Day 2: getting in touch with my alter egos in the kitchen
Raw meat freaks me out.
Ever since I really started cooking, this has always been a slight problem for me. I have a hard time with meat in general, cooked or not, because I get grossed out by it very easily. I could be eating a piece of chicken, a tri-tip steak, or even a burrito with shredded meat in it, and inevitably there is that bite with the unexpected crunch of gristle, or the slimy sensation of fat, or the rubbery stubborness of some kind of tendon or ligament (read: any part of the meat that you don’t normally ingest). When that happens, it’s all over with me. My enjoyment is gone. My appetite is gone. I’m done.
Raw meat takes this a step further for me.
It looks gross. It’s slimy. There are meat juices that get everywhere. And it’s hazardous. As far as I’m concerned, the stuff is just swarming with bacteria waiting to infect everything and, unless you take extreme disinfecting precautions when working with raw meat, it’s probably going to kill you.
I still remember my first time cooking chicken in the dorms when I was in school. Our Resident Dean’s young children came into the kitchen while I was working and I was terrified that they would touch one of the meat-infected surfaces before I could clean it, and then they would contract salmonella, and it would be ALL MY FAULT.
Spoiler alert: nothing bad happened.
My over-active imagination is like a reverse super-power sometimes.
That being said, when I pulled the two packages of baby back ribs out of the fridge on Friday morning, I was definitely intimidated. That is a LOT of raw meat to be working with for someone as neurotic about it as I am.
But that didn’t stop me. I hate handling raw meat but even more than that, I hate not being able to do something because I’m afraid. I wanted to make these slow cooker barbecue ribs and, so help me, a few shanks of uncooked meat were not going to stop me from doing what I wanted.
I may be Over-Active Imagination Woman a lot of the time, but I am also Rise-To-The-Occasion Woman when push comes to shove.
I got that meat seasoned, browned, and into the crock pot with its marinade. I also deep cleaned the counter, a section of the kitchen floor, and part of our trash can.
The icky part was over and now I could just enjoy the satisfying smell of BBQ ribs marinating in the slow cooker for the next 8 hours.
I was really excited about the marinade ingredients.
8 hours later: I think crock pots are wonderful. The idea that I can throw something in there in the morning, let it simmer all day, and then come home to a house filled with delicious aromas, and meat cooked to perfection and falling off the bone because it it so tender… Genius.
Back to Friday morning… A curious thing had happened: I was starting to cook compulsively. After I finished getting the meat into the crock pot, I made breakfast. On any morning when I don’t have to go into work, it’s almost guaranteed that I will make eggs. I love a hot breakfast and eggs are the quickest means to achieving that end. Usually I fry my eggs because I’m lazy and, of the egg options available to me, frying is definitely the fastest. But when I’m feeling more creative and still want something quick, I like to scramble my eggs. It’s practically impossible for me to scramble eggs without dressing them up. The picture above shows my scrambled egg concoction pre-scrambled. Two eggs, a splash of milk, a few dashes of oregano, a pinch of seasoned salt, and some leftover sharp white cheddar cheese from last night’s sweet potato hash.
The recipes for Friday were such that I did not have to spend my entire day holding down the fort in the kitchen and was instead able to go out with my sister and brother-in-law to some local community gardens. It was one of those perfect unplanned summer afternoon things. The roses were wilting a bit, most likely because it’s been crazy hot the past few weeks, but it was still lovely. And it didn’t matter so much about the condition of the roses, because I was walking the maze of the garden with my sister and, without getting all Hallmark card about it, the fun was really just in being together.
Then we went home and it was back to the kitchen for me, to make the side dish for the ribs: sweet potato parmesan tater tots
Let it be known: I have a weakness for sweet potato fries that is nearly on par with my cake batter/cookie dough obsession. My college cafeteria also served (and probably still serves) tater tots as a breakfast item every day. I had a love-hate relationship with those tots. On the one hand, they tasted so good! On the other hand, they made me feel so gross! When I came across this recipe for sweet potato tater tots, I thought that perhaps I had found a way to achieve tot-al bliss. (Ha….That’s supposed to be a pun.)
A shot from inside the oven (this is my version of getting artsy).
If I may say, I thought these were delicious. The sweet potato chip coating added just the right amount of crunch, while the insides were still soft. The parmesan cheese balanced out the sweetness of the potato. Visually (and perhaps flavorfully too, although I’m not really an expert when it comes to pairing flavors) they were a lovely complement to the BBQ ribs.
After dinner it was time for one of the projects I had been looking forward to the most: the infamous gain-a-pound-just-by-looking-at-them cookie dough stuffed-cupcakes!!!
The ironic thing about these cupcakes is that, of all the items I had made so far over the weekend, these were the least “from scratch.” The cupcakes themselves were made from a cake mix. But the (egg-free) cookie dough filling was made from scratch. And the chocolate frosting was made from scratch. And the assembly process was labor-intensive – cutting out the cupcake centers, piping on the frosting, etc – so it still felt like a project.
And the results were incredible.
A shot of the cookie dough filling. This was right up my alley because it did not use eggs. As I have (several times) mentioned, I adore cookie dough. But uncooked eggs dabble dangerously close to raw meat territory, and we already know that I’m afraid of salmonella. This was the perfect concoction to enjoy my cookie dough without worrying about food poisoning.
I used a melon ball scooper to shape the holes, and a steak knife to cut out the centers (the serrated knife edge made all the difference).
I refused to be skimpy with the cookie dough. I’d rather err on the side of over-stuffing, because no one wants an under-stuffed cupcake! That’s like a cupcake that has only a little dollop of frosting in the center so that it looks “pretty” as opposed to “indulgent.” Holding out on the frosting (or filling) is like a cardinal baking sin, in my opinion.
When it came down to frosting the cupcakes, I got to try a new technique. The recipe suggested putting the frosting into a plastic storage bag and snipping off a corner, and then squeezing the frosting onto the cupcakes that way. IT WAS SUPER FUN. I felt like a legit cupcake decorator. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not under any delusions of grandeur about my frosting abilities, but it was just fun in a very tactile, hands-on way.
The entire time I was working on the cupcakes, the rest of my family was also in the kitchen playing a game of “Munchkin.” If you’ve never heard of this game, I don’t really know how to describe it to you other than it’s absolutely ridiculous and hilarious and very tongue-in-cheek. And there is nothing like having your back to your family while you’re frosting cupcakes and hearing things like:
“I’m going to kick down the door.”
“I’m going to fight and defeat this level 1 mall rat in 3… 2… 1.”
“Now I’m going to loot the room.”
My mom let me photograph her half-eaten cupcake: apparently I’m all about cross-sections.
We finished off the night with cupcakes, “Sabrina,” and Mom’s famous mojitos. A word about her mojitos: they are the best. I think what makes them so good is the home-made element: she grows her own mint and makes her simple syrup from scratch each time. So, not only are they home-made, but the ingredients are fresh. The mojito has really become her signature drink and we always encourage her to double the recipe when she makes them.
I’m realizing as I finish this up that I forgot to share my thoughts about washing dishes! I know you are just on edge waiting to hear about this riveting topic, so I promise I’ll work it into the next post.