Saturday, November 23, 2013

Linden: Granola Recipe

When I lived in Cambridge, it was freezing and the best way to stay warm on the weekends without heating guilt was to cook; I wasn’t eating a lot of processed food and I had a lot of free time on the weekends so I did a lot of tweaking of a granola recipe from TheKitchenSink.

And now, Mama has been ironing out her breakfast regime, and has moved towards what is apparently a Swiss breakfast, which I think should involve Cuckoo clocks but apparently just involves yogurt. And I had just made a batch, so Kathleen granola-muled some home to Mama on the way to some conference.

Here’s my version of the recipe – basically the same as the original minus the refined sugars (original recipe here:

Be warned, it makes your kitchen smell amazing. ( pictures, because I sent it all to Mama.)


Cherry-Almond Granola

4 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup coconut flakes, unsweeteend
3 tablespoons flax seeds (or whatever you have, I am currently using linseed)
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup almonds, chopped, plus 2 tablespoons whole almonds
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 tablespoon honey (optional – it makes the granola stick together.)
1 tablespoon almond extract
2 cups dried cherries (make sure that there’s no added sugar)

Preheat the oven to 375. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except the dried fruit. Stir well to incorporate.

Spread the mixture on the prepared baking sheet, spreading it out into an even layer. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes (depending on the depth of goldenness you’re looking for), stirring every 10 minutes.

Remove the granola from the oven and and cool completely, in its pan, on a wire wrack. Once the granola is cool, mix in the dried cherries.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Jenny: English muffins!

Mom sends this photo of her English muffins!

Me wanty!

They look like a cross between American buttermilk biscuits and English muffins, i.e. way better than English muffins.  We need a new name for these.  Biscuimuffins?  Vongsamuffins?

Actually, maybe this is the way English muffins are supposed to be.  I kind of assumed the English muffin was a bad take on a regular American muffin, just like the English doughnut is a bad version of the American donut.  But it could go in reverse.  Maybe Americans can create good foods out of bad English foods.

I am not going to bother checking any of the relevant food history to support my theory. Instead, let us simply agree that, whatever the case may be, this is far better than the alternative where American and English foods get Frenchified.

(Why must everyone french their lamb racks?!?  STOP!  STOP IT!  That stuff is delicious!)

(And toad in the hole definitely should not croak...)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Xan: Cheeeeese?

Hello folks,

Do any of you have trouble with your cheeses molding and if so what do you do about it?  For instance, I would like to shred lots of mozzarella all at once and not have to shred it each time I need some.  But then it gets moldy and I can't cut off the outside of every shred.  Can you freeze cheese?  Or how should it be stored?

As far as cooking goes, cheese is an unusual ingredient for me: I use it frequently enough but it is never for my own consumption, and so I never actually taste the results of my cheesings, and so I never know what to do differently next time.  When I started cooking, I used to complain if I had to touch cheese, which seems pretty silly in retrospect.  It was probably just an excuse to complain.  On the other hand, many people are grossed out by the mere sight of meat, even though meat is great while milk products are the devil.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Xan: Weighing the benefits of kitchen scales. Also, cookies.

In the kitchen I prefer work first, reward second.  I go to great lengths to avoid making things dirty because I don't want to have to clean them up later!  When possible, I do manual prep work up front, rather than using a kitchen machine (even if it's much quicker and easier) that I then have to clean.  Even if it takes less total time to clean the machine than it took to do the manual prep work, I prefer to do the work first and get my reward second.

That may seem odd.  But if I do the work first, it's just part of the cooking.  If I do it second, it becomes a chore I have to force myself to do now instead of later.

Sometimes I will fail and procrastinate, making a bad situation worse.  But even when I succeed in forcing myself to clean in a timely fashion, it's still worse than if I didn't have to force myself.  Just as, even if you successfully exert the willpower to abstain from an unhealthy slice of chocolate cake, you are still worse off than if the cake didn't exist to tempt you in the first place.  Exerting willpower is costly.  Making yourself do things now instead of later is draining.  So I avoid it when I reasonably can.

