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Sunday, May 29, 2011

A big slice of strawberry cake will make it better

I love obscure sounding baked goods. Sure I like cheesecake and cherry pie, but key lime pie and strawberry cake just sound simple and exotic enough to really pique my interest and make me want to not just eat them, but make them.

So when I read in the latest issue of Saveur and saw it contained this wonderful sounding Charleston, South Carolina menu with traditional Southern soul food, I had to try my hand at strawberry cake:

Strawberry Cake (from Saveur, with my slight changes)

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing pans
3 cups flour, plus more for pans
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup seedless strawberry jam
3 tablespoons red food coloring (this is listed as optional but I say essential if you wanna create that technicolor wonderfulness)
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon strawberry extract (if you can find it)

Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 9″ round cake pans; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Whisk together milk, jam, and 2 tablespoons food coloring in a small bowl; set aside. Beat together sugar, oil, vanilla, and eggs in a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and smooth, 2–3 minutes. In 3 additions, alternately add dry and wet ingredients to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with dry; mix until combined. Divide batter between prepared pans and smooth tops; bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of cakes comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes, unmold, then cool completely.

In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese on high speed of a mixer until smooth and fluffy, 1–2 minutes. Add remaining food coloring, confectioners’ sugar, and strawberry extract; beat until smooth. Place one cake upside down on a cake stand, and spread 13 frosting over top. Cover with second cake, top side up; frost top and sides of cakes with remaining frosting; refrigerate for 1 hour before serving. Serve at room temperature.


It was so good. Like everything in the states, this cake is huge so be sure to have lots of friends who want to try it.


Kinda looks like a vagina.

So what makes strawberry cake Southern? Apparently they really like layers in a cake, and this is a classic one. Also Southerners like showy things and this cake, if you tarted it up with real strawberries, could be a real showstopper. Sweets are big down there too. How is anyone skinny in the South? I know they exist, but HOW? Every time I turn around and make a Southern recipe I gain 10lbs. Bullshit.

The 9 year old ballerina in me loves this cake. She's still alive, but instead of a pony and a prince, grown-up her wants a diversified portfolio of solid investments and someone acceptable to eat a steak with, who knows when to leave. My standards are lower, but I'm happier: I was a distinctly uncomfortable child, and the older I've got, the more comfortable and correct I feel. So it's nice when I can see and make things that remind me of the nice parts of being a kid. And this cake is definitely one of those things. Saccharine-and-technicolor foods hold such allure for kids, except for me it might have been more so: there was absolutely nothing like this to be found in our house. I've talked before about my mother's very healthy philosophy towards eating before on this blog, which was adapted even further upon her discovery of her food allergies. A cake like this would simply be a sacrilege to her. I can see the face she would make if she found this in my kitchen. Which may explain why she's a size 4 and I'm, well, not.

I love the idea of soul food. Something so delicious and comforting it's a Balm of Gilead for all the parts of your weary self. I just know I'm going to end up making this cake a lot. The icing is so sweet it makes your teeth ache, but the cake is wonderfully soft and rich and fluffy. I hunted high and low for strawberry extract for the icing, but couldn't find it anywhere. Not so common in Canada, apparently, though banana extract is. Seriously, banana extract. Go to the shelf and look next time you're in Safeway.

I seriously can't wait for the next time someone has a birthday so I can make this again! Also convenient for me is that this cake is supergay, meaning I have occasion to make it even more.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

No mis-steaks: the apartment dweller's guide to cooking the perfect steak

I wish I had a little outdoor space that I could grow a few fresh herbs, some veggies, sit in the sun, and grill the fuck out of some meat. As it is, I don't even have a patio. But I'm not complaining, I'm happy with my house. And as I truly believe you should do the best with what you have, I have concocted this little guide to help my fellow indoors-bound cooks make the perfect steak in three easy steps:

1. Remove the steak from its package. Rinse with cold water and pat dry. For our purposes I will use a simple marinade of salt and pepper, but you can use anything, either a rub or a soak. Use your imagination. Press salt and pepper into the meat with the back of a spoon, leave to sit at room temperature for 30 mins to 1 hour.

2. Heat your frying pan to medium high heat. Put in a tablespoon of oil, vegetable or olive. Once pan has heated fully, lay steak down to sear. Cook until desired doneness, about 4 mins each side for medium-rare on a 1 inch steak. Increase or decrease cooking time from this general measurement as required. A good brown crust on the cooked side is a good sign to flip. Flip ONLY ONCE, using tongs, not a fork. Try to touch the meat as little as possible. Use a splatter guard to prevent the meat from soaking everything with splatter in your tiny downtown kitchen.

