Cooking School Begins

October 31, 2008

Martha is plugging her new cooking school book in a hot and heavy way. The magazine has a lesson from it and each week on her show there is going to be an on-air lesson. Being a good little disciple, I have gone out and captured a copy (oddly enough in my local B&N it wasn’t in the cookbook section, but on a separate table in the middle of the store, which struck me as very odd). My plan is to follow along with the lessons on the show and post here each week so you can see how it goes.

Do I Need Cooking School?

Am I a little resentful that Martha thinks we all need to go to cooking school? Yes, maybe a little. After all, as she has admitted, she’s never gone. I think most of us who do cook have learned it on our own, or from our mothers. I’m lucky in that I had two grandmothers who loved to cook, as well as two parents who participated in a monthly “gourmet club” (if that sounds totally 70s, it’s because it was) and threw a Martha style Christmas party every year. So I’m not too shabby in the kitchen.

What I’m learning from Martha though is that there are so many things I really don’t know about cooking. While it totally ticked me off to have to have Martha and Sarah Carey (editor of Everyday Food and clearly the one who wrote most of this Cooking School tome) lecture me on how to chop an onion, I must admit I’ve already picked up some things.

The Knives

My knife collection

My knife collection

Martha and Sarah, in the first cooking school on-air lesson, went over the kinds of knives we should have.  Here is a photo of my entire knife collection, next to the photo in the book of what you should have. The first knife on the left on the book is serrated and I bought this knife before Mr. MarthaandMe got married – almost 20 years ago – and it’s still great. The next one is a chef’s knife I bought after seeing Rachel Ray use it! The rest are a hodgepodge that have landed in my knife block over the year. The one with the white handle was bought from a cousin who was selling Cutco knives. I don’t have a cleaver, but other than that, I think I can say I pass this cooking school lesson with a good grade.

Onions

Also in the first tv lesson, Sarah Carey showed how to cut an onion  – sliced, diced, finely chopped and minced. I used to always dump my onions in my small food processor to chop, but (and this is the height of laziness) I hate how the stupid bowl never seems to fit in the dishwasher and it just seemed easier to hack it up myself. I knew what slicing meant. Diced, minced and chopped all sort of meant the same thing to me. So here is where Martha has taught me something.

My onion lesson

My onion lesson

Here’s the results of the lesson. From left to right you can see minced, finely chopped, diced and sliced and up at the top is the page in the book with the same thing. Once I learned which was what, this was easy.

I also must admit I did not know the correct way to hold a chef’s knife until Sarah Carey showed me on the show. I have always held on to the handle and sometimes put the other palm on top of it for added pressure. Sarah explained how to hold the knife so your finger and thumb are touching the blade and this really gave me more control. Wow! I didn’t know Martha had so many things to teach me about the basics!

Making Stock

The other segment of the on-air lesson was chicken stock. Martha says we should all make our own. I do make my own when I am making soup or something like chicken and biscuits or chicken and dumplings. Other than that, I buy the cartons of stock and use that. I’m going to make stock when I do the next lesson, which will require me to hack up a chicken.

An Everyday Food Note

Although I know Martha is not knee-deep and hands-on (that’s an image isn’t it?) in the production of Everyday Food magazine, I have been turning to it often. The recipes in Living are great, but on a weekday when I’ve got hockey or lessons to drive kids around to in the afternoon, I just don’t have time to say, braise a pork shoulder for approximately half a day.

Finding myself in a bind one night this week, I turned to Everyday Food’s November issue for inspiration and made Rigatoni with Spiced Meat Sauce (p. 92). Holy cow guys – this was gross. Really, really yucky. Who makes a pasta sauce out of tomato paste, vinegar, cinnamon, and cayenne??? This was so bad I could not serve it as it was. I had to do some serious doctoring of this recipe to be able to put it on my table. First of all, I used ground turkey instead of ground lamb (I like ground lamb when I make Greek food but really no other time) or ground beef. I have been substituting this a lot – in meatballs, meatloaf, tacos, etc and am loving it.

