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Blaugust 9: Sometimes I Cook


For longer than I could say, I haven’t been cooking much. So the fact that I made something quite delicious for dinner this evening feels like an achievement.

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And it tasted better than it looked! I used Ronzoni Garden Delight pasta, which has vegetables in it as well as the usual grains. I made a tasty but not particularly noteworthy tomato sauce. I put a little more balsamic vinegar in it than I should have for that amount of sauce. The red pepper flakes gave it a nice kick.

The chicken was cooked simply, coated in breadcrumbs and then pan fried in oil. I bought chicken thighs this time because it was a better deal. I prefer breast meat in general, but this was pretty good. The golden-brown rule: the thinner the piece of meat, the easier it will be to cook. The result was cooked perfectly with a delicious crunch.

To drink, I had some of this Italian margarita (premade) that I found the other day. I have to admit it’s not my favorite, but I’ve discovered that the flavor goes very nicely with ginger beer, so I mixed some in.

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That’s it for now. I know it isn’t too exciting to read, but when you’re trying to build up certain habits, a moment of victory feels like it’s worth documenting. Tomorrow I’ll be eating the leftovers, probably with some sauteed asparagus.

Homemade Pizzas of Yore


I’ve probably mentioned that one of my absolute favorite things to eat is pizza. If I really HAVE to pick a favorite food, that would be it. You can do so much with it and it just tastes SO good. I mean, do I really need to explain why I love pizza? No, I didn’t think so.

Now quite some time ago (although it was recent when I first started this post in early January), we’ve had two occasions of pizza-making gatherings at my apartment. The first time, I bought some ready-made Pillsbury pizza dough, the kind the comes in those tubes you have to break open.

We did three halves marinara and one half pesto.

We did three halves marinara and one half pesto.

 

There were two cans of dough. “Cans of dough” seems like quite a strange thing to say, don’t you think? Oh well. So, two pizzas for four people. I can’t remember if there were leftovers but considering the amount of toppings we added, there was definitely plenty to eat that night. There was chicken, chorizo, avocado, mushrooms, broccoli, cheese of course, and probably quite a few other things that I’ve forgotten by now.

 

Since one of our number was vegetarian, we made sure there were several sections without meat as we got creative with our topping combinations. As I said at the time (or something like it), one of the perks of making pizza at home is that you can do really interesting things with the toppings that would probably take fifteen minutes to fully explain if you were placing an order.

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(The kitchen light was highly uncooperative, as is my camera, so unfortunately the pictures aren’t very good.)

The instructions say to pre-bake the crusts a little. We did not do this, but we were still satisfied with the end result. For my tastes, this crust does not make the optimal pizza. It tastes almost exactly like the crescent roll dough, which is great for crescent rolls, but not the right base for pizza in my opinion. I will be much more likely in the future to buy the pizzeria-style dough that you can usually find somewhere near the deli section when I buy premade dough again. However, this Pillsbury option would be a good choice if you wanted it to be a little faster. You don’t have to let it sit out at room temperature or spend time flattening it out–just unroll and go. In that, at least, the doughboy has the advantage.

Let's not forget the wine. This bottle was pretty tasty, if my memory serves.

Let’s not forget the wine. This bottle was pretty tasty, if my memory serves.

 

The second pizza-making occurrence yielded a much more delicious result. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have any pictures–or if I do, I can’t find them. That time, one of my roommates made challah dough and we used that for the crust. That can result in a very thick crust unless someone wants to spend ages rolling it out, so if you like thin crust this might not be the way to achieve it. However, it tasted incredible. I can’t remember what we put on it anymore, but it doesn’t matter, because I remember that it was wonderful. And the lesson is to live with someone who likes making bread.

Comfort Food Obsessed


Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, and shopping for, food. I’ve been to the grocery store more times in the past two or three weeks than I usually would in a month or two, back when I felt satisfied by my larger shopping trips. Here and there, I think: “But you know what would be great, if I had some more tomatoes.” Another trip to the store. Luckily I haven’t spent as much per trip as I do when I’m taking fewer, slightly larger trips.

I hope I’m not becoming obsessed with food. A lot of days it feels like the only thing I get done is planning or making meals. At least half of that time is spent wishing for pizza or burritos. It usually takes a week or two before I absolutely HAVE to satisfy that craving… I’ve frequently made one of my favorite snacks, pizza toast, and it’s sadder cousin, cheesy toast (has no sauce or tomatoes to make it more like pizza).

Today for breakfast (ok, more like brunch) I made a combination of two of my go-to breakfast/lunch/snack foods: cheesy avocado toast. Most people would probably call it an avocado melt, but I like to be different. I spread the bread with avocado, added some chopped green onions and a dash of olive oil, smothered that in cheese, and baked it in the toaster oven until the cheese was perfectly melted and browned. (This mostly happens when I briefly lose track of time; otherwise I often get too impatient to let it brown.) It was very tasty, slightly too hot, but I avoided burning the roof of my mouth! Yay!

Sometimes it feels like food is the only thing in life I can figure out. Everything else is a mess, but as long as I can still make myself something delicious and at least semi-nutritious, I can enjoy a little bit of my day.

Smoothie Lament


I have been getting really into making smoothies in the last month or two. Once it started getting warmer. I put bananas and avocados and kale and lots of frozen berries and almond milk in them. Not all at once. But sometimes all at once. And they were SO delicious. And a great way to get in a lot of fruit–and some vegetables, but I’m not a big fan of vegetable smoothies.

Then, guess what happened? I made a smoothie, and my blender started smelling like it was burning. My options are: a. discontinue use of blender or b. risk burning down the house. It’s probably not a huge risk, but it might short out the outlet or something even if it doesn’t actually burn down the house. Either way, not good. So I’m going with option a.

I have always loved smoothies, and I especially love them in the summer. I’m unlikely to get a new blender soon, so this means I have to find a good smoothie place. This is a problem. There are tons of places where you can buy smoothies. I don’t mean pre-bottled ones, but the blended-to-order kind. However, it seems rather more difficult to find a place that makes really good smoothies. Somewhere they use at least some fresh–not frozen–ingredients, and no juice from concentrate. As far as I know, there are none of those in my neighborhood. Purple Cactus makes pretty tasty smoothies, but I’ve seen them being made, and they’re using mostly frozen fruit. I think almost everywhere I could go for a really good smoothie would require a train ride. And really… is that worth it? Probably not.

So I guess I’ll be drinking a lot less smoothies than I thought I would this summer.

Eggnog Cupcakes: Success


(but could be better)

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There they are, slippy-slidey goo of frosting and all. This won’t be a recipe or much of a process post, because if you really want instructions for baking cupcakes I am not the best person to ask. Here’s basically what I did:

  • Add a bit of eggnog and a lot of cinnamon and nutmeg to a cake mix.
  • Fail at making frosting
  • Look up recipe: add a bunch of powdered sugar to a little bit of eggnog, probably still too much, blend, drop on top of cupcakes like gooey mess.

Then they were slowly devoured. The frosting hardened a little after a while, so it wasn’t just goo sliding across the cake tops forever…

They were (or are: there are a few left) very tasty, although not at the level of the bakeries I like to buy from. They were pretty good for homemade, mix-based cupcakes. That’s all I can really say. No one wanted to come over, so the only other person who could form an opinion on them is my roommate, and she said they were good.

Lesson learned: don’t assume you know how to make something like frosting, even if you did it once several years ago, because until you know, you don’t know.

Head over to my youtube channel (link in the “referred sites” section of the sidebar), where I have posted my video documentation of making the cupcakes.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDVblVfQPoU

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Tuesday Madness: Just Because


It’s Tuesday, but it kind of feels like Monday. I didn’t have yesterday off (screw Columbus anyway), but I did work from home, so this is the beginning of the week in the office. It definitely felt like Monday this morning. And last night I couldn’t fall asleep until sometime after 2, which means sleep deprivation galore.

Certain things are going ok, other things are going as bad as always, and my life still feels like a mess. Any thoughts?

Last night I finally made the stir-fry I’d been planning, although I forgot to add the pear to it (that would have been much more experimental, but probably interesting). The method was pretty standard, so I’m not going to talk about how I made it so much. I’m just going to comment on some of the ingredients.

Sauce and seasoning:

Soy sauce is definitely useful to keep around. If you care about that kind of thing get the lower sodium kind; otherwise, get whatever kind you want. When I was young, I used to put soy sauce on rice almost every time I had it. I’ve stopped doing that, and now almost exclusively use it for stir frying, along with canola oil (I have no sesame oil: sad). If you want to make something more like what you’d order at a restaurant, splurge for teriyaki sauce. I don’t quite know how to make my own.

At one point I had a Chinese herb/spice mix that was great for stir fry, but I don’t know what happened to it. I just add ground ginger instead. I’m pretty generous with my ginger, so it had a bit of kick.

I would have put garlic in if I had felt like chopping it up, or cleaning my grating dish…

Sprouts:

At Whole Foods last week, I found the sort of sprouts I had been thinking of getting–the kind that always turns up in your fried rice and lo mein. They’re longish, crunchy, and white and some people might think they look like worms, but they really don’t. I forget what they’re called, but they came in a fairly big package for under $2. Which means I might have to make another stir fry. …Anyway, I really liked using these things, because they add a sense of authenticity to the endeavor, even though I highly doubt my version of a stir fry is in any way authentic. (You know, not being Asian or having any actual knowledge of Asian cooking of any sort.)

The results were quite tasty and pretty, very green with my broccoli, peppers, and green onion, and the leftovers are my lunch. I would have made them breakfast, but then I would have had to actually make a lunch. *_*

*End madness*

She types, hopefully…

A Fruity Seafood Party


As I posted about six months ago, my birthday plans were ruined by a giant blizzard. So I decided to give myself a half-birthday party. I just invited a few people to hang out on my porch and eat yummy food that I prepared.

This is, in fact, the first time I have ever hosted a party at my home and had to acquire all the food and stuff myself. The last time I actually prepared food for numerous people, I’m pretty sure it was at my mom’s house (therefore with her money). Ever since then, I generally plan parties as outings to restaurants I like. I didn’t realize how much money it cost to get all the food. Especially because I’m just so fancy, I wanted to make seafood. Next time… probably not. Luckily, alcohol came with the guests, or else we would have all had to be sober the whole time 😦

I don’t want to go into the details of shopping for stuff, except to say that I’m glad I didn’t try to do it all in one trip, and that I did it in advance. This is my advice to you: IF you are planning to do all the shopping in one trip for a party, make a comprehensive list and do it AT LEAST one day in advance, so that if you couldn’t find certain items you’ll have a chance to go to another store for them. I made a list, but the way things go, inevitably you’ll forget to get something and you can’t carry it all home at once anyway, so at least two trips are necessary. Technically, I think five shopping trips happened, although only three of them were me going for food.

 

So here we go: I’ve gotten myself all ready and some of the food. Care to see?

Drink station: Make your own flavored lemonade or iced tea (later with booze!)

Drink station: Make your own flavored lemonade or iced tea (later with booze!)

 

 

I was the first one to make a drink. Passion fruit lemonade, yum!

I was the first one to make a drink. Passion fruit lemonade, yum!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh fruit as the appetizer du jour

Fresh fruit as the appetizer du jour

 

 

Me in my party dress, serving fruit. I just couldn't help myself--I had to pinup-it-up!

Me in my party dress, serving fruit. I just couldn’t help myself–I had to pinup-it-up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is what happened when I tried to take a picture of my own shoes. Does this angle make my butt look big?

This is what happened when I tried to take a picture of my own shoes. Does this angle make my butt look big?

It wasn’t a fancy party by far, really, but I hate to pass up an opportunity to dress up. Wearing a bright red dress makes me feel so fun and sexy. So why not? Heels, too. I mean, maybe they aren’t the most practical shoes to wear in the kitchen, but if we were all to go around being practical all the time, no one would ever wear heels. EVER. Except maybe really short people.

For those who might be curious: My dress was purchased from Modcloth, shoes from DSW, and my tights and apron (shown below) from Anthropologie.

In terms of plates and decorations and stuff, nothing was remotely interesting or worth mentioning where I bought it. So, moving on…

 

 

 

As it turned out, most of the guests didn’t arrive until the dinner part was mostly done. But that’s ok. So I got started on the food. Most of the work was just chopping. Then things went into the oven.

And all the chairs were on the porch at that point.

And all the chairs were on the porch at that point.

That’s a green pepper I’m slicing up there. It got mixed in with various other vegetables and shoved into the oven for roasting.

Ok, full disclosure, I'm just posing. There wasn't actually anything in the oven at this point.

Ok, full disclosure, I’m just posing. There wasn’t actually anything in the oven at this point.

It wasn't planned that my apron matched my dress, either. It's just that everything I own is red.

It wasn’t planned that my apron matched my dress, either. It’s just that everything I own is red.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As people finally started to arrive so the party could actually be a party, the dinner was just about done and I laid it out on the table. And took pictures of it.

The full dinner spread

The full dinner spread

Shrimp for all--have a skewer!

Shrimp for all–have a skewer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My plate with a bit of everything: rice, roasted veggies with olive oil and herbs, slightly baked shrimp "kabob," and fresh mango salsa.

My plate with a bit of everything: rice, roasted veggies with olive oil and herbs, slightly baked shrimp “kabob,” and fresh mango salsa.

And yes. I did make the mango salsa. Thanks for asking. Of all the things I made I actually think it was the most successful individual item. Recipes vary. For reference, this is what I used: two mangoes, five or six (maybe seven) campari tomatoes, one whole jalapeno, and cilantro. I kept the cilantro in a separate bowl because I wasn’t sure if there were people who didn’t like it. But they got mixed together when I put the leftovers away 😉

The shrimp did get a bit more dried out in the oven than I would have liked, but they weren’t badly overdone or anything. Still perfectly edible and tasty. The rice was rice, the veggies were well-roasted and not overcooked. Everyone said they really liked the food. This is definitely the largest number of people I’ve ever cooked for, so I’m pleased that the dinner was well-received. A little it of digestion time later, and it was time for dessert.

 

Chocolate raspberry cupcakes, cherries, chocolates, and champagne!

Chocolate raspberry cupcakes, cherries, chocolates, and champagne!

 

…Dessert was sponsored by Sesame Street and the letter C. Apparently.

 

YUM

YUM

 

The cupcakes and champagne were brought by one of my guests, and since I rarely ever have desserts made for me, I was very grateful to her. I requested buttercream frosting knowing that it might not hold up all the way over to my apartment. So really, it’s my fault they look like that. I am certain that, as she says, they looked very pretty in the morning. However, they were still delicious, and that’s what really counts.

 

And that’s it. We hung out a bit longer, enjoying the last of the champagne and listening to ridiculous covers of Lady Gaga. The guests trickled out, we put away the leftover food, and that was the end. I am thinking that half-birthdays might be the thing from now on. August is much more likely to give me good weather than February, don’t you think?

I think I will have to count this as my first actual adult party. And it went pretty well.

 

 

 

 

 

Mixed Vegetable Mac and Cheese


(Success, hell yes!)

This one needs a disclaimer; I made this about three weeks ago, so I’ll try to remember as well as I can what the process was, but I’m sure I will have forgotten by now. Also, this is NOT a recipe, so if you want to make this, I’d recommend looking up a basic mac and cheese recipe and adding the veggies to that.

So. There I was, with this whole eggplant that needed to be used up, and all the necessary ingredients to make a cheese sauce. I had a box of medium shells (so technically, it was shells and cheese, not macaroni). Also on hand were tomatoes, broccoli, and breadcrumbs. I figured that at worst I would end up with a pasta bake, and it would be edible as long as I didn’t burn it. So I just went for it, totally blind. No recipe.

I did glance at a mac and cheese recipe for reference to what tempt to set the oven to, but other than that I was just improvising. I have read mac and cheese recipes, I’ll admit, so I may have remembered a few things from them.  However, I’ve made cheese sauce for pasta several times now, so I had a good idea of how that worked. (Practice is the absolute best way to learn to cook! Who knew?)

The first thing I did was saute/steam the eggplant and broccoli while boiling the water for the pasta (and preheating the oven). The last thing to get cooked would have to be the cheese sauce, as its consistency would not keep if it had time to cool. The tomatoes would go in uncooked, just before it was all stuck in the oven.

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There’s my big pot of broccoli and eggplant (and steam). Nice, no? Once they were cooked I took them off the heat, and the pasta was still cooking as I started the sauce.

The cheese and butter all combined eventually, but at first, they were just giant clumps in the milk and cream. Melt the butter in advance if you want to avoid that, but the trick, really, is to make sure the heat is right (low-medium) and just keep stirring, slowly. If you’re persistent it will all smooth out. I mean, I added what was probably several cups of cheese, pretty much all at once, so it’s no wonder it all just kind of clumped together in the milk soup.

As the sauce cooked, I put everything else together in a large baking pan. As soon as the sauce was fully combined and of the right thickness, I poured it over the veggies and pasta and mixed it all to coat everything with cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeese.

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Looks really good! At this stage I sprinkled breadcrumbs on top in a generous amount, and finished it with some more shredded cheese. It went into the oven and cooked for something around 1/2 an hour.

 

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I’ve got to figure out panko breadcrumbs, because the nice browned parts you can see on top were due to the cheese. The breadcrumbs did not get crisp or browned, unfortunately. Any tips?

The verdict: OMG. For my very first try at homemade mac and cheese, without using a recipe, I was amazed at how well it turned out. The only thing I would have wanted to be different was that it wasn’t cheeeeeesy enough. More/creamier sauce would have done that, but it was so good that I couldn’t regret how it had turned out. I enjoyed it with some wonderful dinner rolls from When Pigs Fly.

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If you don’t think this looks good, then I feel sorry for you.

I had about 6 more meals from this, because, as you could see, I made a very large amount. As leftovers it’s not quite as good, because, as you might know, reheated pasta gets a little bit chewy, and the cheesy parts were a bit thicker as well. Still very tasty, of course, but I would recommend making this for at least two, if not 4-6 people, or a much, MUCH smaller amount. I used a whole entire box of shells, a whole eggplant, a crown of broccoli, and a handful of tomatoes (I’ve been liking Campari lately).

All in all, this one is filed under “success.”

Homemade Pita Chips


A few weeks ago I had this for dinner:

 

 

Yup, those are homemade. (By the way, Roasted Red Pepper is the very best variety of hummus. It’s just freaking delicious. It took me a long time to get on the Roasted Red Pepper train, but now I’m never getting off!)

These items being pretty much the only things in my kitchen at the time that I could make a meal out of, and not being super hungry, I was just going to eat pita and hummus, but I’d had that for lunch at least two days in a row. I wanted to finish off the hummus, because that stuff doesn’t keep forever, you know.

All right, so everyone knows that pita chips are just baked or oil-fried pieces of pita, right? I figure that’s obvious. What is often NOT obvious is, you can just make your own. Yup. I’ve done that with tortillas before – that is, cut them up and cooked them in a bit of oil. I overcooked them last time, not fun. For the pita chips, I figured baking them would make more sense. I didn’t want them to be all oily and burnt.

I didn’t look up any instructions. I can’t even remember what temperature I put the oven on, but I think that I should try a lower setting next time. When the edges were getting all crisp and brown, the middles of the chips were still kind of soft. So I’ll try, maybe, 350 next time.

I drizzled a bit of olive oil on top of each chip, and then sprinkled some herbed sea salt on top. I don’t like a lot of salt so I might have tried a little too hard not to overdo it. Or maybe there’s some trick to flavoring pita chips that I’m missing. Like dipping them in oil and then dipping them in herbs/spices before putting them on the baking sheet. I don’t know. Either way, they could have used a tiny bit more seasoning, but on the other hand, the plain flavor went better with the hummus. The biggest problem was that they didn’t bake evenly, like I said.

If you’re considering trying this, keep quantity in mind. My medium-sized pita would have been enough for two people, assuming they both weren’t really hungry, or had something else to eat. A large pita could probably work for at least three, but if you get those mini-pitas, the existence of which I just don’t get, don’t even expect that to fill up one person. Then again, a whole package of mini-pitas might be enough.

While baking, I’d check them at ten minutes, no later than 15. If you think you smell them burning, check them immediately. If they seem to be getting really brown at the edges, then you have to choose between possibly not having them crisp in the middle, or letting the edges overcook.

Of course, you can always look up an actual recipe if you’re not willing to risk the imperfections of experimental cooking. Then, pair with whatever kind of dip or food item you’d like, and eat to your heart’s content.

 

 

They were tasty, so I’m calling it a success. (Ish)

Easiest Pumpkin Spice Latte! (Success.)


Not being able to afford frequent $4 coffee drinks, I’ve been glancing with mild interest across all kinds of pumpkin latte recipes to make at home to save some money. I can’t make espresso at home, of course, so it would be more of just pumpkin coffee.

I tried the via instant kind, and it’s just not very good. The vanilla ones are ok. The pumpkin ones are disappointing, because you just hope it will be good but it’s too sugary and barely tastes like pumpkin at all.

 

But, having a pumpkin-related idea, I had to try it out. If you like a pumpkin spice latte and want to make them at home, here’s a good and REALLY easy way to approximate one:

1. Brew coffee. Whatever variety you have is fine. Any preference will work for this. If you make espresso, you’d probably have to mix it with cream or milk first and then go to step 2, but as I said, I don’t make espresso at home, so you’ll just have to improvise I guess…

2. Put one small scoop of pumpkin ice cream into a mug. I prefer Trader Joe’s variety, as it has the pumpkin pie spices mixed into it already.

3. Pour fresh, hot coffee over ice cream and stir until ice cream is completely melted. I also added a little half and half just to increase the amount of liquid in my mug.

optional 4: Garnish with whipped cream and pumpkin pie spice.

And enjoy!

I think it tastes very close to the starbucks psl, but somehow better – richer, maybe, since I’m flavoring it with ice cream instead of pumpkin syrup. This time I used a vanilla coffee, but I’m thinking I’d prefer it with a smooth, earthy dark roast.

 

P. S. I did something resembling baking earlier today, so I’m planning to post about it very soon.

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