Wednesday, January 8, 2014

In the Kitchen With Chris: Cooking for Warmth

It was -50 degrees yesterday, you guys. Negative. Fifty. Degrees. I don't think the word "bullllllllllllllllllllllshit" even begins to cover it.

So maybe it wasn't technically that low, but I don't understand windchill and all that meteorological, science crap, so if you tell me it feels like -50 degrees. It's negative f#%!ing fifty degrees.

What the hell am I doing in Minnesota?

Sorry. I've been holding that in for a few days for fear of becoming that person on Facebook.

So I bundled up. I wore gloves, mittens, and a stocking cap (hat hair be damned!) when I went out, and I wore my coziest sweaters, sweatpants, and slippers when I was home, but I couldn't shake the chill. My heater was working overtime, but it really wasn't enough. So I decided that this week was the perfect time to get back into the kitchen...mostly just so I could have the oven running.

I'd been pinning a number of recipes on Pinterest that I've been wanting to try, but never had the motivation to actually do it, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to knock a few of them out. I invited my friend Katie to come over and join me, mostly because cooking for more than one person is so much more enjoyable.

Also, when I'm cooking for myself the process usually goes something like:

Step 1: Pour a glass of wine to drink while I'm prepping the meal.
Step 2: Don't actually cook anything.

I planned out a whole meal. Like a main dish, a side dish, and a dessert. The whole shebang. I even went through each recipe and made notes about how much time it would take in the oven and at what temperature it would need to be set so I could plan out at what times I'd need to cook each item. It was f#%!ing exhausting. 

I knew my side dish would need the most time in the oven, so I figured I'd pick a main dish that I could cook in the crockpot. I went with a simple Barbecue Honey Mustard Chicken recipe. You can view the original pin here.

Sidebar: How adorable is my new crockpot?!
When I say simple recipe, I'm talking like a super simple recipe. Three ingredients, minimal stirring, almost no effort. As soon as I got home from work I threw four chicken breasts into the crockpot on high and left them there to cook for three hours. At that point I drained the juices and added in a cup of honey barbecue sauce and a cup of honey mustard, and let it cook for another half hour on high.

Boom. Done.

(I didn't take more pictures of the process because it was a super not photogenic dish. Definitely yummy, but equally ugly.)

After I got the chicken in the crockpot, I moved onto getting the dessert ready. I'd decided to bake a cake, and I picked another super simple cake. The original pin (here) calls it an "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!" Cake, but people who use caps lock make me want to beat them senseless with their own keyboards, so I'm renaming it "Easy as Pie" Cake. Once again, it only has three ingredients.

1 box of cake mix, a can of pie filling (so obviously my new name makes more sense), and three eggs is all it takes. Mix that all together, and cook in a greased 9" x 13" cake pan at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. 

I chose to go with a lemon cake and  raspberry because raspberry lemonade Chapstick is my favorite, and for some reason I thought that flavoring would transition nicely into a cake. 

It's not a super pretty cake, but it turned out really well! The original recipe says that it doesn't need to be frosted, but I'm a firm believe that most things would be better if they were frosted, so I went ahead and did a cream cheese frosting on it. The pie filling makes for a super dense, moist cake. The raspberry pie filling isn't the best choice if you're not into raspberry seeds, but I really liked it, and I'm excited to play around with other flavor combinations!

After I got the cake finished and set aside to cool, I moved on to the part of the meal that I was most excited about. Smashed Potatoes. (Original pin here)

This one was a bit more "involved" (as my mother would tell me disparagingly), but with the ease of the other two, I needed to challenge myself at least a bit. The recipe called for:

2lbs small red potatoes
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste.

The instructions said to preheat the oven to 500 degrees, and set one oven rack at the top position and the other at the bottom. My oven, however, is basically an easy bake oven (but not as cute), and it only has one rack, so I was going to have to do some switching around. I started it at the bottom position.

Scrub the potatoes, and put them on a baking sheet with 3/4 cup of water in it. Cover that with aluminum foil and bake on the bottom rack for 30 minutes. After that, you'll pull them out, remove the foil, drain, and allow them to cool for 10 minutes. Then toss them with 3 tablespoons of olive oil (although I imagined "tossing" anything would end in disaster for me, so I just rolled it around in the stuff). Smash the potatoes with the bottom of a glass until they are about 1/2" thick, and drizzle 3 more tablespoons over top and sprinkle on the thyme. Add salt and pepper to taste.

It was at this point that I realized how important it was that you choose the smallest of the potatoes in the bag. Some of the larger ones weren't quite ready to be smashed and ended up flying across the room when I pushed down on them (the olive oil made them slippery as shit). 

From here you'll pop them back in the oven on the top rack for 15 minutes before moving them back down to the bottom rack for another 25-30 minutes.

Om Nom Nom
These were probably my favorite part of the meal. The skins got super crunchy while the insides stayed nice and soft. Katie and I both agreed that they were super tasty, but could possibly use a little kick of some kind. We brainstormed different seasonings, and I about climaxed when the idea of ranch powder was brought up (I'm really into ranch).

It was probably my most successful turn in the kitchen since I started this blog. Everything turned out exactly like the internet promised me it would (unlike that time it told me I could get rid of blackheads by smearing egg on my face...that was mean). Everything was delicious, and it made me excited to play with the recipes and try different variations (so this is what being inspired to cook feels like)!

The whole evening made me feel super proud of myself. Like maybe I could be getting a handle on this grown up thing.

Until Katie left, I finished off the wine straight from the bottle, and took a fork to the cake pan. 

So close.

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