Thursday, December 4, 2008

Hot Pretzels

Nice picture, huh? My sister Gretchen came over on Sunday and we spent hours making recipes so she could photograph the food. We thought this was a great plan because 1) she gets a new genre of photograph to add to her portfolio, 2) I get better photos to use on my blog and eventually in a family cookbook I am creating through, and 3) we got to eat some of our favorite yummy foods, like these hot pretzels. I found this recipe on and it actually tastes a lot like the kind of hot pretzels you get at the mall. It was easier to make than you might think, and the result is so delicious. (The secret is to brush them with unsalted butter.) We dipped them in nacho cheese and honey mustard.

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/8 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup bread flour
2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2 tablespoons baking soda
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt

1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast, brown sugar and salt in 1 1/2 cups warm water. Stir in flour, and knead dough on a floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, and turn to coat the surface. Cover, and let rise for one hour.

2. Combine 2 cups warm water and baking soda in an 8-inch square pan.

3. After dough has rise, cut into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a 3-foot rope, pencil thin or thinner. Twist into a pretzel shape, and dip into the baking soda solution. Place on parchment covered cookie sheets, and let rise 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Bake at 450 degrees F for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with coarse salt, garlic salt, or cinnamon sugar.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Night Chili

It's 8:15 pm on election night, and Jason and I just finished dinner and are glued to the TV for the results. I decided that tonight would be a good night to have some comfort food so I tried a new chili recipe. I love chili because there are so many different things you can do with it. I think the past three times I've made it I've used a different recipe each time. This recipe was from a library book, "What's for Dinner?" by Maryana Vollstedt.

I was really apprehensive after I added all of those spices... it smelled rather sweet and I was worried I would end up with something along the lines of Cincinnati-style chili, which I don't really like. But in the end, I LOVED this chili. The sweetness mellowed out as the chili simmered, and it tasted a lot like the chili that is served at the cafe at work, which I have always enjoyed.

I'm going to type out the recipe as it is printed in the book, but I want to note something that I think is key: after browning the beef and onion, I combined all of the ingredients (except for 1 can of kidney beans) in the crock pot and let it simmer on low for about six hours. I added the second can of beans (drained--the first can that I added with the rest of the ingredients was not drained) about 45 minutes before I wanted to serve the chili. I believe there is NO WAY you can get the wonderful flavor with only 30 total minutes of simmering, as the recipe indicates.

Another deviation from the recipe is that I could not find a 14.5 ounce can of whole tomatoes, so instead I used a can of petite diced tomatoes and then I didn't have to worry about chopping them. As you can see in the picture, I served the chili with cornbread. I used a box of Jiffy corn muffin mix.

The dinner was great. Let's hope the election results come out just as wonderfully.

1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 can (14.5 ounces) whole tomatoes including juices, chopped
1 can (16 ounces) tomato sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder, plus more to taste if desired
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cans (16 ounces each) dark red kidney beans, partially drained

Grated cheddar cheese
Plain nonfat yogurt or sour cream
Chopped green onions including some tender green tops

In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook meat with onion until meat is browned and onion is soft, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, and seasonings and mix well. Simmer, covered, 10 minutes.

Stir in beans and simmer, uncovered, until flavors are blended, about 20 minutes longer. Ladle into bowls and pass the toppings.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bow Ties with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cream

This is a recipe I printed from a few years ago, and I often come back to it. In fact I was kind of shocked I haven't blogged about it yet (...or maybe I have, but I just didn't find the post!!!). It's really easy to make but especially delicious. It's slightly spicy, slightly sweet, with a creamy pink tomato sauce.

I make a few slight alterations to the recipe below: instead of Italian-style plum tomatoes I like to use a can of diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano (this time I used Hunt's), and instead of diced onion I like to use 2 tablespoons of minced dried onion, the kind you buy in the spice section. I also leave out the parsley at the end. I like to serve it with some garlic breadsticks and a tossed salad with Italian dressing.

  • 1 (12 ounce) package bow tie pasta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed and crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28 ounce) can Italian-style plum tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

  • Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook pasta in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente; drain.
  • Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Cook sausage and pepper flakes until sausage is evenly brown. Stir in onion and garlic, and cook until onion is tender. Stir in tomatoes, cream, and salt. Simmer until mixture thickens, 8 to 10 minutes.
  • Stir cooked pasta into sauce, and heat through. Sprinkle with parsley.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Ramen noodles are one of those stereotypical "college" foods, because a package of the noodles and seasonings usually sells for something ridiculous like 5 for $1. While I didn't live on them in college like some people I knew, I had definitely tried my share of them, so I was intrigued when I came across a cookbook called "101 Things To Do with Ramen Noodles" while perusing the shelves at my local library.

So far I've tried one of the recipes, called "Spicy Chicken." It wasn't really spicy, and it wasn't that pretty (as shown in the above photo), but it did taste surprisingly good! The recipe is below. I plan on trying a few more recipes before I have to return the book. There are even dessert recipes that involve using uncooked noodles!

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with green chiles, drained
1 cup chopped green bell peppers
2 cups water
2 packages chicken ramen noodles, with seasoning packets

In a frying pan, brown chicken until done. Add garlic powder, tomatoes, peppers, water, and seasoning packets. Simmer 10 minutes. Add noodles and cook 3-5 minutes more. Makes 2-4 servings.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Jason participated in a golf outing last week and won a box of steaks. We are now the proud owners of ten Michael's 10-ounce New York Strip steaks, which currently reside in our freezer. I have never cooked a strip steak, and haven't cooked any other kind of steak for a very long time since it's one of the foods on Jason's do-not-eat list. Seriously. But now he thinks he might actually like steak, because he ate one at said golf outing and, "whatever it was they did to prepare it made it taste really good."

Does anyone have any suggestions for preparing a NY strip steak? I know how to cook one but I guess I'm looking for tips on seasonings. Please leave a comment if you do!

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I came across a recipe for "Spicy Bean Salsa" on awhile back. It averages a 5-star rating (out of 5) with over 600 reviews so I figured it must be good. I made it to take to bible study one night and it was a hit. I served it with Tostitos Scoops which worked great for holding everything (and no I didn't actually scoop out individual servings... I just did that for the picture because it was more attractive than showing the salsa in the bowl).

Here is the recipe as it is listed on The only things I did differently were to drain the black-eyed peas (since it doesn't indicate to do that), used diced green chiles since I couldn't find jalapenos, and I used "fire-roasted" diced tomatoes instead of regular. It really didn't seem very spicy to me. Next time I might try to add some tabasco, cumin or chili powder to kick it up a little.
  • 1 (15 ounce) can black-eyed peas
  • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 (4 ounce) can diced jalapeno peppers
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 cup Italian-style salad dressing
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
In a medium bowl, combine black-eyed peas, black beans, corn, onion, green bell pepper, jalapeno peppers and tomatoes. Season with Italian-style salad dressing and garlic salt; mix well. Cover, and refrigerate overnight to blend flavors.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Amazing French Toast

4 eggs
2/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
6 slices Texas toast thick bread
3 tablespoons butter
powdered sugar

1. Mix together the eggs, milk, flour, sugar, vanilla, salt & cinnamon.
2. Heat a large skillet, or griddle. When the skillet is hot, add 1 tablespoon butter. If the butter smokes, your pan is too hot; turn down the heat.
3. Dip each slice of bread into the batter for 30 seconds on each side. Let some of the batter drip off, then put in skillet.
4. Cook each slice 1 1/2-2 minutes per side until each side is golden brown.
5. Add more butter, if necessary, to cook all of the slices.
6. To serve, put on plate, dust with powdered sugar. Serve with butter & hot syrup.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Pure Sugar and new fave blog

I've always been a fan of pure sugar. For instance, as a kid I was always a huge fan of cotton candy, and I also never understood why I couldn't (well, wasn't allowed to) just open a sugar packet at a restaurant table and pour it directly into my mouth. This love of sugar has carried over into an appreciation for a more socially acceptable dessert (which is still basically pure sugar): the meringue kiss.