I would rather clean a knife right before I use it than right after, even though it would seem to take the same amount of effort in the naive view of things.  In either case, you have a clean knife while you're using it, which is the only time it really needs to be clean.  Unfortunately, your cohabitant may prefer the knife to be clean the rest of the time as well.

This explains why I often make the seemingly odd decision to do things manually that "should" be done a more modern and efficient way.  My most preferred cleaning method by far is to not make things dirty in the first place!

You can roll your eyes all you want -- and probably would, if you saw the lengths I've gone to in order to avoid the food processor -- but I know how my brain works.  As cooking goes from a hobby to a regular routine, even small differences in costliness start to dominate my decisions of what to make and which pans to use.  I pretty much don't care how much work a dish is the first time I make it, because making new things is exciting.  But by the 10th time, it's just not happening if there's something annoying about its preparation.

And so, to the title of this post.  The kitchen scale has become one of my favorite kitchen tools.  It doesn't get dirty by use; to the contrary, it is a substitute for getting things dirty.  It strictly dominates using measuring cups, because it is faster, more precise, and doesn't get anything dirty.

I make pizza dough maybe once a week.  This involves a bowl, a fork, and a scale.  That's it.  I put the bowl on the scale, pour the ingredients right out of their containers by weight, and mix it up with a fork.  It's 5 ingredients: flour, salt, yeast, water, olive oil.  The mixing takes like 15 seconds.  It's so easy that adding measuring cups and spoons would easily double the amount of prep work involved.  And then I would have to wash them!  Even if it was just a rinse to get the flour or yeast off, the measuring cups just might sit there on the counter to be dealt with later.  Ugh.

In fairness, it's a no-knead dough so then I have to wait till the next day to use it.  But that's not the kind of procrastination problem I have.  Personally, I have no trouble cooking ahead, I only have trouble cleaning ahead (I hate cleaning, but I like making dough, so why would I put it off?).  Your mileage may vary.  My approach in the kitchen is not for everyone, but it works for me.

Every so often I buy a sack of onions from Costco and thoroughly caramelize a whole batch of them.  I freeze them in an ice cube tray and then I can put caramelized onions on every pizza I want by microwaving half an onion ice cube for 10 seconds.  It's a fancy and delicious pizza, and honestly the "hardest" part is grating the cheese!

And I cook it in a cast iron skillet.  It does not stick, and just leaves a little oil behind.  For months now, I've cleaned my cast iron with a soapy sponge, because it's easy and my prior method was definitely not.  They say not to use soap, but what do they know.  There's no sign that I'm ruining the seasoning and every sign that I'm easifying the cleaning.

Catherine's kitchen philosophy is so different from mine.  Today she made Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies using both the Kitchenaid Mixer and the Cuisinart Food Processor.  This simply blows my mind.  Meanwhile, as she was making her cookies, I made a pie crust using this recipe, which is notable because it requires not a food processor, not a pastry blender, but a fork.  Mix flour, salt, and butter by hand, mix in some sour cream with a fork, done. I was so excited!  The recipe does say to "vigorously whisk together the flour and salt"...but ha!  Surely you jest! Like I'm going to dirty a whisk to mix flour and salt.  Wait...would anyone do that?  I mean, that is the most pointless use of a whisk I have ever heard of.  (Technically false).  90% of the time a recipe calls for a whisk, I use a fork anyway.  I know, right?  Forks are the best.

We'll see how the pie turns out tomorrow.  Meanwhile, the cookies were really good.  But I must warn you, there were a lot of them.  I should not use the past tense because there are still a lot of them.  I've never seen so many freshly baked cookies in my entire life.  We filled the cookie jar, and two whole plates, and another bag, and our stomachs!

