Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The miracle that is homemade mayonnaise

Whipping up my own mayonnaise was so simple that I almost feel stupid writing about it. It literally had four ingredients and took me five minutes to make, if that. But I can’t help it. It was so freaking awesome, I felt like I was doing some kind of a magic trick. I whipped an egg yolk with mustard, lemon juice, and oil, and before I knew it, mayonnaise was simply appearing before my eyes, all white and creamy and beautiful in the bowl. I now understand the name Miracle Whip.

A couple of days later, I wanted to do the trick again, this time for an audience. My mother was visiting, and she seemed the perfect person to dazzle with my newly discovered skill.

“Hey mum, want to watch me make mayonnaise?”
It was, I thought, a tantalizing offer. Akin to watching Jesus turn water into wine, no?
She mumbled something about needing to check her email and never materialized in the kitchen. I was, of course, dumbfounded. Aside from growing a human a few years back, this was the coolest trick I’d ever performed! Alas, I’d have to keep my mayo making prowess to myself.
But homemade mayo has a dark side: The specter of salmonella. Luckily, my first batch of mayonnaise was slathered onto chicken and baked, so with that meal, I was free to enjoy my miraculous creation without the worry of bathroom misery and possible death. But I am obsessed with the idea of never buying mayo again, so I need to get my mitts on some pasteurized eggs (which I’ve yet to find in the grocery store).
I’ve heard tell from my kitchen guru Alton Brown that simply leaving your newly made mayo at room temperature for a few hours will help the acid in the lemon juice render impotent any nasty bugs that may have taken up residence in your yolks. And it’s unlikely that your eggs are contaminated anyway. But, being the paranoid mommy that I am, I simply could not give Chloe such a concoction. Ahhh, the moral conundrums of cookery. I will just have to hunt harder for pasteurized eggs and in the meantime, find lots of recipes that call for cooking with mayo.
The homemade mayo recipe was so simple I have it committed to memory, and I typically don't remember much. It tastes so good that it will erase from your mind any yucky mayo associations you have. And it makes me feel like a wizard. Please make it. It will undoubtedly boost your self esteem.
In a large bowl, whisk together one egg yolk (pasteurized for the paranoid), a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, the juice from half a lemon, and a pinch of salt.
Slowly (so slowly that it seems absurd) drip and drizzle one cup of grape seed oil into the bowl, whisking constantly until the miracle occurs.
Tip: Use some kind of a nonskid pad or wet towel under the bowl to keep the bowl still, lest you spin it in maddening circles as you whisk.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Couch-to-5K, and no, K doesn’t stand for kitchen

I did it!
I recently decided to move against the current of my entire erstwhile existence and take up running. Actually, running is too strong a word. It’s more like walking with a pained and aggravated bounce.

Prior to this week I have insisted that the only circumstance under which I would run is if I were being chased by some kind of angry assailant or hungry animal. And yet here I am, morning after morning, hitting the pavement for 30 minutes of self-inflicted torture. Although I still don’t like doing it or really even see the appeal yet, I was inspired to get off my ass and run by my legions of mom friends who are suddenly busting out 5Ks the way I bust out loaves of zucchini bread and jars of jam.

So. I download the Couch-to-5K app for the iPhone and get going. On day one, I run wearing a t-shirt from a local cupcake truck business that I wrote about for a magazine. On day two, I run wearing a t-shirt from a barbeque festival that I was assigned to cover for a food website.

I see a pattern emerging. I literally get paid to eat, and now I’m sweating through a cupcake shirt. It’s not doing much for my running credibility, which is already in question since I also am somehow able to kick myself in the calves as I go. So I buy some legit running outfits to look more the part.

Did I also mention that I live next door to Dunkin' Donuts? I run on a quarter-mile path that wraps around my condo complex and right past the drive-through, where I hear things like, “Aaaaaand….three chocolate-glazed donuts. Yeah, that’s it.” And it smells really good in the morning, like coffee and happiness.

