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How old were you when you first started cooking?

Wow. So many memories in these comments. Setting fire to things, the electric popcorn maker, inedible desserts the family said were fabulous, standing on step stools that converted to kitchen stools to reach counters and stoves, peeling tomatoes for canning, literally bathed in the juices, the peeling, chopping, stirring and just all of it!

In our family we have always encouraged childrens' efforts in the kitchen. We take the time to explain basic principles and techniques, let them taste the individual ingredients and allow experiments. My son has become a fabulous cook.

The first thing I ever cooked entirely on my own was chocolate cupcakes that I made for church. I couldn't read the recipe yet, so I ran back and forth to my grandmother for the next ingredient/step. I must have been four or five because I could read when I was six.

When I was about ten my grandmother got an electric crepe maker for Christmas. I decided to make Cherries Jubilee, complete with flames. Never were there so many worried looking faces around. They thought sure that I would set the house on fire, but it turned out great!

When I was twelve I decided that I wanted an allowance. In return for said allowance I took on the responsibility of preparing dinner for the family almost every night.

Tasting menu/fine dining etiquette

Leaving food on the plate tells the staff that you didn't love what you ate. It says nothing about portion size, which on a tasting menu is small.

Cook the Book: The Essence of Chocolate

It's a really delicious cake called "Mike's Mom's Chocolate Cake," that used to be on the menu at a lovely spa resort in Bodega Bay, CA. It was a really moist, three layer, dark chocolate cake with a cooked sugar vanilla buttercream frosting just piled on. It was best eaten right before bed and after an in-room lavender oil massage, with a glass of ice cold whole milk while sitting near the dying embers in the fireplace. Then you snuggle into the soft bed under a down comforter and listen to the waves crash on the beach outside while drifting off to sleep. Ahhh, heaven.

What is your all time cookbook? Just one. What would it be?

Add me to the crew of Joy of Cooking apostles. I've never found a bad recipe in that one, plus it gives lots of information on techniques and food science.

Cut-out cookies for Valentine's Day

I always love those little crisp butter cookies with the seedless raspberry jam filling. Choose a medium to large cutter and cut the middles out of half of them with a small cutter. The little centers can be baked separately and just sprinkled with powdered sugar, or sprinkled with sanding sugar before baking.

What's In A Pop-Tart? A Friendly Chat With Kellogg's

@pjracz- Yes, AB did do homemade "pop-tarts" on his pocket pie show. Also, turnovers, fried pies and pasties, I believe. I remember thinking the edges were too thick on the DIY toaster pastries, though.

'Joy of Cooking' must-trys

The Scottish shortbread is fantastic and I cannot recommend the creamy cheesecake recipe highly enough! I do it with crushed vanilla wafers (or Scottish shortbread crumbs are even better,) used like flour to grease and flour the springform pan. Make sure to use really good vanilla and really mince the lemon zest as finely as you possibly can. You don't want a gritty texture.

Snow crab and mixed salad greens in search of dressing!

You could also serve it with a traditional Louis dressing: chilli sauce, mayo, Tabasco and lemon juice.

Welcome dd, possibly our youngest member at 10?

Hi dd. I hope you enjoy your time here.

If you would like to explore food blogs further you can find a food blog written by a 16 year-old boy: here. He's very entertaining, adventurous and experimental. He writes quite well and has been nominated for a Bloggie.

Did You Watch the Premiere of Hell's Kitchen?

I watched it. I hadn't really thought about why I enjoy Hell's Kitchen, but I guess it is (at least partly) because I can feel superior to the contestants. I'd have to agree with that Bourdain video, I wouldn't trust a single one of them to run a Cinna-Bon, either. Last year's winner was really an awful cook and horrible with people, to boot. I cannot imagine why Ramsay didn't boot her early on.

hot wintertime comfort drinks

Trader Joe's spiced apple cider is YUMM!

Do you eat your vegetables?

I always eat my veggies! Well, not radishes or green bell peppers.

One thing: asparagus is mostly a spring crop. There is a small fall harvest, but the main harvest is spring. (This is my favorite vegetable, so I know a lot about it.) For example, the thicker the stalk, the better the asparagus will taste. Asparagus produces the skinny (and slightly bitter) stalks when it is getting weak-- it takes a lot to push a fat stalk through the dirt. The only difference between white asparagus and green asparagus is that white is grown covered in straw; no sunlight, no chlorophyll. It is better to peel white asparagus because it does have a thicker skin. I peel it with a vegetable peeler by rolling it on the counter and peeling away from myself and toward the bottom of the spear. It goes really fast that way.

Another thing: asparagus will naturally break off where the tough, woody part begins. The stalks can be boiled and the strained water used to flavor risotto, soup or pasta.

absentminded kitchen disasters

A long time ago, when I was a newlywed, we lived in an apartment that had an old electric stove that was controlled by push buttons. They were arranged in a most illogical order: off, high, med-high, medium, med-low, and low. One night I put on a pot of rice, bringing it to a boil on medium and then covering it and setting it to low-- or so I thought. I went into the living room to visit with my husband as he'd just come home from work. About ten minutes later my husband said, "What's that smell?

I looked toward the kitchen to see black smoke billowing out of the kitchen. I rushed to the kitchen and realized I had pushed the button for high rather than low! I made the additional mistake of opening the lid and the rice was burnt black an inch deep. I took the pot out the the deck and tucked it into a little space under a dormer where the roof almost met the deck. It was one of those speckled enamel pots so I figured it was a complete loss. Every time I walked up the stairs to the apartment I saw that pot and was newly disgusted with myself. I don't know why I didn't just throw it away.

