Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Project 2,996 - Carrie B. Progen

I saw the post for Project 2,966 and became immediately excited. I knew I must do this. I must. It is my duty to participate. I have, as many do, a kinship to the Big Apple, a love that goes unrequited and deep, a love that never lets me down when I get the opportunity to visit, that has the capacity to bring tears to my eyes when I see my skyline in pictures or movies. I have, as we all do, a personal where-I-was story about 9/11.

But then, looking down the list of names, I suddenly froze. I cannot do this. I mean, who am I? Who says I have anything to give? What makes me so special that I have the ability or the entitlement to write a memorial for a person, much less a person I do not even know? I cannot do this. I will not do this. Nevermind. Close the door, er, internet window.

Within seconds, I remembered, I am a writer. And if we do not write, people will never know. I am a writer with a blog and that is what is required here. I am a blogger with access to this list of names. I did not stumble on this by mistake. This is the way it is supposed to be. This is not about me. This is about writing.  This is about them.  This is about remembering.   

Writing in and about New York is and always has been important to me. So why not now?

Scrolling the list of names, I did not know how to choose. Do I pick someone old, someone with a long life story? Do I pick someone young, say, just out of college? Do I search for someone named Ivy, maybe we have a bond based solely on the name? Again, doubt filled my body and I did not know how to proceed.

I closed my eyes. I ran my finger over the scroller of my mouse and then placed my finger on the computer screen. I had landed on a name. Someone my age. Someone who, like I wanted to (but never did), left home for life in the big city. She was living the life I wanted to be living.

Carrie B. Progen

Carrie was 25 on September 11, 2001. She was an administrative assistant at the Aon Corporation, which was on the 92nd and 98th–105th floors in the South Tower. Along with 175 of her co-workers, Carrie did not survive the attack.

On the train every morning, Carrie drew pictures of her fellow commuters. What I have read expresses that the pictures themselves seemed to give way to the soul of each person, in a way that she could see it. Her boyfriend recalls her calling this time "the moments when New Yorkers were thinking the most.".

Caring and kind, she was a true friend to those who knew her and an amazing aunt. She always had a present for her nephew. She stood up for what she believed in and spoke her mind. She was honest and forthcoming. What she said, she meant. And she meant what she said. She had a style all her own, and it showed in her dress. She didn't care about money or expensive things, just the little things. She lived everyday to the fullest.

She came to New York from Ashburnham, Massachusetts, a town of about 6000 people.

Carrie made the same sacrifice as many that day. She died for our freedom. It was not a choice. She did not choose to take a stand. It just happened that way. Along with every other person who died that day, she deserves to be remembered and honored.

In addition to the thoughts I always have when I light my candle on September 11, this year, a special thought will go to her and her family.

I found this picture online and thought it showed a great spirit.  This is Carrie. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

If Patience is a Virtue, I'm Learning to be Virtuous...

This is a pound and a half of bacon. 
All I wanted was a spoon.
I wanted to make this cheesecake. Correction: I wanted to eat this cheesecake. Immediately.

I have never made a cheesecake. I never thought to make one.

But then, last week, I came across a recipe for Bacon Turtle Cheesecake. (Or, as I have come to call it – Bacon. Turtle. Cheesecake.) And I wanted it. Right. Now. I decided to I would make it over the weekend, when I do most of my cooking. I was crazy excited.

But then I got this head cold. Or sinus infection. Or whatever. I felt like crap. Starting Thursday, I could barely breathe, keep my eyes open, and was surrounded by a pile of Kleenex. Friday, I left work early. I slept on and off, stood in a super hot shower, slept some more. And then stood in another super hot shower.  Then slept some more. 

It looked as if I would not get this cheesecake after all.

Determination is a crazy thing. When I woke up Saturday, I still felt weak and crappy. I walked the dogs, sat outside while it was still early and cool enough to do so, and read and re-read the recipe. That's when I noticed something. Due to my lack of reading carefully, my tendency to skim, these words always get me into trouble.

That word kills me. Overnight. I cannot wait. I want what I want when I want it. And the when in that sentence is usually NOW.

I have never been a patient person. I love immediate gratification. Which may be, in part, why it took so long for me to learn to cook. I want to look at a menu, tell someone what I want, and have it brought to me within ten minutes, preferably five.

How long is overnight? Is it a full eight hours? Is it four or five? Is it, god forbid, twelve hours? My head was spinning, and not just from the congestion. I knew I needed to get up and start this cheesecake. I was determined. It went from a want to a need, from a need to a necessity in a matter of minutes.