I made a batch last night and was reminded why I like to make them so much. They are really easy, but look impressive and have a texture like nothing else. They literally melt in your mouth.
Then I was reminded of another dessert I love to make that is really easy (albeit more time consuming than the meringue kisses) yet impressive AND basically pure sugar: homemade marshmallows. At some point in the near future I'll have to make a batch of marshmallows and blog about them. But on my lunch break I started looking online for some inspiration. "Gourmet" homemade marshmallows are popular among food bloggers because you be creative with flavors and appearances. Case in point here.

In the course of my clicking through various food blogs looking at marshmallows, I somehow stumbled across a blog called "Blake Bakes." It's written by a guy named Blake who... bakes. It's a pretty great web site, but from there I discovered what may be my new favorite food blog (and it's not even about food, really): Blake Sips. It's only been live for a few months so there is not much there, but what's there I LOVE. Blake and a guest blogger named Jason review drinks and post recipes. The recipe for Papa Gator's Margaritas sounds delicious so I might have to try that before autumn comes. And there is a beer review that my dad might enjoy reading. (Come to think of it, Dad... I should talk to you about contributing as a guest blogger on here!) And coincidentally, tomorrow (September 5) is the one-year-anniversary of my first blog entry, which was about a beverage!

So, lunch break is over and it's time for me to get back to work, but in the meantime enjoy Blake's blogs and I'll try to post more sugar-filled recipes soon. Here's the recipe for the meringue kisses:
4 egg whites, room temperature
2 teaspoons almond extract
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
Heat oven to 225 degrees. Combine egg whites, almond extract and cream of tartar in large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until soft peaks form (about 1 minute). Increase speed to high. Beat, gradually adding sugar 2 tablespoons at a time and scraping bowl often, until stiff peaks form and sugar is almost dissolved (2 to 3 minutes).
Spoon level tablespoons of meringue, 1 inch apart, onto parchment-lined cookie sheets, using a knife or spatula to remove meringue from spoon. Swirl top of meringue with knife or back of spoon. (I actually used an icing piping bag and tip to squeeze the meringue into the swirly shape.)
Bake for 1 hour. Turn off oven; let stand in oven for 1 hour.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I love dill. I love the flavor and the smell. There's something about it that evokes a feeling of freshness and comfort for me.
On Sunday I went to the Ohio State Fair with my friend Kate B. She and I are both former 4-H'ers (of the cooking and sewing variety... not farming or livestock) so I figured she would be able to appreciate it. While we were wandering the exhibition hall someone offered us a sample of cucumber dill dip. The booth was selling mixes to make dips and cakes as well as things like liniment and cough syrup. The dip we tasted was delicious, but I didn't want to shell out $9 for the jar. Instead I came home and searched online for a cucumber dill dip recipe I could make at home. I made it tonight for bible study, but forgot to take a picture until afterwards... hence the shortage of carrots and the Wheat Thin crumbs. I think the dip was a hit. It had a light, delicious flavor and went well with both the veggies and the crackers/pretzels.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup finely chopped onion (I used 1 tablespoon of dried minced onion instead)
1 teaspoon dill weed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups finely chopped seeded peeled cucumber
assorted vegetables and/or crackers
Combine the first six ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. Just before serving, stir in cucumber.
I think one of the reasons I like dill so much is that I've always loved my mom's veggie dip recipe. It has more of a kick than the cucumber-dill dip recipe above, and it's ADDICTIVE (perhaps because of the MSG??). Here's that recipe:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 ounces sour cream
1 cup Hellman's mayonnaise
2 tablespoons dried minced onion
2 tablespoons parsley flakes
2 teaspoons Lawry's seasoned salt
2 teaspoons dill weed
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Accent flavor enhancer (MSG)
5 drops Tabasco
Mix all ingredients well in a food processor. Refrigerate for a few hours to allow flavors to blend.

Monday, August 11, 2008

new car

This post has nothing to do with cooking or food, but I just had to share the exciting news that I got a new car! It's a 2008 Passat Wagon in "blue graphite" with a black interior. This is the first car I have ever picked out by myself. I actually have never had a car payment before because I have always driven a hand-me-down, and for that I am extremely grateful. But the thing about a hand-me-down is that you take what you get. It's weird (and great!) to actually figure out what you want in a car and then find the one that suits you best. In this instance I decided that what I wanted was something big enough to actually tote more than two passengers PLUS our dogs, but something that would still get decent gas mileage and be easy to drive (i.e., not an SUV). I researched about five different models, test drove three, and settled on the VW pretty easily. We are driving it to North Carolina for our vacation, so hopefully it will serve us well!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Breakfast for Dinner!

As you may have guessed from reading, a lot of the recipes I make are collected from various places, whether that be clipped from the newspaper, printed from the web, or copied from a library cookbook. I keep everything organized by putting the recipes in plastic page protector sleeves and keeping them in a 3-ring binder. The recipes are in some sort of order in the binder (I think it goes breakfast/breads, pasta, chicken/pork, appetizers/soups, veggies, Mexican, Chinese, beef, and desserts) but the sections aren't separated by tabs or anything. Often when I am looking for a recipe, I just flip through from the beginning to make sure I don't miss anything.

So one night when I was doing that while sitting next to Jason on the couch, he said, "Wait, what was that? Go back a page." A recipe for Sausage Stuffed Biscuit with Gravy had caught his eye. I said, "But that's a breakfast dish!" He reminded me that it's okay to have breakfast for dinner, and he's right; my mom makes a mean breakfast-for-dinner.

This recipe, from a Sandra Lee cookbook, was easy and DELICIOUS. Jason loved it, so much so that he told his parents about the dish a few days later! I'm glad the recipe he picked out was a hit. Hopefully this will get him more involved with meal planning in the future.

1 package (6-pack) brown-and-serve sausage patties
2-1/4 cups baking mix (Bisquick)
3/4 cup milk, plus more for brushing
6 tablespoons cheddar cheese, shredded
1 package (2.64-ounce) country gravy mix (McCormick)
1 teaspoon garlic powder (I would actually omit this... I think it makes the gravy too strong)
2 cups water

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Spray large 6-muffin tin with cooking spray.

2. In a medium skillet, brown sausage patties on both sides. Remove from skillet and reserve drippings. In a medium bowl, stir together baking mix and milk to a soft dough consistency. Divide dough into 12 equal pieces. With clean hands, flatten into disks. Line the bottom of each muffin cup with one dough disk.

3. Place a sausage patty on top of each disk and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon cheese. Top with another dough disk and press the edges together to seal. Repeat to make 6 stuffed biscuits. Brush tops of biscuits with milk and bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.

4. Meanwhile, over medium heat, add gravy mix and garlic powder to skillet with reserved drippings. Slowly whisk in water. Continue to stir until gravy thickens.

