished product. As I mentioned earlier, though, I also suspect that if I had folded in the chocolate rather than blending the whip, I would have ended up with a fluffier product since the whip is very light to begin with. Future testing will probably confirm this.

Convenience analysis: Using mostly stuff that’s already in the kitchen or easily picked up at the grocer’s freezer. Minimal kitchen work involved, and a tasty result in hours which would have fooled most of my dinner guests. Not bad, not bad.

Financial analysis: This is iffy, since there’s nothing really similar on the market. Well, there’s the soy ice creams, which come in tiny tubs and are priced like the gourmet ice creams. So to that extent, this is a great success. As you can see I have a whole pan of the stuff, which would probably make two tubs worth at least. The ingredients are relatively cheap, even if I end up using the “good” chocolate. Doing a version out of fruit would also be a very nice alternative. Thumbs up all the way on this category.

PS. Why am I doing these food columns all of a sudden, you might be asking? A few reasons — 1) I’ve been cooking a lot more in the past year since I’ve moved into my own full-stocked kitchen. 2) I have a few friends (I’m looking at you, sassygurl) that I’ve been promising to help along in the culinary department for a while. 3) I need some blog entries and some “how-to” articles to put into my writing samples for some future employment. 4) I’ve missed writing :-)

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As most of you may know, I've been visiting Finland twice a year for a while now. This has given me plenty of chances to sample Nordic cuisine and of the many things that I've become a fan of, their amazing gravlax selection (readily available in little plastic packets in the deli section) is definitely one of the biggest. The cured salmon they have out there is much closer to raw -- smooth and buttery -- than the stuff we manage to find here. Most of the lox we get here in SoCal is the smoked stuff, which is usually saltier, heavier, and a bit more preserved (it just feels stiffer when you take it out of the bag), even though it's been cold-cured and not cooked. So with the goal of accessing a more sashimi-like cured salmon at home, I started the gravlax experiments.

I went off of the Cooking For Engineers Gravlax recipe, since it seemed to be one of the simplest available while being close enough to traditional technique without required wooden weights and large drifts of snow. The cook for that page put up great pictures, but I wanted to take my own because I'm contrary that way :-)


Fishy goodness behind the cut. )
pierydys: (Default)

Mirrored from The Velvet Kerfuffle.

As most of you may know, I’ve been visiting Finland twice a year for a while now. This has given me plenty of chances to sample Nordic cuisine and of the many things that I’ve become a fan of, their amazing gravlax selection (readily available in little plastic packets in the deli section) is definitely one of the biggest. The cured salmon they have out there is much closer to raw — smooth and buttery — than the stuff we manage to find here. Most of the lox we get here in SoCal is the smoked stuff, which is usually saltier, heavier, and a bit more preserved (it just feels stiffer when you take it out of the bag), even though it’s been cold-cured and not cooked. So with the goal of accessing a more sashimi-like cured salmon at home, I started the gravlax experiments.

I went off of the Cooking For Engineers Gravlax recipe, since it seemed to be one of the simplest available while being close enough to traditional technique without required wooden weights and large drifts of snow. The cook for that page put up great pictures, but I wanted to take my own because I’m contrary that way :-)



I started with some frozen Atlantic salmon filets from Costco, because I didn’t want to deal with the pre-freezing process of using fresh fish. I ended up going with farmed Atlantic for its higher fat content.Ideally, I should have looked for a nice slab of salmon belly, but I wasn’t going to find that outside of a genuine downtown fish market. Besides, my goal here was accessibility — I want to be able to reproduce the results on short notice, without having to drive across county lines.


Note the light color — while it gets a bit pinker after being thawed, it’s not by much. The fat veins in this piece are also nicely visible. It should be noted that this was my third try, and the first successful one. Earlier, I had a not-so great run using leaner wild sockeye filets which ended up being hard as salmon jerky after a day. This is what prompted me to go for a fattier fish and to cure it for a shorter period than recommended in the recipe.


