Thursday, November 21, 2013

Surprisingly not awful "awffles"

Strawberries are out of season right now. So if you use strawberries
on your waffles, they better be from the freezer! If they aren't, I'll
 hunt you down and yell at you!
My son loves all manner of breakfast foods. "Cancakes" are his absolute favorite, followed closely by "awffles". Then "yohgert". When he's all grown up and can say words properly, I know I'm going to miss the way he speaks now. Anyway...back to awffles. I've had some pretty great waffles in my life, but have had a tough time getting them just right when making them at home. I finally found a recipe a few years ago that beats any other that I've ever tried. Then I played around with it and found that I could make 2 different kinds of waffles with 2 simple ingredient switches. The first kind (and my personal favorite) is the light, crisp, airy waffle. The second (and equally delicious) is the slightly dense, moist waffle that is crisp just around the edges. Please don't mistake that for meaning soggy. It's just not as feathery as the original recipe. Without much more ado, here you go!



Affles! (recipe adapted from Fine Cooking)

3/4 C. AP Flour
1/4 C. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 C. milk
1/4 C. buttermilk
6 Tbsp. veg oil (coconut oil works well, too)
1 large egg, separated
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees. Take a cooling rack and put it on a sheet pan. Place this in the oven to stay warm as well. Or, if your oven happens to be spotless, you can place the cooked waffles straight on the rack. The point of this is to keep them warm AND crisp until they are ready to serve. You should also go ahead and preheat your waffle iron while you're mixing up the batter.

In a bowl, mix the flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together well. In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, mix the milks, egg yolk, and oil together. Set aside. In yet another bowl, beat the egg white with the sugar and vanilla until the firm peak stage. Gather up all your bowls, make sure you've given your dishwasher a little pep talk, and you can finally make your batter. Mix the milk mixture into the flour, just until the ingredients start to come together. Next, gently fold in the egg white.

Cook the waffles according to the way your temperamental machine will allow you to without scorching the suckers. The recipe suggests about 1/2 C. batter per waffle in a standard waffle iron. I like my waffles about the same color as a pancake- nice and golden. Once each waffle is done, place it in the warm oven on the prepared pan or straight on the rack.

For the more dense and moist version, skip the cornstarch. Use 1 C. of AP flour instead. You should also interchange the milk measurements. Use 3/4 C. of buttermilk and 1/4 C. regular milk.

_________________________________________________________________
I've been absent the last few weeks. I swear I'm not trying to abandon anyone, I just got busy. Life happens. I am already back to writing and have those posts I've been promising nearly ready to go. So please, watch this space!

I would like to thank/blame my friend J**** for this post. While this actually all started during a Facebook conversation, it's so much easier to type out a recipe here than it is with the limited formatting options of a Facebook comment.



Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waffle

Sunday, November 3, 2013

TL;DR- A birthday, a thank you, and a meal plan

My baby boy isn't much of a baby anymore. Life happens so quickly! I can hardly believe it; he turned 2 years old on Friday. From the time we learned we were going to be parents, my husband and I have been put to the test in a thousand ways we never dreamed of. To say Calvin was a surprise is an understatement and it's been a whirlwind experience from the start. But we've made it, so far. While we all still have our struggles, we are all mostly happy. And we're a family with a very strong bond and large, loving support system. We are forever grateful for the advice, love, help, and support we've been given. I don't think I'll personally be able to say "Thank you!" enough or show just how much you have all meant to me; and to Charlie and Calvin. Though, if you doubted us or turned your back on us because our situation didn't fit your ideals, thanks for that too. You've given me the ability to muster up strength I didn't know I had and get through the day. You've taught me a lesson that I can pass on to my son, and maybe one day he'll know to avoid people like you. He may not be able to keep people like you out of his life completely, but he will know to seek people who care for him and will help him, no matter the circumstances. Because that's what children need. They need help, care, and unconditional love. Of course they need shelter, food, and water, but they need to be protected and loved in order to thrive. And that's exactly what I try to do. I try to love, care for, respect, and protect my son. I also strive to do the same for my family, my friends, and anyone I may come into contact with.

Recently, a few people have said that I am an inspiration to them; that I'm a role model. To them I'm someone to look up to or admire. These are probably some of the greatest compliments I've ever received and I am very thankful for them. So please don't let what I'm about to say lead you to think I'm belittling those compliments. I'm glad that these wonderful things are thought of me, but I have a hard time believing them. I'm also terrified I'll do something to let those people down, as they are dear friends who I count as family. Yes, I've been through a lot in the past few years. Yes, there are days when I don't know how we'll make it to bed time, but we do. I do often find myself with a "To Do" list a mile long and there is never enough time to get it all done. However, once a week, I usually manage to pull it off. I don't go to work or go to school, but my job is to run my household and care for my family. I keep quite a busy schedule, despite being a "stay at home mom". I actually consider myself a "stay on the go mom". But I do NOT do it alone.

I have a wonderful husband who works ridiculous hours putting up with truly snotty college kids to pay the bills. He's a fantastic father, and most days he isn't aware. He loves his son and he loves me to the ends of the earth and he makes sure we know it. He takes pictures with passion and care so that we will always have memories of the days that we're living right now. I have parents who give unending support in more ways than I can count. You know, they dealt with a lot when we first found out about my pregnancy and no one really asked them how they were doing. I'm fairly certain it wasn't all rainbows and sunshine for them. There were many concerns, but they gave Charlie and I the space we needed while still being there waiting just in case we needed them. And boy did we ever. Charlie's parents have also been extremely supportive from the very beginning (after the shock wore off some). They have helped us in more ways than I can really say and I don't know that I will ever be able to repay them. We've gotten immeasurable support from our extended families, dear friends from all over the globe, a few members of my church, and even some kind strangers. Chances are, if you're reading this, you've helped me or us in some way. If you're reading this, there is a good possibility your kindness has helped me get through the day.

I guess what I'm ultimately trying to say is thank you. Just...thank you.
__________________________________________________________

On a lighter note, here's our menu for the week. As usual, I don't assign a meal to a day or a day to a meal because I'd rather not set myself up for failure.

BBQ Beef (This will get made this week, by golly!)
sweet potato fries
cornbread

Grandma H's Spaghetti Sauce
pasta
side salads
cheesy bread

Sausage and Lentil Stew
dutch oven bread

Monte Cristos
home fries/roasted veggies
apple sauce

Buffalo Chicken Dip
veggie sticks
tortilla chips
fresh fruit

Risotto
sauteed veg
side salads

Other things to make this week:
bread (both plain and cinnamon raisin)
pumpkin pies (for the freezer)
Calvin's birthday cake

Tuesday night we're having Calvin's little family party at my parents since it's the only night we're all off. My mom is making lasagna and salad. I'm contributing the cheesy bread and the dude's birthday cake. On Saturday we are leaving for a little weekend away. As a family. Like, all of us. Charlie included! I can't tell you how excited I am! Due to these events, one or more of the planned meals may not get made. But I have everything I need to make all of them, just in case.

What are you having this week?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chugga chugga chugga

This is a very cute book, by the way. But mostly, I just feel
like a train chugging slowly up hill.
I'd like to start this post by saying thank you. A gigantic thank you to my dear husband who put me to bed early last night after he put the baby to bed. He also did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen for me. Apparently he knew I needed to sleep for 10 hours. <3

Our apartment is a disaster because all of the things maintenance was supposed to do on Friday didn't get done. They only did about half of what I had written down and I came home yesterday evening to find our bathroom in shambles. The good news is they are finally making the repairs we've been asking them to for months. I am ever so grateful for that. Though, I'd really like to take a shower. Anyway. I have lots to do over the next couple of days so the upcoming posts I told you about last week are just going to have to wait a little bit longer. And I'm rethinking the cornbread post all together because to me it's more of a discussion than a post of me prattling on about my opinion. Though, I have eaten cornbread in several different parts of the country...I don't know. MY BRAIN IS OVERLOADING WITH LISTS AND INFORMATION SEND HELP! Or coffee. Chocolate is nice, too. Or hugs. Do you like rocks? My cat is snoring. The Cardinals are losing the World Series to the freaking Red Sox right now; it's awful! Hi!

