Monthly Archives: January 2012

Cooking Food

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Olive Oil

A date has been set for the EPIC BAKING DAY and I must continue to prepare. First, by purchasing more / larger pants with elastic waistbands and then determining the number of 30-pound bags of sugar I need to buy from Costco.  And I know this doesn’t make sense here but I just have to say that I LOVE HUMMUS. People sometimes ask me* what my favorite hummus is, and I have to say that it’s the Trader Joe’s Smooth and Creamy Classic Hummus. Man, I love that hummus! I’ve been eating it by the tubful in my pantry (and then telling people that my jeans are tight because I put on 10 pounds of muscle over the holidays).  It’s really good with tuna, and shepherd’s pie, and on whatever other leftovers I don’t want to taste in particular.  Sometimes I wake up at night in a sweat thinking about it. It’s that good.

I’ve been feeling bad that this blog on the whole presents more problems than solutions. So I thought I’d start sharing some things that people might find kind of useful, like…how to make brussels sprouts!

I belong to a CSA and this means that sometimes making dinner is kind of like being on Iron Chef, without all the fancy cooking stuff and the chefs. I’ve always liked brussels sprouts but they never really blew me away, and I never looked forward to them the way I look forward to hummus. Until The Day My Friend Carol Made These Brussels Sprouts.  Here’s how you do it:

First, you cut the sprouts in half.

Brussels sprouts halved

and then chop up some garlic. My mom peels garlic by using a meat hammer and squishing the cloves, so that’s what I’ve done here. It works well and it’s quick, if you don’t need the whole clove to stay intact. After you’ve squished them out of their skins, chop them up. I forgot to take a picture of that part.

Garlic

Then toss the sprouts together with the garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper in a baking tray, and broil for about 10 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the sprouts turn a bright green and some of the edges start to carmelize.

Brussels sprouts in baking tray

and that’s it! This is the ONLY brussels sprouts recipe that my family will eat. Enjoy!

*Ok, in this case, people = me.

 

CARMELIZED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH GARLIC AND OLIVE OIL

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound brussels sprouts, halved
  • 3 large or 5 small cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Prepare broiler.

Toss the brussels sprouts with the garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Place on a baking tray and broil. Check after 4 minutes and toss the sprouts to ensure even exposure to heat. Pull the sprouts out after they’ve turned a brilliant green, and some of the outer leave have begun to carmelize, between 6-10 minutes. Season as needed with additional salt / pepper.

Serves 2-4.

 

 

Health

Surprise! Eye Surgery!

It’s a good thing I was born in this day and age because if I hadn’t I would have been weeded out by now because of my poor vision, consumed by hungry and possibly even slow hyenas while others in my pack fled and I sat around going, “So, as I was saying…”

Cross Section of Human Eye
This would be my eye if it weren’t all gray

 

Anyway, last week I went to the optometrist and for my annual eye exam. I really like my optometrist because he has a special glaucoma machine that doesn’t do the air puff, a machine that takes photos of the inside of your eye without having to do dilation, and a special wrist motion he uses when he covers your eye with a black plastic spoon (kind of like jazz hands, but optometry-style). Amidst the non-air-puffing and the special wrist flips, he found what he suspected was a hole in my eye. Holes in your eye are bad, because they can lead to retinal detachment. Retinal detachment is bad because it causes blindness. I always knew that because I have such poor vision I had a higher risk of this, and I’m the kind of person where if something bad could happen, it usually does, so this wasn’t totally unexpected, but I was mostly grossed out by the idea of having my eye propped open. Years ago I took a friend to her LASIK surgery and, not being squeamish, asked if I could watch. The doctors happily allowed me to and broadcast a ginormous close-up of her eye while it was being operated upon. Let me just say that it was MUCH grosser than I ever thought. I learned that watching an eye being taped and propped open makes me kind of sick. And her eye also bled.

