Ryan Cooks

Burning water, and under-baking cakes with the worst of them!

2012-02-19 Update

So my wife, J, and I recently moved. So we were blessed with the option of picking out our own stove and oven. The kitchen was already set up for a gas range, so we decided to stick with gas. Both of us had used gas in previous residences, but not in a long time. So we made the leap. And we’ve been loving it ever since. Electric is easy, but gas seems so much faster. Maybe it’s just that we finally have a nice quality range to cook with, but we’re both pleased with the new range. Here it is, in all its glory (bad picture, and all)
The double oven is nice, since we’re now able to cook two pizzas at once, both at different temperatures. We don’t cook large items like the Thanksgiving Turkey, so no reason to have one huge oven like most homes in our area. The smaller top oven also heats up much faster than a normal size oven, which makes it great for baking cookies or bread in a quick manor.

Below is an example of some pita bread I made this week. It was pretty simple, and a success with both J, and my coworkers. I’ll probably post the receipe this week..

And the below picture is a great example of what could have been awesome hamburger buns, except I was lazy and decided to just make one large piece of bread out of it. So instead of 8 hamburger buns I had one huge mess that wouldn’t fit in a large ziplock bag. So I had to break it into three pieces in order to transport it to work, so my hapless coworkers would help me devour it throughout the day. Thus keeping my wife J and I on track for our diets. Baking and diets do not mix.


And this, is a picture of one of the THREE!!! baking cookbooks I bought last week. J forced me (at gun point no less) to go to Barnes and Nobles. So I went. And I came home with $80 worth of books. King Arther makes great flower and they wrote a great book. I would highly recomend this book to the aspiring baker. Both the pita bread and hamburger bun receipes came from this book.

This week promises bannana bread, with plenty for freezing, and plenty for coworkers.  This weekend may bring preperations for gardening at the new home… more on that later.  And for now, that is that.  Happy baking.


Long time no bake

Well, J and I are moved into our first house! The previous tenants gutted the kitchen, so we were forced to pick out appliances that fit us (oh darn!).

Last night I baked bread. I’ve been thinking about cooking and baking a lot lately. More posts with pictures coming soon.

2011-11-20 update

Lately I’ve been doing very little cooking.  Life has gotten in the way, and I’m happy for the changes, I’m also missing my cooking time.  So.. on to the cooking, since that is this blog’s focus and all.

Last week my wife was shocked to find out that I had never hard boiled eggs, and she was kind enough to walk me through the steps (aka, she let me do all the work).  We boiled 7 eggs, 2 of which cracked a little and let loose this really neat looking string of egg.  2 of the 7 went into my tuna salad for lunches, and my wife turned the others into egg salad for her lunches.  I’m glad to say that I can now boil an egg.

At work we had a Thanksgiving feast last Thursday.  I signed up to bring green bean casserole, and at the time I was the only one signed up for it.  I made it French’s style, and added just a bit of black pepper and garlic powder for depth.  When I dropped off my dish I saw that two other people had brought green bean casserole.  By the time it was over almost none of mine was eaten.  Makes me mad that I bothered to sign up and bring food, and then I wasted my money.  The ingredients for a double batch of French’s cost me about $6, which isn’t big money, but it just got thrown away.  Literally.

For Thanksgiving at my parent’s house I’m making sweet cornbread.  I have never really enjoyed the dry non-sweet cornbread like most restaurants serve (think Folks or Cracker Barrel).  So I add white sugar to mine (and sometimes a little brown sugar, which gives it a richer flavor), which makes it ultra-yummy.  I tend to use white and yellow corn meal along with traditional AP flour.  I might document the process this time and post some pictures.. hmm..

I have also been reading a lot about Bento boxes, which is interesting, but I’m not decided if it is a fad or not(*).  The basic idea behind the bento box is to eat a normal portion size every day that includes vegetables, protein, and carbs in a specific amount.  To quote Biggie from Lunch in a Box, “3 parts grain dishes, 1 part protein dishes, 2 parts vegetable dishes; without candy, junk food, or fatty food; and without empty space.”  A male of my height and activity level should eat about 800 milliliters (~ 3.4 cups) of food per meal.  1.7 cups of grains, 0.5 cups protein, and 1.2 cups vegetables.  I normally eat close to that amount, except that I tend to eat fruits and not vegetables.  Because they’re sugary.  D’oh, I fail bento 😦

(*) – I’m allowed my own opinion.  I understand that the ‘bento’ concept has been around for at least a few hundred years in its current form.  I don’t believe that the bento box/meal of the 1600’s is similar at all to the bento box of 2011, which is why I question if it is a fad in its current form.  [deleted additional needless editorializing]

Homemade pizza (again)

I made homemade pizza again this week.  The dough turned out so much better than last time.  The dough this time was just about perfect.  The only thing I could have improved upon was giving the second rise of the dough more time… assuming I wanted thick pizza crust, which I didn’t.