I went back in and even though it was cold weather, we opened all the windows and doors and started fanning the smoke out. The neighbors (all much older married couples) got a real kick out of it and ribbed me endlessly, making lots of jokes about warning the fire department if I was going to be cooking.

A while later it rained. I decided it was time to throw out the pot before it started to ferment. Luckily, I turned the pot upside down in the trash and I heard a "schplop!" I picked up the pan and the whole of the burnt rice and water mess fell out into the trash in one piece, with nary a grain, or mark, on the inside of the pot. It is the one pot I still have from when I was married.

Inexperienced caramel-izer

According to Webster's it's preferred pronunciation is CAR-muhl. I've always associated the secondary pronunciation (CARE-uh-mel) with easterners and southerners.

BTW, as a fifth generation Californian, the town is pronounced differently than both, car-MEL, with the accent on the second syllable.

As for your original question, I'd probably settle on a customized recipe that is somewhere between caramel candies and caramel sauce. But since caramel is notoriously difficult to cut, just make a caramel sauce and serve it drizzled over the slices and onto the plate a bit. Then sprinkle some fleur de sel over the top. That way, not only does it look fancy, but if someone doesn't want it they don't have to have it.

Celebrity chef shows you will NEVER see...(fictional versions)

Guy, Whupped: Recipes for ulcer patients and alcoholics.
Trailer Trash Martha: 1001 Crafts made with toilet paper tubes and empty meth baggies.
The Neelys After the Divorce: Cooking with only half your stuff. They alternate appearances on camera.

Seriously, though... Sunny.... NAKED?!?! No way! Once she unzips and peels off those tighter-than-skin jeans (with the aid of a come-along) and her Spanks she's easily as big around as Paula Deen, just taller. (Her recipes stink, too.)

Anchovies: Way or No Way?

Love, love, love 'em!

I would eat them on a train, I would eat them on a plane. I would eat them from a can, I would eat them from a pan. I would eat them here or there, I would eat them any where! I love them, love them, Sam I Am.

(Sorry Dr. Seuss.)

The Year That Was: Nagging Questions

*points and laughs @erdosh*
*snickers @JT's last comment while applauding*

It really irks me when people come to a high-traffic blog just to push their latest musty-dusty on people. I mean, I understand that, as a writer, that musty-dusty is their musty-dusty baby, but it is really boring and borderline offensive. Sheesh!

Rare Chicken

No, no, no. No raw chicken-- even for/with Bourdain. Also, no warthog anus.

Weird parental food preparation

My Mom didn't make anything truly weird, but she did go on what we would call "food kicks." She would make something that "hit her spot" and then she would proceed to make that dish about every second night until the family went into open revolt. One year we had shrimp salad, the white trash version, probably 88 nights of the 90 nights of summer. Some nights it was the main course, other nights it was a side dish.

White Trash Shrimp Salad
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, chopped
1/2 large red onion, finely diced
1 can tiny shrimp
1 rib celery, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
enough mayonnaise to bind the whole thing together and create a pool of runny white stuff in the bottom of the bowl.

I didn't eat shrimp salad again for 20 years after that summer.

Cheese Please

Sharp cheddar, sliced and shredded
Mexican blend, shredded

Food Network... Let's give them a hand!

I agree that Sandra Lee has got to go. I'm sick of her color-coordinated outfits and kitchen. I'm sick of her crap food and I'm sick of her "you can serve anything if they are drunk enough" attitude.

Keep Ina. She may be kind of bland and her food isn't very healthy, but it is tasty and she actually cooks! Paula Deen can cook from home, but that stupid party show has got to go.

Both the Nealy's shows have to go, and don't just bring back Paula's sons. We really don't need shows that are nothing more than ads for cross-country shipping stable foods.

I love Alton. His shows are educational, entertaining and the couple of recipes he cooks on each show actually end up tasty. Because of the education he gives it's easy to adapt his recipes for your own tastes.

Bobby Flay is ok if you chain him to a grill, otherwise, forget him.

I really like Giadda's food, but the constant cleavage and the boob-cam have earned her the nickname of "Boob-arella" at our house.

I can see how Guy Fieri can rub people the wrong way with everything from the bleached, spiky hair to his insistence on pronouncing his last name "Fiedi," but he does appeal to young viewers and his food, while relying on entirely too much tequila, is actually pretty decent.

Another idea, how about running those early morning weekend shows again in the afternoon? Lots of us really enjoy sleeping in on weekends. We aren't all "hit the ground running and watch a show before we go to the farmer's market at dawn" types.

I can't stand that Sunny Anderson woman. Please, my son was a better cook (and more comfortable and adept in front of a stove and with knives) than she is when he was 12. That new show of hers, "How'd This Get on My Plate," is just, plain dumb. Anyone with any interest in food knows that dairy comes from cows, or goats. Puh-leeze.

Also, let's cut down on how crap food is made shows. Corn chips are extruded, ice cream novelties are molded and chocolate is poured over them, "spiral freezers" are common. We get it already. There is no need to show that same stuff every freaking night!

FN really needs to start listening to what people want and stop promoting people and shows viewers hate. Really.

What is your worst cooking disaster hosting a dinner party?

@pjracz10-- In the Willie Wonka movie the character's name was Violet Beauregarde and she turned into a blueberry after chewing experimental gum. Sort of.

"Violet you're turning... violet!!!"

Looks bad but tastes great!

Geoduck clams. I have to admit to never having eaten them, but I hear they are great. I just can't get past their disgusting tumescence.


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