Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's Pie

Once upon a time, when I was rather small, my friend and I decided to make a pie for New Year's. We were probably 9 or 10 at the time and not actually able or willing to bake on our own. So we 'invented' a pie by smuggling ingredients from the kitchen. These ingredients included what you would normally use in pies: flour, sugar, and water (okay maybe not that one).

And that was it. Quite literally a paper mache pie with sugar. To the best of knowledge, this actually tasted okay but obviously it was probably terrible. We mixed it in a pie pan in her bedroom and waited for it to set by hiding it under her bed. I'm not sure what happened after that because I went home (whoooops) but my guess is it was discovered and promptly discarded.

And so kids, don't invent pies unless you're Keri Russell in Waitress. But do make resolutions.This is what I have so far but I'm not sure if they count as resolutions:

1. Find people and/or excuses to cook for whether that be bringing food to work (check), to friends (check) or finding random excuses to do some theme cooking (like the premiere of Downton Abbey, tea and scones? I think yes).

2. Take a photo a day, Instagram or not but probably Instagram. This is not some effort to gain a huge following but a reminder to find one thing photo worthy (aka: beautiful) each day. Some believe that social media and Instagram take away from living in the moment, that we become so busy updating we forget to enjoy. That might be true but if it helps me remember to appreciate the day and find something good in it, or bad, but note something about the day.

3. Trim the fat. No, this is not a health/body resolution. This is more about getting rid of things I don't use or need anymore. Old clothes I haven't worn in a year but maaaybe will come in handy. Let it go. I don't need to own a bunch of books but I have a hard time parting with them, like old friends I can revisit. Except I haven't revisited them since high school. Time to share them with others. Do I need to keep the small tv with a built-in VCR? I mean I have VHS tapes (classic) and it was free but it's not necessary as it gathers dust on the floor. This kind of excess is not needed and someone else might be able to use it more.

4. This past summer I went on a little adventure and during this adventure was presented with the opportunity to jump off a cliff into a lake. Sounds really awesome but also terrifying. I'm all for the thrill and adrenaline rush of experiences but heights are somewhat frightening. The hardest part was stepping off the edge, naturally. After that, gravity took over and I enjoyed the thrill. Taking the first step is the hardest part. So, my 2013 motto will be something along the lines of take a risk, take the plunge and let gravity (or the universe) take care of the rest. Call it a leap of faith. I should get better at that. One way or another, it will work out. It might be scary and it might take a steady countdown from friends, but in the end, it's worthwhile. I won't say Carpe Diem because I'm pretty sure that was my resolution in like 2005 but take the plunge. That may also mean jumping out an airplane....

So congratulations to us, we made it to 2013. Enjoy it, have fun with it, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Chocolate Peppermint Cake

I love the holidays. I know I'm delayed in sharing this passion since the holidays are primarily over but I've been busy actually enjoying the season (imagine that!). I have always been excited to have a holiday party but lack the popularity to justify one. Until this year (not that I have become extremely popular but I had a group of people searching for a venue) when I finally got to decorate my apartment for more than just myself. Naturally this also meant creating a fabulous dessert. It was a potluck so baby steps towards full-on production.

Blended egg whites. Who knew?
Being slightly ambitious to impress people, I chose the chocolate peppermint roll cake. That's right, I was going to roll a cake. Step 1: separate 6 eggs. No problemo. Step 2: whip egg whites until fluffy. This presents a slight problem given my lack of mixer and trust me, trying to make stiff egg whites by hand is remarkably time-consuming. Obviously this wasn't working so well so I resorted to the blender. It seems to do the same thing as a mixer, it makes the egg whites go really fast, right? Well, it does work, to some degree. Since you add them by thirds, I just kept whipping them in separate quantities.

Mmm, batter.
Once I folded in these lovely egg whites into my fluffy batter, the next step was to spread the batter on a baking sheet, 12x17. Perfect! I have that size sheet. Buuut the batter didn't quite fit the pan. Again, no problem, I can just make most of the sheet covered with batter. As I placed the tray into the oven I thought "huh, my oven is kind of small, didn't I try to fit this in here when I bought it?". The answer is 'yes', I did attempt to fit this 12x17 in there before and the reason I have never used it is because no, it doesn't fit. So I guess it's okay to bake this cake with the oven door slightly open, right? Right.
Mind the gap.
Next, while the cake was baking, I 'whipped' the peppermint stuff in the blender (again, much faster than try to whip cream into whipped cream by hand). Finally, it came time to rooooll the cake. Now, I knew this would be difficult and I just kept thinking how awesome it would be to make this giant yoddell thing. As I rolled it, I could tell I was going to slowly because it was totally going to break. And it did but I kept going and it turned out just fine, it just lacked a roll layer in the middle.
It's logs, it's logs!
The final step was to pour ganache over the whole thing. Ganache is apparently just thick hot chocolate, it's just chocolate chips and cream. Delicious. The picture has it drizzled in a beautiful manner over the cake. I just poured the whole thing on there and drowned the cake in a chocolate lake of ganache (I really like the word ganache).

The cake was a success and I definitely had some leftover. Chocolate for dinner? I think yes.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Joy the Baker IN PERSON

Last weekend was a milestone in my life: I met a celebrity. Joy the Baker (also called Joy Wilson, her actual name) was signing books in Boston at a holiday market. Roadtrip! I already own her cookbook so I loaded it into my purse with my traveling gnome (it's actually a Yoda figurine) and camera and friend and set off! We had tickets for a particular time and there were lots of other vendors there but our primary focus was meeting Joy.