2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp instant dried yeast
3/4 cups tap water

Notice that I didn’t use salt or any dried herbs?  Yeah, it would have made for a richer dough flavor, but since I knew I was going to let the dough rise for around 10 hours in the refrigerator, I knew that the dried herbs would impart too much flavor.  I also skipped the salt since the pasta sauce has plenty — no pizza sauce for us, it never seems to go on sale.

So before I went to work I made the dough, covered it in foil, and put it in the fridge.  After I got home from work around 10 hours later I took it out of the fridge, punched it down, created two small balls of dough, added a little more flour (maybe 1/4 cup), let it rest for 10 minutes, and then rolled it out into random non-circular pizza shapes (yes, really, with a rolling pin, I’m not a pizza tosser).  I punctured the dough to let the air escape during cooking, and then put it into a 450 degree oven.  I like thin crispy crust pizza, so I overcooked it a bit, then pulled it out to cool.  After it was cool it was sauced, topped, and cheesed (in that order) and put back in the oven for another 5 to 7 minutes.  Then pulled out, cooled for a minute, cut, and eaten.

This time I also cleaned some mushrooms, put them on a silicon baking mat, and then put them in the oven at around 350 degrees, so they would dry out some.  Later I used them as pizza topping and since some of the moister was gone it helped keep the pizza from being too watery.  I’ll use this method in the future as it turned out great.

Keep making, and eating, great food everyone!

Variations on a Theme part 2

My wife was heading up a baby shower this weekend, and she went to Costco to buy a few supplies.  One of the things she bought was a port wine cheese ball, and the other was a cheddar cheese ball.  I know that when I go to a party, I rarely touch the cheese ball, because I generally don’t like cream cheese.  Here in the Southern US almost all cheese balls at parties are made with cream cheese, which is just a pity.  Of all the ‘cheese’ options available, ‘cream’ is not real cheese, nor is it any good at being a faux cheese.  The two cheese balls from Costco contained cheddar cheese, a very small bit of filler, and that was about it.  You could tell it was almost pure cheddar from the taste, which was great.  Naturally I googled for recipes for cheese balls to see how the internet as a whole viewed at-home cheese balls.

Cream Cheese cheese ball

Cream Cheese cheese ball

Google pointed me to allrecipes.com as the first hit.  The cheese ball recipe of the day is 8oz cream cheese and 3 cups of various cheeses.  Now that isn’t too bad, but it isn’t my perfect dream cheese ball.  Of the top 5 most popular cheese balls only one used any cheese other than cream cheese, and it only asked for 1 cup shredded cheese.  What a waste, as these faux cheese balls don’t even contain any cheese!

I dream of a world where cheese balls are made of gouda.  Or swiss.  Sharp cheddar slightly warmed so you can easily attack it with a cracker.  Give me a nice provolone ball.  I would even respect a goat cheese ball, though I wouldn’t eat any (tip: goat cheese is an acquired taste. Most American’s don’t eat goat cheese on a regular basis).

So to cheese balls, I say this: We need more variations.  Cream cheese, plus worcestershire does not a cheese ball make.


Betty Crocker & Krusteaz mixes

I made Betty Crocker Chocolate Chip Cookies and Krusteaz Cranberry and Orange Muffin Mix.  Pre-packaged boxed baked goods are never my first choice, but both of these were on sale in the last 3 months, and I bought some to keep just in case I ever needed to make something quickly.

The chocolate chip cookie mix was a little gritty out of the box, but very easy to make.  If I had it to do over I would have substituted vegetable oil for half the butter.  Overall the cookies are okay, but certainly not great.  They would have benefited from a little liquid vanilla as opposed to the dehydrated vanilla flavoring inside the mix.  The dough itself was also very dark, probably from food coloring, and didn’t quite look right according to what I know from making tons of batches of sugar cookies.

