Wednesday, October 29, 2014


After my old theater-style popcorn maker went kaput, I mourned for a while and then started the search for a smaller footprint popcorn maker. As it turned out the device was already in my kitchen... a wok!  I know I can make popcorn in a pot, but that involves so much shaking and (often) burning. With the wok, since only a small area in the lowest part of the pan is directly heated, it makes a great popcorn maker.  The heavier un-popped kernels stay near the heat source while the fluffy popped pieces spring away.  My wok is electric which makes it easy to dial-in the heat but you could do this with a regular wok on a small burner as well.

To make the Wok-Corn happen, I had to study how popcorn pops. A few facts:
  • Popcorn pops at about 350 degrees F (180 C)
  • Before it pops the inner starches, fats, and water need to make a gel. The gel is how popcorn becomes fluffy.
  • Once it reaches 135 psi the hull breaches.  By then, if you have a hull filled with a soft gel, the explosion will create a fluffy foam out of the gelatinous starches and proteins.

Wok-Corn Recipe:
  1. Heat 1/2 cup high quality kernels in 2 tablespoons ghee (or oil) at about 200 degrees in a tightly lidded wok. The ghee gives the popcorn a buttery flavor but does not burn the way butter would. I get my corn from Tietz Farms. The key here is fresh corn with good moisture content.
  2. Steam the kernels in wok with the lid closed for 2-3 minutes.  Give it a shake once or twice. Do not let it pop yet- the gel is forming.  
  3. After the steaming process, turn the heat up to 350 degrees F. The kernels will pop very fast. Once you count a 2 second gap between pops, pour immediately into a large bowl.
  4. Sprinkle with your favorite very fine salt. I like flavored salts.  My friend, Laura, sent me some of this from my old home in Boulder, Colorado and it is my go-to wok-corn topping

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Great French Press Coffee

Great coffee does not have to cost a fortune.  As much as I want a Nespresso, or, heck, an Italian espresso machine that costs as much as a car and a live-in barista to run the thing, in the end we do the French Press thing here.

While the French Press is widely lauded as a simple and inexpensive way of making superb coffee at home, often the coffee we make tastes bitter or just does not have the kick of, say, a small cup of Starbucks brewed coffee.  I find myself venturing outside the home when I really want to get pepped up.

The set up.

Today I resolved to stop cheating on my French Press, so I set out searching the web for the best French Press methods.  Here is what I learned:

1.) Use good beans- duh.  I bought the Pike Place whole beans from Starbucks for this project. They are similar in price to the Peets' Major Dickinson beans we previously used but give me the peace of mind that I am really replicating that jittery Starbucks brew I love so much.  Go to Caffeine Informer to find out how much pep is in your bean.  You can even find out what is a lethal dose of your favorite caffeinated beverage.  It turns out that 65 cups of brewed coffee would kill me.

2.) Grind with a burr grinder.  The grind should look like breadcrumbs.  If your coffee tastes over-extracted, grind coarser.  If your coffee is weak, grind finer.  If your coffee tastes good, mark that grind level on your burr grinder.  Lock it in and rip the knob off.

3.) Fill your French Press with hot tap water and plunge it while your filtered water boils in the kettle.  Before adding the grounds pour out the hot water.  This not only cleans out yesterday's coffee flavor, but heats all of the parts of your French Press.

4.) Put 1 tablespoon of grounds per cup of water into the French Press.  Keep a scoop handy. Set a timer for four minutes.

5.) Pour half the boiling water over the grounds and let it "bloom."  One minute later, stir and add the rest of the water.  Cover with the cap (plunger up and spout closed).

6.) At the four minute mark plunge the plunger slowly.  Pour into your cup and enjoy.  If you have made extra, pour right away into a thermal carafe otherwise the coffee will continue to extract and will become sludgy.  Or save in a glass jar and refrigerate for iced coffee later.

