Monday, October 21, 2013

Tomato Soup

Captain's Log

Behold: Last culinary venture in our old apartment

Hi Everyone! It's been a couple of weeks, and I apologize for that. We just moved, as I may have mentioned, and we have pesky jobs, and, well... here's another recipe that I love! I made it in the old apartment. A couple of weeks ago. We're full-time in the new place now. Next post should have awesome lighting, yay!

I first made this tomato soup for a group of our friends while vacationing in the Poconos. We had it with grilled cheese, as one generally must do when eating tomato soup. I started with this recipe from Emeril Lagasse and I've since tinkered and changed it so it better suits my needs. (I do NOT make the grilled cheese from Emeril's recipe. Not for any particular reason. I'm a GC traditionalist myself... all I need is bread, butter, cheddar, and maybe a clove of garlic to rub over the toasty bread edges at the end.)

Here's Emeril's recipe unedited, from the Food Network:

  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 3 oz prosciutto, chopped
  • 3/4 c onion, chopped
  • 1/2 c celery, chopped
  • 1/2 c carrot, chopped
  • 3/4 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 c tomato paste
  • 2 T flour
  • 2 c peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes
  • 3 c vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1/3 c heavy cream
  • salt/pepper
The recipe also involves apple cider vinegar and sugar, cooked together until it's a light caramel and then stirred into the soup at the end as a sweet/tart balancer. I don't do this. It confuses me.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Blackberry Peach Shrub

Captain's Log

The Girlcat

aka the "hers" cocktail from our wedding

Here it is! Here's how the sausage was made! See my earlier post on shrubs for a full explanation of what we're working with.

We bought three (or four?) boxes of blackberries from Pike Place Market. One box is about six pints. But we only got one such box at a time since the process was a mess and labor-intensive. We wanted to work with the freshest fruit possible. So we would buy one palate of berries, process it, wait a week or two, then buy another.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Ice Cream Sandwiches

Captain's Log

Just Trying Something

also we got married seven days ago

So, I haven't been cooking much lately. Or rather, I haven't been cooking in the same sort of careful, photo-documenting way that drove so much of this blog earlier in the year. But! Good news! I made ice cream sandwiches a month or two ago (...) and I took pictures of it. So here we go!

This recipe is one of several that gets me thinking about Dutch-processed cocoa versus regular cocoa. You know how the Dutch stuff pops up every now and then? How Oreos are a darker brown than other chocolate cookies? Dutch-process cocoa has a reputation for being "better" and having a truer chocolate flavor, or something. I think technically it's just cocoa that has been treated with alkali and that the pH has been affected by the process... something something baking powder not baking soda, or vice versa, for effective leavening. (Better internet explanation here.) I don't ever see it in grocery stores, though, so maybe it's just not a "common people" sort of ingredient? Anyway. I spotted a carton of a Dutch/regular cocoa blend at the store and thought I'd give it a try. Photo here:
Dutch process is on the left. Surprising difference, no?
I got the ice cream sandwich cookie recipe from Smitten Kitchen, as I do so many others. Here it is, for your convenience:

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Beef Bourguignon

Captain's Log

More Slow-Cooker Adventures

Continuing my interest in using my new cookbook, this past week I decided to make Beef Bourgignon. AKA Beef Burgundy, AKA "beef stuff with wine." It sounds very fancy, but don't let the French fool you: this is a peasant-style meal, intended to use the cheapest and toughest cuts of meat in the most delicious way possible. Basically wine-y pot roast. I checked my new book for a recipe, and I found four.
The fourth is on the previous page, for you fact-checkers out there.
I cobbled these recipes together to create my own. This, for the record, is essentially what I always do when I cook... I just more typically use the internet rather than a physical book.

Here's what I used:
  • Five slices reduced-sodium bacon
  • One package stew beef (1-1.5lbs)
  • 2-3 T tomato paste
  • 1 yellow onion
  • two heaping spoonfuls of flour
  • 1 T beef Better Than Bouillon + 1 cup water (more on this later)
  • 1 cup Côtes du Rhône red wine (more on this later)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 spring rosemary
  • few dashes of dried oregano
  • 2-3 peeled and crushed cloves of garlic
  • salt/pepper to taste
  • 2-5 carrots
  • 2/3c frozen pearl onions
  • 1-2 potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces (or those adorable tiny red potatoes..)
  • crusty bread
This made three hearty servings. I think it could be comfortably feed 4, but you might want to serve a salad or something too to be sure. Alternatively, you could do what I intend to do next time, which is: get a second pack of beef, add more veggies and a whole bottle of wine, and enjoy leftovers for a few days.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Slow-Cooker Chicken Cacciatore

Captain's Log

Long time no see!

