Saturday, January 30, 2010

Honest Scrap, Who Me?

"This will take some time," I say to myself.
Myself sits quietly thinking about cookies.
Myself seems to think a lot about cookies lately...
"I got this cool comment on my blog,"I continue, from K.Hamilton AKA The Geeky Gourmet, so I check it out and realize someone actually read my blog and WOW! K. (perhaps one of 2 people who ever read my blog) honored me with a honest scrap award. Now it's gonna take some time to do this right".

Myself is strangely quiet, if you know me, it's not often the case. I explain to myself that "in the tradition of the "Honest Scrap Award" some very nice thoughtful person in my case K., finds your blog interesting, insightful, helpful, funny or just plain honest, they pass the award on."

Myself better be paying attention because this is complicated "See, Scott AKA Fight The Fat Foodie, received his award from Mother Rimmy who...I'm not sure how far this goes! But it is now my duty to pass it to 10 food bloggers"

Myself is suspicious, and want's to know what else is involved, and would also very much like another cookie... "The deal is," I explain, "if you get this award you have to share 10 honest thing's about yourself" Myself get's another cookie, because I know when I talk about myself, this will be a long night.

Number One. I don't like to cook. Now before you lock me up, just know I WILL cook because my love of eating trumps my lack of excitement about it's prep. I want it to taste great 'cause why  do the work unless it's mind blowing delicious.

Number Two. Closing my catering business after 25 years was hard. Starting a catering business to begin with was harder. Running a catering business successfully, despite unforgiving hours, low pay, physical pain and family sacrifice, the hardest of all.


Number Three. I couldn't even turn on a computer on 14 months ago. My husband ran the office, (brilliantly) I ran the kitchen. After closing the catering business, I needed a life makeover, (including learning some basic skills on the "mystery machine.") My husband also suggested blogging as a creative way to pursue my dream of writing a book. He is smart, and good for me. He gets a cookie.

Number Four. When my husband said I should blog, (which sounded like clog, and I really am not much of a dancer) I tried but my first posts are stiff and sound like a travel add. Finding "Orangette" was that break through moment when I realized I can be myself, and it's okay to write the way you feel. She inspired me.


Number Five. Thanks to working in a commercial food operation, I find it impossible to make food for less then 10 people.  I don't use paper towels, or oven mitt's which pretty much explains the 17 burn scars on my arms.


Number Six. In an effort to light a fire under myself I decided to mark my cookbook writing progress. The blog turned into a way to stay accountable to the goal to write a cookbook. Writing a cookbook is really difficult or I'm trying too hard, but either way I'm figuring it out.


Number Seven. I'm a little scared about writing a cookbook.  Everyone I read is so good and so creative, how can I possibly measure up? I worry that I will underwhelm all the incredibly gifted cooks. I fear someone will say "hey that's my recipe" because every thing seems to have been done before. Go figure.


Number Eight. I love taking pictures. I realize I take 400 to 1 more food pictures then family photos.

Number Nine. I love my job. It's the least I can do considering unlike many, I have one.


Number Ten. I have pet names for my cookware.

Every blogger on my "Blogs and Friends" list are so great I love them all, but I can only mention 10. These bloggers are honest, witty, and beautiful. They show passion, commitment and soul. I pass my "Honest Scrap" award to in alphabetical order;

Fed up School Projects
Orangette
Passion 4 eating
Pearls & Such
Pinch My Salt
Sense & Serendipity
Smitten Kitchen
View From The Farmstead
The Wednesday Chef
Whipped

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Excuse Me, My Kitchen's On Fire


My back was turned I didn't see the flames. They licked up the oil, filled the air with soot and permanently blackened the once mirror surface of my All Clad.  So what was I doing that I missed the four alarm on the stove? Why I was fully engaged in fridge cleaning and up to my elbows in a raw chicken puddle left by the very culprit burning on the stove.

What started this mess was guilt about erratic meals I have been feeding my family lately. The cookbook writing requires testing, the testing creates leftovers, and leftovers create boredom faster then you can say "should I call 911" I laugh about feeding the guy's appetizer tests but honestly unless you win the lotto (difficult when you don't buy tickets ) the household food budget is going into experiments.

So for dinner I decide to grill a chicken and vow to not take it's picture, then serve it with normal sides. When the time came to retrieve the bird from the fridge I see it's leaked raw yucky fluids all over. While I survey the leaky chicken damage the sky opens and delivers "the rain that never happens in California", in torrents. So much for the grill.