Now you will be so caffeinated that you will spend your lunch hour writing a blog post.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Not Exactly Bowled Over at the NFC Championship

Dang. The Niners lost.
The hopeful fans.
At halftime we were feeling good. Dang dang dang. Go Broncos beat those seachickens!!!! 

In other news, our neighbor Natalia turned eight this weekend and Axel and I got to go to her birthday bowling extravaganza. Thanks Julie and Chris for inviting us!

Axel and the birthday princess (her tiara was hurting so she took it off). 

Axel gets the spare.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Playoffs? You talkin' about playoffs? Yes. And Pooks' Pulled Pork. And Seattle Seachicken Wings.

Not just playoffs. Division championships. Gameday preparations are underway across SF, Seattle, Denver, New England and even lil ole Chico (though there has yet to be an Aaron Rodgers sighting up here). Tonight I am getting ready for having friends over on Sunday so I am making my old standby- Pooks' Pulled Pork.

It's easy:

1) Put a pork roast (shoulder aka 'butt' roast is best) in a crockpot over a bed of sliced onion. Turn on low and wait 8-10 hours (overnight works). If the roast doesn't all fit cut it into pieces and make it fit. Extra credit for browning the meat first.

2) Take the cooked roast out and pull the meat away from the bone and fat, shredding it with your fingers. Cover meat in your favorite BBQ sauce. Do whatever you want with the liquid and onions- they're not needed.

3) Reheat and serve on hamburger buns with cole slaw as a side. Hint on the slaw: a bag of pre-chopped cabbage is your friend. Dressing is just mayo with some vinegar, sugar and celery seed.

Here is my roast, browned and ready to have an overnight spa treatment in the crock pot. I find naming the roast makes it taste better. This one is Henry, Hank for short.

Don't like pork? I'm also making chicken wings (aka Seattle Seachicken Wings). I buy the frozen chicken wing portions when I'd rather be disc golfing than cutting up chicken wings. If I'm feeling special I'll buy fresh wings and cut each wing into three pieces by hand. Just cut the two joints on the wing; keep the drummettes and middles for guests and the wing tips for making the best chicken stock ever.

Wings are easy once you've got them cut up:

1) Line a baking sheet with parchment and lay out the wing portions in an even layer. Bake at 400 for 40 minutes or so. (Or BBQ them if you want)

2) While the little chickies cook, make the sauce. Adjust quantities to suit the number of wings you're making. The recipe is 2 parts hot sauce (Frank's Hot Sauce is what I use) 1 part butter. Yes butter- my favorite. Just had a cholesterol test this week and my good cholesterol is high and my bad cholesterol is normal. Go ahead and eat butter people.

3) Toss the crispy wings in your sauce and serve with celery and blue cheese and/or ranch dressing. Oh, and napkins. Lots and lots of napkins.

GO NINERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Soup and Glow Golf Season

Ham shanks were on sale at the butcher today and, since it is soup season in the Baker household, split pea soup was a natural choice. I might add that soup season made a lot more sense in Boulder, where I may be wandering in from snow shoveling or pickaxing an ice shelf. Here in Chico my only reason to keep the tradition is sheer exhaustion from fancy holiday cooking and baking. 

So the soup was a new recipe from the winner of Pacifica's Fog Festival Pea Soup contest. Usually I do the boring puréed soup so this was a real departure. The big takeaways were: use carrots to sweeten the stock then remove them, add some fresh peas right at the end and make a kick ass crostini to go with it. The full recipe is here:

In other news, the soup took so long to make that Axel and I did not get in our afternoon disc golf round. Jon made up for it by taking me glow golfing under the full moon tonight. In the first round we were tied going into the last hole (Jon won). Round two was a total blow out. 

The glow disc golfer in his native habitat. 

Chopped ingredients ready to become soup.

A bay leaf (I hope) foraged from Lava Creek Disc Golf Course was included in the soup. Other forage at this course includes blackberries, grapes, and peaches.

Axel unloaded the dishwasher for me while I cooked. What a sweetie.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Creamy Chicken and Kale Soup

Tonight, for the first time ever, one of my made-up recipes was good enough for both Axel and Jon to recommend I write it down.  What better way to record it than in a blog post that may remain at the top of my blog for the next two years (see previous blog post).

