Monday, November 23, 2015

It's Potato Time!

The Mashed Potato was one of those dances I could just never get the hang of. Mostly because there was a mentally handicapped kid at my school who walked like that and I was always afraid someone would think I was making fun of her so I would improvise and do other stuff. And if you're thinking to yourself that I'm too young to have been doing this dance you're both right and wrong. Sure it's a little out of time but my P.E. teacher had a group of us go in before or after school and she taught us all these fun dances. We even performed the Pata Pata as part of a half-time show at the college basketball game. Of course during class we had to learn square dancing for reasons I don't know. If you get to see actual square dancers in the fancy costumes it's a bit more fun but just in your gym clothes it feels like a cross between playing BINGO and Simon Says plus there's the cootie factor. Ew
Moving on down the dance floor. Since the holidays are coming up I thought I'd share my recipe for mashed potatoes. Which is odd since just last year I made my first attempt at mashed potatoes, or was it this year? I don't remember, but I needed to make Shepherd's Pie so I needed to figure out how to make the mashed potatoes. Sounds like an easy thing to do right? It is easy, what's hard is that they're intimidating. It seems like the potatoes are the one thing that if you get wrong everyone will mention it. Somewhere someone out there is complaining about their grandmother's lumpy mashed potatoes, or "gluey" yea that doesn't sound appetizing. You can make mashed potatoes as complicated or as easy as you want. I go for easy, as long as they taste good. Here's what I do, now that I'm not intimidated to make them.

  1.  Pick your potatoes. This can seem tough as they come in different sizes. What I've found is if you look at the potato and ask yourself, if this were a baked potato would it be enough to fill me up? Do that with each potato for each person you're cooking for. 
  2. Clean them really good. I keep the skin on mine. It's a bit of a wives tale that all of the nutrients are in the skin, but there is a good amount of dietary fiber in it, so in it goes. 
  3. Cut the potatoes. They don't have to be uniform or thinly sliced, just cut up so they'll cook faster. You're going to mash them up in the end so it doesn't matter. 
  4. Boil them in water. Depending on how many potatoes you're boiling is how much water you'll need. Have enough water to cover the potatoes.  It usually takes about 10-15 minutes to boil them. You can check them by putting a fork in one and if it easily falls off the fork you know it's done. If they're not boiled all the way through you'll have hard lumps in your mash. 
  5. Electric mixer time. They should have a dance for that. Stand mixer or hand mixer, either one will work. Drain the water, or strain, from the potatoes and put them in a mixing bowl. Add salt, cream cheese, butter and a pinch of garlic salt. The amounts will vary depending on how many potatoes you cooked. If you did one serving use 1/2-1 Tbsp butter and cream cheese and one pinch of garlic salt. If you did two servings use 2 Tbsp and so on. I rarely add black pepper to anything I cook. I figure it's much like ketchup and mustard. You'd never hand someone a hot dog with ketchup and mustard already on it. If you do you're a turd. Some people like a lot of black pepper and some don't like it at all, therefore you make sure there's some on the table so they can add as much or as little as they like on their own. 

So there you go, it's easier than some people make it seem. Sometimes I think people make a job sound way harder than it really is so they get some sort of recognition for their effort. Those people probably serve hot dogs with ketchup and mustard already on it. (Ketchup has no business being on a hot dog anyway, but that's enough for a whole other post). From start to finish it takes about 20 minutes and about 15 of those are boiling time so you can fix the rest of the meal while the potatoes are boiling.
I was too busy last week to finish the book I'm reading, or maybe it just wasn't interesting enough to finish? Some books I can't put down, others I put down and start a new one. That's how I end up reading three or four books at the same time. Anywho, since I have no book to share with you I'll share this article I read. It did captivate my attention enough to read. It was posted in the comments of an artists's blog where there was a discussion about how social media affects art. This particular article is about a guy who goes around and buys up work from unknown artists and markets them on social media. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/magazine/the-art-worlds-patron-satan.html?_r=0  It was a bit difficult to actually understand what this man does with the art but a good read nonetheless. I hate to think that people are really purchasing paintings and sculptures based on popularity on social media sites, but just look at the music industry. Really good talent seems to go unnoticed and this article sheds a bit of light on why that is. I like the way the author wrote the article though, he made it really difficult to form any kind of opinion on the guy. It starts off with an endearing story about how he was the knight in shining armour to an upcoming artist, but he ended it with basically saying he's running a chop shop for art.
Haven't posted a daily doodle in quite some time so there you go. A watercolour I attempted. I've been wanting to try painting wet roads and I finally gave it a shot. Not the greatest but there you go.




Sunday, November 15, 2015

Rules of Civility & Coffee

Being With You  In Paris-Steve Vai. Steve Vai is one of the best guitarists ever and it only seems appropriate to pick this song to keep the people of Paris in our thoughts. On Friday I went to see Spectre (the new James Bond film) and after leaving the theatre the very next thing I saw was the news. It was beyond surreal. It was one of those pinch me moments because I really thought, there's no way, that death and destruction was only in the movie. One could say that it's hard to believe such evil could exist, but there it is for all to see. If you're a person who believes in prayer please take the time to include Paris, Beirut and Japan in those prayers. You could also include a prayer for the monsters who attacked those innocent people. Pray that they come to realise what they're doing is wrong. It's definitely been a heavy weekend, but the rock is still rotating and the sun came around again. Carrying on after a tragedy can sometimes feel like the hardest thing to do but it's the one thing we must do.

With the holidays coming up I wanted to share this simple recipe.  If you're anything like me you spend most of your holiday cooking time making sure the food is great for everyone else. Sure having people tell you that your food tastes great is wonderful and having people happy with full bellies is the best but it's great to do something for yourself, tell yourself it's a reward for having your guests lick the plates clean. Sweet cinnamon coffee. A lot of countries use condensed milk instead of dairy creamer or worse, powdered creamer. I don't know what it is about that stuff it just doesn't work for me. The powdered creamer seems to leave a gross oily coating in my mouth and the liquid stuff never sits well. Using real milk or half & half is a better solution but sometimes you just want that sweet, like drinking your dessert.  All you need is fresh brewed coffee (please don't microwave your coffee!) can of sweetened condensed milk and cinnamon. Use 1-2 Tbsp of condensed milk, pinch of cinnamon and fill the cup with coffee and stir. The hardest thing about this recipe will probably be to find a churchkey to open the can of condensed milk. You can still buy them so it's not that big of a deal, but it used to be something every household had at least four of laying around. If you've had an overly stressful day of holiday cooking this recipe would work extremely well with a shot of Kahlua.  The Dude would not only abide, he would approve.
The book I read this week, Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. The story takes place in the late 1930s. It focuses on the life of Katey Kontent. She's a young, single woman in New York trying to make her way in the world. At first it talks a little about the "class system" but wasn't sure where it was going with that, it just felt like it was establishing the characters. It did turn out to discuss this upper, lower and middle class stuff but much to Katey's surprise, no matter how much or how little money you have you'll always have problems, especially if you create your own. It seems like a story that's been told over and over, poor little rich girl/Cinderella nonsense, but the way this author tells it, it's much more enjoyable to read.  The way the author describes everything, it's just like being there. It's very well written and is a nice escape from the real world.
Next week I'm going to share my recipe for mashed potatoes, discuss champagne VS prosecco and of course some random book I pull off the shelf.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Doubting Dames and Divas

What's not to love about Annie Lennox? Her first solo album was titled Diva. The word diva is kind of a funny word, one of those that has taken on a life of its own. Diva used to refer to well known opera singers, then it evolved into a name for female singers with a bit of an attitude. Now diva can be used to describe any person who is difficult and hard to work with.
Another word that gets confused sometimes, hot cocoa. There is a definite difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa but often the two are confused. For someone who doesn't really like chocolate to begin with it really doesn't matter. What does matter is this article about health benefits to drinking hot cocoa. "7 Health Benefits to Drinking Hot Cocoa".  So if you need an excuse to indulge there are seven for you. I already have a favourite hot chocolate, El Popular Chocolate and I wanted to find a good hot cocoa. Turns out finding hot cocoa isn't so easy to do.  The grocery stores around here only stock Swiss Miss and Nestle. I would normally say there's nothing wrong with that but I checked the ingredients and wasn't willing to buy a product that had dipotassium phosphate. I know a lot of products with powdered dairy use it but I don't feel like drinking it. Dipotassium phosphate is used in agar, which is what is used to grow bacteria in petri dishes. Nestle's has sodium aluminosilicate, which is also found in a lot of packaged foods. It helps to keep the powdered food from clumping while packaged, but it's also used in latex paint and laundry detergent. I wanted to try a product that didn't have too many "extras" in it so I chose this Ghirardelli Double Chocolate. Perhaps it has less chemically sounding ingredients because it has to be made with milk?
The fact that it has to be made with milk needs to be considered when you're at the store purchasing hot cocoa mix. Luckily I picked up a 1/2 gallon of milk so I had plenty to make a cup and have enough milk to put in my Franken Berries in the morning. 

As I began preparing the hot cocoa some things started to cross my mind. It would be so much easier to put in a Suchard disc in the Tassimo and be enjoying hot chocolate already. Then it hit me, what if this hot cocoa doesn't even taste good by the time I'm done? What if all of this whisking and heating is for nothing? Then I really got to thinking that maybe this way of thinking is what changed the way we eat now. What if we started doubting our abilities in the kitchen so much that we turned to these pre-packaged, frozen and fast food? What if somewhere out there an exhausted housewife spent all afternoon preparing a meal for her family and nobody liked it? That could have been the tipping point because who wants to work hard on something and it turn out like crap? For some people cooking is a gamble, they never know what they're going to get, but if you go through the drive-thru you're sure of what you'll get. Even if it's bad you know what to expect. Trying new recipes can be scary and expensive so it's no surprise some people turn to fast food. I used to think it was just pure laziness that led people to order the #7 with chili instead of fries. Now I'm not so sure.
It truly can be disappointing spending a lot of time in the kitchen and have something not turn out as you envisioned it. On top of that you have a mess to clean up and you're still hungry. A lot of us could definitely use more confidence in the kitchen and maybe some fool proof recipes for back ups when the baked Alaska turns into charred Chattanooga. Hot cocoa isn't the most complex things you'll make in the kitchen so if you're afraid to mess it up just start slow and maybe buy a whole gallon of milk instead of a half. You know, in case you mess up. As for this Ghirardelli hot cocoa, it was ok. There was no mistake it was cocoa and not hot chocolate. It had a good flavour but felt like it could have benefited from some extras like a peppermint stick or peppermint schnapps or both.
The book to read this week, Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World's Greatest Chocolate Makers by Deborah Cadbury.  It gives a bit of history of chocolate and a very interesting look at the families who made their fortunes on the selling of the "food for the gods".  Some of the families are more interesting than others but it's a good read if you're interested in history and those Citizen Kane/Remington type family stories.
The holiday season is fast approaching. Let me know your weird family traditions and dishes you think only your family serves.  One of my great-grandmothers always served oyster stew and always had Tom & Jerry's at her Christmas parties. No one has carried on that tradition but this may be the year I try out one of those recipes. Stay tuned.