"I am not giving up," (repeat to myself)  I whip out the All Clad mega pan, douse it with oil, quarter, season and flour my leaky chicken and put it onto cook. Now here's the scary part, while I  was suited up in rubber gloves to sanitize the fridge, some of the oil in the pan must have slipped out and ignited.

Meanwhile, and much to my horror, my family started chanting the dreaded "what's for dinner"  phrase. I had to act fast. I quickly covered the flames and moved any flammable items away from the stove then wondered if I had a pizza coupon. Examining the chicken, I realized it was singed but acceptable. I added mushrooms to compliment the smokey flavor.

The stove is a lost cause, don't get me started. It will take a week to clean the pan. Normal, (what's normal?) dinner with family priceless.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January Cookbook Update


My friend Jan called she's, checking up on me and is one of the few people who has admitted to reading my blog. So here I am, Jan, it's going on three weeks and yep, and I'm slowly writing a cookbook. I know it sounds like whining but all the organizing, making decisions and staying on task is like convincing my family that it is okay to eat test appetizers for breakfast.

The desk is littered with scraps of receipts, backs of envelopes and even napkins scribbled with ideas. Writing materials and tools are smudged with ingredients. I dream up names for appetizers and book content while in line at the store, or stopped at red lights. No matter how many times I shop, I find myself back at the market in line between the long winded coupon queen's and shopper's marinated in Old Spice.

Thanks to the book, the whole way we live has changed. Every room of the house has become a studio, every surface a backdrop for the perfect food shot. When I needed a second hand for timing, the clock on the mantle went out to the bbq. Meal times are now any time that I finish reworking an idea. The family is living on tested recipes but only after it's been photographed from every angle.

Jan, since you moved, I can't share my progress with you in the driveway, but I have about 50 pages worked on that are anywhere from 10% to 90% ready. I try to balance work, gym, family and remember to put the trash out, even though your not right next door to remind me.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Language Lessons From A Teenager


Looking over my twitter feed, my son informed me that BFF is out. Sizzle and boom are on their way in, snap is still okay and old is still old. He shakes his head at me, mom don't be so old. By the way, also known as BTW,  "old" is still old.

Brushing up on the language may be important in writing a cookbook, especially if my audience is in high school. I'm a novice writer, I am a "amateur" amateur blogger at best. In fact I don't remember ever getting better then a "C" in language, and that required pretending to be awake.

 If Zayne will consider tutoring me that will be "cool"( oops! "cool" is on the extinct list, the correct word would be tight). If I get this right, it would be like "curry butternut squash soup that's tight"!

As I assimilate a few current vocab, aware that learning teen speak is about as easy as getting into a package of cold capsules and has the permanence of a boy band. Picking up the language subtleties isn't easy either, with text communication at epic levels and teen dialects differing from region to region.

With the "otts" over (proper term in teenager for years 2000-2009) and we enter a new decade, I wonder if cookbooks will somehow be different? In case they are we should brush up on a few things;

You just got owned. (You have been put in your place)
Bring it. (A challenge)
Sup. (What is up?)
Dude. (Another person, not always gender specific)
Word. (As in last, end of subject)
Whatever.(Forget it mom, I'm not interested)

*Note LOL, OMG and BTW are never to be spoken, these are for texting only.
Click it lock it with optional "put it in your pocket" is a hand shake not a concealed weapon.

My son is a capable although unwilling teacher and I have endured the eye rolls and constant irritated smirks, but I am patient."Awesome, I think I'm coming along!", I report.
Zayne called me a caveman, but his father corrected him, "She's a cave woman, son."
How kind.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Life Is Good When Avocdos Are Ripe


Richard is a little cross at me. He asked me to work on the introduction and I twittercrastinated instead. Maybe I need a twittervention or even a bloggervention, (since I can whittle hours away working on blog posts too). He also will soon kill me if I don't finish getting the last Christmas embellishments put away. EEEEEEE!

BUT GUESS WHAT! Yea! my avocados are ripe! I have been patiently waiting to have perfectly ripe delicious avocado's for day's. In regards to the cookbook, I 'm perfectly aware that I keep stalling and saying everything is SO HARD. I can't listen to my self say IT'S HARD all the time (at least not today).

I am gonna make something easy, say, like guacamole (insert laughter here), instead of working on the introduction. Voice inside my head..."No Renee, work on the introduction, January will fly by and you wont be anywhere". "But I can't come up with original ideas" I say to my head voice,"Use the Focus, Renee...just start and the ideas will come...Focus" (voice sounds like Obi Wan Kenobi)

Linda Larson  @busy cooks and http://chocolateandnostalgia.com/ (I met Linda on twitter)  has inspired me more then once, say's...
" I've found that the secret to working on a cookbook is to do a little bit of work every day. Create a recipe; write a paragraph, edit a sentence. The more work you do, the more ideas will come to you!"
See Linda listens to her voice and writes cookbooks!