Memories of a Bridal Shower edition

My bridal shower was about (/exactly) ten days ago and I have to say: I was so honored to have so many amazing women present. Showers are such a strange thing, in a lot of ways... I can't help but wonder "What did I do to deserve all this praise and attention beyond saying yes to an incredible man?". Alas, as I sort my way through the wedding process, I am learning and appreciating the role that weddings and wedding-related events have in uniting families, in solidifying old (and new) relationships, and in expressing support for what we certainly feel is a strong and happy match just bursting with potential. 

It's awesome (awe-some) to look around a room and imagine a similar lineup at Christmases and Thanksgivings and Birthdays and Reunions to come in five, ten, twenty years from now. So much love!

Which brings me back around to the blog: It turns out most of the shower attendees are readers of OBC (Okra's Book Club) and I can't wait to continually express my gratitude to them by using the gifts I was given for new posts. I am pretty sure I am not supposed to be using any wedding-related gifts before the wedding, so today's post will circle around a gift and only partially use a different one. The recipe? Slow-cooker Chicken Cacciatore, as adapted from Fix-It and Forget-It Big Cookbook: 1400 Best Slow Cooker Recipes, by Phyllis Pellman Good. This mammajamma was a gift. I was also given a new slow-cooker, but that one will have to wait until after the wedding.

Here's the recipe, as printed in the book:

Low-Fat Chicken Cacciatore
  • 2lbs uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1/2lb fresh mushrooms
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 12oz can low-sodium chopped tomatoes
  • 6-oz can low-sodium tomato paste
  • 12-oz can low-sodium tomato sauce
  • 1/2tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2tsp dried basil
  • 1/2tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2tsp salt
  • 1/2tsp black pepper
And here are the directions, as printed in the book:
1. Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker.
2. Cover. Cook on low 8 hours.
3. Serve over rice or whole wheat pasta. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Chicken Strips with Balsamic Dipping Sauce

Captain's Log

First, the excuses

I cannot BELIEVE I used to cook homemade meals, like those displayed on this blog, 3-4 times a week! My job has me on my feet all day, lifting, carrying, standing, walking, and the idea of chopping vegetables and browning meats just makes me tired. I used to enjoy it maybe 2-3 times a week when I had an office job, but I feel another level of physical exhaustion these days that just makes cooking feel like a burden. My schedule is also arranged in such a way that I never have two consecutive days off. This is because of a choice I made (more hours, more money!) but it's really made those involved, delicious meals a rarity. I do still cook, and my fellow helps quite a bit. It's just more of the heat-and-eat variety, or the classic our-kitchen-is-kind-of-a-mess-so-I-can't-take-good-blog-pictures-right-now. 

And now food

I got this recipe originally from (guess where?) The Food Network, and I've since adapted it some to suit my needs. The original recipe, for example, involves marinating the chicken. I don't do this. I also don't use the same vinegar/oil proportions recommended for the dipping sauce. These chicken strips, plus mac n cheese, is one if my love's favorite dinners. Here's what you need:
  • a package of chicken tenderloins (or sliced chicken breast)
  • 1-2 eggs
  • maybe 1 cup flour
  • maybe 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan or grated other hard cheese, like asiago
  • oil for drizzling
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • salt/pepper
  • a few tablespoons olive oil

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Maple Glazed Salmon

Captain's Log

What's that, you say? Lenore, you promised to keep blogging even after you got a job? You see, I've already written about most of my "greatest hits," so I'm having to dig a little deeper for blogworthy recipes. And it's harder to "dig deep" and "cook creatively" when all I want to do is prop my feet up and eat takeout. Clearly, blogging from here onward will be more of a process. But my commitment remains.

Back to business!

I first started making maple-y salmon many years ago and I am constantly changing the recipe/method. Here I will document what I did most recently, and then if I try it again in the next few months I'll post a "here's what was different" write-up. You know, for educational purposes.

When we moved to the Pacific Northwest, I was hoping to have better access to affordable Pacific salmon. I've been partial to wild Pacific salmon for a while, anyway, and I thought living closer to the point of origin would cut some costs. Unfortunately, the market is the market, and wild Pacific salmon is still pretty expensive out here. But it is definitely fresher than what I would get in the east! Anyway, I saw it on sale for $9.99/lb this week and we decided to give it a go.

I started with one pound of Sockeye fillet:
Lovely, deep, natural pink

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Caramel Chocolate Crackers

Captain's Log

Father's Day Edition: Part Two

Like the Lime Meltaway Cookies, these, too, are lifted from Smitten Kitchen. These are amazingly amazing. I cannot recommend them enough. And they were very easy to make! Unlike other toffee recipes I've tried, these don't require a candy thermometer. This is a huge win in terms of difficulty and time. Even Miss Deen's recipe involves temperatures and precise timing. When you get down to it, I think the big question when it comes to toffee and thermometers is the texture of the final, crystallized product. Is a little crumbly and very crunchy acceptable? Do you prefer a glassy "snap", like in a Skor bar? If the former sounds okay, this is the recipe for you.