To do something with the nasty sauce, I dumped in a can of stewed tomatoes and ton of Italian herb mix. I added more garlic (the recipe did call for some as well as onion). I also added some parmesan cheese. By the time I did all of that and cooked it for about half an hour, it was edible and the MarthaandMe family ate it happily.

Martha – please do something about Everyday Food. I absolutely know this recipe is not something you would put on your table! NOT a good thing!

Sneak Peek

I’ve got plans afoot for upcoming posts. I’m going to tackle more crafts from the November issue of Living. I’m going to make the big cake from the issue also. We’re going to do a Martha Thanksgiving here. And Martha is going to help me do some organizational things around the house. Currently she is very displeased about the state of my closet and is itching to get her hands on it.

I’m also continuing my search for ways to bring “good things” into my life. This week, I folded the fitted sheet to the bed and instead of just balling it up, I made an effort to fold it nicely (not easy to do at all) and place it on the shelf. It took more time, but I’m finding that if I tell myself I deserve to be surrounded by good things, I feel privileged and pampered somehow. Taking the time to fold something so that it looked nice did give me some satisfaction. I also reminded myself I was “homekeeping” and not just doing the laundry which made the whole experience much more pleasant!

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New Driver Brownies

October 30, 2008

Today my 16 year old daughter passed her driver road test, so I have a new driver (and higher insurance premiums!) in my house. To celebrate her success, Martha and I thought we would whip up a little something.

Over the weekend, Martha sent me a Halloween email of the day with the recipe for Pumpkin Swirl Brownies. I had all the ingredients (ok, mostly – I may have cheated and used chocolate chips instead of bittersweet baking chocolate), so it seemed like a quick little midweek snack to make.

Chocolate melted in the microwave

Chocolate melted in the microwave

I started with melting the chocolate. Martha wanted me to melt it with the butter over a bowl of hot water. Sigh. Sorry Martha – I just popped it in the microwave for about a minute and 15 seconds and then stirred and I was all set.

Batter base

Batter base

Martha then had me make the batter base. I confess I did not whisk the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. I just dumped them into the wet ones. If I had whisked them first, I would already have been up to 3 bowls – 4 if you count the one she wanted hot water in.

Chocolate batter

Chocolate batter

Pumpkin batter

Pumpkin batter

Ok, so next I separated the batter so that I ended up with a pumpkin mixture and a chocolate mixture. I cheated again.

I did not put the batter in yet another bowl (making that bowl #5) and add the chocolate to it. I dumped the batter into the chocolate and stirred.

Swirled and ready

Swirled and ready

The layering of the batters was not easy. They never smooth over each other very well for me. The swirling part is fun. I didn’t add nuts since my son doesn’t like them.

Now for the taste test results. Ready? I didn’t like this! It did not taste like chocolate and it did not taste like pumpkin, so I’m not sure what exactly it tasted like. It was also very moist – disturbingly so.

Ready to eat

Ready to eat

It was done though – the bottom was getting dark and so was the top. It was moist in the way a pumpkin pie is moist, but that just seemed weird in a brownie.

Sorry Martha – not a good thing.

Want a bite?

Want a bite?


Paper Wreath

October 28, 2008
My first Martha project

My first Martha project

May I have a trumpet sound please? (doo-doo-doo!) I am proud to announce and reveal my very first Martha craft, from the November issue of Living (Martha doesn’t have it up on her site yet, but once she does I’ll put a link in here). I am quite shocked at how well (almost) it turned out. Of course, it looks nothing like the one in the magazine, but I would say it’s not half bad.