I need to make it through Halloween and Calvin's 2nd birthday, then maybe I can breathe for a week and get some real writing done before our trip to Williamsburg and Thanksgiving and the holiday madness that is bound to take place. Deep, cleansing breaths.

As usual, I'm running behind. But here's our menu. My budget is tighter than a corset on a drag queen this week because it's the end of the month and we had to prepare for the little dude's birthday. So this menu involves many potatoes. But we like potatoes around here, so that's okay. Again, I don't assign and meal to a day or a day to a meal because that's crazy talk.

Pot Roast
Rice and gravy
Carrots/winter squash

Meatloaf
Roasted red potatoes
Veggie of some kind
Applesauce

Loaded baked potato soup
Side salads

BBQ Beef (didn't get made last week)
Corn bread
Sweet potato fries

Garlicky chicken kabobs (with chicken and veggies)
Whipped sweet potatoes with coconut and ginger
Fresh fruit

Other things that will get made this week:
cookies
caramel apples (Trunk or Treat)
bread
Rice Krispie treats


Calvin will probably have birthday pancakes on his birthday (Friday), so one of these meals may not happen. Trunk or Treat is Wednesday at church. We're taking Calvin Trick or Treating at the downtown shops and stores so Charlie can actually be there for it.

What are you having this week?

Photo credit: http://www.betterworldbooks.com/chugga-chugga-choo-choo-board-book-id-0786807601.aspx

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Happy National Nut Day!

Ahahahaha! Yeah, okay. I can't keep that up without making some juvenile joke about nuts, so I'll just say that this is actually a thing and you can read about it here if you'd like- National Nut Day 2013. If there is a national day of something, I'll find it. But I can't guarantee to take it seriously or not giggle profusely. Which I still am, by the way.

Onward! I'm about 2 days late posting our meal plan, so I'll tell you what we've already had as well as what I still have planned out. As usual, I don't assign a day to each meal because life is crazy and I'm not about to make it any more so by making fresh pasta on a day where everything has gone wrong. That's just...nuts. *snerk*



Our menu:
Fancy schmancy grilled cheese sandwiches
Oven fries
Fresh fruit

Apple-cinnamon pancakes
Bacon
Fresh fruit

BBQ shredded beef (made in the slow cooker)
Homemade mac'n'cheese
Corn/carrots/broccoli

Pasta with homemade alfredo sauce
Sauteed chicken
Salads/wilted arugula

Cheeseburgers
Sweet potato fries
Baked beans/veggie sticks/fresh fruit

Chicken tacos
Pinto/black beans
Guacamole

Other things that need to be made this week:
Regular loaf bread and soft rolls
24 red velvet cupcakes with white chocolate tiara thingies (library function)
Rice krispies treats, Halloween edition
Halloween cookies

What are you having this week?
______________________________________________________

In other news, I have 3 posts that I'm researching for and am in the process of writing. I'd like the have at least 2, if not all, written and posted by Sunday. But we'll see. The topics are cornbread, pumpkin pie, and apple sauce pancakes. If any of those things interest you, please keep checking back with me as I'll have some recipes to share that I hope you'll enjoy.

And now, I leave you with this: The most hilarious creep in the world. And you're gonna love his nuts.

Photo credit: http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/05/studies-continue-to-say-nuts-are-good-for-you.html [This is also a great article, not just a pretty picture.]


Monday, October 14, 2013

Happy National Dessert Day!


Novemeber 1st, 2012- Calvin's first birthday and real taste of
dessert!
Or Columbus Day (even though you're not supposed to celebrate that anymore). Or, if you're Canadian, Happy Thanksgiving!

As an American and a person that chooses not to bicker about ridiculous political and social...stuff, I'm celebrating desserts. Everyone okay with that? Good! Besides, why in the world would you not want to celebrate dessert? I mean, really. In culinary school, my favorite class was the plated desserts class. It was the one course I took where we had a lot of freedom to be as creative with flavors and designs as possible. Plus, I have an insatiable sweet tooth. To me, ice cream is great year 'round. I enjoy a well made cake and while I don't like that they are so flippin' trendy right now, cupcakes make me happy in the silliest of ways. I like pie; of course apple and pumpkin are popular this time of year. I like more complex desserts like bavarians or ultra flaky pastries. A good Italian-American Spumoni is *amazing*. But one of my favorite things in the whole wide world is a butter yellow cake with fudgey, chocolate frosting. It's the absolute best to me. How are you going to celebrate National Dessert Day?

______________________________________________

In other news, I've got our meal plan for the week ready to go. We're having chicken and dumpling soup tonight since I didn't get around to making it last week. As usual, I have not assigned a meal to a specific day because...I don't wanna. I'm a free woman and you can't make me!

*Chili
cornbread "casserole"
cheese/green onion/sour cream for topping

Kielbasa
homemade pierogi
sauerkraut

Teriyaki chicken
stir fry veggies
steamed rice

Pork roast
**whipped sweet potatoes with coconut and ginger
squash/applesauce/green veggie

Homemade meatball subs
side salads
fruit

Some kind of fancy grilled cheese that Charlie hasn't decided on yet
oven fries/veggie sticks
fruit


Other things to be made this week:
pickled carrots
Pumpkin pies (2)- never got made last week
bread
Halloween cookies!
Biscuits- for the freezer

*The idea to have chili was totally yoinked from a good friend of mine. Also, at her suggestion, I will be researching the subject of corn bread. It's a truly American food and each region of the country has it's own opinion on it. If you happen to have an opinion on cornbread and wouldn't mind helping me with my research, send me an e-mail. Tell me how you prepare yours or how you like it to be prepared (and if you don't mind sharing what region of the country you're from, I'd appreciate it. You don't have to be terribly specific if you don't want to.) Email: ellebelle.kol@gmail.com

**I'm trying a new recipe from this month's Food and Wine mag (pg 190)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bed vs. Stove

If you're looking for some kind of housewares show down, I'm sorry but you'll have to Google that. And I think you're a little weird. But I am too. Let's be friends, k?


I just got the newest issue of Food and Wine magazine in the mail today! And while Calvin was napping, I had a blissful hour or two of almost silence and peace to flip through it. I stumbled upon an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat, Pray, Love. While I'm sure there is some political, religious, feminist, or hipster reason my peers would give for not liking her and her writing, I do. So neener. I really enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love. I wouldn't mind reading it again, actually. And I'm looking forward to hopefully getting a chance to read her newest release, The Signature of All Things. There is a slight good chance I want to read it just so I can shout, "ALL THE THINGS!" without warning while reading it. But on to the point! In this "getting to know you" style interview, Ms. Gilbert was asked, "What's more important, the bed or stove?" Her response: "Stove. You can sleep on the floor. You can sleep in an easy chair, you can sleep standing up, but food is definitely, obviously the most important. What kind of night's sleep or sex are you gonna have if you're hungry?" AMEN, SISTER!

We went to stay with my grandmother for a few weeks after my grandpa Joe passed away. Every time we left the house, we came home to something else a friend or neighbor cooked for us in the fridge. Cooking food for someone is a very common way to show comfort and support in times of grief in our society. Cooking for people can also be a way to show that you like them. In other cultures, cooking for guests and visitors is a sign of utmost respect. Families will go a week without food of their own just to cook for and show respect for a guest. We bake cakes for celebrations. We have potlucks and dinner parties just to get together and catch up. Dinner clubs are really coming back into style. And as for me? When I'm nervous, I bake. When I'm grieving, I cook. When I'm frustrated, I cook.I made the best Hollandaise of my life when I was angry with my husband. If you come visit me, I will try to feed you. I don't care if you're hungry or not, I will still try to feed you. I get that from my mother who's mission in life is to feed the entire world. And honestly, it's my mission too.

