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Thursday, August 6, 2009

the joy of cooking

i haz it.

you know, it started out as a way to try out new recipes and cut down on our excessive eating out without boring everyone to tears with the same old rotation week-in, week-out. less than a year ago, weekly menus by yours truly included spaghetti, tacos, chicken with mushroom gravy, and a wide variety of ready-made, heat-and-serve type stuff from the freezer section or trader joe's. but since operation downsize began in the house of wan, even those kinds of at-home meals added up. and they so often weren't very good. i hated serving up disappointing food that left everyone still hungry.

these days, finding great recipes for all sorts of things is practically inescapable, from gourmet entrees to copycat restaurant meals. between websites like allrecipes.com and myrecipes.com, magazines, countless cooking blogs, the food network, message boards, etc., there's almost nothing you can't find directions for. and thank goodness for that, huh?

last week, when the teen was home, i came across a recipe for veggie lettuce wraps that i thought might go over well. since she'd really enjoyed the ones at p.f. chang's back in her pre-veg days, i figured i'd give it a shot, at least. but the week flew by like crazy, and i never did get my chance. armed with most of the ingredients, i decided i'd pull out one of the copycat recipes and try my hand at chicken lettuce wraps.

i love butter lettuce. maybe it's because it has the word "butter" in it. or maybe it's because the leaves are so smooth and yummy. i don't know. but i always think it's weird that it's sold like this, with roots still attached.

chopping and mincing the chicken, mushrooms (i cheated and used regular old white ones vs. springing for the shiitake mushrooms, cheap ass), bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts was a time-consuming pain in the ass. a labor of love, indeed.

once all the prep work was done, cooking it up was fairly easy. i even found a recipe for the sauce that the servers at the restaurant usually mix up tableside, for pouring on top of the chicken. i was a little bummed that my chicken concoction didn't exactly look like the original (or even the copycat recipes) - mine was a lot less...red? and it seemed saucier. saucy!

i also managed to completely eff up the noodles. what noodles, you ask? well, if you've ordered these before, you'll recall that the chicken mixture is typically served over crunchy fried cellophane noodles. despite the fact that i've had this a zillion times, i followed the instructions on the noodle package for BOILED noodles. i ended up with a pot full of goopy, sticky, nasty ass noodles. bummer.

oh, well. although i was super disappointed over the presentation, it tasted exactly like the original. um, and it was just as messy to eat. the hub and i had chicken and special sauce running all down our arms as we ate, and those crunchy lettuce leaves fell apart with every bite. we didn't care, though. we stuffed ourselves silly and pushed away from the dining table happy ass campers.

then, i got a bug up my ass to make this recipe for homemade oreos. not wanting to end up stuck with a crapload of cookies (e.g., those chocolate-mallow cookies), i halved the recipe. i mixed up the dough for the chocolate wafers:

fired up the ol' convection oven (which i love, because it doesn't heat up the entire house), and dropped rounded teaspoons of the dough onto my silpat.

sadly for me, even though i literally busted out a ruler to make sure i was allowing at least 2 inches between each dollop of dough, they puffed up, spread out, and ended up stuck together. oreo FAIL.

my second (and third) batch of cookies turned out much better, thanks to a lack of determination to fit as many on the sheet as possible. hey, i get impatient, so what?

since the cookies were on the thin side, they cooled rather quickly, so i got started on mixing up the cream filling. it calls for shortening, and i do have some in the pantry - but it's the yellow, butter-flavored version. this is great in most cases, but today i wanted my filling to be snowy white, like in "real" oreos. it still ended up pretty close, but if i'm being honest, i thought it was still rather yellow-ish. meh.

do you love my ghetto-pastry-bag-that's-actually-just-a-ziploc-bag-with-

look at how pretty they turned out! i was quite proud of myself. i tested one out and while they didn't exactly duplicate the oreo flavor, they were delicious and slightly chewy.

and later that night (after gorging on gut-bomb tater tot casserole for dinner), i found that dunking them in milk made them even better. mmmm.

ready for one more? because i am so super proud of myself for overcoming one of my cooking fears: bread. i've always shied away from making it, because i didn't want to mess with yeast and kneading and rising and all that stuff. but i love bread, especially when it's freshly baked. and the freshest bread possible comes out of one's own kitchen, yes? so when i saw this recipe for delicious brioche burger buns, i bookmarked it, hoping to have an excuse to make them soon.

as i perused the contents of the freezer the other day, looking for dinner ideas, i found a pork tenderloin roast just waiting for me to rediscover it. actually, i found two, but that's not important. what IS important, though, is the fact that i'd also found two brand-new bottles of barbecue sauce in the pantry. roast + sauce + crock pot = pulled pork sandwiches!

i defrosted the meat, mixed up the spices, rubbed them on, and wrapped it up to marinate overnight. the next morning, i busted out a slow cooker liner (those things are so handy for keeping the stuck-on mess to a minimum), dropped the roast in, and added a bit of water and liquid smoke flavoring. i set that baby on low for eight hours, made my iced coffee (i finally sprang for a french press last week! SO much easier and faster), and trotted happily off to work.

