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When it rains… it pours…

March 10, 2011

Okay, so there are many reasons why I have not been posting lately. I spilled seltzer on my laptop keyboard and now it is on the fritz. I will need a new one, and I’ve got my eye on another Toshiba, but this time one with 620 gigs of hard drive instead of 80. So that limits the posts. I’ve also been up to my eyeballs in stress at work and homework for grad school and just haven’t felt like posting, although going grocery shopping and cooking from scratch have alternately become both my stress-reliever and my stress-inducer.

I also got into a car accident on Sunday at night in the driving rain. No one was hurt, but I hit a three car accident because no one had any lights or four-way flashers on, there were no streetlights, and it was pouring rain with lots of glare from oncoming traffic.. Yep. Clipped the side of an open door and smashed my headlight, part of the bumper, and the front panel. Thank god I have collision insurance, even if it does have a kind of high deductible.

So yes, that is why I haven’t updated. I have made the following in the past couple of weeks:

1) Spring chicken soup with asparagus and snow peas. Delicious.

2) Old order Amish bread. Seriously my new favorite, despite the three hour timeframe. The boy and I, with help from one dinner guest, ate three loaves in two days.

3) Homemade macaroni and cheese. I think I have perfected this recipe.

4) Tomato and savoy cabbage risotto. Less spectacular than I’d hoped. I think it needs more tomatoes. Or I will just stick to using risotto rice for making amazingly delicious rice pudding.

5) Guacamole made from giant bright green avocados, not the black California ones. With lime and cilantro and onion. Still not near as good as the one batch I had at my favorite Mexican restaurant in town.

6) Beef stir-fry. In my gorgeous cast-iron skillet.

7) Apples ‘n’ onions ‘n’ cabbage ‘n’ sausage cooked up in a mess together with microwave-baked red potatoes. I’d forgotten how much I love baked potatoes with just a little butter and salt.

I think that’s it. That’s all I can remember anyway.

And now, I’m off to enjoy the remainder of my mental health day before driving up to class by going back to bed. Fingers crossed this staves off burnout-induced illness…


Sweet Potatoes in Spring

February 13, 2011

Sweet potatoes are not very spring-like, but given that we had fairytale flurries today, and that Valentine’s Day is tomorrow and I’m feeling decidedly un-like chocolates and fancy restaurant food, I made sloppy southern food. Yep, barbecued beef with okra (a more un-romantic vegetable was never invented) and sweet potato biscuits, with sweet potato cake for dessert.

I love milk glass. In my search for a sweet potato biscuit recipe, I first consulted Dorie Greenspan, who wasn’t much help as her recipe called for canned (and sweetened) sweet potatoes. So I searched online and found Martha Stewart’s recipe. It was simpler than other recipes, although my biscuits were definitely not as tall as hers, they were quite delicious.

Biscuits before they went in the oven.

In the oven! Here’s a shot of the barbecued beef I made, which was just leftover slow cooked pulled beef roast with onions, to which I added most of a bottle of barbecue sauce and then simmered until the sauce was thick and fully integrated into the beef.

I love me my lodge cast iron skillet – which is only sort of cast iron as even the inside has a glass surface – which means it can be washed and doesn’t need to be seasoned! 🙂 I’m starting to use it more and more – they key is to start with low heat. Also, bamboo spoons with a pointy end are awesome.

The finished product. With honey butter (made with buckwheat honey) for the biscuits.

And then, of course, there is the sweet potato cake. The recipe calls for beer, and we had some leftover Saranac someone brought to our holiday party, so I cracked open a bottle and used some of that. The boy and I are not big beer drinkers, although I swiped a sip because it smelled pretty good. Not bad and the smell went nicely with the sweet potatoes and cinnamon. Of course, you can’t taste any beer in the cake at all.

One thing I really like about this recipe is that you don’t need a mixer for it – you can use just a wooden spoon to mix everything together.