But my trouble has never been with food. As anyone who knows me understands, I am unapologetically and unabashedly guilt-free in my love for all things food related. I don’t even have body image issues; in fact, I think I have a kind of reverse anorexia in which I believe I’m thinner than I actually am.

My trouble has been with the belief that I am inherently un-athletic. It’s not my fault, I reasoned, just the way I was born. So I didn’t even try. But I recently read an article in Psychology Today called “The Trouble With Bright Girls,” which says “bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.” When bright girls struggle with something, they give up; boys on the other hand just try harder to master it. And suddenly, my entire, lifelong experience with sports (and math, but that’s a topic for another day) came back to me in a rush.

And so, I decide that I could learn to run, just like I could learn to make jam, just like Chloe is overcoming her disability and learning to walk. I have no doubt that Chloe will walk unassisted, that she’ll be able to work hard and practice in order to learn how to do something that comes naturally to almost everyone else. The notion she wouldn’t be able to do it isn’t even a remote possibility in my mind. Chloe is one of the brightest girls I know. And if she can do it, so can her mama.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Fruit leather and burnt fingertips

Ten days after braving the wretchedness of Mother Nature in pursuit of orchard-fresh peaches, I have made one cobbler, one batch of granita, and a mess of several t-shirts, thanks to the juiciness of the just-picked fruit. The five peaches that I now have left over are withering away on the counter, not quite to the point where they need to be tossed, but a little too ugly to feel great about serving them to my loved ones.

These five refugees languishing in the fruit bowl are also covered in an almost obscene amount of actual peach fuzz (local peaches are startlingly hairy just off the tree), which means they’re just a few days away from looking like your shriveled old auntie who has long since given up on grooming her facial hair.
So, what to do with these specimens? Why, make fruit leather of course!
I loved Fruit Roll Ups when growing up, but like Z.Cavariccis and name-brand cereal, it was a luxury in which I didn’t often indulge. Now that I’ve stumbled upon a recipe for the homemade version, though, my mind starts racing with excitement. I imagine that one day I’ll pack this delicious, homemade treat into Chloe’s lunchbox, allowing her to savor the yumminess of Fruit Roll Ups without all the additives and packaging.
But then there’s the flip side to the DIY Fruit Roll Up: lunchroom embarrassment. And somehow, my insistence that the homemade version of something cool and expensive is just like—no better!—than the fancy, store-bought product seems to conjure up sad images of me sewing Chloe’s prom dress in my Dust Bowl-era shack on the prairie.
I make the fruit leather anyway, and it’s a lot more difficult than the instructions would indicate. And seeing the finished product makes me realize that when it comes to passing off my fruit leather for the store-bought variety, I’m closer to the shack version of events that I had originally thought.
As I already noted, the instructions are deceptively simple: Chop and puree fruit; boil it down with sugar and a little lemon juice; spread it on a sheet pan; and bake in a low oven for several hours. Then just slice, peel, and indulge. All you really need are three ingredients, an empty afternoon, and remedial reading skills.
What the recipe fails to note, however, are the many “ifs” involved in this procedure. Like if you don’t spread your fruit puree thinly enough you’ll wind up with fruit goop that never quite forms into leather. Or that if you don’t use a silicone baking sheet your fruit leather will never, ever peel off the pan. Or that although the recipe says the leather is done when it feels barely tacky, you will burn each and every fingertip and hiss "fuuuuuuck" into the oven again and again if you touch it when it’s not yet finished leathering.
In the end, because of uneven spreading and a bit of tinfoil under one spot where my silicone mat had ripped, I wound up with just four strips of ragged and wildly unattractive (yet tasty) fruit leather. Still, I rolled them up in pieces of waxed paper, put them into a bag, and told Brian that he could take them to work with his lunch. He took a look, laughed a little, and thanked me a little too wholeheartedly. Dust Bowl. Shack. Homemade prom dress. At least it tastes good.