First please allow me to vent about Martha’s craft projects. While it’s nice that she has a guide in the magazine that tells you where to order all the supplies, there’s no way I’m about to do that. First of all, the prices are ridiculous. Secondly, by the time I order it all and it arrives, it will be next month. Not practical. So off I went to Micheal’s. They only had one kind of wreath form and it’s much wider than the one Martha uses in her directions. I also chose one with a smaller diameter. They also did not have any “metallic papers” so I bought gold wrapping paper and used that.

I honestly thought there was no way this was going to work. The instructions are very vague and not very detailed. Martha left it up to me to design the leaf shape. Eeek. Deep breathing.

I did not understand how to staple paper onto a metal wreath, but shockingly, it actually worked. I guess I stapled paper to paper which held it on. My leaf sizes are not uniform and the gold ones stand out a bit, but really, for a first effort, I’m pretty pleased with myself.

Ok, so my bow is totally dorky. I know. And she didn’t say how to attach it, so I stapled that sucker on too.

Would I proudly display this on my front door for the entire month of November. Um, no. Not a chance. But it’s not as hideously embarrassing as I expected.

Now for the real question – did crafting relax me? I guess maybe a little, when I wasn’t shouting at it “Come on, Martha!” I do think that I can see the pleasure is making things yourself. The whole project took about 50 minutes from start to finish and I did it while my son was doing his homework.

Have you attempted this project? Let me know how it went.


Some Thoughts

October 27, 2008
 I’m not even a week into the Martha life and it’s already hugely expensive. Today I went to Michael’s to buy supplies. I bought supplies to make 3 crafts from the November issue of Living. Two little ones and one big one. I spent $22. I didn’t know Martha has a whole line of craft products sold at Michael’s. They looked great, but pricey. I love how all of Martha’s products are packaged in a way that makes them appear simple and elegant – even an ink stamp. The girl’s got class (or at least an excellent design team).

Then I went to the grocery store to buy the ingredients to make the Butterscotch-Pecan Cake, also from the November issue. Budget buster!! $40 just for ingredients, not including basics like flour, baking powder, baking sodea, salt, corn syrup, etc. I could probably buy 2 of these cakes at a bakery for this price. It’s totally insane.  I am sure this cake is going to be divine – it had better be considering I had to buy two pounds of butter and 4 8 oz blocks of cream cheese and a pint of heavy cream. Yowza! No wonder Martha is looking a little chunkier than her old self these days.

Percy and Merlin - our dogs
Percy and Merlin – our dogs

The other night on Martha (I can only get her show on the Fine Living Network at night) she had an interesting segment on dog training. For someone so organized and precise, Martha really lets these dogs walk all over her. She described how they get into fights over her attention and how she sent one of them to a week-long dog therapist (if only we all had that kind of cash). Yet she still cannot control them.

I have to say I loved this peek into the inner chaos of Martha’s life. She’s just like any woman her age who babies her pets and lets them run her life. She’s a total softie when it comes to those dogs.

We have two golden retrievers who though certainly not well-trained do not get into fights with each other. I have to say I don’t much care for Martha’s French Bulldogs, but then I am and always have been a golden retriever person.

Isaac Mizrahi crafting with Martha was hysterical. I love it when things go wrong and Martha must make the best of it. Isaac is quite the character and has no fear of Martha. Did you see this episode? What did you think?


Martha on the Road

October 27, 2008

In my quest for all things Martha (which is now constantly on my mind), I sought out two Halloween festivities over the weekend that are definitely something Martha would approve of.

Dogs hitting the pavement

Dogs hitting the pavement

Old Town Alexandria, Virginia has dog trick or treating the week before Halloween. What a sight! Dogs of every kind in every imaginable type of costume were on the streets. The dogs didn’t seem to be too excited about the costumes but they were happy to get the treats.

The whole town turns into Martha for this event, with pet owners brainstorming terrific costumes. We saw a bumble bee, a race car, witches, an inmate, clowns, a cowboy and many more.

