Friday, March 22, 2013

Live Long and Eat Cookies

I grew up watching Star Trek. In fact, I can't remember a time when I didn't watch the show in some form (blame my father: he's the engineer that introduced me to Asimov while I was still in elementary school). First it was TOS with Kirk, Spock, and crew, and then TNG, followed by DS9 and Voyager - and then nothing, because by the time Enterprise rolled around I couldn't handle suffering through another bad series. (I gave up on Enterprise after watching the pilot. And the pandering of the "decontamination" scene where two characters rubbed each other with gel. In soft focus. With close-ups of hands and half-clothed body parts.)

All this to say, I was thrilled when I stumbled across these adorable Star Trek cookies from Bakingdom. (Visit her for instructions and more cute photos.) They're absolutely perfect. I especially love the happy look on Uhura's face.

On a related note, some of you may know that I also co-host a Star Trek podcast, Podcast on the Edge of Forever. We just posted a new episode. Paul Brooks and I (with our guest Matt Porubcansky) discuss sexism and progress in the Original Series, talk briefly about the forthcoming Star Trek Into Darkness, and end with a Very Serious Debate: Which Enterprise is your favorite and why? It's good, nerdy fun.

Friday, February 15, 2013

50 Unusual Foods You Should Try

I have personally eaten everything on this list. While I won't guarantee that you'll love them all, they're each worth trying for the experience. And no, I didn't include insects or arachnids on the list (even I won't touch them).
Chicken Feet
Chicken feet. Photo by avlxyz.

I'm going to guess that most people won't even get 25. What's your score?
  1. Abalone
  2. Alligator
  3. Beef Tripe
  4. Bird's Nest Soup
  5. Bitter Melon
  6. Blood Sausage
  7. Calamari
  8. Calf's Head (TĂȘte de Veau)
  9. Caviar
  10. Chicken Feet
  11. Chin Chow (Grass Jelly)
  12. Dragon Fruit
  13. Duck Feet
  14. Durian
  15. Eel
  16. Fish Head Curry
  17. Fish Maw (Air Bladder)
  18. Foie Gras
  19. Frog Legs
  20. Goat
  21. Goose
  22. Haggis
  23. Jellyfish
  24. Laksa
  25. Longan
  26. Lychee
  27. Mangosteen
  28. Mutton
  29. Octopus
  30. Oxtail
  31. Pandan Cake
  32. Pig Ear
  33. Pig Trotters
  34. Prawn Heads
  35. Quail
  36. Quail Eggs
  37. Rabbit
  38. Rambutan
  39. Sea Cucumber
  40. Seaweed
  41. Shark
  42. Skate
  43. Snails (Escargot)
  44. Spam
  45. Sweetbreads (Pancreas and Thymus)
  46. Turduken
  47. Turtle
  48. Uni
  49. Venison
  50. Winter Melon

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

Geek Valentine's Day Cookies: Star Trek


And what better way to show your love than Star Trek cookies? With my favorite cast, no less. Mike at Semi Sweet has full instructions for these amazing creations on his blog. Aren't they fantastic?

Geek Valentine's Day Cookies: Star Trek

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Room Made of Cotton Candy

Room Made of Cotton Candy

Ever wonder how many cones of cotton candy it would take to build one room? The answer: 1800. Artist Jennifer Rubell created an installation featuring an 8'x16' freestanding room completely padded with pink cotton candy: "Padded Cell acts as... an all-American funhouse that is at the same time confining, threatening, claustrophobic. It is an object that addresses the dark side of pleasure, the price of pleasure, the possibility that pleasure is its own punishment."

Perhaps. But I have to say, I think it's just plain awesome. And possibly delicious.*

Room Made of Cotton Candy

* Horrible sugar toothaches not withstanding.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Firecakes: A New Doughnut Shop

Firecakes: Donuts in Chicago

Firecakes. I kept walking past the words painted on a glass storefront window, and I liked the design - it was friendly, cute, a little modern, a little retro. Intriguing. Eventually I saw a flurry of activity: bakers, cleaners, various workers. Then one morning, word went around the office I was working in for the week: Free doughnuts!