It's a good thing we got there when we did because there was already a line around the room to meet her. We soon realized this was because she was taking the time to talk to everyone and take photos with them which was just so nice and fantastic. It was a little awkward standing near all the other vendors, obviously focused on Joy but we did go back and look around, I promise!

The line only continued to grow and it seemed the room was at capacity because they weren't letting anyone else down into the room (warehouse style). Literally as the person in front of us walked away, one of the people running the market came over to Joy. It was torture wondering if they would take her away but they couldn't do that! We were next! It's like going to see Santa but so much better and you can't take away my Christmas miracle. And then, she was right in front of us and we were making small talk and we told her how we made Single Lady Pancakes that morning in honor of coming to visit her. My friend and I realized that I would be the rambling one and she would be the quiet one as we waited in line and we were pretty spot on. So we got her to sign our books and she took a fantastic photo with Yoda and then with us and it was wonderful!

Mission accomplished, now I can feel slightly less creepy for thinking of her as a friend of mine whenever I listen to her podcast and think "we should be friends, we'd totally get along" because now I've met her so technically now she knows who I am. But as I said before, there were a whole lotta people there so it might take some reminding.

At any rate, there was a lot of Joy baking and general baking that happened after that encounter. Which brings us to the actual baking part of this post. Orange Cranberry bread (and for the record, as a tall person who doesn't fit into boutique itty bitty sizes, I enjoyed this post for more than the recipe portion).

Normally I'm not a fan of nuts in bread, it's just not the right consistency. I don't like to chew that much plus I'm not a huge fan of pecans (pecan't, if you will). But she's an expert so I guess I can trust her recipe in its entirety. I particularly enjoy the part where my nails matched the cranberries, don't mock my OCD.
Cranberry nails and cranberry--cranberries
Breads are definitely delicious and I love making them for sharing with people because it's not too sweet that people complain and you can have it as a snack or for breakfast. So versatile. Since this recipe makes two loaves, I sent one to my grandparents because it's a nice personal gift and I know my grandfather is a fan of pecan pies (and he reads this blog, hiiiii!). And then the other one was for me!

Ready for mixing!
 It has taken me awhile to eat the whole thing but I endured. The combination of orange and cranberry was quite delicious. I'm not really sure what the point of parchment paper is, I've never really used it before in my life until a couple months ago. I usually just spray non-stick but someone suggested that the parchment paper keeps any extra tastes from being added. This bread also made me a convert for pecans, they are actually kind of yummy and I snacked on the extras.

Chewy Chocolate Ginger Cookies

'Tis the season for cookie swaps! Even though these are for different groups of people, I still thought it necessary to make a couple kinds of cookies. Any excuse to test a cookie recipe when they are guaranteed to not come home with me.

For the first cookie swap, I selected Chewy Chocolate Ginger Cookies (compliments of JTB, what a shock). Since I had a friend visiting and a day off, we decided to bake up a storm and do a test run of the cookies. These are essentially ginger snaps that are chewy and with chocolate chips in them. So this requires molasses, delicious, sticky, dark molasses--which comes in nice tall jars when the recipe calls for only 1/4 cup.

Being a great team, said friend and I divided and conquered the ingredients. For once you can play with the dough on purpose and roll them in sugar. Literally got sugar everywhere because they don't always roll, they sometimes more push the sugar around and off the plate.

The recipe says they are done when large cracks appear on the cookies and they looked perfect! And tasted delicious. They didn't make as many cookies as we thought, probably because we made the dough balls larger than required. Of course this meant we might as well eat them all and I could just create a new batch of smaller cookies for the cookie swap. I was going to dominate with my geniously copied cookie recipe that combines holiday cookie with classic chocolate chips.

The next time I tried to make these, I was multi-tasking and creating a gingerbread house for a competition, very serious business. We did not make the gingerbread, we bought it in a kit but we were very ambitious in our gingerbread treehouse quest which required the use of edible materials only (ie: no glue). Anyways, I created the dough and found it much stickier than the last time so I thought "maybe the recipe has a tip for dealing with the sticky dough".

As I ran through the ingredients and instructions I realized my mistake: the recipe called for 1.5 sticks of butter and I only used 1. Danger, Will Robinson. Butter is not like a minor spice that you can pretend you forgot on purpose, butter is butter! It's EXTREMELY important! Stupid gingerbread house diverting my attention. Now I will have terrible butter-less cookies for a cookie exchange at work where I have built up my reputation as a baker through months of endless treats. Don't panic, don't panic, you still have the remaining dough. Only 10 cookies are in the oven so I can just add the butter to the mixture. Slightly less than the half stick but crisis averted!

Surprisingly the first 10 cookies looked perfect, they looked as they should, puffy with large crack on the top. The following rounds did not look right at all. They looked like dark chocolate chip cookies, spread out more. I of course repeatedly tested the cookies to see if they tasted any different but inevitably cooked all of them longer than I should have.

I guess I'll never know if people found them terrible because at the swap, it was like a pack of vultures just going from box to box grabbing and stuffing in a bag. I realized that this was a strategy. Kids and spouses want cookies and these women work all day. By participating in a cookie swap, they can make one round of cookies and get 8 varieties back. Apparently you can freeze cookies (which is what they do) and bam! Cookies for Christmas Eve. Genius. 

Moral of the story: Don't multi-task and bake, kids. 

On the bright side, our gingerbread house took second place (we lost by 4 votes). It is literally held together by Twizzler strands and I greatly enjoyed eating the roof afterwards.
The epic gingerbread creation.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sweet Potato Spinach Mac and Cheese

What do you do when there's a buy one get one sale? You buy two, correct! Does this apply to things like spinach? Absolutely. The only problem is I'm no Popeye, I don't eat spinach that quickly and then it goes bad and it's a waste of free spinach.

So in an effort to find alternative uses for spinach beyond salad, I discovered spinach mac and cheese. Sorry, sweet potato spinach mac and cheese, with the ingredients listed in the order of their prevalence.

Mountain of iron!
Previously when I've attempted to mash sweet potatoes, I get impatient and try to mash them prematurely which results in chunks of sweet potato, no big deal. But this is mac and cheese we're talking about, it has to be right. So at one point, I had the pasta boiling and the peeled and cubed sweet potatoes boiling and then this pan of onions and spinach simmering. And of course my eyes are burning because these are onions we're talking about, here.

It all looks so delicious and colorful! I'm told you should have a very colorful dinner platter to be healthy and this is definitely following that rule. And to make it even better, you get to mash things together and they taste delicious. Since this is healthy, there is only half a cup of cheese so the orange color of this dish is really the sweet potato. This definitely doesn't replace true cheesy mac and cheese but it is nice to eat pasta guilt free (oh yeah, it's whole wheat pasta).

So many pots, so little space. And so colorful!
As I dig into my delicious pile of pasta, I realize that it wasn't that cheesy and was somewhat bland. Which is when I realized I forgot to add the nutmeg to the sweet potatoes. Don't do that, nutmeg is a very strong spice and therefore important if it's included in a recipe. I've taken to adding nutmeg to a variety of vegetables because I have all this nutmeg for eggnog and I would like to actually use the spices I buy. Never fear! You can just add the nutmeg on top, as a last resort. Definitely follow directions, I'm having trouble with that lately. So far everything has turned out but I have a feeling at an inopportune moment, this will backfire. Like when I have to bake a birthday cake or bring something to a party or a cookie swap (spoiler alert: that happened). 
8 oz. whole wheat fusilli, penne, macaroni elbows or other small pasta shape
1 large or two medium sweet potato(es), peeled and diced
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp reduced fat (2%) sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup milk (low-fat or nonfat)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste


  • Cook pasta while also boiling sweet potato until tender. Mash the sweet potato and set aside (also drain the pasta when it's done, these should be in separate bowls)
  • Heat olive oil in medium pot over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add the spinach and cook for 1-2 minutes.
  • Stir the milk into mashed sweet potato, then add the spinach mixture. Stir to combind.
  • Add 1/2 cup of cheese and stir more. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper. 
  • Add pasta and stir well.
  • The part I didn't do: transfer to large baking dish (needs to be oven-proof) and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Place under broiler for 1-2 minutes until top is lightly browne.d

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


In honor of the last repeating day for a hundred years, I am creating a 12 post. And for an added twist, it's not about food *gasp*!

On this, a day of reflection (in case the world ends in 10 days and since this won't happen again until 1-1-2101) I give you the top 12 lessons I have learned from movies. These are not in any particular order, I thought of the first few pretty quickly as I reflected and then it started to be "what movie have I seen a bunch of times and whyyyy".
  1. Under the Tuscan Sun- Sometimes you get exactly what you wish for but not in the way you expected ("I want someone to cook for, I want there to be a family in this house, I want a wedding", all came true).
  2. Love Actually- Love is actually all around us. And it can be brutal, torturous and rewarding. It's important to be realistic but keep the fantasy in mind, just in cases.
  3. The Holiday- You have to be the leading lady of your own life, not the best friend.
  4. Twister- It's not after you, sometimes bad things happen and you have to let it go. 
  5. Tangled- Follow your dreams. I think that's the meaning of all Disney movies but this one is particularly awesome. And a frying pan is not just for cooking.
  6. Harry Potter- True friends will stick with you, even if you're an emo punk for 2-3 books. They will see you through and respect your decisions while simultaneously making you laugh. Trust that bond.
  7. The Patriot- We are so lucky that we live in the present and not on a warfront. Suuuuuper fortunate. Some things are more important than what you want or believe, like family. But threaten that family and woah child, watch out. 
  8. Meet the Robinsons- Keep moving forward. 
  9. Pride and Prejudice- Boys are stupid. Sometimes they're mean to you because they like you (but "He's Just Not That Into You" says we can't believe that, plus it's super annoying). All in all, if you make a mistake, own up to it and speak your heart. Sometimes it's not too late.
  10. Julie and Julia- Bon appetit! But seriously, just start cookin'.
  11. Hook- Think happy thoughts! It seems appealing to stay a kid and never grow up but everyone has to grow up eventually. That doesn't mean you have to be a jerk or a self-obsessed adult.
  12. 10 Things I Hate About You- Never underestimate the power of a grand gesture. 
I'm sure my colors are showing, my movie tastes indicate I'm a hopeless romantic. Oh what am I to do in this pessimistic mind of mine with such a romantic inclination? Ah well, maybe I will reflect on that on 01-01-2101 instead.

I promise I will return to lots of cooking/baking posts soon. So much cooking, so little time to blog. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Parker House Rolls

You know how when you take Pillsbury biscuits or crescent rolls right out of the oven they're all warm and flaky and buttered with deliciousness? Well as much fun as busting those tubes open is (seriously, am I the only one who finds it fascinating that you have to like slam the tube on the counter to break the pressure?), I thought the only thing better would be home made baked flaky buttery deliciousness. My dad would make bread in a bread maker and I love playing with dough so thought making rolls would be awesome.

Squishy dough

 To justify making bread, I thought "oh, I'll freeze half of them and they're rolls so I can make pulled pork sandwiches next time I make pulled pork" etc. etc. I followed the directions, including the part where it says to let the yeast foam and to throw it out if it doesn't foam. Well, you know what they say "watched yeast never foams" (or they do now!). So while waiting for the yeast to prove it's aliiiiive, I mixed the other ingredients. Note to self: next time, make sure the yeast is alive before mixing other stuff. Yeast packet 1: doesn't seem to be alive so I throw it away and we go with yeast packet number 2: to prevent myself from watching it, I did the dishes, I cleaned the kitchen and voila! Foam! Which was good because I only had one more packet to test.
That looks foamy, right?
After mixing things together, I got to play with dough, hurray! It really is quite fun. And so I let the ball of dough 'rise' or at least I left it alone so it could rise. It did not appear to double in size as it was meant to. Nevertheless, the show must go on so I soldiered on and divided the dough into lovely roll shapes and left it alone to double yet again. Alas, it again did not appear to double in size. Obviously the foaming yeast was a false promise.

Kneading-- not just for kitties
And still, the show goes on! Maybe the bamf oven will work some magic and make the rolls rise into buttery deliciousness. This was sadly not the case, they did not rise. But they did taste buttery and delicious so kind of like biscuits but not even close to Pillsbury biscuits. With a little butter, some microwave action or nutella, they still taste satisfactory.
Mmmm that doesn't look larger
But these biscuity-like creatures will not suffice for pulled pork sandwiches. Plus, I now have a giant bag of bread flour because after careful googling I discovered you can't really circumvent the need for bread flour like you can for self-rising flour because it's about gluten content. I guess that means I'll have to try to make more bread or bread-like things to use that bag (baked good ingredients should not go to waste).
They hath not risen. But I did test a couple...
I live to bake bread another day.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sticky Toffee Pudding

I have had two great loves in my short life: cats and pop culture. I do so love a good gossip story about celebrities or even better, truuue stories. And even better, pictures! Realistically, I would be satisfied with a giant magazine of pictures of celebrities which is quite convenient since most magazines consist primarily of pictures. And so, it was the love of pop culture that brought me this recipe.

The Royals are a subset of pop culture since we are Americans and therefore they are not our government but a foreign fascination. Specifically, I follow the Middleton sisters. I had a wonderful moment with my previous manager where we discussed their fashion and how they were good fashion icons for me to have since it would influence my work style in a positive way. This conversation started because I bought a dress based off of a photo of one of them and got many compliments. Alas, that was the moment when I realized we had a good bond as manager and employee--and then I got transferred.

Spoiler alert: it worked!
But I digress. As you may or may not know, Pippa Middleton has written a book on party planning which consists of entertaining ideas, decorations and recipes (ta da!). Since she has canceled her US leg of the book tour (so sad, sooo sad), there have been a couple of magazines publishing excerpts from the fall section of the book. One such magazine was People, which I already subscribe to (it was free, don't judge) and was conveniently provided with a recipe for sticky toffee pudding. It sounds so British and delicious, which is surprising because I feel like most British food consists of things I would not want to eat...

Gloriously torn from a magazine with a note added about self-rising flour. I really want that cow.
Anyways, now that we have established I follow celebrities and know way too much about celebrities (you can stop judging now, you had 3 paragraphs to digest, move on), we get into the recipe. I immediately had several important questions that were only going to be answered by a) a trip to the grocery store and b) my mother.

Question 1: Chopped Dates--are those a thing here? Can I even find them in a normal store? My initial instinct was to ask someone at the grocery store but then I realized walking up to a random grocery store employee and saying "Excuse me, do you know where I can find Dates?" (mind you, capitalization is not represented in speech, only in writing) would result in an extremely awkward situation. Fortunately, chopped dates are a thing and they're right next to the other dried fruits.

Question 2: They have an 8x8 pan but the recipe says 9x9...obviously these are different but will that still work? Mama says, yes but you'll have to adjust the baking time. And since I already do that with my badass oven, 8x8 pan sold for $3.97 (no for real).

Question 3: Is self-rising flower the same as regular flour? It sounds like  fancy way of saying flour, maybe it's already self-rising but British people specify because they have not-rising flour too. Nope, Mama says self-rising has salt and one of the baking things already in it. Easily solved by using regular flour and Google (1 cup self-rising= (1 cup all purpose flour-2 teaspoons)+1/2 teaspoon salt+1.5 teaspoons baking powder).

Question 4: This is more about me being cheap than anything else. The recipe calls for heavy cream but I have a coupon for light cream and it's on sale, can I just use that? Yes, and it's healthier, Mama says. She also added that life is like a box of chocolates (note: I don't call my mother 'mama' but it sounds better when discussing baking, don't ask me why).

The two mixtures pre-mixing. The one on the right is the date mixture which looks gross.
As I was making this, I have no idea how this is meant to look. There aren't pictures of the actual food in the magazine, mostly just pictures of Pippa. So it looked a little soupy and all the dates were on the bottom of the pan. Since I had a pan that was smaller than necessary and it was a new recipe, I made myself a little side dish. Yes, I actually bought baking dishes in the shape of snowflakes. They're so festive!!

I checked on the pans a couple of times in the oven to make sure it was rising (maybe I miscalculated the flour and that's why it looked soupy?) and because the baking times are pretty much guestimation at this point. In the meantime, I made the toffee sauce. There are two items that were recycled during this process: 1) the empty cinnamon spice container because I actually went through an entire container this year and 2) the empty syrup bottle. The recipe calls for pumpkin spice which is really a bunch of other spices together so I made a separate container of it (previously I just did a dash of this and a dash of that but then I found this recipe for pumpkin spice via Joy the Baker!). The syrup bottle will be used for transporting the toffee sauce to Thanksgiving dinner because I don't want it to be a mess and it's syrup going into syrup! This is why it takes me a month to take out the recycling, every once in awhile something comes in handy. This is the path to hoarding, my friends--take out your recycling, it will be okay.

Mmm toffee sauce...and butter.
So I went ahead and tested the pudding and it was quite delicious. I don't normally like raisin things in cakes (love carrot cake, don't like raisins and nuts in it) but I didn't even notice the dates. So next to the traditional pies at Thanksgiving, an American holiday, lay my traditionally British dessert. Ironic? I think yes. It received the family stamp of approval though and my 9 year-old nephew called it his favorite dessert. The recipe stays!

In case there was any confusion, I labeled the bottle as Toffee Sauce. Apparently this was material for making fun of me, you know who you are...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pumpkin Waffles

I promise this is the end of the pumpkin. As an addendum to pumpkin scones (they came from the same can of pumpkin, it's relevant), I had a dream that I did give them to people and this girl got mad about something else and was ranting about how bad the scones were. Does that count as a nightmare? If that happened in real life, my baking reputation would be ruined, I would lose my credibility! Nightmare, I have very little street cred as it is.

So I actually lied about how many blogs I know about, I forgot Smitten Kitchen. She has a new cookbook out, btw. There is a spectacular recipe for pumpkin waffles. For me, myself and I, I halved the recipe and it made three waffles (one for me, one for myself and one for I). I know it's a lot easier to just use a mix and believe me, I have that instant Bisquick in my cabinet (because Bisquick has so many ingredients to add, you need the super easy Bisquick that just requires water) but I'm telling you, you just measure a few extra things and you get homemade waffles. Your street cred will definitely improve, the words "made from scratch" are super impressive.

My dad made waffles every Sunday growing up, it was the best tradition ever! And he would go all out, complete with Cool Whip and strawberries and bacon (soooo much bacon, there is a fantastically embarrassing story about me and large quantities of bacon). So waffles have a special place in my heart and last year for my birthday, I got a waffle iron and now I make ze waffles on weekends (not all weekends, I'm just one person). This is probably the first time I didn't burn the first one, I never quite get a handle on the amount of batter to use or the timer. Note to self: it's more batter than you think and 2 minutes. 

Separated! They're separated!
There are two spectacular things about this process and my baking education. First and foremost, I separated not one egg but two. It was so glorious, no shells and no mixing! Secondly, I then made the egg whites into fluffy fluffy...egg whites. I don't think I whipped the egg whites enough, breakfast was calling.

Mix and whipped egg whites
 And so I made waffles and coffee and had brunch all to myself--for 3 straight days, including Monday. Do you know how much better Mondays are when they start with waffles?? Thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis much. It got me to about 3:30, then I was ready for Monday to be over (sadly, Mondays end at like 9pm).
Om nom waffles

Pasta Bolognese

Fact: I am carbo-loading in preparation for Thanksgiving. Not entirely intentional, it just so happens that I decided to thaw the bolognese sauce from the storm prep to eat this week. And pasta was on special for $1 (seriously, how do you resist that??). So now I have all these bowls of pasta bolognese that I can just pop in the microwave. I believe this is what people refer to as 'portion control'. Here's the thing about portion control, you can have individually packaged/portioned items so you don't eat too many but that doesn't stop you from eating multiple. Like those 100 calorie packs of cookies. Genius in theory, you eat one, you get your cookies, you don't overeat. But what is stopping you or me from eating another one because the first one just wasn't filling? Well, the good news about portion control with pasta bolognese is I don't like to do dishes. So one serving is sufficient to avoid doing more dishes. At least I have portion control on my chores.

Lots of pasta. I saw a shirt that said "Eat Pasta, Run Fasta". I don't think that rhymes.

Okay, so this post is far overdue as it was probably one of the first things I actively made from scratch. This recipe comes with a special history as well. A couple years ago, my college friends and I were hanging out at our friend's parents' house because they are super cool and give us really good food and free reign. While my guy friends were being--well they were being guys so I took a little break and joined my friend's mom in the kitchen (no stereotyping people!). Over the cooking of bolognese I got all kinds of fun stories about my friend (mwahaha) but I also really enjoyed chatting with her. So years later (no literally, it has been years), I finally got the recipe and discovered the secret: you pretty much wing it. It's like the perfect recipe for me! I don't measure, I can change the meat, I can add whatever I want and I pretty much can't mess it up because IT'S DELICIOUS!!!!

Storm prep: have ziploc bags, will thaw.
Now, whenever I go to an Italian restaurant, I order pasta bolognese. This is to see if any bolognese can compare (answer: it does not).

The other magical thing about this recipe is someone requested I post it. Zomg, please take a moment to be happy with me that a) people read this (247 views, what up??) and b) listen to me when I go to Italian restaurants for lunch and tell this story. This recipe is legit people, true family recipe, it's not even online, it's a pdf on my desktop. It appears that I leave some things out (whoooops) which is why, children, we should reread things.

So go forth, make pasta and bolognese. Make it with sausage or make it with ground beef or even ground turkey! Add vegetables, add seasonings, go crazy!

Delicious! But my pasta to sauce ratio was a little off. Need more bolognese!

Recipe with my commentary in italics:
  • 2 lbs chopped beef/turkey/sausage (sausage as patties or empty cased ones--if you don't mind handling meat)
  • Prego tomato, basil, garlic sauce (1 bottle for 2 lbs is good)
  • Olive oil to coat pan
  • Crushed garlic
  • Grated cheese
  • Salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, basil, oregano, Italian seasoning, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme (parsley is optional but I had to put them in order of the song, Scarborough Fair)
  • Bay leaves
  • Brown sugar (or white)
  • Caper liquid (not for use with sausage as meat)
  1. Saute crushed garlic in olive oil and break up meat (if you burn the garlic, start over)
  2. Begin adding spices, turning meat every 3-4 spice additions. Add more garlic, Italian seasoning, basil and oregano. Add sparse covering thyme sage and onion powder. Add caper juice if necessary. 
  3. Once the meat is browned, add approximately 1/2 jar of sauce. Stir gently and add warm water (...water? Whoops) until meat is almost covered. Alternate until it looks right (intuition my friends).
  4. Add 1-2 teaspoons of sugar, sprinkle of grated cheese and 2-3 large bay leaves (if someone could explain bay leaves to me, that would be awesome because I see them as those things that are in my food that I don't want to eat).
  5. Bring to boil for 2 minutes and let simmer, covered (I have no cover) for 10-20 minutes
  6. Retaste, add spices to adjust (I'm no expert, I just add a bunch of stuff and guess. I don't think you can mess that up)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pumpkin Scones

I have this fall to-do list on my fridge with a list of activities or things to make in the fall. I decided this was the best way to make sure I slowed down and enjoyed the season instead of waking up at the holidays. It's just about time to make a winter to-do list (get excited, so many pins, so many pins) so I finally got to the Pumpkin Scones.
So many spices, so little time. I'm so proud I had all of these in stock.
 As you know from my previous scones post, they have always seemed tricky to me but I have conquered my fear and so I ventured out solo. Unfortunately I got a phone call just as I was taking the dough out to flatten and cut into scone shapes so I got distracted. This led to the scones being more of rhombuses and trapezoids than straight up triangles (okay they look great in the picture but I think at least one fused with another in baking). Also, this recipe said to put it in a rectangle and cut it into smaller rectangles and then again into triangles. Much more complicated than just making a circle, I probably should have done that.

Please note the wonder that is the real cutting board!
By this point, I was tired of baking (it was late!) and so I decided to wait to make the icings (yes, there are two) until the next day...or the next day...and then by that time I was like "eh, I'll just mix some powdered sugar and milk and some spices and see what happens". They're okay, I think pumpkin things are a bit hit or miss. I made pumpkin muffins last year and they had a weird after-taste and these scones have some too so I fear sharing them. Which means I have a dozen scones to consume by my lonesome. I guess I will take this hit, for the team.

Completed lovelies, hot from the oven.
Fear of scones conquered! That's really all that matters. And by the time I finally made the scones, I had my sites set on the next thing (live in the moment, do as I say, not as I do): sticky toffee pudding. British baking antics to follow, hopefully soon because those dairy products won't last forever. And I know I've said this before when I had half a can of pumpkin leftover but then it went bad so now I think maybe I will make pumpkin waffles or pancakes or something. It would be sad to waste the last pumpkin of the season. Since it's snowed, I think I'm obligated to move onto such things as chocolate and peppermint--preferably together.

Bourbon Banana Bread

Say that three times fast. Then say it again after sipping out of the bottle of bourbon. Being the economical person that I am, I realized I could buy those little cutesy bottles of bourbon for this recipe and even then, I over-estimated. Oh darn, cutesy bottle of bourbon now lives in my spice cabinet. Seems legit.

The Noah's Ark of baking: the ingredients go together, two by two.

This recipe is from Joy the Baker (I can't find the recipe online but it's in her fabulous cookbook, go buy it), what a shock! I'm still new to the blogosphere so pretty much know of three blogs:
  1. Joy the Baker
  2. CupCait
  3. HomeFries (an offshoot of Joy the Baker, listen to the podcast, it will change your life)
I'm not a fan of walnuts or nuts in cakes. Cakes should be spongy, not crunchy, so I ignored that bit but otherwise followed it right down to the chocolate chips and bourbon. I tried to make banana bread once before and got only as far as determining the bananas were rancid, not over ripe. And that reminds me I have a frozen banana in my freezer saved for banana bread (there's always money in the banana stand). So this was round one with the banana bread.

In process and yes, my rubber spatula says "Princess"
I must say this came out very well considering the eggs miiiight have been past their best by date (for once I actually broke the eggs in a separate bowl just in case). And I discovered that 45 seconds on half power is the perfect amount of time to soften butter because let's be real--I never remember to take it out ahead of time.

There's this myth that alcohol burns off when you cook it and I'm not entirely sure if that's true. I think in this case most of it did burn off (I have to add that because I gave it to a pregnant lady, she knew bourbon went into it) but I'd be interested to see if there's a MythBusters episode talking about this.
Completed product! And my wire shelf doubles as a cooling rack...right?

This post comes in double doses because as the bourbon banana bread baked (now say that three times fast) I also finally made pumpkin scones!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Roasted Mushrooms

As a normal child, I rejected vegetables with a passion. Specifically anything that wasn’t broccoli. This did not deter my mother from trying such terrible things as brussel sprouts or people from insisting supreme pizza, which had mushrooms, was a great plan. I preferred plain, pretty simple tastes over here. Eventually, like eons later, I tried mushrooms (I can tell you exactly when it was, surprisingly it was at sport’s camp and it was lunch time and I’m pretty sure I mistook a Portobello mushroom to be a hamburger. Happy accidents.) and discovered perhaps they weren’t so terrible. They should still not be mixed into such delicious things as pasta sauce and pizza though; those things exist in perfection and need not be tainted by other things like chunky vegetables.

Large quantity of cleaned and chopped mushrooms
Anyways, I found this recipe on Pinterest (what a shock!) and it just so happened that the grocery store had a sale on mushrooms (BOGO which for those of you who are like me and never understood that term, stands for Buy One Get One…YOLO so BOGO!!). Typically I ignore the part where you’re meant to wash produce. If it comes pre-packaged (strawberries, bananas, blueberries etc.), then I assume it’s clean. However the recipe specifically tells you how to wipe off the mushrooms (not that it’s hard to figure out) so I assumed this might be an important step, mushrooms are a fungus after all. Oh my am I glad I did: visible dirt coming off of those lovely ‘shrooms. You’d think this would change my approach to washing things but no really, just mushrooms. Once they were all nice and clean, I did that thing where I followed the directions and had a moment of “well, it says ‘until they’re cooked’ but I have no idea what that means…” but figured it out once they looked mushroom-y enough. Fun fact: there are little herb boxes at the store for types of meat so instead of having to buy three herb bunches separately that would have gone to waste since I needed small amounts, I bought the one entitled “Poultry” which contained most of what I needed. How important can parsley be anyways?
Mmm seasonings
I also bought a bottle of balsamic vinegar only to realize that it requires a teaspoon. If I had known that, I probably wouldn’t have bought the bottle but I guess I can use it for other things like more mushrooms and salad dressings and—Pinterest/Googling ‘balsamic recipes’.
Ready for the oven!
Fun fact: these mushrooms are delicious. And they’re even more delicious if you put them in a grilled cheese sandwich. And then you dip that sandwich into tomato soup on a cold fall day and it’s heaven. And then you realize you have bread, cheese, tomato, and mushroom and it all surprisingly tastes like pizza. But that does not mean putting mushrooms on pizza is okay. There is no transitive property of mushrooms, it’s not the same!
And all done! Tenderly cooked and marinated. So delicious!

Chocolate Pudding Pie

What is one to do when pie crusts come in two-packs but your pies don’t have top layers? Make more pies! This is precisely the predicament I found myself in the other day: one extra pie crust and a craving for chocolate. The solution? Chocolate pudding pie, of course!

I take great pride in the fact that I had everything I needed to make the pudding part of the pie and I only had to buy the whipping cream, which is really something you buy as needed considering it can spoil.

This is the pie that made the non-pudding believers into a believer. No really, that’s what happened when I gave it to my friends. Someone was like “is it pudding? Because I don’t like pudding” to which I of course replied “well, technically it’s not pudding because it didn’t come from a pudding box, so I think it’s just squishy chocolate”. Obviously this is pudding but my definition of pudding is it comes from a box of Jello and contains gelatin. Apparently this is a very modern and lame definition of pudding.
Beautiful pie day, like for Thanksgiving, I'll make it for real

 I’m pretty convinced that this pudding is not as pudding-y as it should be, it was still a little runny but it’s chocolate! Consistency does not matter. The flaw in this plan was when it came time to do the whipped cream topping. Again, whipped cream from a can is not what this recipe calls for but whipped cream from whipping cream (from the Latin root ‘whip’ or to move quickly into delicious froth). Let’s review my kitchen gadgets: no mixer.

For the record, I have whipped whipping cream into submission before using only a whisk (say “whipped whipping cream with a whisk” three times fast, I dare ya—I triple dog dare ya! Bonus points if you get that movie reference). Knowing this takes a long time, and knowing that you have to add it shortly before serving, I allotted a full 30 minutes of whisking time. I overestimated my arms’ ability to whisk for that long and my left arm’s coordination skills. Poor right arm, so much work. It was getting down to the wire and it was starting to get some sort of thickness but only on the top portion of the cream. Alas, I had to abandon the whipped cream, realizing I would be late if I continued and also that no one would know…
Om nom pudding pie. It looks nothing like the Smitten Kitchen pictures but it was still yummy.

See, that’s the key. Realize that as much as an amateur you might be, the people NOT making things are probably more amateur and therefore will be a) in too much awe to question and b) not know that you’re missing a garnish or fancy piece. So the pie was in fact well received and as I mentioned before, converted the non-believers (I wish I could make some sort of Justin Bieber pun here about believers and Biebers but I got nothin’).

This of course also left me with a cup of sweetened and half-whipped whipping cream which I spent the next week dipping strawberries into and pouring over the remaining pie (good news, not much was left after my friends got hold of it, woohoo waistline!). Because realistically, the whipping cream still tasted like whipped cream just not the right consistency. That which we call whipped cream by any other consistency would taste so sweet? Yes, yes it does.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Trick or Treat!

Give me something good to eat! It's national eat candy and cake and anything orange day! In the spirit of this sweet holiday, I have some treats to share and some wicked humor. Senseless puns will continue until morale improves.
Ah yes, the magic of gadgets
The only thing better than one treat is two! Inspired to use my very last can of pumpkin, I made pumpkin boo bars (I didn't name them) and mummy cookies. The pumpkin bars were easy enough, it's kind of like making boo brownies. The cookies are really the interesting part.

What do you do with your cookie cutters for 11 months of the year? Put them in a box? Hang them on the wall for decoration? Well on this gloriously spooky holiday, someone had the brilliant realization that a gingerbread man is only a gingerbread man when it's made of gingerbread. Otherwise it's just a man...shape. So if you make little man-shaped cookies out of other dough and frost them with stripes, voila! You have mummies! How festive. One day, I can make these for my kids school parties (assuming people still eat cookies in 15 years and aren't too worried about sugar consumption and healthy eating to refrain from cookies because that would be a shame. I mean, they already got rid of cookie monster so it could happen...) and be the coolest mom ever (yes you will have to re-read that without the very long tangent in the middle).

The cookie graveyard
As it goes with new recipes, I was hesitant to think these would come out just like the pictures. After round one of mummy wraps, they looked fabulous! Inspired by my success, I confidently pursued batch number two with the bag of icing (fyi- plastic gets really hot). Huge failure. Round three involved using a knife as the bag had ripped at this point. Several cookies were lost in the fray, sadly meeting there end in my stomach. And I buried the crummy looking cookies on the bottom of the platter to take to work. Now it just looks like I have spectacularly creative and spooky cookies. I thought the red eyes were a nice touch--left over sprinkles from Valentine's Day.
Mummy cookies!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane in the Kitchen

I hope everyone is staying safe during this "Frankenstorm" that's looming. I am currently waiting it out after work was canceled (what? When is work canceled???). I spent the weekend preparing though, picking up canned food and batteries like everyone else. However, it occurred to me that I have a whole lot of meat in my freezer (all those buy 1 get 1 or weekly sales coming back to haunt me). Not wanting it to go bad, it seemed that the best decision was to cook a bunch of stuff and then freeze it again so then if the power goes out and it thaws, it thaws into normalcy and not spoilage. That's not to say that I don't still have meat that will go bad because that giant bag of shrimp that was on sale will make me very sad if it goes bad.

Step 1: Decide which meat to cook- two packages of Italian sausage.
Step 2: Search for appropriate recipes.
Step 3: Cook a lot.

I opted to make something new, an Italian Sausage Soup. It's one of those crockpot creations that requires little effort once the meat is made which fits well with my ambitious save the food campaign. But it kind of didn't come out as soup, it's pretty squishy pasta and not so much soupy broth. I think I did this wrong but desperate times call for desperate measures so it stays and will be eaten (none frozen from this batch).

Secondly, I made bolognese sauce. This sauce deserves a post all by itself so I don't want to give too much away but it's pretty simple and was immediately poured (well, cooled first) into a freezer bag. Hopefully for later. We have a theme here, lots of pasta items. I discovered last year that when the power goes out I can still cook on my lovely gas stove so boiling water is a go!

Laaaastly, I completed my preplanned list of things to cook before Frankenstorm: broccoli pesto pasta (see, more pasta). Somehow I ended up with two halves of an onion. Obviously I know how I ended up with halves but not sure how I overlooked already possessing half of an onion and chopping up another one, ya know? Oh well, now a half was used for this. The hardest part, besides chopping the onion, was the food processor part. I have an itty bitty food processor gadget so it took a lot of trips to chop up all the broccoli. It turned out a little bland but I only took a taste--before putting half of it in the freezer. We shall see but overall, lots of pasta going on.

There was a lot of cooking going on, not too many photos though :(
In addition to my frozen companions, I have the typical soup collection and bread. Now, bread can be used for the usual peanut butter and jelly (duh) oooor a grilled cream cheese and nutella sandwich. Again, another recipe worthy of a post in itself.

Stay safe during the storm! Hopefully Frankenstorm will pass in time for Halloween!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup

Last Christmas, I was given a crockpot which at first may sound rather chauvinistic giving a woman a mechanism by which to cook and fulfill a stereotypical role but we can all think here and know everyone has to eat and therefore a crockpot is a very practical gift and really encourages non-traditional role because it frees up all this time to do other things like work. At any rate, I think this is a fabulous invention but I do not trust leaving it on while I'm not at home. I know the point of the crockpot is you turn it on and go about your day but you have to understand that I'm operating with a rather special kitchen set up.

For starters, there are two outlets in my kitchen. One is behind my fridge so has my fridge plugged into it and my microwave which sits on top of my fridge (I'm tall, it's okay). The other outlet is pretty much eye-level to me (again, I'm tall) and resides on a wall not near the china cabinet counter ie: the only surface in the kitchen. So I place the crockpot on the questionably stable wire rack where the blender normally lives. For the life of me, I don't understand the logic behind making the crockpot cord six inches long. This does not nearly reach the outlet and it seems silly to get an extension cord to go the extra few inches. The only other solution is to place the crockpot on a box--a cardboard box. This might be a fire hazard, I'm not sure because yes the outside of the crockpot gets warm but I think it's okay.
Ugh, I swear I'm a very capable person but it keeps rotating my photos automatically instead of saving properly

So I don't leave the crockpot on home alone, I leave it on overnight with the fire extinguisher near my bed just in case. This soup requires multiple steps, big progress for a crockpot. So I made the first half and then a few days later when I actually got around to eating the soup, I added the milk and butter stuff. The twist that makes this experience appropriate for my blog is I have a new addition to my little kitchen of misfit gadgets. It makes me think of the Brave Little Toaster (not that I have a toaster).
Welcome my little gadget!

I had commented to my mom that I was looking into buying an immersion blender or food processor to make up for the blender fail and to improve my ability to make soup. Of course she has an extra 'food processor' so now I have another gadget, woohoo! This gadget is a fantastic shade of olive green and does in fact look like a food processor (no, it will not replace an immersion blender, Santa Claus will have to help with that) so I thought I should figure out how to use it before I plugged it in since it has a blade and all. I quickly determined that you have to press down to make it start because there's no on-off button. However, it did take me a few minutes to figure out how to open it. Those olive ridges are not for decoration. Anyways, I got a little carried away so the chopping of the celery, carrots and onions (still cried, it only helps so much) so they kind of became mush. But it's soup, mushy is okay since it will ultimately be liquified. Er--it should be liquified.

I'm guessing you could freeze this soup but instead I've just decided to eat soup for the last week. It has been quite delicious but alas, I need the crockpot to be vacated so I can make chili. Gotta love fall!