While this is not the case for all of man-kind, food a huge part of our lives. We can sleep when we're dead.

So in the battle of Bed vs. Stove, Stove wins!

Photo credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/c/c4/Eat,_Pray,_Love_%E2%80%93_Elizabeth_Gilbert,_2007.jpg

Monday, October 7, 2013

Someone has a case of the Mondays...

No really, I do. It poured rain last night. Which was actually pretty great! We have needed the rain. But the excitement of all the rain, among other factors, caused me to have a serious brain fart. I forgot to roll up my car windows, so now everything is soggy. Then, mine and my husband's tempers decided to not get a long this morning. Calvin has selective hearing issues today along with an apparent need to perfect his whine. Now it's noon and I've done nothing so far today. All I want to do is nap. Uhg. So today I am without my typical cheer and wit. I'm just, here. And at this point I'll take it.

The boys and I went grocery shopping last night and we have our plan for the week. As usual, I have not assigned a meal to a particular day. We'll just see where the week takes us...

Steak quesadillas
tex-mex bean medley
fruit

Baked chicken parmesan
rotini pasta
side salads with homemade vinaigrette

Chicken 'n' dumplings soup
fruit

Ham steak
homemade potatoes Au Gratin
peas for the boys and some other green veg for me

Cheeseburgers
oven fries
veggie sticks
deviled eggs

Other things that need to be made this week:
Rice krispies treats
Biscuits [to be frozen]
Ratatouille [can you believe I didn't make this AT ALL over the summer?!]
pumpkin pie [one to freeze and one for Charlie to share with his co-workers]

_______________________________________________

Oh! Before I forget...We had calzones last night for dinner. I couldn't find a pizza dough recipe I was particularly happy with, so I made one up. It was WONDERFUL! I wrote it down last night after dinner. I think I'll test it one more time to be certain it wasn't a fluke, then I'll share it. The dough comes together easily, but the method takes a little patience. Also be on the look out for a pumpkin bread recipe that is just a bit different.

What are you having this week?


Photo credit: http://bbsimg.ngfiles.com/15/22462000/ngbbs4d5a1994bf7ba.jpg



Monday, September 30, 2013

Haters gonna hate...

...but to those who really love pumpkiny things, I've got a great muffin recipe for you! The coolest part is? It's completely original. I didn't take someone else's recipe and butcher it until it was "my own". I didn't look at a recipe online and tweak it just to make it suit my taste. This is all mine, from start to finish. I didn't even copy someone else's measurements. Now, this is a pumpkin crumb muffin. The idea has likely crossed many a mind and I don't take any credit for the general idea of a pumpkin muffin. Duh. But I will forever cherish this successful recipe as my very own. And I'm going to be brave and share it with the world because I would like others to try it out and tell me if it really is as successful as think it is.

Now that you know how much this recipe means to me (oh my goodness be nice, please)...

Pumpkin Crumb Muffins (makes 1 doz.)
for the muffins:
1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature -OR- 1/2 C. coconut oil at room temperature
3/4 C. packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 C. pumpkin puree
2 C. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground clove
1 tsp. vanilla extract
crumb topping**

Set a rack to the center of  the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Next, mix in the egg and vanilla extract until the mixture is smooth. Then add the pumpkin puree. Now it's time to blend in the sifted flour mixture. Mix until all the ingredients are incorporated, but try not to over mix. The batter will be quite thick and that's totally okay. Evenly divide the batter between 12 lined muffin cups. Spraying the paper liners with a little cooking spray before spooning in the batter is a good idea. Sprinkle the crumb mixture on top of the batter. Gently press the crumbs into the batter to ensure they stick while the muffins bake and rise. Bake for approximately 25 minutes. The crumb should be a light, golden brown and the tops of the muffins should spring back when pressed gently. These can over bake VERY quickly, so around the 22 minute mark, watch them like a hawk. Allow the muffins to cool (preferably on a wire rack) for about 10 to 15 minutes. I think these are best served warm, but you can certainly store them in an air-tight baggie or container for about a week.

**for the crumb topping:
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3/4 C. all purpose flour
1/2 C. granulated sugar OR 1/4 C. each brown sugar and granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for the crumb topping and mix well; set aside to cool completely.



A few notes:
I know it seems like there is a lot of spice in this recipe. But the pumpkin is a fairly strong flavor so I find that these are actually well-balanced.

These are not overly sweet, which is great. They lend themselves well to adding a drizzle of confectioner's glaze or a spread of cream cheese.

I found that the muffins were nice and moist, as long as they didn't over-bake. If you have hot spots in your oven, be sure to rotate the pan about halfway through cooking.

I have absolutely no clue how these freeze. I'm hoping they don't last long enough to find out. But if anyone makes them and freezes them, please let me know how well they fare.

If you do try this recipe, I would greatly appreciate your [constructive] comments and feed back. If you don't like them or have a problem, I welcome that discussion as long as it's polite. You may leave comments here on this post or you are welcome to email me at ellebelle.kol@gmail.com

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Happy National Coffee Day!

A few minutes ago, I got a call from my mom. She was at our local grocery store and wanted to know if I needed anything (because she's wonderfully thoughtful). This particular grocery store happens to have a Starbucks right inside the front door. It's truly dangerous for those of us who enjoy over-priced lattes and organic teas with ridiculous names. But back to the point... As we were talking on the phone, she exclaimed that they were handing out free samples of coffee. I heard the barista in the background tell her that it's national coffee day. So that explains it! We sure have a lot of national day of somethin's in the US. Well, even though I made my own coffee this morning, I will probably go to Starbucks sometime today to indulge in this national day of celebration of the popular brewed beverage. Because let's face it, I have a hard time turning down a frilled up espresso drink. Oh! And don't forget- on days like today, there are often freebies or discounts to be found. Check out your local Krispy Kreme, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, or independent *coughhipstercough* coffee shop to see what they are offering today.

A few fun coffee facts:
  • According to some legends, coffee berries, which contain the bean that we roast and grind to brew our beloved beverage, were discovered by goats in the 9th century. It it said that an Ethiopian herdsman discovered these berries when he noticed his goats acting strangely after consuming them.
  • There are several other stories and legends that indicate where coffee may have originated. But, I believe it's safe to say that coffee was discovered somewhere in the middle east a really long time ago.
  • The darker the roast, the less caffeine the coffee contains.
  • The average caffeine content in an 8 ounce cup of generic, brewed coffee ranges from 95-200 mg depending on the roast and/or brewing process.
  • Coffee is the second most sold commodity in the world. Oil (petroleum; fuel) is the first. 
  • One of the most expensive types of coffee is Kopi Luwak. It is excreted by a particular species of wild cat in Sumatra. The going rate is around $100 for 4 ounces. That's right! Cat poop coffee can be yours for the low low price of $100! I bet that creepy Vince guy could sell it.
  • Coffee has been banned on several different occasions in various parts of the world. One of these occasions being in the 16th century by Muslim rulers because of it's stimulating effects. 
There you have it. Some random facts you already knew or didn't really need to know. Isn't learning fun?!