I think I like January. I know I love guacamole. Both are uncomplicated. Writing a cookbook is...search for it...search for it...(don't say HARD) is "CHALLENGING"!
About the guacamole, Richard say's "that's too basic a recipe for a appetizer cookbook",  I focused and answered,  "get the chips".

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tomatoes and Time


To do today...
exercise, (at least look like I am)...
Make breakfast, risk life by taking kid to school, work...
wash car, floors, cat box, cloths, and clean the garage...
meals, planning for meals, shopping for meals, revise list...
dishes, more dishes, more meals and dishes for those, feed cat...
write a cookbook...
...the list goes on and rounds out at about four pages of overwhelming. The holiday's are over it's back to work, house work and chauffeuring my son, it will be interesting to see how I can squeeze in writing a cookbook. I am aware my goal may conflict with day dreaming, dinner time, sleeping, twittering, and all important things I need to accomplish in my habitat.

Richard want's me to work on an introduction. He got it roughed out, in order to get me all fired up,  (Richard knows I require lot's of prompting). This is one of those HARD things like deciding what's the book about. I wonder if I write a stupid introduction would every one who read it would just stop there? Maybe they would laugh until they were hospitalized or worse use it to prop a door or something.

I am working on a bruschetta with a fresh tomato sauce recipe (I know it's preschool, as far as appetizers are concerned, but still decent party food).  Only in California would anyone attempt to make a fresh tomato sauce in January. Am I dreaming the flavor will burst in the tasters mouth? Why yes! because tomatoes are so unpredictable  now (tomatoes are unpredictable all the time) went with grape tomatoes, the only thing ripe in the store.

I wanted to try drying the tomatoes and adding roasted garlic to it. The roasted garlic idea didn't work, the dish looked like mud, and looks count. My fresh basil froze in the fridge before I could use it. The tomatoes stuck to the pan, I burned the bread and when it came picture time, clouds gathered and there was only dull light.

I finally got the results I wanted but I kinda felt like I spent too much time at it. Messing around with something so simple, felt like going to the DMV.

I got the car washed.

Follow my new countdown gadget at the bottom of the blog posts!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fonts, Photo's and Chicken


Richard and I had to choose font styles for the menu headings and text for our cookbook. Seems easy? It's not! Maybe I just agonize over the details too much. Nah, not me...

We tried out dozens of fonts till my eyes were tired and they began looking alike (the fonts, not my eyes!) The text size is important too, it needs to be readable but not space consuming. Richard printed all sizes and I pulled other books to compare them to. We got our son Zayne involved, but the call of the Wii was too strong he didn't last long in the font decision process.

Choosing photos is hard too. I take no less then ten of the same thing, the differences are so subtle. I try different trays, plates, angles, like I know what I 'm doing. If I started taking only one picture, maybe the choice would be easier!

I read 47 comments on Epicurious about real problems and successes related with Chicken Negimaki. Though my recipe is a little different I know it is a "multi" step process which can be frustrating. Since this is one of my favorite appetizers, I want to work through the issues. I really think I want it in the book even though it's not one of the quickest to produce.

When a sample was "over" cooked, (one of the complaints on Epicurious) and posed I had a hard time getting a good photo so re -shot the pictures again. The usual places I set up a sample to photograph didn't offer the right light today. I may want to make it again for a better shot, does the picture look dry? As usual, I didn't have to decide what to do with my Negimaki sample, the Wii champion took care of eating it, over cooked or not.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Snag #1


Writing a cookbook - HARD, not communicating with your co- writer, HARDER. Richard and I both agree the book will contain food, it's a cookbook for heavens sake! We both agree it needs easy to understand recipes, photo's and stories about the food. Great, so we are moving along, then -SNAG! Only a few days in and realize were not agreeing on the overall concept of the book.

It had to be hammered it out, so we hammered and by the end of the day we had redefined a direction, for the billionth time. (Note- actual amateur cookbook writers were not hurt during hammering processes) So here it is... drum roll...more drum roll... PARTY FOOD! yup, after all, since we cater parties and love appetizers we decided our favorite dishes are portable, hand held, small bite, party sized foods! Ta Da! because no one else has ever thought about an appetizer cookbook Ta Da! and if they have, that doesn't bother me right now Ta Da!

 We now know what the cookbook is about. I realize this moment of is kinda like saying "I am finished with dishes". No sooner then you think your done, you make more dishes. No sooner then we made that decision, we have more decisions. That's okay with me,'cause this was the big one. Having a direction, a plan communicating with your partner, priceless.

Wait! There's more! Prepared Chicken Negimaki for step by step photo, I will touch up the recipe in the morning. I know it's a great appetizer, but can be a bit time consuming.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Take Two

Today I had to choose, either have to put away the Christmas decorations or make quiche. Usually, come  January 1st, I have everything put away and and I am ready to face a new year. This time, the holiday season flew by, leaving me wishing they could stay a little longer. I chose quiche.

I made quiche because A. I like it.  B. I have everything in the fridge to make it. C. As my cookbook recipe writing adventure continues, I wanted to try using a ham slice instead of a traditional crust. I used my basic spinach quiche base, picked up some sliced "Canada" style bacon, (AKA center cut pork loin) and forced it into a muffin cup pan.

The first idea was okay it was cute and tasty but just a little bulky and difficult to eat. The pork loin slice was too thick and wasn't small enough to be considered an appetizer. As a brunch main, it looked lonely by itself on a plate it...hummm- might be okay with a salad... Anyway, quiche experiment #1 turned out to be difficult to get out of the cups and the baked on egg mixture devastated the pan.

I make the decision to soak the pan and sneak it in the pile when my husband does the dishes, next I reworked my creative quiche idea. Take #2 needed something thinner then the ham and I wanted to make them smaller. Looking for a new base, I found a package of salami in the fridge. The Genoa was about 31/2 inches and thinly sliced it fit nicely in a mini muffin pan and held a one to two bite portion of quiche filling. Yea! I wrote the recipe down for the little ones, then considered packing up the season.

Today I decided, quiche #2 is a candidate for the book, I am going to miss the house decorated for Christmas and as for quiche #1, I won't miss cleaning the pan.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Thai Pork Patties or Oh, What Have I Done?

The challenge of writing a cookbook this year, was off to a pretty sad start.  I had this idea for a little pork patty with a red curry coconut sauce. Mostly because I love "Thai Red Curry Pork" as an entree but thought I could make a great one bite version. My idea was to repeat the ingredients in the dish but substitute ground pork to make it more like an appetizer. Though I could taste it in my head, it is not what my first attempt actually turned out like.

The basil didn't offer any taste. I thought the fish sauce would lend enough salt, and the patty disintegrated when it hit the pan. The coconut sauce was too thin, and too hot. Basically my red curry pork patty was a bland bomb.

I started over, and added an egg to bind, switched to cilantro, water chestnuts for crunch and added salt. I gave the sauce more volume by reducing the sauce longer. Chilling the patties helped keep them together while cooking, in fact cooking from a frozen state worked the best.  Lime saved the day giving it the flavor tang it needed.

I felt hopeful when tasters Zayne and his friend Jack approved. I guess feeding my son a diet of spicy food built up his resistance to the heat in the sauce. His friend Jack stopped at one citing the heat and needing a quick drink and Zayne finished the platter.

Maybe I will add it to the book, too soon to tell. Maybe the patties need a better name, (weird that I worry about those things) but wow, if Thai Pork Patties are in, gee, that's only 364 recipes to go!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Cooking Up A Book

My husband Richard and I are cooking up a cookbook, sigh, because there isn't already a trillion cookbooks. I think, this was originaly one of my crazy dreams but Richard, has accepted the task of focusing my ideas and directing the project, he is good at that.  I spend a lot of time being undecided, starring into space waiting for bolts of inspiration to strike me, I am good at that.

This last year, Richard diligently organized any information that would be good in a book, plotting chapters and pages.  I made, revised, and took pictures of known favorites. Zayne, my brutal food critic/son, critiqued food and photographed, mercilessly.

Our "team" ate the results of recipes great, good and not so good, while I racked my brain what our book should be "about". Obviously food, but what about it?...While a firm idea has pretty much eluded me, I am now sure it will at least include... food. Seriously, with recipes, stories and photos from more then twenty five years of catering, what,where, and how to start is more then a question.

In the last hours of 2009, Richard pointed out I need to set goals, (he is also good at stating the obvious and being right). To move the cookbook it out of ambiguity into reality, I need some goals.

So here we are January 1, 2010. My goal is to write a cookbook. On January 1, 2011, My dream is to write that it is done. The average cookbook has 300-400 recipes and is 120-160 pages long. That would be a recipe a day. Okay...Let's go for it!
I will report weekly on my progress, hopefully the accounting will spur me on. I plan to share on my blog my challenges and welcome any advice, support and "kicks in the pants" any one want's to deliver.
Wish me luck!