Friday, September 3, 2010

Don't Judge a Book by the First Recipe

Sometimes the most interesting recipes can come from the most unlikely of books. One day in 2008, I ordered [insert textbook or something, can't remember] from Amazon and shipping was $5. I could get free shipping if I added $5 to my order. So I thought, "hm, I can pay for this $20 item and pay $5 shipping or I can add another item and pay the same w/ no shipping! Let's do it!" So I scoured the website for another 30 minutes searching for a 5-dollar something. I came upon Totally Muffins Cookbook by Helen Siegel & Karen Gillingham. I figured it couldn't hurt. So I bought it.

Two years later...

Here I am, never having tried a single recipe. I looked around my kitchen one summer Friday afternoon. I had everything I needed. I just needed to give it a try. My parents were about an hour west of campus, driving my sister in for freshman orientation. I had to work in an hour and a half. I decided to surprise them with some buttermilk blueberry muffins.

An hour later...

Total disaster. I had no time to wait for them, because my parents arrived sooner than I thought. I took them out and they look half decent (completely blue bread with giant black berries protruding out of them). I grabbed one as their Uhaul pulled up in front of my rental house. It wasn't bad. Wasn't good but wasn't terrible. I realize at that moment that they needed to drop me off at work and the Uhaul had some of my furniture in it!! Oops, fail moment.

As we discussed an execution plan for moving my furniture & getting me to work on time I kept eating. I had finished the muffintop and reached the bottom half. It was compeltely dough, hot sticky dough. I gave up hope at my dinner and threw it in the grass for the wildlife to eat. I thought "that recipe book is terrible!! Never again!!"

[I won't burn your retinas with a terrifying picture of these muffins!]

[By the way my dad had put my entire room together (desk, bed, dresser, nightstand). Yeah my parents are that awesome. I did have to wait a month to receive these things from home. Living on an air mattress & out of suitcases isn't so bad.]

August rolls around and my friends return to campus for classes. One Friday night I decided to give the book another try. I decided to go simple with the pecan cinnamon muffins this time, minus the pecans (didn't have any). I'm not sure if this changed my muffins but I didn't have time to finish them before leaving to hang out with friends. So I threw the wet ingredients (including sugar) in a bowl, mixed it and put it in the fridge. Three hours later, I return and start mixing in the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda). I baked them and by then there were like 10 people in my livingroom, including my roomate. No one would wait for them to cool off. They were pretty good!! I was like "wow, this book ain't so bad".

[They devoured them before I could get a better picture.]

This past Thursday, I gave another recipe a try, banana muffins. No walnuts (didn't have any) and I really just needed to get rid of some bananas. I added 3 bananas like the book said and looked up a crumble top recipe (brown sugar, cinnamon, & flour; crumble cold butter on it too). Everyone asked "what kind is it again?" lol So note to self (and all of you), add more than 3 bananas!!

[I know they look the same as the cinnamon muffins but they're different! I swear!!]

So far so good with this little book. For an introduction in muffin making I've had a lot of fun! It's simple, nothing complicated or tricky. If you stumble upon some tiny muffin-shaped-or-odd-shaped book that costs 5 bucks, it may be worth a shot! And if nothing else, your friends will eat it! Til next time, keep cooking!


Friday, August 27, 2010

An Ameteur's Magic Trick

Tuesday Night, I joined some friends at their house for dinner at the Porch Lighthouse (I'll explain later). College guys are hilarious when it comes to cooking. Although some know their way around the kitchen (it's true) my friends do not. Out of these four guys, two of them have just moved out of the dorms. The two that have just moved out are tonight's head chefs.

I didn't think anything of it on my way to their place. It wasn't until I arrived and walked into their kitchen that I realized this would be an adventurous night. Luke D, Luke B, Lucas D and James invited me to dinner. Luke D is our guest chef (guest on my blog that is). He put nine giant chicken breasts into a large casserole dish and dowsed them in lemon juice. He then poured pepper and all-purpose seasoning all over them and threw it in the oven.

As for the side, he and James cut up cucumber, tomato and green pepper into a large skillet and set it on high. I asked what they were making and they had no idea. I first suggested they just eat it cold, like a salad. They decided to be adventurous and cook the veggies. I suggested to at LEAST put the tomatoes in last so they don't turn to mush and evaporate. However, they were determined to show me that they could survive cooking on their own. The only suggestion they would take from me was to add seasoning, such as italian dressing (and somebody threw in more all-purpose seasoning).

