Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Playing Catch Up

I still haven't mentioned the food I made the week before Thanksgiving. Unpardonable! I was definitely cooking up a storm in the weeks before, probably in anticipation of the big day. Some hits, some misses. Check them out below.

Let's go ahead and do this in order. I'll start with the dish I liked most and work my way down to liked least. That way I get the gratification of sharing sooner, and I'm all about gratification.
  • Kale and sweet potato gratin, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. Deb's recipe actually calls for swiss chard, but for some reason my grocery stores just don't carry it. It sucks! But let me tell you. This is good. This is sinfully good. The sweet potatoes are sweet, the kale is nutty with an ever so slight bite to it. And the cheese...the bechamel... Sorry, I needed a moment. And thinking about it, it wasn't actually that bad for me. Wait, wait! Hear me out! The recipe called for heavy cream or whole milk. I had 1% and heavy cream. Since I wasn't about to use all heavy cream (ugh, emphasis would be on the heavy!), I mixed them! I forget what exactly my ratio was. maybe 50/50? Maybe I was daring and did 75% milk and 25% cream? Let's say I did. Because really, this recipe doesn't need to cream to be good. The cheese does a great job of adding creaminess, and the kale and sweet potatoes are so flavorful! Man oh man this was good! Make this one. Seriously.
  • Mini meatloaves, courtesy of Food Network. I've mentioned these before. They are so delicious. I doubled the recipe this time, so they would last the week with Husband on the mini meatloaf eating rampage he tends to get on when these babies are around. He was very good about leaving enough for me to have one everyday in my lunch. Really, they're more like meatballs. I still need to try making these a bit smaller and making a meatball sandwich with them. Yum!
I had the hardest time actually getting the meat at the meat counter! I told the guy I wanted a pound of ground sirloin, a pound of ground pork, and a pound of ground turkey. The guy was an idiot (he's the same idiot that pulls some idiot move every single weekend I'm there, ugh.). He ended up giving me some meat that was neither of the 3 I mentioned. And every time (every time) I ask for sirloin, he starts for the ground chuck and says "this one?" I always have to tell him no, I want the one labeled "sirloin" (and I have to hold in the "which is why I asked for sirloin!"). I try not to be a smart ass b*tch, but sometimes it's so hard. Thankfully Husband knows me too well, and was there to keep me in check.
  • Butternut squash soup, a mash-up of Shutterbean's...and some one else's, which I can't for the life of me find! Remember when I said I just wasn't big on squash soups? Yeah, I'm standing by that. I was in a soup mood, had some butternut squash, so thought, why not? But unfortunately, it was not all that. I ended up using more vegetables than just the squash, such as onion, celery, and carrots. And I added in some of the fresh sage I had left over from the polenta (see below). Even with the herbs, and curry powder, and other additives, I still thought it was a bit bland. And hot sauce didn't lend itself to the flavors, much to Husband's chagrin. Also, the sage was a bit overwhelming, so I would probably leave it out next time. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't great.
  • Quinoa stuffed squash, courtesy of The Kitchn. This one was a miss, which bums me out because I was so excited to make it! It sounded fantastic. Quinoa with dates and pistachios? Yum! I'll admit that this recipe originally drew me in because I had a big tub of dates from Costco and nothing to do with them, but it also just sounded tasty. First, I'll admit that I messed up a couple of times. I used acorn squash rather than the dumpling squash called for. And in my frazzled state (I usually get a bit frazzled towards the end of the day on Sunday when I realize it's getting late and I still have a lot to make) I totally forgot to add the cinnamon and lemon zest. But I really don't think that was the problem. The problem was the squash. Either I'm not a fan of the stuffed squash delivery method (much as I wasn't much of a fan of those stuffed peppers a few weeks ago), or it was just my mistake using acorn squash. Either way I thought the filling was quite tasty, but it didn't wow me. I don't know that I would make it again, even if I could decide on a better way to eat it.
  • Mushrooms and leeks with pumpkin polenta, courtesy of The Chef and The Photographer. I hate to say it, but I wasn't really a fan. Which bums me out because looking at the ingredients, I should be a fan. A huge fan! I love mushrooms and leeks, and cooked in butter and sherry with some fresh sage. Hello yum! And pumpkin! My fav! But something about this one just didn't come together for me. And I'm sure it was just my own cooking being off. First, I had textural issues. Polenta is mushy, mushrooms are mushy. It was a big mush party going on in my mouth. I know, my grandmother is turning over in her grave right now hearing me complain about food being mushy, seeing as how she always accused me of being too lazy to chew (thus why I didn't like meat growing up, supposedly). I used creminis. Perhaps another type of mushroom would yield tastier results. Or maybe some nuts thrown in for some crunch? Also, I went overboard on the sage. I hadn't used fresh sage before, so I didn't realize is was so...potent. And potent it is! And believe it or not, I also had issues with the polenta. I actually didn't much like the pumpkin with it. I didn't think the flavor meshed well with the rest of the dish. It just kind of I would take a bite and think, this would be good without the pumpkin. Maybe it's because I used canned pumpkin puree instead of fresh. Maybe canned pumpkin puree is perfectly acceptable in baked goods, but in cooking the difference really shows. That's probably it. But when I'm doing something as easy as polenta, I don't want to roast a pumpkin first. Husband really wasn't a fan. I've tried feeding him polenta a few times now, and each time he's tried it without complaint, but he just doesn't like it, which is too bad because I think it's pretty tasty and easy. It's pictured on the right side of my lunch container in the picture at the top.
Well there you have it. I don't think I've ever had so many mehs in one week! Thankfully the gratin and meatballs were fantastic enough to keep me excited the whole week. Unfortunately, I haven't been so great with taking pictures of my food stuffs since Thanksgiving. Bare with me people, it's been a busy few weeks! I'll have pictures galore when I show you the cookie tins I'll be sending out to people next week. Stay tuned!

PS: Did you notice I got a new keyboard? Woohoo! No more zzzzzzz issues! As you might have been able to tell from the plethora of zzzzzzs in this post. Though probably not because you don't realize how many times zzzzzz comes up until you're made to do without it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pumpkin Bread, Sans Cans!

I've posted about pumpkin bread before, but nothing I've made beats Alton Brown's pumpkin bread recipe that uses shredded fresh pumpkin rather than the canned stuff. It's moist. It's pumpkin-y. It's just fantastic. The first time I made it, I was too lazy...

Ok, quick aside: the "z" key on my keyboard doesn't work. Do you have any idea how annoying it is to have to comb the interwebs looking for the letter to copy and paste, or figure out what letter I can type to trick blogger's spell check into realizing z is actually what I want? Thank goodness it's not a popular letter, but even just this short missive has several! Oiy!)

Anyway, I was too lazy to confirm how to toast the pumpkin seeds, and I forgot to toast them until the batter was basically all put together and ready to go into the oven, so i don't think I toasted them for long enough. Yeah, they turned out chewy. Chewy seeds is definitely not a texture that is appealing while eating pumpkin bread. I didn't mind it so much, and I liked the flavor they added, but Husband hated them and picked them out, like raisins out of a scone. For future reference, Self, to properly toast pumpkin seeds, bake at 375 for about 7 minutes (and maybe drizzle (Ack! Two of them!) some olive oil on them first). I basically did that, but it's worth another try with some patience on the side this time.

I used my Cuisinart with the shredding blade to make quick work of the pumpkin. If you don't have one of these, or some other mechanical means to shred...perhaps this recipe isn't for you... Or perhaps you have a friend who will let you sneak over to their house for 5 minutes to shred and run. One medium pumpkin yielded enough meat for 2 loaves.