I followed the SK recipe pretty closely, so, again, very little creativity here on my part!
  • one sleeve Saltine crackers, I used the ones with unsalted tops. Broken matzo is also a good choice.
  • 2 sticks (one cup, 8oz) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups choc chips.. semisweet or bittersweet
  • toasted nuts of your choice. I used maybe 1/4 c sliced almonds
I started with toasting the nuts and setting them aside. Then preheated the oven to 350° and I lined a large cookie sheet with foil, then parchment paper. I arranged the crackers in the pan, breaking them as needed to fill the space.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Lime Meltaway Cookies

Captain's Log

Father's Day Edition: Part One

Also this is a "stolen" recipe

For those of you not keeping track, I've now made and shipped chocolate cake, divinity, and turtles to people I love. And all within the last two months! I was starting to run out of ideas for shipping-friendly homemade goods. Yes, yes, of course I could make regular cookies, but.. cookies of the regular variety kind of bore me as a chef. Er, home cook.

That said, I know my mom has been making key lime pie for a few years now and that she and my dad have really enjoyed it. This foray into zippy citrus is definitely noteworthy because I come from a chocolate and/or nuts sorta family. So, maybe I should tap into that lil wellspring, eh?

I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen for Key Lime Meltaways and I thought I'd give it a go for Father's Day (Part One). SK is absolutely correct: These are pretty tasty, and it's neat how they have a "melting" crumble texture, presumably from the addition of cornstarch to the dough. They're a good alternative to shortbread or other more traditional cookies. And the recipe is super easy. Also, it should be noted that I only changed the recipe in the sense that I used regular limes instead of key limes. Sooo you'd pretty much get the same info from the official SK write-up, minus my glowing personality of course.

Here's the recipe, from Smitten Kitchen:
  • 1.5 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, divided (1/3 cup and 2/3 cup)
  • zest of 1.5 limes (I used regular limes. If you use key limes, SK says 4 tiny or 2 large)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
I whizzed around the butter and 1/3 cup of the sugar:
And then I added the zest, vanilla, and lime juice:
This is just a tsp of vanilla because I misread the recipe.
I added the rest of it a bit later, when I realized my mistake.
Then I mixed this together, and concluded I definitely could have/should have just done this by hand (because it's so simple).
I mixed together the cornstarch, flour, and salt in a separate bowl, then I slowly added that to the butter mixture to make the dough.
Then I divided the dough in two and, one half at a time, I rolled it into pretty narrow logs on some parchment paper.
I was shooting for an approximate 1" diameter
This part was a little tricky because my hands are usually warm and, of course, heat makes the dough super sticky. I had to use the parchment as a barrier so I could "make a snake." Anyway, with some effort, it worked out. I let this chill in the fridge for at least an hour, and then I sliced it into thin coins. I'm saving the other dough snake in our freezer for when company visits (Hi Missy!), so what you see from here onward is just one of them.
They spread a little when they bake, but not much.
pro tip: use the parchment from the dough snake to cover your cookie sheet
And then I baked them at 350° for 13-14 mins...
I let them cool for a couple of minus, then I tossed them in a freezer bag with the remaining powdered sugar.
......... perhaps I should have been a little gentler.

Still: they tasted pretty good! And most of the cookies did NOT break, and those were the ones that went to my loving father in Virginia.

Stay tuned for Part Two. It's a killer.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fruit Shrub: Strawberry and Blueberry

Captain's Log

Don't worry I will explain all of this

I've been experimenting with shrubs for a little while, and I thought it might be fun to share those ventures. It all started, for me, in a restaurant: I saw that a concord grape "drinking vinegar" soda was available. I ordered it, and it blew my mind how refreshing it was. Sure, it was a little sour, but only in the sense that it woke me up. It was sweet and fruity and fizzy.. perfect for a hot hot day. This was in December, mind you, but I have a pretty solid imagination.

Quick definitions: A "shrub" is a drink, usually made from fruit, flavored with sugar and vinegar. It's a very old style of drink, harkening back to days without refrigeration, when pickling foods allowed people to enjoy seasonal produce year round. Shrubs can involve just fruit (like blackberries), or the addition of herbs (rosemary?), or roots (ginger). One can also play with the type of vinegar, as some are gentler/sweeter/fruitier than others. There are infinite combinations!

I've been following these directions, using the cold method. I took two cups total of cut strawberries and blueberries...
and added two cups of sugar...
it fits!
I mushed the blueberries so they'd pop, and I stirred everything around until I felt all the fruit had access to sugar. I also added two cloves and some lemon and orange peels for more flavor.
Then I let it sit in the refrigerator. I tasted a strawberry after the first day and was surprised at how strong the citrus flavor was, so I picked out the lemon and orange peels and discarded them to prevent over-saturation. Here's the fruit after two whole days. Look at all that sugary juice!
Next I strained the fruit using some cheesecloth that my prescient soon-to-be mother-in-law gave me for Christmas. Thanks!
Sorry for the terrible shot, but this was a pretty sticky operation. Haaaaa...  Anyway after two rounds of straining (the blueberry seeds were a pill), I moved everything to a larger bowl:
..and I scraped in that undissolved sugar
And then I added two cups of apple cider vinegar. The result? A super tangy, sweet, fruity syrup. I'm letting this sit in the fridge for a few weeks so all the flavors can get to know each other and mellow out.

