Saturday, May 29, 2010

Striving for Success and Relief in the Kitchen

Food makes me feel better. It's not just the eating or talking about food, it's the making it. I'm not talking anything gourmet, I just like trying new recipes, new ingredients, new techniques. The fact that you can make something from start to finish with a tangible end product is really gratifying. So while I've always been inclined towards baking cookies, cakes, muffins, etc., I've recently been branching out. It seems to help me regain a bit of myself when I'm lost in the throws on toddler tantrums.

These past couple of weeks have been particularly trying. MetaDaddy has been traveling for work, so he's been gone for 10 of the past 14 days. And when he gets back, I can't expect much because of jet lag. As usual, the kids got sick the minute he stepped foot on the airport. Why, why why!?! MetaBoy started it, and MetaGirl was lucky enough to get a mild version of whatever he had. Then she caught something somewhere else, and now he's sick. Tomorrow is two weeks with one stomach flu or another.

So, I'm having a pity party, and everyone's invited!! Except you probably don't want to come over because you might get sick ;-)

And what's a party without presents? I "happened" to find something on sale that I've been eyeing for a while. I figured it's time to indulge.

Sur La Table is having a sale on Cuisinart ice cream makers (well reviewed by Amazon users). Supposedly, they retail for $90, but they seem to be $50 everywhere. You could get it at Bed Bath and Beyond with one of your million 20% off coupons, though I couldn't seem to find it on their website. The Sur La Table deal, available thru May 31, 2010, offers a $15 gift card with your purchase, which works out to for $50 plus tax, less $15 for a future purchase. Amazon's best offer, if you're willing to take the white machine instead of selecting one of the 5 other colors, is pretty comparable (currently $41.48).

No, I didn't need it. But we all like ice cream. And MetaBoy loves to help me in the kitchen, so I'm excited at the prospect of showing him how to make ice cream. I think it's incredibly valuable that he knows that foods he loves like bread, cake, or ice cream are easily made from scratch at home, even though we can also buy them at the store. As a kid, I didn't know that pancakes could be make without a mix. Or that butter is so incredibly easy to make!! Heck, I didn't know a lot of stuff about food until well into adulthood. We've learned to take basic stuff for granted, and it's a real shame. How can we know how to eat well if we don't know what we're eating?

Anyway, I haven't made anything with the machine yet because everyone's still recovering. But once we're ready, I've been eyeing a decadent mint chocolate chip ice cream recipe from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home. I love that book. Some recipes are a little tedious or labor intensive, but there are several great, easy ones, like the amazing cauliflower soup that I could eat for days, or the chocolate shortbread cookies. Best of all, whatever recipe you make, you're guaranteed something delicious. There's comfort (food) in that.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I Never Trust My Oven's Temperature

When I used to pre-heat my oven to 350F, I couldn't help but wonder if the temperature was as promised when the oven beeped. To quell my fears, I bought a thermometer and placed it on a rack inside my oven oven (on the outermost bar, near the door). I felt pretty smart when I found out that it took 10-15 minutes longer after the oven beeped to hit the target temperature. That's why I was having so many problems!!

We since moved, and I brought my thermometer. I put it in the oven here, and as I learned its quirks, I realized it similarly took longer to heat up than promised by the oven's thermostat. But I was having other trouble with the oven, that involved heat, smoke, and char everywhere (food and oven walls). On a whim, I put the thermometer further into the oven (now hanging on a rack in the very center of the oven), and I find out that the oven is hitting then exceeding the target temperature by 25, 50 or more degrees!! My 400 oven hit 500 (and beyond?)!

Now, I'm not sure where I'm going from here, but knowing is the first step. I've been much more cautious with high temperature cooking, which can lead to burning, smoking, and splats (aka dirty oven). I've considered looking into getting it repaired, but we're thinking of moving soon, so it might not be worth the expense.

Whatever I do now, the take away lesson: Never take the temperature of your oven for granted. Whether too high or too low, it can affect your cooking, and in turn, your confidence in cooking.