It was probably the scariest thing I'd ever seen by the time it was done. The tomatoes (as I warned them before) were completely gone, turned into a clear red boiling liquid! It's magic!

Although I eat normal amounts of food, guys have way larger stomachs. So we threw some baked beans on a pot at the last minute.

Now for presentation! They like to sit outside on their homemade dinner table, on the porch. (My friends call themselves the Porch Guys, because they sit on the porch yelling at people all day, including Wes who was absent this evening.) We sat down for a lovely dinner on a lovely evening, while people watched us eat as they passed by. The peppers and cucumbers, however, soaked up the flavor from the tomatoes and seasonings. The chicken, baked for 30 minutes, soaked up the lemon juice.

From the left: Luke B, Lucas D, James, Luke D (our guest chef)

Luke's advertising for Big K Grape.

(As you can see, I'm new to this whole blog thing. I'll be in some of the pictures next time.)

As crazy as it sounds, they did a pretty good job, even though they were just winging it! And as strange as it sounds, it was an awesome evening of community and college-grade fine dining.

DISCLAIMER: I know my pictures for this entry were horrendous lol. Work with me here. I know how to add nice accents in the background & put the protein (chicken) into the foreground. I'll get it right next time, but imagine trying to take pictures for a blog while one guy's holding raw chicken & two others are wrestling in the kitchen!! It's gonna be a great schoolyear!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Opening Night

The journey's begun. Learning to cook is a major challenge. For some, it's a challenge for the wallet too. As a college student, I'm learning to budget and bargain, scramble and save! At one point, we Boilermakers are spoiled with dining court food. (Our dining halls have won awards, but I'd hate to know what terrible is! I'm not knocking Purdue dining, but no matter how you slice it, it's DORM FOOD!!!)

So we move out of the dorms into our own apartments with our very own kitchens. At this point, many of us had been living off of our parents and the university's choice of diet. But now here is our chance to fend for ourselves (and lose the freshmen 15 or 40 for some). For some of us, it's a matter of what frozen plastic plate to stick in the microwave. Some the rest of us, it's a whole new journey beyond classes and studying.

After living on my own for 4 years (two in the dorms and two in an apartment), I can say that I have successfully learned to make edible food. It's not always beautiful, but with a few dollars in my pocket I can get the job done.

This blog is about making the most of cooking in college life! I will tell you now that my specialty is baking! But I'm going to show you some recipes that have gotten me through my penny-saving days. I have one more year of college to go (that's right, doing a victory lap) and I'm here to show you some awesome things that I've learned!!

Let's start with spices!!

When I first moved into my apartment, I didn't have a jar of spice to my name. Nearly everything off this list was compiled by my three roomates and I've since copied them after moving out! Here's a good list to start off with:

Cinnamon (for breakfast and dessert)
Salt & Pepper
Poultry or Italian seasoning (Chicken's so cheap, throw something on it & you're set)
Cumin (the secret to taco seasoning)

This list is sort of scattered and out there, but think about it. If your first month in your new apartment you KNOW you're only buying oatmeal, cereal, ramen, and pizza you don't need anything else!

Now, if you hope to impress your friends and entertain your family you'll need a longer list. This may take time to collect but it'll be worth it! In order, starting with what I use the most:

Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning (I am born in New Orleans, you see)
Onion Powder
Garlic Powder
Chili Powder
Garlic Salt
Cayenne Pepper

In case you're wondering "that's it?!!?" there are a million other useful spices and things:

Bay Leaves
White Pepper
Lemon Pepper
Ground Ginger
Minced Garlic
Minced Onion
Chopped Onion

And here are some miscellaneous things that I've found myself running out to get or wishing I already had:

Vegetable Oil
Olive Oil
Tomato Paste
Corn Starch (to thicken any sauces you screw up like I have)
Bread Crumbs

Depending on what type of cuisine you eat (Southern foods, East & West Coasts, French, Italian, Asian, Mexican, and so many more) depends on what kind of spices you need. I use my spices to make pasta, veggies, tacos, pizza, casseroles, and a lot of random things! As you begin to try new things, you'll find yourself buying new spices to enhance the dish! Such as Yellow Curry! I hope to dive into Thai food this year! I'll let you know how that goes!

Hope this was a helpful post. My next posts will be way more interesting. Look forward to saving money, cheap snacks, cheap dinners, and my trials and errors in cooking and baking in college!!

Have a blessed one!