5. Remove biscuits from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm gravy over stuffed biscuits.

Parmesan Chicken and Rice

I know it doesn't look like much in the photo, but this dish (towards the back of the plate) was really delicious. It's a recipe I had been saving from Cooking Light for about four years and for some reason just now got around to making it. I started doing Weight Watchers online about three weeks ago in an attempt to lose a little weight before our upcoming beach vacation, so I really appreciate 'light' recipes nowadays. I will definitely make this again. (The other thing you see on the plate is some Parmesan-crusted baked zucchini... it didn't have as great of a flavor as I had hoped so I don't think I'll be making it again.)

I also want to mention that Jason did a lot of work on this dish while I prepared the zucchini. He's getting better and better in the kitchen. Now if only he could say the same about my learning to drive a manual transmission!

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 (8-ounce) package presliced mushrooms
3/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup uncooked instant rice
1 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, thyme, and mushrooms; saute 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Add chicken; saute 4 minutes or until the chicken is lightly browned. Add wine, salt, and pepper; cook 3 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Stir in rice and broth. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Stir in cheese and parsley.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hazelnut Cheesecake

I have a cache of dessert recipes that I am just waiting for a special occasion to make. Fortunately, my sister Rachel's birthday is this week, so I decided to bake something for her. I have a bunch of cupcake recipes I have been wanting to try from "Cupcakes: From the Cake Mix Doctor" by Anne Byrn, but wanted to make sure whatever I chose to make was something Rachel would like, so I sent her a list of flavors and asked which she liked best. This was her response:

mm chocolate and peanut butter! unless it's chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, bc i'm not crazy about chocolate cake or frosting in general... then i would say chocolate cream cheese (unless that's the same with cake =chocolate and frosting=cream cheese), or maybe cinnamon toast? definately not lemon, margarita, or key lime. pry not orange-almond either.
So at that moment I gave up on cupcakes and decided to make a cheesecake instead. =) I had a recipe for hazelnut cheesecake from Maryana Vollstedt that I had also wanted to make. I really love Maryana Vollstedt's cookbooks because they are filled with recipes that are appealing, accessible, and easy, but also unique. This recipe did not disappoint. I did end up having to buy a bottle of hazelnut liqueur, which made this an expensive endeavor, but I'm sure I can find another use for the leftover.

Graham Cracker-Hazelnut Crust
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, about 20 squares, broken up
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted

12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, cut up
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons hazelnut liqueur
2 eggs

1 cup light sour cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon hazelnut liqueur

To make crust, in food processor process crackers, nuts, and sugar until mixture is fine. With motor running, add butter through the tube. Process until mixture is blended. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate and with fingers press against the bottom and sides of plate. Refrigerate 1o minutes while making filling. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

To make filling, in food processor combine all filling ingredients. Process until well blended, about 1 minute. Scrape down filling in food processor with a spatula to aid in mixing. Turn mixture into uncooked crust. Bake until filling is set, about 30 minutes.

To make topping, in a small bowl stir together all ingredients and set aside. Remove cheesecake from oven and spread topping over. Return to oven and bake 1o minutes longer. Cool on wire rack. When cool, cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Cut into wedges for serving.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Dr. Feelgood

A few weeks ago, I went to the Columbus Arts Festival with my mom and sisters. It was an extremely sunny and hot day, and we were sweating like crazy. We decided to go in someplace to grab a drink and cool down, so we headed to the Surly Girl Saloon. Surly Girl has a great beer selection, so that's usually what I have. I'm not much into cocktails and usually don't order them because I prefer to have something less strong that I can sip more frequently. But on this occasion my mom ordered a drink called the "Dr. Feelgood" and I'm so glad she did because she let me taste it and it was fantastic. It was pretty simple: the menu said it was vanilla vodka and Diet Dr. Pepper.

I decided to try to recreate it at home, so I bought those two ingredients. I have found a combination that works for me: fill a pint glass about 2/3 full with ice cubes, pour in about 1 and 3/4 shots of vanilla vodka, fill the rest of the glass with Diet Dr. Pepper, and top it off with a maraschino cherry and a bit of cherry juice. It actually tastes even better when Jason makes it, although I haven't figured that out because he does it exactly the same as me as far as I can tell. I think my mom has tried to recreate this drink at her house as well so I'll have to find out what her recipe has been.

Raging Garlic Pork Stir-Fry

And I'm back, with another underexposed and out-of-focus photo! This was another hit recipe from the "Fix, Freeze, Feast" cookbook, which also brought us the Cajun Braised Skillet Chops. I think I love this cookbook. I was a little nervous about making this recipe, because Jason is adamant about disliking Chinese food. It isn't necessarily Chinese food per-se, but I was afraid when he heard the words stir-fry Jason would assume it was and automatically dislike it. To my pleasant surprise, he actually liked it. His comments were, "It tasted a lot better than it smelled" and "I was glad it wasn't sweet." (Apparently one of the reasons he is so opposed to Chinese food is that he really dislikes sweet meat. I, on the other hand, love it... give me some Orange Chicken or General Tso's any day!)

This recipe was designed to make 4 frozen entrees that are cooked individually later. I'll give the recipe as written, and then explain how I made a single entree immediately.

1 pork loin (about 8 pounds; do not use tied pork loin roast)
1 1/2 cups soy sauce
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
8 teaspoons minced garlic (about 24 cloves)
1 teaspoon (or to taste) crushed red pepper flakes
4 large onions, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 large green bell peppers, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 one-gallon freezer bags, labeled
12 one-quart freezer bags
On hand for cooking each entree:
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup cornstarch

1. Rinse and trim loin as desired. Cut pork into bite-size cubes; divide evenly among four of the 1-quart bags. Seal.

2. Whisk together soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar in a medium bowl. Divide the marinade evenly among four 1-quart bags. Into each bag of sauce measure 2 teaspoons garlic and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper. Seal.

3. Divide onions and bell peppers evenly among the remaining 1-quart bags. Seal.

4. Into each of the 1-gallon bags, place a bag of pork, a bag of sauce, and a bag of peppers and onions. Seal and freeze.

To cook one entree:
1. Completely thaw one entree in the refrigerator.

2. Pour off and discard any accumulated liquid from the bag of pork. Add 1/2 cup cornstarch; seal bag and shake to coat the meat.

3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and stir-fry until thoroughly cooked, about 10 minutes. Add vegetables and sauce. Stir-fry just until vegetables are tender crisp.

Making a single entree was actually really easy. Instead of getting a pork loin I used about 1 pound of boneless pork loin chops. I only needed 1 onion and 1 green bell pepper and used 1/4 of everything else (i.e., 3/8 c soy sauce, 1/8 c white wine vinegar, 1/2 T sugar, 2 t minced garlic, 1/4 t red pepper flakes). Once I mixed up the sauce and sliced the meat and veggies it was ready to go. I thought 1/2 cup of cornstarch was way too much. If I make this again I'll start with 1/4 cup, shake, and then see if I need any more.

I served the stir-fry with white rice. It was a really tasty meal and I will definitely make it again!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Southwestern-Style Torta

This recipe is one I clipped from the Columbus Dispatch awhile ago. No photos of this one, unfortunately... it just didn't come out very pretty. I had trouble slicing through the bottom layer of tortilla and then when I tried to plate the slices everything spilled everywhere. So I opted not to photograph this dish because I didn't want to turn anyone off, but please know that it's delicious! I will definitely make it again and will try to resolve the messiness next time (although I'm not sure yet how).