And now, onto the menu plan for the upcoming week! I'm sharing my meal plans because it has really held me accountable and helped me stay on track with our food budget and being prepared for the week. I don't assign a meal to a certain day, since I rarely know exactly what that day will bring about. I try to be sure there are some easier meals that I can whip up quickly if time has slipped away from me or if I'm feeling lazy. There might be one night we go out or order in. As for the rest of this week, we're having:

Bacon and cheddar chicken skillet 
spinach/peas
fruit

Stuffed meatballs
pasta with homemade marinara 
cheesy bread
side salads

French toast -OR- Pumpkin Waffles
bacon
homemade applesauce

Loaded baked potatoes
salad

Homemade calzones
pasta salad/side salad

Pork chops
sweet potato tots
squash/undetermined green vegetable
homemade applesauce

Other things that need to be made:
Canned tomatoes [A lady at the farmer's market offered me an amazing deal on her end-of-season tomatoes. We'll be canning those, then we will hopefully have enough tomatoes and soup base to last my whole family until spring.]
Bread
Rice krispies treats
Eggplant rollatini [to be frozen]

What are you making this week?


Sources and photo credits:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Never let it be said...

...that I'm lazy while I'm grieving. I'm one of those people that handles bad news better by focusing my energy on busy work or a project. If I have too much time to think about it, I'm an absolute wreck. I think that's the case for a lot of people.

Back in August, my grandpa Joe (Pap) passed away. It was an especially difficult loss for the whole family. It wasn't a completely unexpected passing as he'd been progressively getting sick for a while, but it was rather sudden. Then early this morning, my Grandpa H lost his 2 year battle with cancer. While also very sad, I'm just so glad to know that he is reunited with my grandmother. Like my Daddy said, they're probably somewhere in the great beyond fishing. But only to make my grandma happy.

So today (and for the next few days), I'm grieving again. I've had a few good cries, then I sucked it up, and got moving. I broke down 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, froze the chicken, and used the bones/scraps for stock. I made, strained, and froze 2 quarts of stock. I got a few errands run. I made dinner and fed my family. I made and packed Charlie's "lunch" for the night. I've folded laundry. I've done a load of dishes. I made dried apple rings. I'm working on apple muffins now. And I think I'll have to vacuum again tonight after Calvin is asleep.

During all of this I had some time to reflect on happy memories. I found that I'm ever grateful for something that I got to share with both of my grandfathers before they passed- my love of cooking. A few years ago, I made a big Italian dinner (spaghetti, sausage, homemade sauce, and homemade meatballs) for my mom's side of the family. I remember making sure not to use too much garlic, because Pap wasn't a fan of garlic. And last year, when Calvin and I went to visit him (and my aunts) in Texas, I cooked dinner for Grandpa H. I made him fried pork chops, corn, and broccoli. I was trying to use up some veggies my aunts had so when I asked him if he liked broccoli he said, "As long as you've got cheese sauce to put on it!". A little cream here, a little butter there, add lots of cheese and ta-da! Cheese sauce. Cooking is such a big part of my life so it helps heal my heart just a little knowing that I was able to cook for both of these special men.

I love them both and will miss them greatly.

Four Generations- Grandpa H, Daddy, me, and Calvin

Pap holding Calvin at 7 days old

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's Fall, Y'all!

Calvin at the pumpkin patch last fall!
It is officially fall! I've had my pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks to celebrate the occasion. I also have a menu plan fit for the season! We did quite well again this week, sticking with our menu options. I did end up making cheeseburgers, but that was when I realized that it was a very special day and they were quite appropriate.

In this upcoming week, I will try to keep this habit going. I've not assigned days to any of my meals, because I'm not quite sure how the week is going to play out. I do know that we had homemade sub sandwiches last night and we will likely be going out for sushi tonight (possibly with my parents). As for the rest of the week? Here are our options:

Roasted pork tenderloin
apple and sage stuffing
broccoli/peas

Cancakes!
sausage links
fruit or apple sauce

Taco bowls (think Chipotle)
tortilla chips
*this isn't Charlie's favorite thing, so I may make him a burger or something else yummy

Open-faced roast beef sandwiches
mashed potatoes
carrots/kale or spinach

Hotdogs (all natural and all beef)
baked beans
smiley fries/sweet potato tots

Roasted chicken
rice and gravy
delicata squash/something relatively healthy the boys will eat

Other things that will hopefully get made:
applesauce (from the 50 pounds of apples my Momma and I picked)
apple muffins
cupcakes
9-inch round cake (to freeze for cake balls later this month)
rice krispie treats
bread
pierogi (to freeze)
biscuits (also to freeze)

Looks like I've got my work cut out for me this week! But a good portion of this is prep and stocking the freezer for the coming weeks. Calvin and I have yet to make it to that butcher shop that I've been wanting to check out, so that is on the agenda this week too!

What are y'all having this week?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Smaczny Pierozki!

[Because the phrase "Delicious pierogi!" looks way cooler in Polish.]

I love pierogi. I do I do I do! They are especially wonderful this time of year since they are hearty and filling. For those who need a clue, I'll fill you in. Many different cultures have some version of a dumpling. There are fried buns (Russian), pot stickers (Chinese), gyoza (Japanese), Fufu (Africa), Ravioli (Italy), and a whole bunch more that I can't think of at the moment. Dumplings are simply cooked balls of dough. They are typically starch based using flour, potato, or bread; they may or may not be filled. Pierogi are the glorious dumplings that come from Poland. Traditionally they are filled with potato, ground meat, sauerkraut, cheese, or fruit. Most often they are boiled, then fried or baked to give a slightly crisp texture. And dude, are they yummy!

In my area, what we consider "specialty foods" can be hard to find. The only pierogi I can find around here are Mrs. T's in the freezer section. And I almost picked some up the other day. Then I thought better of it. I said to myself, "Elle! You have culinary training. Like, good culinary training. You've made pot stickers and ravioli all by yourself like a big girl chef! Surely you can make pierogi." Oh! And when I got home, the first post in my news feed was from a lady that goes to my church who posted a recipe for- wait for it- homemade pierogi. IT WAS A SIGN! So I did it. And they were awesome. So here is the recipe, with my small adjustments:

Homemade Cheese and Potato Pierogi (adapted from 12 Tomatoes)
Dough:
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg, room temperature and lightly beaten
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
1/4 butter, softened (you could also use olive oil)

Mix together the flour and salt. Add in the egg and blend together with a fork. The dough will be very clumpy and crumbly which is totally ok at this point. Work in the sour cream and butter. I found that it was easiest to start blending these ingredients in with a fork, then switching to fingertips as the dough comes together more. Knead the dough for approximately 3 minutes folding it over a few times as you go. The end result should be a moist, relatively smooth ball of dough. Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. It will hold nicely for up to 48 hours.

Filling:
1 cup mashed potato*
1 cup shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar this time)
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder or 1 small clove of fresh garlic, grated

*[I peeled and roughly chopped 1 large, russet potato. I boiled it in salted water for about 8 minutes until it was tender, drained it, and mashed it with a fork.]

While the potato is still warm, mix all ingredients together until the cheese has melted and is evenly incorporated. Allow mixture to cool completely.

Assembly:
2 to 3 Tbsp flour**
1 large pot of boiling salted water
rolling pin
2-inch round cutter or drinking glass

Break the dough into 2 pieces. Roll out half of the dough to about an 1/8 inch in thickness. **You will need to flour your rolling pin and cutting surface very well as this dough tends to be quite sticky. Cut as many dough circles as you can and gently set them aside. Repeat with the other half of the dough. You should get 20 to 24 circles if using a 2-inch cutter. Place about 2 tsp of the cooled filling in the center of each dough circle. Fold the dough over forming a pocket and pinch the edges together to make a seal. Press the tines of a fork around the edges to unsure the dumplings are sealed well. (I tried using a pastry wheel to make the edges pretty, but it didn't work so well. The dough is too sticky. I don't recommend it.)

This poor little guy in the front fell victim to my pastry wheel experiment.
Just stick with the fork. Ha! 
Place the finished dumplings- 6 to 10 at a time, depending on pot size- in a pot of boiling water for about 8 minutes. When they float to the top, give them about 5 minutes before you pull them out and they should be cooked. The original recipe says 10 minutes, but they didn't take that long at all for me. If you are not serving these immediately, you can skip the boiling stage and just freeze them until you're ready for them. To serve, saute the pierogi in a small amount olive oil or butter until golden on each side.

Mmmmm...

I served ours with kielbasa sausage, applesauce, and sour cream.
(The green stuff are snow peas I threw in for color.)

Now that I've made them successfully, I'll start playing around with the fillings and try to make them look prettier. If you try this recipe, let me know how you liked it!

Sources:
Original Recipe
Pierogi research

Shared at: Frugal by Choice, Cheap by Necessity 




Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Happy National Cheeseburger Day!



Or perhaps, Happy Piss Off Your Cardiologist Day! Whichever works for you.

 I woke up this morning and checked my Twitter feed like a good little social media addict to discover that today, is in fact, National Cheeseburger Day here in the good ole US of A- land of freedom and indulgence. There are a few restaurants giving away cheeseburgers, or at least giving a discount, to celebrate the occasion. But since we're on a budget, we're going to enjoy homemade versions. [See! I told you last time that I'd end up making burgers this week!]

I've eaten and made all kinds of burgers. I've made them with buffalo, chicken, turkey, and beef. We've topped them with blue cheese, provolone, classic American, cheddar, chevre, Ementaler and feta. Sometimes the cheese is on the inside, sometimes on the outside.We sometimes add bacon or an egg. I like a lot of veggies on mine. Charlie will tolerate pickles, but enjoys avocado. The cool thing about burgers is that they really are fantastically versatile. You can be so creative with them. A creative burger I've eaten that comes to mind is lean beef patty with arugula, goat cheese, and meyer lemon honey mustard. I had it at Bobby Flay's Burger Palace in New Jersey a few years back. It was great! But personally, I will always love a classic burger- Toasted bun, beef patty, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and condiments (I like a light spread of mayo).

How do you like your burgers?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Meals and Sundries

Let's just get this out of the way now. FALL IS ON THE WAY AND THERE ARE SO MANY SQUASH AND APPLES AND WARM SPICES AND FOOTBALL AND AND AND...HOORAY!

Thank you for indulging me.
Calvin at Bryson's Apple Orchard. This is where we got
our apples for the applesauce we recently canned. 


Truly, though. I am pretty excited about the season changing. This summer was a weird one for our area. We had record rain fall, cooler temperatures, and our growing seasons were all kinds of whacked. Luckily, the apple orchards didn't suffer. We're getting a really decent late tomato crop as well. Momma and I are doing lots of canning because of it! We processed about 20 pints of tomatoes and 10 various sized jars of applesauce so far. More tomatoes and apples will be put up in the next two weeks. That should last us until spring...I hope. 

For the past few weeks, I've been making meal plans for my little household. It's helping me stay on track and on time, since we've started eating dinner a little earlier on the days that Charlie works. I'm going to start sharing my plans for each week in hopes that I'll keep this habit (and perhaps keep writing, too).

I don't have my meals organized by days, because dinner depends on how much time I have to prep/get it done, what else we've got going on that day, who feels like eating what, etc. So, in no particular order-

Meal ideas:
Elle's Chicken Franchaise
pasta with olive oil and garlic
side salads

Homemade pierogi**
sausage of some kind
applesauce (from the batch Momma and I just canned)

Tomato soup (from the tomatoes I just canned)
grilled cheese "croutons"
fruit

Turkey meatballs
roasted acorn squash and sweet potatoes
spinach for me, corn for the boys

Grilled chicken salads
garlic bread

There will more than likely be a night where I have veggies/leftovers and I'll make the boys a burger. It's a great back up plan because I know I always have the ingredients on hand and Charlie (my own, personal Hamburglar of a husband) won't complain.

Other things that must be made sometime this week:
A small batch of pickled carrots
Dijon mustard
Bread! Must. Make. Bread.
Fig bars**
Possibly a chocolate cake using a recipe a dear friend recently tried and loved

There is a local-ish butcher that I'm going to explore this week. I really hope it won't be a bust. We just don't have many farms and specialty stores around to buy local, fresh products. But I'm seeking them out! I'm tired of funding giant corporations and getting shafted in the process by poor quality and high prices. But I digress, as that topic could be a rant-fest on it's own. 

What are your culinary plans for the week?

**These are 2 new recipes I'm trying. If they work out well, I'll share them!






Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day!

Calvin (about a week old) with my grandpa Joe Middour

Calvin (11 months) with my grandpa Tracy Hinson

Calvin (13 months) with my Daddy at my wedding dinner

Calvin (1 month) with Charlie. This is one of my favorites.

I'm so blessed to have all of these amazing men in my life. They are wonderful fathers and the reason I'm the semi-sane, decent human being I am today :-)





Saturday, June 1, 2013

Whaddaya want for nothin'? Rrrrruber biscuit?

Bow, bow, ooh ooh oooh, ooooooooooooooh

Luckily, the biscuits I'm about to introduce you to are not made of rubber. They are made of flour, shortening, some leavening, and butter. Mmm, butter. But, after the day I've had, I needed to hear some Blues Brothers. They always seem to cheer me up. So, about these biscuits...

Until I found this recipe about 2 months ago, I was unable to make a decent biscuit. Actually, I was unable to make an edible biscuit; I'll just be honest. The last time I made a good biscuit was in culinary school a few years ago. They really aren't that difficult to make and I even tried cheating by using jiffy mix! Nope! Must have been a skill God did not bless me with. Or so I thought. But then! Alton Brown came to my rescue. I had to tweak his recipe just a little and that's what I'm about to share with you, but you can find his original recipe here. This is a very idiot proof forgiving recipe and fast. Oh! And I recently did some of my own experimenting and found that it is also a glorious and wonderful thing because you can freeze these biscuits [unbaked] and save them for whenever you need them. Never buy store bought frozen or canned biscuits again! I'll give you those details towards the end. Ready? Go!

Southern Biscuits
2 Cups AP flour (I use King Aurthur brand)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 kosher teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
3 Tablespoons all-vegetable shortening [or lard if you've got it and feel like throwing caution for your heart health to the wind], chilled and cut into small pieces
1 Cup chilled buttermilk*
2 Tablespoons butter, melted (optional)

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix these ingredients lightly with your fingertips. Using your fingertips or a pastry blender, cut in the butter and shortening until the mixture looks like crumbs. Your fingertips work best, but try to work quickly so the fats don't melt. Cold is key when making crusts and biscuits. Make a shallow well in the center and add the buttermilk. Stir, again with your fingertips (or a spoon, you sissy) just until the dough comes together. It will be a sticky mess. Be sure to scrape as much dough as you can off of your fingers/spoon.

Turn the dough out onto a heavily floured surface, dust the top of the dough with flour, proceed to drop flour on the floor and make a mess. Gently fold the dough over itself 5 or 6 times. Turn it a few degrees each time you fold it. Press the dough out until it's about an inch thick. Then, using a 2-inch cutter, cut out your biscuits. It's helpful to dip the cutter into a bit of flour every other time you cut a new biscuit. Place the biscuits on a greased or lined baking sheet. Reform the scraps of dough, working it as little as necessary, and continue cutting. If there is any scrap dough left over after the second pass, just discard it. Bake the biscuits at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes or until they are golden on top. Brush with melted butter.

This was my very first batch (from March-ish?). They came out
slightly lopsided but so yummy!


OR

After you've cut out your biscuits, lay them on a wax paper lined baking sheet and place them in the freezer for at least 4 hours. Then, put them in a plastic zip top bag and freeze until you need them! When you want to bake them preheat your oven to 350 degrees, place the frozen biscuits on a greased or lined baking sheet and bake for about 22 minutes.

*If you don't have any buttermilk on hand, fear not! Just add a tablespoon of white or apple cider vinegar to a cup of milk and let it sit for about 5 minutes. It doesn't have the exact same tang, but it will have a similar acidity to buttermilk, which I find necessary for this recipe.

This isn't a very "healthy" item that I can have all the time now that I'm making an honest effort to change how I eat. But man, oh man, to I look forward to these as a treat every few weeks. I hope you enjoy them, too!

Elle

PS The picture of the biscuits count as my photo for Photo Friday. Two birds, one stone, blah blah blah.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"I want to lose 3 pounds."


"Oh my god, Karen, you can't just ask people why they're white." 

For those who don't know, these are both quotes from Mean Girls. The title is actually related (somewhat) to this post. The other? Not so much. But it's funny, right? RIGHT! *ahem*

After I had my son, I dropped about 40 pounds within a few weeks. Part of it was the instant loss some experience from having the baby and breastfeeding. Another part of it was me not realizing that I'd actually gained a decent amount of weight without giving it too much thought (because I'm an idiot). Anyway, I've gained most of that back. And I honestly couldn't tell you how much I weigh now. I just guesstimate by the clothes that I wear and how they fit. I have a fear of the digital scale. It's almost a legitimate fear or phobia. Especially the scales that basically give you a "loading" signal before it shows your weight. I feel so intimidated and judged. By a machine. Yes, I am aware how ridiculous I am.

Before I get off on some crazy tangent in which I share too much, I will try to get closer to the point. After a few weeks of self pity and out right disgust, I've set a new goal for myself. It's reasonable and I know I can accomplish it in a healthy, effective way. I would like to lose 10 pounds by Charlie's birthday, which is August 3rd. [I'd also like to do it without spending a bunch of extra money I don't have on questionable supplements and dieting products.] This is the first of many goals but I find that small, reasonable goals work well for me so I will reevaluate once I reach the 10 pound loss. For someone who is only 5'5" and over 200 pounds, I should probably be looking to lose a minimum of 50 pounds or more total. But, for my own sake, I need to keep in mind that slow and steady wins the race.

I've already gotten back into my interval running routine. I use a couch to 5k program that is base on beats per minute so I pace myself better. I do my interval training 3 times a week and walk approximately the same distance on my "off days". I've had 2 or 3 "off days" now because I'm having some joint pains and swelling* issues. However, I am determined to not let this slow me down. I will at the very least be walking 2 to 3 miles everyday, but I am hoping to feel well enough to run intervals. I'm most likely going to have start incorporating more yoga into my workouts as it is low impact exercise and better for my joints.

Along with exercise, it's time to make more changes in how I eat- smaller portions, make an honest effort to keep track of how much water I'm drinking, and put my Paula Dean-like tendencies back into the closet until Thanksgiving. Because I'm sorry. Thanksgiving isn't the same without a boat load of butter, y'all. I'd really like to use less fat and oil altogether. When I need to use fat, I'll be using more olive oil and coconut oil. I will cook at least one meatless meal and one low-carb meal each week. That will probably be the most challenging part, but I'll make it happen. These new meal ideas may also help my budget some, too! Soda has been out of my life for a while, so that's one less hurdle to jump. But sugar is still a problem; less chocolates, ice cream, and sweets in general.

Sounds like a plan. I can totally do this. As an encouragement to myself (and others), I may share some healthier recipes or neat food ideas that I come across or come up with. I think writing about what I'm doing and what's going on will help me stay on track. Now I have to...get on a scale. THE HORROR!

Here's to a healthier...me!

Elle

*The joint pain and swelling aren't new problems. I had some chronic arthritis type symptoms about 2 years ago that seemed to go away after I had Calvin. Now that my body is finally getting back to "normal" 18 months later, I have a feeling a few unpleasant issues are returning. All the more reason to get healthy!


Cross posted to The Giggly Mommy

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Photo Friday x 2

I missed last week, for whatever reason. I think I had a severe case of mommy brain. That's what I'm going with, anyway. So you get 2 pictures this week! Yay for you!



This was last summer when I first started letting Calvin really
try to feed himself. 


This was taken last month while he was attempting to eat
(homemade) ramen. I'm not sure how much progress we've made,
but he sure is cute!

I can't stress enough how fast everything changes. In the first picture, he was just dabbling; playing with his applesauce more than eating it. But, for the most part, I was still feeding him myself. We were also still experimenting with new foods and textures. The only thing he had made up his mind about not liking was green beans. In the second picture, he insisted on helping himself. He still allowed me to guide him a little and I promise more noodles ended up in his tummy than on his head. But in just a month's time, even that has changed. He won't let me spoon feed him at all, anymore. He refuses to take a bite until I give him the spoon. This baby has severe "I do it myself!" syndrome. And Mr. Personality here is no longer a fan of broccoli and insists on dipping as much food as possible (noodles into sauce, biscuits into gravy, anything into ketchup). I blame his father. For the hatred of green beans and the love of dipping anything into ketchup.

This post reminds me...Homemade Ramen post coming soon!



Friday, April 26, 2013

Photo Friday

This is the recipe box I mentioned in last week's Friday post. It is one of those things that I'd probably risk my life to run back in for if my house was on fire. It's nothing fancy. I'm not sure if it was once part of a kitchen set- the kind with matching storage tins and a bread box or if it was just something she always had. She could have even picked it up at a yard sale**, for all I know. But, it holds recipes she used for many years; recipes my daddy and aunt Lorna grew up with. There are recipes clipped off of food boxes and cartons, there are some hand-written on scraps of paper, and some more carefully written on index cards. There are also memories. A thousand memories of her. In the kitchen with a cigarette in one hand, spatula in the other, and the phone between her ear and shoulder. Memories of Campbell's vegetable beef soup, pistachio pudding, and Barnum and Bailey's animal crackers. Those awesome swinging saloon doors at their house in Spartanburg. Going to the bakery thrift store with her, which was just the best thing ever because I could always get snack cakes or cookies. Going to the Piggly Wiggly. That awesome Mexican restaurant next to their antique shop in Las Cruses. The story of how they found Chile, or rather, how she found them. Taking great-grandma (her mother) up the mesa in Grand Junction to buy some cherries [one of those 'you had to be there' situations]. I could go on for days...



The recipe right up front is for her spaghetti sauce. It's written in
my Aunt Lorna's handwriting.
Growing up in a family where everyone cooked regularly and where I was encouraged to cook from an early age almost certainly guarantees that some of my best memories will involve food. Funny how an old, beat up box filled with paper can be one of my most valuable possessions, right? Family and fond memories are nourishment for the soul just like food nourishes your body. Don't let anyone tell you different.

Elle

**My grandma was the yard sale queen! She always found the best stuff. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Photo Friday

Earlier this week I was feeling nostalgic. I'd seen an old, beat to hell, blue Celebrity wagon while driving around Anderson and nearly had a breakdown. My Grandma H had one that looked similar and the memory of her came rushing back so fast it made my head spin. So I decided to make a batch of her spaghetti sauce. It's nothing fancy. It is an extremely simple meat sauce that she, more than likely, got off of a package once upon a time. Even so, it is delicious. It's savory and just...yummy. It took me forever to be able to recreate it after she passed away. I finally got the recipe from my Aunt Lorna when she gave me my grandma's old recipe box (another story for another time; remind me to tell you about it). To make a long story short (too late), I made some and let Calvin have at it.



It's a requirement to have a spaghetti-face picture of your kid, right?

I hope everyone has a great weekend!
Elle

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Showing off

A few weeks ago, I mentioned on Facebook that I don't care much for the apartment my family and I are currently living in, but I do LOVE my patio. It's smallish and there isn't much to it, but it's got some of my favorite things including Calvin's sandbox and my container garden.

I've mentioned my little garden here and told you all a bit about my first harvest. I was stupidly excited about it! Well, I'm stupidly excited again! I have more asparagus popping up, my tomato plants are already blossoming, and I'm pretty sure my mint plants are trying to take over the world. 



My apologies for the terrible picture quality. I do my best gardening
while the dude is a sleep.
I recently put some mulch down over my garlic, rosemary, tomatoes and cucumber in hopes of not having to water 3 times a day. Hopefully that will keep any volunteer crap from popping up in the pots, too. Even in a small container garden, I hate pulling weeds.

Anyway, I don't have much to talk about tonight, I just felt like showing off.

Elle

Friday, April 12, 2013

Photo Friday

In yet another effort to make myself remember that this exists, I'm going to try an experiment. I'd like to post a picture each Friday. It may or may not have a caption or small post to go with it. Well, it may end up being 2 or 3 photos, but you get the idea. This is really to keep myself aware of my poor, often neglected, blog's existence and also to share a little of myself and my family. So here it goes...


This was the first time Calvin played in his sandbox. It was a mostly successful
adventure. I may need to invest in some safety goggles, though. Sand takes flight
quite well. 

I know it isn't food related, but you can see the pots where my garlic and asparagus live in the background. And my tiny gardener in training much prefers his pint-sized rake and spade to his beach-type sand toys.

If the weather is nice where you are, get out and enjoy it this weekend! If mother nature isn't being so kind in your corner of the world, I hope you get to enjoy your weekend anyway.

Elle

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Smell of the Rain

It's Sprummer here in my little part of the world. Yes, you read correctly and no I'm not drunk. In upstate South Carolina, we get maybe 3 weeks of what I would honestly consider spring-like weather: temperatures no higher than 75 during the day, the windows are open, flowers are blooming, birds singing, etc.  And most of the time those weeks are not consecutive. Then we get to Sprummer. Not quite spring, but not hellishly hot enough to be summer just yet. The blooming continues, everything is painted with thick coats of neon yellow pollen, the temperatures start climbing higher and higher into the 80s, and the sun is less gentle than it was a few weeks ago. Everyone is sneezing and offering sacrifices to whatever deity they believe in to give us relief from the pollen. Seriously. Even if you've never had any kind of allergy in your entire life, your lungs and/or nose will rebel against you if you spend some time in certain parts of South Carolina and Georgia during Sprummer. Oh, and in other parts of the country it's still snowing. Weird. On a good day, though, we do get a little break- when it rains. I've got all the windows open in our apartment right now. I can smell the rain coming. It's a glorious thing. It's kinda like the smell in the air before it snows, just a bit more common in this area. I'm so excited!


From the top, clockwise: Sweet basil, asparagus, flat leaf
parsley, sweet mint, and apple mint
In other and more food related news, I picked my first harvest tonight! I have a little container garden this year that I'm quite proud of. I've got a few flowers (morning glories, at the moment) that I just planted, garlic, asparagus, 3 varieties of tomatoes, some cucumber, rosemary, sweet mint, apple mint (rescued from last year), basil and parsley. I also have a plan to switch things out and do a crop rotation of sorts later in the year so I'll be able to take advantage of more than one growing season. I'm really looking forward to getting back to gardening. Last year was a bust. It got too hot and I was still trying to figure out how to be a mom. I lost most of what I planted long before the summer growing season was over. But this year I am determined to keep this thing going year-round. I've put a lot of money and effort into it so far, so I owe it to myself as well as my bank account. I'm also learning and relearning things about plants and soil. It feels good to get back to that. I was a horticulture major before I switched to my culinary track, after all. Anyway...

As you can see from the picture, it's not much of a harvest. This first batch of asparagus is teeny and the crowns may not produce anything bigger than that this year. The herbs are still young, but need to be snipped so they continue to grow and not flower too early. Like I said, it isn't much, but it's a start.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A not-recipe

As I've explained before, I have a lot of time to read and be online while at work on the weekends. Friday, I came across a recipe on Kitchen Daily and thought it would make a great dinner sometime soon. Then I promptly lost the recipe. I could have looked it up again, but I remembered most of it and I knew I was going to make some changes anyway. So I though, "Ah, screw it. I'll just fake it." [That's what she said! Right? Right?!]

Going with my instincts lead me to a really delicious dinner that was perfect for an almost-Spring day. Aside: Seriously, y'all. It was sunny and in the mid-sixties today. Perfect weather! I'm so sick of this faux winter we've had in my area this year, so today was a welcomed change for me.

Alright. Here it is. The Asian Chicken Salad Wraps not-recipe:

1 rotisserie chicken- skin and bones discarded, meat shredded*
1/2 sweet pepper, finely chopped
A couple tablespoons of mayo
A couple tablespoons of sweet chile sauce
A drizzle of toasted sesame oil (this stuff is strong, so take it easy)
1 clove of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Some finely chopped chives, if you feel like it
Thinly sliced radish, carrot, or some other crunchy veggie
Toasted almond slivers
Bibb lettuce leaves

In a medium bowl combine the mayo, chile sauce, sesame oil, garlic and S&P well. Taste it and adjust seasoning accordingly. Toss the shredded chicken, peppers, and chives into the mayo mixture. If it's not wet enough, you may need to add a bit more chile sauce or mayo, depending on your preference. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour, giving the flavors time to meld. Spoon the chicken salad onto leaves of Bibb lettuce. Top with radish and almond slivers. These are wraps, so they're are meant to be eaten with your hands. But if you insist on being prissy and using a fork, I guess that's okay too.  Either way, enjoy it!
*Instead of being lazy, like I was, you can also roast 2 or 3 chicken breasts and shred them, if you prefer.

I remember this recipe calling for slices of avocado on top. I thought the mayo sauce made this creamy enough, so I added some crunchy elements instead to balance everything out. If you'd like to have a little more kick in your chicken salad I'd recommend using the Asian chile-garlic sauce, instead of the sweet chile sauce, that you would find in the International section of your market. The glorious thing about a not-recipe is that it's really more of an idea to go with and can easily be customized.

Elle

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fun Food Facts!

I've been doing a good bit of reading lately. Mostly recipes and articles about food. What? You're surprised? That's one of the perks of my job. I work as a security officer in a library and am at a computer quite a bit. I have a dual screen set-up so I can watch the cameras on one and the badge monitor on the other. But we're also allowed to surf the web. Let's face it, not too much hard crime goes down in a collegiate library. Not in this area, anyway. So I get to read online. A lot.

Throughout my surfing and browsing over the past few days, I've stumbled on some little gems of information that I thought were pretty great. Plus, I didn't know about them previously. So now I'm going to share them with you! And if you know about these things already then good for you, smartypants!

Pancake day is a thing. Like, for real. It's not just something that IHOP is using as a marketing ploy. Pancake day falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent in certain faiths. Most Americans call this day Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. It's known in the UK, Australia, New Zealeand, and Canada as Shrove Tuesday. Pancakes are associated with the day before Lent because they are a really good way to include rich food products or ingredients like eggs, sugar, and milk in the celebrations and feasts before the 40 day fast of Lent begins. Admittedly, I feel a little silly for not knowing this. But as I'm not of a faith that participates in Lent I'm going to give myself a pass on this one. Just this once.

Cardamom, which happens to be one of my favorite spices, is the 3rd most expensive spice in the world. Oh! And I knew this already, but it's one of the oldest known spices in the world, too. The only two giving it a run for it's money are vanilla and saffron. All of these spices are so expensive for two main reasons. They are only grown (well) in very specific areas of the world. In this case, the spice is grown in southern India and Sri Lanka. It is also a pain in the butt to harvest these items. Cardamom is particularly difficult to harvest because the seeds sprout in clusters of pods that tend to ripen at different times. So the pods have to be picked by hand just before they reach maturity in the dry period of late autumn.

Carrots were white, yellow, and purple before they were ever orange. It's suspected that the orange color we find in cultivated carrots today is due to a naturally occurring mutation. Who knew?! I though the fun colored carrots were a new thing as the result of hybridization. So that means that Bugs Bunny's great great great great great great great great grandbunny was chomping on purple carrots with some dude probably named Ug ug. All terrible jokes aside, this site has a lot of good information on the history of carrots if you have the time and/or desire to browse through such a thing.

Neat, right?! I thought they were interesting little tidbits. What's a fun and interesting fact about food that you know?

Elle

PS WE GOT A NEW DISHWASHER! It actually cleans the dishes. No, really. It cleans them. Hooray!

PPS The links in the above paragraphs will take you to the main sources I used for research and not necessarily where I discovered my facts.

Photo credit:
http://thecynicalchef.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/pancakes-047.jpg
http://spicetrekkers.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Indian-Green-Cardamom.jpg
http://www.worldcommunitycookbook.org/season/guide/photos/carrots.jpg

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Quality ingredients for quality cooking

I was recently asked by a friend about some of the ingredients I use in my cooking. She asked me if I use store-brands or if there are brand names I swear by or if any of that really matters. Of course, the answer to that is not simple at all. The ingredients I use are based largely on what my budget is at this point in my life. I can't afford to go to Dean and Deluca and drop $20 on a pound of strawberries. Not that we have a Dean and Deluca in my neck of the woods, but hopefully that gets the point across. I buy products that are on sale, I buy store brands for many things because they really are just as good as the brand name. I shop at places like Aldi and Trader Joe's (owned by the same company, by the way) because they offer great products for reasonable prices. And with the constantly rising or fluctuating costs of food these days, these stores have become invaluable to me and my family.

I try to buy organic produce when I can. I pay attention to labels and I am very conscious of what I'm going to feed my family. We've cut out most processed goods and we try to eat as cleanly as possible (though the occasional M&M or Reese's Pieces never hurt anyone!). But like I said, we're on a budget. And a budget doesn't always allow for the best of the best. There are, however, some ingredients that I refuse to skimp on. The first 3 items that come to mind are:

Flour- I use King Aurthur All Purpose flour. It is a staple in my pantry. It has never failed me. I will use Pilsbury as a back up, but I will always choose King Authur first. The grain is grown in the US, it is a decent and fair company, and nothing else measures up to the quality of their product in my opinion. For cake flour, I use Swan's Down. I use it, again, because not much else measures up to that. Plus it's an old, tried and true company that's been around for more than 100 years. They must be doing something right. My grandmothers use/used Swan's Down, my mother uses it, and now so do I.

Butter- So...I mostly* use a store-brand, unsalted butter. But this is listed here because I use butter as opposed to margarine, which is much cheaper. Whether or not margarine is one molecule away from being plastic is true, I still will not put something with that many unpronounceable ingredients into my cooking. It's just...icky. That's right. Icky is a technical term. Deal with it.
*I buy Land O'Lakes or Plugra, which are my favorite brands, if I can get them at the same price or slightly cheaper than the store-brand if they're on sale. It's rare but it happens.

Bacon- As a friend of mine just found out this morning, buying cheap bacon will leave you feeling cheated and sad. It can look amazing, but if the price is too good to be true, it probably is. Many store brands or cheap/off-brands are injected with brine or water. So the bacon looks great, but shrinks down to a third of the size it started out as after it's been cooked. Kinda like Shrinky Dinks. If you are lucky enough to have a local butcher, awesome! Support your local economy and get a great quality product even if you have to pay a little more. We aren't that lucky. So I like Wright brand bacon. I buy it almost exclusively. They provide a tasty, reliable product still at a reasonable price.

Of course, this list could go on and on. There are a lot of products that I enjoy and prefer over most others. But those three are something you will find in my kitchen no matter what. If the zombie apocalypse does happen, those 3 things will be in my emergency kit (since my emergency kit includes a battery operated refrigeration unit of some kind and a dutch oven).

What about you? What products or brands do you prefer over any other?



***I am not being paid to promote the brands listed in this post in any way, shape, or form. I am explaining my preferences and personal experiences with these brands and do not benefit from you clicking any of the hyperlinks.***

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mmmm, butter...

Not a bad picture considering I took it with my phone.
No, I'm not channeling Paula Deen. And no, what I'm about to share with you will not cause you to gain weight or find yourself with a sudden onset of heart disease just by reading it. Ready? Here we go...

Tonight I made Garlic Rosemary chicken breasts for dinner. I used a method that I don't typically use. Let's face it, with a [nearly] 15 month old boy that can't be left alone for 2 seconds without trying to give the cat an unwelcomed hug or standing on something he shouldn't, the less steps I use in my cooking, the better. Keeping the kid alive tends to be more important in our culture than cooking a perfect supper. But tonight I decided to go the extra mile. And what do you know?! The kid is still alive and dinner was delicious!

A few days ago, Charlie saw the January cover photo of Bon Appetit magazine with this glorious, golden pork chop front and center. And of course, he asked me if I could make it. So I picked up the issue, flipped through to the cover recipe and picked it apart. It was less of a recipe and more of a lesson in basting. I thought, "Sure! I can do this! I did it in culinary school. It's a pretty simple idea, really." But I didn't have any glorious, 2-inch thick pork chops. Chicken was on my weekly menu, though. It was supposed to be chicken kabobs, but food on a stick is better left for the Summer months. Garlic Rosemary chicken it is! I turned Yo Gabba Gabba on for the dude, peeked in on him every few minutes, and started dinner.

This is what I did:

I placed an oven-safe skillet on medium heat and added about a teaspoon of rosemary infused olive oil- enough to coat the bottom of the skillet. [Pan spray or regular olive oil will work just fine, too.] I also turned my oven on to 400 degrees F. I took 3 boneless/skinless chicken breasts, patted them dry, and seasoned both sides with kosher salt and black pepper. I placed them in my preheated pan for about 4 minutes; just until it started to brown. Then I flipped each breast once letting the other side cook for another 4 minutes. I sprinkled in some dried rosemary and placed the pan in the oven. I let the chicken cook in the oven for about 15 minutes. Keep in mind that these were very thick breasts (about 1 1/2 inches) and still a little icy in the middle so timing will vary. After the chicken was almost cooked through, I pulled the pan out of the oven [WITH A POTHOLDER OR OVEN MITT] and set it back on the stove at medium heat. This is where it gets good. I then added 2 whole, peeled garlic cloves and 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter to the pan. When the butter melted I tilted the pan slightly forward, took a soup/cereal sized spoon, and ladled the butter over each chicken breast repeatedly for several minutes. Then I turned off the heat and set the pan to the side to let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes. After it had some time to relax (being delicious is hard work after all) I sliced it, spooned a little bit of the goodness from the bottom of the pan over the chicken, and served it with roasted veggies.

The basting method takes a little more time and effort, but the product is so yummy! It works well because you are cooking the meat more evenly this way. The less you flip the meat and move it around a pan, the more evenly it will cook. And by basting it with a hot liquid, you're helping cook both sides at once, while locking in the flavors and moisture that is crucial to cooking meat perfectly. Plus, you're making use of all of those wonderful brown bits in the bottom of the pan. In my opinion, basting will yield the most flavorful chicken, pork, or steak you've ever had. It's how a lot of professional steakhouses cook their steaks, rather than using a grill.

So there it is...the [butter] basting method. You can do this with other meats using other oils, wine, or even just some stock. It's a pretty simple concept, it just takes a little more time. But, like I said, it's well worth the effort.

Elle

PS The title of this entry was a toss up between "Mmmm, butter..." and "Let's get basted!". You're welcome.