So today I went to see a retinal specialist. He also had a special machine that takes pictures of the inside of your eye, and the technician was especially excited about this machines. The technician, who without my contacts I can only describe as being flesh-colored with what appeared to be a beard, an uneven bob and a headband, started excitedly pointing at diagrams of what this picture could look like and what conditions those could indicate (this is a surprising departure from most technicians I’ve experienced, who refuse to share their interpretations of results with you probably because of some legal reason, even if you say oh, come on, please, I won’t tell anyone.) Anyway, I pretended for a while to follow and then finally said, “I’m sorry. I’m blind as a bat without my contacts so I’m just using my imagination right now.”

Fast forward: I meet the doctor. It’s his first day on the job. I’m a little worried. I hear him in the hallway being introduced to people and am glad to know that it’s not his first day as a doctor, and that he went to and worked at Stanford before coming here. He puts lots of eye drops in my eyes. He shines lots of bright lights at me while I look in a bunch of different directions. He finds the hole and commends my optometrist, who I want to tell him has this special wrist motion. He says that there is a hole. It is small, but if something happened then I could get a retinal detachment. Again, retinal detachment: bad. He says that I could take the risk that nothing would happen, or, get the surgery and decrease that risk to 0.5%. He says there will be 5-10 minutes of pain, and then I can go on with my day. And maybe I’d want to take a Tylenol.

ME: How bad is the pain?

DOCTOR: Not too bad. I just did it on a 12 year old and he put up with it.

ME: So you can do this, like, now?

DOCTOR: Yes.

ME: And then I just go home and go on living?

DOCTOR: Yes.

ME: [thinking through pain management exercises, and that if I go blind I will be dependent on my husband to do my hair and makeup] OK.

Fast forward again. Cold eye laser beam room. He pushes lot of buttons. I can tell by the way he’s pushing that what he wants to happen isn’t happening. He pushes more buttons. He tries to figure out how to adjust my chair. He says, “I’ll be right back, I’m just going to get some help with this.” I am again thinking through the scenario where my husband will need to do my makeup and hair. He comes back with another doctor. They push a bunch of buttons and check the plugs. I am hoping they have a backup generator and that there isn’t an earthquake in the 10 minutes it will take to do my surgery.

DOCTOR: OK, we’re ready!

ME: Uh, you feel confident with this procedure, right?

DOCTOR: Oh yeah, I’ve done it a million times, it’s just my first day here.

ME: [hoping this machine works the same way as the one at Stanford] OK.

He put this thing on my eye (remember, no contacts, so I couldn’t tell you more about it) and then I saw lots of really bright flashes of light. I didn’t actually think it hurt at all; it was most bothersome to the eye that wasn’t being lasered. But I do think I have a fairly high pain tolerance because I was once in labor and didn’t know it. Though another time I was in labor and it hurt a lot.

Then, he was done and I was free to go. I still couldn’t see anything, being dilated and having just been temporarily blinded by laser, but he said that I could drive. I don’t get that — eye doctors are always telling me I can drive after dilation but to me the world looks like I’m playing an ’80s video game with someone else’s glasses that my kids have licked. Anyway, I used The Force and my imagination and got home, and a few hours later, have mostly recovered my vision.

But the best part is that when I got home I got a surprise that was even better than surprise eye surgery:

Sprinkles Cupcakes

Sprinkles cupcakes! I can't help but see some of these as corneas and irises.

This was totally unrelated to the surprise surgery, but thanks Jenny!

 

Baking Cooking Favorites Food

Double-Maple Cupcakes (and Cupcake Barf)

So I’ve basically lost my voice from screaming because Bakerella — THE BAKERELLA — commented on my blog.  As if I couldn’t love her more, she actually read my post and…her favorite color is turquoise.

Now that Danielle and I are all Hollywood and are basically just waiting for an invitation to bake with her, I decided to take a baby step toward cake pops and to bake some cupcakes on my own. If you’re training for a marathon, you build up to it.  Are you in fifth grade and would you like to read about baking? If so, this is the site for you!

The challenge: Double-Maple Cupcakes from Cooking Light. Except that I made them single-maple because I wanted to use buttercream frosting. I was first introduced to these cupcakes by my friend Christine, who is appropriately Canadian, and who baked them and brought them to work. They were the most fabulous cupcakes I had ever tasted, and I wanted to eat all 18 of them but had to just smile politely as co-workers passed them around and helped themselves to what could have been added to my portion.

Here is what I learned from this baking experience:

1. If you put a several cups of flour in the bowl of your KitchenAid mixer that you have used twice since you purchased it, and then turn the dial to High, you will distribute flour all over yourself and the kitchen. I also used a dough paddle which may have been wrong.

This would be an inappropriate picture for a food blog.

2. After you have done 1, you may no longer have the correct proportions of ingredients in your batter, and sometimes when this happens, your cupcake may actually throw up.

Cupcake barf. Unretouched photo.

Overall, though, most of the cupcakes that were not unwell turned out pretty normal looking.

Normal looking cupcakes

The ones that didn't throw up.

And they frosted up nicely.

Frosted cupcakes

I know there are gaps in the frosting. Don't judge me.

So if you want to try this at home, here are the recipes (with instructions on how to make barfing cupcakes above):

DOUBLE-MAPLE CUPCAKES from Cooking Light:
Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 tablespoons butter or stick margarine, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon imitation maple flavoring
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup 1% low-fat milk
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • Frosting:
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons butter or stick margarine, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon imitation maple flavoring
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare cupcakes, beat first 4 ingredients at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Combine milk and 1/4 cup maple syrup. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix after each addition.

Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups lined with paper liners. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

Ingredients
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or 1/2 pound), softened (but not melted!) Ideal texture should be like ice cream.
  • 3-4 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, SIFTED
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • up to 4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
Preparation
  1. Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the sugar doesn’t blow everywhere) until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 2 tablespoons of milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add remaining sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk 1 tablespoons at a time.

Baking Favorites Food

Popstruck

With all this talk recently about Santorum and the presidential election, there’s only one thing on my mind: CAKE POPS. Take a look at the Kermits below (by the amazing Bakerella). They are MADE OF CAKE. On a stick. That is what a cake pop is: cake on a stick, and apparently, incredibly, magically manipulated to look like Muppets.

Image courtesy of Bakerella

I know, I know, I’m a little slow on the uptake. It’s just like years after Brad Pitt was named one of People Magazine’s Sexiest People and I finally saw A River Runs Through It and started telling people, Hey, that Brad Pitt, he’s kind of cute!

This all started a few weeks ago when I was at a baby shower. Melissa V decorated the shower with Very Hungry Caterpillarstuff like little trees with caterpillars in them made of pom poms and other stuff I would never think to do (she also makes full-size nativity sets for plays and has a lot of children, which I would never do either), including:

Very Hungry Caterpillar Cake Pops

Some cake pops I did not make.

Yes, cake pops. The picture is blurry because I was high on sugar and shaking from all the cake pops I had. I would never have given them a second thought except that they were DELICIOUS. I kept eating them. I couldn’t stop thinking about them.

A late night Google search on cake pops invariably led to a visit to Bakerella, and hours ogling her photos (she takes gorgeous photos, which means she is doing with one hand what I cannot do with two. I am a bad baker. I’m an excellent eater, and I like my own cooking, but there is something about baking that compromises my ability to function. A few weeks ago I made some dipped truffles I was going to gift, and my husband said, “Uh, you can’t give those to your boss.” I would have been mad except that they did look like sad, decapitated snowmen after a nuclear war.). I had a full-on night of dreams about cake pops (mostly about how I made them for one of my kids’ birthdays, and when they were unveiled there would be gasps and some people would actually pass out from the awesomeness and a spotlight would shine on me, suddenly cueing R Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly). Then I had to post about her on Facebook.  And that’s when I found out that my friend Danielle is obsessed with her too. Danielle can actually bake and has even made cake pops. And ebliskiver, but that’s a topic for another time. Anyway, this is what went down:

ME: So I was reading her FAQs and she’d like you to ask for permission to use her pictures SO I EMAILED HER!  What if she writes back!!!  Do you want me to ask her what her favorite color is???