With no further ado, I give you Creamy Chicken and Kale Soup.  Unless you have been naughty in which case, "No soup for you!"

Creamy Chicken Kale Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 chicken breasts
3 – 4 cups shredded kale (they sell this conveniently pre-shredded nowadays)
32 ounces chicken stock
2 cups half and half or milk
1 stick of butter
½ cup flour
¼ cup vermouth (you could use white wine, too)
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon white truffle oil (optional)

Salt and pepper chicken breasts on both sides.  In a large heavy bottomed soup pot, sauté the chicken in the olive oil over medium high heat.  Brown on both sides but leave uncooked in the middle.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Add stick of butter to the pan and melt over medium heat.  Add flour and cook for 3 minutes, stirring with a whisk.  Pour in all of the chicken stock and whisk until smooth.  Bring to a boil, mixture will start to thicken.  Reduce heat to low, add milk, vermouth, poultry seasoning, and onion powder and simmer for at least 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Steam shredded kale in a vegetable steamer for 7-10 minutes until just tender.

Chop the sautéed chicken into small pieces.

Add the steamed kale and chopped chicken into the soup liquid and let simmer over low heat until chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  It may require a good deal of salt if your stock and/or butter were unsalted.

Finish by stirring in some white truffle oil.  You could also plate it with a drizzle of oil depending on how much truffle flavor is desired.  No truffle oil?  You could probably use another flavorful oil instead (or none at all).  Mom gave me truffle oil for Christmas so maybe it is my new secret culinary weapon.  Keep it in the fridge to make it last longer.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A Tonic for all Your Ills

Tonight, my newfangled birthday present led me to an old fashioned recipe: homemade tonic water.  Okay, so the recipe isn't totally old fashioned, but the making of tonic water with quinine has been around for a long time. Did you know quinine (cinchona) originated in Peru and its bark not only fights malaria but has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties as well.  It used to be prescribed in the US for nocturnal leg cramps and Lupus.  Careful, though, kiddies.  Overdoing it is known to cause cardiac arrhythmia and other nasty side effects.

A tonic of quinine bark is bitter.  To drink it daily requires some tangy citrus, sweetener, and - if you were a British officer in Africa - gin!  So the gin and tonic was born.  I imagine they enjoyed taking their medicine each night (probably free of leg cramps).

Back to the newfangled birthday present: a Sodastream soda maker I received from Mom and Dad.  It makes sparkling water, but Bed Bath and Beyond sells a variety of syrups, including tonic syrup, to flavor the water.  Unfortunately, their tonic syrup contains sucralose; I call it super-gross- can't drink the stuff.  About a month ago, resolved to make my own tonic syrup, I searched the Internet for a recipe.

Quinine was the problem ingredient, which I eventually found at Zooscape (not that I would recommend the place).  It took three weeks to arrive.  Citric Acid was a little difficult, too, but I procured mine at the Chico Home Brew Shop.  Here's the recipe... 

Bring the following to a boil:

4 cups water
1/4 cup quinine bark powder
1/4 cup citric acid
1 cup chopped lemongrass
1 tsp whole allspice
zest and juice of a lemon, lime, and orange

Simmer covered for 20 minutes, then strain. I found if I pour slowly, most of the quinine bark stays at the bottom and I can just discard that opaque bit.  Other people used coffee filters (very slow) or a french press to strain.

Reheat with 1 cup of Agave Nectar or 1.5 cups of cane sugar until fully integrated.

Gin and Tonic Recipe:

1/2 shot tonic syrup
1 shot gin
Cover with sparkling water to taste

Zesting into the pot.

 The strained liquid.  Did I mention your tonic will be orange?

 Final product.  Yummy!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Boxing Day Disc Golf

I got out of the kitchen by the day after Christmas just in time to burn off some pie and show the dads Chico's finest disc golf course, Peregrine Point.  On the way, we saw a highway patrolman driving slowly in the opposite direction, attempting to prevent some loose cattle from entering the roadway.