A month or so ago I did this with just white vinegar and strawberries...
Left: strawberries and white vinegar.
Right: strawberries, blueberries, clove, lemon peel, orange peel, and apple cider vinegar.
Look at the color difference! Isn't it neat?

In terms of actual use, for the plain strawberry shrub, I mixed it with Wild Turkey, soda water, and ice, and it was completely amazing. I'll do the same with the strawberry/blueberry shrub for a one-to-one comparison. I bet the apple cider vinegar will be a little tastier.

Aaand here's a photo of the strawberry/blueberry shrub, diluted with soda water:
super refreshing
At the time this photo was taken, the shrub had aged maybe two weeks. It's definitely drinkable just like this, but it still has a little vinegary burn to it.

Here's a shot of the diluted shrub next to the pure syrup, for color comparisons.

I'd like to try this with blackberries and raspberries, maybe with a touch of cinnamon or ginger. And peaches when they're in season!

But I would love to hear ideas from my readers... Any suggestions? What sounds tasty and refreshing to you?

Oh, and all that leftover sugary fruit? 
Delicious on ice cream, yogurt, or cereal.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

BBQ Pulled Pork

Captain's Log

Delicious Summer Foods Edition

Pulled pork is one of my favorite foods. There, I said it. I nearly always order it when I go to BBQ restaurants, and the version out here has been bothering me because it is so, so cumin-heavy. Maybe this is a Western US thing, since we are closer to the Southwest and/or Tex Mex regions? Anyway, I suppose some things we just have to do ourselves!

A few notes on technique: I cook this in my slow cooker. I know this next statement is controversial, but I don't brown the meat before braising it. I know. Shocking! It just makes a sputtering stovetop mess, and I find the results are completely delicious even without this step. If I were cooking for a food critic, or the Queen of England, I might brown it first so I could lay claim to the "nutty dark complexity" that such a step can provide, but, you know. It's just us. I also know a lot of die-hards in the South will insist you must smoke the pork. This is probably true. However I live in a 600 sq. ft. apartment in a city, and it's just not something I do. Yet? Smoked paprika or liquid smoke are acceptable replacements for me, for now.

I start with a pork roast. The most delicious pulled pork comes from the shoulder ("Boston Butt") because it's dark meat with a lot of marbling. You can make passable pulled pork from other, less fatty cuts, but it'll be a lot leaner and thus less silky and tender. You also risk having "dry" meat, which can be fixed by adding more sauce to compensate, but.. considering how much sugar is in BBQ sauce, you might be better off starting with the fattier meat? Just saying. Lean white meat BBQ, for me, fails to scratch the itch. Once more, I do try to find a roast with a bone in it since that will help with both flavor and texture.

Here's what I got:
Dark red meat, bone running through the middle. I cut off most of the thick fat layer running along the bottom side, barely visible here.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Pretzel Rolls

Captain's Log

Lest you think I'm cooking only sweet things

When 30 Rock went off the air, we had a farewell party. I made some of the foods Liz Lemon was always talking about, and we ate them in her honor. We had ham, we had cheese (in the form of this... HIGHLY RECOMMENDED), and, well, while I'm at it you all should just watch this. We did have vegetables, too, but that aspect of the meal does not make for interesting blog fodder.

What a lot of links! I am a millennial, you know. Technically.

Anyway! I also made us pretzel rolls to go with the ham, lifted from Smitten Kitchen. They were a bit of an ordeal, but homemade pretzels of any sort are an interesting novelty and so I thought I'd try them again for the blog.

Here's the recipe, adapted to suit my needs:

  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • one envelope regular yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup plus two tablespoons warm water (more on this later)
  • 8 cups water
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • one egg white
  • course salt

And that's it! Easy, right? .......

First I put the salt, sugar, and yeast in a bowl.
That's Florida Cane Sugar, hence the golden hue
Then I added the flour and mixed.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ina's Brownie Pudding

Captain's Log

100% Stolen Recipe Edition

I've been making brownie pudding for a few years and I can tell you it's pretty much the best dessert on the planet. It's very simple to make and the result is just like an underbaked brownie---fudgy, dark, gooey in all the right places... but it's safe to eat! In a way this behooves chocolate lovers on a diet: It's so rich, even the smallest serving can satisfy a craving. And it's almost flourless.

