Stump the Pastry Chef

game of scones 3Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a French pastry cooking class with my mother in law and sisters in law. We baked madeleines, an apple tarte tatin, and some eclairs.

At the beginning of the class, the teacher invited us to come share our baking horror stories and, when I told her I’d managed to set some scones on fire, she pressed me for more details.

Now, bear in mind, this is a lady who has interned at bakeries in both France and England. She can whip up a batch of cream puffs in her sleep. She’s probably seen every baking error in the book, so I was confident that she’d know what I did wrong the fateful morning I conflagrated a batch of breakfast pastries.

I explained to her how I cut the butter into the lemon ricotta scones, how I then pressed them into a greased scone pan, and then put them into the oven only to run to said oven in horror when thick black smoke started pouring up to the ceiling. The smoke detector blaring, I opened the oven to see butter bubbling up out of the scone pan and onto the bottom of the oven, where it was burning on contact and stinking to high heaven.

Of course, this happened to be the moment the friends we’d invited over for breakfast arrived. The chaos, stench, and mess definitely spelled out a sincere welcome, trust me.

After I relayed this story, the pastry chef wiped her brow with the back of one hand and said, “I’ve never heard of that happening before.”

You see, in a scone recipe, cutting chunks of cold butter into the dough enables the butter to be a rising agent. As the butter melts, the steam pushes the dough up to create little pockets of luscious deliciousness. Only in mine, the butter just leaked out to ruin brunch.

I have to imagine blundering a recipe so bad a pastry chef can’t even figure out what you did is some kind of accomplishment. Like, maybe in the great video game of life I’ve unlocked a new level and my badge looks like an oven on fire?

Question is, is that considered leveling up or down?

Pie for Absolutely No Reason

Usually, we’re a two Thanksgiving dinner family. We host a big Thanksgiving dinner at our house for my side of the family, and then have dinner with Wes’s family on Thanksgiving day. We’ve always been quite fortunate that my family is not particular when it comes to which exact date we get together to feast. So long as I save my mom a turkey leg and my step dad brings sweet potato pie, we all get along just fine regardless of what day of the week it is.

This year, however, my mom and step dad are on an RV trip until next May so no pre-Thanksgiving feast for us this year. That means I have a curious excess of holiday energy prior to the big day. Normally, I’m so tired from grocery shopping, meal planning, house cleaning, cooking, baking, hosting, cleaning dishes, and cleaning the house again I have very little to put into Thanksgiving day proper. Not a big deal, usually, because my mother in law cooks most everything and I just have to show up and wash dishes. Easy peasy.

So here we are, the day before Thanksgiving 2014 and I’m not sick of my kitchen yet. So what do I do? Bake a pie from scratch for absolutely no reason at all. Pumpkin pie, in case you’re curious. Why for no reason? Well, my mother in law, the inarguable Queen of Perfect Pies, is baking a pumpkin pie for dessert tomorrow. My pie is GUARANTEED to be less delicious than hers, and yet? I felt like baking pie while I baked rolls today so I threw a pie together for no reason.

But then, because no Erika Tries to Cook story would be complete without some kind of failure, this happened:

The last ingredient, by the way? Was sour cream. The pie crust turned out okay in texture, I think, but was extra sticky and difficult to wrestle into the pie tin. And who knows how it’ll taste? But, you know, the pie looks like a pie and I’m sure it’ll taste like a pie. Maybe just a sort of Russian-y hybrid pie because of all the extra sour cream.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! Here’s wishing you hot food, sober relatives, and non-weird pie!

Inchoate Vegetable Sludge

Basically what I served my family for dinner, minus the sodium.

Basically what I served my family for dinner, minus the sodium.

I’ve blogged about my fantastical failures in the cooking arena before. I’m not shy about the fact that, if anyone’s going to find a way to detonate a head of broccoli, it’ll be me. And probably when I’ve got a whole bunch of people coming over, because that’s HANDS DOWN the absolute best time for everything in the kitchen to go spectacularly awry.

Those of you who have come over for a meal and had to help me turn off my smoke detector know what I’m talking about, here.

In the latest episode of the Epic Cooking Fails reality TV show that is my life, I give you…Pot roast. Or, rather, Trader’s Joe’s pot roast. Here’s the story:

I was at Trader Joe’s, shopping for dinner supplies for the week when I noticed some Cabernet Pot Roast. I thought that sounded yummy, so I tossed it into my cart and began wondering what I’d serve with it.

A container of fresh Asian stir fry vegetables caught my eye. I took a look and saw mushrooms, broccoli, and carrots, all cut up, and thought I might be able to add those to the pot roast and baby, I’d have a stew going.

So I get all these things home and, come Tuesday, decide it’s now or never for the pot roast because I’m having dinner with a friend and if I don’t make the food now, it’ll spoil. I remove the pot roast from its package, add the vegetables, and discover there’s, you know, Asian-y stuff in the vegetable mix. Like baby corn, bok choy, bell peppers, and a couple other things I can’t identify.

This comes as a total shock to me despite the fact that the container clearly says ASIAN Stir Fry Vegetables.

Because I am an awesome chef (and because I don’t really care, let’s be honest) I pick out the weirdest stuff and dump the rest into the Crock Pot along with the pot roast. I turn on the Crock Pot, plunk down the lid, and congratulate myself on making dinner for Wes and the kids even though I’ll be gone.