It doesn't look like traditional pumpkin bread because rather than orange in color, it's more of a brown with wisps of orange throughout, but it sure tastes like it! You can't get any fresher than, well, fresh! This bread cooks low and slow to really let the bits of pumpkin cook and become soft and delicious. I was dubious about the recipe at first because there aren't a lot of spices, just cinnamon, I think. I was worried it would be bland, and when it comes to holiday baking I tend to fall over backwards for anything with lots of holiday spices (i.e. cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, etc.), but this bread was definitely not bland. The pumpkin is the star, and the cinnamon helps to give it a boost without overpowering it. Again, another reason it's important and fantastic that the recipes uses fresh pumpkin. Canned pumpkin, I think, would have been a bit bland indeed.

I've made it twice already (the second time without the pumpkin seeds), and it was delicious both times. In fact, I'm making it again tonight for my office holiday party tomorrow (along with a Snuggie for the gift exchange, how perfect is that?!). I'm going to try toasting the seeds again, but if that doesn't go over well, I'll try adding walnuts. I never get to add nuts to my baked goods because Husband whines that it ruins it. Ugh. Well Husband is out of town this week, so I can ruin all the pumpkin bread I want! Ha!

I have a feeling I'll be breaking this recipe out every time I see sugar pumpkins at the store. Sadly, that time of year seems to have come and gone already. Good thing I stocked up!

Hey, remember when I talked about making chicken stock? Well Lindsay and Taylor over at Love and Olive Oil just posted about making their own chicken stock, in a way quite different than the method I originally tried. They sweat the veggies in oil first, and simmer for about twice as long as I did. And they added way more herbs and spices, which is definitely something I was lacking. I have another carcass in the freezer (grrr!), so I might just have to give this one a go and report back. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Best Bundt Cake I Ever Made

For some reason within the last few months a bunch of my friends on Facebook decided it was high time Husband and I reproduce. Every Facebook status was twisted and corrupted into signs that I was pregnant. All in good fun and completely ridiculous, of course. Well a few weeks ago I posted the following status update: "[julo] has her very first bundt in the oven!" A few minutes later one of my friends politely scolded me for egging people on. Ha! Something about adding fuel to the fire. But I really did have my first bundt in the oven! I speak purely of edible delights, surely.

That's right I can't believe it either. I'd never made a bundt cake before a few weeks ago. The primary reason being that until a few weeks ago I also never owned a bundt pan. (Apparently my mom isn't into bundt cakes, as I can't remember ever seeing one in the kitchen growing up.) I mean, a bundt cake is just a cake in a giant donut shape, but without the pan, it's just not a bundt. But after a year of food blog reading, I was ready for the next step in my kitchen career.

Of course, new kitchen purchases are a sticky situation with the old ball and chain. Losing 65 pounds over the course of a year meant I was pretty much constantly buy new clothes (just to stay descent!), and all my kitchen adventures resulted in lots of equipment purchases (just to stay descent! There's nothing worse than an under-dressed pantry). Husband makes sure I don't go overboard (a job I happily give him!), but really it just means I have to get creative when I want something. Remember when I wanted a Dutch oven and I showed him the Dutch oven episode of Good Eats? Woohoo! Dutch oven for me! Well when I decided I was ready for a bundt pan, I showed him this:

Ohhhh yeah! Tell me more, Baby!

Ok, actually, I didn't show him this specific picture, since that's the one I made, and that would have been kinda hard, since I didn't have a bundt pan at that point, and I haven't yet perfected my time machine. But I showed him the link I'm about to share with you, and when you click the link and look at the picture, you'll understand why I am now in the possession of a shiny new bundt pan. Let's see if you can even resist the name of this treasure.

That would be an apple praline coffee cake, courtesy of Honey and Jam.

Click the link. You know you want to. You might want to have a bucket ready. To catch all the drool of course. Comparing her picture to mine, I really should have let the glaze thicken more to that chunky consistency she got. Next time!

This cake was fantastic! It was light and fluffy with a fresh flavor from the apples and cinnamon. The glaze was a little on the sweet side by itself, but since it was just a drizzle, it was a good amount in combination with the cake. And the pecans were awesome too. I highly recommend this cake. It was easy and very very delicious! A cake pan well spent!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Homemade Makes The Difference

Oh blog, I've been remiss! I've neglected you so! I blame a hectic work schedule and traveling for the holidays, and Farmville, but I know excuses are meaningless to you. You've been on the edge of your microchip wondering what deliciousness came out of my kitchen the last few weeks. Well I plan to catch you up this week on everything you missed. Which was quite a bit, actually. Nothing but success from Chez Lo, lately. Starting with my own homemade chicken stock!
All the tv chefs always say, again and again, there is no comparison for homemade stocks. Since my mom never did homemade stocks, I could never agree or disagree. Well with my trusty Martha Tome in hand, I decided to give my own a try.

I had a couple of chicken carcasses in my freezer, since I've been cooking so many whole chickens lately. And in an effort to keep my freezer fuller for greater energy efficiency, and also in anticipation of my own stock making efforts, I had also kept a freezer bag full of carrot and celery tops that I had been saving for a few weeks. So I pretty much had everything I needed!

I threw the chicken carcass in a big pot of water, added the carrots and celery bits, added 2 onions, quartered, and let it gently boil for about an hour and a half. I tried Martha's fat-skimming technique, which was to boil it very gently and skim the fat periodically during cooking, but there was never any to skim, so I guess I just got a less fatty carcass. But here's the real trick. Something I never would have thought of on my own. It's not earth shattering. You might think of it. But if you did, you're smarter than me. Here's the thing. After the stock is all cooked up and delicious, after you strain out all the cooked bits of food particles, you let the stock sit. Let it sit and cool. And then. You skim it! In my ever-impatient state, I would throw that baby in the freezer as soon as it was strained, and then complain when my stock turned out heavy and fatty tasting. But if you're patient and let it cool at room temperature first, then throw it in the fridge overnight, all the fat will rise to the top and congeal and you can skim it off so it's gone! Voila! Fatty bits-less stock!

Of course, after I made the stock, I realized I had no way to freeze it. Or rather, no containers to hold 5 quarts of stock for a long period of time. I've since bought some more of those plastic freezer jam containers and ice cube trays to hold most of it. I've learned that freezing stock in too large a quantity makes it a pain to use later when you have to defrost it. Again, not an actual problem with a little forethought. But I barely have present-thought, let alone fore. So yeah, smaller is better for me.

I used the last of the stock last night, and I think I can safely stock is dang good! Sure my stock was good, but if anything, I think the chicken flavor in my stock was a bit too strong. And it's so much easier to just pop open a carton, use what I need, and throw the rest in the fridge for later use. I can't speak to the cheap stuff, but that free-range organic chicken stock they sell at most grocery stores is pretty darn good and really not that expensive. I'll definitely try a second attempt at making my own (if only because I still have a carcass in the freezer), and I'll try throwing in some other veggies like leeks and broccoli stems, and I'll try cooking the veggies a bit longer, but removing the carcass so it doesn't get too chicken-y tasting, but I'm definitely not recommending you run out and make your own if you're not feeling up to it. I didn't find it made all that big of a difference, personally. And I'm usually all about making as much in-house as you can.

That's my 2 cents! Have you made your own chicken stock before? What did you think? How did your cooking technique differ from mine?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Make This: Peanut Butter Banana "Ice Cream"

A few months ago I saw this post from The Kitchn about making banana ice cream with just one ingredient: banana. I was intrigued, made a mental note to try it, and then never did. Until a few weeks ago. Oh frozen banana, where have you been all my life? This is good people. Good.

I kept doing silly things like making banana bread with my old bananas, or, heaven forbid, eating them all before they even got mushy. Finally I made a mental note to buy tons of extra bananas, and freeze the ones that were left after they had turned brown, mushy, and ultra sweet. Nom! One afternoon a few weeks ago I decided I could go for something sweet, so I pulled out two of my frozen bananas. I popped them in the food processor with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and let her rip. At first it didn't look like much, just bits of icy banana and some brown goop stirred in. Then, after about 45 seconds, something happened. It magically morphed from eh looking chunks to a smooth, delicious-looking cream. I knew it was ready.