Sponsor a scarecrow

Sponsor a scarecrow

Also in the spirit of the season, we saw this amazing display in Middleton, Maryland. The town attaches scarecrows to signposts throughout the main section of town. Businesses can sponsor a scarecrow. Each business gets to select the design and the name of the business is pinned to the scarecrow’s chest. Very festive! Martha would definitely approve.


Master Chef or Novice Cook?

October 25, 2008

Ok, so this quiz on Martha’s site caught my eye. Am I a master chef or a novice cook? Yikes! That sounds like a challenge (or a throwdown as Bobby Flay would say – have I mentioned I don’t like Bobby Flay’s antagonistic attitude?). I like to cook, but mostly I make it up as I go.  I’m not big on reading up on cooking techniques. But who doesn’t love a good quiz?

I scored a four out of eight. So I guess I’m halfway in between the two categories. Either way, Martha recommends I buy her new book, Martha Stewart’s Cooking School. Well, I’m going to do that, but not because the quiz told me to! In fact, I would probably have been really annoyed to take this quiz and expect some great explanation of how my skills rank only to be told I should just buy her book.

My mistakes? I didn’t know what brunoise was (do you??). I didn’t know you shouldn’t add iodized salt to consomme (listen, I have never made consomme and do not know when I ever would). I did, however know what a bouquet garne is and what is the smallest member of the allium family (ok, so I guessed – just don’t tell Martha).

Give the quiz a try and let me know how you did!


Light Chicken Parmesan

October 24, 2008

It was a Monday night and I needed something quick and simple for dinner. Mondays are a busy day here and I often work right up until dinner time, leaving me little time to cook. What Would Martha Do? A recipe from Everyday Food for light chicken parm seemed like it should fit the bill for this. I actually found this on the web site, not in the mag.

The first hurdle with the recipe is something that’s not in the recipe – or any recipe for that matter. Defrosting the chicken. While it’s nice to use fresh meat, I don’t often plan my meals out in advance, so I don’t have fresh chicken sitting in the fridge, singing a little chicken song to itself and waiting happily to be used.

I find defrosting to be a challenge. You have to be careful to do it slowly so it doesn’t cook the edges, but you do have to get it to defrost fully. Nothing is worse than that gross white cooked edges you get. What I usually do is defrost it most of the way, then let it just sit in the microwave for about 10 or 15 minutes and it seems to do the rest itself. That’s my tip for the day, folks. Genius, I know.

Homemade Wheat Breadcrumbs

Homemade Wheat Breadcrumbs

Ok, to get down to business I had to first make the breadcrumbs. Normally I just use a store brand Italian breadcrumb mix, but Martha dictates the use of pieces of wheat bread ground up with some salt and pepper, oil and parm cheese. I do like the idea of using up some old bread crusts and I always prefer whole wheat to white, however having to get the Cuisinart dirty is a pain. There’s never room in the dishwasher for that darn thing. I usually avoid it like the plague. I do think this breadcrumb mixture needed some herbs, but Martha did not suggest them.

Ready for the Oven

Ready for the Oven

The most exciting idea in this recipe is the directive to only bread one side of the chicken breasts. I never thought of doing this, but it is brilliant. It cuts calories and you do not notice the difference.

My chicken breasts did not cook in the time specified – 10 to 12 minutes. Granted, I used organic chicken and I find it does take longer. At 9 minutes it was raw inside and getting almost burned on the outside. I switched to convection at 375 degrees and cooked it another 10 minutes and it was perfect.

Voila!

Voila!

The breading did not taste as crisp as I normally would like. I usually pan fry my chicken parm with a little olive oil, so I did miss that a little, but this is a nice light alternative.

I confess I used a jar of spaghetti sauce that was sitting already opened in the fridge (I know, so not Martha)instead of making the tomato sauce in the recipe. On a Monday night I would much rather do that, not to mention my 10 year old would much prefer something from a jar.

All in all, I would call this recipe a good thing. My biggest takeaway from it is the idea of breading only one side. Thanks Martha.

What Martha recipes do you suggest for a busy weeknight?


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