Come dinner time, I give the pot roast a stir and discover that the Asian vegetables have radiation sickness or something because they’ve dissolved into inchoate vegetable sludge, the proverbial ooze from which my overcooked pot roast had to climb.

Wes, peering over my shoulder at this tiny slice of primordial culinary swampland, cocks an eyebrow at me to which I can only reply, “You’re not supposed to eat those. I added them for flavor.”

Now, we both know this is BS. Pure and simple. But the key to a happy marriage is letting your spouse keep what dignity she has left by pretending she didn’t just mercilessly simmer hapless vegetables to death.

And with that, I skipped out the door to go eat pizza with a friend.

I hear from reliable sources that Wes served the pot roast with pancakes (?) to critical acclaim from the tiny humans, and that the carrots were at least somewhat salvageable.


Vacation Eating

There's no way I'm picking an apple for breakfast when these are just sitting on the counter in front of me. I mean, come on. What am I, a cyborg?

There’s no way I’m picking an apple for breakfast when these are just sitting on the counter in front of me. I mean, come on. What am I, a cyborg?

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume I am not the only one who falls so completely off the eating healthy wagon while on vacation that not only does the wagon hit her while it rumbles by, it backs up and promptly collapses on her, too.

What is it about vacation that brings out the competitive eating side of me? It’s like no sooner are we out the door than I’m like, “Hey Wes, you know what would be great? If we could find a bagel sandwich to tide us over until we can get our hands on some Frappuccinos and donuts!”

There’s just something about the relaxation, limited time window, and overabundance of junk food in my nearish proximity that converges into this perfect maelstrom of dietary apocalypse. I wouldn’t want to live like that forever (I like it when my pants fit), but man is it fun to not give a crap while you’re on vacation.

Then again, you have to deal with the post-vacation letdown when you get home. There’s just something dispiriting about sitting down with an afternoon snack of almonds and string cheese when you’ve spent the last week whiling away the afternoon with Hershey’s bars and hard apple cider. I don’t care who you are, getting back into healthy habits is kind of depressing. I mean, sure. Yeah. Vegetables are good, and I definitely like how I feel when I’m eating well, but in no way does chomping down on baby carrots compare with the irresponsible, negligent pleasure of eating Pringles and hot dogs for dinner.

For the record, though? My knee hurt worse on vacation than it has in months. My mouth was happy, but the rest of me? Pretty pissed.

Just goes to show you, no self-destructive deed goes unpunished.

Oh, on a related note: I’m feeling pretty repentant for my many and obvious dietary sins from last week, but can’t go to the gym this week because of Wes’s work hours, so I decided to do a ten-minute Pilates workout I streamed through Hulu. I ended up trying to do half the workout with my son glued to my side (because he wanted to do it too, but reeeeeeeally close to me) and my daughter darting under my upraised legs, squealing with mischievous glee every time I had to dodge kicking her in the head.

Sigh. Welcome back indeed.

I Had a Paleo Knee and Didn’t Even Know It

This is roughly the size of my sweet tooth in relation to the rest of me.

This is roughly the size of my sweet tooth in relation to the rest of me.

Those of you who have been reading for awhile already know this, but for the uninitiated (lucky?) ones, here’s everything you need to know about my knee: It sucks. It’s a lemon. If it were a car, it’d be a Ford because the acronym Fixed Or Repaired Daily applies perfectly.

Long story short, it has an irreparable meniscus tear and chronic inflammation. Doctors have tried a few things but, without resorting to extreme measures (meniscus transplant), are short on options for me.

I had synthetic joint injections a few months ago, which helped a bit, but in the intervening months I’ve begun noticing that the inflammation pain comes and goes. It feels best in the morning, when I wake up, and fine all day until I have…sugar. Oh crap.

It’s too early in the process to know exactly how much sugar and of what kind (because oh my gosh, did you know there are, like, ten different kinds of sugar in the world? And they all do different things to your body? Bizarre!) makes my knee flare up, but one thing I can tell you is I lost three pounds last week by cutting out refined sugar and my knee only twinged a couple times.

This is both good and bad news.

Good because, hooray! A solution that doesn’t involve cutting my knee open (again)!

Bad because, well, I have a Megalodon-sized sweet tooth. I love dessert. I love treats. I love mochas and scones for breakfast, lemonade with lunch, and chocolate truffles with Mai Tais for dessert. Chocolate? Love. Candy? Yes. Caramel? Absolutely. Cookies? Please.

Hi, my name is Erika and I’m a future diabetic.

If sugar is causing an inflammatory response in my knee (in addition to unholy joint pain oh my GOSH) then something pretty drastic needs to be done. We’re talking a lifestyle change, here. So far I’m leaning in more of a paleo direction as opposed to a low carb direction. I mistrust synthetic sweeteners and think it’s nifty how all those paleo people have managed to figure out desserts without, you know, any of the bad-for-you stuff I’d always attributed to dessert deliciousness.

We’ll see how it goes. I baked some low-carb brownies the other day with Truvia that were frigging DISGUSTING. Then I tried some paleo brownies made with honey and almond flour and they were pretty darn tasty.

This could be the start of something pretty cool. Or pretty gross. More likely a bit of both. Stay tuned.