I plopped it into a bowl, took a bite,! Creamy, sweet, peanut buttery, and of course, banana! Since it was cold, the banana flavor wasn't overpowering, and the peanut butter gave it just a fantastic punch of flavor. It seriously could have passed for some form of ice cream if I didn't know better.

Husband heard my moans of pleasure and came running, asking what I was eating. I didn't tell him. I handed him the bowl and told him to try it. He did. Then he brought the bowl possessively to his chest and gave me a look that said "I am prepared to fight you to keep possession of the contents of this bowl". In other words, he loved it. He knew I hadn't bought any ice cream at the store, so he was confused on where the bowl of deliciousness had come from (by the way, I love that feeling when something so delicious comes out of the kitchen that your loved one looks at you like you've whipped magic out of thin air?). Our exchange went something like this:

Husband: What is this?

Me: Banana ice cream!

Husband: ...

Me: It's just whipped up frozen banana with a little peanut butter.

Husband: Is there more?

Me: Sure. I only made this batch, but there are more bananas and it only takes a minute.

Husband: Good. This one is mine.

I don't know why, but I haven't made it since. I rarely go in the freezer, so I think it's a case of out of sight, out of mind. Also, I'm probably too busy shivering from cold because it is cold all of a sudden. But I have a nice collection of frozen bananas stocked, so I'm ready for round 2!

Make this. It's cheap, easy, and delicious. You will not be disappointed.

And if you're interested, I store my frozen bananas by removing the peels, wrapping them individually in plastic wrap, and then putting them all together in a gallon ziplock freezer bag. That way they're all ready to use, and they don't stick together. I like to let my bananas get nice and brown and mushy before I freeze them because that's when I know the starches have broken down into delicious sugars.

Update: I made this again for dessert last night, and it was every bit as delicious as I remembered! So creamy, so sweet. Nom! This time I did 3 bananas with the intent of splitting it with Husband. I'd recommend sticking with 2 if you're using a Cuisinart food processor. The third banana proved too much for the blade to handle and it kept balling up and getting stuck without creaming. I have to stop and stir it up several times, a problem I didn't have with 2 bananas.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Recipe: Glazed Tempeh With Spelt Kale And Beets

Husband was out of town last week, so it was just me and Theo fending for ourselves. Whenever I brought up food ideas for the week, Husband pouted at the thought of missing out. I told him I hadn't made anything he had outright disliked, so how was I supposed to eat without him missing out? Then I remembered a few weeks ago I made tempeh that he really wasn't a fan of. Sure, it had only been a few weeks since I had it last, but I was actually feeling pretty lazy, so I was ok with it. I made it basically the same way I did last time, only this time I documented it so I could share it with you. That's right. We're going to go through this together, with pictorial representation. How exciting! Here we go...

Start off by melting the butter over medium heat. Always a good start to a meal, I say. Make sure you use a pan big enough to handle wilting the kale and tossing everything together at the end.

When the butter is good and melty, add the spelt (or whichever grain tickles your fancy), stir to coat, and let the grains toast for about a minute.

I like spelt in this recipe because a meatier, chewier grain holds up nicely to the tempeh and massive bunch of kale. I don't think brown rice would provide enough of a texture contrast and it would get a bit lost. Wheat berries would probably do well.

When spelt is toasted, add 1 bottle of your beer of choice. It gets better and better, I know. Just whatever you have lying around. I've done this twice now, with two completely different beers, turned out great both times. If you don't like beer, I'll bet it would be great with some red wine, though you'll end up with purple grains. And if you're not into alcohol, chicken broth or even water would work fine. Start with a 2-1 ration of liquid to grain and add more as needed. I think the beer gave it a really interesting flavor that kept it from tasting a bit dry.

Bring the beer to a boil and then turn down the heat so it is just simmering. Cook the spelt...until it's done! It takes about an hour. If the liquid runs out, add more. I just used water, but you could use chicken broth if you have some on hand. Don't let it get too dry or the grains will start to cook rather than boil. After an hour try a bite (once you let it cool off!) of the spelt. If it tastes too chewy, let it cook longer. It's always going to have a bite to it, but it shouldn't give your jaw a workout. If it doesn't taste right, just keep cooking.

While the spelt is simmering, mix the glaze mixture together. I like to mix it right in my 4 cup measuring cup. Easy measuring and easy to pour. I like to freshly squeeze my orange juice because I just bought one of those plastic juicing doo-dads, but that Simple Orange juice is basically fresh squeezed, so if you're feeling lazy, just buy that. It's delicious!

In case you didn't know, this is tempeh. I had never seen it before a few weeks ago. It feels like dried tofu and rice hard vacuum packed together. So much easier to handle than tofu. Chop 2 packages into bit-sized pieces.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tempeh and sear on all sides, a few minutes on each side. This was a total pain. Big hunks of meat are so much easier. I can never get my tongs to properly grasp each piece. Maybe I should try bigger chunks next time. I also did it in two batches to ensure proper searing...and my sanity. I'm so anal about each piece searing properly, I can't handle too many pieces at once.

This is usually about the time Husband asks if he can interrupt me for a second. He is so cute. This is what he asks when he wants a hug. He used to just come up behind me and hug me, and I'd snip at him for making me almost cut myself, or hanging on me when I needed to move around. Now he asks permission so I won't get mad. He can't help his timing. And when Theo sees Husband getting attention, he wants attention too, so Husband has to play fetch with him after he's gotten his share. The circle of love. *barf!* Now everyone get off of me so I can get back to cooking!

When the tempeh is seared, it's time for the orange glaze mixture. Slowly pour it into the pan and simmer for about 10 minutes, until it reduces to sweet deliciousness. If you remember, about halfway through, toss the tempeh to make sure the glaze cooks nicely over all sides, but I didn't remember. That's ok.

About this time your spelt will be done. Unless you're a speed demon, which I am not, in which case you'll just have to wait! Anyway, toss the kale into the pan and toss everything around. If you can't fit all the kale in all at once, that's ok. Add as much as you can, then add the rest when the first bunch wilts a bit. It cooks down, don't worry.

Next, add the chopped beets. I loved the beets in this dish. They were a nice contrast in color, texture, and flavor. What's not to love?

Next, add the cooked tempeh and glaze. Toss everything until incorporated and wonderful. Yum!

Glazed Tempeh with Spelt, Kale, and Beets
Makes 6-8 servings.
Tempeh portion adapted from this 101 Cookbooks recipe.

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup spelt (or brown rice, wheat berries, or any other grain that suits your fancy)
  • 1 bottle of beer (any will do), or 2 cups chicken broth, or water
  • 2 packages of tempeh (about 20 ounces), or extra-firm tofu
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice (~4 large juicy oranges)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • 4 teaspoons tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 3 tablespoons mirin (try white wine or sake if you don't have it)
  • 4 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bunch kale, de-stemmed and chopped
  • 4 medium beets, roasted, skins removed, and chopped

  1. Melt butter over medium heat in non-stick pan big enough to hold everything. Add the spelt and let it toast for a minute or two.
  2. Turn heat up to high and add the beer (or chicken broth). Once it boils, turn heat down and simmer until spelt is cooked through. It takes about an hour. If you’re using rice, you would need less beer and to lessen the cooking time. If the liquid evaporates before the spelt is tender, add chicken stock or water a little at a time until it is done. Spelt does have a bit of a bite to it, so keep that in mind when tasting for doneness.
  3. While spelt is simmering, put the orange juice in a small bowl. Add the ginger, tamari, mirin, maple syrup, ground coriander, and garlic. Mix together and set aside.
  4. Cut the tempeh (or tofu) into bite-sized pieces (if working with tofu, pat dry with a paper towel). Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the tempeh and sear for 5 minutes, or until golden underneath. Turn and cook the other side for another few minutes until golden.
  5. Slowly add the orange glaze mixture into the pan and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced. Turn the tempeh halfway through to ensure even coating.
  6. When the spelt is fully cooked, add chopped kale and cook for a few minutes, until wilted. Add the beets and cook until heated through. Add the tempeh and orange glaze mixture. Stir to incorporate all the ingredients. Turn off heat and serve.

