Monthly Archives: August 2011

Home.

Well, okay, I’ve been here for almost 2 days now, but I decided that having phone interviews and meetings on my first day back would distract me from any feelings of jet lag combined with mourning.

It worked. But that decision has also kept me from the kitchen. Stay tuned, though. Updates coming soon!

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nestMeg’s First Birthday: Celebrate with Chocolate Cake

Wow. I can hardly believe a year has passed since I began this whole food blogging endeavor.

In that time, I have experienced some of the most defining moments of my life: Figuring out, with all the certainty a 22-year-old can possess, what I want to doGraduating from college. Moving to another country. Monumental moments that happened beyond the promising comfort of my kitchen–yet that was the place from which I drew my strength and sought my inspiration.

I started this blog to hold myself accountable in the kitchen. To learn how to be self-sufficient. I also learned, inadvertently, how to take risks. Within the confines of my apartment, I combined rosemary and peanut butter into a pie. (I know, I live on the edge.) But outside, I quit obligations that no longer resonated with me. I pursued passions that did. In lieu of accepting a job straight after graduation, I opted to take one last hiatus.

For some, these decisions are easily made. For me, they require deliberation akin to that of our current Congress. But I want to be the kind of person who trusts her instincts, and so I’ve expanded my risk-taking beyond the kitchen and into the real world. It’s the only way to increase one’s repertoire. And if I burn the hummus? Or make a fool of myself? Well, I can take comfort in knowing that, whatever the outcome, I learned more than I would have sitting on the couch and watching three seasons of Skins. (Not that that behavior isn’t totally acceptable sometimes.)

Then again, this chocolate cake recipe is hardly risky, unless one considers the lengths my siblings and I went to in order to eat this cake outside of permissible hours. It’s not the kind of cake you forget is lying in your kitchen, waiting. It’s the kind of cake that demands attention until the last bite has been consumed. Personally, my preferred method of extra cake attainment was running my finger around the perimeter of the pan, gathering up frosting like a snow plow, then dipping it into the cake crumbs from slices past, before licking my finger clean. Then, I’d smush the unaffected frosting down to cover my misdeed.

As you can probably guess, my stealth was no match for my mother.

And the three-year-old hand you see featured in the first picture above? I’m pretty sure the body attached to it was contemplating a similar covert operation. It runs in the family.

Speaking of family, I want to thank you, my blog family. Without your support, I’d be just another not-so-starving writer. I hope you’ll stick with me in year 2 — won’t you?

Simple Chocolate Sheet Cake:
Makes one 9 x 13 cake
3 1-ounce unsweetened chocolate baking squares (or 9 tablespoons cocoa and 3 tablespoons butter)
1/3 cup water (omit water if using cocoa and butter instead of baking squares)
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
2 1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup water

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place baking squares and 1/3 cup water into a microwave-safe bowl. (If using cocoa, skip to step 2.) Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until the chocolate has melted fully. Set aside to let cool.
2) Cream butter in a bowl (including the 3 tablespoons for the cocoa, if you’re not using baking squares), then add brown sugar. Stir until well-incorporated, then add eggs one at a time. Stir in vanilla.
3) Once the melted chocolate has cooled, stir into the butter and sugar mixture. If using cocoa instead, combine cocoa.
4) Stir in flour and baking soda, alternating with the 1 cup of water. Pour batter into a 9 x 13 baking pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
5) Once the cake has cooled, frost with your favorite buttercream recipe. I used this buttercream frosting recipe, but omitted the mint and added a few tablespoons of cocoa.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

It all started when my cousin here made a fairly innocuous request: to cook a meal that represents North Carolina.

Well, as we’ve previously established, I’m just a wannabe Southerner. I also have never attempted to make barbecue in either the eastern (vinegar-based) or western (tomato-based) North Carolinian fashion, which is the first meal option that sprung to mind. In the interest of leaving North Carolina barbecue to the professionals and maintaining my own sanity, I decided to broaden the scope of her request with a “Southern” meal. I also wanted to avoid the inevitable arguments that arise when you get too specific in identifying the origins of different foods. “Southern” seems like a safer distinction than “North Carolinian.”

When I found myself standing in a kitchen on Duke’s campus a few months ago, watching my food writing professor navigating her tongs over spattering oil and flour-drenched drumsticks, I established a genuine appreciation for an art form I originally associated with heat lamps and mushy biscuits. (Thanks, Bojangle’s.) Cooking fried chicken isn’t difficult, but there’s definitely a method to it.