"How many cookies did you eat?" "I don't know..."
That's not even all of them.  She's still in the middle of cooking them.

Let's check out another angle, just to drive the magnitude home:


These are pretty much the best cookies ever, for the record.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Xan and Grandma: Pork!

Grandma says it has been raining a lot in Thailand, but the water will be gone by the time we get there.  She also sends along some pictures of her pork ribs!  Sadly, they will also be gone by the time we get there.

Made with Dad's BBQ sauce.

Source: Makro!

And here is her Kanglian:

A healthier option!  This cancels out pork, right?

I mean, look at all those vegetables!

As it happens, we have been eating up some delicious pork ourselves.  Pork shoulder, specifically.  Mark Bittman's Roast Pork Shoulder, Puerto Rican Style, from How to Cook Everything.

This turned out to be a very yellow and brown meal. Or as we say in the crossword business, ochre!  We have pork, bread, corn with pan drippings, and microwaved honeycrisp apples of deliciousness!


Three little pigs!

That's plate #1.  It was so delicious that I pigged out (!) and ate a double meal.


Mark Bittman's Roast Pork Shoulder, Puerto Rican Style
(paraphrased and modified by Xan)


  • One 4-7 lb pork shoulder, trimmed of excess but not all fat
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 1 TBS dried oregano
  • 1 TBS table salt
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 TBS peanut or other oil
  • 2 TBS white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, or other vinegar


  1. If you have a food processor or hand blender, blend together all the marinade ingredients.  Otherwise, just finely chop the onion and garlic, and mix everything together.
  2. Place the pork and marinade in a gallon ziploc bag or other container.  Coat the pork all over with the marinade and place in the fridge for 1-24 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Remove pork from the marinade and roast for 2-3 hours until done.  The internal temperature should be 150-160, and the meat should be fairly tender.
  4. Rest for at least 15 minutes, slice and serve.


  • This is not pulled pork.  We are not cooking it for hours and hours so it won't get to that falling-apart level.  When I do a 4 lb shoulder, it takes about 2.5 hours to get to 155, and it's still sliceable, as you can see from the pictures.
  • I crisped the roast up in a skillet right before serving, which is why it is so browned.  Alternatively, if it is not browned to your liking, you could always let the meat rest for a bit, crank the oven up to 450, and put the roast back in for a few minutes.
  • In any case, what you should really take from this recipe is the delicious marinade.  You can apply it to the pork and cook it any way you like.  
  • I actually poured the entire contents of the marinade over the pork before sticking it in the oven.  The marinade has a paste-like consistency (at least if you use a food processor or hand blender), so it will stay on top.  This obviously hinders browning so if you have troubles with that, don't do it -- maybe pat your roast dry with paper towels instead!  But since I was going to use the skillet afterwards, it wasn't a problem.  The marinade paste forms a really nice, substantive crust.

Oink oink!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Xan: Chicken, and family! (allegedly)

We had Melanie, Kelvin, Chelsea and Nick over this summer, and I did chicken on the grill with my rotisserie-style rub.  It was a hit!  I thoroughly regret that we did not take a single picture for Vongsafood, given that it was a family food occasion, but I guess we were too distracted by our hosting duties.  It happened, I promise!  

Maybe we can all just pretend this is a picture of the chicken we ate?  Wait, let me try that again.   

Maybe we can all just pretend this is a picture of the chicken that Nick ate?  There was a second chicken too, for those of us who don't play football, but I'm sure it's just out of the frame...

Did I post this recipe before?

  • For the rub, mix together 1 TBS brown sugar, 1 TBS paprika, 1 TBS chili powder, 1 TBS kosher salt (or 2 tsp table salt), and some ground pepper.
  • Coat the surface of the chicken with a little oil, and sprinkle the rub on all surfaces. 
  • Roast chicken in the oven at 400 degrees until done. (I use a thermometer and take it out when the breast reaches 147 degrees and the thigh reaches 165).