Phew! I did it! This was fun! Hope you enjoyed it. Since I was only making one dish last weekend, I was able to take my time and take lots of pictures, which was a blast. Husband got nervous about pesky things like steam around the camera, but I banished him from the kitchen and everything was zen.

Did I mention I had to go to three stores to find tempeh? Not that the other 2 stores didn't carry it, but they were actually sold out. Why was it in such demand last weekend!? Oh, that's right. Because I wanted to buy it. Naturally this weekend at the store I saw tons of it in stock. Of course. Apparently tempeh is flying off the shelves faster than the store managers anticipated. Imagine that! Attention store managers: did you notice how all the plain tempeh was gone, but all the disgusting pre-flavored tempeh was still over flowing? Did you notice how the tempeh you were trying to pass off as a bacon alternative "fakin' bacon" was in abundance? Did you notice how I asked where the non-flavored tempeh was and when saw you were out left the area without buying the other stuff? Looks like I wasn't the only one doing that. Take the hint.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Halloween Treats

Yeah, I know. Halloween was forever ago. But I'm posting a full week earlier than I did my Halloween post last year. As long as I'm improving, right? Trust me, what I made is worth the wait. But I won't make you wait any longer. As I mentioned before, I had some friends over for dessert on Halloween. I was feeling kind of down since I had wanted to do a full dinner party, but I ended up not having the time because I was sent out of town for work and didn't get back in town until Friday afternoon, which wouldn't have left me enough time to grocery shop and prep and cook. But it was just as well since all my friends either didn't want to come or said they would come later, after dinner and trick or treating. So it turned into a dessert night. I could have had some fun with that, but again, the despondency and time crunch left me feeling like baking something easy, like cookies! So I made two kinds of cookies. I'll cut right to the chase and start out with what I teased earlier:
  • Pumpkin butterscotch cookies, courtesy of Joy the Baker. I am seriously drooling over the memory of these cookies. They are...just...amazing. First of all butterscotch and pumpkin are officially a match made in heaven. At first Husband scoffed when I said I was making two kinds of cookies and neither would have chocolate. He asked if I could make a smaller batch of the pumpkin cookies for him with chocolate chips instead of butterscotch chips. I told him I didn't take requests and he could at least try the recipe before he poo-pooed it. And I'm so glad I did! And so was he! We both agreed that the flavors were excellent together. He didn't mention chocolate the rest of the night (unless it was to ask someone to pass him a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup). And the cookies themselves were amazing too. They're like little cakes. Of course, I hesitate to use the word "little", since they are anything but. These cookies were huge! I think next time I might make them a bit smaller, just so I don't feel like puking after I eat three (that night was very unfriendly to my waistline). How light and fluffy were they? Well as you see from the picture to the right, some of the butterscotch chips were too heavy to rise with the dough itself, so the cookies ended up looking a bit dimpled. It was actually kind of neat looking. It didn't affect the overall texture or flavor of the cookie, so no worries. These were a huge crowd pleaser. When each guest tried one you could see their faces go from surprise to ecstasy and back to surprise in seconds. Hehe. Biting into one of these cookies was like biting into a cloud, sweet with the flavor of pumpkin, and then inside the delicious cloud is a surprise! A butterscotch chip that has a soft and oh so sweet crunch. Oh man. Go make these! You won't be disappointed!
  • Chai oatmeal cookies, courtesy of Appetite for China. Don't ask me how I found this blog. I have no idea. But chai spices in a cookie had me intrigued, so I saved it off. I made these cookies once before and had liked them, so I thought it would be a good choice for my dessert night. I wanted something I knew I would like. The recipe is allllll the way at the end of the post. Keep scrolling, it's there. As as you can see, mine spread out a bit more than hers did. Whoops! Perhaps the butter was too warm? Either way, these still tasted great. As I always say, I'm a sucker for cardamom. The chai spices definitely give this cookie an interesting flavor. I think it makes them a bit more fun than just regular oatmeal, or even oatmeal with chocolate chips. Oh, and I didn't put chocolate chips in these because I don't think chocolate would have gone very well with the chai spices. But I'll bet some walnuts would have been a good addition. Hmm...maybe next time. Also, next time I want to try a different oatmeal cookie recipe to incorporate the spices into. I like the flavors, but I think there's a better recipe out there for the overall texture.
  • I also made spiced apple cider for the first time. It turned out fantastic! I didn't find a recipe I really liked, so I ended up borrowing from several of them. This one from The Kitchn is pretty close to what I ended up doing. I already have the ingredients to make this again, so I'll post a full recipe when I do that and manage to snap a descent picture or two. I ended up making a gallon and a half, but next time I'll do the two full gallons that come in the apple cider bottle because it went too quickly! I combined that with 1 orange, quartered, then I threw in about 10 cloves, 3 cinnamon sticks, and 2 star anise pods. I didn't have whole nutmeg (I do now!), so I threw in about 1/2 a teaspoon of grated nutmeg. Oh, and I may have added a pinch of brown sugar, but I actually don't think it was needed. I just simmered than for about 20 minutes, then strained it. And voila! Spiced apple cider! This was surprisingly good. It was sweet and immediately put me in the mood for the holidays. Drinks like this just put a smile on my face. I made this along with the cookies because I was in the kitchen, but I hadn't made it with the intention of specifically serving it to my guests. I figured people would want the sodas and alcoholic beverages I had stocked. But surprisingly, each and every guest opted for some of the cider when I mentioned it. And they seemed to like it! Husband said he though they may have just been acting polite and requesting it because they knew I made it. I told him I hope not because they drank all my cider, so it better have been because they wanted it! Heh.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Food Blogs Shout Out

Kelly asked me what food blogs I read, and I thought the best way to answer would be its own post. You know that long list of food blogs that always appears on the side bar of a food blog? I find it completely intimidating. I will spend the better part of a day reading through one blog when I find it, I get totally overwhelmed when I see 50 all at once! Not to mention each one of those 50 has their own list. There's a ton of overlap, it feels very incestuous almost. But it's most intimidating because you don't know anything about it besides the name before you click the link. I'm going to do it a little differently. Below is a list of the food blogs I read and I've included a little blurb about what I like about them. I've organized them into a few different groups, since I read some more casually than others. Enjoy!

Food blogs I run to read as soon as I see a new recipe posted:
  • Smitten Kitchen - This was the very first food blog I read when I first started cooking. Her pictures are amazing, her recipes are just the kind of food I eat, and most importantly her recipes are easy to follow and delicious! If there was one food blog I would recommend, it would be this one. Though it would be ever so hard to recommend just one! This blog is a mix of baking and cooking, though this year was pretty heavy on baking since she was pregnant.
  • The Pioneer Woman - This is the most approachable food blog I've come across. Each recipe has step by step photographic instructions that make everything doable. Plus, her recipes are very non-fussy, and usually pretty darn hilarious. Very rustic. My kind of food, though her recipes tend to be a bit too high on the calorie scale for me to make often. The blog focuses on cooking, but there's definitely a good amount of baking thrown in!
  • Pinch My Salt - This is the blog responsible for all the Peter Reinhart bread baking you see going around the interwebs. Most of her recipes are baking, especially breads because of the BBA challenge, but if you search her archives, there's some excellent cooking recipes as well. This is the blog responsible for the mango avocado corn and jicama salad I love to make, not to mention the most amazing pumpkin scones I still need to blog about. Yum!
  • 101 Cookbooks - I'm new to this blog, but so far I like it. The ingredients are fresh, lots of vegetables and whole grains. The recipe index is organized beautifully. This is where I got my beloved tempeh recipe (the one that encouraged me to try tempeh for the first time!), so it's on my love list just for that. This blog is, I believe, mostly cooking, with some baking.
  • And Then I Do The Dishes - I'm pretty new to this blog as well. It's mostly baking, and it always looks delicious!
  • Honey & Jam - I just found this blog last week, and oh my is it scrumptious! All baking all the time. There are several recipes on this blog I want to try.
  • Joy the Baker - This girl can bake. 'Nuff said. I haven't made many of her recipes because I never have much time for baking, but what I have made has been delicious. Well put together recipes, nice pictures, and a cute writing style.
  • The Luna Cafe - This is the blog that opened my eyes to roasted chicken, and for that I am forever grateful. It's mostly cooking, but some baking. The recipes tend to be a bit...fussy for my taste, so I haven't tried anything else yet, but I'm sure I will.
  • Noble Pig - The woman who writes this blog just moved to Oregon to open a winery. I hate her, but also want to be her best friend. Her recipes (cooking and baking, a good mix of both) are very non-fussy and approachable. She also has step by step pictures for a recipe, making them seem even easier. I've made a few of her recipes, and they all turned out fantastic! They tend to be a bit on the unhealthy side, but not always, and sometimes that's ok.
  • Simply Recipes - Lots of great looking recipes. Mostly cooking. The recipe archive is really nicely organized, so you can search pretty specifically. So far I've only made the brussells sprouts hash, but it was pretty delicious. Looking forward to trying more.
Food blogs I check in with every once in a while, but rarely make anything from:
  • Orangette - This might be in the category above if it were updated more often, but since the writer is a bit busy at the moment opening a restaurant (which I hear is very successful so far, I tried to check it out when I was in Seattle, but I didn't have the time. Boo!), it's down here. I haven't tried a lot of her recipes, and her photography is a bit too dark and grainy for my taste, but what I have tried has been good, as many will attest.
  • Tea & Cookies - A lovely, well-written blog I like to read, but updates are sporadic and the recipes don't usually speak to me.
  • The Wednesday Chef - Again, a beautiful blog, but again, just not my kind of food usually. I've saved a recipe or two. Also, I use her recipe for roasting peppers. Yum!
  • Cooking Books - A mixture of baking and cooking. The cooking doesn't wow me, but the baked goods always look scrumptious. I saved off a few recipes from this one, but I can't remember what they are.
  • David Lebovitz - Because you can't mention food blogs and not mention him. He's like food blogging royalty, right? I haven't tried any of his recipes yet, but I want to! I tried making his persimmon bread last weekend, but I couldn't find enough hachiya persimmons. A travesty!
  • Love and Olive Oil - I don't think I've tried any recipes from this one yet, but I know I saved a few off. Lots of baking. The pumpkin turkey chili looks good!
  • Savory Sweet Life - Gorgeous pictures. Heavier on the baking side. I haven't made anything from this one yet, but I bet I will at some point. Nothing has quite called out to me yet.
  • Shutterbean - I want to live in this woman's house. She's got a style and she goes there. And she cooks and bakes some amazingly delicious looking stuff. Several things on this blog are on my to-make list. Mostly baked goods.
  • The Way The Cookie Crumbles - I just found this one today, but I already know I'm going to love it. The writer has a similar outlook on food as I do, and her recipes look scrumptious! Mostly baking. She does several recipe comparisons where she'll bake the same thing using two or three different recipes, then compare, then post all the recipes at the end. It's great!
  • Bakerella - I've not tried any of her recipes. The presentation is always so daunting, it throws me off. I don't have the baking energy for cake pops and I don't have mini muffin pans for tiny pumpkin shaped things. They're a little fussy for me, but everything looks delicious. I'll try one of her recipes one of these days, I'm sure.
Blogs that aren't food blogs that I read because I enjoy and they occasionally post recipes that I try:
  • Healthy Eats - This isn't technically a food blog, per se, but it's pretty darn close. It's all about healthy eating, including links to healthy recipes (it's associated with Food Network, so most of the recipes are from there), information on spotlight ingredients, and fun facts about nutrition. Now I know exactly why Omega-3s are so stinking good for me. This blog has changed my outlook on healthy eating tenfold. I highly recommend it to anyone as an interesting read, not necessarily as a life changer.
  • Not Martha - Not really what I would call a food blog, but she has posted recipes. My first successful whole wheat bread recipe came from this blog. Plus, her other links are always so interesting.
  • NPR Kitchen Window - Each article is written by a different person and includes recipes based on the topic written about. So it's very hit and miss, depending on who is writing the article that week. Deb from Smitten Kitchen did one on dumplings that was just amazing. Also, the pumpkin black bean soup I made last week came from one of these articles. I highly recommend checking it out!
  • Angry Chicken - This is a craft blog, not a food blog by any means, but she posted the recipe for my favorite pumpkin muffins, and for that she gets a mention here.
  • Posie Gets Cozy - Another craft blog, but she does post quite a few recipes. Mostly rustic fruit desserts or simple chicken dishes. They always catch my eye. Plus, I just love to read anything she writes.
  • Rhymes With Spoon - I'd say this blog is about 2 parts crafts, 1 part cooking/eating. She's posted some links to some great recipes. Remember those crack twix bars? All her fault. I have a feeling if we lived in the same city we'd be eating buddies.
In a class their own:
  • Serious Eats and The Kitchn - It's all recipes all the time! These blogs are basically dedicated to posting recipes from other food bloggers or from cookbooks they review and then give away. I've found several of the food blogs listed above because of these sites. They are a must.

Hope you enjoyed my little rant. I'd love it if you would enable my addiction and tell me what food blogs you enjoy.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Perfect Fall Soup

(I originally typed up this post last week, but I wanted to wait for pictures before I posted it. Unfortunately, I only ended up getting one picture. How lame am I? But it's here none the less.)

I have to say, it surprises even me, but most fall soups don't appeal much to me. Don't get me wrong, if you put a bowl of pumpkin, butternut squash, or carrot ginger soup in front of me, I would down it in seconds, as I would any other soup. I love soup! But I don't see a picture or read a recipe and run right out to make it. It just doesn't excite me much. The flavors always sound rather bland and the pictures look so...monochromatic. I did find a recipe, however, with no picture no less, that did excite me. And it does have pumpkin in, which I just can't get enough of lately.

But before we get into that, can I just say how fantastic persimmons are? Have you ever tried one? I'd seen lots of blog posts all about their deliciousness and educating me on the two varieties and how different they are, but until last week I was a persimmon virgin. No longer. The Whole Foods wannabe hippie grocery store I frequent, Jimbo's, had fuyu persimmons out for sampling last week (exhibit A of why this store is awesome: they have produce samples every week), so Husband and I tried, loved, and bought! Apparently they're only in season about 2 months out of the year. How lame is that?

Just about every persimmon blog post I've read already says this, but if you're new to the fruit, here's some info. There are two kinds of persimmons that you don't want to get confused. First, there's the fuyu, which is the short and squat kind that looks like a pumpkin/tomato hybrid. It has the consistency of an apple when you eat it (and it should have a similar feel when you buy it, crisp, not mushy), but it tastes so much brighter and sweeter than an apple. You also eat it just like an apple. Just slice, remove the core, and eat! You'll never look back! There's also the hachiya persimmon, which is tall and slender (like an acorn). These, I'm told, are bitter and nasty if you eat them when they're not fully ripened. When are they ripe? Well basically just when you think it's past ripe. I'm told the mushier the better. The hachiya are the kind you bake with. Once they are nice and soft, just pop them open, scoop out the soft innards, and enjoy in everything from cookies to pudding. I'd say it's kind of like pumpkin puree in usage and consistency. Though the guy at the store said he prefers to just eat it straight off the spoon. So if you haven't tried persimmons before, pick some up at the store this weekend. You won't be sorry! I ate my fuyu persimmons sliced over my morning cereal, mixed with my usual banana. It was fantastic. I am so getting more this weekend (Update, since I started this post last week, I did buy more over the weekend! Mwaha!).

Here's what I cooked up this last week:
  • Black bean and pumpkin soup, courtesy of NPR Kitchen Window. I know, I said pumpkin soups didn't entice me. Well black beans are a whole other matter. This is one of the better soups I've ever made. As Husband put it, it speaks volumes that he didn't feel the need to reach for the hot sauce when eating this soup. Because it is already so flavorful, literally nothing else is needed. Except a spoon. Though I think I could make do with just stuffing my face in the bowl and drinking it. All the ingredients in this soup really came together to create some really complex flavors. The tomatoes with the green chiles are a must. If you want to make this soup but don't have these on hand (either because your store doesn't carry canned tomatoes with green chiles or because you would rather use what you already have in your pantry), definitely add a small can of green chiles separately. The spice from the chiles added with the hefty amount of cumin created a fantastic smoky flavor that kept every bite interesting. And of course, was the perfect compliment to the chorizo, which was just fantastic. I got the...loose kind? The kind not in casings because that's what the store had. But I really like how it broke up and provided flavor throughout without really changing the texture, so I think in the future I would take the casings off anyway. I'm not one for random chunks in my soup. The sherry provided...ok, I am so bad at identifying what it is that liquor does to food to make it taste so good. But it keeps it from tasting bland or boring. Keeps your mouth entertained. Booze and pumpkin are just a match made in heaven, I think. My only negative would perhaps be that the pumpkin gets a bit lost in the soup. Black beans and chiles are a strong flavor against the mildness of the pumpkin, but it definitely provided a sweetness that probably kept the soup from being a bit overpowering, not to mention adding to the creamy texture. I plan to stock pile canned pumpkin while I can so I can make this soup year round. It is seriously that good. Make it! Unfortunately, the soup disappeared before I could get a picture of it. I also didn't get a chance to serve the soup in a pumpkin tureen, which I actually would have done, had fate seen fit to let me have a proper Halloween dinner like I was hoping for. I ended up having to go out of town last minute, which wouldn't have left me enough time for making up a whole fancy dinner (I need at least a day of shopping for that, right?). But the bigger obstacle was that no one wanted to come over for dinner. Is my cooking that bad?
  • I popped another food cherry this week. Oh don't blush, you know what I mean. This time, with spaghetti squash. Can you believe I had never had spaghetti squash before either? I didn't even know there was such a thing before I started reading all these fantastic food blogs. I really love pasta, but I try to stay away from it as much as possible because it really messes with my food group ratios. Instead of 50% veggie, 25% protein, 25% whole grain, I end up with 75% grain (whole if I use whole wheat or brown rice), 25% sauce of some kind. Not the best. And then I digest it too fast, my blood sugar spikes, I get hungry again 10 minutes later, etc. So I try to only eat it occasionally. I was skeptical about spaghetti squash. Sure, it comes in strands that resemble pasta, but that doesn't mean it could hold up to dishes like pasta. Well I tried it and I am skeptical no longer. It's light and sweet flavor and slightly crunchy texture is, I think in some ways, preferable to regular pasta. It definitely plays a background role, flavor-wise, to the sauce, while still providing an excellent textural base. Try it people, it's good! It's also insanely easy to make. Just chop it in half (by far the hardest part. My effort involved a cleaver and a mallet, which Husband was wielding because we both know better than to let me get anywhere near that setup and expect me to walk away with all 10 fingers and toes), put it in a roasting pan with a little water, and roast at 375 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, or until tender. Then just run a fork over it and it easily comes out of the skin in strands. That part is seriously cool. And I put over it a fantastic slow cooked bolognese sauce, courtesy of The Kitchn. I've made this sauce once before, and have been itching to make it again ever since. It is the best pasta sauce I've ever made. That's actually not saying much since I suck at pasta sauces. But it's not the best pasta sauce I've ever had because, hello, some Italian restaurants spend days on their sauces. There's a little place near me that has the best creamy tomato vodka sauce. Seriously, I go there just for the boring pasta with the boring sauce because it's one of the best things I've ever eaten. How about this sauce is better than any sauce I've bought from the store. Yeah, we'll go with that. Anyway, this sauce is good. And seriously easy. Just sweat the veggies, brown the meat a little, and let it all do its thing together in the crock pot. I used ground sirloin, and the extra fat from, say, ground chuck was definitely not needed. In fact, I'm glad I used the leaner meat because the extra fat probably would have congealed when it cooled in the refrigerator, which is just not appetizing when you're packing your lunch for the day. The meat was still moist and delicious from simmering in deliciousness all day. The wine...again, I have trouble with the flavor, but it gave the sauce a nice sweetness without tasting sugary. If that makes sense. And of course, the tomatoes made the sauce sweet in another way, and bright, and delicious. I used 1% milk because that's what I drink, but had no problems with it. I am a total idiot and apparently bought whole milk and ate it in my cereal every day last week without realizing it wasn't my usual 1%. I finally clued in when I bought a new carton of 1% over the weekend and realized the cartons were a different color slightly. As I said, idiot. So I guess that means I also used whole milk in this recipe. Whoops! I'm sure the 1% would be fine though. Anyway, It doesn't look like much, but it tastes meaty and delicious and divine. The sauce is very chunky. I used the full 2 pounds of beef, and it was definitely not very saucy in the traditional sense. But it clung to the squash well and easily mixed throughout to be saucy enough for me!
The sauce on the left is a pesto my friend made from his own home grown basil. It was also fantastic on the spaghetti squash. Since pesto is a bit heavy, it was nice to eat it with something so light, and again that slight crunch is just a great contrast to the sauce.
  • Bulgur wheat with lentils, mushrooms, and caramelized onions, courtesy of Culinate. I've blogged about this recipe once before. I loved it then and I love it still. Though it had some stiff competition this week. Husband tends to think lentils are a bit bland, so he added some Cholula hot sauce. I think adding sliced almonds dresses it up enough, but I admit a few dashes of hot sauce were rather good on it. This dish is definitely where I got my woody, nutty flavor for the week. A good, healthy recipe I plan to keep in my back pocket.

While I couldn't get anyone to come over for dinner on Halloween (I can't really blame my friends since I'm a terrible host, and I usually hate having people over because I get so stressed out about being a terrible host), I did get a few people to come over for dessert. I'll post more on that later, but I'll leave you with this bit of wisdom: pumpkin and butterscotch may just be the best thing since chocolate and peanut butter.

By the way, I think I may have a food blog reading disease. It's kind of like a flu. I'll call it F0B1 Every couple of days I find a new one to add to my google reader. It's getting ridiculous! How can I possibly make all the fantastic recipes I find on these websites? I'm just one person, feeding two, and I only cook once a week! It's too much for a girl to handle, that's for sure. Is there a vaccine?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Trying Something New

Unfortunately, I had to go on travel for my job at the last minute last week, so I didn't get a chance to post about the food I ate the week before until now. It was good food, so I'll try to remember the details beyond just that it was tasty. Heh.

That week I decided to try something new: Tempeh. I've read that while soy is excellent for your health, the health benefits really only apply to fermented soy, which tofu is not. Fermented soy includes soy sauce, miso, and tempeh! Apparently tofu is just the leftovers of the fermentation process. Who knew? So I decided I'd give tempeh a chance. Here's all that I ate the week before last:
  • Orange glazed tempeh with beets and kale over spelt. The orange glazed tempeh is courtesy of 101 cookbooks. The glaze was absolutely delicious. The combination of the sweet maple syrup and the acidity from the orange juice...nom nom nom. Based on this recipe, I can definitely say that tempeh is definitely tastier than tofu. It has a meatier texture, and a nuttier flavor. Consider me a convert! I simmered the spelt in beer (1 cup spelt, 2 cups beer) for a very very long time (probably about 45 minutes or so), and oh man did it turn out tasty. Spelt is a rather...rough grain, so you could substitute brown rice, or quinoa, or wheat berries. I sauted the kale and beets with the tempeh after it was seared with the glazed, and then tossed everything with the spelt. Oh man this was delicious. Husband wasn't a fan. I think the spelt was too much for him. More for me! This is my kind of hippy food.
  • Miso salad. Husband and I love the salads at CPK, and Husband asked if I could recreate the miso salad. CPK is good enough to list the ingredients in the salad on the menu on their website (Check it out here), so it was easy. I might do my own recipe for this next week. But basically I just followed the list of ingredients (napa cabbage, red cabbage, carrots, daikon, edamame, green onions, and cilantro - I left out the cucumbers). I used this recipe for the miso dressing, which was super delicious. And instead of the fried wantons I used toasted whole wheat tortilla strips. And to top it all off, I used crab claw meat. I always figured canned crab would be quite disgusting, but after an episode with Good Eats (because how can I go a week without mentioning it?), Alton Brown suggested that canned crab meat is actually good. And it was! Surprisingly good! And on this salad it was delicious. Filling, healthy, and delicious. My kind of salad.
Hope everyone had a happy Halloween. I baked some cookies, pumpkin of course, which turned out great. But that's another post!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sweets For My...Self

I must interrupt this not at all regularly scheduled post to tell you that I am, for the first time ever, an Aunt!!! That's right, my big sister gave birth to the most precious baby boy that has ever been witnessed Thursday afternoon. I believe I may be glowing. He came a bit early. I was only going to have to wait about 3 weeks to meet him, and now I have to wait allllll the way until Thanksgiving. That's a whole month! Who can wait that long?! You won't be seeing his face on No, sir. He is an angel. The most beautiful baby I have ever seen. Welcome to the world Bagel*!

Ok, back to the food. I felt the need for baking last weekend, and actually ended up overdoing it a bit. It's Friday and there are still sweets looming around the kitchen. That is unheard of! Especially with my cookie monster husband on the loose. I just couldn't help myself. I've been saving up pumpkin recipes all year. I'm busting at the seams with them! Unfortunately, it wasn't what I would deem a successful baking adventure. Check it out.
  • Pumpkin swirl brownies, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. I don't know why it took me so long to make these. I've been drooling over this recipe for almost a year now. These turned out good, but dry. Very dry. I think I may have over-mixed? They're also a bit crumbly. But you know what I realized while I was baking them? That was my first attempt making brownies from scratch. We always used a box mix growing up. And, well, I just don't make brownies as often as I should. As such, I think it was pretty darn successful. And I would definitely attempt this recipe again. Deb says to thin out the chocolate batter if it's too thick, but I wonder if it would turn out better to have the chocolate a bit on the thick side and the pumpkin a bit on the lighter side. Maybe the pumpkin flavor would come through a bit better that way? Ok really I think from her pictures, hers just look tastier than mine. See? The pumpkin got lost a little bit amidst the chocolate.
  • Pumpkin cinnamon rolls, courtesy of White Apples. If you can believe it, this was also my first time making cinnamon rolls. We never had cinnamon rolls growing up, so I just never thought to make them before. But I do think they're tasty, and with pumpkin thrown in the mix, downright irresistible! But I did have some problems. I did everything per the recipe, but somehow about 10 minutes into baking the top started to brown. By 12 minutes I was concerned. Could they really be done already? Thankfully the recipe listed the internal temperature because my handy dandy thermometer told me that even though the top was browning, they weren't done yet, so I popped them back in. After about 15 minutes they were done. And the top was a little hard. I'm pretty sure cinnamon rolls aren't supposed to have a crispy top, are they? Did I over-steam them? Next time maybe I'll try baking them at 375. The rolls themselves were delicious. Husband says they weren't pumpkin-y or cinnamon-y enough. I think they were fine on both those counts, but I had issue with the icing. I thought the coffee was very overpowering. Next time I think I would nix the coffee and add some pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice instead. Since the pumpkin was subtle in the roll, I don't think it would be too pumpkin-y to have it in the icing too. I think I would add a bit of pumpkin pie spice to the cinnamon and brown sugar mixture as well. I just can't get enough pumpkin pie spice. For some reason I decided to use an oval baking dish, rather than my square 9" pan that would have perfectly held, say, 9 cinnamon rolls. I think it was full of brownies or some such nonsense. Thus the very oddly shaped roll. That's ok, though. It still tasted delicious.
  • Raspberry breakfast bars, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. Ok, what is wrong with me? These turned out the worst of the three! Costco had a huge flat of raspberries for disgustingly cheap last weekend, and I immediately thought of making these bars. I had wanted to make them all summer, but raspberries were always too expensive. Are they an end of summer fruit and I just didn't know it? I'm new to this seasonal eating them, so pardon my ignorance. Anyway, these turned out...well, soggy. I cooked the bottom layer until golden brown, as instructed, but I guess it's wasn't quite golden enough because once I baked it a second time with the raspberry mixture introduced, it wasn't even chewy. Just soggy. The flavors are still excellent. It's just not a "bar". I've been eating them on top of Greek-style yogurt as an afternoon pig-out-fest snack. Next time I think I'll try reserving just a cup of the mixture for the top, and upping both baking times. Hopefully that'll scare any sogginess out of these puppies. Yes, even though these were the biggest disaster of the weekend, I would still make them again. The flavors were good, so hopefully it just needs some tweaking. They sure don't look like much, but, as I'm eating one right now, I can attest to the deliciously sweet raspberry flavor.

Add on top of this the pumpkin ice cream I found at the grocery store (I was only in the ice cream section because Husband requested it for easier consumption of the dry brownies), and we were both on dessert overload this week. Husband, bless his heart, has been taking baby steps to get in better shape. He started off by tagging along on more of my nightly walks with Theo for exercise. Then he started getting up earlier, with the intent that once he's used to getting up earlier, he might actually be able to push himself to run that early. He's also really started watching his portion sizes. It's amazing how much less we eat compared to last year. And the baby step of this week? Requesting that next week be dessert free. He's been able to keep a few pounds off, but thinks without the sweets he may be able to drop some more rather than just maintain. Gee, what a concept! I like to have a little something, but this week was total overload. My bad. And since I'll be on travel for work next week, I can easily comply with the request. Hey, how about I skip cooking too? Heh. I chose to believe this line of reasoning than the alternative: he wants a break from my baking disasters. That couldn't be it....could it?

A big welcome to all the people checking out this blog for the first time via Theo's blog. Hope you like it! I am making an effort to take more pictures, since I'm a very visual person. I have a hard time getting excited about a recipe unless I see a picture of it. The recipes I link here have a picture 30 times better than mine probably 99% of the time, so there's always that option, but it's been fun to capture the food I make too. Since I do my cooking late Sunday night (ok, that's actually when I end up finishing everything. I start much earlier), I don't usually end up taking pictures until the next day or later, since the lighting can be so bad, and I'm usually too tired by that point. Thus the same glass container you'll probably start seeing more and more. That would be my lunch box!

Did I mention I'm an Aunt? Because I am. Just a tad excited. Just saying.

*His name is not really Bagel. It's a nick name of sorts. You can't expect my family to constantly refer to a growing life form for 9 months and not name it something. No way.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Heh, ok. I will now officially shut up about squash. I just needed to get that out of my system. I didn't even cook with it that much this weekend. Just a wee bit.