In truth, I'm not a doughnut person. So I reacted accordingly - I stayed at my desk while half the office cleared out. Then, as people trickled back in, I heard the magic words: Valrhona chocolate doughnuts. Wait, what? A colleague showed me photos on her smartphone - and they looked good. And confirmed that yes, Valrhona chocolate doughnuts were available. Within minutes I was inside Firecakes for a pre-opening preview of gourmet treats in flavors like butterscotch praline, coconut cream, apple fritter, and triple Valrhona chocolate cake.

I was not disappointed. The doughnut, crafted in small batches from a family recipe, was delicious - crisp on the outside, warm and soft on the inside. The glaze wasn't cloying, as is so often the case. Quality. The friendly staff also gave me a latte (La Colombe beans - can't argue with that) that paired perfectly with my pastry.

Now that Firecakes is officially open, you, too can experience one of the better doughnuts you'll find in Chicago. If you're already a fan of fried dough to begin with (and I know most of you are!), you may need to visit on a regular basis.

Firecakes
68 W. Hubbard St.
Chicago, IL 60654
312.329.6500

Monday, February 11, 2013

Amish Friendship Bread Myths

Amish Friendship Bread

In a previous post, I laid out the standard Amish Friendship Bread recipe with a substitution for instant pudding (since adding artificial ingredients to home-cooked food seems to miss the point). But most recipes also come with a list of stipulations that make the starter seem like a mysterious relic from an ancient civilization. Of course, it's not. I've been making bread, waffles, pancakes, cakes, and other goodies with my starter for over a year, and here are a few myths I've debunked:

Myth #1: No one knows what's in Amish Friendship Bread starter. It's an Amish secret.


This is just silly. There's a recipe here for those of you that haven't received starter from a friend - it's quite simple, really, just sugar, yeast, milk, water, milk, and flour. No magic involved!

Myth #2: Never mix your starter in a metal bowl or with a metal spoon.


Most of the kitchen metals that we use now are coated with a protective finish, and your starter never touches them for long anyway. Metal bowls and spoons are totally fine and won't hurt your bread.

Myth #3: Never put your starter in the fridge. Or the freezer.


Your starter will survive just fine in both places. I usually leave mine on the counter at room temperature, but putting it in the fridge won't kill it. The starter is actually fairly hardy - it's fine unless it starts to turn pink or fails to bubble. In fact, if you get tired of dealing with it, you can put the starter in your freezer for months and just thaw it at room temperature when you feel like baking again. Just don't forget to feed it once it's thawed.

Myth #4: You have to mush your bag of starter every day, feed your starter every five days, and give cups of extra starter away every 10 days.


Remember what I said about the starter being quite hardy? You don't have to be chained to the 10-day cycle that came with your recipe, and you don't have to find an ever-increasing pool of friends to burden with starter. More on this later!

So there you have it: the myths of Amish Friendship Bread. Have any other myths? Add them in the comments!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Recipe: All-Natural Amish Friendship Bread

Amish Friendship Bread

A year ago, my friend Loni handed me a recipe and a plastic bag filled with batter. "It's Amish Friendship Bread," she said. "It's delicious."

Being the committed foodies we are, Loni and I avoid using artificial or packaged ingredients whenever possible. With the Amish Friendship Bread, this was a problem: the original recipe called for a box of instant pudding. Ever read the ingredient list for instant pudding? It's basically sugar, cornstarch, preservatives, and artificial flavors and colors. Ugh. She decided we could do better and replaced the pudding mix with dry milk powder, cornstarch, and more sugar. The result? A lovely, all-natural "bread" (I honestly think it's better categorized as coffee cake) with a moist interior and a crispy top. And yes, it's delicious.

In the course of the last year, I also ended up dispelling many of the myths about Amish Friendship Bread and figuring out how to take control of the starter. More on that in a later post! (Update: The post is up! Amish Friendship Bread Myths.)


All-Natural Amish Friendship Bread

Servings: 2 loaves
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 75 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Amish Friendship Bread Starter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
  • 3/4 cup cornstarch
For dusting loaf pans:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease two loaf pans.

Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Dust the greased pans with half of the sugar/cinnamon mixture.

Mix all remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Divide the batter into the loaf pans and sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture on top.

Bake for one hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.


Amish Friendship Bread