With the muffin mix I decided to not drain the cranberries, and instead I just subtracted about 2 tbsp water, and mixed it all together.  The muffins are very moist for being fat free, and overall I’m pretty happy with them.  They could have easily doubled or tripled the cranberries, but otherwise it was yummy.  I’m quite happy with this brand and since I also have two other mixes in the pantry I’m certain I’ll be making these again.

Overall I’m still not enthusiastic about making most boxed baked goods.

Red & Green Chimichurri

This week I made both red chimichurri and green chimichurri.

Green Chimichurri Chicken

Green Chimichurri Chicken

The chicken turned out pretty good.  The key to the green chimichurri was to add the lemon juice after the chicken finished cooking.  I left both chimichurris to marinate for around 2 hours.

Green Chimichurri:
1 bunch parsley
5 tsp chopped garlic
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp diced red onion (skipped, because we don’t eat onion much)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 lemon juiced (set aside for later)

Puree the parsley, add the rest of the ingredients, and mix well.  Save the lemon juice for a finishing touch after the thicken is cooked.  Fresh parsley is a must and smells awesome in the kitchen.  Even with buying red wine vinegar and fresh parsley this sauce cost me less than $3 to make (and I could make it again for $1 or so).

Red Chimichurri Chicken

Red Chimichurri Chicken

Red Chimichurri:
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 & 1/2 tbsp paprika
2 tsp cayenne pepper
4 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp salt

The red chimichurri tasted great, but my wife and I both thought it could have been a bit hotter.  I only used 1 tbsp paprika, so I increased it to 1 & 1/2 tbsp in the recipe above.

Some nice Spanish rice would have gone well with this.  I normally just make Spanish rice on a whim, so I don’t really have a set in stone recipe.. but something like the below is what I would use:

Spanish Rice:
white or brown instant rice (uncooked)
olive oil
tomato paste
fresh garlic (or powdered garlic)

Warm olive oil and rice.  Rice will absorb the oil fairly easily and the goal is to slightly cook the rice without burning it (brown it a little).  Then add water to cook rice.  Then add tomato paste and fresh garlic to taste.  Top with a little cheese if you want.

Green and Red Chimichurri Chicken

Green and Red Chimichurri Chicken

Happy cooking!

Blog Roundup / Link Dump

Whoopee Milkshake
Grunt – Similar to beef stroganoff
On the topic of Salt







Homemade bread

Fresh Bread

Fresh Bread

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 to 1 tsp salt
1 tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup water

Add dry ingredients, mix, add wet ingredients, mix.  Cover and set aside for 2 1/2 hours.  Then mix in 1/2 cup unbleached AP flour.  Let rest for another 1/2 hour.  Warm oven to 350 degrees.  Place in oven for around 20 minutes, and you’re done.  Let the bread rest on the counter for at least an hour before you cut it (this is the most difficult step!)

I didn’t use a timer so I don’t have an exact time in the oven.  Use your brain, and if the bread has a slightly brown top then it’s probably finished.

If you don’t own a good bread knife then I would suggest buying one.  A quality bread knife makes a HUGE difference when trying to slice a loaf of bread thin.  Squished bread is a thing of the past in my house.

Homemade Pizza

Tonight was homemade pizza night.

Dough recipe (per 8″ pizza):
1 cup unbleached four
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp  basil
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp yeast
and enough water to make a ball of dough that isn’t sticky (aka, I didn’t measure)

I only let it rest for around 10 minutes before rolling it out with a rolling pin and then baking it on a silicone mat.  I know this isn’t long enough for the dough to rise, but time was short tonight.  Oh, I also had a chance to my dough roller docker (dumbest name ever, but an awesome tool for making flat pizza).  The dough roller docker just pierces the pizza dough after you roll it out, so that when the pizza cooks the yeast’s carbon dioxide is released and doesn’t cause the dough to rise.  I baked it at 450 degrees for around 8 minutes and the pizza crust came out quite nice.

Spaghetti sauce, sliced cheese (torn to pieces), shredded cheese, sliced mushrooms, and pieces of red and green peppers finished out my pizza.  The pizza went back into the oven for another 6 or 7 minutes and came out perfect.

Now I’m wishing I had pictures.  But I do have the lifetime memories of making (and EATING!) homemade pizza to look back on.  Happy cooking (and baking)!