I feel like I've already talked typed you face off this week, so I'll just get right to it. I'm still in fall foods mode, even though it warmed up considerably this week. Sure, it rained on my run yesterday morning, but I was also in a t-shirt and shorts and not the slightest bit cold. And I get cold very easily. Got to love Southern California. Anyway, more roasting, a thick starchy soup, and some earthy flavors were what I was in the mood for. Check it out.
  • Fire-spiced chicken with honey-lemon glaze, courtesy of Luna Cafe. First off, I broken down a whole fryer chicken for the first time for this recipe. With the help of the ever-followable Alton Brown, it was no problemo. And I saved the carcass for making stock later! Look at Martha-wannabe me! Second, I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off all last weekend because I was insanely busy, so I didn't end up spice-rubbing the chicken until, oh, 8 hours before I cooked it, rather than the recommended 24-48 hours. It was all good. This tasted amazing. The meat turned out juicy and perfectly cooked. The glaze added a nice sweetness and the spice rub gave it a nice complex flavor with no hint of boring chicken flavor in sight. I only did one chicken, so I halved the recipe for the rub. Interestingly, I had about 4 times more rub than I needed, but I had just enough glaze even though I didn't halve it. I tend to be a bit heavy handed with glazing (don't ever ask Husband about the turkey basting incident...), so I didn't get that nice crispy char on the skin. I will try to show more restraint next time. And yes, there will definitely be a next time. I'm ready to roast more chicken this weekend! I love this recipe because it's definitely adaptable to other flavors. With a different spice mixture it could be an entirely different dish! Sorry for the crappy picture. I forgot to snap a photo until the next day. It don't look like much, but it tastes divine. Also, the picture up top with the slices is a bit more appetizing at least.
  • Hashed brussells sprouts, courtesy of Simply Recipes. Friday afternoon found me suddenly in the mood for brussells sprouts. If you'd have asked me when I was 5 if I would ever be in the mood for brussells sprouts I would have said heck no sir! Hated 'em. Of course, things change, including taste buds. And now I wouldn't say I love them, but I appreciate them for their bitter leafy healthy goodness. I was, as the recipe put it, feeling ambitious, so not only did I cut out the core and thinly slice all the brussells sprouts, I doubled the recipe and did 2 pounds worth! Sufficed to say, it took awhile. If you plan on making this recipe (which I recommend you do!), plan to find someone to put to work. Heh. Minus all the knife work, this recipe was super simple and quick. Just heat oil and butter, cook the veggies, throw in some liquor and lemon zest, and you're done! I used white wine instead of vermouth because apparently I was fresh out. No martinis for me! I like this preparation because I think finely slicing the leaves allows for the flavors to really meld with the fat and acid to remove a lot of the bitterness. You might think you don't like brussells sprouts, but if you venture to try them again, give this recipe a try. And don't be shy on the zest and wine!
  • Butternut squash risotto, courtesy of Ina Garten. She, hands down, has the best risotto recipes out there. Ok, so the only risotto recipes I've attempted have been hers. But I can't imagine anything better. The texture is so creamy, the flavors are so nutty from the squash and cheese, but still very light. I agree with the website's assessment, this was super easy, and considering I was juggling quite a few dishes at the same time as assembling this, it was a good thing! I can't decide which of the two I like better. Each bite of this is like a mouthful of happiness. The thing with risotto is that from pictures it never looks that appetizing to me, but of course, once I make it, I can't wait to scarf it all down. My own picture below is, unfortunately, no exception. A food photog I am not!
  • Quinoa-stuffed peppers, courtesy of NPR's Kitchen Window. I love quinoa. It's a super healthy whole grain. It's nutty (which is apparently I flavor I like since just about everything I've described in this post has been nutty, heh), and I like how the texture is like little pearls that pop in your mouth. I see a lot of recipes with cous cous, but I prefer quinoa because I think it's a bit better for you since cous cous is basically a pasta (though they do sell a whole wheat cous cous at Trader Joe's I've been meaning to try). I have to say, I don't quite understand the big deal with stuffing peppers. Is it just for the wow-factor of the presentation? This recipe turned out good. Really good, in fact. But I think next time I'd be tempted to just cut up the bell pepper, cook it with the rest of the ingredients, and put it all in a pot to cook in the oven. That way I wouldn't have to deal with all the cutting and what not when I'm trying to shovel the delicious food in my mouth. I think I would also add more tomatoes. I used heirloom cherry tomatoes that were so delicious in it that I ended up fishing them out of the dish. Overall all the flavors went really well together. The pine nuts definitely bring it all together and go great with the quinoa. The pepper and tomato adds a nice sweetness, and the fennel seeds definitely gave it a more interesting flavor. Re-doable for sure! Ok, I am kind of loving this picture.
  • Roasted autumn vegetable chowder, courtesy of Pinch My Salt. My first excuse to use my dutch oven! Woohoo! Oh, that's another thing I never mentioned this week. Husband and I had some Amazon gift cards that added up to quite a bit, and he generously insisted that I use them to buy the Le Creuset dutch oven I've been coveting for so long. What a stud! Of course, he knew what was in it for him was lots of good eats! Ladies, if your husband ever gives you a hard time about buying cookware or kitchen gadgets, just show him the episode of Good Eats where Alton talks about why you need whatever the item in question is. Thanks Alton for your episode on dutch ovens!!! Anyway, I felt like a nice thick soup to go with the Autumn weather, but I didn't want anything heavy or creamy. Starchy, however, fit the bill perfectly! This soup really did the trick. Potatoes are used to thicken the soup, rather than dairy, so it's still has some bite without being heavy. It's a little on the bland side, but apparently Nicole employs the same strategy I use when faced with bland soup. Cholula! I think if/when I make this soup again, I'll roast the vegetables for a bit longer to let their flavors develop a bit more. Also, make sure you keep all the vegetables about the same size, with the potatoes even on the small side. They ended up a bit undercooked. But overall, very satisfying. And I'll keep with the theme here and offer another picture note. The reason my pot looks so pathetic is that I forgot to snap my picture until I had ladled most of the soup into a tupperware before stashing it in the fridge. I was too lazy to spoon it all back, so imagine this soup, just more of it.
  • I made the same no-knead bread I've made in the past, except I found whole wheat bread flour in the bulk bin section of my healthy food grocery store. How awesome is that!!? Husband thinks it's a bit on the heavy side and suggested I try adding more yeast. I might try that next time, but I really don't mind it on the dense side. Mmmm, nutty! It ended up going fantastically with the next item. And also, this one fuzzy picture was all I was able to get before we scarfed the whole loaf!
  • Strawberry freezer jam. Have you heard of freezer jam? When I was in Seattle last month I was dining at the ever-wonderful Chinook's for brunch we noticed the jam on the table said it was freezer jam. We didn't have a clue how freezer jam differed from regular jam, nor did the packaging give a clue. Then I saw this article at NPR's Kitchen Window about freezer jam. Apparently freezer jam is, well, jam! The freezing just refers to the method of preservation. It would be like calling traditional jam "canning jam". This highly appealed to me because I fear canning. I don't really want to mess with all the necessary hardware, and then possibly killing myself with bacteria when I mess it up. Though I did by chance just watch Alton Brown's episode of Good Eats on making and canning jam this morning, and it is decidedly less scary (though equally a pain). As it happens, I am trying to take up more space in my freezer anyway (it saves energy to keep it full!). I didn't end up using any of the recipes in the article because when I got the pectin home and excitedly read the directions, they point blank said "DON'T VARY FROM THESE EXACT INSTRUCTIONS OR YOUR JAM WILL NOT SET. EVERYTHING WILL BE RUINED. AND YOU WILL GO STRAIGHT TO HELL WITHOUT COLLECTING $200!" Or something like that. I decided it was ok to be a bit vanilla for my first time. So I used the package instructions for making strawberry jam. Just 4 cups of strawberries and 3 cups of sugar. Easy! I thought it would be overly sweet because that's a lot of sugar, but it's actually quite tasty! It's more reminiscent of a jelly than a jam to me, but whatever. It still tastes amazing on the no-knead bread I made, or on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Yum! I'd really like to try the citrus pear jam, but I'm afraid. The recipe says to follow the directions on the pectin for how much to use, but the package only calls for using the whole thing. I'll save this for a day when I'm feeling brave. And after I buy more freezer jam containers, because all mine are currently in use! And when I have some pork standing by that I can eat my failure on if it doesn't end up setting.
These containers are special freezer jam containers. Even though my grocery store only sells one kind of pectin, they also, amazingly, sell these. Hilarious. They're supposedly safe for use in the freezer (some plastic containers are said to leech chemicals into the food at temps that low), and they have handy dandy screw caps. And they were only $4!

Phew! It was a busy weekend indeed!