DANIELLE: WHAT IF SHE DOES WRITE BACK!?!?!?  PLEASE forward it to me so I can be starstruck!!!!  It’ll be like you are famous along with her.  Ask her what her favorite NON-baked good food is.  Like does she eat steak?  Or stuffed mushrooms?  Or….Nachos?

ME: SHE WROTE BACK!!!!!  She actually typed letters back to me that were addressed to my email address!!!!  Here it is. Don’t faint.

On Wed, Jan 4, 2012 at 5:55 PM, Bakerella wrote:
Sure. Thanks for asking.

Bakerella

DANIELLE:  Ok, so basically you’re famous. Seriously though.  My heart is kind of beating a little faster than normal bc of her email to you. Did yours, too, when you saw her email in your inbox???????  Who else can we have you email?  WHO ELSE?!

ME: Selena Gomez?!? E.T.???

Then it basically degenerated into a conversation about feelings regarding Justin Bieber (who I happen to love).  But THEN Danielle went to the store and BOUGHT US CAKE POP DECORATING STUFF! YES, we are going to make cake pops!!! This is important because I cannot do this alone.  This is not going to happen for a couple of weeks, but be prepared. It is going to be EPIC.  Like we are optioning movie rights now.

Maybe Bakerella could link to me when she needs to show what could go wrong if you screwed up her recipes. In case you thought I was joking about being a bad baker, let me share this photo with you. I even took it with a fancy camera and a pensive angle, but these are carrot muffins and, like snowflakes, no two look exactly alike. In fact, they’re not even near the same size or shape.

Carrot Muffins

Nothing says "professional" like muffins that are baked from containers of the same size but come out totally different

So Bakerella, thanks for letting me use your pictures. They will make this site a happier place. Oh, and she has a bookout too — we’re going to be using it as the basis for our epic baking endeavor.

Books Travel

Happy New Year!

I’m sure this is the subject line of everyone’s blog post around the world today, but I never claimed to be original. I have a good feeling about 2012, despite the fact that in the last remaining hours of 2011 we ran over a dead skunk (I say “we” because I am being gracious and not pointing out who the actual driver was, (my husband)) with our car, with the result that our car needs to be parked outside for the next month, or that I somehow managed to skirt mortality during our ski trip (you can comfortably conclude that I’m not the world’s best skier — at this writing I rank at approximately 7,000,000,001st worldwide, and yes, that would be behind some newborn babies) but received a large, painful rug burn from an actual rug by slipping down the stairs in the rental house. My hair’s a little messed up today but aside from that, it seems to be a pretty good start to the year.

I could do a list of New Year’s resolutions but they’re not ready yet so I’m just going to show some pictures. Below, the view from our rental house in Big Bear Lake, CA. It was so hot up there that I skied in short sleeves and was still too hot. It was actually not that much fun, skiing in the heat, but then again, I also find walking slightly more pleasurable than skiing.

Big Bear Lake

This is what the same scene looks like at sunset:

Big Bear Sunset

Like Mindy Kaling says in her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), “There is no sunrise so beuatiful that it is worth waking me up to see it.” I know this because this past year I’ve had a job where I get up before the sunrise, so I see a lot of sunrises, and the sunset is just as good if not better, and you’ll feel a lot more normal all day if you see a sunset. Also, you’re probably going to hear me talk about Mindy a lot like she’s a friend of mine because I just read her book and I kind of want to be her.

I would share other pictures too but despite being on a ski trip, all my photos are of kids in the hot tub or people eating fatty foods.

Happy 2012! It’s also my dad’s birthday, so happy birthday Dad! Now to get dressed.