Saturday, May 31, 2008

It's been a busy week

It's been a little crazy around here.  The boy is done with school, so we have been thisclose all week.  Monday we went to a friend's house for a wonderful meat fest.  Smoked brisket, pork shoulder, and ribs.  I ate enough meat for three or four days.  I've done some cooking, but I was out more than I was in.  I did make Alton Brown's Granola Bars.  They are a big hit with the adults.  The kids would like them if they had chocolate chips in them.  They are slightly more dense then the usual chewy granola bar.  But they are toasty and chewy and very good.  I've been following the TWD thread that talks about this week's recipe.  I'm think I'm going to make the brownies tonight.

I saw Avenue Q last night.  It was a little racy and a lot of fun.  I highly recommend it.  The husband and I saw Eddie Izzard at the Chicago Theater two weeks ago.  I've been to the city for dinner twice this year.  I went to the same restaurant both times.  The food was good, so it was fine.  However, you'd think with the number of restaurants that this city has, I'd go somewhere else.  Maybe next year.

This morning was the Lew Blond 5K race.  He was a teacher from a local district that had ALS.  Nice race.  We went to an art festival today.  My husband and I rarely agree on art.  It's our tenth anniversary in June.  We found something we both liked.  Happy anniversary!

I'll report on the TWD baking and the big bag 'o veggies soon.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Not really a TWD

I have no good excuse.  I just got busy, overwhelmed, and a little intimidated.  I really was going to make the brioche dough.  I have a heavy duty stand mixer.  I have the three sticks of butter the recipe calls for.  I have freezer space for the dough.  I just did not get my act together.  Next week, I promise!  

Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook has chosen French Chocolate Brownies.  Mmmmm.  I read the recipe earlier.  This one I can do.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


It's the weekend, and it's a holiday weekend to boot.  So that means I'm overwhelmed, running around crazy, and, oh wait, that's every day.

This one's been a doozy.  I started the weekend early on Thursday by getting knocked on my tushy by allergies.  I'm already on Zyrtec, but apparently, my system needs more to get rid of the molds and dust mites.  Bring on the nasal steroid!  (for $80, don't get me started!)  The weather's been gorgeous, so we've been at the park for a good portion of the weekend.  Plus there was the grocery store, t-ball practice, and the 15 mile bike ride I did this morning for good measure.  The one in the city so I had to leave my house at 5:45 to go pick up my sister.  5:45 AM.  I did manage to do some cooking and baking in there as well.

Yesterday, inspiration struck, and I made some fresh lemon/lime/ginger muffins.  They were tasty, but they needed a bit more flavor punch.   


I made the mint honey recipe that I found in the comments section of another blog.  It's very minty.  And honey-ey.  I think I need to take out the mint leaves.  (Clearly, my food photography needs some work.) 

 Today, because I had some black bananas, I decided to make a banana cake.  The girl asked for layers.  Layers it is.  I went to my "go-to" cookbook, the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  Whenever I want a basic recipe, that's the one.  The layers were lovely and moist.  I didn't want a butter frosting, so I went to another cookbook for that recipe.  (I'm blanking on which one)  I should have used more butter and stuck to the BHG book.  The one I made never did quite set up.  I decided to just pour it over the middle and then top layers for a drippy look.  Unfortunately, the layers started to slide a little.  I kept shoving the top one over.  After we cut into it, the frosting in the middle started leaking out.  Not my prettiest effort, but it tasted really good!

Dinner tonight was quiche.  It's one of the easiest things I know how to make.  I take the easy way out and use a refrigerated pie crust.  I saute whatever savories I have on hand.  Tonight was ramps and grey shallots from the big bag 'o veggies.  I added some cubed turkey from the deli.  The crust goes into a 9" greased pie pan.  I layer on some cheese on the bottom.  It keeps the crust from getting too soggy.  Then I pour the sauteed items over the cheese.  Sprinkle on a little more cheese.  Whip up three eggs and 3/4 c. milk.  I use skim.  Add some black pepper to the milk and eggs, and then pour it over the top.  Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until the whole thing is golden brown.  The beauty of this recipe is substitutions.  You can use almost any meat, cheese, or veggie and get really good results.  Add a salad, cherries, rolls, and lopsided cake and you have dinner!

Thank goodness, I only need to bring fruit to our friend's barbecue tomorrow.  Of, course, that's after the girl goes to a birthday party.  And did I mention that the boy is now done with school?  And camp doesn't start until June 23?

Have a wonderful Memorial Day.  Enjoy your friends and families.  Try and remember a little why we have the day off.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Another edition of "big bag 'o veggies"

And this week we have:  the last of the season's ramps, parsnips, grey shallots, French breakfast radishes, eggplant, and mint.  

I know what to do with the ramps now.  The grey shallots look a lot like green onions to me.  I must do research.  The French breakfast radishes were something of a surprise.  The girl and I decided that we liked them raw.  They don't have the bite of a regular radish.  I think I'll try a baba ganoush with the eggplant.  I searched and found a wonderful recipe for mint honey.  I'll report back as I make any veggie items.

This week's TWD offering is Pecan Honey Sticky Buns.  It's a pretty labor intensive recipe.  Plus, the brioche dough calls for THREE sticks of butter.  I'm going to try to make them for Monday.  I will surely report on Tuesday.

Happy weekend, all!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

An interesting phenomenon

I've discovered an interesting phenomenon.  I can't just "cook" anymore.  As I'm making something for dinner (tonight was Sloppy Joes), in my head I'm wondering how it will convert to my new blog.  Do I take pictures of each step?  Are Sloppy Joes interesting enough?  How can I be clever about Sloppy Joes?!  What kind of title can I come up with?  Even the individual ingredients lend themselves to tangents.  I have a ground beef observation for all of you one day. I'll save it for another time when I haven't cooked anything.  Phenomenon or sickness?  It's too close to call.  

Back to the Sloppy Joes.  I don't remember where I got the recipe.  I'm pretty sure it's from online somewhere.  It's the perfect "make it and stick it in the fridge" food.  It lends itself very well to reheating.  And even the boy and girl will eat it.  Mostly the girl, but the boy will eat a small helping.  I used the celery from some bag 'o veggies in our past.  I think it might be two weeks ago.  Boy is my crisper effective!  I even pulled a Jessica Seinfeld, and I grated up some carrots and added them.  No one was the wiser.  It's open to lots of variations.  You can give it more tang, sweetness, or spice.  

Here's the recipe:

Sloppy Joes

1 lb. ground beef or turkey
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. brown sugar
1 T. vinegar
1/2 c. diced onion
1 c. diced celery
1 grated carrot  (sneaky!)
1 c. ketchup
1 T. flour (only if needed)

Brown the ground beef and garlic.  Drain the fat.  Combine the brown sugar and vinegar.  Add to the browned meat.  Stir.  Add the onion, celery, and carrot and saute for a minute or two.  Add the ketchup.  Continue to cook until the vegetables are no longer crunchy.  Depending on the amount of liquid in the pan, you may need to add the flour.  If you'd like a thicker sauce, sprinkle on the flour.  If you like it thinner, leave it alone.  This is a very basic base recipe.  You can substitute some BBQ sauce for the ketchup.  You can add chili powder or hot sauce.  You can add any extra vegetable that you might have hanging around.  

We serve it over small dinner rolls.  Well, the husband and I eat it over the rolls.  The kids eat the rolls and meat separately.  Barbarians.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My first TWD attempt

Ok, here's what I've learned about posting pictures.  You have to put them in the post first.  In reverse order.  Because they land at the top of the post and any typing you've already done is now below it and doesn't make as much sense.  Perhaps there's a way to move them around, but I haven't found it.  Enough technical talk.  On to the goodies!

This week's recipe on Tuesdays With Dorie was chosen by Tara of Smells Like Home.  Her choice was Traditional Madeleines.  I don't own a madeleine pan.  The wonderful moderators of TWD somehow sensed this and offered up another option.  We were able to make any previously chosen recipe that we had not already baked.  Since this was my first week, I had a lot of choices in front of me.  Since I had such great success with the Espresso Chocolate Chip Shortbread, I went with another shortbread recipe.  This one is called Brown Sugar Pecan Shortbread.  Mmmmmm.  

Dorie does this great thing with her shortbread.  The instructions have you rolling the dough out in a plastic bag.  Saves on mess.  Makes it easy to store in the fridge.  Makes it really easy to cut it into very cute little squares.  Here is the dough right out of the fridge.

I use a ruler to cut the dough into about 1 1/2" squares.  See how nice and square they are.

Here they are all laid out, nice and square on my parchment lined baking sheet.  

The house is smelling wonderful.  I'm imagining lovely square, sandy textured shortbread.  I go to switch the pans in the oven (front to back and top to bottom) and..... what?!?!  Where are my lovely squares? 
Apparently, this is a very soft dough.  I did a little search online after I made my cookies and discovered that other people had similar problems.  The solution seems to be chilling, or even freezing, the sliced dough before baking.  I might also lower the oven temperature.  They were indeed ugly.  They did taste good, especially with a little sprinkling of powdered sugar.  I will try these again with some more chill time.
So, it's my first Dorie "failure".  Good thing I have many more chances to bake some yummy things.

Edited to add:  Thanks, Melissa!  She told me how to move the photos around.  Now I am just like a real technical kind of person.  Sort of.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Last Friday's big bag 'o veggies

Here's what we got:  chives, cantaloupe (organic, not so local), crimini mushrooms, rhubarb, carrots, and asparagus.

Here's what I've made.  The aforementioned strawberry rhubarb compote, which did make it to our friend's house.  And even got left there.  I must make more.  I diced the mushrooms and sauteed them in butter and olive oil with (last week's) scallions, and garlic.  It went over pasta and sausage for tonight's dinner.  The girl not only tasted it, she asked for MORE.  I also roasted asparagus for dinner, so the boy ate his requisite bite, actually three bites, and was done.  We had the cantaloupe for breakfast.  That's FOUR items in one day.  We might actually eat all the thinks in the bag this week.  It would be a first.  

A side question, just in case anyone is actually reading this.  Have you ever grown rhubarb?  I think I want to plant some, but I've never done it.  Any thoughts?  Ideas?  Suggestions?  

My first Tuesday with Dorie post is in the works.  Check this space soon!

Playing around with pictures.

I'm just trying to figure out how to add photos.  You know, to make my pages all color-like and pretty.  I may use photos of other people and the gorgeous food they make.  But you don't have to know that.  This is a town that the boy and girl made out of blocks.  I'm so proud.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mmmmm. I love rhubarb.

In my amazing bag '0 veggies, I found rhubarb this week.  I really like rhubarb.  I love the tart taste.  I love the slightly stringy texture.  I especially love it with strawberries.  We are heading over to a friend's house for dinner tonight.  I took my ruby stalks and sliced them into bite sized pieces.  I put them in a pot and added some sugar, vanilla, and a tiny bit of water.  I let it cook until the rhubarb wasn't so firm.  Then I added some sliced strawberries.  I let it simmer for about 15 more minutes until it was a ruby red, juicy slush.  I plan on bringing it tonight with a quart of vanilla ice cream.  Or, I may just sit over the pan with a spoon and eat the entire batch.  It could go either way.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Supporting the girl's school tastes lousy

I am the first to admit it.  I am a baking snob.  I rarely, if ever, use mixes.  I don't waste my calories on cakes from mixes.  Baking from scratch is the only way to go.  I routinely insult my friends and decline (politely, of course) offerings from mixes.  

How is it, then, that I have three bags of pre-formed cookie dough in my freezer?  My niece asked us to buy it to raise money for the high school band.  I can't turn her down!  The girl's school tossed it in as an end-of-the-year fundraiser.  I couldn't turn her down either.  We baked up a few of the peanut butter cookies this afternoon.  What they lack in flavor or texture, they make up for with convenience!  Sadly, the boy and girl were just so excited to have a cookie as a snack that they gobbled them up and declared them, "Delicious!"  I suppose that I could just pull them out when there's going to be a sitter, or if the kids have friends over after school.  Maybe I could bake them off and anonymously leave them somewhere.  No one would ever have to know that they were from my kitchen.  And they weren't scratch.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

In which I steal a recipe and add it to my stash

In my bag 'o veggies last week, there was spinach.  Now, I like spinach.  My husband likes spinach.  The boy will occasionally eat a certain spinach casserole that I make.  The girl does not like spinach.  That is, until now!  I was talking to my friend Lorna, hi Lorna!  She said she had an easy, healthy recipe for creamed spinach.  She was even willing to share it with me.  So in two minutes over the phone, I jotted it down.  It looked easy.  I had all the stuff I needed.  I was in business.

Here it is in a nutshell:  You take half an onion.  In my case it was red.  You can either grate it, or chop it in a fine dice.  Melt about one tablespoon of butter, and then saute the onion.  I cooked it until it was caramelized.  Empty it into your eventual serving bowl.  Add 1/2 cup of water to the pan and bring it to a boil.  Take one pound (or so) of cleaned spinach leaves and add it to the water.  Cook until it's, well, cooked.  Drain the spinach, and here's the secret, keep the liquid it was cooked in.  In your same pot, melt another tablespoon of butter and then add one tablespoon of flour to make a roux.  It's what will help thicken the sauce.  Stir until the butter has absorbed the flour.  Slowly add about a half cup of milk.  Lorna uses skim.  I used a mix of heavy cream and skim because I happened to have a little heavy cream.  Keep stirring.  Then add the liquid from the spinach!  It will make a creamy, spinach-y, delicious sauce.  You can add a little or a lot depending on the texture you like.  Add the onions and spinach back in.  Give it a good stir.  Toss in a little salt and pepper.  Tah dah!  You have delicious creamed spinach.  Lorna also adds a little garlic.  I tossed in about a quarter cup of grated parmesan.  I think there are lots of other options.

Not only did the girl eat it.  She had seconds.  This one is definitely a keeper.  Thanks, Lorna!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie

I just joined a fabulous group.  It's called Tuesdays with Dorie.  It's all based on a cook book (previously mentioned) called Baking: From My Home to Yours by a woman named Dorie Greenspan.  The idea is that, each week, a new recipe is picked by a member of the group.  All of the other group members bake said recipe, post photos and comment on it.  I'm very excited for a few reasons.  Who needed it, but I now have an excuse to try a new baked good at least twice a month.  It's pretty cool to be trying a recipe along with a group of people.  And, I get to eat a new baked good at least twice a month.

The recipe for the 20th is Madeleines.  I'm going to have to fake it a little because I don't have a madeleine pan.  They won't look like little sea shells, but I'll bet they'll taste great.  I'll post the details once they're made.  If you are curious about madeleines and their history, here's a page with some of the history.

If you want to see the site, here's the link.  Check back by Tuesday to see my results.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Back to the bag 'o veggies

This week's offerings:  ramps, asparagus, sunchokes, spinach, scallions, and sorrel.  Quite a bit of alliteration at the end there.

I'll admit that I threw away last week's ramps and used the fresh ones for dinner on Saturday.  But that's our little secret.  I grilled the asparagus tonight.  It's easy and delicious.  Just toss the asparagus in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Throw it on the grill.  Roll it around after a few minutes.  After a few minutes more, you take it off.  Mmmmmm.  The boy and girl each ate their requisite bite.  (One chew AND swallow bite is required for every food item on the table)  The husband and I ate the rest.  The salad had a bit of the sunchoke in it.  It's also called a Jerusalem artichoke.  It's actually the bulb of a sunflower variety.  We likened it to jicama.  It's got a nice crunch but very little actual flavor.  The rest of dinner was couscous, strawberries, and marinated chicken skewers with a peanut dipping sauce.  You know, I should have my cookbooks with me when I'm writing.  That way I won't have to keep saying, "I'll post the recipe soon."  The dipping sauce got a, "I like it, but it's not my favorite" from the boy and the girl.  The chicken, however, was a hit.  I think it has to do with the fact that it was served on a stick.  It must have been the novelty of it all.

The boy "graduates" from pre-school tomorrow.  He still has two weeks left of school, so I think he's getting ripped off.  Really we'll just go to the school, he and his classmates will sing for us, and he'll receive a certificate of.... something.  And then we'll all have ice cream, which is, of course, the highlight.  

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy happy Mother's Day to all of my mom friends.  All in all, it was a pretty good day.  It started with a lovely hand drawn card from the girl and boy and big hugs from both of them.  I should mention that two dozen tulips were delivered yesterday.  I took Sunday School duty and got the girl there on time.  Then I got to go to the local rec center and put in a couple of miles.  I got back to the synagogue, and was able to work on the sweater I'm knitting in peace.  The family came over for a bagel brunch.  I made a chocolate chip bread pudding from left over challah (the recipe will be posted soon) and baked off the espresso cookies.  They were as yummy as I remembered them from the other day.  Dinner was at a local restaurant where they make a decent burger.  And the dessert was on the house.  It was a good day to be a mom.  I'll have to come back and re-read this post on the off chance that I have a day when it isn't so good to be a mom.

I did find something to make with the ramps.  It was a beef/broccoli/ramp stir-fry served over brown rice.  It called for fresh ginger as well.  I liked cooking with the ramps.  I cooked the bulb end like I would regular onion.  And then I chopped the leaves and wilted them at the end.  Even the kids ate it!  I really do need to start taking pictures.  And posting them.  And adding recipes.  Anything else?  

I'll report on the new bag 'o veggies tomorrow.  I'll need something to write about.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

It has been brought to my attention

Clearly, I am not as clever as I thought I was.  Or I am equally as clever as many other people on the internet.  There are a number of blogs, catering companies, personal chefs, and cooking equipment sites with the same name as mine.  

That's ok.  In my special little world, I'm the only one who ever thought to use this as a name.  It's a happy place.  Lots of chocolate, whipped cream, and long baths where no one is allowed to interrupt.  But I digress.

A little pat on the back for me yesterday.  A couple of teachers stopped the girl at school and told her that her mom was a good baker.  I have a batch of the espresso chocolate chip cookies in the fridge as we speak.  Mmmmmmm.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Ramps, they're not just for parking anymore

Ok, that's an Iowa reference.  For some reason, at the University of Iowa, parking garages are called parking ramps.  And that's how I refer to them this day.

A few comments/e-mails have asked about ramps.  Mostly people weren't sure what they were.  Neither was I until I did some research.  Turns out they are very similar to onion/garlic/leeks.  They have little bulbs at one end and a long leaf that resembles spinach at the other.  All parts of the ramp can be eaten.  Serious Eats, which is a blog I read daily, has had some good information and recipes about ramps.  There is a link here for a recipe, and here for some details about how to use them.  

I know I'll be getting more in my bag 'o veggies today, so I'll tell you what I do with them in the next few days.  I'm thinking a beef broccoli and ramp stir-fry with brown rice for dinner tomorrow.  Mmmmmm.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

I am definitely appreciating those teachers

It's teacher appreciation week.  I love teachers.  I was a seventh grade teacher until I gave it all up for the the glamor of motherhood.  I think teachers should get paid enormous amounts of money because the work they do is of the utmost importance.  And they take my kid for seven hours a day.  

The way that my PTO asks me to contribute to this week is by baking for a luncheon tomorrow.  And boy have I been baking.  I've used my trusty Dorie Greenspan book (here's her blog) called Baking: From My Home to Yours.  From there I made the chocolate chip espresso cookies and her blondies.  Both are just wonderful.  I found a recipe for maple pecan shortbread bars from some magazine I can't even remember.  It's a mini pecan pie in bar form.  I had these amazing banana/chocolate/toffee bites at a party some years ago and figured out how to re-create it in my kitchen.  And tomorrow I finish off with a lemon lime frosted cookie.  My wonderful husband contributes to the PTO and teacher appreciation week by doing dishes.  

I'll get a new produce bag tomorrow.  I'll check it out and report back.

The recipe for the banana/chocolate/toffee bites:

1 bag of toffee bits (I used the pre-crushed Heath bars, you can do that or crush your own)
12 oz. of semi-sweet chocolate
3 or 4 bananas, sliced into 1/3" slices

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.  Sprinkle the toffee over the foil so that there is a thin layer of candy.  Melt the chocolate over a double boiler.  Drop the sliced bananas one at a time in the chocolate.  I just scoop them out with a fork.  Gently place them on the candy bits.  Do this until all the banana slices are gone.  When they cool, the candy adheres to the chocolate, and you get a wonderful bite of delicious.  Don't do this much more than 24 hours in advance.  The chocolate won't be tempered, and it might start to bloom.  Usually, I have some combination of chocolate/toffee left over.  Just mix them together, drop them on some waxed paper, and you have your own little snack for later.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The next item from the big bag o veggies

Last night I used some of the spinach that we received.  I made a casserole that had a crust of hash browned potatoes, then a layer of turkey sausage sauteed with onion, wilted spinach, some shredded cheese, and a binder of eggs mixed with milk poured over the top.  I made it early and put it in the oven set to start at a later time.  The boy and the girl have swimming on Tuesday afternoon, and I wanted to have dinner ready for when we got home.  I miscalculated the time, and it sat in a hot oven for a little longer than I would have liked.  The sausage got a little burnt on top.  But the potatoes were wonderful.  Crispy on the edges and creamy in the middle.  Both kids ate some, but, "It was good, but it wasn't my favorite."  We hear that when they only want to eat a little and perhaps not hurt my feelings.  

Tonight I went out with a girlfriend, so it was leftovers for the rest of the crew.  

I still have to try something with the ramps.  Especially since I think I'm getting more this Friday.  I also forgot to mention the parsnips.  Three of them.  Any suggestions?    

Monday, May 05, 2008

The "good" idea

So a few weeks ago I signed up to receive a shipment of "fresh and organic" vegetables every Friday.  I read about it in Chicago Magazine, and thought, at the time, that it was a good idea.  Then the first Friday came around.  A very nice man came to the door with a big bag of vegetables for me.  Chives, green beans, three new potatoes, a pineapple, and beets.   This week was an easy one in terms of vegetables.  Except for the beets.  I'm pretty sure I have never eaten one.  I was all prepared to make some great things with my fresh and organic vegetables.  

Then this past Friday there's that nice man again.  I look in the fridge and realize that I have wilted chives in the vegetable drawer along with a few wrinkled green beans.  Oh, and look, there are those beets.  And the potatoes on the counter have many many eyes.  I resolve to do better this week.

This time I have asparagus, celery, ramps, spinach, and watercress.  The watercress is wasted on me.  That's one I'm going to have to let go.  I did have celery with salsa as a snack this weekend.  Try it!  It's crunchy and spicy with little or no fat.  The ramps are a slight mystery. I need to do a little research to know how to cook them.  The asparagus was part of a delicious pasta dinner tonight.  Here's a link to the recipe.  It was very easy, and 3/4 of my family loved it.  The girl doesn't like goat cheese.

Tomorrow I experiment with the spinach.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

This is only a test

It's the first entry of my new blog.  I've been considering writing about the things I cook for a while.  But I'm always afraid I'm not clever or pithy enough.  I'm pretty sure that only one or two people will read it, so maybe I don't have to worry.  We'll see how it goes.