when i got home five hours later, the house smelled delicious from the roast, still cooking in the crock pot. mmmm. and when i put the bean down for a nap, i got to work on those buns. again, not wanting to have too much left over, i cut the recipe in half.

see how freaky yeast looks? maybe i'm just weird, but it just creeps me out. i measured it and dumped it in the water/milk mixture as fast as i could.

the rest of the steps for mixing the dough went quickly and easily, and after kneading it on the counter till it was smooth and glossy, i formed it into a ball and stuck it in a bowl. i was a little concerned about how small that ball was, but i knew the rising process would fix that. i covered it with plastic wrap, stuck the bowl in a dark corner of the kitchen, and proceeded to clean up the mess i'd made.

and boy, did it. look at how big it got after two hours!

so cool. i pulled it out, cut it into five [slightly uneven] pieces, and put them on parchment paper. per the instructions, i sprayed the plastic wrap with a little nonstick spray, covered them up, and again left them alone to rise a second time.

they doubled in bulk yet again after only an hour, but deflated a little as i brushed the tops with some beaten egg.

and a mere fifteen minutes later, they were done! look at how pretty these are.

that roll that i cut in half to take a picture of? it was the runt of the litter, so i ate it. heh. and guess what? it's probably right up there as one of the best bread-y items i've ever eaten. it was so chewy, soft, and buttery, with just a hint of sweetness. yum. i ended up seriously regretting my decision to only make half the recipe. but at least now i know how truly easy it is, and i've also triumphed over the creepy yeast fear! YAY!

i damn near gave myself carpal tunnel syndrome shredding the cooked pork, but i managed to get through it. i mixed in a cup of barbecue sauce, tossed it back into the crock pot to keep it warm, and then i made some corn to serve with the sandwiches. if you decide to make that corn, cut the salt in half. or more. trust me on this.

when the hub got home, i was miraculously (and uncharacteristically) ready to serve dinner immediately. heh. i sliced the buns in half, piled on the goods, and plated the sandwiches alongside spoonfuls of the corn.

so, so, so good. the hub was quite impressed, and i even managed to save myself the fourth bun and a crapload of the meat for lunch. i just know i'm gonna dream about these damn things.

i. love. cooking. i'm all betty crocker-y and stuff. it's just so much dang fun.


  1. Your measuring spoon above the Pyrex cup may be your best recipe photo yet. Really nice shot.

  2. Great post, I love all your cooking adventures and I can totally relate to this post! The PF Changs lettuce wraps are a big hit with us too but I've never tried it with butter lettuce...thanks for the tip, using iceberg is a PITA! My one experience with making homemade oreos was a bust and the cookies came out super hard. And finally, using yeast has scared me away from making my own dough but I'm glad to hear it wasnt too bad. You might have just inspired me to try it myself!

  3. Everything looks great!!! I love those lettuce wraps at PF Changs. I bet they are great with the butter lettuce.

  4. Your brioche dough is beautiful! And your writing style cracks me up.

  5. I am so impressed! Everything looks absolutely amazing especially those oreos. The more you link the tatertot casserole the more I am determined to try it myself.

    I will say though.....If I ever get you in a secret santa exchange, I am TOTALLY buying you a pastry bag. ;)

  6. So much to respond to:

    -you got a french press! Yay!!

    -Maybe if you used ground chicken for the lettuce wraps, it would have soaked up more sauce?

    -Looking at those pork sandwiches I am now more starving! Seriously, salivating.

  7. maaaybe i'll give yeast another chance someday.

    i enjoy cooking a lot, too, but only when i'm not working or working part time. even if it's enjoyable, it's too dang tiring after a full day of work. yay for summer!

  8. You are my hero-truly!!! You're inspiring me too think about baking again. Thank you for sharing the recipes & that Oreo cookie looks delish.

  9. hmmm...I might have to try that oreo recipe.

    and ziploc pastry bags are so the way to go!

  10. Your culinary skills make me feel inferior.

  11. I'm super impressed. The only thing that would impress me more is if you washed out that ziploc baggie to use again for future frosting tasks, ha.

  12. * Why am I an idiot and didn't realize I could use our french press to make the iced coffee?! Doh!

    * Those buns look so good!! I'm really impressed my dear. I think you might have finally gotten me inspired to get over my fear of the same thing.

    * I have to make those chicken lettuce wraps. mmmmmm!

    Two fatty thumbs up on the cooking m'dear!!!

  13. Here by way of Amber, and because you said "ass" in your post, I feel compelled to be the real deal that I am and say, HOLY FUCK! Beautiful, inspiring post!

    I'm on the whole "we simply cannot eat out like we used to" kick in my place as well. My son and husband were treated to homemade foccacia last night. My son and I ate the remains for a late lunch. Too bad for the husband.

    And the lettuce wraps? Like you, I LOVE myself some butter lettuce. Freaking greatness here! Consider yourself bookmarked, sister!


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