I started making this about four years ago (!) when we lived near the Huntington metro station in Northern Virginia. Once I even made a double batch for a picnic party hosted by my co-workers at the time. That's right, my co-workers from Restau. Eve, one of the top eateries in the nation. They loved it and devoured every sporkful. I haven't made it in a year or so, for dietary (read: caloric) reasons, but I've been making and giving away so many goodies lately and it was starting to break my heart a little. Save me, brownie pudding!

The recipe comes from Ina Garten and the Food Network... while I do make a few adjustments to the recipe, I am mostly faithful to the original.

Here's the recipe as I make it:

  • Two sticks unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • Four eggs, ideally room temp
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (Original says 2 cups. I could probably go as low as 1 or 1 1/4.)
  • 1 tsp vanilla (Ina says to use a vanilla bean, which I'm sure would be tastier, but, you know.. dollar bills y'all)
  • pinch salt
  • splash of additional flavor: peppermint extract, Framboise liqueur, espresso powder, orange zest, Frangelico.. all excellent. **And all are optional.**
  • 3/4 c cocoa powder
  • 1/2 c flour
  • Vanilla ice cream/fro-yo, for serving. Whipped cream would also be good. Also mascarpone. Also perhaps even a lightly sweetened yogurt, for the EuroSophisticated?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Chocolate-Sour Cream Bundt Cake

Captain's Log

Birthday Edition

My parents gave me a new bundt pan (Nordic Ware, Williams-Sonoma) for Christmas, and it is unbelievably beautiful.
Look at those sparkles!
I keep it inside its original box, tipped upright in the cupboard over our refrigerator. This is what I see every time I open that cabinet:
...which looks delicious and amazing until you flip the box and look at the recipe:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

BBQ Roasted Pork Tenderloin

Captain's Log

Whoo boy! I tell you what! I have put in eight hours for the new job (training and orientation........ split between two non-consecutive days) and I am whupped! Also wedding planning. And I'm getting up at 6am these days in order to reset my sleep cycle for once the job starts full time. Maybe this has something to do with my exhaustion? You see, I'll have a 6:30am start time every day starting June 1, and I care deeply about my 9-10 hours. I'm trying to stay ahead of the curve. I am one of those people who needs a lot of sleep. If you couldn't tell.

Anyway, I might be a little more glib than usual in this post because I'm hurtin for couch time! 

I started with the basic slew of pantry ingredients that I like to use for BBQ pulled pork:
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Ketchup
  • Tomato paste
  • Brown sugar
  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • Cayenne
  • Hot sauce of some sort
  • Something smoky (either liquid smoke or smoked paprika)
  • Soy sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Cocoa powder
  • Mustard of some sort
  • Black pepper
  • 1-3 cloves fresh garlic, sliced or grated or smashed or whatever. I'm sure garlic powder would be fine too.
I literally raked items off the counter in order to take this picture.
Forgot these in the original photo shoot.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Balsamic Chicken with Mozzarella

Captain's Log

I'm still figuring out this "header" business

Can you tell?

Another chicken dish I like to make for us is balsamic marinated chicken which I top with mozzarella and then broil for added deliciousness. It is similar to the zesty chicken thighs but it has a few key flavor changes, boneless and skinless chicken, and more cheese.

I start with whole chicken breasts and I cut them up according to my whim. Strips are a good choice, as are "nuggets," or even pounding them into thin cutlets. I cut them extra small this time around because I didn't have much time for marinating, and I knew the marinade would work its magic faster on smaller pieces. 

Then I prepared the marinade right in the pan I planned to use for cooking the chicken. Ingredients for the marinade are:
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Garlic
  • Shallot
  • Rosemary
  • Dried oregano
  • Salt/pepper
  • olive oil
  • dash worcestershire and/or soy sauce
This is not a comprehensive visual aide

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mother's Day Edition Part Two: Just the Turtles

Before I dive in, here's an explanatory photo which explains the lighting issues with my food shots:
As you can see, our kitchen area has super bright, super directional spotlights. This makes it very difficult to take good food pictures! And it makes the rest of the apartment feel darker because, you know, the light is so concentrated to specific areas. We have floor lamps which do provide some relief.

Moving on!

Turtles, as we all know, are candies made from pecans, chewy caramel, and chocolate. The pecans are usually arranged in an overlapping asterisk sort of pattern, the caramel is spooned overtop, then chocolate coats the whole shebang. The resulting shape resembles a turtle (smooth back, small pecan/caramel "feet" around the edges). We chose to make smaller turtles because they're such dense treats. Honestly, I think turtles made with 4-5 pecans (as is standard) are sort of a meal on their own. I also like the idea of making a lot of small turtles rather than a few large ones. Easier for sharing, yes?

We worked off Emeril Lagasse's recipe from the Food Network, reprinted below:

4 tablespoons butter
3/4 pound (3.5 cups) halved pecans, toasted
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped. (A bar, rather than chips, is best.)

I like to prepare the work station before I get going with the business of cooking sugar. Our first step was toasting pecans and then arranging them on our chosen surfaces. You can use cookie sheets covered in parchment.. that would probably be best. I chose to experiment with muffin tins this go-round, but in retrospect this didn't have much of an effect either way.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Edition: Divinity and Turtles

I find that as I get older, it's harder and harder to find gifts for adult loved ones because they already have most everything (meaning: every   thing) they need. My solution tends to be (you guessed it!) homemade edibles. There's just more heart in something that I prepared myself, particularly something that was complex or time-consuming. The love is in the effort.

For this year, Edwin and I distributed homemade divinity candy and chocolate turtles. We also gave some of the candies to my cousin, who recently sold my late grandfather's car after a year (!) of straightening out issues with the car title and searching for a buyer in the not-so-seller's-market of North-Central Louisiana. Thanks, Scott!
Spotted: nekkid caramel for the chefs
My paternal grandparents, from Louisiana, used to make divinity and give it out as gifts.. maybe around holiday time? I remember they would cut it into bars, and it was amazing. We tried to make it a few times at our house growing up, but it's such a mess that it never gained much traction in terms of tradition. 

In adulthood, I have experimented with divinity a few times and I have learned one very important lesson: it simply cannot be done without a stand mixer. You see, divinity is a candy made by whipping egg whites and pouring a sugar syrup over the whites as they're beaten. The idea is that the sugar syrup combines with the whites and then crystallizes while it is being whipped so the tiny air pockets become "permanent." The finished candy should be fluffy, solid, and melt-in-your-mouth. If your whipping mechanism (a whisk? hand beaters?) can't work a very thick, glue-y substance on high speed for ten minutes or longer, the finished product will be, well, glue! I learn from experience. And don't get me wrong, the marshmallowy glue tastes amazing, particularly on ice cream, graham crackers, or a spoon. It just doesn't travel very well, and doesn't quite meet the parameters of divinity.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Zesty Baked Chicken Thighs

For while we all are adjusting to the new layout

An easy one for today, everyone! I have been doing more interesting cooking, but I can't post about it for another week or so for TOP SECRET REASONS. 

Back to business. While the word "zesty" kind of bothers me, like it's been co-opted by the salad dressing industry, I can't think of a better term for this recipe. In terms of ingredients and method it's quite simple and unremarkable: Herby marinated chicken thighs, roasted in the oven (or toaster oven, if you're like me and live somewhere that is temperate enough for cooler-blooded folks to believe air conditioning isn't necessary). But, I gotta tell ya, this is one of our favorite dinners.

Start by putting garlic, herbs of your choice (I use thyme, rosemary, dried oregano), and lemon zest in your preferred baking dish. 

Quick aside: The rosemary I use came from our mini "Christmas tree" from December. We got it from Whole Foods. It's about two feet tall, and just when I think it is completely dead, I will see two or three green sprigs growing from the top. The other 90% of the tree is dried up and gone and gone can be. 
I used my microplane for both the garlic and the zest. Love love.

Off Topic

New look! What do we think?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Lunch Lady Edition: Meatloaf

We all knew my "light cooking" efforts would not last very long, didn't we. Healthful living is all about portion control anyway, right? Right? And we exercise a lot. Whatever dudes food is delicious!

I'm always on the lookout for dishes I can make for us which will last several meals, be relatively inexpensive, and ideally not pasta/potato/bread-centric. Meatloaf fits that bill, though it has its own shortcomings, namely a) It's a mess to make; b) it's not exactly beautiful; c) one of the patrons at Chez Lenore is not a huge fan of ground meats. Understandably. Thankfully I've found a recipe/method which we all enjoy, so points a) through c) can be overlooked from time to time.

So here we go: Meatloaf!

I started with Ina Garten's recipe, with some adaptations. She recommends 2.5 lbs of meat and THREE onions, which just sounds crazy to me. I've downgraded to just 2 lbs (...) and I use two different types of beef to comprise the whole. That is, I get one pack of high-quality, very low-fat meat (91% lean or higher), and then I get a second pack of fattier meat (85%) since there's no denying the role fat plays in making food taste good. I also like to use fewer onions, but I add carrots for vitamin A as well as color. 

Here are the non-meat ingredients:
  • 1.5 eggs (more on this later)
  • 1/2 c plain breadcrumbs
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 3 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1.5 small/medium onions, chopped finely, but not quite minced
  • 2 t salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 1/3 c chicken broth
  • One minced garlic clove
  • 5-6 sprigs of thyme, to equal about 1 tsp chopped
  • 3 skinny carrots, chopped small. Fewer if your carrots are, you know, not skinny.
Check out Frankencarrot on the right. Who invited that guy?

Off Topic

I got a job I got a job! Inquire within for details.

Fear not, sportsfans: A gal's still gotta eat so chances are good I will continue to blog regularly.

Celebratory selfie! Girl Cat is not impressed.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Photos, Baked Cod, Beet Follow-up

The weather has been amazing. In what I interpret to be a very Western weather pattern, we've had bright, bright sunshine, but it remains chilly until noon or a little later. Then the cool gives way to the warmth and it's gaw-geous til sundown, when we get back down into the 40s and 50s. But, even at 72°, the shade feels quite cold. Maybe this is related to humidity, or lack thereof? The air is more fickle? I feel like the heat hits earlier and harder in the East. Better staying power. Regardless, it has been lovely. I hope the summer is similar.

I have more photos to share from our walks by the water---they might be a little redundant to my Easter post since we walk the same path in the same place, but it's an important stretch for us. We go there a lot! And the greenery is ever changing. 

Grassy knoll hides the city
The weaving path is punctuated by cool art installations. You'll just have to trust me on this.
Olympic Peninsula. Forks is thataway, Twilight fans. O'er the mountains.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mac and Cheese, plus a Beet-y bonus

I didn't grow up in a mac and cheese household. We had Velveeta Shells n Cheese sometimes, and, don't get me wrong, I still love that stuff. But homemade mac and cheese was never something any of us really invested time into perfecting. I didn't miss it, though---we had plenty of amazing decadent other dishes to choose from.

As an adult, though, I do have a go-to mac and cheese recipe which I make every few months for a treat. I started with Robin Miller's recipe on the Food Network. Robin's whole schtick is "Quick-Fix" home cooking for the working parent, so she creates strategies wherein, for example, you cook four chicken breasts at once, use two in a given recipe, and you save the other two for a meal later in the week. The quick-fix strategy applies to her mac and cheese in the sense that a) there's no baking, and b) everything comes together in 20 mins or less. Reasonable for a weeknight, right? 

My only caution is that, while it's a fast recipe, it takes a lot of focus. It requires three different pans going on the stove at once, and two of the three are at risk for burning/overcooking if you leave them unattended. 

Here's what you need:
(once more, please note this is adapted from Robin Miller's Mac n Cheese on
  • One box/bag of pasta of your choice. My favorite is Barilla Plus Rotini because it has protein, fiber, and the shape holds the cheese nicely.
  • One 12oz can evaporated milk. This is available in various fat percentages... I have no opinion regarding which to use.
  • 4-5 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated. I like to grate it myself. By which I mean Edwin does it.
  • 4-5 oz monterey jack cheese, grated. See above.
  • 2 T dijon mustard
  • light dusting of fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4c plain Greek yogurt OR regular yogurt OR sour cream. Greek is best. Fat percentages, again, are your call.
  • few dashes hot sauce. Don't skip this!
  • 1/2 c plain breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 c grated parmesan

This fills a 13 x 9 dish nicely. I like to half the recipe when it's just the two of us.
I'm not a professional, people.
Not pictured: yogurt

Monday, April 22, 2013

Chicken Tarragon

Growing up, my dad used to make a dish we called chicken tarragon. This meant a tomato-based chicken spaghetti with dried tarragon as a key flavor component. He'd cook the chicken in the sauce itself so the sauce ultimately had a lot of chicken flavor. I don't know that I've heard of a dish like this anywhere else.. that is, I know chicken and tarragon are often served together, but I think that is more in white wine-based dishes, or buttery French classics. Our family "Chicken Tarragon," as I know it, is quite Italian in terms of flavors, the only possible exception being the tarragon itself. Anyway, I make Chicken Tarragon, too, with a few Next Generation riffs.

I start with chicken thighs because they have great flavor and are so, so inexpensive. You want bone-in for best flavor, but the skin and fat is entirely optional. Feel free to pull/cut off any undesirables before browning it up. But, if you do this: add a little extra oil to the pan to prevent sticking. Also, if you or someone you live with happens to love crispy chicken skin... now's the time for a treat!

I salt and pepper the thighs, then brown them up in a big stock pot.
Skin-side down. Medium-high heat. 5-6 mins per side?
 Turn them a few times so all sides get some love. Once the skin looks adequately browned, I take them out of the pan and set aside. (The object isn't to cook the thighs; just trying to get some browned "fond" in the pan.) (So, again, if you're using skinless meat: totally fine! Brown them up as best you can anyway and you'll get an excellent foundation all the same.)
When they're cool enough to handle, you can pull the skins off, crisp them up a little more in a dry skillet, and give them to the aforementioned theoretical loved one who loves chicken skins. 
I also like to use this time to remove excess fat from the thighs. Otherwise it'll just melt into the sauce, and who wants greasy tomato sauce? Remember the chicken is still pretty raw inside, so be sure you wash hands, etc., as needed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Slow Cooker Beef Roast

One of my favorite kitchen appliances is my slow cooker. Mine is hand-me-down, and it dates back to the 70s. (Correct me if I'm wrong on this, commenters!) It works perfectly, despite its age. Thanks Mom and Dad!

Slow cookers allow you to transform large, inexpensive pieces of meat into amazing, succulent morsels cooked in vegetable broth. It's also great for a "one pot" meal, though I choose to use a secondary saucepan for the gravy. I love this for wintertime, obviously, but really anytime I want a meal that can be prepared in advance and which I don't have to babysit, this is the way to go. I like pork roasts, particularly in the summertime, for bbq-style pulled pork. I like beef roasts for, well.. a pot roast.

Here is my method:

I look for a roast which is at least 3lbs, ideally bone-in, and with some visible fat marbling. This time I used a chuck roast, hence all the fat.

Candy cane is optional
Then I salt and pepper the roast on all sides, generously, and rub it down with tomato paste. I like to buy big cans of tomato paste, and then I scrape the leftovers into a plastic bag and freeze it. Then I break off the frozen pieces as needed. In the picture below, you can see it's still in frozen pieces even though I'm trying my darnedest to melt it with my hands. Brrrr....
Tomato paste is often lauded for its ring cleaning capabilities. And If you were wondering, I took this picture with my eyes.*
*Lies all around. Forgot to remove my rings until it was too late; we took the picture "Demi Moore in Ghost at the pottery-wheel" style.  Minus the sexy.
Then I slice an onion and put it in my slow cooker. I add some herbs (rosemary, thyme, bay leaf), add some liquid (beef broth, red wine, splash balsamic vinegar) to almost cover the onions. Salt and pepper.
Then I add the meat and, if it feels right, I will add a little more balsamic vinegar to the top of the roast, maybe a splash of soy sauce, maybe a splash of Worcestershire. MAYBE even a sprinkle of sugar. I tried to get a photo of this step but it didn't work so well. Here's a cat picture instead:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

K's Chocolate Icing

On the day I made those stuffed chicken breasts, I also decided to make a nice dessert: cupcakes with chocolate icing.

For those of you sharing my bloodline: this is it! This is the one you've all been waiting for! It's K's Chocolate Icing, y'all!

Some background: K was my maternal grandmother. She died when I was ten. While she was still up and about, she created this wonderful cookbook which recorded all of her "greatest hits" so her children could more easily replicate the foods they grew up with. She hand-wrote the book, and then made bound copies. I think this detail is particularly special... typed words, while more legible, are so much less personal. K's cookbook is part of why I chose to start this blog. For people who love to cook for their loved ones, giving the gift of a written record can be really valuable. This blog is a starting point for such a record of my own.

That said, as with most home cooks, K worked more with her hands and her eyes than her measuring spoons. The directions aren't always precise, aren't always accurate. Sometimes the recipes take a few tries before we can nail them... it takes time to get back on K's wavelength, reading beyond the page. Still, her chocolate icing was completely amazing. To this day, "birthday cake," to me, means yellow cake with K's chocolate icing on top. These days, I make this icing all the time, now working from memory. I've made a few changes to suit my tastes: less sugar, more chocolate. My methods are also improvisational, but I think I can estimate closely enough for others to follow along!

One last bit of information before I get into the recipe: Most icings/frostings are either buttercreams or cream cheese-based. This one is different in that it uses powdered sugar, chocolate, and butter to provide structure. It has a lovely smooth mousse-like texture the day you make it. The next day, depending on how airtight your cake pan is, the icing might firm up into a fudge-like texture on the cake. I highly recommend peeling it off the cake and actually eating the icing like fudge. If your pan is really airtight, it may take a little longer to accomplish this... nothing one can't fix by "accidentally" forgetting to close the lid all the way. 

Recipe after the jump:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Blue Cheese and Bacon Stuffed Chicken

This past Sunday was a Major Cooking Day. After a few days of low-maintenance meals (Aidell's andouille, pizza out), I wanted to challenge myself a little. The pantry was looking pretty sparse, though, because we only go to the grocery store once a week and we were right at the end of the week. We had two chicken breasts and some bacon in the freezer, half a container of smoked blue cheese crumbles, and the normal pantry items like.. flour, sugar, Baker's unsweetened chocolate. I chose to try out a Claire Robinson recipe for blue cheese and bacon-stuffed chicken because her whole Food Network schtick is "five ingredients or fewer." The recipe says to make a compound butter with bacon and blue cheese, chill it, slice into medallions, and slide the butter under the chicken skin before roasting in the oven. I more or less kept to the recipe, halved, though my chicken was skinless so I butterflied each breast, stuffed them, and used toothpicks to keep it together. I also used green onion rather than chives.

Slightly overcooked bacon; floor shot
I didn't fiddle with the compound butter business as much as she recommended. That is, I still made it as directed: 
The blue cheese crumbles are smoked, hence the brownish tinge. And just two slices of bacon. We're all adults here.

Compound indeed.
But I kept it as a shmear rather than chilling it and cutting it into medallions. Though I'm sure that would be amazing for other applications.. like a dinner party. On a steak or a potato! O M G.

More after the jump...