But I still felt like crap. And making a cheesecake seemed like a lot of work at that point. Plus, I would have to go to the grocery store first.  On a Saturday morning. 

Fresh out of the oven.  Now, I need
to wait overnight, or till the night.
I sat on my back patio for a while longer and contemplated my situation. In the end, I figured that the least I could do was go to the store and make the cheesecake part and put it in the fridge. If I still felt bad four or five or eight or twelve “overnight” hours later, I could just do the caramel and chocolate sauce topping part tomorrow.

As always, cooking made me feel better. I don't know how I do not just know this by now. The process, the mixing, the measuring, the concentration, all made me focus on something other than the mounting pressure residing in my T-zone. I was excited to be cooking. I was excited to be doing, well anything. The familiar feeling of productivity was stimulating.

The familiar house smelling like bacon filled me up and made me happy.

Then, all too soon, it was over. And the transfer from oven to fridge took away my joy, my cheesecake, not be seen or heard from for a fortnight. Or an overnight, whatever.  It might as well have been a fortnight.  It wasn't even noon yet. I hoped, I prayed, that maybe, just maybe I could continue this feeling, this productivity later in the day, when I felt the proper amount of time had elapsed.

And I did. About four, I got up and patted my creation. I wasn't sure what I was patting for, what exactly it was supposed to feel like, how I would know the feeling, but it was certainly cool. Overnight seemed to be a little less than five hours, which made perfect sense to me.

So I set off of the caramel and chocolate topping. Caramel is an interesting animal. It seems to take forever to actually to do something, but once something actually starts happening in the pot, it is super fast. Hurry up and wait, then don't dilly-dally around seems to be the theory behind making caramel. I have made caramel once before, but this was a different recipe, and as always, felt different, felt weird. I decided to follow, because you can never have too many ways to make caramel, right?

Caramel and chocolate sauce, along with the remaining bacon crumbles, on the cake, it had to go back in the refrigerator to chill again for another hour. Is this cake really trying to kill me? My roommate and I went out to dinner. When we came home, it was ready! FINALLY! Overnight, humpf! I'll show you!

Bacon. Turtle. Cheesecake. It sounds really strange and weird. It has an interesting texture (from the bacon, no doubt) and feel. But it is delicious.  And definitely in my recipe book for good.

Lessons, always lessons, from the kitchen.

This weekend, I learned about patience. I also learned about perseverance. Sitting on the couch, enjoying the lingering scent of the cake floating from the oven, I began to ponder these thoughts. 

The idea of going to a restaurant and saying, "I would like this, and can you make sure it is perfect to my palate and at just the right temperature for me, and in front of me in say, five minutes?  Oh, and make sure it looks pretty." is actually quite a tall order.

I know that restaurants are equipped with stock recipes, prep work, better stoves than mine, and all that jazz, but still. Cooking requires thought, preparation, and above all, time. I have never given any thought to the time it would actually take to prepare a cheesecake, never thought about the effort involved in making sure it is properly cooled and before the toppings are added. I just expected it to be in front of me when I wanted it.

I just expected the cook on the other side of the line to magically know how I wanted my food to taste and at what temperature I would want it. I never gave any thought to the amount of time and training that goes into learning how to cook for the masses. How many test runs each restaurant would have to do to ensure that each dish was good enough to satisfy a majority of people. I have often wondered why food is so expensive at restaurants, even complaining that “It's just a piece of cheesecake...” (for example). I never gave any thought to the amount of ingredients, plus human-time that is required for that “...piece of cheesecake”.

I started out cooking hoping to learn to nourish and satisfy myself. Now, I find that along with this, I find myself thinking of others more and more. This venture continues to open my eyes to the outside world, in spite of the fact that I am in my little kitchen with two dogs standing by, sending me telepathic messages to drop something.

As the minutes turn into hours, I appreciate the food just a little bit more. It tastes just a little bit better. And each meal continues to educate me in ways I never expected.

Done! YUM!
Bacon-Turtle Cheesecake

2 cups Low-Fat Graham Cracker Crumbs (cookie must be low-fat to avoid soggy crust)
2 Tbs. Butter, melted
2 Tbs. Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1/2 cup extra-crispy Bacon Crumbles
1/2 cup ground Almonds

24 oz. Cream Cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup Sugar
3 Large Eggs
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 Tbs. Lemon Juice
1 Tbs. Vanilla Extract
1 Tbs. Bourbon

Bacon Turtle Topping:
1 cup Sugar
1 Tbs. water
3 Tbs. cold Bacon Fat (drained and chilled until solid after cooking the bacon)
1 Tbs. Butter
1/2 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 package of Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips
1/3 cup extra-crispy Bacon Crumbles

Make the Cheesecake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.
Mix together the crust ingredients and press into the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan. (Use enough of the crust ingredients to make the crust 1/4 inch deep). Hello, lovah!
Tap your crust with an empty drinking glass for an even texture. It should be fairly dry...the bacon will render some fat into the crust as it bakes, and anything else will result in the dreaded soggy-crust.
Cover and store the crust crumbs in the refrigerator.
Combine cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl and cream together with a hand mixer until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.
Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles. If using a springform pan, place the pan into the center of the oven, and place 3 smaller cake pans around and under the cheesecake. Fill the empty cake pans with boiling water. (Ok, ok, or use a true water bath. Hate, hate water baths.) If using a foil baking dish, insert into a larger cake pan and fill the outside, empty pan with boiling water.
Bake 45 to 55 minutes. The edges will be set, but the center will have alot of jiggle to it and will appear uncooked. Carefully run a knife around the edges to release the cake and avoid cracking. Without removing the cake, close the oven door and turn it off; let the cake rest for one hour. Remove it, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

After the cheesecake has cooled overnight, remove it from the springform pan, press the remaining crust crumbs into the sides of the cheesecake, and place on your serving plate.

Make Bacon Caramel Sauce:

Stir together sugar and 1 tablespoon water in a shallow sauce pan. It should be dry and crumbly. Cook the sugar/water over medium-high heat. Gently stir the grainy sugar mixture into the sugar that is melting in the center of the pan. Shake the pan rather than stirring after all the sugar has melted, and bring to a boil. Let boil until amber in color. Add the bacon grease and butter. Remove from heat and stir in cream. Let the sauce thicken for 20 minutes, then pour over the top of your cheesecake, letting some pool in the middle.

Make Bacon Chocolate Drizzle:

Microwave the chocolate chips in a medium-sized bowl for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave for 30 seconds, and stir until all of the chips are melted. If some pieces remain, microwave for another 30 seconds and stir.
Carefully fill a piping bag with the melted chocolate and decorate your cake. Sprinkle the bacon pieces onto the chocolate immediately. The chocolate will harden into a bacon-candy shell once cooled.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

My Anniversary Cake

Just a quick note to say I baked the cake for my one year anniversary of cooking.  It was a three layer cake, and I was so very nervous, but none of it tipped or fell on the floor! And it was so pretty!  Check it out!

Tropical Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

2 1/3 cups sifted all purpose flour (sifted, then measured)
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup dry-roasted macadamia nuts
3/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
3 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups finely grated peeled carrots
2 8-ounce cans crushed pineapple in its own juice, well drained

3 8-ounce packages Philadelphia-brand cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
3/4cup canned sweetened cream of coconut (such as Coco López)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon (scant) coconut extract
14 whole dry-roasted macadamia nuts
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger


For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pans with parchment paper. Combine 1/3 cup flour and next 3 ingredients in processor. Process until nuts are finely chopped. Whisk remaining 2 cups flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in medium bowl to blend.
Using electric mixer, beat sugar and oil in large bowl to blend. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Beat in flour-spice mixture. Stir in coconut-macadamia mixture, then carrots and crushed pineapple.
Divide batter among pans. Bake until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 1 hour. Run knife around edge of pans to loosen cakes. Turn cakes out onto racks; cool completely.

For frosting:
Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in powdered sugar, then cream of coconut and both extracts. Chill until firm enough to spread, about 30 minutes.
Place 1 cake layer, flat side up, on platter. Spread 3/4 cup frosting over top of cake. Top with second cake layer, flat side up. Spread 3/4 cup frosting over. Top with third cake layer, rounded side up, pressing slightly to adhere. Spread thin layer of frosting over top and sides of cake. Chill cake and remaining frosting 30 minutes. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Arrange whole nuts and ginger around top edge of cake. Chill 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and chill. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

One Year Anniversary!

Today is my anniversary! One year ago today, I cooked my first meal.

My first meal.
And yes, I will bake a cake to celebrate.
What is it about August? I think about it, and a lot of very important events in my life have occurred in August. I have moved twice in August. A lot of relationships have began and/or ended in August. Several life-changing moments and days in my life have been in August. I have started jobs in August. I have quit jobs in August.
Yes, I have done all these and much more at times durning in the other 11 months of the year, but not one other month sticks out in my life as a time of change as August.
This year has been exciting and challenging. I have overcome many of my fears and changed lifelong beliefs about myself. As I think back, I still do not have an explanation as to why I wanted to cook in the first place. The thought had occurred to me before, but it was never an urge, a longing, a necessity.
And to be honest, not many people (myself included), thought I would still be doing it a year later.
As a move to a new residence came to be last year (in August), I got the itch. I couldn't scratch it away. I couldn't not think about it. I couldn't stop the thought, the urge, the need to learn to cook. So, I did what I do in all my new ventures, I got obsessive. Most of the time, getting obsessive cures me. I learn and learn and learn about anything and everything about the subject or project I want to do, and then decide it isn't my thing or it is too much work. Why wouldn't cooking be the same? It has never been my thing and it certainly is a lot of work.
But nothing made the need to do this go away.
One of my character traits is the compulsive need to know everything about everything.  And that is exactly what I did.
I researched.  Everything.
I read all about pots and pans.
I read about mixing bowls.
I read about mixing spoons.
I read about storage containers.
I read about Tupperware.
And then, I began to read about food.   This continues.  I eat well, I know right from wrong, as far as a diet is concerned.  But what can I cook?  I know how to eat, will I be able to know how to cook?  I read everything I could get my hands on.
Then, I talked to people.  Probably until they were sick of my questions!
By this time, I usually lose interest.  In fact, way before this point is when I usually lose interest.  However, this was different.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.  I was gaining momentum.  I wanted more and more and more knowledge.  And I could not wait for the move date so I could start stocking a kitchen and get to it!
I have settled nicely with a stock of tools for my kitchen.  I am proud and grateful to own everything I do.  I have tried to be smart about my purchases, and the end result is having what I need, and the ability to get something I need when I need it.  Starting from nothing, I have had to look for sales, the kindness of my mother, or a lesser brand than the one I truly wanted.  My birthday is coming up, though.  I have more than hinted at the KitchenAid Stand Mixer in Brushed Nickel.  One can hope!
Where does this leave me now?  Well, everything evolves and changes. 
I still read as much as I can get my hands on.  Books, magazines, articles, blogs, recipe forums, cooking forums... 
I read for ideas, suggestions, and recipes.  I read about products I do not have, making decisions about whether or not they are honestly a need or a want. 
I go to stores and write down items of interest and go home and research them before buying (or not buying).
I read books, magazines, and online articles about health.  I study when certain foods are in season and shop at farmers markets and Whole Foods for fruits and vegetables.  I try to utilize the healthiest possible option for my meals.  If I find a food product of interest, I research it before I buy it.  For example, I am only using vegan sugar from now on.  Apparently, there is bone char in sugar, and that is, um, gross.
This blog comes from my growing desire.  I have always been a writer.  I am the kind of writer who can only write about subjects that are interesting, unless there was a grade involved.  Even then, challenging is a word I would use!  Starting a food blog was the most natural step in the world.  I had no idea I would be one of millions.  I am so grateful for the support of the other food bloggers who have given me support and tips along the way.
My latest obsessive trait around food is food photography.  I have been taking pictures of my food this entire year.  However, as I gain more confidence in the kitchen, I want my pictures to improve.  This is a whole genre of photography!  Hopefully, my pictures will improve. 
On this day, I think back on this year with gratitude and joy.  I appreciate everyone who has helped me with this journey, those I know in person and those people whose writings have inspired me.  The cookbook-people of the world.  To my mom, my family and friends who have helped me learn and offered ideas to cook, suggestions on how to make something better, and an eagerness to try what I have made, I am grateful and so appreciative for your willingness and words.  A special thank you to my brave roommate Kelly, for trying everything with a smile on her face and an kind yet honest tongue.  And for even trying things with ginger, just to help me along.
The journey to grow in and out of the kitchen continues.  And I am loving every minute of it!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Apple Brie and Red Licorice

Adventure abounded for breakfast today!  Not exactly by choice…
I woke up, all ready to go to hot yoga.  I got in the shower.  When I got out of the shower, my dog had a weird look on his face.  Not like he had done anything wrong, per se, but weird.  I sat down on the floor to pet him, and I smelled, um, could it be, licorice?  Why does my dog smell like licorice? 
I then I saw it. 
Red licorice vomit on my floor. 
My house is all hardwood, except the two bedrooms.  The two bedrooms are carpet.  Where did my cute, sweet, smart little beagle throw up?  Yep, in my bedroom.  On the carpet.  Fantastic.
No yoga for me.
After cleaning it up and loving some on the puppy, in spite of him eating the remainder of my licorice, I decided to make breakfast.  I have been lusting after this recipe for a few weeks, ever since I read the blog post on it.
I have never actually cooked apples before.  I now it can be done, my grandma makes baked apples.  But I have yet to try it.  I was feeling the need for adventure.  And for something to do, in the absence of yoga, I needed something to clear my mind.
As always, the process of cleaning, slicing, cutting, stirring cleaned my soul.  The smells that mixed in the air filled my senses.  And the end result, the deliciousness of it, oh my! exactly what the doctor ordered!  The recipe itself calls for crackers, but I didn’t bother.  I just put it in a bowl and ate it with a spoon.  Amazing.
Tonight, the roommate is returning from vacation.  I’m making her dinner.  Sheperd’s Pie.  I have read many recipes and finally decided on one.  Then, I read about mashed potatoes.  I love mashed potatoes very much.  However, I have only made them a few times.  I wanted the mashed potatoes to be perfect to top it.  The New Best Recipe has tons of information in it, as it does for all recipes.  I am trying it out.

