Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Take on Two-Ingredient Mousse

Around Valentine's Day, I saw this article on Yahoo for two-ingredient mousse. Come on, you were intrigued too, weren't you? It promised a perfect mousse through the heating of water and dark chocolate and then the whipping of the now-melted concoction over ice. The science behind it was that this would whip it much like whipped cream or homemade mayonnaise--the water would become suspended in the fat and as it cooled it would take form.

It certainly looked perfect on the post--very mousse-y and very chocolate-y. And the comments weren't half bad either. I had to try it. I didn't even feel guilty trying it. This was dark chocolate and water for Pete's sake. Decadent desserts don't get much more virtuous than that.

For me, the tricky part was whipping it until it was just right. The first time I did it, it got it too hard. So I had to melt it and re-do it. That time it came out okay, though not as light as I had expected it to be from the pictures on the original post. I gave it a couple more tries, you know, for science's sake and all. What I got each time mousse-ish, but still not as light and perfect as I consider mousse to be (don't ask me how they got that last picture on the original post--I expect it's doctored--that or the result of 100's of tries). (Issue #1.) The other problem was that if you don't eat it within the first hour or so, it gets really hard. It is still different than eating a chocolate bar--it is much less dense. But it wasn't at all like eating mousse either. What I had after several hours in the fridge was a concoction in solid form--it's just that it had more air whipped in so that it was lighter per square inch than a bar of chocolate. (Issue #2.) We ate it anyway and yes, it tasted yummy. Though not really any yummier than eating a bar of dark chocolate, and for a lot more work. (Issue #3.)

Sounds like I had a lot of issues with this, doesn't it. Though clearly I wasn't exactly hating this stuff since I decided to give it a try with part water, part whipping cream. And then, heck, while I was at it, with all whipping cream--essentially a whipped ganache (again, of course, for science). The results were interesting. You could visibly see which mousse was which. They got lighter in color and bigger in volume with the addition of more cream.

(Sorry for the lousy picture. I use it to show that these are all the same 2 ounces of chocolate, but the one with whipping cream was nearly double in size as the original made with water--note how high they go to the ridge near the rim. It was also--naturally--considerably lighter in color.)

The one with half water, half whipping cream had the most mousse-like consistency of the lot--light and airy, yet with an almost pudding like look when you scooped it up with a spoon. However, it was the worst-tasting of the three (I didn't say bad-tasting; they were all delicious; but it was the worst of the three). The original dark one was wondefully dark chocolate-y and the one made with all whipping cream instead of water was really creamy and delicious. All three hardened up after a night in the refrigerator. And all three--although good--just weren't, well, mousse.

Which brings me to Issue #4 and the point of most annoyance for me: This wasn't mousse. Whipping chocolate does not a mousse make. It might make something that is mousse-like in appearance and texture (though only if you eat it within your first hour of whipping). But mousse is its own thing. The article claimed that their two-ingredient mousse was super chocolate-y because it was unencumbered by things like eggs, cream, and sugar. But things like eggs, cream, and sugar (with air beat into them, yes) are what make a mousse a mousse.

So, while this was good, don't expect it to taste like a mousse. Expect it to taste like Whipped Chocolate Delight.

And speaking of Whipped Chocolate Delight, tune in next time when--all in the name of science--I experiment with a whipped chocolate delight made with orange juice in place of the water. It might have to wait though because science and my belly need to communicate a little better (and science seriously needs to send a memo to my waistline while it's at it) because I'm feeling a little full.

Think I'm the crazy one with issues (I won't argue) and want to try Two-Ingredient Mousse, you'll find the recipe here.

To make it with cream:

Substitute all or half of the water with whipping cream.

Also, throwing in some vanilla or another type of flavoring might be exciting.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Leftover Tuesday: Bagel Melts with Curry Roasted Vegetables on the side

This week was tricky. We didn't have much to work with.

Here you see (clockwise starting at left) some green onions that were getting sketchy up top, about 1/2 C spaghetti with sauce, some leftover Ranch chicken (1/4-1/2 C), the rest of that darned head of cauliflower (it can hang on surprisingly long), a bit of hamburger that we'd used in the spaghetti (1/4-1/2 C), half a head of broccoli, 1 Tbsp or so pesto, and some brie cheese, which I was really hoping to use, but that had been hanging around for too long and which ended up in the garbage because it was stanky. We also had some plain spaghetti sauce and a couple of pancakes from breakfast that I forgot in the picture.

Kip looked at our paltry leftover offerings and casually said, "I'm hungry; do you think that's going to be enough?" I told him to have faith in leftover Tuesday. And then, struck with the inspiration that so often besets the believing (forgive the irreverent humor, eh), I remembered we had two lonely bagels hanging out in the freezer. We also had some cheddar to take the place of our stankified brie. And some mushrooms I'd just bought on sale that could fill in any gaps that our paltry meat toppings would leave. And so we had bagel melts (2 with mushrooms for me, one with chicken and one with beef for Kip--yes, it could have all been mixed, but Kip hates mushrooms) with curry roasted vegetables on the side. And in keeping with my irreverent metaphor on faith, let me say that we actually ended up with too much food (a la Jesus and his baskets of bread). But don't worry, just like Jesus told his disciples to gather up that bread, we gathered up our leftover leftovers too. I'm looking forward to a lovely lunch as a result.

What I Did:

-First off, I took advantage of those pancakes. Elizabeth and Savannah each had one (they were 100% whole wheat, okay).

-Secondly, I took advantage of that spaghetti sauce and made a small pot of spaghetti to go with it. Mark, Savannah, and Emma all had some of that.

-For the curried vegetables, I chopped up the cauliflower and broccoli, drizzled them with olive oil and then sprinkled them generously with salt, pepper, and curry. I roasted them at 400 for about 20 minutes (tossing after ten minutes). I do wish I'd chopped them smaller, so they would have had more flavor per bite. If you do chop yours smaller, watch the oven because they can burn quicker.

-For the bagel melts, I got the mushrooms cooking first. I sliced the mushrooms and put them in a skillet with a good Tbsp butter. I let them simmer until they'd released their liquids and were turning golden. I could have stopped there and consumed the whole delicious pan. But I didn't.
-While the mushrooms cooked and the vegetables roasted, I toasted 4 bagels halves. I then put the cheddar on them and put this under the broiler for just a minute or two until the cheese had melted.
-When all this cooking, toasting, and roasting was almost complete, I shredded my cubed chicken and warmed it up. I also warmed the hamburger up. I was tempted to toss them together, but thought Kip would prefer them separate, which he did.
-Once these toppings were ready, I threw them on the melted cheese bagels. I added some chopped green onion to my mushroom melts. And we consumed them, yes we did.

The result: The melts were awesome, especially the chicken and mushroom ones. Kip didn't love the hamburger one (would have been better with the pesto, but Kip doesn't like pesto), but it was certainly edible. Also, we managed to use up all these little bits of leftovers in a fairly cohesive meal, which was nice. (Except the green onions, which we just used a bit of--anybody got great ideas for green onions?) We did have to pimp the meal up with some other food, although the only non-leftovers we used were cheese and half a pint of mushrooms. Not bad. I still have a bagel half and some roast vegetables to be reheated for lunch. And I sent a bit of leftover spaghetti to school with Mark.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Ranch Chicken Sandwiches

Way back when I started this blog over a year ago, one of the first things I planned to post were these sandwiches. Because they're awesome. And then I didn't and then the Cheap Eat Challenge came and we couldn't afford to make them and then I kind of forgot about them. Until a week ago when I threw some Ranch dressing on some chicken in a skillet. Suddenly I remembered them. Suddenly I wanted them. Desperately.

Now you can desperately want them too. You're welcome.

P.S. Don't let the chicken breasts and spinach deceive you. This isn't low-fat.

Ranch Chicken Sandwiches
Makes 4 sandwiches
Prep and cook time: 20-30 minutes
Cost: $4.70 plus what you pay for buns--$5.50
(chicken: 3.00, bacon: .50, ranch: .70, spinach: .50)

Note: One of the great things about this recipe is that you can use leftover chicken in it if you've got it--it'll still suck up the flavors of the sauce. If you don't have it, don't despair, because this is still uber fast to make.

Note on Ranch dressing: You can probably use any kind of Ranch dressing to good effect. However, we generally use "homemade" Ranch dressing, which means we use the powdered stuff mixed in with mayo and milk per the instructions on the package. However, if you want to have the very very best Ranch mixture, this is what you should do. Mix one package Ranch Dip (not dressing) with 1 C milk and 1 C mayo. It'll be a runny sort of "dressing." We discovered this by accident when I bought dip once instead of dressing, and it is the best. I don't know why it's better than regular Ranch, but it is.

2 chicken breasts, cut into bit sized-cubes
4 strips bacon
Ranch dressing (see note above), about 1/2-1 C, though I never measure
4 C spinach, chopped or shredded by hand
4 rolls, bagels, or hamburger buns
mayo, pesto, and/or cheddar (optional)

In a skillet, cook bacon until fairly crisp. Remove bacon from pan, but leave those lovely drippings.

Cook cubed chicken in the bacon drippings for a couple of minutes. Add Ranch dressing to the chicken and stir it around to coat the chicken. Stir this every minute or so until the chicken is entirely cooked (the dressing will get a little brown as it cooks with the chicken and some of the oils may separate out of the dressing, so don't freak out if that happens. You want your chicken to be brown at the end, not to have a coating of white Ranch dressing on it).

Throw spinach in the skillet and cook a minute or two more until it is wilted. Crumble bacon and add it back to the pan.

Scoop out the chicken mixture and put it on your sandwich bun of choice (we used a whole wheat version of these rolls, which were awesome. We also like bagels or sandwich buns or even hamburger buns). You can toast your roll first or not; both are good.

If you aren't completely freaked out by the amount of fat you've already witnessed in your pan (embrace it my friends; and serve the sandwiches with a big salad--that should make you feel better), you can put mayonnaise on your bun with a little cheddar, which is delicious. The other thing I really love with these sandwiches is a bit of pesto spread on the bun. Alternately, if you don't have pesto, you could throw a handful of well-chopped basil leaves and a chopped clove of garlic into the skillet when you add the spinach. If you like basil, this is very very butt-kickingly delicious, so do it, okay. Even if you hate basil, you might like this because it's subdued, but still delicious.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sauteed Cabbage with Lemon

I alluded to this "recipe" about a week ago in my discussion of cabbage. I've made it nearly every day this week and it's really good. Plus, it's the only thing I've got a picture for right now. In this joint that's often what decides the post for the day.

Sauteed Cabbage with Lemon
Serves 2
Prep time and cook time: 10 minutes
Cost: $.25

1/4 head cabbage
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 Tbsp butter
salt and pepper
1 tsp lemon juice

Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. While it's heating, cut the core out of your cabbage wedge. Then cut the wedge into bite-sized pieces (just slice it a couple of times and it will fall apart).

Add butter to skillet and let it melt. Throw your cabbage into your oil/butter. Give it a toss. Sprinkle on salt and pepper. Let cook until it begins to get a bit wilty. Stir it around occasionally. Let it get a little color to it and maybe a bit brown at the edges. When it's tender and got some color, add the lemon juice. Taste it and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice to taste.

A couple tips:
-Do NOT skip the lemon juice. Without it this meal is just so so, but that juice kicks it up into something sort of addicting.
-Also, do try to get some color to your cabbage--this changes the flavor to something deeper and more complex than plain wilty cabbage can provide.
-I haven't tried this yet (it just occurred to me today), but I bet lemon pepper would be pretty awesome with this too.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Food Essay Friday: Five Ways Your Kitchen WON'T Make You Sick

Once every month or so, one of those articles pops up on Yahoo (or wherever) about how your kitchen/bathroom/bedroom/yard/general existence as a human being is making you sick. 

The purpose of this post is not to refute the fact that we ought to replace our sponges here and there. Truly we should. And we should wash our hands and our dish towels and be sure to get our cutting boards very clean. The purpose of this post is to remind you of the many many (and much less terrifying reasons) you will not get sick from your kitchen. Not only that, but it will also point out the ways that you will actually benefit from making an appearance in your kitchen every so often, preferably with the intent of making and eating something and not just to admire your utensils. (The other purpose of this post is to make fun of my very own mother, who I'm sure will take this in a wonderful and good natured way, right Mom? Mom???)

Because seriously, how often have you really gotten sick from your kitchen? I have gotten sick approximately 0 times from my kitchen. On the other hand, I have gotten sick approximately 7,832,901 times due to the fact that I send my kids to a public school. Yet there are no regular Yahoo articles on the dangers of elementary education (I'll have to look in crunchier places for warnings about that). I've gotten sick from attending church, from visiting relatives, from going to the store, from exposure to pesky germ-carrying hosts called human beings, and from functioning in a world does not consist of a 6' by 6' bubble. But I have never--no, not once, gotten sick from my kitchen. Or any body else's kitchen either. I am not a slob, but I am not at my counters/sponges/dish clothes/cutting boards/etc. with bleach every three minutes either. Not only have I been spared from death in my own kitchen, but I have also never gotten sick from my mother's kitchen, which was well-used and which was well-used long before there were Yahoo articles telling her that she had to replace her sponge every 37 minutes or risk dread disease. My mother, in fact, was what I would like to call--respectfully, of course--a wee bit lax in the sponge replacement department in general (and a few other kitchen-sterility-related departments we don't need to discuss in detail right here). 

So, while I admit that it is humanly possible to get sick from you kitchen, and while I will even warn that it would be dreadful to get something horrible like salmonella and that you should take precautions not to do so, I see far more benefit in the home kitchen than harm. Let's discuss a few of the pro's, shall we. 

1. In the kitchen, you generally prepare food. Generally speaking this food is lower in sodium, sugar, and fat than many of the other kitchens or factories who would otherwise be preparing your food for you. Even if you spend your time preparing cookies or cake, your cookies or cakes will have more whole and wholesome ingredients than their store-bought counterparts. Unless, of course you've got some maltodextrin and lecithin hanging about in your spice rack. Or perhaps a bit of liquid sugar. Or some sodium stearoyl. Anyway, you get my point. You know what's in your food and you can put even better things in it if you choose.  Which leads us to point #2...

2.  The home cook has the power to reduce any of the things the home cook deems unhealthy in his/her foods. If you need to cater your diet to one that is low-sodium or low-fat or low-sugar, you can do so. If you think raw foods are good for you, you can prepare them that way. If you think your eggs and meat should be cooked until they are dark brown at the edges, go for it. Not only do you have complete control over what goes into your food, but you can achieve this for much cheaper. Which brings us to the lovely #3.

3. Food cooked in the home kitchen is generally cheaper. It is darned near always cheaper, though I'll leave a bit of room for an exception or two. You can go to a restaurant (where, frankly, for all you know, the sponges are 17 years old), and pay a booty-load for factory-farmed meat and vegetables that were brought in from Chile. Or you can make the same meal (only much tastier) from grass-fed or humanely raised meat and local and/or organic vegetables for the same price or (usually) much cheaper. Or you can just use the cheap food from your local WhateverMart and really save a chunk of change. It's all up to you, but whether you care about the environment or your health or just the thickness of your own pocketbook, you win. Which leads--can you guess--to #4...

4. Control. We've already discussed how, through cooking at home, you can control your health, but through cooking at home you can control everything else as well. If you want to eat certain types of food, you can. If you want to disinfect your sponges on the hour, you can. Get your food from a source outside your home kitchen and there's no guarantee (at least not any kind of real guarantee) that their sponges/counters/dish towels/aprons/noses are clean. It's also difficult to know where your food came from or what exactly is in it.  Which in a round about kind of way leads to #5...

5. If you and your kitchen spend a little time together, you're bound to end up eating there at some point. This is really nice even when you're alone (in fact, sometimes I take special measures to ensure I get a little meal or snack by my lonesome). But most likely you'll wind up eating with some of the significant others in your life. There are plenty of studies these days saying how this will benefit your health, you kids' health, your kids' intelligence, everybody's waistlines, and provide mental stability all around. But I bet if you already know your home kitchen and if you have a dinner hour without the TV on, you probably already know this. No, it's not, like the peaceful family glamour of 1950's programming. My kids complain about the food and argue more than their fair share. Even when they're not complaining about the food or arguing, they tend to be making stunning amounts of noise. (Stunning, I say.) But with that noise, comes laughter and sometimes even a story or emotion shared. It's worth it's weight in organic grass-fed beef. And it's not going to happen if you're so paranoid about the dangers of your home kitchen that you just opt for take-out in front of the TV again. Which doesn't really lead to our bonus reason, but we're going there anyway...

Bonus: Tastier. Spend even a little time regularly in your kitchen and you'll find that the stuff you start to turn out is a lot better than the stuff BurgerHut or Leany Cuisiney can provide. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Banana, Almond, and Oat Breakfast Drink

You know how they say that you shouldn't shop hungry. Well, maybe you shouldn't look at the Pinterest home page hungry either. Yes, definitely not. I'm lucky that I stumbled onto a banana smoothie instead of, like, Quadruple Chocolate Bipass Brownies. Anyway, I don't know what it was about this picture--there were almonds and a banana and some oatmeal, but the Pinterest link to the recipe wasn't even working and I didn't let that stop me. I was hungry; I was dedicated; I had to do a manual search on the internet where I typed in key words. I assure you that it was a grueling 47 seconds. But I did it all for you. Okay, I didn't. I did it for me. And I'm really glad I did. And you'll be glad I did too. Because this is so ridiculously good and I don't even know quite why. The flavors, they're just meant for each other.

And now I gush. I realize that I posted a smoothie yesterday and that it is surely against some type of food blogging commandment to post two smoothies in a row. Which is partly why we'll be calling this a breakfast drink. The other reason is that while it could perfectly well be called a smoothie, it really is a sort of breakfast drink. It's filling (nuts, oats, banana, milk, and yogurt) and well rounded (protein, whole grain, fruit, dairy, healthy bacterial cultures, calcium) and very satisfying to drink. Also, it takes two minutes to make. Also, the way I made it it could be a raw food. Also, my version is--if I don't mind tooting my own horn, and where good food is concerned I really don't--my version is approximately 700 times more amazing that their version in taste, ease, and even healthiness (and potential for rawness). Chiquita's recipe used cooked oatmeal (in a smoothie--ehhh, I don't know) and ice, which my blender simply cannot handle and which waters the whole thing down so that it requires honey or sugar to sweeten it). With this recipe, you throw frozen banana, nuts, quick oats, yogurt, and milk into a blender and there you go. I wasn't sure how the nuts and oats would do in my cheap-o blender, nor did I know how the texture would be with oats and milk hanging out together (would it thicken into an unbearable consistency/texture?). On both counts I was really pleased with the results. I have a lame blender, but I'll be darned if those nuts or oats gave me any trouble. And the texture (while not perfectly smooth and therefore not acceptable to some members of this family) was, in my opinion, perfectly perfect in every way and not gloppy or gooey at all, which had been my concern. Seriously, it's an awesome drink. It's like taking the best of oatmeal and the best of banana smoothies and creating a perfect offspring. And if that's not good enough, it's so so fast--no more than 2 minutes. And so transportable. I'm not going to advocated eating on the run because we all know it's not the best habit in the world, but if the need arose you could totally consume this in the car on your way to work, soccer practice, or the gym (where it is especially well suited as it's a filling, but not heavy-feeling energy-giver). Move over Slim Fast. In fact, why don't you take a nice ride down the porcelin express. We won't be needing you and we certainly won't be wanting you any more (if, um, we ever did).

Banana, Almond, and Oat Breakfast Drink
adapted from chiquita banana
Serves 1-2
Prep time: 2 minutes
Cost: $.75
banana: .15, milk: .08, yogurt: .10, nuts: .40, oatmeal: .02)
Calorie count, should you care for that sort of thing (about 400 calories if eaten as 1 serving)

Note: Your banana must be frozen in order to make this smoothie. I always have frozen bananas on hand since I take my old ones and break them into chunks and throw them into Ziploc bags. However, if you are not me, and don't have any on hand, you can freeze them fairly quickly by slicing them and putting them single layer on a tray or cookie sheet in the freezer. (They should be smoothie-able in about 20 minutes.)

Another note on banana: The riper, the better. Not rotten, mind you, but brown spots=good.

1 banana, frozen and broken into chunks
3 Tbsp yogurt (I used vanilla since I'm out of plain, but the banana has enough sweetness to carry plain yogurt)
scant 1/4 C or about 25 almonds (other nuts are good too; I made it with walnuts this morning and I think peanuts would rock as well)
1/4 C quick oats (old-fashioned oats would probably work wonderfully too)
1/2 C milk
1 tsp crunchy peanut butter (optional, but I like it)

Throw it in a blender and blend until smooth.

If you want to be a super star with this, you can also add 1/3 C baby spinach (you won't taste it and you'll barely see it, although there will be a greenish hue to your drink) and 1-2 Tbsp kefir (again, you won't taste this amount and it'll give you a little probiotic boost).


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Banana Orange Smoothie

Yesterday I almost had a cold. I could feel it coming on strong. My throat was scratchy, my nose was runny, I was tired, I was blah. I think we know that blah is a very bad symptom indeed and that it means we're going down hill fast. I figured I had nothing to lose at that point, so I combated it with a not really scientifically proven method: namely the consumption of a whole lot of Vitamin C. I took several actual vitamins and at lunch time I juiced about 4 oranges for myself. Supposedly juicing allows the vitamins/minerals to be absorbed much more quickly and efficiently into the system. And supposedly fresh juice is the only way to go if you want that benefit. I don't know if any of that is true, but I know that by that evening I was feeling much better and today I feel even better. So thank you Vitamin C and thank you nutrition myth that seemed to work and thank you Aldi for making the oranges affordable.

This, er, recipe is a result of a little experimenting I did yesterday while juicing bajillions of oranges. I made this for Kip since I was going for straight up orange, but I did have a little taste and it was well worth tasting.

Whether you use fresh juice or not, this smoothie is worth making because it is so non-controversial. It contains nothing green or chunky or un-sweet. That's usually a win for us, so even though I'd just love to sneak some spinach in, I might just go with the heavy doses of C and Potassium and call it good. It's better than graham crackers for an after school snack, that's all I have to say.

Additionally, this isn't a smoothie that requires a food science and nutrition degree. But it's a good idea anyway.

Banana Orange Smoothie
Serves 1-2
Prep time: 2 minutes unless you have to juice the oranges, which will add several more minutes

Tip for bananas: When they get brown and spotty, I usually break mine up into inch-long chunks when they and throw them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer.

1 ripe banana, frozen
1-1 1/2 C orange juice, can be freshly squeezed or not

Put in blender and puree. Yeah, not food science. If you want it thicker and more milk-shake-like, add more frozen banana. If you want it wetter and more like a cold, slushy sort of party drink (what we went for), add more OJ.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Leftover Tuesday: Chicken Pot Mini's

I wasn't sure what I was going to make today. I had this lovely little chicken carcass. Okay it's not exactly lovely to the untrained eye, but you see, chicken carcass is to leftover-loving-home-cook what blank canvas is to artist. Namely a world of possibility.

And then my sister-in-law emailed me about a typo in my original pot pie recipe and then I looked at the 2 pot pie recipes on this site. And then I remembered I had just a bit of frozen dough in the freezer.

And then I knew what I was making for dinner. (Incidentally, if making pie crusts really really isn't your thing yet, you could use refrigerated dough for biscuits or croissants to good effect.)

We also had some leftover crock pot vegetables and leftover broth.

We had an itty bit (1/2 C or so) of rice that had to be thrown out. We had cauliflower that was looking a little dodgy and cilantro that definitely needed some attention.

We had open bags of green onions, spinach, carrots, and potatoes, which I didn't end up using because I was short on time (as it was I ended up eating (while Kip drove) my pot pie in the car--way better than a Big Mac) and thus couldn't add more chopping time to my evening. A few more veggies would have been nice because more veggies are always a good thing, but now they're there for another time.

These pot pies were completely awesome. And using leftovers to assemble them made them a quick meal to put together instead of the somewhat fussy production that pot pie sometimes is.

Here's what I did for 4 mini pot pies:

1. First I pulled off the good chicken off the carcass--there was a surprising amount--probably about 1 1/2 C shredded chicken.
2. Then I melted 2 Tbsp butter.
3. While it was melting, I chopped the dodgy parts off my cauliflower and then chopped it super small (so as to hide its presence--Kip doesn't love cauliflower). I threw it in with the butter to saute.

3. As it sauteed, I chopped up the leftover roast vegetables.
4. Once the cauliflower was tender (which only takes about 3-4 minutes when it's that small), I added 4 Tbsp flour to the mix, which made this very thick and gloppy and scary looking. I also added about 1/2 tsp dried tarragon. I was going to add the cilantro, but wimped out. Kip doesn't really like cilantro, and even I wasn't sure how well it would pair with chicken in a pot pie. (I ended up taking it's good leaves off and freezing them; cilantro freezes quite well.) Tarragon goes really well with chicken, especially creamy chicken.
5. Add 3/4-1 C chicken broth. My broth was homemade and on the sweet side since it was mixed with some white grape juice from Sunday's roast chicken. I added salt and pepper here as well. This thickened up quickly and then I added 2 Tbsp cream and 2 Tbsp milk (4 Tbsp half and half would have worked great).
(Sorry for the imperfect pictures. I was losing light fast.)
6. I put it in the ramekins.
7. I topped it (and yes, I only topped it--these had no crusts on bottom) with the a tiny ramekin sized crust (which is so crazy much easier to work with that I might have found a new way to make my pies in the future) and gave it a few small air vents. Voila.
8. I baked at 375 for about 15 minutes and then upped the temp to 400 because that's what professionals do. Ha ha, just a little joke there. I upped it to 400 because Kip and I were going on a date and I had to leave in, like, 10 minutes, so I cheated and things worked out fine, which just goes to show that cheaters totally win. But only on leftover night, okay.

The result: These were excellent--just really really good. My only complaint about them is that with the slightly sweet broth and the tarragon (which is a mild herb that has an almost sweetness to it), the pot pie could have used some kind of kick to it as a counterpoint. I'm not quite sure what it needed--maybe a dash of cayenne or some white pepper or some chopped peppers or something. Nevertheless some of the best leftovers ever and I can't wait to eat another one of these babies tomorrow.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Roasted Rosemary Chicken (with Crock Pot Option)

We made this in a crock pot for Sunday dinner. You could roast it normal style if you wanted. Your skin would come out crispier and butterier. Do you take issue with words like 'butterier?' If so, perhaps you ought to re-examine some of the limitations you've imposed on your life. Just relax and enjoy the butterier that is to be found in this world. Yes, well, un-grammar lesson and life coaching aside (because I'm, like, totally qualified for that and all), let's talk chicken.

This particular poultry started as a pert near frozen solid bird (due to my, er, re-examining of limitations and all) and was done to perfection 6 hours later. Which made me realize something: I usually cook my crock pot chickens too long. I usually cook them at least that long when thawed. They're often falling off the bone. Oh sure, they're still good and all, but this one was more juicy and tender and right. By which I mean that it had more in common with its roast sisters than my crock pot chickens usually do. Yes, it was lacking a crispy skin as any crock pot chicken will, but otherwise it was humming a roast chicken song. When you spend a good three hours at church on Sunday and don't want to come home and babysit your chicken for another 1 1/2 hours (roasting a chicken isn't hard; it just takes time), that can be a pretty good tune to hum. And I don't even like the skin, so there.

Roasted Rosemary Chicken (with Crock Pot Option)
adapted from 365 Ways to Cook Chicken
Serves 4
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 4-6 hours in crock; 1 1/2 hours in oven
Cost: $6.25 (for chicken only; vegetables will add another $.50-1.00, which is a steal of a deal for a whole meal; wow--I've missed my calling and should be writing jingles)
chicken: $6.00, other stuff: .25

Note: This would have been even dreamier with fresh herbs, but I've managed to kill yet another rosemary plant so fresh herbs will have to wait until summer.

Another note: Whether dried or fresh, crush you herbs before sprinkling. You'll release oils and aromas that will make your food taste and smell better.

1 three-four lb whole chicken
1 tsp dried rosemary or 1 Tbsp fresh
1 tsp dried thyme or 1 Tbsp fresh
1 C white grape juice (or chicken broth with 1 tsp sugar or white wine)
salt to rub all over

Pat your chicken dry. Rub it all over with salt. Then rub it all over with the rosemary, thyme. Sprinkle on some pepper.

Place in crock pot and pour grape juice into crock. If you wish, you can add potatoes, onions, carrots or some vegetable combination that sounds good to you. If you add vegetables, don't forget to give them some of the seasoning/salt love too. (I added vegetables.)

Cook in crock pot on high for 6 hours (this is for a frozen bird with vegetables). Otherwise, cook on low for that long or on high for 3-4 hours.

To go the old fashion route and roast:

Preheat oven to 375. Rub bird with butter and then season as directed above. Place in Dutch oven or roasting pan.

Roast chicken (breast up) for 15 minutes alone. Then, if using, add vegetables and sprinkle them with more herbs and salt. Pour grape juice into pan. Roast for 1 hour 15 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 160-170 at thickest part of breast and thigh.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pumpkin Smoothie: A Comparison

Throughout the winter we tend to eat a bunch of pumpkin-y things. Most of them aren't really that healthy, but we like to pretend that they're just bursting with nutritiousness on account of their being orange and all. And I do make pumpkin smoothies, which really are pretty darn nutritious. My go-to is a pumpkin smoothie with a bit of banana and a lot of room for experimentation and interpretation. It is good, but it is not perfectly perfect in every way. There is a part of me that suspects that the flavor I'm looking for in my smoothie is really the flavor you find in milkshakes not smoothies. And, yeah, it'd be nice to replicate that in a perfectly virtuous, non-iced-dessert environment, but I'm not quite sure it's ever going to happen. Still I'm not one to shut my eyes to opportunity.

Several months ago, I noticed this smoothie on Pioneer Woman's blog. It used pumpkin pie filling which, while not my nemesis, is far from being my favorite thing. Foods that contain liquid syrup--I don't know--they're just not the kinds of pumpkin foods you can settle down with and make a life together. So I dismissed her recipe and figured I could do even better with a few small tweaks. My first batch was made with pumpkin, plain yogurt, milk, and even a bit of kefir. It ended up needing some serious love--love to the tune of 1/2 C extra sugar.

The next time I went to the store, I bought some pumpkin pie filling. It was just one of those things I had to do. I had to see if I'd been outdone by a slightly grody prepared food product. Answer: Yes, I had been outdone by a slightly grody prepared food product. With the help of Pioneer Woman of course--I have to admit she's pretty good at helping a lot of foods along into something really good. At any rate her version was way better than mine. Okay, okay, I thought, maybe I should just throw in the towel and accept defeat. Her smoothie was, after all, still loaded with vitamin A, not to mention the protein, calcium, and even some good bacterial cultures from the yogurt.

However, when I did a little number crunching I noticed that her pumpkin pie filling version contained less Vitamin A than mine--about half as much. Yes, both were loaded with it, but mine was double loaded (100% of the daily recommendation/serving as opposed to 50% of the daily recommendation/serving). Also, hers had  more sugar. This gave me the motivation to give my smoothie a few more tries.

The result: If I added a bunch of sugar I got mine pretty darn close to her version and still with double the Vitamin A. However, in the end I just accepted less sweetness and used a bit less sugar and felt less guilty and I guess that's just how I roll.

Pumpkin Smoothie
adapted from Pioneer Woman
Serves 4
Prep time: 3 minutes
Cost: $1.65
(pumpkin: 1.00, milk: .40, yogurt: .25)

1 small (15 oz) can pureed pumpkin
1/2 C vanilla yogurt (you can use plain, but to compete with Pioneer Woman's smoothie, you'll have to add another Tbsp or 2 of sugar)
3 C milk (it's best with whole or raw)
4-6 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Freeze pumpkin in a plastic container (or in ice cube trays).

Put frozen pumpkin, yogurt, sugar, and milk in blender. Blend until smooth. Blend in pumpkin pie spice and garnish with another sprinkle of it or a sprinkle of nutmeg.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Food Essay Friday: A Few Tips for Food Preservation

I've just found a new blog called Love Food Hate Waste. Besides being a nice resource for food preserving tips, it's based in the UK. You know what that means? That's right; it means they talk funny. (I, of course, never talk funny.) They use all these charming terms like 'market' and 'charming' and abbreviations like 'veg' and 'cauli' and they have an entire (albeit small) section dedicated to the preservation/re-use of Christmas pudding. Yeah, try finding that on an American blog. I must confess, however, that I was really hoping to see the word 'ruddy' utilized more often. Alas, it's not that kind of a blog.

So head on over and have a look (they've also got this ad campaign running right now that cracks me up, but wait, I'm getting distracted). Yes, head right over and have a look. My favorite section was the "Top Tips and Storage."

Here are a few favorite tips (as yet untested by me) that I found today:

1. Preserve Leafy Vegetables: Put salad leaves in a paper bag. The paper catches the moisture, keeping the leaves crisp, but preventing mold (the British spell that 'mould,' by the way.) Similarly, you can put a piece of paper at the bottom of a drawer and store your lettuces, leafy greens there to the same good effect. Note: I actually thought the whole greens in a bag thing would be a good idea if you work--Just bag 5 bags of greens at the beginning of the week. Have some sun-dried tomatoes or hard-boiled eggs on hand and you've got a quick, healthy grab-and-go meal.

2. De-Stale Nuts, Chips, Crackers: Place in warm oven for 3-5 minutes (watch so you don't burn 'em) and let cool (must let cool). They'll re-crisp.

3. Freeze Potatoes: Parboil cut potatoes for 5 minutes, then freeze (I'm assuming you'd spread these out on a cookie sheet first so they don't all stick together; and then bag them up). Supposedly, you can roast these frozen potatoes and get a more golden, crispy potato than you otherwise would have.

4. Save Your Lonely Brown Banana: Add to a curry (vegetable or lentil work best). This is said to create a fruity undertone without "being a definitive taste"--i.e. screaming banana.

5. Freeze Chili Peppers: Freeze whole. When you use, they're easier to cut and scrape out seeds. They also cook faster when they've been frozen.

6. Leave Cauliflower "Cauli" Leaves On: This makes it last longer. Also, if you use only part of your cauliflower, you can cover it all with the leftover leaves and this supposedly gives it an even longer life.

7. Use Your Spinach Stalks: Chop and saute with a bit of soy sauce, sesame seeds, and a touch of sesame oil for a tasty side dish. (Why haven't I ever thought of this? It sounds delish.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

When You Buy a Head of Cabbage

You might buy it because you need a portion of it in a specific recipe. You might buy it because it is hugely on sale. You might buy it because March is approaching and you don't drink so you need to get in touch with your Irish roots on some other level. Whatever the reason you may find yourself with all or part of a head of cabbage hanging about your refrigerator, looking winsome and lonely. Or at least lonely. You did not grow up eating cabbage. Or if you did grow up eating cabbage, you ate it boiled and your parents made you sit at the table till you'd eaten it and you'd just as soon forget about those times, okay. Yes, yes, okay. Do forget about those times. Because cabbage is actually a perfectly love-able vegetable. You just have to get to know it in the right situation first.

Here's how.

1. Make this really delicious borscht. Q: What is borscht? A: When two generally unbeloved vegetables get together and make a beautiful thing.

2. Roast it. I love this recipe from Kalyn's Kitchen.

3. Saute it. A little oil, some chopped cabbage, salt, pepper. Saute until tender and brown on the edges. Then add a good squirt of lemon juice at the end. Do not omit the lemon juice. Without it, this is fairly bland and uninteresting (not gross, mind you, but bland and uninteresting), but the lemon changes all that. It's kind of like putting on mascara.

4. Make vegetable soup. It's very healthy and pretty tasty. It can be varied in a lot of ways or dolled up if that's your thing, but I eat it simply and like it just fine.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Leftover Night: Chicken Rice Wraps

This was a real winner of a leftover night. It was soooo good. Granted we had some really good players this week: leftover chicken tikka masala, a bit of avocado, and even some cilantro on hand.

Here's the cast of characters:

We had cilantro, 4-5 canned artichoke hearts, a little bit of brown rice, chicken tikka masala, 1/4 of an avocado, and basmati rice. We also had part of a cauliflower head that I forgot to include in the picture. In all truthfulness, we had some other stuff too, like some leftover spaghetti sauce and some leftover mac and cheese. I didn't take a picture because I knew I wouldn't use them for this meal, but next week I think I'll take a picture of all our leftovers so you can get an idea of what I end up choosing to put together.

I knew these things would be pretty good put together, though I wasn't sure how the artichoke hearts would do. (I ended up not really even noticing they were there--not sure if that's a good thing or not). I was also a little worried because I'd planned to add sour cream to this (we had had a few tablespoons that I knew were nearing expiration), but apparently Kip had eaten them with his chicken the night before. I was worried we'd need some kind of a sauce. In the end, this was just fine with the seasoning from the chicken. However, a little Ranch dressing (a home-mixed kind; we don't usually love the bottled Ranch) drizzled on was pretty dang good too. Finally, I knew I'd need to hide the cauliflower because I knew it wouldn't go over well, but good heavens, you can't just eat rice and chicken for dinner. Okay, you can, but I feel better about myself when I add more vegetables to the mix.

To make the wraps:

1. Heat a small bit of oil in a frying pan.

2. Chop your cilantro (a generous handful), artichoke hearts, and cauliflower (I chopped my cauliflower into tiny tiny pieces because it was my purely evil intention to hide it in that rice--worked like a charm by the way). Shred your chicken.

3. Add cauliflower or any other firm vegetables you're using to the oil. Add a bit of salt. Stir fry until tender. Add cooked rice to the pan. I used all the brown rice and some of the white rice. Let it sort of fry a la fried rice. Add chicken to the pan. Let it heat through. Add any leafy stuff. I added the cilantro here, but you could also add spinach leaves if you've got some of that hanging around looking pitiful.

4. You can serve this as is, or wrap it as we did in a tortilla shell. Serve with avocado slices and perhaps a drizzle of Ranch dressing.

Note: The chicken tikka masala was very flavorful and spicy. If you're working with chicken or meat that is less punchy, you might want to add some appropriate spices to the oil at the beginning.

The verdict:

We liked this better than we'd liked the original meal of chicken tikka masala. The rice toned down the spicy chicken and the vegetables mixed in/hidden in the rice added a nice something something to the meal. Kip wanted more even after it was gone. Awesome.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Red Velvet Zebra Cake

Leftover Tuesday just isn't the thing for Valentine's Day. Join us tomorrow when we do, er, Leftover Wednesday instead.

Valentine's Day is a day for cake. I was going to make my favorite red velvet cake--three layers of red dyed goodness. And then I saw this. And then I imagined it with red and white instead of chocolate and white. And then I decided to throw three layer red tradition to the wind and live dangerously. Yeah, whew, it gets a little crazy round here on Valentine's Day. It's like Mitt Romney on Diet Coke or something.

So, yes, I'm late because you've probably already made your Valentine's Day treat and all, but the awesome thing about the rockingness of this cake is that it can be adapted to be any colors (yeah, told you it was crazy around here). So you can use it for St. Patrick's Day or up the crazy ante and do red, white, and blue and make it for the Fourth of July or possibly make yourself perfectly wonky by doing a whole rainbow of non-fruit colors.

See you in rehab. Along with Mitt.

Red Velvet Zebra Cake
inspired by A Little Bit Crunchy A Little Bit Rock and Roll
Makes 1 layer--a heart if you must (and I must)
Prep time: I made this with my 2 youngest kids so it took me approximately 28 rather painful hours, but normally I think it'd be about 10 minutes.
Cook time: 15-20 minutes
Cost: $1.05 (I actually didn't realize what a cheap cake this was. Omit the food coloring all together and you're looking at a delicious 50 cent cake. Nice.)
flour: .12, sugar: .12, egg: .10, oil: .12, food coloring: .50, buttermilk: .09

Note: I did use the cocoa with this since a traditional red velvet cake must, by some odd unchangeable degree set forth most likely by Caesar Augustus or perhaps Martha Stewart or both, contain some small amount of cocoa. However, if you omitted it, I don't think the cake would mind and your white layer would actually be more white, which was something I neglected to think about when I added the cocoa. You could also sort of sprinkle it in when you're beating in your food coloring and thereby have your red velvet cake with appropriately traditional cocoa and eat your white cake too.

1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 Tbsp cocoa
3/4 C sugar
1 egg
3/4 C canola oil
1/2 tsp vinegar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 C buttermilk (or 1/2 C milk with 1/2 Tbsp vinegar mixed it)
1/4-1/2-ounce red food coloring (that's 1/4-1/2 of a bottle of food coloring)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a cake pan with parchment paper and grease it well.

Sift flour, baking soda and cocoa (if using).

Beat sugar and eggs in large bowl.

Add oil, vinegar, and vanilla and beat until combined.

Add 1/2 flour mixture and beat. Add buttermilk and beat. Add remaining flour mixture and beat.

Now take out about 1 1/4 C of the batter and put it in a separate bowl. To the remaining batter add your food coloring (and 1 tsp cocoa if you didn't add it already). Beat the batter till nice and red.

Pour about 3 Tbsp batter into the center of the pan. Directly in the middle of that, pour 3 Tbsp of the other color batter. Keep going like this. It'll make a bullseye looking thing.

Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick (knife, pickax, whatever you've got on hand) inserted comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.

(And here it is flipped over so the bottom shows.)

Let cool in pan for 10 minutes and then turn out to cool completely.

Frost. A lot of people use a cream cheese frosting on red velvet cake, but my favorite frosting on red velvet is the same type of white frosting that goes on a wacky cake (you can find that recipe here; it's the white one, not the fudge one).

When you're done with that you can sprinkle on some coconut. My family always did this growing up, but coconut gets mixed reviews around here, so I often skip it or just do a little bit of the cake. Today, I went a little even crazier than I already went and dyed my coconut pink. (I know. I know. It's like Mitt Romney on non-diet Coke. Whoa. And enough with the Mitt Romney jokes already--I actually really like the guy.) To do this, put some sweetened coconut in a bag with a drop or two of food coloring and shake your money maker. Or your hands if your money-maker happens to be a body part other than your hands. You could always shake both. Whatever gets your coconut dyed.


Linked up on Sweets for a Saturday and Cupcake Apothecary

Monday, February 13, 2012

Spicy Crock Pot Dal Masala

It's time for another Secret Recipe Club recipe. This month I had Savvy Eats, which was a lot of fun. There were tons of great recipes--many of them healthy. And Julie also does this fun thing where she makes a big pot/pan of something at the beginning of the week and then shows you how you can use it as the base for different meals throughout the week. And you guys know I have a thing for a good leftover.

I also have a thing for dal, which I discovered last year during our Cheap Eat Challenge. Consequently, I chose to make this Indian lentil dish (though the orange bread with dark chocolate hasn't stopped calling to me either).

I tasted it before adding the butter and milk. It was s-p-i-c-y. Not that there's anything wrong with that... although I must admit that me and mine were happy to eat the more fattening, slightly less spicy finished product. Of course, by me and mine, I mean me and Kip. The kids took one look at this dal (and, yes, I've failed as a mother and my kids are hopelessly picky; it's a struggle), which isn't--admittedly--quite a beauty queen, and just ate the naan. You know what, sometimes things are so good I don't even care. Let them turn up their spoiled little noses because that means more leftovers for me. Ha. However, I must note that Julie's dal is beautiful. She used black lentils, which I could not for the life of me find in Evansville. I'm not sure if that's the reason or what, but hers was golden with colors mixed in while mine was brown.

Spicy Crock Pot Dal Masala
Serves 6-8
adapted from savvyeats
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 4-5 hours on low, 8-10 hours on high (You could probably do it stove top in 45-60 minutes, but I haven't tried.)
Cost: $1.80
onion: .25, ginger: .05, garlic: .10, lentils: .30, beans: .10, tomato sauce: .35, butter: .30, milk: .20, other stuff: .15)

1 Tbsp canola coil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic (this cooks a long time, so it doesn't come out overtly garlic-y, in case you were worried)
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled (about 2 Tbsp minced or about 2 tsp dry if you're in a pinch)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp chili powder (I used about half that; we're wimps)
6 1/4 C water
2 C black lentils (or another type lentils if you can't find black. I just used the regular greenish brown ones you can find anywhere)
1/2 C dried kidney beans (I used kidney, but I bet most varieties would work fine)
1 C tomato sauce
2 Tbsp garam masala (check your Asian market if you want it cheap or can't find it at a regular store)
2 tsp paprika
8 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 C milk
1/2 C cream

Heat a little oil in a pan and throw your onions in. Julie caramelized them, but I was in a hurry so I just let them get tender and a bit brown. I bet if you were in a super hurry, you could just throw your onions in the pot and call it good.

Puree the garlic, ginger, cumin, corainder, chili powder and 1/4 C water to create a paste. [I also threw the onions in here with a little more water. Kip doesn't like the texture of onions, so ours got pulverized.]

Stir in lentils, beans, and oil in the bowl of the crockpot (set to high) and coat it all in oil. Add spice paste, onions, tomato sauce, garam masala, and paprika. Top with remaining water and stir it.

Cook on low for 8-10 hours. (Or on high for 4-5 hours, which is what I did.)

Thirty minutes before serving, stir in butter and milk.

Serve with a splash of cream and some cilantro leaves if you've got them and if they're your thing (they're totally my thing).


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Chocolate Molds

So I really wanted to get my red velvet cake posted sometime before Valentine's Day because I love it and it loves me, and because it is beautiful and red and even a bit of a tradition for around here. But I've been kind of in run-around-like-crazy-and-show-up-late-sometimes-but-at-least-I'm-getting-there mode this last week and cake just hasn't made it to the top of my to-do list. Which means I'll probably be running around on Valentine's Day getting it made at the last minute. Which means I should probably get my sorry behind into the kitchen right now and make some cake and take some photos before I lose my light for the day. And then I should lovingly wrap and freeze the layers so that come Tuesday I can lovingly and calmly assemble my beautiful cake and also wear my frilly apron and some pearls and thereby resemble June Cleaver (or other iconic homemaker of your choice). I also should be more careful about run-on sentences. But instead I am going to take a nap. And you should too.

I'll tell you what I have had time for though. I've had time for chocolate popsicles. They take 3 minutes to throw together and then a few minutes in the freezer and then your kids are really really delighted about dessert. Granted, you'll have to buy the popsicle molds (or another chocolate mold) if you don't have any. But you really ought to because having a heart-shaped mold can provide years of Valentine's fun. And also cheapness. A bag of decent quality chocolate can so totally compete with a box of over-priced cheap chocolate in a pink and red bag/box. If you get really good at the whole decorating thing, you could even give these away to actual people who are not in the single-digit age range.

You can leave them just chocolate or you can chop up some old candy canes and throw those on for a red and white peppermint flare. (Of course, I won't judge you if you just put the candy canes in the Christmas box and save them for next year. I didn't say I wouldn't make fun of you, like I do my very own mother when she does this very same and slightly grody thing, but I won't judge you.) You could add a little coconut oil to your chocolate for something silky and special. Or you could let your kids go at it with sprinkles or M & M's or nuts or coconut flakes. Whatever you do it's sure to be lazy and cheap and chocolate-y. And you don't even have to show up at Walmart to accomplish this. Win and win.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookie Bars

These cookies started out with lofty aspirations. I was going to bake a pan of pink and a pan of white. And then I was going to cut them in squares and then use a cookie cutter to cut a small heart out of the center of each square. And then I was going to put the white hearts inside the pink squares and the pink hearts in the white squares. I reasoned that, since these were easy bar cookies and I wouldn't have to roll these out and cut them into shapes, I would have plenty of time to actually do something cute. And I do use the word 'reasoned' quite loosely, just so you know.

And then there was a slight time crunch. And by slight time crunch, I mean a wandering around in my bathrobe at 9:00 when I'm supposed to be at a cookie exchange at 10:00 time crunch. So I lowered my expectations, but was still going to swirl a white and pink batter together. Because that would be easy and still beautiful, right. And then there was a slight pan malfunction. And by slight pan malfunction, I mean that it became clear that the amount of cookie bar batter was way too little for the pan they were in, so it had to go into another, smaller pan. And after all that shifting of batters, well, there wasn't too much left to swirl, so we pretty much had a pink cookie bar. Which isn't the end of the world on Valentine's Day.

And then the malfunctions continued. Like that when I pulled them out to see if they were done, the partially-cooked batter went smoosh to one side of the pan, so then I had to tilt the pan the other way and swoosh it to the other side. Which left some cracks and other issues that those of us familiar with the aging process might call wrinkles. But when they were actually cooked, I covered them with white cream cheese frosting and sprinkles in a heart shape and all was well.

And then I went to my party unshowered and hopefully everyone forgave me for that. And then on the way home, Emma stepped on the remaining cookie bars. And what is it with my kids and stepping on baked goods, but at least it was after the party and not before.

Oh, and did I mention that the cookies were dreamy. Yeah, because they were. When I got home Kip ate a whole bunch, which wouldn't be noteworthy except that Kip generally only appreciates chocolate desserts and there wasn't a lick of chocolate to be found on these and he wasn't just, like, politely eating them, but was--to be honest--a little on the shamelessly snarfing side. (Not that there's anything wrong with that...) So, yes, these are good. With the frosting they're kind of over-the-top good, but they'd even be good without it. And they'd be good as little hearts in other-colored squares. And they'd be good pink and white swirled. But as it was they were still good, great, even, as their wrinkled, stepped on, imperfect selves. That's what I call a cookie. 

Sugar Cookie Bars
adapted just a tinge from jamiecooksitup
Makes one 9x13 inch pan
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cost: $2.20
(sugar: .25, butter: .60, cream cheese: 1.00, egg: .10, flour: .25)
for frosting: $1.20
(butter: .30, cream cheese: .50, sugar: .40)

1 1/2 C sugar
1 C butter, quite soft, maybe even a little melty (I don't like to have to work too hard when I'm mixing a cookie)
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 C flour
food coloring if you wish

1/2 C butter, softened or slightly melted
4 oz cream cheese, softened
3 C powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
food coloring if you wish

Beat butter, cream cheese, sugar, and egg until nice and whippy. Add vanilla and almond extract and beat.

Add flour, baking powder and baking soda. You can mix the dry ingredients beforehand, but I usually don't because I'm hopelessly lazy and don't believe in most recipes that require anything more from me.

Beat it all until incorporated. If you're going to color your batter, beat in the food coloring.

Put into slightly greased 9x13 inch pan and spread evenly with a spatula.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Let cool completely. (Ha, that was another malfunction we may or may not have had. I was just hoping that when I threw the hot pan in the refrigerator it wouldn't melt the milk carton. Here's to cooking like a pro.)

For frosting:

Beat butter and cream cheese. Add vanilla and sugar. Beat until creamy. Add food coloring or sprinkles if you like.

Spread on cooled cake, or, um, the cake you pull from the refrigerator with the slightly warm bottom that you consider to be 'probably fine.' Here's to things that are 'probably fine.' And you know what, they probably are.

Take them in the car to your (hopefully) showers-optional Valentine's Day party. Take care not to let your toddler or preschooler step anywhere near them as they will surely be compelled to step directly into the middle of the pan if allowed within two feet of it.

Cut into bars at the party when they (the bars not the party) really have cooled completely (or gotten close enough).


Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Word on Duck Eggs

Last year we got ducks. We got them mostly for fun--like living lawn ornaments. And--oh, they were beautiful.

And then two got killed during a movie-scene-worthy thunderstorm (apparently predators don't fear the lightning quite as much as those ducks did). And then one day a few weeks later, Rico showed up.

He was a handsome drake who seemed to be joining our little flock. How exciting. And then just like that, he led our ducks to a different pond in the neighborhood where they have remained ever since. Which is what happens when you don't shoo away the handsome drakes that enter the lives of your girls. Don't think that's a lesson that was lost on this mother.

But that's not the point. The point is that we've been thinking of getting ducks again this summer or next because we are mentally impaired persistent. There's a woman at my church who successfully raised some ducks last year and I've been wanting to go to her house to have a look at her set up for a while. Our schedules haven't lined up yet, but one Sunday she brought me some duck eggs so I could give them a try and see if I even really wanted those feathered floosies to stick around long enough to lay after all.

I have to say I wasn't the least bit fazed by eating a duck egg. I'd already been entertaining the thought for a while after all. And many moons ago, I'd spent a few hours a week at a petting zoo where they let me take home all kinds of weird eggs, which I ate with no trouble at all. Even so, when she warned me to crack them in a separate bowl before adding them to my food "just in case" it did give me a little pause.

And when I mentioned the duck eggs to a few friends, I was surprised at how adamant they were about not eating them or finding them utterly strange. 'Utterly strange' being my middle name, and considering that some of you might be confronted with the choice of buying them at farmer's markets or stands as our society grows a little more aware of local food and eating, I thought I'd give a few words to some of the similarities and differences.


The duck eggs are larger, though not intensely huge or anything. And can come in a variety of colors. The yolks for these free range birds were intensely orange--more orange than even free range chicken eggs that I've eaten. The white and yolk were both slightly, um, firmer--by which I mean that the membranes didn't seem quite as flimsy as with chicken eggs. The yolks don't break quite as easily--that sort of thing. But everything else looks about the same.


They taste almost the same as chicken eggs. I'd bet Joe Average wouldn't notice a difference if you just flopped the cooked egg down in front of him (though Joe Foodie might suspect something was up). They are slightly different in texture and slightly richer in flavor. They are higher in fat and so are supposed to give certain baked goods like cake more rise. I, alas, have not baked a cake with them. Not making enough cake, especially when important experimentation is at risk, is a terrible failing and I will try to rectify it as soon as possible.


To me, this is the biggest difference and it's still not huge. When you crack them, you'll notice that the shell is thicker, smoother, and glossier. They would be beyond awesome for making those blown eggs that people with more cheek muscle than me sometimes decorate. The yolk and white are both firmer or (and I hesitate to use this word, but I will) gelatinous than their chickeny cousins. When I made deviled eggs with them tonight, I noticed there was a slight "skin" between the white and the yolk. When we made scrambled eggs, they weren't quite as light and fluffy as chicken eggs.

Make up:

They're higher in both fat and protein. Compared to their store-bought chicken cousins, they are also significantly higher in omega-3's and other nutrients as well.

(For a good article--and one in which the writer has the good sense to refer to their texture as one that can "stand up" instead of one that is "gelatinous," which really does explain it better anyway--have a look here.)

(hard-boiled and really not doing justice to how very vibrant the yolks are)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Work-a-Day Wednesday: Crock Pot Ranch Roast

You don't get any easier than this. Plus, it's my family's favorite way to eat a roast.

That doesn't mean it's perfect. The stuff that comes in the Ranch packets isn't exactly swimming in natural-from-your-garden-goodness. But it makes this roast mighty tasty and on certain days a 60 second assembly time is nothing to complain about.

A few notes:

-You can brown this first in a skillet if you've got the time. I think it makes it a little more flavorful and gives it a bit of a season-y crust (which I love). But if you don't have time, just cover the roast with Ranch powder, put it in the crock, and move on with your life.
-You can roast just the meat or add potatoes, carrots, onions, whatever to the crock. If you do add veggies, sprinkle some of the Ranch powder on them as well. We especially love it with the carrots.
-You can use a frozen or a fresh roast. If it's frozen, you'll have to be sure it gets a longer cook time--probably 8-10 hours on high if you want it falling off the fork. But keep in mind that crock pot temps and, thus, times vary a bit. The good news is that you can't overcook this thing. Well, I guess you probably could, but it would take you, like, 20, hours. So err on the side of too long.

Ranch Roast
serves 6
Prep time: 5 minutes or less
Cost: $11.00

1 three-four lb roast (we used beef, but pork works too)
2 packets Ranch salad dressing mix or 5-6 Tbsp Ranch powder
sliced carrots, onions, diced potatoes (optional)

Slather your roast with one packet of seasoning. If you've got the time, give the meat a quick browning in a skillet on medium high to high heat.

Throw it in the crock pot. Add more seasoning. It's going to seem like a lot; it's going to seem like a whole lot. Don't worry, that's going to give the meat a lot of it's flavor and the excess will sort of come off into the juices as it cooks, so you won't have a crazy salty concoction. If you've added veggies, be sure they get their share in the Ranch powder love. Again, be generous.

Add just a bit of water. You won't need a lot. Just enough to kind of cover the bottom of the crock--I'd say 1/4 inch deep should do you. Again, this might not seem like a lot. (And you may have been told that you have to do enough water to reach halfway up the slab of meat, but in my experience that just makes for way too many juices and a slightly less impactful flavor for the meat.) Remember the meat itself is going to release a bunch of juices as you cook it. Ditto any vegetables you put in with it. By the end of cooking time, my meat (which had been placed in just a few millimeters water) was swimming in juice and tender and lovely in every way.

Cook at least 6 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low (for a piece of de-thawed meat). Again, err on the side of too long if you want this falling off the fork, which we always do.

Come home starving and rejoice that you don't have to go to Denny's for dinner.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Romaine Artichoke Salad

For leftover Tuesday tonight we'll be having, well, leftovers. Straight up out of their little Tupperware containers. Considering we had a roast with potatoes yesterday, that's really not so bad. Yet it is not exactly exciting or blogtastic in any way. The good news is that I'll be making a salad to balance out the leftovers.

And this salad is exciting in pretty much every way. It is blogtastic if ever a salad was destined for a life of bloggerdom. It's the kind of salad where someone clearly thought of every lovely salad ingredient they could and threw them together. I could eat it forever and ever and always be happy. It is also super easy and quick to put together.

Unfortunately there is, my friends, one thing this salad is not. This salad is not cheap. I am very sorry about that. However, if you get to thinking about how much those canned artichokes and hearts of palm and pine nuts all cost, you can just remind yourself how much you spent on a salad the last time you went to Chili's. Or even McDonald's (does anybody else get bugged that those McDonald's salads which consist of primarily cheap lettuce are so darned pricey). That should make you feel better about life. You might have to up and get yourself another serving.

Another thing that might make you feel better about the price tag on this salad is that it can stand perfectly well as its own meal. With a slice of rustic bread (come on, you know that that's what all food bloggers eat with their salads) or a breast of chicken or both, it could even feed they type of man who considers salad a side dish no matter how perfectly perfect it is.

Romaine Artichoke Salad
Serves me (maniacal laughter) or about 6 people
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cost: $9.00
(lettuce: 1.50, artichokes: 2.50, hearts of palm: 2.50 (on sale), bacon: .50, Parmesan: .50, pine nuts: 1.00, dressing: .50-1.00)

Note: I like this salad best with just one head of lettuce. However, when I served it to my littlest sister a couple years ago, she felt like it wasn't salad-y enough without more lettuce. I'll let you be the judge.

1-2 head romaine lettuce, chopped into mouth-sized pieces
1 can artichoke hearts (but the kind in water, not oil), drained
1 can hearts of palm, drained and cut into rounds
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/4-1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese
1 handful pine nuts (use sesame seeds if pine nuts will really break your bank, although the pine nuts are amazing in this)
Caesar dressing (Girard's was recommended when I first got this and I really fell in love with it, although it isn't cheap either)

Mix all ingredients together. Toss with dressing just before serving.


Monday, February 6, 2012

4 Things to Do with Avocados

For the last 2 weeks, avocados have been on sale at Aldi for $.49/pop. Not bad. I bought 4 both weeks. And then I realized that I'm the only avocado lover in this joint and also that I didn't really know what to do with all those avocados.

Here are a few ideas for those who might share such a tragic plight.

1. Eat them. Maybe with a little salt and lime juice. This was my sister's recommendation. In fact, she seemed to think my tragic plight not really so desperate and/or tragic at all. Hmph. That's pity for you.

2. Add them to a smoothie. I have one on this site where the avocado takes front and center and one where it plays a supporting role.

3. Make this amazing salad from Kalyn's Kitchen. Don't eat as much as I did or you might get a stomach ache.

4. Try this cheater guacamole: 1 avocado mashed together with a few tablespoons of pre-made salsa. It takes 1 minute and it tastes great. Drizzle it with a squeeze of lemon or lime if you're trying to convince yourself that you're fancy and not just a lazy avocado-eating bum like me. You can eat it with chips or quesadillas or whatever.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Coconut Lime Cake

Updated photos: Hurrah Hurree!

Apparently there's a big sporting event happening tomorrow. Well, how about that. Who knew? Okay, fine I did know. It's just that I...well, how can I say this... football and I, we don't understand each other. Many big men in big pads and helmets go out onto a field. They run and throw for, say, 2 minutes. And then somebody gets knocked down and the games stops for approximately 8 hours (and 79,000 commercials) and then there's a huddle and we repeat. 

Truth be told, it's a bit too much like everyday life for me, minus the big men part. For me, it's a bunch of little folks. They run and play for, say, 2 minutes. And then somebody gets knocked down and the game stops for quite a while and there are some huddles and perhaps a penalty flag or two. And then sometimes the referee has to get in someone's face and even give a time out. And then, eventually, the game resumes and we repeat. It's a lot of work, football, especially for the referee. So perhaps you can understand why I don't want to spend 4 hours on a Sunday watching something I can see any time I wish in my living room. 

Okay, fine, you don't understand and you think I'm a moron. I can live with that. Fortunately, this recipe will work for a regular old Super Bowl Sunday--the kind people spend with a television and a platter of wings. As well as for real time Super Bowl Every Day--the kind people spend with short-limbed, rosy cheeked individuals who don't look where they're going and crash into things. Either way, it's a little sweet something at the end of an emotional day. As for me, I gave the little cupcakes to one of my dear friends on her birthday. That worked too.

This cake is sheer deliciousness. The flavors and texture are wonderful. The crumb is delicate and moist. You eat it as a treat, but it won't feel heavy or guilt-inducing. Originally it was created as a bundt cake. I think it'd make a great sheet cake or layer cake as well. And yet I must tell you this: if you make this as a cupcake or a loaf, you won't get the right rise. It'll still taste great, but your muffin tops will be flat as graduation hats. And don't ask me why or how to fix it. (If you know, however, why or how to fix it, be sure to pipe up, you little food chemists, you). 

Coconut Lime Cake
adapted just barely from something swanky
Makes 1 bundt cake, 24 muffins, 2 loaves, 2 layers, or 1 9x13 inch cake
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes for cupcakes or about 50 minutes for the bundt cake or a loaf (the sheet and layer cakes I haven't tried. I'm guessing they'll fall somewhere in between and suggest you start checking at about 20 minutes). 
Cost: $2.50
butter: 1.00, sugar: .25, limes: .30, eggs: .20, sour cream: .50, coconut: .25)
Note: I can't help but thinking that if you want this more coconut-y you could use a coconut extract in place of the vanilla extract. I haven't tried it yet, but I might next time. If you do, let me know how it turns out.)
1 C unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 C sugar
zest of 2-3 limes
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 C sour cream (plain yogurt will work too)
1/2 C sweetened flaked coconut
Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour your bundt pan (or a 9x13 inch pan or 2 layer pans or 24 muffin tins or a couple loaf pans). 
Combine sugar and lime zest until pretty and fragrant. Add butter and cream it all together until it's light and fluffy (a couple minutes). Add vanilla. Add eggs, beating well.
Combine dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda). Add about half of this to sugar/butter mixture and beat. Add sour cream and beat. Add remaining flour mixture and beat. 
Fold in coconut. 
Spoon your beautiful batter into your pan. 
Bake in bundt pan for about 50 minutes or until toothpick in center comes out clean. 
This cake is good plain. However, if you really want to make it awesome, you can glaze or frost it. If you've made a bundt cake or a loaf or even these muffins, you can glaze it with this lime glaze (what I did, because I love glazes with my whole soul).
1 C confectioner's sugar
5 Tbsp heavy cream (or coconut milk)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
lime juice from those limes you zested
You can simply mix these for a thin glaze. Or you can beat them for a slightly thicker glaze (beating them will whip the cream and give it more body and make it look whiter). 
If you've made layer cakes (or maybe the cupcakes or 9x13 inch cake), you'll want to go for a more traditional lime frosting. Try this:

1 stick butter, very very soft (or even a bit melted)
4-5 C confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
lime juice from those limes you zested
as much milk or cream (or coconut milk if you like it coconuty) as necessary to get your frosting to a spreadable consistency
Beat until smooth and creamy. 

These are good with just the plain frosting/glaze, but if you want to prettify them, mix some more zest and some coconut.'s the old original picture for old time's sake:


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