Southwestern-Style Torta
3 to 5 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil
7 large flour tortillas
1 pound ground sausage
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno chili, diced (optional)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup (6 ounces) grated Monterey Jack cheese
8 eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 green onions, diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-inch springform pan with aluminum foil. Brush with 1 tablespoon melted butter. Use 5 tortillas to line perimeter of pan, then use 1 tortilla in center of pan to cover bottom. Brush more butter over the tortillas.

In a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, saute sausage until browned and crumbly, about 10 minutes. Add onion, bell pepper, jalapeno (if used), chili powder, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, oregano, and cumin. Cook until onion is tender, about 10 minutes.

Spoon sausage mixture into tortilla-lined pan. Cover sausage with beans and cheese.

In the same skillet over medium heat, add remaining butter. When melted, add eggs and stir until softly cooked and still moist. Stir in remaining salt, pepper, and green onions. Spoon eggs over beans and cheese, pressing to firm layers. Place remaining tortilla over eggs and brush with remaining butter.

Bake 25 minutes. Cool 5 minutes before serving.

To unmold, loosen edges with a knife; remove pan sides. Loosen bottom, then remove pan bottom. Peel away foil. Cut into wedges and serve.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Best Chili You Will Ever Taste

The title of this post is actually the title of the recipe as it's posted on, not my assertion. I was intrigued by this chili recipe because it contains coffee and cocoa so I had been wanting to try it for quite awhile. I finally made it last weekend, and it actually was really delicious, except for one key flaw: I realize now that I really don't like sirloin in my chili. I just don't like the texture of it and prefer only ground beef instead. So I would definitely make this again but without the sirloin.

(I'm posting the recipe as it was written, but when I made it I halved it and I didn't include the chili peppers.)

2 teaspoons oil
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb lean ground beef
3/4 lb beef sirloin, cubed
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 can dark beer
1 cup strong coffee
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
1 can beef broth
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons chili sauce
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon salt
4 (15 ounce) cans kidney beans
4 chili peppers, chopped
  1. Heat oil.
  2. Cook onions, garlic and meat until brown.
  3. Add tomatoes, beer, coffee, tomato paste and beef broth.
  4. Add spices Stir in 2 cans of kidney beans and peppers.
  5. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
  6. Add 2 remaining cans of kidney beans and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Cream Cheese Squares

I have no picture to accompany this recipe, but I have to share it. This is quite possibly the easiest and most satisfying dessert ever.

This can easily be doubled and made in a 13 x 9 inch pan instead.
1 (8 oz) can crescent rolls
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons white sugar mixed with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 x 8 inch square pan. Unroll crescent rolls and press 1/2 of them into bottom of pan. In a medium bowl, mix together cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar, and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Spread over crescent roll layer. Place remaining crescent rolls on top. Pour melted butter over entire pan and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture. Bake 25-30 minutes or until top is crisp and brown. Serve warm. Can also be refrigerated once cooled.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cajun Braised Skillet Chops

The posts have been a little few and far between here lately, but last night I was inspired to blog again when Jason and I made this recipe for dinner. It was a hit with both of us. Jason usually doesn't help me in the kitchen. He often offers, but usually I've got things under control. And since he doesn't cook it's sometimes hard to figure out what to have him do. But last night he just jumped in and did about half the work on this dish. I think he felt a little sorry for me after the craziness of the past few days...

It started on Saturday, when I decided to do some yardwork. We have a very overgrown forsythia bush in our backyard that had a lot of dead branches, and I decided to thin them out. At times I was kind of crawling underneath and inside the bush, and I got scratched by branches a few times. Very early Sunday morning, I woke up because I was itching uncontrollably and was scratching myself in my sleep. My first thought was that we had bed bugs! I took some Benadryl and went back to sleep. When I woke up later I was still pretty itchy but also felt really sick to my stomach, possibly from taking the Benadryl on an empty stomach. Unfortunately it was the day of Jason's graduation from law school, and I was almost in tears because I couldn't believe I was feeling sick on such an important day. I was mostly itchy on my scalp and neck, and Jason could see that I had a little bit of a rash on my hairline. We deduced that it must be a poison ivy rash from the yardwork I had been doing the day before. I took some more Benadryl and some Pepto-Bismol and hoped I would make it through the graduation and dinner afterwards.

Everything went great with the festivities, although I eventually decided that the itchiness was the lesser of two evils, so I stopped taking Benadryl and my stomach started feeling better. But my scalp was itching like crazy. By Sunday evening, the rash was starting to appear on my neck and I was getting a few blotches on my face. Jason and I decided that if things were worse the next day I should try to see the doctor. Well on Monday morning when I woke up, things were MUCH worse. My face was completely swollen. My eyelids were puffy and my lips looked like I had gotten some really bad collagen injections. I had splotches of rash on my chest, arms, and back. I couldn't get in to see my primary care doctor, so I went to the urgent care. The doctor there told me it wasn't poison ivy but hives (and that perhaps it was still from the yardwork if I had gotten exposed to something I was allergic to). He sent me home with a prescription for Prednisone, and said that it should help clear things up pretty quickly.

As Monday went on, my hives continued to get much worse. They continued to spread, and my trunk was almost completely covered. New spots appeared every few minutes and they were bright red and swollen. Jason said, "your skin looks really angry." And the itching was out of control. I felt like my skin was burning. At the rate things were going, I was afraid to see how bad it could get. At 1:00 am I asked Jason if he could take me to the emergency room.

The ER experience was okay, except that it was a little scary (and annoying) that the doctor obviously hadn't looked at my chart before she came in to see me. Despite the fact that I had given all the details about my situation to both the triage nurse and the ER nurse, the doctor came into the room, barely looked at me, and said, "Okay, what we're doing to do is give you a prescription for Prednisone. That's a steroid and it should help clear up your hives." I said, "I started taking Prednisone earlier today after I went to the urgent care, and things have gotten MUCH WORSE since then." Her reply was something like, "Oh, I didn't know that. Hmm...."

What she ended up doing was giving me some more steroids and antihistamines through an IV. After probably 45 minutes or so the itching had stopped and some of the swelling had gone down. I laid there for a few hours while all the fluids went though. I slept for awhile but poor Jason stayed awake the whole night sitting in a chair beside me. At around 6 am on Tuesday I left with orders to continue to take the Prednisone as well as Benadryl and Pepcid (apparently to prevent stomach irritation caused by the other two drugs?). I still had the hives but things looked much better and I felt much better. We went home and slept until early afternoon, and by late Tuesday afternoon my hives had completely disappeared. It was pretty amazing to see how quickly my skin could transform. The exciting conclusion of the story is that probably nobody at work believes I had hives (I really wish I had taken a picture before I went to the hospital... not that anybody would want to see it but just because it was so wild), and I'm being referred to an allergist to try to determine what caused the hives.

Okay so hopefully that little story didn't completely turn everyone off from thinking about food, because this recipe is fantastic! :-) It's from a cookbook called Fix, Freeze, Feast by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik. The idea behind the book is to make multiple batches of a recipe at once and freeze them in portions. I love this method of cooking, but I'm always hesitant to make multiple entrees of something we haven't tried yet, in case we don't like it. This was was difficult to halve because it required opening cans of vegetables, so what we ended up doing was making all of the veggies/sauce and freezing half, but only using half of the meat. So keep in mind that the recipe is written for 2 entrees, and the directions are for freezing it rather than cooking it right away, and adapt as necessary.

1 tray (6-8 pounds, or 12 chops) boneless pork loin chops
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
3 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 1/3 cups chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can sweet corn, drained
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can petite-cut tomatoes
2/3 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 one-gallon freezer bags, labeled
2 one-quart freezer bags

on hand for cooking each entree: 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Rinse and trim chops as desired.

2. Lay out two shallow dishes. Put the egg whites in one dish. Mix the Parmesan, pepper, and Cajun seasoning in the other. Dip the chops into the egg, then dredge in Parmesan coating.

3. Place each chop onto a rimmed baking sheet. When all chops are coated, place in the freezer for 1 hour. Discard remaining egg and Parmesan mixture.

4. Into each 1-quart freezer bag measure 2/3 cup chicken broth, 2/3 cup corn, 2/3 cup tomatoes, 1/3 cup onion, and 1 tablespoon garlic. Seal.

5. Divide frozen chops evenly among the 1-gallon freezer bags. Place one bag tomato mixture into each bag of chops.

6. Seal and freeze.

To cook one entree:
1. Completely thaw one entree in the refrigerator.

2. Heat oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Fry chops 3 minutes on each side; remove from the pan.

3. Pour broth and vegetables into pan. Gently scrape browned bits from the bottom; reduce heat to medium-low. Return chops to pan. Simmer, covered, 15 to 20 minutes, turning chops occasionally, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a chop reads 160 F.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Veggie Pizza

This morning we had a little breakfast potluck to celebrate the birthday of one of my coworkers in my new group at work. I brought some veggie pizza, and a number of people asked me for the recipe, so here it is (welcome to anyone from SP/CS who is reading this!). My friend Kate gave me the recipe, and I had been wanting an excuse to make it since I tried it at her house a few months ago.

If I made it again I probably would have gone a little easier on the amount of spread and veggies I layered on. The slices ended up being a little overloaded and stuff was falling off as I took bites. There was also a lot of spread left over, despite how much I had slathered on. I am thinking you could probably use three tubes of crescent rolls, divided between two cookie sheets, and the same amount of spread and veggies. It would make for lighter slices, but then you could just eat more of them. :-)

Here's the recipe:
  • 2 (8 ounce) packages refrigerated crescent rolls
  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 (1 ounce) package dry Ranch-style dressing mix
  • 1 cup fresh broccoli, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 cup chopped cauliflower
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
  2. Roll out the crescent roll dough onto a 9x13 inch baking sheet, and pinch together edges to form the pizza crust.
  3. Bake crust for 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Once finished cooking, remove crust from oven and let cool 15 minutes without removing it from the baking sheet.
  4. In a small mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, mayonnaise, and dry Ranch dressing. Spread the mixture over the cooled crust. Arrange broccoli, tomato, green bell pepper, cauliflower, shredded carrots, and Cheddar cheese over the cream cheese layer. Chill for one hour, slice and serve.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

heatherinthekitchen, travel edition

A few weeks ago I traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, to attend a national conference of teachers of mathematics. I was asked by our marketing manager to go and work in our booth in the exhibition hall. I've never done that before and found it interesting, somewhat disheartening (to talk to teachers who were solely interested in FREE STUFF), and tiring!

I didn't have any time to explore Salt Lake City and all of my meals were either in the hotel or nothing worth mentioning. The conference ran from Wednesday through Saturday, but due to a prior commitment I had to leave the conference on Friday. My prior commitment was that I was meeting some of my high school girlfriends in Las Vegas for one of their weddings!

I had been to Vegas previously with Jason, on our honeymoon. Prior to that trip I spent a lot of time researching the different hotels, places to go, sights to see, etc. (I should have spent a little more time learning and practicing card games, because I ended up only playing slots. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it wouldn't hurt to branch out.) I primarily did my research at, which I found to be a great resource. In the weeks leading up to my wedding and the honeymoon, everything was pretty much in order as far as wedding plans went, so I spent a LOT of time daydreaming about what Vegas would be like and how fantastic it would be. I just had a great impression from what I had read and what I had seen on TV and in movies (my favorite Vegas-related movie would have to be Ocean's Eleven (the remake, not the original). In fact, the ending of that movie is what inspired my love of the Bellagio fountains). And I have to say that our trip really lived up to my expectations: Vegas was as fantastic and just as much fun as I hoped it would be. But Vegas is huge and we just didn't have enough time to see or do everything we wanted to. So I was really looking forward to this return trip with my girlfriends to get a different taste of Vegas.

This time I stayed with my friends downtown at the Golden Nugget. It was a beautiful hotel and my favorite part had to be the swimming pool with the aquarium in the middle: you can literally swim next to sharks! But overall I feel I prefer being on the Strip to being downtown. All of downtown just seemed so ridiculously smoky that most of the time I felt sick to my stomach. (There is smoking on the Strip too, but maybe the newer hotels have better ventilation systems?)

I didn't have any meals that were too notable downtown, but I did have some interesting dining experiences! The first night I was there my friends and I ate at the Chinese restaurant that was inside our hotel. We had a table for 6, and as the waiter was taking drink orders I asked if we could please have separate checks. In response he started making these faces and whining noises, like it was paining him that he had to answer that question. It was a simple question really, and if he had just said, "no, I'm sorry but we don't do separate checks here" we would have understood and just worked it out. But he didn't say no... he continued to make these faces and whine like he was hoping I would see the agony he was in and retract my question. But I didn't... I just sat there and watched him because I couldn't believe he was acting like that. Eventually he said something like "six separate checks is really a lot of work... would it be okay if I just did two or three separate checks instead?" Then my friends and I had to try to figure out how best to pair up. It really took a ridiculous amount of time to resolve what should have been a really simple question. And after the waiter left we gossiped about how doing six separate checks could possibly be that much worse than doing three separate checks. I used to wait tables and I can tell you that it really is not that big of a deal, especially if you are asked to do it before you take the orders.

But anyway, the weirdness continues! A dish I like to order a lot at Chinese restaurants is Beef with Broccoli, but I usually request that it be made spicy because I like spicy foods and I think it's too bland otherwise. So that's what I ordered at this restaurant (I literally said, "I'd like the Beef with Broccoli, and can you make it spicy?), and then the waiter says, "I bring you a cup of spicy sauce on the side?" Again, I was totally thrown for a loop here... this was not a complicated request. Chinese restaurants have some dishes that are spicy, some that aren't, and they can easily make any non-spicy dish a spicy one just by adding a little pepper sauce or whatever it is they use in the spicy dishes (or vice versa, by leaving that ingredient out if someone wants a spicy dish non-spicy). So I may have seemed a little b*tchy in my response, but I felt like I had stepped into some parallel universe where the most common restaurant requests had suddenly
become the most difficult ones! I said, "Umm... I'd prefer it if they can just make it spicy in the kitchen, when they're cooking it?" The waiter said, "oh, okay" and wrote some stuff down on his order pad. The rest of the meal wasn't too unusual, but the food wasn't that great (I didn't really expect it to be).

The rest of the weekend I didn't really eat very much... like I said, the smokiness of the hotel made me feel really sick to my stomach most of the time. The first meal I had where I really felt like I was hungry and could eat a real meal is the one pictured above! That was from my dinner on Sunday evening, when I ate at Trader Vic's. We had to check out of the hotel on Sunday morning, and my other girlfriends had early morning or afternoon flights. I had scheduled a red-eye flight back Sunday night, because I wanted to be able to spend the whole day Sunday at the Strip. It was a fantastic day... I took a cab from the Golden Nugget to the Venetian, checked my luggage there, and then spent some time gambling, shopping, and checking out the hotels within walking distance (the Palazzo, Treasure Island, and the Mirage). Then I retrieved my luggage, took a cab from the Venetian to Planet Hollywood, checked my luggage again, and visited PH, Paris, the Bellagio, and Casear's Palace. I did so much walking that day but it was fantastic to be able to see as many places as I could on my own schedule. And I was thrilled to be able to take in about 4 fountain shows, including one that I viewed from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Anyway, back to my meal. I had heard about Trader Vic's on the Las Vegas forum. Somebody had mentioned and at first I thought they must have meant Trader Joe's, the grocery chain. But I looked into it and discovered it was a Polynesian restaurant in the Miracle Mile shops, which are attached to Planet Hollywood. I always enjoyed eating at the Kahiki, which was a Polynesian restaurant in Columbus, so I thought I would check this out in hopes that it was similar. It wasn't really, but it was still a nice meal. (Sadly, the Kahiki was torn down after it closed, but you can check out some old photos of it here.)

I started my meal with a Bahia, which is what you see in the Aloha glass in the first picture. There were about a million different fruity cocktails on the menu, and I didn't know what to choose. I told the waiter I liked drinks with pineapple juice in them and asked if he had any suggestions. He suggested the Bahia, which according to the menu is "a snowy concoction of white rum with coconut and pineapple." I went with it, and it was pretty good, but I realize now that "snowy" must mean that it "has a lot of ice."

In the second photo you can see what they bring out as their bread basket. There is some kind of multi-grain rolls and a crispy cheese cracker, and they are served with four sauces: a homemade peanut butter, which was my favorite, wasabi mayo, barbecue sauce, and a hot Chinese mustard, which has twice in my life been the most offensive thing I have ever put in my mouth. I like mustard, and I like hot foods, so I tried this once on an egg roll at the cafeteria at my office. As soon as I took a bite, this caustic fire burned through my mouth, throat and lungs. It tasted like I had swallowed gasoline. It was awful, awful, awful. I don't know why on earth I decided to try to hot Chinese mustard at Trader Vic's, but I did (I guess maybe I assumed the mustard I had tried at work was just bad?), and I had the same experience. What's that classic George W. Bush quote? "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice... won't get fooled again." Well, hot Chinese mustard, you won't fool me again!

For my meal, I decided to order two small plates and a side. I got the lobster potstickers, crispy duck tacos, and the Szechuan broccolini. The potstickers and the veggies were pretty good. I didn't like the texture of the duck... it was a little too tough and a little too sticky. Overall, the meal wasn't bad, but it was nothing to write home about.

Now that I'm done traveling for the immediate future, hopefully I can start cooking/baking/posting more regularly! Stay tuned.

Friday, April 4, 2008


I apologize for how quiet it's been on the blogging front lately. I got a new job at work about a month ago (it's a lateral move within my company, not a promotion, but I get to work in a new group that's doing some innovative stuff) so I've been feeling busy in my work-life. At home I've been busy too... we did a little travel for Jason's spring break/Easter and I'm preparing for some travel (both work and personal) next week. So it will continue to be quiet for a little while longer.

I did want to mention that I finally found a store that carries the Rocks and Gravel wine I blogged about from my birthday dinner. I found it yesterday at Whole Foods. It was around $19 a bottle and I opted not to buy one because the checkout lines were ridiculous and I had a lot of other errands to run. But it's nice to know it's there for whenever I'm ready to purchase in the future!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Blizzard Chicken

For those of you who don't live in the Buckeye state, or who haven't heard about it on the news, we had a blizzard over the weekend! It was pretty wild. When I left for work on Friday morning there was no precipitation at all. By Saturday evening, 20 inches of snow had fallen. In the first two photos, it's a little difficult to get some perspective on what you're looking at because pretty much everywhere you look is snow. But the first photo shows our grill buried in snow on our back deck. The second photo shows my car buried in snow on the street. The third photo shows the dinner we had on Saturday, after Jason finished shoveling.

The veggies are a frozen bagged "potato medley" from Trader Joe's. They were easy to make (microwave!) and pretty tasty, but would have been better if the carrots could have been as tender as the potatoes.

The other item on the plate (which almost looks like it could be mashed potatoes) is "Parmesan Chicken Saute." The recipe came from a cookbook called The Best of the Best from Ohio. I have issues with the name, because although the chicken is sauted, it gets covered in a cream sauce and is then baked, so I think "saute" in the title is a little misleading. In honor of this weekend's events, I'm renaming it "Blizzard Chicken." It was pretty tasty and I would definitely consider making it again. By the way, I substituted boneless, skinless chicken breasts for the chicken pieces.

2 1/2 -- 3 1/2 pounds chicken pieces
salt and pepper to taste
4 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup Swiss cheese, grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons bread crumbs

Brown seasoned chicken pieces for 20 minutes in 3 tablespoons butter. In a small pan, melt remaining butter and add flour; add milk and cream. Boil until thickened and smooth. Stir in nutmeg and Swiss cheese. Sprinkle a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with 1/2 the Parmesan cheese. Place browned chicken pieces in pan and spoon sauce over the chicken. Cover with the remaining Parmesan and bread crumbs, mixed together. Bake for 1/2 hour in a 350 degree oven.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Foods Long Gone

I just had to hop on here and make a quick post about something that bugs me. It seems like the things I like are always getting discontinued. Maybe I just have unconventional tastes, but inevitably a new Bath and Body Works fragrance that I really like gets discontinued after a few seasons. And some of my favorite snack foods that I still crave to this day are long gone. The two in particular I am thinking of are Sonic Sour Cream Doritos and Trolli Dino Eggs. These are both junk foods I remember getting at Target when I was in college, so they would have been around in the late '90s.

The Sonic Sour Cream Doritos were really similar to Cool Ranch Doritos, but the flavor was a little sweeter, creamier, and less spicy.

The Dino Eggs were like a jelly bean that was coated in a soft sour shell. It was just the perfect amount of sour, so when you ate the beans and crunched through the shell the sour and sweet flavors melted together perfectly. It wasn't the kind of sour that made your mouth pucker.

I swear I can still taste each of these things and it's driving me crazy. :-)

(and fortunately, it is still possible to order some of my favorite discontinued B&BW products by calling their toll-free number and ordering from the warehouse, even if the products are no longer carried in the stores. but there's no way to do the same thing for my snack foods. I've done plenty of google-ing to no avail.)

Edited to add: There may be hope! I googled a little more and found out who produces Trolli candy in the US. Upon visiting their web site I found a candy that looks promisingly similar to the Dino Eggs... now I just have to find these Sour Brite Crawler Eggs!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Raspberry Cream Cheese Bars

Last week was my friend Sue's birthday. Sue is currently a coworker but I have known her from college when we were both English majors. We both enjoyed editing and took a publishing class together in hopes that it would prepare us for future careers as editors. Instead the class was full of wanna-be writers who complained about editors and generally spent the class discussing other writers, pretentious literary magazines, and strategies for getting published. But it was a memorable experience. The most I remember from that class was a lot of discussion on how Raymond Carver's short stories were so heavily edited that his editor, Gordon Lish, should have taken writing credit for them. That actually was really interesting.

I have to digress for a moment and mention another memorable English class I took in college (but I don't think Sue was in this one). OSU had no sort of 'editor track' for English majors, and most specialties focused on different periods or styles of literature. I knew I wanted to be an editor and as a member of the honors program my advisor was able to craft some kind of customized specialization where I took classes geared towards working in publishing. So one of them was an upper level grammar class. I have a sickness where I actually really like grammar and especially like diagramming sentences. I have liked diagramming sentences since grade school. So one of my favorite and most memorable assignments from this grammar class was to diagram William Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Now, Faulkner was the bane of my existence in one of my literature classes, but I do appreciate this speech as one of the most beautiful pieces of literature I have ever read (yet really difficult to diagram!). So if you are in an "English class" frame of mind right now, check out the speech here. It's beautiful.

Anyway, Sue and I lost touch for a little while after college but eventually she joined me in the world of publishing and now we get to commiserate about deadlines, page proofs, comp houses, project-worker versus full-time positions, deadlines, authors, PMP, and deadlines. But aside from talking about work, Sue is someone I feel I just 'click' with and I consider her a dear friend. She has always been really supportive and she and her husband even helped Jason and me move into our home. So on her birthday, I wanted to do something to celebrate it at work and I planned to bake. (I also took her a card and a potted plant. I'm not that sure of myself that I think my baking is a gift unto itself.)

I had a recipe for some Raspberry Hazelnut Linzer cookies that I had been wanting to make for a long time, but was waiting for a special occasion because they looked so time consuming. I had been wanting to make this type of cookie since I saw it on the February 2007 cover of Martha Stewart Living magazine.

So on the night before Sue's birthday, I started making the cookies. I made the dough, and it had to refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before I rolled it out. While the dough chilled, I boiled the raspberry jelly and then strained it to remove the seeds. I had the cookie cutters all picked out. When the time came, I started rolling out the dough to cut out the cookies, and it just crumbled everywhere. It was sticking to the rolling pin but even when I could prevent it from sticking it was falling all over the place, to the point that it just wouldn't work. I don't know what went wrong, and I fought with it for awhile, but eventually had to give up and pitch the dough in the trash.

There I was with a bowlful of strained raspberry jelly, and trying to figure out how to salvage it. I searched and found a recipe for Raspberry Cream Cheese Bars that I happened to have all the ingredients for. I only made half the recipe, and instead of slivered almonds I used some mixed-nut ice cream-topping I had. They actually came out like a raspberry version of the oatmeal carmelitas I love to make. I'm not a big fan of fruit, so I probably wouldn't make them again, but I thought they were okay, and the recipe definitely came to the rescue. [Oh, and as a somewhat ironic side note, I wasn't able to give them to Sue on her actual birthday anyway. We had a really bad snowstorm so I decided to work from home that day rather than risk the commute.]

3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
11 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
18 ounces red raspberry preserves
1/3 cup chopped slivered almonds

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar. Combine the oats, flour, baking soda and salt; add to creamed mixture and mix well. Press three-fourths of the mixture into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-in. baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 11-13 minutes or until set and edges just begin to brown.
Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Spread over crust. Drop preserves by spoonfuls over cream cheese mixture; carefully spread evenly. Combine almonds and remaining oat mixture; sprinkle over preserves.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until set and edges are golden brown. Cool before cutting. Store in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Birthday Wine

Apparently the theme of my birthday this year was wine since I chose two wine-themed restaurants for dinners to celebrate. I thought I would write short reviews. This entry is link-happy, so click away (especially you non-Columbus residents)!

The first was a visit to the Burgundy Room in the Short North. A few years ago I had gone to the Burgundy Room in Dublin with Jason's parents and loved it. Despite having a bad experience there with being seated at our table and then not being visited by a server for at least 2o minutes or so—we were too caught up in conversation to notice that we were being neglected at first, and when Sue finally pointed it out to the hostess an embarrassed manager apologized profusely and bought us a bottle of wine—we still had a delicious meal of many small plates, a few large plates, delicious wine and a warm ambiance. This year when we decided to make plans for my birthday dinner before going to a Blue Jackets game, I choose to go to the Short North location of the Burgundy Room since it would put us close to Nationwide Arena.

I should have investigated this option a little more thoroughly though. Apparently the Short North location has a different menu that is much more limited from the menu offered at the Dublin location. And unfortunately it was limited to many things I didn't necessarily want to eat. Even the seemingly 'safe' dishes ended up being a gamble. For instance, the bruschetta was purple (black olives, I decided). So we made do with a few small plates but joked that we would have to buy a hot dog at the hockey game. The ambiance wasn't as great either. It was still a great birthday meal, but just not up to my expectations after our previous visit in Dublin.

Fortunately we had a fantastic wine that Sue picked out. It was a red wine called Rocks and Gravel. I haven't been able to find it at a local store so I may have to have The Andersons fantastic wine department order some for me.

My second wine-themed dinner was to Vino Vino in Grandview later that week. My friend and coworker Carolyn said she wanted to treat me to dinner, and that was my choice. Vino Vino was created by the couple who created Figlio, which I love, so I figured it would be great, and it was! It's a very long and narrow space, and very crowded. If I were a claustrophobic I probably wouldn't have been able to stand how close together the tables were. We could basically hear all the conversations around us, and when the servers walked by I imagined them sucking in their guts to make sure they would fit. But despite the crowded setting, or perhaps because of it, the restaurant had a warm and cozy atmosphere. I should mention that despite how crowded and busy the restaurant was, we had a 7:30 reservation and when I arrived at 7:28 I was seated immediately. I really respect that. (I'll never forget the time my family went to Cap City Diner to celebrate Gretchen's graduation from college, had a 2:30 reservation and arrived around 2:23, and were told "Sorry, but we're going to have to wait to seat you until closer to the actual time of your reservation." We weren't seated for probably 15 to 20 minutes later. Jerks.)

One thing I thought was great about Vino Vino was the wine flights they offered. I had one called "My Fantasy Threesome" that was three 2-oz. glasses of wines from South America. I believe the flight cost around $9.95. The server brought the three glasses, each marked with a number on the base by a grease pen, along with a paper listing each wine and a description of it. When I tasted them one at a time I could tell right away which one was my favorite, which I then ordered a full glass of when I finished the flight. I recycled the paper with the wine descriptions on it so unfortunately I can't tell you what it was. It must have been a really good one though because I noticed that the full glass cost $11.25 (thanks, Carolyn!!).

Carolyn ordered a flight too, so on our tiny little table we had six wine glasses and two water glasses between us, in addition to the food when it arrived. The food at Vino Vino was worth mentioning... we started with a cheese plate with fruit and nuts, and then I had a portabello mushroom ravioli with prosciutto in a brown butter sauce. Carolyn had tilapia in a caper butter sauce with jasmine rice. We finished with the "Chocolate Flight" for dessert, which was chocolate creme brulee, some kind of fudgey chocolate cake, and a tiny chocolate candy mouse that neither of us ate because we couldn't break it in half.

All in all I would recommend the Burgundy Room only if you checked out the menu beforehand and were interested in the offerings. But I would highly recommend Vino Vino (as well as making a table reservation in advance).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I think I'm in Love

It's Valentine's Day, and I think I'm in love... with the idea of these cupcakes!

This bakery is in German Village, and I am going to have to make a point to check it out soon.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fajitas and Mexican Rice

One day last week, I was really craving fajitas, but didn't have the ingredients to make them, didn't want to go out to eat, and after discussing the matter with Jason, decided that Mexican take-out probably wouldn't travel very well. So the next time I went to the grocery store I got the ingredients to make my own. I found a recipe for fajitas on recipezaar and after trying to choose a side to accompany the fajitas, I made some mexican rice that I improvised based on a few different recipezaar recipes. I would definitely make both again. The photo was an afterthought... I had forgotten to take one and then I actually made Jason stop eating so I could have some sort of documentation of the meal. :-)

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon seasoning salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3/4 lb beef or chicken
1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup sliced onions
1/4 cup sliced green peppers
4 flour tortillas

1. Combine the first 7 ingredientsto make marinade.

2. Slice chicken or beef into strips.

3. Add to marinade and marinate for 2 hours.

4. Quickly saute onions and peppers in oil until lightly browned.

5. Remove from pan.

6. Saute marinated meat for about 4 minutes.

7. Toss with vegetables.

8. Spoon into flour tortillas.

Optional: serve with avocado slices and sour cream.

Mexican Rice:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil1 cup rice
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 packet taco seasoning
1/3 cup salsa
1/3 cup corn

Heat oil over medium heat. Add rice and saute or 5 minutes until rice is golden brown.

Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes until rice is tender.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sandra Lee redeems herself

As you may or may not know, I love watching the Food Network. It's my go-to default channel, kind of like some guys always have ESPN on in the background. My favorite chef to watch is Giada de Laurentiis, who hosts Everyday Italian. Unfortunately I've tried a number of her recipes and they weren't well-received here. I find Rachael Ray barely tolerable, and don't like her recipes either (despite being "30-minute meals" I find them to be overly complicated with too many ingredients). I like watching Ina Garten (the "Barefoot Contessa") and I LOVE watching Paula Deen (and she has a special place in my heart because of her Savannah connection), but find that their recipes tend to be a bit too fancy/heavy/rich/unhealthy for everyday cooking. I don't particularly like watching Sanda Lee, the host of Semi-Homemade Cooking, but the concept behind her show ("combining 70% ready-made foods with 30% fresh ingredients") seems conducive to my weekly time limitations.

With that in mind, I recently checked out two Sandra Lee slow-cooker cookbooks from the local library. Jason and I received a nice Crock-Pot for our wedding (Jason would claim that "I" was the one who received it, since he has no use for it) that hasn't gotten much use, so I thought this would be a good way to try some new recipes. I chose about three supper recipes that I thought sounded good (and might be tolerated by Mr. Picky) and got the ingredients for them.

The first recipe I tried was for something called Sausage and Four Beans. It had sweet italian sausages and four kinds of beans (obviously) in a tomato-based sauce. I don't know why I thought this would be good... maybe it's because I like sweet italian sausage and I like beans. But... it wasn't good. It tasted pretty gross. The cookbook has a photo of every recipe, and Jason pointed out that the finished product looked exactly like the photo in the book, and the photo looked gross, so why would I make it? I don't know... I think I often have trouble envisioning what a finished product is going to taste like based on reading a recipe. So that was a total bust.

The second recipe I tried was for Sweet and Sassy Chili with Corn Bread Crust. After the first recipe was a failure I got nervous about the fact that I was going to try a second bean-containing recipe. But it was fine because it came out great. Jason even had two servings. No photos, but imagine your basic chili with a layer of cornbread baked on top. I don't have a 5-quart slow cooker, so I made only half the recipe (though I made the entire box of cornbread mix). I couldn't find the chipotle seasoning mix called for, so I just used a packet of McCormick's HOT chili seasoning instead. Also, I used one 10-oz can of Ro-tel and one 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes.

The recipe is one I would definitely consider making again, except that it would only be feasible on a weekend. It cooks for 3.5 to 4 hours, and then you have to add the cornbread layer and cook it for another hour. My ideal slow cooker recipe is one that I can throw in before I leave for work, have it cook on low for about 8+ hours, and then have it ready when I get home from work. With this recipe, that isn't really an option. But I would recommend it. I plan on trying another recipe or two from Sandra Lee's slow cooker cookbooks and I may check out some of her non-slow-cooker cookbooks as well.

Here is the recipe:

1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
2 packets (1.25 ounces each) chipotle seasoning mix, divided
3 cans (15.25 ounces each) low-sodium kidney beans, drained
1/2 cup cooked and crumbled bacon
2 cans (28 ounces each) diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1-1/2 cups tomato sauce
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup honey
1 box (8.5-ounce) corn muffin mix
1 large egg
1/3 cup milk

1. In a large skillet, brown grown pork and ground beef together with one packet chipotle seasoning. Drain and transfer to a 5-quart slow cooker. Add beans and bacon and stir thoroughly.

2. In a large bowl, combine diced tomatoes, remaining packet chipotle seasoning, pumpkin pie spice, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and honey. Pour into slow cooker and stir thoroughly.

3. Cover and cook on HIGH setting for 3-1/2 to 4 hours.

4. In a medium bowl, combine muffin mix, egg, and milk. Stir until well combined (mixture will be slightly lumpy). Remove slow cooker lid and pour mixture over the top of the chili. Place six paper towels on top of the slow cooker and secure with the lid. (This helps to trap steam.)

5. Cover and cook on HIGH setting for an additiona 1 hour.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Toffee Pecan Cookies

Unfortunately, I have no photos to accompany this entry, which is really a shame because this was the one time I did something really cute and creative that I thought up on my own to serve the cookies, AND the recipe was a hit. But what can you do.

On Saturday night, Jessie (the young associate pastor at my church, the one who did Jason's and my wedding) had a gathering at her house. She promised heavy appetizers, so I emailed to ask if I could bring anything. She suggested that I could bring something sweet if I wanted to. I decided to take the opportunity to try out two cookie recipes I had been wanting to make.

Both recipes were from Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook by Kathleen King. The first recipe I tried was for a cookie called Chocolate Jumbles. It was basically a chocolate cookie with white chocolate chips, and it came out terrible. The cookies were really dry and not chocolately enough. The second recipe I tried was for a cookie called Toffee Pecan Cookies, which was an oatmeal cookie with toffee bits and pecans. I thought the Toffee Pecan Cookies were okay... they were tasty, but still a little dry. They were good but nothing spectacular.

Well I must have underestimated the Toffee Pecan Cookies because I heard from numerous people at the party that they were 'amazing.' And I overheard one guy telling someone else that they were 'like crack' and that he wanted to steal some to take home with him. Unfortunately for him, they were all gone before the night was over!

The cute and creative serving method I was referring to was that I emptied the rest of the oatmeal into a ziploc baggie, and took the cookies to the party inside two Quaker Oats containers. I lined the containers with wax paper but I think it would have been even cuter to line them with some tissue paper that color-coordinated with the package!

Here's the recipe. I think the cookies would also taste good with the addition of some mini chocolate chips!

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 cups instant quick oats
1 cup salted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups toffee bits (I used the Heath Bar bits that are sold in the baking aisle near the chocolate chips)
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two cookie sheets or line them with Silpat.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and oatmeal. Set it aside.

In another large bowl, cream the butter and sugars until creamy. Add the egg and mix well. Add the vanilla and mix. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat them until combined. Don't overmix. Stir in the toffee bits and pecans.

Using two tablespoons, drop the cookie dough two inches apart onto prepared cookie sheets.

Bake them for 12 to 15 minutes for chewy cookies and 18 to 20 minutes for crunchy cookies. The crunchy cookies will be browner in the middle and firmer to the touch.