3. When the steak is done, remove from the heat and let it rest for 2-3 minutes. This will allow the juices to settle. Serve.

Simple! And delicious. I had my latest steak with an arugula salad and mustard dressing. I like veggies with my meat. Halfway through gobbling I remembered to take a photo:


MMMMMMMM. A good steak beats all.

In completely unrelated news, guess who got a new scratching post?


Stella scratched her old, traditional, carpeted one to the point that it was unrecognizable as a scratching post; it looked like a tumbleweed. Enter this new one made of cardboard and infused with Cosmic Catnip (homegrown right here in BC). Stella barely let me take off the plastic before she began shredding the shit out of it. It keeps her paws off the furniture so I say hell yes, give 'er, Stella.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Two virgins of homemade pizza

That ain't no typo.

My colleague and friend Nav invited me to her supper club recently, called the "Hedonistic Dinner Series". She and her good friends Jesse and Sonia get together every couple of weeks and cook something as prescribed by the Paleo diet. I'd never heard of it before, but basically it's eating like Cro Magnon man and getting back to our roots to give our bodies what they need, and one of those things, according to the diet's creator, is getting away from wheat. It's a very interesting idea. More info here: http://thepaleodiet.com/. For me, I find it difficult to get away from anything involving food. (as Louis CK says: "why can't you have just one? Fuck you. That's why).

Nav also made some according to a homemade pizza recipe of her mom's, so we could try both:

Nav's Mom's Homemade Pizza

Ingredients

1 and 1/4 teaspoons of yeast. I get the kind that look like beads and let them sit in some sugary hot water for about 15 minutes until they get frothy.

6 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup canola oil, warmed up in the microwave

Mix all of these ingredients together. Cover the dough so that it can sit for several hours, use a container with a lid. Add water as you go along. The dough should not be dry... you want it kind of damp to the touch, but not soggy. It should have the consistency of the marshmallowy stuff in a wagon wheel when you've mixed everything together. Cover and let sit for at least 6 hours.

This recipe makes at least 2 12" pizza crusts. Go to town with your toppings. In our version (virgin) of this recipe Nav used artichoke hearts, black olives, cheese, mushrooms and banana peppers. It was absolutely delicious.


The Paleo version can be found here at the "Everyday Paleo" website: http://everydaypaleo.com/2010/08/04/everyday-paleo-pizza/. And I must say shockingly that it was equally as delicious, but in a very different way. The crust is much thinner and more brittle; it's a different taste. The two are apples and oranges.

These are great people. We had fun laughing and chatting and agreeing (at least Jesse and I did) that if a social thing ain't gay, then it ain't worth it. One thing Sonia and I unexpectedly had in common (and I don't even know how this came up) was our mutual experience with members of a club I didn't know existed: the adult male virgin. I'm not talking about adult males who abstain from sex for religious or cultural reasons, I'm talking about involuntary celibate males, or incels, as they are also known.

Forgive my ignorance, but I truly did not even consider this as a possibility. Sex is such a common currency in our culture I assumed that if you wanted to have it bad enough, even if you were hideous, you could find a way to do it. Not so! I've wondered how this could be, and I think I have an answer, which Sonia's experience has backed up. At least as far as the two virgins we met could be summed up, this is the problem:

There was nothing wrong with these men physically. They were not ugly or malformed in any way. Where they were malformed was in their sense of entitlement with the opposite sex that was repellent in every possible way. It never occurred to virgin squared (as I will now refer to the two of them) that a woman who has social skills, empathy, and the will to do the work required to get a date off the ground deserves a partner who has social skills, empathy and the will to do the work required to get a date off the ground. In their minds, it was acceptable to be a non-contributing zero and still have a woman pay attention to them. Virgin squared was genuinely baffled when neither Sonia or myself wanted to see them again, and argued about it with us, as though our 'no' was negotiable, or we just didn't realize what we were throwing away.

It was arrogance and entitlement that had sealed their (thus far) fate. And I have sympathy for almost every circumstance in life, but not, absolutely NOT people with entitlement and arrogance. Those two items present in any personality are a poison, and like DDT or asbestos, ones we can do without.

