Tools of the trade (Part 2: But What I Need Is All Around Me)

And…even though there are a lot of things I want for my kitchen, there are some pretty cool things in it already. Here’s the list of my favorite items:

  • cupcake pans (two sheets for 12 large cupcakes, one sheet for 6 large cupcakes, one sheet for 24 mini-cupcakes) – cupcakes are kind of our house mascot, and I make them OFTEN
  • cupcake tote – one of the coolest kitchen finds, ever. I found it at Tar-zhey, it’s got little indentations for the cupcakes to nestle into, a built-in serving tray, a built-in cupcake pan, and a lockable Tupperware lid.
  • cupcake dishtowel – again with the cupcakes! I bought a pretty hand-screened towel with a giant pink cupcake on it to make our kitchen even more of a shrine to cupcakes.
  • glass mixing bowls – they’re blue and pretty, and in 3 sizes
  • big glass baking dish – I pretty much use this twice a week, and would be lost without it
  • mini-loaf pans – I got a bunch of these…bread soon!
  • the best cheap little toaster ever – it was 10 bucks, has bagel-wide slots, and has a Poptarts setting!
  • 20 qt stockpot – for soups, cider, or enough pasta to feed the neighborhood

What’s in your kitchen?

Tools of the trade (Part 1: What I Want Is What I’ve Not Got)

Kitchen wish-list time!

Some day, when I have a real job and am no longer a poor grad student, I will have a marvelous kitchen full of amazing things – copper pots, an industrial-strength juicer, an oven that takes under 45 minutes to preheat. Until then, I’ve got a wish list.

I’ve broken my list into 3 categories. Since I’m so original (not!) I’m calling them The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

The Good (necessities and/or inexpensive items which even a poor student can afford – I’ll probably be buying these in the near future)

  • a whisk – finally, I have one (3-9-08)
  • bread pans just bought some today! (2-28-08)
  • a glass liquid measure got one of these, too (2-28-08)
  • a pastry brush – bought a fancy silicone one (4-19-08)
  • icing bags and tips – so I don’t have to keep frosting things with the back of a spoon best birthday present ever! thanks, Amber! (7-3-08)
  • cookie cutters – just the basic shapes, nothing fancy Picked some up just in time for holiday cookies (12-4-08)
  • a slow cooker or crock pot – somehow, I don’t own one yet. They’re not too expensive, though. Gift from my parents! Thanks, M&D! (12-25-08)
  • a basic food processor – ditto
  • a wok – my saucepan is great, but a wok would be super helpful for certain dishes thanks, Boyfriend! (9-5-08)
  • stainless steel bowls – The Boyfriend has a set of these that I’ve used before, and I love them. Thanks, The Boyfriend’s parents! (12-25-08)

The Bad (upgrades to items I already have and moderately frivolous or expensive equipment)

  • a KitchenAid standing mixer – my mum has one. I covet it. One day, I will go crazy and splurge on one.
  • upgraded (read: nice) knives – my current set is pretty cheap. The knives dull fairly easily. thanks, Boyfriend! (9-3-08)
  • a bread machine – probably unnecessary, but it sure makes things easier!
  • an ice cream maker – again, a most-likely unnecessary item, but homemade ice cream rocks.
  • a pasta machine – not as expensive, but also not something I really, really need
  • a hot water tap – my mother has one in her kitchen and it’s brilliant…190 degree water instantly!

The Ugly (things WAY outside of my current budget, but that I covet nonetheless)

  • a VitaMixer – 2 horsepower? For a juicer? I’m in love.
  • copper pots – a 7-piece set by All-Clad retails for about $800
  • a dishwasher – okay, this is really just on the wish list for the next kitchen I have Got it! The new condo has one, yaay! (1-10-09)
  • a garbage disposal – also on the future-kitchen list, unless my landlord feels like installing one! The new condo also has one of these! Hooray! (1-10-09)
  • an electric flat-surface stove – although not entirely incapable of catching fire, the lack of open flames makes ME less likely to ignite ALSO in the new condo! (1-10-09)
  • a better oven – one that was made within the last decade, and which preheats in under 45 minutes, please? Magic! We got a new oven. (3-4-08)

Ok, so this list is pretty extensive. One day, when I’m a grown-up, it won’t be as long (I hope!).