For most of my childhood, I firmly believed that the crispy exterior of fried chicken was caused by something akin to corn flakes constituting the breading. We can attribute that belief to my mom’s attempts to make healthier fried chicken, which did, in fact, involve corn flakes and eschewed the stove in favor of the oven. The only fried food our kitchen ever saw was funnel cake. Once. We left it to the NC State Fair professionals after that.

One perfectly normal middle school day, I broke bread (er, fried chicken) with my friend Megan, and everything changed. Straight from her lunch box, the chicken was still miraculously crispy and required no accompaniment–it didn’t even need to be heated up. I think the foundation of our friendship was formed on that chicken. The first time I went to Megan’s house, her mom made me that chicken. I consumed my weight in that chicken. And then we stopped being friends (apparently even the best fried chicken cannot save a friendship, although it can extend one long past its expected expiration date), so my homemade fried chicken experiences waned once again.

When I finally learned how to make fried chicken from my professor, I watched very carefully for any sign of cornflakes (just in case) or other magical methods of crispiness-making. Instead, I saw a paste of buttermilk and flour transformed into a golden coat from which only joy and happiness can be derived. Oh, and chicken.

Last night was the first time I made fried chicken without adult supervision. Our meal also involved buttermilk biscuits, corn on the cob, salad (for good measure) and peach cobbler for dessert.

Based on the silent chewing that following the meal’s presentation, I can assume that the South was once again well-received by my German family.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken:
Serves 4 to 6
2 pounds chicken (drumsticks and wings work best)
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon paprika
salt & pepper, to taste
6 cups vegetable or rapeseed oil

1) Fill a large skillet with high sides (preferably cast iron) half full with vegetable oil. Set stove to high heat, but lower if the oil begins to smoke.
2) Fill one shallow bowl with buttermilk and the other with flour, paprika, salt and pepper. Dip chicken pieces in buttermilk, then cover with flour thoroughly (the flour will act like a blanket that seals in moisture). Set aside onto a cookie sheet.
3) Place chicken pieces in skillet until the skillet is full. Brown chicken on both sides, then reduce heat. Cover the skillet and cook chicken on low heat for about 30 minutes. Then, increase heat again and fry until crispy.
4) Place chicken pieces on a plate covered in a paper towel. Keep chicken warm in the oven while frying the rest of the chicken.

Honey Salmon with Noodles

Typical. I leave in three weeks, and now the weather decides to act somewhat summery.

Then again, I leave in three weeks. I have plenty of time to remember what the sun feels like, and perhaps even don a bikini at an outdoor pool. Also on the agenda: more museums, more clubs, a lake visit, and a trip to Salzburg to pretend I’m in The Sound of Music. I’ll even attempt to take pictures of things other than food, but I’m not making any promises. I can only focus on so many interests, and food trumps scenic vistas any time–probably because they possess the power to make me salivate months after being taken. Mountain ranges do not.

This recipe is an Asian-inspired recipe from a cookbook written by an Australian cookbook author and translated into Germany. Oh, globalization. Incidentally, the cookbook is called something completely different in German, but I prefer the title My Spontaneous Kitchen to the original title since mine usually is, and it suits me. (On a purely tangential note, the German title for the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall is Never Have Sex with Your Ex.)

Anyway, I’m basically infatuated with this meal. It’s perfect for summer–refreshing, brimming with fresh herbs and vegetables, and light, so long as you don’t consume as much of it as I did. Also, everything comes together in under 20 minutes. Think of it as ramen for grown-ups. (The ones who don’t want hypertension, at least.)

Honey Salmon with Noodles:
Serves 4
1 package (8 ounces) Chinese noodles
5 sprigs of cilantro, coarsely chopped
3 mint leaves, sliced
5 basil leaves, sliced
2 zucchini, grated
1 tablespoon lime juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons honey, divided
4 salmon filets, cut in strips 1/2 inch wide
salt & pepper

1) Set a pot of water to boil for the noodles and preheat a pan on medium heat for the salmon (you could also grill the salmon). In a large bowl, mix cilantro, mint, basil, zucchini, lime juice, soy sauce and 2 tablespoons of honey.
2) Cook noodles for 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and toss with the sauce. Taste noodles, then add more herbs as desired.
3)  Spread the remaining 2 tablespoons of honey on the salmon. Add salt and pepper. Cook salmon on the pan for 2 minutes on each side. Serve over noodles and sprinkle with more cilantro.