I've become somewhat fascinated with this subject, partly because I just really don't get it. Yes, I get the part about why they are virgins, but I really don't understand how someone can remain blind to this area of social activity well into their 30s. How - with all the exposure to romance and dating and socialization that we are exposed to through the media ALONE - could one not figure out the basics of this kind of thing? How do these people develop?

All I know is that there is a world of hurt on the internet, and some of these incels have joined support groups and commiserate about how women reject them because women are evil. I'm not saying all incels feel this way, but it seems there are a few who do. And I suppose that can't be helped: if something you want success with continually rejects you and you don't know why, isn't it human nature to reject that thing as a form of self-defense? Many of these incel sites are jam-packed with sexism, one even going as far to say that a woman deserves to be raped as sexual access to a live female is a right of any male who is denied sex by regular channels. Aside from the fact that it's an across-the-board repellant notion, it's very curious. They objectify the thing that rejects them to make their own existence more palatable. It's pretty sad, really.

So we scarfed down pizza and mused this subject, ultimately deciding that we hope (although we really dislike both of them) that they can figure their shit out. And if they can't, then they can make pizza!

Making dinner with friends is one of the greatest things I can think of to do in life, and I'm thrilled to say I didn't blow it too much with my new friends and actually got invited back! More to come.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I'm back!

..... which is exciting to..... Stella! And maybe that's it.

What a journey to Vegas. Vegas is really quite the town. We ate, we worked, we WALKED. Vegas is deceptive: you think things are close that actually aren't, you can walk for 5 miles and still be just as far away from the fucking MGM Grand. Carri - as I knew she would be - was an excellent travel companion. As I soak my blisters let me reflect on the events of the trip, numbered for your convenience:

1. The flight: Vancouver to Las Vegas

Was uneventful, surprisingly. Xanax is a helluva drug. Some very nice, very unlucky man named Ian was seated next to me, and had every single bone in his hand crushed during takeoff and turbulence in the desert. Whatta guy. He was lovely. I invited him for a thank-you drink, he didn't respond. I think it was the 37th broken bone that made him decide not to hook up with me on this trip. Shocking.

2. My first meal

After Carri and I checked into the Paris, we got settled, changed and went to the pool. Cheers:


We didn't have anything businessy to do that night, so we wandered about, taking in the sights and sounds of Vegas, slightly overwhelming to the casual observer. There are skanks absolutely everywhere. And short Mexican dudes who try to give you photos and numbers of said skanks. Everything is lit up everywhere, all of the time. We went to Caesars Palace and went shopping. Then we came back to the hotel and passed out (well, I passed out, thanks to a nice big dose of sleeping pills).

Everyone had told me that if I was staying at the Paris (or anywhere in Vegas) I should have breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi, a French restaurant at the base of the fake Eiffel Tower. I had a ham and cheese crepe, recommended by the server:


I could only eat about half of it. American portions are massive. Also? No vegetables. I mean anywhere. Those gherkins on my plate and the teaspoon of fresh spinach were the only ones that I didn't have to actively hunt for on the trip. I spent the rest of the day shopping and cultivating three massive blisters on my feet. The desert is hot. That's pretty much the dumbest sentence I've ever written, but it's extremely true and needs to be emphasized so I can accurately express how I was sweating like a stevedore. Still had fun though.

3. Dinner at Spago

I made Carri and I a reservation at Spago, so we could continue our trend of appearing to be a lesbian couple. It's a beautiful restaurant and not too terribly pricey. Carri started with the pea soup, which was an extraordinary green colour and came with a spoon that resembled a canoe:


The photo doesn't do it justice. It was massive. Then Carri had a very pretty roasted baby beet salad:


Followed by Spaghetti Bolognese:


Carri is one of those annoying thin people who can eat retarded amounts of food and maintain a balanced weight, whereas I eat a Cheerio and I gain 10 pounds. Whatevs. I had the Ahi tuna:


I realized this tuna was FedExed in from the ocean to the middle of the desert but I didn't care. It was delicious.

We shared dessert. I have to say, as a world-class chef, don't you think Wolfgang Puck could find a way to make an ice cream serving look, I don't know, less than disgusting?


It makes me feel like I should look away. I still ate it though. Again again, shocking.