What’s on your wish list?

Pineapple Pork

Today’s entree is another pork recipe with little to no specification about ingredients. Dinner for five + not enough time for a marinade + an abundance of pork in the freezer + a random desire to use pineapples = Pineapple Pork.

Original name, I know. I was going to call it Hawaiian-style Pork, but I don’t really know anything about Hawaiian cooking, other than that “Hawaiian” pizza has pineapples and ham on it. Didn’t want to mis-name this, although if I come up with something a little more exciting than Pineapple Pork, it’ll change.

I think it’s easier to improvise with entrees than anything else. Baking is so chemistry-dependent that there’s not as much room for modifications (decorating aside), but with something like these pork loins, I can play around quite a bit. My only guidelines with this recipe were the meat thermometer and my four dinner guests – as long as the pork was cooked all the way through and everyone cleaned their plate, I felt ok calling this a success.

Pineapple + pork = winning combo.

The recipe:

Pineapple Pork
pork loin, approx 1-3 lbs.
1 can crushed pineapple
soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
brown sugar
garlic powder
pepper
salt

Do This
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Clean the pork and trim off any excess fat.
Make several cuts in the pork loin, about an inch deep (or halfway through) and as far apart as you plan on slicing the pork for serving later. My cuts were made approximately 1 1/4″ apart.
Rub a few teaspoons of garlic powder, salt, and pepper into the pork loin and place it into a foil-lined glass baking dish (makes for easier clean-up!). Open the can of crushed pineapple and dump the contents – including the juice – over the pork. Spread the pineapple bits all over the top of the pork and into the cuts you just made.
Grab your soy sauce and your Worcestershire, and pour both liberally over the top. The pineapples should take on a light-to-medium brown color, and the juice/sauce surrounding the pork should also be a golden brown color. Sprinkle brown sugar over the top of the pineapples.
Place the baking pan into the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the pork reads 170 degrees. Remove from the oven, let stand for 5 minutes, and slice according to the cuts you made earlier.

All of the sugary-worcestershirey-soy-y pineapple juice makes an excellent sauce to spoon over the pork, too. I have a feeling that this combo would work well on chicken, and maybe on fish.

I went extra simple and served this with steamed asparagus. Egg noodles seem like they’d go pretty well, also.

My cousin brought over raspberry-pretzel-something for dessert. It was incredible, and I’m getting the recipe ASAP.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy February 14th, everyone! Hope you’re all enjoying some sweet treats today!

Here’s what came out of my kitchen:

First, some incredible Framboise Lambic Brownies, inspired by McCauliflower’s delicious, chocolatey recipe. I almost didn’t mod the recipe, because it looked perfect just the way it was. But…I can’t cook anything without tinkering with it, so I added a few tablespoons of puréed raspberries to the batter.

Raspberry brownies, made with beer!

And what holiday is complete without cupcakes? These are dark chocolate cupcakes with pink-tinted buttercream frosting. They’re made with my classic chocolate cupcake recipe, minus the mint extract and switching out the regular cocoa powder in favor of dark.

Pretty in pink.

I learned a few new things while I was baking:

  • The kitchen floor isn’t the only place I can take food pictures! These shots were taken in natural light, on the living room windowsill. I’m a fan.
  • Semisweet chocolate chips can catch on fire. I don’t have photographic evidence of this, but trust me. They can. It’s not pretty.
  • When you pop open a bottle of Framboise Lambic, it makes the whole kitchen smell good. Even if you’ve just ignited some semisweet chocolate chips. Bonus!

Unorthodox Techniques (Part 1: How to Crush Walnuts)

Something tells me there’s a more proper method for crushing walnuts. I, however, prefer to use the back of a tablespoon.

It works. That’s what counts.

Valentine’s Day baking photos tomorrow.

Inexact measurements and BBQ pork

I have a LOT of pork in my freezer. I’ve got lemon-pepper plans for some of it, but I needed something quick for dinner tonight, and I really wanted to use some of the pork (seriously, there are at least 6 pounds of it in my tiny little freezer).

I called my mum on the train ride home to ask about a BBQ pork dish she’d made when I was a kid, and she gave me the “recipe.” Uh-huh, that’s in quotes. Why? Because she didn’t tell me how much of any of the ingredients go into this, just listed them off and gave me the general guidelines that the sauce was “mostly BBQ, with a little bit of ketchup and even less water.”

With that to go on, I made some guesses about initial quantities, and adjusted the sauce as it cooked. Also, since I really can’t follow directions, I added an ingredient – heavy cream – to this recipe. I like what it did to the sauce.

BBQ pork, hanging out in the pan.

The recipe:

Measurement-free BBQ Pork
pork loin, cubed
BBQ sauce (Sweet Baby Ray’s, or your favorite)
ketchup
heavy cream
water
olive oil
garlic powder
pepper
salt

Do This
Cut your pork loin into small (I’d guess 1/2 inch) cubes. Rub a bit of garlic powder, salt, and pepper into the pork. Drizzle some olive oil into a saute pan and brown (or whiten, I guess, since pork doesn’t really turn brown?) the pork cubes on all sides. Remove from heat.
In a medium (or large, if you’re using a lot of pork) saucepan over low heat, mix BBQ sauce, ketchup, and water. There should be a hefty amount of BBQ sauce, a few good squirts of ketchup, and only enough water to slightly thin out the sauce. Stir, and cook for a few minutes on medium heat. If the sauce is bubbling rapidly, it’s too hot.
Add a short glug of heavy cream, a shake or two of garlic powder, and as much salt and pepper as you feel like. Stir so that the cream and spices disappear into the sauce.
Add the pork, stirring so that all of the cubes are coated in sauce. Cook on medium for a few minutes, then lower the heat.
Cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, for about a half hour. If the sauce begins to cook off too much, add a few more squirts of BBQ sauce and a little bit of ketchup. After about 30 minutes have passed, remove from heat and serve.

This is a definite “throw things in the pan indiscriminately” kind of food. I used about a pound of pork, and 30 minutes was just right – if you’re using more, you might need to increase the cooking time.

Taste the sauce as you go along (but be careful not to burn your mouth…not that I do that or anything) to make sure that the flavor is balanced. The ketchup and cream are in there to temper the BBQ sauce a bit; you still want to taste the pork, so a dominant BBQ flavor isn’t really the goal here.

I promise, there’s pork under that BBQ sauce.

Rachael Ray isn’t the only one who can do 30 minute meals!* Thanks, mum.

*In fairness, this isn’t a complete meal. However, biscuits can be baked and veggies can be prepared while the BBQ pork is hanging out on the stove, so I guess it could be part of a 30-minute meal?

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Happy Chinese New Year! I’m not Chinese, but it’s the Year of the Rat, and I was born in a Year of the Rat, so why not celebrate this one with great food?

I borrowed a few recipes from Jaden over at Steamy Kitchen.

First, I tried out the Garlic Scallion Noodles (original recipe found at that link). I definitely should have brought a copy of the photo from Jaden’s site to the grocery store, because I bought way larger noodles. I also left out the fish sauce, because I could only find it in giant bottles, and I don’t have that much use for fish sauce. They tasted very good, though!

Delicious garlic noodles.

Then, I made Ancient Chinese Secret Fried Rice (again, click the link for the original recipe). I couldn’t find Chinese sausage, so I decided to leave that out – chicken was a great fit, though! I also fudged an ingredient or two…I couldn’t find rice wine, so I went with rice vinegar, and it tasted just fine. Also, I think I went a little heavier with the soy. My rice turned out quite a bit darker!

Homemade fried rice is much quicker than takeout.

And since it’s the Year of the Rat, I made little rat-cookies.

Say hello to my little rat friend.

The only photo you get of this guy is from before he went in the oven. Why? Well…there was an incident. Mere moments after he and his rat friends had been iced with beautiful grey-blue icing fur and pink icing feet, ears, and tails, and little icing eyes and whiskers (they were beautiful little rats), someone dropped the baking sheet and those perfect little rats ended up face-down on the kitchen floor. Yeah. Well, if I’m not going to catch fire, I’m probably going to drop something, right?

Lucky for me, I had some 312 available to mourn the loss of my little Rat Pack: