Monday, June 4, 2012


In addition to feeling adventurous at the Farmers Market, my friend insisted that I buy some good old peaches while I was there. So I bought a nice big bucket of them and decided to have some fun with desserts. I found a nice recipe for Whole Wheat Peach Kuchen in my Simply in Season cookbook (p. 156). While in the middle of making it, my work-wife stopped over and asked what I was making. I said, "I think it's called koo-CHEN...?" Then she looked at my recipe and said, "Oh, you mean KOO-ken? It means 'cake' in German." So... apparently it's cake (but honestly, it's more like a cross between a pie and a cheesecake, but whatever).

1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tbs sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup butter

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in butter until crumbly. Pat mixture over bottom and sides of a pie pan. (Note: I really think this may have been slightly too much crust for my pie pan; however, this pan was a little shallower than my glass Pyrex pan, so maybe I just need to use a deeper pan. Beats me, but you may want to consider adding slightly less flour.)

Filling 1
4 cups peeled peach halves
3 Tbs sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Arrange peaches cut-side-down on top of crust. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon over peaches and bake at 400°F for 15 minutes.

Filling 2
1 cup yogurt or sour cream
1 egg
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine and pour over peaches and continue baking for 30 minutes or until set.

Who doesn't love a good kuchen?

So the kuchen was pretty good. It was a nice way to mix things up. The creamy topping was superb (I ate quite a bit of it before I dumped it on top of the peaches!). One issue I had was that when I decided to make it, I probably didn't have quite enough peaches yet and they were very small on top of it. So next time I'll definitely need some more!

After I ate all the kuchen up, I decided I wanted more peaches, so I bought another bucket the next week. This time, I wanted to take an old favorite at my house and make it from scratch.

My mom made this really yummy and easy dump cake. Basically you grease a cake pan with a stick of butter. Then you add two cans of pie filling (same flavor or you can do a different flavor on each end) and then pour a box of yellow cake mix on top. Finely slice up the rest of the butter stick and lay it evenly across the top of the cake mix. Bake at 350°F for about an hour.

So even though my mom's recipe is super delicious, I wanted to try to make it from scratch. One thing that really got me when I read Kitchen Counter Cooking School was the part where her husband came to the realization that boxed cake mix is nothing more than flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt (and a bunch of preservatives to keep it 'fresh'. Bottom line is that it's really not any more difficult to make a cake from scratch, but there's this stigma that it's actually really hard and that's why you make the boxed stuff. So I decided to try out their recipe for cake mix (p. 207) and I substituted fresh fruit and honey for the pie filling.

1 stick butter
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Cut up and peel fruit into medium chunks. Cover with honey in a bowl and let sit for a few hours or overnight. Grease 9x13 cake pan with butter stick. Spread fruit/honey mixture over bottom of the pan. Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt, and then pour on top of fruit. Sprinkle little butter slices over the top of the cake mix so that the pan is well-covered. Bake at 350°F for about 1 hour. Cool and serve with cream or ice cream.


Again, I think the cake mix recipe may have been a bit too much for what I was doing, so I will probably cut back a little bit next time, maybe to 2 cups flour, 1 1/4 cups sugar (it was a little too sweet), and maybe 2 tsp baking powder. It was still very delicious and what I really love about dump cake is that it is just as good when it's leftovers the next day. And the next day too... if it lasts that long. So I'd say it was a pretty successful transformation that will need some minor adjustments to reach perfection.


Lately I've been very experimental at the Farmers Market. A couple weeks ago, I bought a bag of kale and was like, "I have no idea what to do with this, but I'll figure something out." The farmer recommended kale chips and a few other things, but didn't give me a recipe card, so I forgot half the things they told me I could do. Instead, I opted to check out my cookbooks for some inspiration. I realized that my Farmer John's Cookbook had not been getting the attention it deserved, so I started there and found a great recipe for Cajun Corn and Kale Salad (p. 226). Since I'd already bought a couple ears of corn, it seemed like a perfect way to go through my purchases. Below is my very modified version of this because I didn't have a lot of the ingredients, so I just adapted it to make it work.

2 ears sweet corn
as much kale as your heart desires
1 sweet pepper
1 hot pepper
1 tomato
1 onion
1 clove garlic
leftover cucumber
olive oil
lemon juice
cayenne pepper
black pepper
ground mustard
thyme? (I don't remember if I had some, but the recipe called for it)

Bring large pot of water to boil. Add corn ears. Turn off heat and let sit for about 5 minutes. Pull out corn to cool and remove kernels from cob.
Re-heat water and add kale with a sprinkling of salt. Cook for about 5 minutes. Strain and cool. Remove excess liquid and finely chop.
Cut up other ingredients and mix everything together. Season with additional salt.

 Behold, sweet deliciousness.

I added a lot of cayenne pepper, so it was pretty spicy, but I absolutely loved it! I took it to my neighbors' place, who were serving Korean food for dinner that night. Normally I wouldn't think Cajun-style salad would go with Korean food, but they were making spicy food so it actually complemented everything quite well. It really was a great summer salad that can add a refreshing taste to just about anything. I'm really excited to make it again.

I also made some kale chips using a pretty basic recipe.

olive oil
sea salt
lemon juice
additional flavors/spices, if you're so inclined

Wash kale and cut into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with additional ingredients on a cookie sheet. Bake at 275°F for about 20 minutes or until crisp, turning once halfway through.

Crispy Little Kale Bits
So the first thing you need to know about kale chips is that they are pretty gross if they aren't completely dry and crisp. But if they're done, they're alright. There's not much to brag about, but kale is so good for you, I don't really mind eating it this way to get the nutrients out of it.

I haven't been as good about making smoothies lately, but I think once I get myself back on board, I would like to try adding a little bit of kale to them. It doesn't really taste like much and seems to blend in pretty well, so that's my next step I think.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Summer Squash

If you've been wondering where I've been hiding the last few weeks, I've been buried in school work and eating more burgers and pizza than I care to admit. But now that school is out, I'm slowly getting back into my cooking groove. Arlond and I visited the farmer's market this week and picked up lots of yummy food–most of which I haven't done anything with, yet. But I'm slowly working on it.

Anyway, while we were there, one of the farmers was selling yellow summer squash. My parents never really cooked squash for us when we were kids, so I've never been really comfortable eating it. I usually would just pick around it if it were in something. I did eat zucchini bread and things like that, but not much of anything else. Recently, I was served raw summer squash slices and I figured I'd try them out. And they were pretty good. I enjoyed their light, nutty flavor and they weren't so watery like cucumbers. So I bought some at the grocery store to put in my minestrone-ish soup, and that worked out really well, too. So I checked out the squash and asked the farmer how he liked to prepare them so I could get some more ideas. He said he ate them raw and would boil them, but only just a little bit, and said his wife made this really good stuffing with cottage cheese and cornbread with it. I could see the sweet fondness he had for the dish as he recalled just how much better it tasted two or three days after it had been cooked. He turned to his wife and asked if she had the recipe and she pulled out a half piece of paper with the recipe for squash cornbread. So I bought a basket of squash and took the recipe home and sat on it for a few days until I finally forced myself to stop being lazy and make it before the squash went bad. The recipe called for an 8x12 pan, which is way too big for me to eat by myself, so I opted for a half-portion, as detailed below:

Squash Cornbread:

1/2 cup boiled chopped squash (drain through colander)
1/2 stick butter (melted)
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/2 chopped onion
1 chopped jalapeno pepper (the recipe called for 1 can of chopped green chilies, but I opted to go with fresh peppers instead)
1 egg
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
Whatever 1/2 a pinch of salt is (You can also substitute a box of cornbread mix for the last four ingredients)

Mix all ingredients. Bake at 375°F in greased 8x6ish pan for about 25 minutes.

I meant to take a picture before I started eating it, but I forgot.

All in all, it was pretty delicious. It's definitely a great side to add on to a meal and relatively quick and easy to make. I put the rest in the fridge, so we'll find out tomorrow just how good the leftovers are.

So after I made my mini-squash cornbread, I still had two more squashes to use up. I pulled out my Simply in Season and looked for some ideas. I found a recipe for zucchini cookies, and figured it was close enough to what I needed.

Yellow Squash Cookies (adapted from Simply in Season, p. 166):
3/4 cup butter (softened)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups summer squash (shredded)
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Cream butter, sugar, and brown sugar. Add egg and beat until fluffy. Mix in flour, baking powder, salt and vanilla. Slowly stir in squash and chocolate chips. Drop onto greased baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 375°F. (Note: Bake cookies as soon as they are mixed. If the batter stands too long, it will get a bit watery).

You can never go wrong with cookies.

So I was a little short on chocolate chips, but I had one Hershey's bar and cut that up and added it in too. I think what I liked most about these cookies was the nutty flavor without the nuts. Call me crazy, but I really hate nuts in my baked goods. Not because I dislike nuts, but I dislike having hard bits of nut inside my soft, gooey cookies and brownies and cake. So it was nice getting that flavor while still having an overall soft consistency. 

So summer squash is definitely a go for me. I'm not sure if Arlond's going to get on board, but I'll make sure he tries some when he gets home and see what he thinks.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cream of Chicken Soup/Broccoli Rice Casserole

When I was a kid I hated broccoli. Every once in a while my parents would serve it with dinner*, and I would choke it down... often in tears at the injustice of it all. Then one day I was introduced to the best thing ever:

Broccoli. Rice. Casserole.

Apparently it had been served at holiday meals for years and I had been oblivious all that time. I was in college and someone pointed out the casserole to me and I bluntly replied, No thanks. I don't like broccoli. But whoever this angel was convinced me that you couldn't even taste the broccoli, so I decided to be polite and took a small portion to try. I was an adult now, after all.

So I grudgingly took a bite of this casserole that I was sure I was going to have to immediately wash down with whatever I was drinking, and then the sweet deliciousness grazed my tongue and I was in love. With the casserole, anyway.

Broccoli didn't suddenly become my favorite food of all time, but I'll at least eat it willingly now. I don't think I've mentioned, but I'm currently assisting with some of the school gardening programs in Houston, so recently I've become acquainted with the broccoli plant.


Before this, I always kind of thought broccoli just grew right out of the ground, sort of like asparagus. 


Just imagine those little stem toppers blossoming into a broccoli head. That's basically what I thought happened.

So anyway, I learned the broccoli is actually the flower bud of a very large plant and if you let it continue to grow, little yellow flowers will blossom out of the broccoli head. Also, I learned that fresh-picked broccoli is delicious.

Arlond, on the other hand, has not been convinced. For a man that loves his vegetables, he's actually pretty picky about which ones he eats (mostly potatoes, peas, corn, and carrots—but only if they're cooked!). I recently roped him onto the asparagus bandwagon...but only because bacon was involved. Baby steps, I say.

So I tried the same route that got me on the broccoli train, but he didn't fall for the cheesy goodness that is broccoli rice casserole. I'd kind of given up on the idea until I had an epiphany:

Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole.

I mentioned it to Arlond and he said it sounded good. So I decided to whip up a test batch. Anyway, here's the recipe for the original:

2 sticks of butter
1 16 oz. bag of chopped broccoli
2 cups of rice
2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
2 cups of shredded cheese (I use sharp cheddar)
1 cup milk
1 cup water

1. Sauté broccoli in butter
2. Mix all other ingredients together in a 9x13 dish
3. Add broccoli to pan--mix well
4. Bake at 375°F for about an hour

While this recipe is delicious, there are a few issues that I wanted to address:

1. I want to add chicken.
2. A 9x13 casserole is perfect for taking to a social gathering, but much too big for the two of us.
3. I've always used instant rice, but I want to switch to whole grain.
4a. I don't really like mushrooms.
4b. I want to get away from using canned soup. Especially condensed soup.

So my goals were to make a smaller portion using whole grain rice, a homemade substitute for the cream of mushroom soup, and also throwing some chicken in there somewhere. I also used fresh broccoli instead of frozen, but that wasn't a serious change. I've gotten pretty good at downsizing, so my biggest concerns were the substitutions.

I figured that the rice would be in the oven long enough that it would cook similarly to the instant rice, so I just decided to test it out that way (Note: This did not really work, but more on that later). I basically just decided to mix the chicken in with everything else and see what happens. I debated on whether or not to pre-cook the chicken, and ultimately decided against it. My chicken nugget recipe only has the chicken bits cooking for 20 minutes before they're done, so I figured doubling that would most definitely be enough when they're cut approximately the same size. So all that was left was the condensed soup.
I googled "cream of mushroom soup substitute" and basically learned that all I needed to do was to make a roux. I checked out a few different recipes and decided to wing it:

1-2 Tbs butter
1/4ish cup flour
Chicken stock
Sea salt

Melt butter is small pan. Slowly add flour until a thick paste forms. Add equal parts milk and stock until desired consistency is reached. Salt and pepper to taste.

Also, I realized this is basically identical to my dad's gravy recipe, except for the whole turkey/chicken stock difference. So since I learned from my mistakes last time, the roux actually came out quite nicely and could potentially serve as a chicken gravy.

So when it was all said and done, this was roughly my recipe:

3 Tbs butter
1 head broccoli, chopped
1 chicken breast, diced
3/4ish cup whole grain rice
1 recipe homemade cream of chicken soup
More milk
1 cup cheddar cheese

Sauté broccoli in butter. Mix chicken, rice, cream of chicken soup, and milk in 8x6ish glass baking pan. Add broccoli and mix. Add cheese. Bake at 350°F for about 40 minutes.

So the one major problem with my final product is that the rice did not fully cook and was still crunchy. Despite this, it was delicious. Also, I'm pretty sure the rice in the remaining servings is soaking up all the remnant liquid-y goodness and is getting slightly less crunchy as I type. It probably won't be completely cured, but it's a start. Next time, I'm debating between partially pre-cooking the rice or just adding more liquid for it to soak up in the casserole and possibly cook it a little longer. I plan to ask my rice-loving friends at school tomorrow for input. I will keep you posted on the results of my queries. 

*Note: Earlier I claimed that my parents served broccoli out of a can when I was a child, but I was recently informed that this was simply not true (or at least, my mother never did). As such, I have retracted the statement and instead would like to say that they served me frozen broccoli. My mom also claimed that she may have possibly served us fresh broccoli, but I don't remember ever seeing it in the fridge, so I think she made that part up.


I'm currently working on Marion Nestle's book What to Eat, and just got done reading the section about fish. Despite the fact that fish are incredibly healthy for you (remember Michael Pollan's rule of thumb: The Less Legs, The Better?), there are some serious problems in the fishing industry that are often overlooked.

First, there's the obvious issue of overfishing. There are many species of fish that are being caught faster than they can reproduce, thus diminishing their numbers at a rapid pace. Popular fish like salmon, cod, and tuna; and delicacies like shark and octopus create a high demand...higher than what the Earth can sustain, and so their numbers are dwindling. reports that 90 percent of large predatory fish are gone from the ocean.

One way the fish industry is addressing this problem is fish farming, which, while helpful when done appropriately, comes with its own set of issues, most notably fish feed. Carnivorous fish, like salmon, require pounds upon pounds of feeder fish for every pound of farmed fish, thus requiring even more fishing and ocean depletion. What's worse, is that many fish that don't typically eat much fish are being fed fish-based feed rather than a vegetarian feed. Further, fish from fish farms are sometimes genetically modified to allow for production in areas that wouldn't normally support this type of fish. When these farms are in open water systems (and they often are), these genetically modified fish can sometimes escape and then breed with wild fish. These "super fish" can also enter ecosystems that wouldn't normally sustain their breed, ultimately decimating feeder fish populations and starving larger predatory fish. Farmed fish are also frequently treated with antibiotics, and some fish (such as salmon) do not have the proper color because of the difference in diet, so the color is added artificially. Despite these issues, fish farming has its merits and can be a good alternative to overfishing when done right, and there are several certification programs to assess farming practices (the ASC just started certifying farmed tilapia; however, no other certification program has been officially approved by the US government).

Another big issue is methylmercury. Inorganic mercury has been released into the environment in rather large quantities, thanks in a large part to the burning of fossil fuels, but also to volcanoes, forest fires, etc. This mercury then makes its way to water systems, where it is converted to methylmercury. Methylmercury is then absorbed by oceanic wildlife and increases in concentration as you go up the food chain. As such, larger, carnivorous fish like shark and swordfish contain extremely high doses of mercury, which can cause a whole host of health problems, such as neurological damage, cardiovascular problems, and autoimmune disorders. These problems are particularly relevant for children and fetuses, who can show effects from much smaller doses.

PCBs are also a huge problem. Many of the Earth's watered are severely contaminated with PCBs originating from coolant fluids, plasticizers, paints, and a whole host of other things. Again, fish are contaminated with them and then the concentration grows and you climb the food chain. PCBs cause problems like skin conditions, liver damage, and cancer, and those issues are amplified in children, breastfeeding infants, and fetuses.

Clearly, there are serious issues with the fishing industry. What's worse, is that there is very little regulation in place to address them, and just as little done to identify problematic fishing practices to consumers. Country-of-origin labeling (COOL) went into effect in 2005 for all wild-caught fish, farmed fish, and shellfish (with exceptions for all "processed" fish). COOL is one way to determine the safety of fish, based on the water contamination in that country. Fish are also labeled as either "wild-caught" or "farmed," giving consumers another clue in their fish puzzle. Despite these labeling requirements, the labels are often incorrect, and even when they are correct, a consumer must be incredibly knowledgeable to be able to discern any meaning from these labels.