The cattle must have come our way.

Watch out, Dad!

 They eventually got a moove-on, and so did we.

Bill threw a nice roller out of trouble on hole three.

 The canyon views at Peregrine are pretty nice.

Jon was stuck in a bush and could only pitch out for par.

Anonymous Discraft man.

Dad, Scott, and I all threw into this bush, which sucked.  But then we all managed to make the putt, so we were redeemed.

 Scott was upset enough about throwing into the bush that he flipped me off, but he was still able to smile because he saved par.

Jon and his dad, very close to where someone fell off the cliff earlier this summer.

Dad was not so close to the edge.

My drive on hole 9.  The only birdie I got that round.

Pooks putting.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winter Solstice Time, Chico Style

Below are some snippets of Chateau Baker from today. While I miss the snow at Christmas, it is novel and welcome to be playing disc golf in the warmth, looking at flowers, and wearing tank tops.  There is no chance I'll be pick-axing an ice shelf in my driveway this year (hi Laura).


Lena would know what this is.

Probably this, too.

These look like they'll be in full bloom by... January?

Seasonal color.

Good thing Santa Pig is foregoing the pants.

Good thing Jon is foregoing the shirt.  *whistle*

Friday, December 16, 2011

An Evening at the Baker's

Tonight Chico felt more like home to me than any time over the last five months. The kids have friends, the neighbors come over to chat and drink beer, and I'm baking bread again. Leah is having one of her school friends, Alexa, over to spend the night. Alexa and her family came to Chico two years ago from... guess where... The Colorado Front Range. Small world. Alexa assured Leah that at the five month mark she was "still pretty messed up about the move." I hope Leah takes heart. Alexa reports full acclimation at this point.

Axel seemed a bit sad that Leah had a friend over so he helped me make banana bread until the door bell rang and the neighbor girl, Natalia, (also five) asked if he wanted to play. That left me to do the baguettes and the split pea soup on my own. Jon came home and settled into a game of Internet chess until Natalia's dad, Chris, came over. Then the men migrated naturally toward the garage. First our garage, then Chris's... what is it with men and the garage?

Axel knows how to cream the butter and sugar.

The final product. We made four loaves and are laying them in store for Christmas guests at breakfast.

I do this with the celery and carrots every time I make split pea soup.

And while I make soup, Axel plays Chutes and Ladders with Natalia.

Jon drinks a beer and plays chess.

The teens, watching TV and playing on the computer. They said I was like the mom from That 70's Show because she always takes pictures.

Axel came out like this right before dinner and said, "I'm ready to rock."

Later, I had to expand our Christmas Tree Star with cardboard, gold spray paint, and beads (the un-enhanced star looked ridiculously shrimpy). Here Jon re-tops the tree with the finished product using our most giant ladder. A 13 foot Christmas tree is fun to look at but a beast to manage.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

So Proud to Have a Villain in the Family

Tonight we attended the Sherwood Montessori Christmas show. No slipping out early for us- having a child in the youngest grade and another in the oldest grade. No matter, though, the show was entertaining, that quintessential mix of proud, embarrassing, and adorable moments.

Axel's class sang a song called "We Are the Mosaic" which was very cute.

Leah played the lead villain, Wolfgang, in Little Red Riding in the 'Hood. She is quite the budding actress, though I'm sure she'll kill me for writing that. Good thing she never reads my blog.

Axel looking handsome in his grey vest. He was nervous before the show so I told him to picture the audience in their underwear. He later reported that he did just that.

He loosened up talking with his blond classmate.

Here's Leah, ahem Wolfgang, before the show, in the green hoodie.

Wolfgang strutted around the stage and got several laughs from the audience. The other children are members of Wolfgang's gang.

We went out to Big Al's after the show for a late dinner. It was a real grease fest... I ordered tater tots from the secret menu and Leah got a side of mayonnaise the size of a child's soda.