Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Perfect Popcorn: Pepper and Parmesan Variation

Tonight, we tried the Perfect Popcorn recipe (pg. 15). There are several variations, and we decided to start with Pepper and Parmesan.

For starters, let's talk Perfect Popcorn
Rating: 5 stars
What we liked: Even though this is a stove top recipe, it was super easy and fast! We will definitely use this recipe again. Bonus points: no chemicals like in microwave popcorn, and, it's a lot less expensive to buy popping kernels.
What we didn't like: Mike is very skeptical that it would be as easy to use a dutch oven for this recipe, even though that's what is recommended.
What I learned: How easy it is to pop popcorn! I have literally seen my dad make popcorn this way one time ever. I knew it was a thing, but I had no idea it was an easy thing!

Next up, Pepper and Parmesan variation:
Rating: 3 stars
What we liked: The flavor is light. It's a good choice for people who don't like the strong flavor of, say, movie theater popcorn.
What we didn't like: For me, the flavor was too light. And we added too much salt. Also, our cheese didn't melt and ended up just hanging out at the bottom of the bowl. This, of course, might explain why there wasn't much flavor.
For next time... I think this variation might still be a winner; it's at least worth one more shot. Next time, we'll definitely use less salt. We will also splurge for a block of Parmesan so we have very fresh, finely, finely grated cheese that will hopefully melt better.

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Cooking Challenge

Today I've begun a journey. I have set a goal to cook my way through The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook. My goals in doing this are to:

  • Add some new recipes to our menu. We make some good food, but sometimes it feels like we get stuck in a food rut.
  • Learn some practical/technical cooking skills.
  • Encourage myself to try foods that I normally wouldn't. I've always been a picky eater, and I'd like to try to change that.
I chose the ATKQ cookbook for several reasons. Firstly, quick is good for me. The hardest thing about cooking for me is staying focused and being patient. Hopefully quick recipes will keep me from getting too distracted.  Secondly, like all of the America's Test Kitchen cookbooks, this cookbook includes a lot of instruction and explanation. It tells you how to do something as well as why to do it. So, I feel like this cookbook will (generally) provide explanations for techniques or ingredients that I'm unfamiliar with.

Today, Mike and I cooked up Lemony Chicken and Rice Soup (pg. 35). This recipe didn't appeal to me at first glance, but the final product was amazing!

Rating: 4 stars (we liked it a lot!)

What we liked: We liked how pretty the soup turned out to be! The picture doesn't really do it justice, but the last step of the recipe is to add an egg yolk/lemon juice mixture. It made the soup this lovely sunshine yellow. It also gave the soup a very smooth, velvety texture. According to the cookbook, this recipe is "loosely based on the Greek classic avgolemono," so that's fun.

What I learned: To start with, I had never cooked with a fennel bulb, which this recipe required. In fact, we had no idea what it looked like when we went to the grocery store. But, now we know, and it was a tasty element to the soup.

The other thing I learned is how to temper eggs. As I mentioned, you add an egg mixture to the soup in the final stages. If you were to add the eggs directly to the soup, they would just scramble. So, before you add the mixture to the soup... you add soup to the mixture! By adding a few tablespoons of broth, you adjust the temperature of the eggs so that they make the soup smooth and delicious!

So far, this has been a very productive experiment! It may be a little dorky, but I felt a genuine sense of accomplishment as we sat down to eat. I'm excited for the next recipe! My goal is to do a new recipe once a week.

Monday, March 9, 2015

En Francais, S'il Vous Plait

Recently, I decided to dust off my French and try to level up my fluency. Mike suggested that I put my study into practice by reading an accessible book. A lot of consideration went into my choice, and I finally landed on this:
I chose to read the French translation of To Kill a Mockingbird because it's a text that I'm super familiar with. I've read it at least ten times because of teaching it so many times and because I love it. In the future, I'd like to do more with French literature, but for now my focus is simply putting the language in a context that helps me gain confidence.

My copy of the book arrived (shipping from England, oddly), and here's what I've gathered.

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird is just so incredibly good. I am so excited to read it again. I have always enjoyed the book, but now I have a stockpile of memories of sharing this book with students. This book changes lives, and I'm so grateful I've gotten to witness that so many times.
  2. Initially, I thought that I would have a lot of remembering to do, and that with time it would be a relatively easy read. That's not really the case. There's a lot of unfamiliar vocabulary and structure, so I'm spending a lot of time with a dictionary. However, I do feel like things are getting easier as I go.
  3. I have so much to learn! My goal is to internalize the language a little bit better. I hope that will help me to be a more fluent speaker. And then, of course, I hope to have some authentic communication opportunities, like when I finally get to go on my dream vacation to Europe!
  4. It's exciting to learn! So often, the "to do lists" of life get in the way of making time for learning. It feels wonderful to be stretching and expanding my capabilities.