Some grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, label their fish using guides such as the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch or the Blue Ocean Institute Seafood Guide, which provide easy-to-understand ratings, such as "Best Choice," "Good Alternative," or "Avoid" for each type of fish they sell. Even more impressive, Whole Foods just announced that they will no longer sell wild-caught seafood with a Red/Avoid rating. And for those stores that don't display such informative labeling, these guides are also available as smartphone apps (which can also be used in restaurants, where labeling is not required). In spite of these efforts, the fishing industry has fought back ferociously. Many fisheries are disputing the credibility of these guides, rather than making an effort to change their practices.

In an effort to be more conscientious of my fish choices, I downloaded the MBA Seafood Guide app. Probably my biggest problem area so far has been sushi. Because I love spicy sushi and almost every spicy sushi roll has either tuna or salmon in it. Also, sushi restaurants don't typically include COOL (which makes it more difficult to determine the rating), so I would have to ask, and as I've mentioned before, I'm a wimp when it comes to asking about my food. But I went out for sushi the other day and got some spicy crawfish, that was super delicious.

I also bought some farmed Mediterranean Seabass today on the recommendation of another customer at Whole Foods. I didn't check the rating until after I'd purchased it, so it wasn't the best fish I could have picked, but not the worst either, at least. To add to my stupidity, here was my conversation with the guy behind the fish counter:

Me: "Could I get one of the smaller seabass? And could you skin it for me?"
Fish Guy: "...Skin it?"
Me: "Yeah. Skin it."
Fish Guy: "Do you mean 'scale' it? You want to keep the skin on, don't you?"
Me: "...Yeah. Well... you know what I mean."

So my snarky, know-it-all fish guy 'scaled' the fish for me and then offered to take the guts out as well. So I took my fish home and a few hours later, I opened up the package to find a fish that looked pretty much identical to the fish I saw in the display, except for the giant gash in the belly, where he probably took the guts out. It still had skin (although there weren't any scales to speak of). It still had bones. It still had fins. It still had a head.

This was a problem.

I wasn't feeling particularly well today and seriously considered putting the fish back in the fridge and dealing with it later, but I mustered up the energy to figure out what the heck to do with this fish in order to turn it into something I knew how to cook.

I figured it couldn't be that different from deboning a chicken, and I feel like I've seen someone just grab the head and pull all the bones out in one fell swoop, but I couldn't figure it out. So I ended up cutting the belly open all the way down to the back fin, where I managed to sort of lift out the bottom half of the spine... until it broke. Then I cut down either side of the remaining spine and just pulled it out. Then I had to go back for the little bitty rib bones or whatever you call them and pull them out individually with my fingers. Then I cut off the head and tail and fins and voilà! Two slightly ugly but totally cookable fish fillets! For reference, this seems like a much better way of doing it.

I put the fillets in an aluminum foil pouch, along with some butter, "minced" garlic, sea salt, and pepper. I also added some asparagus that I wrapped in bacon, and then sealed up the pouches. Then I cooked them at 400°F for about 20 minutes. And they were delicious! Since I wasn't feeling up to par, I didn't document the experience, but I'll likely do it again soon (preferably with a better fish) and I'll snap some pictures then. Hopefully I'll have perfected my fish deboning skills so you will all be impressed with my handy work... but that's pretty unlikely.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Collard Greens

Last week, I acquired some collard greens. Later that evening, my work-wife invited me over for dinner and said she was making tilapia and salad. So I said, "Oh! I just got some collard greens we can add to the salad!"

My work-wife, who is from the South, kind of snorted and said something to the effect of "In the salad? You have to cook them!"

Lesson learned: Just because they look like salad greens, doesn't make them so.

Now let's flash back to the last time I ate cooked greens. I was probably about nine years old. My brother, sister, and I accompanied our mother to the grocery store, and while we were in the middle of the canned fruits and vegetables aisle, we came across a can of spinach. My brother and I begged our mom to buy it and serve it to us. So we could be like Popeye. With a knowing smirk, she bought it for us and served it that very night. We were so excited. As soon as we said grace, I grabbed my fork, scooped up a heaping portion of spinach, and shoved it in my mouth. And. It. Was. Awful. My parents had a good laugh and I didn't touch spinach again until I was in college—and even now, I only ever eat it raw.

So I asked my all-knowing collards expert work-wife what you're supposed to do with them, and she told me this: Bacon and vinegar.

Armed with the belief that anything fresh and bacon-ized is better than the atrocity that came out of that spinach can, I cooked up some collards the next day:

Collard greens
Balsamic vinegar
Sea salt

Cut up bacon into bite-sized bits and begin to cook in medium pan. Wash the collards and cut up into smaller pieces. Add to bacon and sauté with butter and vinegar until soft. Salt and pepper to taste.

I can smell the deliciousness from here. Mostly because I can't smell it at all.
So I ate my big bowl of collards. And it was passable. Considering the amazing-ness that is all things bacon, this is kind of an insult to it.

Later, I confessed my feelings about collards to my work-wife:

We'll see about that.
I think can safely say any sort of cooked greens are pretty gross. Maybe I'll learn the secret to unlocking sweet deliciousness and change my mind, but until then, I'm just gonna stick to eating the raw kind.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Creamy Pesto

My new favorite meal is pasta with creamy pesto sauce, which I made on a creative whim the other day. I recently read Kitchen Counter Cooking School, which I'll review later, but one of the chapters talked about how inexpensive and easy it is to make pasta sauce, so I've been making lots of pasta sauce lately. In particular, I've been making lots of Alfredo sauce. Between Kitchen Counter Cooking School and Better Homes and Gardens, this is roughly my recipe:

1 clove garlic (chopped)
Olive oil
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Parmesan cheese
Pasta water (optional)

Sauté garlic in olive oil in small sauce pan over medium heat. Add heavy whipping cream and stir occasionally. When sauce thickens to point where you can scrape with spoon and see bottom of the pan, add pasta water if you need more sauce and boil down to same thickness. If not, add Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. And voilà! Alfredo sauce.

I've also been making pesto with roughly this recipe: 

Olive oil
Pine nuts

Mix together in food processor or Magic Bullet until it looks like pesto. You can also add garlic and Parmesan cheese.

One thing I've learned is that you can spoon portions of fresh pesto into ice cube trays and freeze them for later use, which has been very handy since it's pretty much impossible to make one serving.

So one day, I was making pasta and couldn't decide if I wanted to use my frozen pesto or my heavy whipping cream before it went bad. And that's when I said, "Why don't I just mix them together?"

 Best. Idea. Ever.

So basically I made my Alfredo sauce and then dropped a pesto cube into the pot and let it melt as I mixed it. Then I poured it over my pasta and it was perfect. The only downside is that I seem to be an expert at making exactly one serving too many and the Alfredo sauce tends to separate when I put it in the fridge. It still tastes fine but it's not the same as when it's fresh.

Friday, February 10, 2012


My grandpa and uncle sent us some pears for Christmas. And not just any pears... Harry & David Pears.

Sweet, juicy deliciousness.

I remember my grandparents used to send these to my family when I was little. They were always such a treat because they're so tender and sweet. If you can't tell by the picture, we got about 2 dozen of them. I was afraid they would go bad before we would have a chance to eat them all, but luckily Arlond's family had come down to visit, so they helped us work on them.
When Arlond was little, his family put together a cookbook and Arlond's contribution was a recipe for Pear Pie. So, naturally, we made it:

6-8 pears
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
dash of salt

Peel pears and cut up. Mix sugar, flour, salt, and spices, and add to pears. Fill a 9-10" pie crust base with pears and dot with butter. Cover with top crust and sprinkle sugar on top. Bake at 400°F for 50 minutes.

Check out my fancy cut-outs. Yep, I did those by hand!
In addition to the pie and eating them by hand, I also added them to quesadillas and in fruit smoothies. Then when we finished them off, I used the boxes to store delicate Christmas ornaments, which was probably the best idea ever.


In case you were unaware: Thanksgiving happened.

Since my husband and I moved away from our families this summer, it was the first time we were having a big holiday on our own. We certainly missed our families, but we wanted to do something fun instead of wallowing over the holiday weekend. One of Arlond's co-workers graciously invited us into her home on Thanksgiving, where we had a very yummy traditional turkey dinner.

Then on Saturday, Arlond and I invited some friends over and had our very own Thanksgiving feast. We'd both helped out with big holiday meals before, but this was the first time we did it on our own. So naturally, it was an adventure.

First things first, we had to decide on a menu. After careful debate, we finally settled on the following:

Organic Free-Range Roasted Turkey
Mediterranean Stuffing
Mashed Potatoes
Deviled Eggs
Cranberry Sauce
Sweet Potato Casserole
Persimmon Bread Pudding
Pumpkin Pie

Note: Our friends also brought rolls, salad, and green bean casserole.

Next, we had to figure out how to make all of this. We'd made mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, and deviled eggs a million times, so that was no problem, but pretty much everything else was a first. My dad is the ultimate turkey expert, so I called him and made him tell me everything there is to know about cooking turkey. I took notes on an envelope. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

"How many people are you serving? 8? You'll probably need at least a 12-pound turkey so you have leftovers." (This was WAAAAAY too much turkey. I really probably only needed 8-9 pounds, but I think we ate most of it... eventually.)
"Defrost the turkey." (I just bought a non-frozen one. Check.)
"I don't really know what the recommended cooking temperature and time are off hand. Just look them up online. There are charts." (Note: These charts are all for conventional turkeys...which will come into play as the story progresses...)
"Find a stuffing recipe you like. Try to find a really moist stuffing so your turkey will be moist too. I really like stuffing so I stuff as much stuffing into every nook and cranny of the bird. Once the bottom gets full, I'll shove some in the neck cavity too. Toothpicks are really good for holding everything in. I usually still have more stuffing leftover, so I'll wrap it up in foil and cook it next to the turkey." (Yeah, my dad really is obsessed with stuffing. I never really cared for it and was really only making it for the sake of a moist bird. The side pouch is a good way to set stuffing aside for your vegetarian friends and family, too!)
"Put your turkey in a foil pan or a roasting pan if you have one, but the foil pan will work. Then pour milk all over it. Pour until you've got between 1/2 and 1 inch pooled at the bottom of the pan. Then take a stick of butter and rub it all over the turkey. Like, the whole stick. Then put it in the oven and every 15-20 minutes rub more butter on it. Just use one of those pop-up timers so you'll know when it's done." (The butter and milk sounds pretty ridiculous, but it is amazing. My dad makes the best turkey ever, so this is solid gold advice right here.)

So then I asked my dad about making gravy:
"I'm not really that great at making gravy. It usually tastes good, but it always looks bad. It's probably because the turkey juice is so buttery. So I'd recommend trying to skim off as much grease as possible before starting. But stir the turkey juice in a sauce pan on low heat and slowly add in flour and water until it looks like gravy. If it's too thin, add more flour. If it's too thick, add more water. If you need more gravy, you can just water it down some more and then add more flour to thicken it back up."

So there you have it. My dad's uncanny turkey wisdom. Next I had to figure out about stuffing. As I mentioned more subtly earlier, I hate stuffing. Savory stuffing tastes like over-parsley-ed soggy bread, and I have a strong aversion to sweet stuffing (my dad's preferred choice) because I just can't accept mixing sweetness and meat juice together. It just doesn't seem right. So I perused my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and found a recipe for Mediterranean Stuffing (p.481):

8 cups Italian bread cubes
3/4 cup chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon rosemary
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup parsley (I think I toned this down a bit though)
1 to 1 1/4 cup chicken broth

1. Place bread cubes in single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes or until golden, stirring once, set aside.
2. Cook bell pepper, onion, and garlic in hot oil for about 4 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, rosemary, and cayenne pepper. Toss bread cubes, onion mixture, and parsley in a large bowl. Drizzle with enough broth to moisten.

Better Homes and Gardens also hooked me up with an amazingly easy recipe for cranberry sauce (p. 522):

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 cups cranberries

Combine sugar and water in medium saucepan and bring to a boil for 5 minutes to dissolve sugar. Add cranberries. Return to boiling, then reduce heat. Boil gently and uncovered until cranberries pop, stirring occasionally.

I had recently bought some persimmons from the farmer's market and wasn't sure what to do with them until I found the recipe for persimmon bread pudding on the Whole Foods website.

For the pumpkin pie, I wanted to use real pumpkin instead of the canned pumpkin, so I compared notes between my mom and Better Homes and Gardens, and used this recipe:

1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
4-5 tablespoons cold water

1. Mix flour and salt in medium bowl and add butter and mash in until butter is in pea-sized pieces.
2. Sprinkle water over mixture and blend. Repeat until dough is moistened. Form into a ball.
3. Roll out dough until about 12 inches wide. Place in pie pan and trim edges.

2 cups puréed pumpkin (Cut up pumpkin and roast for about an hour. Peel and purée.)
1/2 cup sugar
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 heaping teaspoon ginger
1/4 heaping teaspoon nutmeg
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cloves
2 eggs
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine pumpkin, sugar, and spices. Add eggs, beat lightly with a fork until combined. Gradually add cream, stir until just combined.
2. Place pie pan and crust on oven rack and carefully pour filling into pastry shell. Cover edge of pie with foil to prevent over browning. Bake 25 minutes, remove foil and bake another 25 minutes until it passes the toothpick test.

Then the big day came. We had most of the ingredients on hand, but we had to buy a few things that day. We inevitably made three trips to the grocery store when it was all said and done, but oh well. We started off with prepping the turkey and the stuffing:

Our beautiful turkey friend, "Hank", named after his cousin on New Girl

Thanks to my crafty chicken de-boning skills, I easily pulled this right out. I'm pretty sure it's Hank's man parts, but Arlond tried to convince me that it was his neck. Either way, I'm not ashamed to admit that I played with it for like 10 minutes before Arlond made me throw it away.
Everything started off really well and was going smoothly. And then Hank had a little surprise for us about an hour before he was supposed to be done...

Arlond: "Uh... Hank's done."
Me: "What do you mean, he's done?! He's got like another hour!"
Arlond: "No. the pop-up popped up. I checked with the meat thermometer and he's done."

This is when things started to get crazy.

Between the two of us, we had just started the deviled eggs, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, and bread pudding. And now the turkey needed to be carved and gravy needed to be made. So the bread pudding and sweet potato casserole got finished up first so we could throw them both in the oven. Then we had to get the deviled eggs done so they were out of the way because they were EVERYWHERE. Arlond continued to work on his little mashed potato project by himself and the cranberry sauce was pretty self-sufficient and only needed an occasional stir-up from me. Meanwhile I'm praying someone will show up early and save us from this nightmare (PS: No one did). And Hank pretty much got the shaft after he got done early.

Why did he get done so early you ask? Here is my theory: As I mentioned previously, Hank was an organic free-range turkey. Conventional turkeys are actually grossly mis-proportioned because they are systematically bred to have the biggest breasts possible (everyone's favorite part... except me). Their breasts are so big they can't even stand up or walk. Turkey production is so messed up that almost no one raises turkeys that are reproduced the old-fashioned way. Instead, humans have to artificially inseminate the lady turkeys. (For more information, check out this article, or read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle). This sounds pretty awful and I wanted Hank to have a happy and full life. So as a result, his breasts were significantly smaller than a conventional turkey's breasts and so the section of the turkey that typically takes longest to cook because it's so big didn't take as long for Hank.

So about 45 minutes later when everything else was finally under wraps, Hank sat patiently waiting for more attention. We stuck him back in the oven for 15 minutes or so to warm him back up, and I think this ultimately led to his slight drying out. He wasn't dry dry, but he wasn't as juicy and tender as my dad's turkeys. A work in progress and not too bad for a first attempt, if I do say so myself.

After we took Hank back out of the oven, I drained the leftover turkey juice into the sauce pan and started adding flour. I was going very slowly and patiently, adding flour little by little. Once it got nice and thick, I added some water. This is about when I realized I should've been alternating flour and water, because it started getting even thicker. So I basically had a brown paste with a mild gravy flavor. Once I got it back to an appropriate consistency, I salted the bejeezus out of it and called it good. Not the best gravy ever, but passable. And again, now I know for next time.

Looks like gravy to me

Then after everyone showed up, we had a lovely meal:
My excellent carving job (I had no idea what I was doing)

 Deviled Eggs, Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, and Sweet Potato Casserole

Persimmon and Chocolate Bread Pudding

Made-from-scratch Pumpkin Pie 
So in the end, it wasn't perfect, but it was delicious and rewarding. Everyone enjoyed everything and had a good time hanging out. It was definitely a learning experience, and I'm excited for my next big holiday so I can show off my mad skillz (Easter, anyone?).

Comeback Kid

So I fell off the blog-wagon. But I'm making a comeback. Starting now. Because I have pink eye and would rather relax and do something fun than be productive.

So anyway, since I am feeling like garbage, I thought a little soup might cheer me up. I bought a bunch of vegetables the other day and needed to get rid of them, so soup sounded like a good answer. I didn't really have a good recipe to follow, so I just sort of made one up:


Olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/4 red onion
1 bell pepper (I used yellow, but any will probably do)
1 Roma tomato
1 cup vegetable broth
1/3 cup Ditalini noodles (or bowtie or penne or whatever)
Sea salt

Sauté minced garlic clove in a small saucepan with olive oil over medium heat. Dice onion, bell pepper, and tomato and add to sauce pan. Once the tomato gets all soft and mushy, add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Add dry noodles and cook until done. Add parsley, sea salt, and pepper to taste.

And you end up with this. Sweet deliciousness.

This recipe made about two servings, but I'm probably gonna go back for that second serving right about now because it was all kinds of yummy and made me feel a little better on this dreary sick day.