4. Lonely Tuesday

Shit got kind of real for me at this point. I was lonely, I missed Stella, and I wanted to come home but was absolutely dreading the flight. Started again with breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi:


Much later, after hunting for the entrance to PF Changs, I had beef and broccoli. Pretty good, pretty standard:


This would be the last meal I was able to keep down. In between working and my anxiety I threw up everything I ate from then on out. Carri, our colleague Erik and I all had delicious Mexican food together before going to the airport, but it didn't stay down, so I won't recap. That kind of waste just makes me sad. But Erik, like Carri, is terrific company so I will remember the great conversation if not the great food.

5. The flight: Las Vegas to Vancouver

We had a night flight, meaning I had all day to think about how scared I was. Big mistake. I almost didn't make it on the plane, but when push came to shove, I made the choice to get on. It's very hard to understand and equally hard to explain, but just trust me when I tell you that it's a very misunderstood and very debilitating illness.

As we landed in Vancouver, I was exhausted but thankful. My first flight in 10 years. My colleagues signed a card and got me a bottle of champagne which was waiting for me when I got to work the next day. Everyone should be so lucky to be surrounded by so much understanding and compassion. The truth and the lesson of this experience has been, for me, how kind people really are. Strangers reached out to me on the plane, both times. People in Vegas are friendly. My colleagues traveled with me and held my hand. People really are good at heart.

Stella greeted me by slapping me on the knee with an open paw and running out of the room as soon as I rolled in, about 1:30am. And I fell into bed exhausted. It was a good trip.

In the spirit of I'd-like-to-buy-the-world-a-coke, if I had my way I could make a big meal for everyone that was kind to me before, during and after this trip and serve it to them. As that's not possible, I will close with this: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger went down on me

Hold on. That's not what I meant.

Blogger is having issues (it's been all over the news, or if you're not a nerd, then you're just hearing about it now) so I'm not going to post for now, as I lost a buttload of stuff overnight which I'm still pretty bitter about. But no matter, because Carri and I are off to Vegas on Sunday. I'll be running around getting last-minute shit done like buying a travel toothbrush case and getting my prescriptions filled (I never travel so I don't have basic things like luggage tags and toothbrush holders) so no time to post tomorrow.

It's been 10 years since I've flown last because I have agoraphobia (I talked about my struggle with it a few posts ago) but I am absolutely, positively determined to beat it. I don't care if they have to bludgeon me and drag me on the plane, I'm going. And I'm going with Toiv. And it's going to rule.

So I won't be cooking until at the very soonest, Friday. But I will get to eat out every single day and that's a lot of fodder if you ask me. $1.99 steak and lobster? I'm not saying I want to eat it, but I do want to see it. Carri and I are going to have a nice dinner together on Monday night so I'll tell you about that. And yes, to answer your burning concern, Stella has my friend Tracy to give her snuggles and food while I'm away. She knows I'm leaving and she's not happy. She's plunked her furry body down on the top of my suitcase as a kind of sit-in protest against my leaving.

I know it seems like I'm making a really big deal out of a 4-day business trip, and that's because I am. It means more to me than I think I could accurately express in words. So I will leave it at that. I'll see ya when I get back :)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Potty Mouth: You can't compote with it

I've always had a dirty mouth. I'm not sure where it comes from, or how it started, but I know it's one of the only things in my life that has remained virtually unchanged since I was about 14. Granted, that doesn't say much for my maturity if my language skills haven't changed in 18 years, but that's not exactly what I'm saying. I mean to say swearing and using dirty imagery (you know, the whole premise of this blog) is something I've never thought of as having any particular consequence, positive or negative. It just is what it is. Now I'm not saying I think it's appropriate to go into the President's office at work, give him a high five and say "FUCK YEAH". Nor do I think it's very nice to call your cousin a jerk off at the dinner table in front of your grandparents (although these are examples from my real life). But in harmless ways I have never believed that it makes any difference.

Except recently I've been thinking a lot about the laws of attraction, what makes certain people attracted to others, whether it be friends, lovers, etc. Why certain parents and children get along while others don't (besides obvious reasons in specific cases). Since I have spent a large portion of my life alone (and I don't mean without a relationship, I mean literally solo: I'm an only child and my single parent often worked three jobs to make ends meet. What started as a default situation became my normal, something I actively seek out to this day) sometimes I wonder if I just haven't given enough weight to the social implications of being a dirty broad. Does it make others uncomfortable? Do they assume I'm less intelligent? Is there a down side to being this way?

Sometimes living one's life mostly in vacuum can leave you in a bubble of obliviousness to others perceptions. You can run the risk of not giving alternate views enough weight, by sheer virtue of the fact that they have never really affected you in the past. I'm a little afraid of this and do my best to be aware in almost every other aspect of my life except this one. I can say with a lot of certainty that I have tried, really really tried to give a shit about this in the past. And when it counts, when I know someone doesn't like it and I don't want to hurt them or offend them, I tone it down. I have tried to change to be more professional, less loud, more appealing in a demure sense (and I'm not just talking situationally, I've tried to change this over all). I have meditated on it seriously and thought deeply about it.

My parents both used to get angry with me and encourage me to "act like a lady" or the sarcastic "you're so ladylike". It never hurt my feelings and it wasn't meant to, it was just their observation of my lack of refinement and serenity that girls are traditionally supposed to have. In thinking of my ways, I can't help but feel this notion is a crock of shit. I don't know what it is, or why it is, but it's just the way I have become, the way I am most comfortable. And as I believe that a certain amount of self-examination is healthy; just because I feel comfortable a certain way doesn't necessarily mean it's okay. So I looked at that too. I looked at this topic six ways from Sunday. And no matter what I think on any given day, I always come back to one rather loud internal voice that says: WHO GIVES A SHIT.

I just can't believe that we should take ourselves too seriously. We are NOT the smartest beings in the universe. Our societies are NOT that shit hot. Part of the reason I think I do this so much is that I really believe that we are all kind of a joke. It's healthier and better for us to think this. I don't WANT to be the things that I never could be anyway. I don't want to stop laughing at fart jokes. And I'm happy with that.

So in this spirit, I decided to make decadent french toast in celebration of the fact that I a) know who I am, b) am an adult and can have breakfast whenever I want, and c) because having regular sex is awesome. Just awesome:

Ginger's I Just Got Laid French Toast with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

4 pieces thick-cut French bread
1 egg
1/2 cup milk

2 stalks rhubarb
5 large strawberries
1 tsp tangerine zest
1/2 tangerine's worth of fresh squeezed juice
capful of vanilla extract
1 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsps grenadine

Start with the compote, combining all the ingredients into a pan and cooking over medium high heat until mushy, then reduced. Stir frequently. Remove from heat and set aside. Whisk together the egg and milk, dip slices of bread and add to a hot skillet until browned, flip once. Transfer to plate and place a dollop of cooled compote on each slice and drown with maple syrup. Serve immediately.


I made this compote up completely from scratch, and it was really good. The trick is that you don't want to make it too sweet because it's going to have maple syrup on it, so a nice tartness is what you wanna aim for.


Fuck ya! Pre or post sex optional.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Painikopita

I'm trying to make my peace with dishes that are complicated and fussy because they often yield great results, but I always get bogged down in their details. I love spanikopita, but I've been avoiding it because I don't want to deal with the pain-in-the-ass phyllo pastry. I have big meat hook hands and have never been delicate with anything in my life, so I'm pretty sure I'll find a way to screw this up. Nevertheless I decided to be a good sport about it and try, and ran across a few good shortcuts along the way which I will pass on to you:

Spanikopita

Makes 4 rolls

1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 package frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
salt and pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 feta, crumbled
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp sour cream
8 sheets phyllo pastry
2 tbsp melted butter

Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 400. Chop onion fine, add oil to pan and saute onion for 5 mins or until translucent. Place onion in a bowl, add spinach, salt, pepper, nutmeg, feta, egg and sour cream. Mix thoroughly and set aside.

Lay two phyllo sheets out on top of each other and brush one half with melted butter, then fold sheets in half. Place spinach mix in a log form two inches from the edge and sides. Then roll like this:


Place on a cookie sheet, brushing each roll with the melted butter. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.


It took me absolutely forever to get the sheets out of the package without ripping. Eventually I just decided I would work around the tears. This is a pussy of a pastry. Just like yeast, it likes to be touched a certain way. Don't we all. But tough luck, sister, I don't have time to be standing around in my kitchen all day catering to your needs. Tearing is just a part of life. (I enjoy tough-loving my food products). This is a RayRay dish, and she's done a really good job of simplifying it, but she recommends using just one sheet, and I don't agree. Two is better and will make the rolls a little tougher, and make the minor tears easier to deal with. Rolling burrito style might not be the most elegant choice, but it is the most efficient.

Delicious, these. Try them with tzaziki on the side. Devour while hot. Yum.