    Tuesday, October 1, 2013

    Xan: Ribeye Cap!

    Catherine's grandpa gave us a gift certificate to Publican Quality Meats.  So we put it to good use!  Here is a ribeye cap steak, spinach with slab bacon, and olive bread:

    Oh, ribeye cap, how I love you.

    Actually the beef, bacon and bread are all from Publican.  The lamb in the last post was also Quality Meat.  We really enjoyed all our meats.

    Also, the butcher at Publican had a tattoo of a cow on his forearm, with the different cuts of beef.  If a customer wants to know where a cut is from, he can just point at his handy diagram.  That's dedication!

    Sunday, September 29, 2013

    Catherine: Pie tips

    For those of you considering the pie recipe in my last post, Catherine shares a couple pie tips:
    • When I'm done with the food processor part, my "dough" looks nothing like dough.  It looks like vaguely chunky powder.  (I mention this is because I thought I did it wrong the first few times and potentially over-processed it.)
    • It makes a really big difference to weigh the flour (instead of using measurements by volume).

    Catherine says this crust is one of Kenji's best recipes.  Since we are fans in general, that is high praise.  I mean, our Thanksgiving is like 50% Kenji recipes.  Ooh,'s coming up!  

    Gobble, gobble!

    Xan, Catherine, Ryan, Kris, Cammy: Apple-picking!

    Folks, it's apple-picking season!

    Last year, apple picking was a bust.  An early warm-spell/frost killed off all the apples in the midwest.  Instead, County Line orchard hung up miles of rain gutters and stocked them with pre-picked apples flown in from Washington.  They helpfully decided to inform us by advertising on their website not only that they were open for picking, but furthermore that it was in fact "raining apples."

    Needless to say, we showed up at the orchard excited and left disappointed.
    Despite their devious lies, we returned to the orchard last weekend, after verifying that it actually had apple-picking, of course.  

    Gala, McIntosh, Jonathan, Golden Delicious, and Jonagold.  Here's the haul:

    As you know, I like climbing trees.  It's kind of the main point of apple picking for me, actually.  But I haven't been able to find any orchards around Chicago with big trees.  All the places that offer apple picking were planted in the last 25 years and the trees just aren't that large.  I think it's actually becoming more usual to plant trees closer together and keep them smaller because it makes picking easier, but even the "old-style" trees they have just aren't big like the ones we grew up with in the DC area.  "Climbing" a tree at most consists of taking 1 to 3 steps up the tree.  What?  Moreover, they are mildly annoying steps, because small trees have lots of leafy shoots everywhere, because even the "interior" gets sunlight.  Nevertheless, I enjoy it because it is my natural habitat.  And I think the trees enjoy being inhabited by a native as well.

    A farmer guy yelled at me for climbing a tree.  He said I would break the tree and then break myself.  It's not his fault; the tractor is his natural habitat, and he does not recognize his agile woodland kin.  I continued to climb trees away from the farmers, because it is socially optimal to break rules that are not designed for you, so long as you can avoid getting caught.

    The farmer reminds me of a particular security guard at Pomona.  The golf cart was her natural habitat, and she had it out for the parkourists.  However, golf carts cannot do parkour, so she only ever caught up with us when we weren't doing parkour.  A catch-22, or perhaps a not-catch-4.  In exchange for her hypothetical lectures, let us say a prayer for our pathbound kin, it is not their fault.

    Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, pie!  We converted our bounty into an apple pie and applesauce:

    8 apples each

    The crust was really good, which was Catherine's doing.  She has made Kenji's recipe a few times now and is getting it down pretty well.

    Recipes for crust and filling: 

    Or for the science behind those recipes:

    I know some of you like the vodka pie crust method.  That was also developed by Kenji (during his time at Cooks Illustrated).

    If you are having problems with your apples turning too soft, this pie recipe with fix that.  Before filling the pie, you soak the apple slices in hot water for a few minutes.  This gives the pectin time to convert into a heat-stable form that won't break down at higher temperatures in the oven.