I based my brine mix off of the site, with a few minor tweaks, making enough for a pound of fish. Two tablespoons kosher salt — I had tried regular iodized table salt on earlier runs and felt it left a weird chemical aftertaste, which is probably the main reason the page suggests kosher, despite almost nobody in the Nordic countries being Jewish. Two heaping tablespoons of white sugar — not brown, since it turns molasses-y, and outweighing the salt by a bit because I found this recipe a bit on the salty side during my last try. Too much salt also sucks the moisture out of the fish that much faster, leaving you with the rock-hard wedge I mentioned earlier. Two teaspons of freshly ground black pepper. Two heaping tablespoons of dried dill — the site calls for sprigs of fresh dill, but it never seems to be available in the markets I frequent. Not much of a SoCal thing, I guess — maybe I should try cilantro next time, for kicks? Anyway, two tablespoons of dried dill would equal a pretty big mound of fresh dill and it’d have enough of a chance to marinate in the juices leaking from the fish to leave its mark. The only downside I could see was that I’d have to wash off a lot more extraneous matter, but that’s a small price to pay for the convenience and accessibility factor.


I sprinkled about 1/3 of the brine on the plastic wrap, then lay down the first filet, following with another layer of brine, then the second filet. Topped with the rest of the mixture. Since I was using skinless filets, I figured it’d be nice to coat everything thoroughly. The site only has it on one side since it’s a piece with skin still attached.


The filet sandwich was securely wrapped in plastic, then rewrapped in a second layer to keep things tightly held inside.


I then took the step of tossing it into a freezer bag, for protection against the inevitable juice leakage. The picture on the left is before, the picture on the right is 6.5 hours later. With this rapid rate of fluid loss, you can see why my last experiment (where I left it in the fridge for two days) ended up in a very hard chunk of fish. Wanting a softer texture, I took it out relatively early. I might try it again for 12 hours and see the difference, but I will probably never go the full three days recommended on the page.


The finished filet, rinsed off in cold water and patted dry with paper towels. Notice how much darker the flesh is, after just a bit of curing.


A few initial slices, which were approved by the boy as being “pretty much like the stuff at home”. Score!

Taste analysis: Buttery, leaning definitely towards the sashimi spectrum in softness, but still with that unmistakably cured bit of resilience. The fresh dill flavor did manage to infuse the whole cut, and adding the extra sugar helped balance out the crazy saltiness of before. You can actually taste the fish. I could definitely eat this stuff plain and be happy.

Convenience analysis: I did have to go out and buy a box of kosher salt, but that will probably last me for a year. Sugar and dried dill were already in the pantry. Grinding the pepper myself to get the full measure I needed took some time, but it smells so much better than the pre-ground sort that I don’t mind. The big bag of filets I got will give us at least another month’s worth if I don’t use it in other recipes. Altogether, a very easy recipe with simple, attainable ingredients.

Financial anaylsis: I now have two full filets of this stuff, which ends up being about two large packets worth at the store. Around $25-30 retail, for a fraction of the cost. Easy on the pocketbook, too :-)

PS. On a completely different but still Nordic fish-related note… Yes, for those of you that wondered, I have tried lutfisk (lipeƤkala in Finnish). And no, I don’t think it deserves all the disgust people seem to heap on it. A bit bland, yes, but the consistency was rather enjoyable. Reminded me of scallops. Might try to make some on my own one day for the heck of it. Then again, remember that the only people to beat East Asians in willingness to eat anything are possibly the French…

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Mmm. Brie and capicola on a toasted baguette for breakfast.

A new Fresh and Easy just opened across the street and I might be slightly excited about the convenience with which I can now run out to pick up random ingredients for my culinary experiments. Which, granted, don't always turn out quite the way I'd expect, but luckily the boy has a strong stomach. Hee.
pierydys: (Default)

Mirrored from The Velvet Kerfuffle.

Mmm. Brie and capicola on a toasted baguette for breakfast.

A new Fresh and Easy just opened across the street and I might be slightly excited about the convenience with which I can now run out to pick up random ingredients for my culinary experiments. Which, granted, don’t always turn out quite the way I’d expect, but luckily the boy has a strong stomach. Hee.

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Being limited to a student income of odd jobs and projects, I've always been one to leap at any consumer testing panel opportunities that might present themselves. One just happened to last week, in the form of a company looking for women who drink Vitamin Water but not Propel. They offered to pay me $100 for an hour's worth of questions, and I gladly accepted. I was going to be in LA for something else that morning anyways.

So I arrive early, am seated, am agreeably talkative, and fill out the questionnaires we were given for the first half of the panel. I notice that all the ads they show us go on about how Propel is "low-calorie", which is setting off alarms in my head. Then we find out that the second part of the panel involves us testing and rating new flavors and formulations. At which point I ask the mediator to check if the stuff uses real or artificial sweeteners. He goes off to check.

Because, y'know, I'm SEVERELY allergic to artificial sweeteners. Headaches and hives. Large swathes of itchy welty hives on my arms and torso that were so horrific from last summer's Splenda encounter that I still have scars. I've since looked it up on the internet and am relieved to find that this is not as freakish a phenomenon as I thought. My doctor confirmed later on that it was a legitimate allergic reaction as well. Up until then, I'd removed all perfumes and colors from my soaps, detergents and toiletries and couldn't figure out for the life of me what was causing the incessant itching. So yes, no diet foods for me, thank you.

Anyway, the guy comes back in and informs me that every single sample has artificial sweetener. But of course. Who'd consider using anything real in a modern food/drink? I inform him that I don't particularly feel like going into anaphylactic shock for a measly $100. So I basically spend the rest of the panel sniffing these fruity drinks that I can't have, despite some of them seeming quite appealing and getting high ratings from my fellow panelists. It was very depressing. I get paid the full amount anyway, because their screening surveys hadn't even bothered to ask about food allergies, or to tell people they'd be asked to consume things that might give them such allergies. Then again, I guess that's why most sensible people read nutrition labels for hidden ingredients these days. The people doing the testing just kinda shrugged and sent me on my way, though I hope they reported my situation to the people they were testing for.

So, okay, Gatorade research and development people? Listen up here. You really want to know the reason I don't drink your product in the vaguely phallic blue bottle with the over-masculinized logo that looks like a refugee from the 80's? Bad packaging aside, it's because you're trying to freakin' poison me. Why do I drink Vitamin Water? Because it's got cute chatty labels, you can actually see the drink through the clear bottle, and it uses fructose. Which might have more calories, but is at least a naturally occurring substance that won't make me a walking advertisement for nuclear-strength Claritin. Would I have given your product a chance, tacky packaging aside, after hearing about all the new options that were available? Yes, except for the whole poison thing. Which is a bummer, y'know?

I could also go into my whole rant about businesses who insist on only stocking milk and cream, because they consider non-dairy soy-based coffee/tea lighteners to be "cheap" and are afraid it would lower the image of their establishment. Yes, please alienate the majority of the world's population who are lactose intolerant but might have wanted some caffeine. No problem there. (Grrr.)

Sorry, stopping now. Because this story actually ends on a good note, believe it or not! On the drive back through mind-numbing 405 rush hour traffic, I call T. and inform him that the only way to erase the bad taste in my mind from the panel was to immediately use their tainted money on a nice, anti-diet meal. We head to the Chat Noir Bistro, where I delighted in ordering a kickass (and very sugary) Raspberry Lemon Drop martini, thick crusty bread liberally smeared with olive butter, crispy fried frog legs in a spicy prosciutto-laced confit, fat caramelized scallops sitting atop carbtastic seasoned risotto and gorgeous seafood crepes drowning in creamy lobster sauce. We glory in the non-dieting of it all. I would have gone after the chocolate souffle as well, but it might have been difficult to fit through the door afterwards. Nothing like French food -- even the Disneyfied Orange County version we get around here -- to send calorie-counters running for cover. Muahaha.
pierydys: (Default)

Mirrored from The Velvet Kerfuffle.

Being limited to a student income of odd jobs and projects, I’ve always been one to leap at any consumer testing panel opportunities that might present themselves. One just happened to last week, in the form of a company looking for women who drink Vitamin Water but not Propel. They offered to pay me $100 for an hour’s worth of questions, and I gladly accepted. I was going to be in LA for something else that morning anyways.

So I arrive early, am seated, am agreeably talkative, and fill out the questionnaires we were given for the first half of the panel. I notice that all the ads they show us go on about how Propel is “low-calorie”, which is setting off alarms in my head. Then we find out that the second part of the panel involves us testing and rating new flavors and formulations. At which point I ask the mediator to check if the stuff uses real or artificial sweeteners. He goes off to check.

Because, y’know, I’m SEVERELY allergic to artificial sweeteners. Headaches and hives. Large swathes of itchy welty hives on my arms and torso that were so horrific from last summer’s Splenda encounter that I still have scars. I’ve since looked it up on the internet and am relieved to find that this is not as freakish a phenomenon as I thought. My doctor confirmed later on that it was a legitimate allergic reaction as well. Up until then, I’d removed all perfumes and colors from my soaps, detergents and toiletries and couldn’t figure out for the life of me what was causing the incessant itching. So yes, no diet foods for me, thank you.

Anyway, the guy comes back in and informs me that every single sample has artificial sweetener. But of course. Who’d consider using anything real in a modern food/drink? I inform him that I don’t particularly feel like going into anaphylactic shock for a measly $100. So I basically spend the rest of the panel sniffing these fruity drinks that I can’t have, despite some of them seeming quite appealing and getting high ratings from my fellow panelists. It was very depressing. I get paid the full amount anyway, because their screening surveys hadn’t even bothered to ask about food allergies, or to tell people they’d be asked to consume things that might give them such allergies. Then again, I guess that’s why most sensible people read nutrition labels for hidden ingredients these days. The people doing the testing just kinda shrugged and sent me on my way, though I hope they reported my situation to the people they were testing for.

So, okay, Gatorade research and development people? Listen up here. You really want to know the reason I don’t drink your product in the vaguely phallic blue bottle with the over-masculinized logo that looks like a refugee from the 80′s? Bad packaging aside, it’s because you’re trying to freakin’ poison me. Why do I drink Vitamin Water? Because it’s got cute chatty labels, you can actually see the drink through the clear bottle, and it uses fructose. Which might have more calories, but is at least a naturally occurring substance that won’t make me a walking advertisement for nuclear-strength Claritin. Would I have given your product a chance, tacky packaging aside, after hearing about all the new options that were available? Yes, except for the whole poison thing. Which is a bummer, y’know?

I could also go into my whole rant about businesses who insist on only stocking milk and cream, because they consider non-dairy soy-based coffee/tea lighteners to be “cheap” and are afraid it would lower the image of their establishment. Yes, please alienate the majority of the world’s population who are lactose intolerant but might have wanted some caffeine. No problem there. (Grrr.)

Sorry, stopping now. Because this story actually ends on a good note, believe it or not! On the drive back through mind-numbing 405 rush hour traffic, I call T. and inform him that the only way to erase the bad taste in my mind from the panel was to immediately use their tainted money on a nice, anti-diet meal. We head to the Chat Noir Bistro, where I delighted in ordering a kickass (and very sugary) Raspberry Lemon Drop martini, thick crusty bread liberally smeared with olive butter, crispy fried frog legs in a spicy prosciutto-laced confit, fat caramelized scallops sitting atop carbtastic seasoned risotto and gorgeous seafood crepes drowning in creamy lobster sauce. We glory in the non-dieting of it all. I would have gone after the chocolate souffle as well, but it might have been difficult to fit through the door afterwards. Nothing like French food — even the Disneyfied Orange County version we get around here — to send calorie-counters running for cover. Muahaha.

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I was in the mood for comfort food today and have the kitchen to myself for the week, so decided to do some experimenting. We have this lovely hi-tech rice cooker that has a porridge setting, thus saving me from the inevitable volcanic mess that results when I try to make it with older, more hands-on machines. Starting with a base of soft rice porridge (aka the Asian equivalent of chicken noodle soup), I added three quartered pidan, a small can of quail eggs, and an even smaller tin of fried wheat gluten. All of which I've had at one time or another in my porridge, but never together. It worked out pretty well -- the gluten (dumped in with sauce) flavored everything salty-sweet, the rice mellowed the pungency of the duck eggs, and the quail were just for some fun texture. The whole thing reminds me of many childhood dinners past. Of course, I don't expect anyone who hasn't grown up with the stuff to be quite as nostalgic, but I thought I'd post a picture for the more culinarily adventurous among you :-)

pierydys: (Default)

Mirrored from The Velvet Kerfuffle.

I was in the mood for comfort food today and have the kitchen to myself for the week, so decided to do some experimenting. We have this lovely hi-tech rice cooker that has a porridge setting, thus saving me from the inevitable volcanic mess that results when I try to make it with older, more hands-on machines. Starting with a base of soft rice porridge (aka the Asian equivalent of chicken noodle soup), I added three quartered pidan, a small can of quail eggs, and an even smaller tin of fried wheat gluten. All of which I’ve had at one time or another in my porridge, but never together. It worked out pretty well — the gluten (dumped in with sauce) flavored everything salty-sweet, the rice mellowed the pungency of the duck eggs, and the quail were just for some fun texture. The whole thing reminds me of many childhood dinners past. Of course, I don’t expect anyone who hasn’t grown up with the stuff to be quite as nostalgic, but I thought I’d post a picture for the more culinarily adventurous among you :-)

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Someone in charge of the new film I'm working on came up with the brilliant idea of having a production meeting on Sunday, Mother's Day, at 6PM. Perhaps they were cloned or hatched, therefore do not feel the need to acknowledge any maternal associations? I don't know, but I'm stuck driving out to LA whether I like it or not tomorrow night. To cheer myself up over this necessary working over the weekend, I baked a bread pudding. Bread pudding cures lots of ills. It also makes the house smell yummy and freezes into a nice, dense cake that's great for bringing on set to bribe cranky crewmembers :-)



Recipe and notes? Slice right here... )
pierydys: (Default)

Mirrored from The Velvet Kerfuffle.

Someone in charge of the new film I’m working on came up with the brilliant idea of having a production meeting on Sunday, Mother’s Day, at 6PM. Perhaps they were cloned or hatched, therefore do not feel the need to acknowledge any maternal associations? I don’t know, but I’m stuck driving out to LA whether I like it or not tomorrow night. To cheer myself up over this necessary working over the weekend, I baked a bread pudding. Bread pudding cures lots of ills. It also makes the house smell yummy and freezes into a nice, dense cake that’s great for bringing on set to bribe cranky crewmembers :-)


NOTES.
For the pudding above, I modified a popular recipe from Allrecipes.com. Instead of 4 cups French bread, I used 5 cups of leftover Angel Biscuits that I had in the freezer for such a purpose. They’re light and buttery, so soak up the custard mixture very well. They also have rounded tops, so gave the finished pudding a pretty mounded shape rather than the jagged edges that most puddings using cubed bread have. I mashed the bananas, rather than slicing, as recommended by lots of reviews. Used half a cup of chocolate and half a cup of butterscotch chips, since that was what was in the cupboard. The original recipe follows. It’s pretty foolproof and great for tweaking depending on what you feel like at the time.

INGREDIENTS
4 eggs
2 cups milk
1 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 cups cubed French bread
2 bananas, sliced
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
2. In a large mixing bowl, mix eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Stir in bread, bananas, and chocolate chips, and let rest 5 minutes for bread to soak. Pour into prepared pan.
3. Line a roasting pan with a damp kitchen towel. Place loaf pan on towel inside roasting pan, and place roasting pan on oven rack. Fill roasting pan with water to reach halfway up the sides of the loaf pan. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

And… carbtastic goodness!

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(We now bring you a Relatively Harmless And Productive Post, to counteract the slashy chaos that has been cavorting in my journal as of late.)

This is an adaptation of a recipe that I found at allrecipes.com. Mostly, it was a matter of saying, "What the hell is going on with all this molasses crap? Damned east coasters and their disgusting smelly black gunk. Here, let's use some nice clover honey instead!" The result was lighter, fluffier, and more pleasing to our sensibilities. Use margarine and egg substitute to make it vegan, use soy milk instead of water if you want a bit more of the substance that taking the molasses out left.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons white sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, then stir in the water and honey. Gradually stir the sifted ingredients into the honey mixture. Shape dough into walnut-sized balls, and roll them in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Place the cookies 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten slightly.

Bake for 8-10 minutes in the preheated oven. A few minutes more if your cookies are larger. Look for when the edges are just started to turn golden. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for five minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
pierydys: (Default)

Mirrored from The Velvet Kerfuffle.

(We now bring you a Relatively Harmless And Productive Post, to counteract the slashy chaos that has been cavorting in my journal as of late.)

This is an adaptation of a recipe that I found at allrecipes.com. Mostly, it was a matter of saying, “What the hell is going on with all this molasses crap? Damned east coasters and their disgusting smelly black gunk. Here, let’s use some nice clover honey instead!” The result was lighter, fluffier, and more pleasing to our sensibilities. Use margarine and egg substitute to make it vegan, use soy milk instead of water if you want a bit more of the substance that taking the molasses out left.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons white sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, then stir in the water and honey. Gradually stir the sifted ingredients into the honey mixture. Shape dough into walnut-sized balls, and roll them in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Place the cookies 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten slightly.

Bake for 8-10 minutes in the preheated oven. A few minutes more if your cookies are larger. Look for when the edges are just started to turn golden. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for five minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

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Have you ever stopped to wonder how long your food has been dead before reaching your platter? Just seconds ago, I was sitting downstairs waiting patiently, watching the microwave carousel rotate slowly, evenly heating two honey barbecue sauce-covered chicken drumsticks. I'd pulled them from a bag of likewise besmothered anonymously dismembered chicken parts just minutes before, but as they realized their increasingly well-nuked state before continuing on to their final moments on this particular physical plane, I couldn't help wondering just how long ago that chicken had really lived.

Maybe you have no more than a passing recognition of frozen microwavable pre-prepared pseudo-foods. I've definitely been cutting back on them myself, since moving back home, where my mother actually uses her kitchen regularly. There was a time not too long ago, though, when I was going through the motions of being a pathetic starving student, for whom the four food groups consisted of frozen, canned/boxed, take-out and caffeine. The microwave, a plastic spork, and a few handfuls of complimentary soy sauce packets lifted from the local noodle place truly become your best friends in these cases.

Now, the question that I was posing to myself was interesting on a couple of levels. First, being a city kid, the fact that food can come from living creatures is still kind of a novel idea, for the most part. You just don't associate the cubed pieces of processed meat product you find in a can of soup with Bessie or Mrs. Cluck out of your barnyard picture books. So just connecting fuzzy things with edible things took a while to get straight in my head. Second, the average lifespan of a chicken before slaughter is roughly a year? Maybe less, with the new breeds and such. Now, say this chicken was seven months old when it was unceremoniously tossed into the plucking machine. It is then sent off to another factory to be cooked, injected with chemicals and flash frozen. Then it sits on the shelf at the market for, say, a month. Then it gets bought and taken home where it sits in the bottom shelf of deep freeze for another few months before I finally get around to considering it as a dinner option. Or, in an even more likely scenario, the little cubes of chicken that you find in cans of condensed chicken noodle soup (you know, the ones you've had in the cupboard for years now in case of emergency or such). It's quite possible for that chicken to have been dead far longer than it ever lived before finally reaching the fate that it was destined for from hatching -- to be somebody's meal. Tell me I'm not the only one who's wondered about that, please?

I mean, I don't have a problem with eating a 50-year-old Twinkie because it's been proven those things will survive a nuclear winter if packaged appropriately. Then again, I don't have to get weirded out afterwards because Twinkies will not and never did look at you with beady little eyes and go "peep!". At least, I hope not, though who knows what fifty years in snack cake evolution might lead to.

Aging meat is a common practice, I know this. In most cases, it's a good thing. As proteins denature, they become more flavorful component compounds and such. A good old-fashioned well-aged side of beef sits on a hook in a carefully ventilated room for well over a month, until a thick layer of fuzzy mold has carpeted the outside and it smells quite ripe. People pay obscene prices for that. Still, I don't think that's quite what they had in mind with the poor unfortunate poultry currently on my plate.

For the record, aside from a bit of freezer burn over the last few months, there isn't much wrong with the drumsticks in question at all. Probably due to the cocktail of preservatives they pumped into the product during preparation. I wonder, if a chicken were reincarnated as something else, and its meat products were preserved, how many times has a former chicken eaten itself without knowing?

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