Off to the kitchen!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Living and Cooking Fearless-ly

Last week, my dear friend and her family moved into a new apartment. It is a glorious occasion, for many reasons.

1. They found an apartment that not only fits their budget, but their needs as a family.
2. The apartment is very family-friendly, and there are several kids in their building around the same age as their three children.
3. It is right across the street from a major park/river in our area, and there are activities there all the time for the whole family, especially the children.

Oh, and so much more.

I love when good things happen to those around me. I love celebrating all things, big and small, because the joys in life are the ones we need to hang on to when life isn't so great. And usually, the best comes after the worst. Life is truly a circle and a constant flux.

That isn't to say that I don't hang in when things are bad. I do. I tend to go way out of my way when life is in the mud. Because I know what it is like to need, and not know what that need is. I have had amazing people in my life during the down times, and am always willing to help return the favor, to pay it forward, if you will.

In the pan. Waiting to be removed.
To celebrate, I made a bundt cake.

Confession: Last week, I didn't even know what a bundt cake was.

I found a recipe that sounded really good, and seemed to fit her palate. It said to use a bundt cake pan. I asked my mom if a regular cake pan will do, and she said no. I asked if I could borrow hers, and she said yes. But then, she started telling me about removing the cake, the timing, the scraping the sides, etc. And I got nervous. I was afraid this would not be a success. I was afraid that I would wait too long or not long enough to take it out of the pan. There seemed so much room for error. But then, I remembered, that not only have I successfully made jelly, but scones, too - when many people advised against both of those projects, due mainly to my inexperience in the kitchen. But it was just that, along with my stubbornness that succeeded in making them. I have had a fearlessness in the kitchen that I cannot seem to find outside its comforting walls.

Spiced Peach Bundt Cake.  I made it.  I got it out of the pan (in one piece!). 

And guess what?!?!

It was delicious. All my fear and nervousness was unfounded.

Out of the pan.  Post-fear.

My fears keep me inside myself, apart from the world. They lend me to see and believe what may or may not be true. They hold me back from action, from seeking, from the truth. They tell me that I cannot achieve, which in turn keeps me from even trying. They talk me into the irrational. This begins with thoughts, that grow into behavior.  And that behavior, I'm sad to say, is not always the prettiest.

I had an attitude about cooking similar to this for a long time. It kept me out of the kitchen. And now, I sometimes feel like kicking myself for not jumping in sooner. What was once my one of my greatest fears is now one of my greatest joys.  When people ask me (and I am truly surprised how often they do) how I learned to make this or that, my response is always the same.  "I just did it."

Sharing is Caring
This week, I am going to try harder to act as I do in the kitchen. I will take my fearless in the world. I'm going to just do it.  I will try new things and smash the thoughts that try to keep me from the truth. It is the only way to live. The only way to celebrate. The only way to end with jelly, scones, and bundt cake...and many other of life's deliciousness!
In keeping with the theme, I made two batches of jelly this weekend, both of my own creation.  One, my sister asked for: a grape peach, and one I put together with the leftover peaches from the cake and previous jelly: a peach lavender, with the lavender left from my shortbread cookies.  Now, I'm sure both these combinations have been done at some point in the history of jelly making, but I did not have a recipe for either.  I studied other recipes that included combinations in jelly, and went from there.  Both turned out good! 

Fearless.  May you follow me out of the kitchen and into my life.

Spiced Peach Bundt Cake
(Adapted from Food & Wine; Serves 10-12)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour 1 cup granulated sugar 2 teaspoons baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom 2 cups spiced peach butter
(You could also use apple butter) 1/2 cup canola oil 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted 2 eggs 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a bundt pan and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom.  In a separate bowl, beat together the peach butter, canola oil, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla extract.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and fold until all of the dry ingredients are moistened.  Pour the batter into the bundt pan and bake for about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean (or with a few wet crumbs).

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 – 15 minutes.  Then, invert onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

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