    For the applesauce, I used this recipe:

    I put in 2 cinnamon sticks instead of 1, because Catherine specifically likes cinnamon applesauce.  It was delicious, and so easy!  In fact it was so good that we just bought more apples at the grocery store and made another batch of applesauce.  I guess we did not pick enough!

    Ryan, on the other hand, picked a lot of apples.  He walked away with a couple bags, and a pumpkin too!  Doesn't this baked apple look delicious?

    Unfortunately that only gets rid of one apple...
    And here is his pork tenderloin with cinnamon applesauce:

    Apple sauce, that's more like it!

    And here is our parallel dinner:

    You might think that's a pork chop, given that it looks like one and is served with applesauce.  But actually it is lamb!  I do not regret this, although I do wish we had included peas, and put the applesauce in its own bowl.

    Saturday, September 28, 2013

    Xan and Catherine: Beef Empanadas

    We had extra pie crust and made beef empanadas!

    They were delicious, especially because the pie crust recipe is amazing (link forthcoming, requires a food processor).

    The recipe did not call for cheese inside, but Catherine wanted cheese, but then we forgot, so we just sprinkled cheese on a few and cooked it that way.

    A good idea in theory, but a bad idea in practice.  The crust was much better on the cheeseless ones, and now we have cheese stuck to our baking sheet.

    Monday, July 8, 2013

    Xan: It's scallop time!

    I came home rather tired from work but mom was thawing scallops on the counter so I could not resist cooking them:

    Delicious despite lame cell phone camera.

    Because I never cooked scallops before, that's why.  Of course I looked up doneness temperatures on the interwebs and used a meat thermometer, which is how come they came out perfect despite the fact that I never cooked scallops before and have no idea what I'm doing.  I love the 21st century!

    This was really easy.  Also I managed to make this using only ingredients I could find in my parents' kitchen.  You should be very impressed, as I am a bad finder and I didn't get any help from mom.  The only thing she told me was that we didn't have any spinach, which wasn't even true.

    I chopped up some bacon and rendered out the fat, which I then seared the scallops in.  I deglazed the pan with white wine vinegar and a bit of lemon juice.  Because that was the first vinegar I found, that's why.  Also it is the obvious choice according to xan's cooking heuristics.  I then added some garlic and crispy bacon bits and wilted the spinach and that was it really.

    The spinach was really good, even though I don't usually enjoy cooked spinach from my parents' kitchen, but that is probably because they don't cook it properly, i.e. with bacon.

    By the way, let me just say that cooking with bacon is not the same as cooking with an unhealthy amount of bacon.  A little bacon can go a long way!

    Provocative Claim: It is self-defeating to force feed your children steamed vegetables when you could simultaneously increase their vegetable intake (and hence overall health!) while decreasing your eternal efforts to police their vegetable intake, simply by making vegetables a little less healthy and a lot more delicious by adding some bacon.  It is probably even better to just get some browning going, but surely we can at least say that bacon trumps steam.


    Sunday, April 7, 2013

    Xan: Easter! and a Tammy Egg Hunt!

    We had a nice Easter feast with a few friends:

    On the menu was:
    • Ham
    • Rack of lamb
    • Yam
    • Sacrificial Ram (return of the big corn sheep)
    • 500 gram broccoli salad on the lam
    • apricot jam bars (not pictured, sorry)
    • bread-am
    I don't know what bread-am is but everything else rhymes with ham so what can I do.

    Beautiful spirals of meat!

    I love Costco.  But as a consequence I am still working on pounds of ham leftovers.  Here are all the things I have put ham in: 
    • sandwiches
    • broccoli salad
    • pasta
    • soup
    • beans
    • ham
    I swear it keeps getting better and better though.  I don't remember liking ham this much before.

    Also, because I was deep frying sweet potato fries anyway, I went ahead and deep fried the rack of lamb before bringing it up to 128 F in the oven.  The oil wasn't deep enough to submerge everything, but I could still get better coverage than by searing without an inch of oil.  No, this does not make it greasy or unhealthy.  Meat doesn't really absorb oil.  It just gives it a delicious browned crust, evenly and quickly.  You mostly can't see it in the picture above, but look at the rib lying on its side at the back.  They all look like that underneath. And because the browning only takes a few minutes, they are nice and medium rare from edge to edge inside.  And because there was ham too, I didn't feel guilty not catering to the preferences of Catherine-types who like their meat cooked past medium rare.

    Here is the bread-am, which I already posted in the pan pizza post:

    What is it with circular arrangements today?
    And here is broccoli salad, the sacrificial ram (a beheaded big corn sheep), and yam aka sweet potato fries:

    Now, on to the Tammy Egg Hunt!

    What is special about a Tammy Egg Hunt, you ask?  I will tell you.  Tammy did the hiding---which meant I never had to look up---but more importantly she also chose what to put inside the Easter eggs.  There are some problems with this.

    The first problem is that, culturally speaking, Tammy is from Pluto, which is not even a planet.  The second problem is that she does not see this as a problem.  She persistently trusts her bizarre intuitions even though, time and again, they are scientifically proven to make no sense.

    Of course, know Tammy is a clueless Plutonian.  So I tried, I really tried, to preempt the inevitable Tammyisms by telling her what to buy for the Easter eggs.  Said I, "Get jelly beans, Cadbury mini-eggs, other candy."

    At this point you will not be surprised to hear that this advice went completely unheeded.  Our Easter Egg Hunt got totally, woefully Plutoed into a Tammy Egg Hunt.  I mean, I expected something weird to happen. But even if she only saw my directive as a loose suggestion, she couldn't possibly have violated it more seriously than she did.

    Without further ado, here's what we found in our eggs:

    Popcorn, cough drops, and tea bags: everything you need for your very own Tammy Egg Hunt!
    Gosh, I don't even have a picture of the popcorn because we already ate it.  There were like 10 pieces.

    People were like, "Umm...I think some of these eggs are empty..."  But no.  Tea bags just don't make a sound when you shake them.  Also, popcorn is mostly air, which is why it's normally served in large buckets instead of tiny plastic eggs.

    Worst. Easter Eggs. Ever. 

    Incidentally, these were also the Funniest Easter Eggs Ever, just for the pure comedic value of finding such outlandishly out-of-place "goodies" inside, earnestly placed there by a well-meaning but utterly clueless alien.  Man, even normal aliens do better than this!  E.T. would have filled these eggs with Reese's Pieces!!!  But just think, somewhere out there in the vastness of outer space orbits a space rock that wishes it was a real planet like Earth.  And on this tiny, cold non-planet lives a race of tiny, cold Plutonians who desperately wish they could fit in with Earthlings. At least one Plutonian somehow made the physical journey here, but the culture gap is just too vast to bridge.  Pro-tip: Easter is a time for candy, not medicine. Earth is large and warm.  Thus Earthlings are tall and healthy and they do not have colds like the tiny people on cold Pluto.

    The real tragedy of this affair was that Catherine had been forgoing chocolate for Lent, and Tammy completely failed to deliver. Luckily for Vongsafooders, a chocolate fix is never more than 90 seconds away!  I refer (of course) to brownie in a mug, which we had later that night after everyone left.

    Wednesday, April 3, 2013

    Xan: Pan Pizza Montage!

    I made so many of these since my previous post, and though I didn't take pictures of most of them, we're gonna need a montage!  I tend to take pics when food is noticeably different from something I've cooked before, so these are more or less representative of the variations so far.  (Minus the one depicted in my previous post.  Actually, that is my favorite and the one I make most often).

    Pepperoni.  Caramelized onions.  Olives.  Panko bread crumbs.

    Thinly sliced potatoes, onions, bread crumbs.

    Melted butter and cinnamon sugar.

    This is just Catherine posing happily with her new pizza cutter from Disney World.  Sigh...

    Olive oil, salt, and rosemary

    Hawaiian with bread crumbs!

     And here is an overhead shot of the Hawaiian pizza:
    An emblem of our relationship.
    On the left, cheeseless Hawaiian with crushed pineapple and leftover ham from Easter.  On the right, Catherine's version of Hawaiian, namely regular pepperoni pizza. (with bread crumbs. are you noticing a trend yet?)

    And here is a closeup of her slice since we don't have one of those yet:

    This would also be an excellent opportunity to showcase our new cast iron skillet, which is visible in the Olive Oil, Salt, and Rosemary bread above.  We had a 10" cast iron skillet (which was used to make most of these) and Anne gave us a 12" as an engagement gift.  (Thank you!  We're putting it to good use!)

    I wanted a 12" in part because the 10" pan pizzas are dissatisfyingly small for the two of us.  I didn't want to go above 12" though, as I have learned from experience that even 12" pans are much larger than 10" pans. Their area is proportional to the square of the diameter, of course, so the 12" pan is almost 50% larger than the 10".  But even knowing this, it still always surprises me on a gut level, just how quickly pans get big as the diameter increases. I mean, look!

    On the right is the 12" pan, on the left the 10".  It comes pre-seasoned from Lodge, but it ain't the same, as you can see. So I seasoned it myself. (You can see it is black in the Olive Oil, Salt, and Rosemary Bread shot).  Anyway, the 12" pan is just right for our pizzas.  And for Easter I used it to brown a rack of lamb that wouldn't fit in the 10"!

    But listen.  You can make these pizzas in whatever size pan you want.  The important thing is to make them, for they are easy and delicious.  Again, here is the basic recipe.  But to that, I would add that I no longer bother making pizza sauce, which makes it even easier.  (You could also buy pizza sauce...).  I just use crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce, throw some salt on, and sometimes make up the difference with other toppings.  If you go this route, the dough is easy, the sauce is easy, the toppings are easy.  That adds up to easy pizza!

    Sunday, March 31, 2013

    Easter Baking

    I have been quite remiss in posting about my culinary adventures, of which there have been many in the last few months.  But in honor of the holiday, I'm going to post about the three stages of my Easter baking!

    Stage 1: Bunny, Chick and Lamb cakes.  I used a mold that I bought on Easter sale at Karstadt, and used a Germany recipe, which included grated marzipan!  This was new for me, and I must say even the baking marzipan here bears slight resemblance to what is found in the UK.

    Stage 2: Two days later, I made cupcakes.  If you look in the first picture, you can see two different kinds of Easter flavored cupcake liners!  I made coconut cupcakes from a Barefoot Contessa recipe.  They were quite popular at work, but I wasn't so happy with them because there was also almond extract in, and it was a bit too strong for me, I suspect because the coconut here being dessicated and un-sweetened, the flavor doesn't offset the almond as much as it should.

    Stage 3: I was invited by a couple of co-workers for Easter brunch today, and I volunteered to bring supplies for Easter cookie decorating.  This picture is just from the beginning; about half an hour later the table was completely full.  It was a hit!  And the guests were from all over the world, so some had never decorated cookies before.  And best of all, I finally got to use all of my Easter cookie cutters.  And the second picture is my cookies.

    Saturday, March 30, 2013

    Xan: Love-hate relationships

    What do smoked salmon and corn dogs have in common?

    They are both foods that I LOVE, but only for the first few bites.

    It is a peculiar sort of love-hate relationship.  I love smoked salmon, but I get sick of it so quickly, and I have no idea why.  I also love corn dogs, but I can only make it about halfway through a corn dog before I am just done with that taste.  I have the same problem with hot dogs to a lesser extent.  (Foot-longs are definitely too big).

    I do not seek these foods out.  I eat them when they come to me in life, which is just infrequently enough for me to forget about my love-hate relationship with them.  When I saw smoked salmon at a breakfast buffet recently, I remembered how much I loved it, but I took too much because I didn't remember that I was about to hate it again.

    There are probably other foods in this category that I just cannot remember right now.  Has anyone else had an experience like this?

    Monday, February 25, 2013

    Xan: Pan Pizza!

    At last.  AT LAST.

    This is the pizza I have been trying to make all this time.  Easy and delicious pizza with a thick, oily crust.  This is not deep dish; it's Pizza Hut pizza.

    I like Pizza Hut crust a lot.  I have tried to replicate it by incorporating oil into the pizza dough, and by brushing oil onto the crust right before cooking.  But it never came close to working.  The crust needs to fry in oil.  Not that much oil -- a tablespoon will do -- but enough that a pan is required.

    In addition to the crust, the toppings were excellent.  This is the first cheeseless pizza I have ever eaten that didn't seem to be missing something...and it didn't even have meat on it!  (Of course Catherine's side still had cheese).  And I didn't have to make pizza sauce!  The toppings in this case were: crushed tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, olives, caramelized onions, and panko bread crumbs.  These are all things I have lying around my kitchen, but if you don't have caramelized onions in your freezer, you'd have to add that to the process. Or just use more typical toppings.  I mean, if you aren't lactose intolerant, it's easy to make a pizza that doesn't seem to be missing something.

    I am indebted yet again to Kenji.  Here is the basic pizza recipe:

    and here is the recipe with approximately the toppings I used:

    I would highly recommend this pizza to anyone, but especially to a home cook who is just starting out and aspires to make great pizzas from scratch.  There is no kneading of the pizza dough, and no nonsense with shaping the pizza or getting it into and out of the oven.  This is a pizza that's really easy and consistent as long as you have the right equipment, and all of the equipment is a good investment if you are looking to build up a versatile kitchen inventory.  You will find useful a digital kitchen scale (I can recommend this one) and a 10-inch cast iron skillet (e.g. this one), both of which are a lot more versatile than pizza peels and baking stones.

    Did you know the amount of flour in a cup can vary by as much as 50% (!) depending on how packed it is?  (Weighing the flour eliminates the guesswork).

    Xan: A very Colorado celebration!

    I wanted to put together a themed feast in honor of my good friend Tony, who is moving to CU-Boulder.  So naturally I consulted my good friend Brendan, a Colorado native and creative.  Look what we came up with:

    Tony will be leaving the geologically vacant Midwest for the Flatiron Mountains!  Behold, the Mountains of Celebration Ham:

    This was supposed to be maple-glazed, but for some unknown reason I used honey instead.  It was not planned, my brain just checked out while I reached for the honey.  The honey was totally crystallized (tail end of a Costco bottle...) so it was a major production to get it out of the bottle.  At no point did I realize that maybe I don't even need the honey.

    Not that honey-glazed ham isn't also awesome.  We managed to eat almost all of the 7-lb ham between the five of us!

    Next up, Boulder Potatoes!

    These sort of disintegrated into pebble potatoes, but they are fried and therefore delicious.  They did not last long.

    Because CU-Boulder's rival is the Colorado State University Rams, whose mascot is a bighorn sheep ram, I also made this Decapitated Big Corn Sheep:

    We consumed it in effigy, for good measure.

    There was also bread and, for dessert, Mile High Partially Eaten Rum Cake of Destiny, and also Hot COCOa.  Brendan even suggested that I infuse the hot cocoa with coconut so it would be COCO COCOa.  I will have to try making hot cocoa with coconut milk instead of regular milk some time.

    After dinner, we played Colorado-themed bananagrams in which everyone had to come up with a Colorado-related word.  I was victorious, if uncreative: