Category Archives: Cooking

Non-Diet Diet Meal.

This year, for the first time in at least a decade, I did not include ‘lose 20lbs’ on my list of yearly goals. I do plan on eating healthily and getting lots of exercise this year, but with overall health and happiness as my main objective.  So, of course this year for the first challenge of the 2015 Reddit 52 Weeks of Cooking was Diet Foods. After reading the description, you can see it’s meant to be pretty tongue in cheek, in that with all the diets out there, you could make pretty much anything and have it fit into the category.

I was a little behind on the challenge this week and made my food on the 8th (deadline, 7th) but y’all know that’s how I roll. What did I make for ‘Diet Food’? Well, I had a wisdom tooth out and had to have a ‘diet’ of mushy food for at least 24 hours. Did you think I’d eat t jello and chicken broth? Oh, hell no. I made myself some high-quality mushy food.

First I made this:

Doesn't this look delicious?

Doesn’t this look delicious?

I know, flesh-colored pudding doesn’t exactly make you say, “I want to eat that!” But listen to me, this is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. It’s Butterscotch Pudding from Smitten Kitchen. No, it doesn’t taste like that horrible brown Jello Pudding Mix. It’s creamy and sweet and a little salty. I modified it a bit and used full-fat coconut milk, but I did use butter, so it’s not entirely dairy-free. Seriously, make this. It’s delicious.

For dinner I made this:

This looks a bit yummier, right?

This looks a bit yummier, right?

The Perfect Potato Soup by Pioneer Woman.  This has been on my ‘to make’ list since it came out 2 years ago. I used butter instead of bacon because I couldn’t eat bacon due to my tooth extraction, and I have to suffer, everyone has to suffer! I stirred the cheese in until it melted. I also skipped the heavy cream. As I blog more recipes that I try, you will realize that I almost NEVER follow them. I can’t help it. I mean I CAN help it, I just don’t want to. Anyhow, this soup is extremely delicious – Oh! And another thing I did was I pureed all of it, she leaves chunks. But I felt it was a very nourishing and hearty meal, and I ate two bowls of it.

Don’t these look kind of…gross? I”m sorry! I’m a horrible food photographer. Go check out the links to the recipes, the authors are much better photographers than I am. You know who else sucks at food photography? Martha Stewart. At least I’m in good company.

 

 

Kwitcherbitchin, or How I Solve Your Meal Planning Problems

Menu calendar. Win.

I may have already written a post with Kwitcherbitchin in the title, but I’m too lazy to check. When I was young, I used to go to a friend’s camp on a lake, and there was a little sign with Kwitcherbitchin painted on it. It took me forever to figure it out, but when I did I thought it was awesome. Anyhow, this post isn’t about signs or camps or friends. It’s about the negative Nellies, and it’s about food, and it’s about solving your meal planning problems forever.  A little history first.

This post is inspired by two recent articles: First, the article ‘What if You Just Hate Making Dinner’ by Virginia Heffernan. I despised this piece. Is part of a slew of recent articles and writing that are nothing more than whining and breaking down other people. I’m so incredibly tired of it. “Wahhh I don’t like making dinner”! “Wahhh! Look at these beautiful cookbooks full of things people have taken time and effort into making,I’m going to make fun of them!” It’s very mean girl. It really is. Secondly, there are SO many women using this tactic to make names for themselves sort of branding themselves as feminists. OK, we get it. You don’t like making dinner, you think people who put time and effort into making beautiful food are wasting their time. Good job. Good job making the rest of us feel like bad feminists for taking the time to make something to eat. We all know you can’t be a good feminist if you take care of your family and cook dinner. No, in fact you actively have to rail against it to be a good feminist. My other problem is this: What the hell is she eating? She spends the whole article whining about how she hates cooking, and then breaking down cookbooks that she thinks are dumb, without ever offering a solution to what she does. Is it all take out? She must have a lot of money. Also, she’s feeding the myths that 1. Cooking is hard and 2. Women MUST do all the cooking. OK, I’ll stop. Now I’m just railing against her railing. It’s a loop. But you should at least skim her article so this makes sense.

Michael Rhulman does a phenomenal job taking the Heffernan article to task in his post, “What if You Hate Cooking Dinner” If you must know, I think Michael Rhulman is friggin’ awesome, and highly recommend his books, especially The Making of a Chef   One of the best pieces of food writing I’ve ever read, and also one of my favorite books in general. I digress, again. Anyhow, Rhulman takes Heffernan to task, for many of the reasons I mentioned above but also adds what I think are some good, real word solutions. For example, just make some hot dogs with chips and good pickles. Cooking is not hard, it doesn’t have to be fancy. Just read his article, it’s great. I’ll wait here.

Now that you’ve finished reading both of those articles, here’s what I have to say. Let me repeat: cooking is not hard. I think, from reading the Heffernan article, that a lot of her problem is planning. You know what’s not easy? Figuring out what you’re going to eat at 5:30 when your kids are freaking out and you just got home from ballet and everyone still needs to do homework and take baths. That downright sucks. Guess what, I’m going to tell you how to fix your meal planning problem for the rest of your life. I KNOW, RIGHT? Are you excited? I actually use this and it is life changing. Here’s what you do:

  1. Fire up Google Calendar or similar calendar program. It must have the ability to repeat events. Sharing is also a nice feature if you have family members that will also use this.
  2. Input a meal on each day of the week and then make it repeat based on how often you want to eat it. For example, I have beef stew on repeat every 6 weeks, but pizza is on repeat every week.
  3. Don’t forget to input days for takeout, and leftovers.
  4. Each week your menu is ready, and you can adjust as you want, but your ‘base’ is done.

There you go. Menu plans done for eternity. My planning is done, and I after shopping, I have ingredients for 5 meals a week (one night is takeout and one night is leftovers). I do not follow the menu/days of the week like a crazy person, except on takeout night (Friday) and I do a crockpot meal every Thursday because it’s a really busy day and I don’t have time in the evening. Sharing the menu calendar with your family allows anyone to look at it and say, “OK, we have stuff for tacos, fish chowder and roast chicken, which one do I want to make tonight?” Also, you can easily adjust it. So, if I’m looking at my menu for the week and I see crab cakes but  I’m just not into it, I just change it to something else. What’s important is that the base menu is done. Forever.

You’re welcome. Now go make a menu calendar and Kwitcherbitchin.

 

The Horribly Mangled Remains of A Julia Child Recipe.

I love Julia Child. A lot. I have an autographed photo of her that I bought off e-bay sitting next to my desk. She is the keeper of all things good and wonderful about cooking and food. My child loves watching The French Chef on DVD, there’s nothing like exposing a 5 year old to making your own sausage, complete with explanation of various casings, to ensure she knows EXACTLY where food comes from.  I am not sure if Julia would be proud of what I did to one of her amazing recipes or if she would smack me with a wooden spoon.  I mean on the one hand, she encourages using what you have, on the other hand, I made broth out of Worcestershire sauce. Yeah.

Yesterday was one of those wait until 4:00 and then start to freak out about what I want to make for dinner days. So basically, just like any other day. I know, I know,  I might give off a vibe that I’m one of those extremely organized know what I’m going to make for dinner all the time because I’m such a great cook and huge food snob types, but no. I’m not. I mean, I’m not organized, all the other stuff is true.  I happened to be putzing around on-line and checked out some recipes I’d bookmarked from the site Smitten Kitchen. SK happens to be one of my favorite food blogs, ever. That’s saying a lot because I subscribe to probably two dozen. Anyhow, she had a great post on a baked spinach recipe from Julia Child. . Coincidentally, I own the Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but I’m lazy, and it’s so much easier to have someone from the internet tell me what to make as opposed to looking it up myself.  Per usual I did not have most of the ingredients in the recipe, so I really took some liberties with it.  Here’s what I did:

Serves 6
Yeah, good luck with that. This stuff is tasty. I’d say serves 4.

3 pounds fresh spinach
One Bag Frozen Spinach

3 1/2 to 4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Salt and pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

1 cup beef stock
This is where it gets really funky, I made a “broth” out of Worcestershire sauce and water. I don’t have the exact ratio of Worcestershire to water, because it was immediately after devising this evil concoction I realized I should be documenting and blogging. Anyhow, I like it pretty strong, so I’d say it was at least 2Tbspns sauce and the rest water.

3/4 cup grated Swiss cheese
One cup of leftover sliced Provolone, diced.

2 tablespoons fine, dry breadcrumbs
How about a 1/2 cup of Panko instead?

Preheat Oven to 375.

Nuke the spinach about 5 minutes with a little bit of water, per instructions on package. If you don’t have a nuker, cook according to pkg directions. Put it in a colander and strain it, squeeze out as much of the excess water as you can with your hands.

Melt half your butter in a pan over low heat, and then add spinach. Cook until most of the water is gone. Use your judgement here, you don’t want it to be super juicy, but you don’t want to burn it either.

Sprinkle flour over spinach to coat, and stir it. Then add your broth a bit at a time,  I used all of mine, but the recipe says to just add 2/3 of a cup, and then again, use your judgement regarding the remaining 1/3.  Bring to a simmer and stir frequently. Add salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and stir in about 1/2 the cheese.  Put it in a smallish, greased  casserole dish. Top with the rest of the cheese, and the panko. Melt the remaining butter and drizzle on top.

Cook about 30 mins @ 375 until lightly browned and bubbly.

Surprisingly good, considering the amount of bastardization.

I was a bit worried about how this would taste, considering the complete re-working of the recipe, but it was amazing. I really like my Worcestershire broth, and plan to use it again.  Next time I make this, and I will, I’m going to add a couple of drops of Sriracha and maybe some Truffle Salt. We’ll see, I might kill it entirely if I add too much.

This picture does not do my meal justice. I am not a very good photographer or food stylist. I'm working on it!

I served it with some ham, and am planning on reheating some right now for breakfast. I’ll probably also have a poached egg. Stop drooling, you’re disgusting.

The Easy Bake Trials….The Mix is Poo

In order to get Kid to get rid of a small, plastic kitchen that she no longer uses anymore, I bribed her with an Easy Bake Oven. It should be known, that I have wanted an Easy Bake Oven for MONTHS. At Christmas I checked them out, but it said they were for kids 8 and up. Sometimes, believe it or not, I follow the rules. I figured there must be some reason that even though USE WITH ADULT SUPERVISION ONLY was plastered all over the box, there must be some reason why it would be unsafe for my 5 year old. Then I read Fadra’s blog, and she bought her 4 year old son one. I was all, “Holla! If she’s gonna, I’m gonna!”

At first, when I suggested the Easy Bake Oven, Kid was leery. Then I should her the commercial for it .

Kid: “You mean I can bake my own things by myself?”

Me: “With Adult Supervision!”

Kid”?”

Me: “Mommy and Daddy have to help you.”

Kid: “Will you go get me one right now?”

Me: “YEEEESSSSSS!!!!!”

Yup, the Easy Bake is just as you remembered. A plastic box with a 100W lightbulb  that cooks horrible packaged cake mix in tiny little pans. (Apparently a lot of countries are banning incandescent lightbulbs. Haven’t they even thought about what that’s going to do to the Easy Bake Oven industry? In related news, I have started hoarding 100W bulbs.)

OOOOH! What wonders will emerge from the magic box?

Kid immediately whipped up a cake using the packaged cake mix and frosting that came with the box. She was really,really proud. The cake was really,really horrible – by no fault of my darling daughter! Here’s the ingredient list of Easy Bake Oven Cake Mix: Ok, I couldn’t find it anywhere on-line, let me know if you can find the official list. I will tell you that it contains: Hydrogenated Oil, Artificial Color, and Artificial Flavoring, which is a lot to pack into 1/4 of a cup of cake. I mean I know I’m a food snob, but honestly this shit gave me chemical burns when I tasted it. Also? It costs about $6.00 for a 3 pack of this junk. Keep in mind each pkg contains 1/4 of a cup of mix. So….$6.00 for 3/4 of a cup of dog shit. Sign me up!

I fled to the internet, looked up recipes and found a number of good sites with make your own Easy Bake Oven mix recipes. So, long story way too long – You have got to make your own mix, yo. It’s way better for your family AND it’s going to save you about 9 million dollars. Also, you pretty much will never run out, since you have all the ingredients in your own pantry.

Sugar Flour Etc

Easy Bake would probably charge you $300 for these ingredients.

In about 10 minutes I made 10 servings of biscuit mix and 10 of white cake mix. I can’t tell you how much it cost, but I can tell you it was a hell of a lot less  than $6.00 per 3/4 cup.

White Cake Mix. Modified from Budget 101.(Who has a TON of Easy Bake Recipes)

1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon-flavored unsweetened Kool-Aid No! The point is no crap!
1/3 cup vegetable shortening – I use Spectrum Organics Vegetable Shortening, because through some process of dark magics (I assume) they have created a Crisco like substance that is not hydrogenated. I suppose I could look it up and tell you how they do it, but let’s just pretend it’s wizardry. Anyhow, I love it.

I skipped the Kool-Aid, if you want a lemony cake, just substitue a Tsp. of lemon juice for a Tsp. of water when you make your cake. Theoretically. I haven’t tried this. But I’m guessing it would work. I’ll try it and get back to you.

Yeah, so you mix everything up in a bowl. Make sure the shortening is incorporated well. You don’t want clumps. It should look like pancake mix, in that it’s just a little bit crummier than flour. I hope you’ve made pancakes and have a clue what I’m talking about.

See how that's a little bigger crumb than flour? Both the cake and biscuit mix should look like this. Also,I don't remember which one this is.

The instructions say to put the mixes into individual packages but, really? I don’t have time to measure out 20 1/4 bags of mix. I just put them in ziplocs and wrote the instructions on the front:

Bag of Biscuit Mix

Savings? About $1M. If you factor in doctor fees from chemical burns to the tongue.

We used the biscuit mix the other day for a danish (more on that later) and it was gooood! I am all about getting kids in the kitchen, teaching them about food and cooking, it hits on all the major points. An Easy Bake Oven is a fantastic way to do this, IF you also teach them that good food doesn’t come from a mix. Kid was delighted that we can “make our own mix, any way we want.” The sense of pride and accomplishment she had after cooking that tiny cake in a box with a light bulb made me cry a single tear and write a haiku about love. Ok, no. But it was pretty goddamned awesome.

Get an Easy Bake, make some stuff. It’s fun. Oh, and this is going to be a regular feature. Next up: Sort of gross pizza!

MMMM. Mac N’ Cheesy

The other night I made the Bacon Mac from Cooking Light. I’ve gotta tell you, I was a bit dubious about this recipe. How could I be dubious about Bacon Mac n’ cheese? Well it has onions in it. And hot sauce. Look, in my house there are a few standard recipes that are “hits”. The ones that Mike loves that I don’t usually mess around with. Beef stew is one, tacos are one, and until the other night, Mac n’ cheese was one.  My previous, and much loved recipe was the old standard:

Good Old Macaroni and Cheese
A box of macaroni noodles – boiled
A block of sharp cheddar cheese – 8 ozs.shredded
Roux (butter and flour) I’m not sure of the ratio
Milk about a cup.
Tbsp. Mustard
Crunched up crackers. Ritz are best, Saltines will do if you’re desperate.
Add milk to roux, stir until thick. Add all but 1/2 cup of cheese and mustard stir until cheese is melted. Pour over noodles and combine until noodles well coated with cheese sauce. Pour into a greased baking dish. Top with crackers and remaining cheese. Broil.

Sounds good right? And easy? Yes and yes. But I am a lady of her word, so not only did I cook the Mac n’ cheese recipe on my list – but I cooked it EXACTLY the way it says to. This is hard for me. I constantly change recipes, add things I think will be good, delete stuff I don’t have, and generally bend it to my will. However, if I do that for this challenge, blog, whatever it is I’m doing – I can’t very well review it based on it’s own merits can I? The answer is no, no I cannot. So anyhow. I did what the recipe said EXACTLY. The only thing open to interpretation is that it called for a teaspoon of “Hot Sauce” and it didn’t specify what kind. Naturally I used Sriracha which is one of my favorite things in the world right now. (And is Bon Appetit’s ingredient of the year. Booya!)

So what do I think? This was good stuff, people. Even Mike, who as I mentioned, likes his standards – well, standard – gave this a two thumbs up. It was rich and spicy, and according to CL only 399 cals per serving, which seems like a lot, but for a dish like this actually isn’t that bad. What we decided is that since the additions were so far off from my usual recipe: bacon, onions, and sriracha, it changed the dish into something new entirely. It was spicy, salty, and cheesy, and didn’t take any time at all. I give this two enthusiastic thumbs up and will definitely be making it again. Would I change anything? Nope. Well done, Cooking Light.

In other news, I had a bad case of startitis with the Monkey Socks. This is a common problem with knitters. Probably with other crafts/hobbies too. I had just come off of a fairly successful knitting jag and completed a beautiful hat for my sister following the Star Crossed Beret pattern. Anyhow, sometimes what happens after one achieves a knitting success is that the next project simply will not start. I cast on these socks  4 times. Once I twisted when joining. Once Maggie got into my knitting bag and unwound them. Once I did four rounds of regular rib instead of twisted rib (yes it makes a difference) and then I knit two rows with my cast on tail. Finally, in a fit of rage I wound up the yarn, ditched the needles and reviewed my knitting list again. I need something fast, not to hard, and fun to knock of my list post haste. I really would like to complete at least one knitting project a month. So, I cast on Calorimetry, with some beautiful hand spun hand dyed yarn I got from Meadowcroft this summer at the Damariscotta Farmers’ Market. This yarn is also the same yarn I knit my sister’s fancy hat from. This project is going just great and I’m about 50% done in only a day. Ahhh. Thank you Knitting Gods. Don’t get me wrong, those Monkey socks will get knit, come hell or high water. Just not right now. Oh also, in case you care – I’m going to do the Ravelympics (where you knit during the Olympics. It’s a long story. Look it up) and have decided to cast on the February Lady Sweater for that. Because I have wanted to knit it for a long time, and also because it’s February. Doy.

I went to the library and got Drood, a recommendation from SK’s list. This is one of those books, had it not been on the list, I would never in a million years picked it out. For one it’s HUGE, about 800 pages. I am always dubious of huge, long books, because I doubt they will be able to keep my interest that long. Don’t get me wrong, I have read books of great length before (Harry Potter, a bunch by SK, and others I can’t think of right now) but as a rule, I generally don’t. Also, it’s that kind of non-fiction/fiction which means it’s an novel based on real people and historical events told in a fictional way. Think Girl with the Pearl Earring. I guess this genre is historical fiction, but I really hate that title. For some reason it makes me think of cheesy bodice ripper romance novels. I digress. Drood is great. I’m glad it was recommended to me by Stephen King. I’m not going to say too much about it right now, and instead will save it for my review later, but I don’t think I will have any problems zipping through it. Some thoughts already – Charles Dickens was kind of a dick. Also, 1800s London was disgusting.

That’s all for today. Pictures someday, I promise. You know, the internet issues and all that….