Sweet potato cake! It actually tastes a lot like the sweet potato pancakes they have at Cajun Cafe back home in Fargo – that’s the boy’s favorite restaurant. They serve their pancakes (and biscuits – which are delicious, but totally unlike Martha’s) with cane syrup. I ate my square of sweet potato cake in a bowl and topped with lots of milk.

The boy got me hooked on cake with milk. I think it’s a dairy farmer thing. At any rate, it’s delicious. He prefers cake with heavy cream, but that’s too heavy for me. Light cream, half ‘n’ half, or milk are my favorite.

So there you go – that was my pre-V-Day, anti-V-Day dinner. Decidedly not chocolate, decidedly not fancy. But just the way I like it. So forget about Valentine’s and chocolate and red roses and out-of-season strawberries and champagne. Go for your favorite food – be it filet mignon or macaroni and cheese or fruit salad – and feel good about YOURSELF this Valentine’s Day.

If you do have a significant other, spend as much of the day cuddling them as you can. 🙂 That will mean a lot more than a dozen mediocre red roses or a box of mediocre chocolates (although I never complain about Lindt Lindor truffles…)  or some teddy bear s/he won’t know what to do with. Down with commercialism! Up with real love!

Gingerbread Bars and Ambition

February 5, 2011

I did it. I did three loads of laundry and folded it (and “old” clean laundry), did dishes. Put away dishes. Got the boy to do more dishes. Baked an apple pie (with refrigerated pie crust). Make beef stew out of leftover pulled beef and onions. Ate dinner. Then got up even more ambition and baked these gingerbread bars.

They were a teeny bit labor intensive. They required an electric mixer (that’s extra work) and the batter was very hard to spread on the sheet pan. But HOLY CRAP ARE THEY DELICIOUS!

Of course, I’m biased, because I absolutely love gingerbread. Pepparkokkar cookies, gingerbread cake (moist bundt, dense rounds, or fluffy squares), gingered molasses crinkles, ginger snaps, and now these – gingerbread bars.

I tweaked the Epi recipe a little – I didn’t have any ground cloves, so I substituted ground black pepper. And I had an apple that needed using (should have put it in the pie, which was short on apples, but oh well), so I sliced that up and pushed it into the batter before baking. The apples are a nice touch, but next time I’ll either chop them up and mix them into the batter (regardless of how pretty the top looks), or leave them out.

The black pepper is nice, but makes these bars a little spicy. As in, spicy enough for my midwestern palate to need a tall glass of cold milk and my tongue is still tingling slightly 10 minutes later. But they are so incredibly addictive. I’m glad I cut them into small squares. Because that empty space in the pan below? That’s all in my belly right now. *nom*

If you are snowed in or sick of dreary snow, I vote you make these bars. Like, right now. Seriously – they take 30 minutes to bake.


February 5, 2011

So, I got this brand new fancy (but not TOO fancy) camera from the boy for Christmas. I was all excited to use it for documenting my many culinary and outdoor adventures. Only to find myself uninspired.

Maybe it’s because I’m working a lot more. Maybe because grad school has started again. Maybe it’s because I’m busy brainstorming starting an online magazine with some good friends. But mostly, I think it’s because we’ve been getting snowstorms every week and our house is a mess.

It’s hard to want to take pictures of cooking when your kitchen is stacked with dirty dishes and ingredients that didn’t get put away from last night’s dinner. And when your fridge needs cleaning out and laundry is piling up and your bathroom needs scrubbing? Forget it.

I did get to go sledding a few weeks ago. Toboggans are THE BEST form of sledding around, people. They are FAST and fun and you can lean into turns.

That’s me in the middle with my Fargo hat on. The boy is taking the picture.

And with that? Off to the grocery store, then home for dishes, laundry, and general tidying up. I will feel so much better by the end of the day, I’m sure.

It is cold.

January 24, 2011

Really cold. Like sub-zero, feels like I’m back in Fargo cold.

Yesterday the boy and I had a lovely lazy day. I spent three hours making Old Order Amish bread again, except I doubled it and used three normal-sized bread pans and put the dough on the radiator to rise and it turned out even better this time. A little softer and squshier, which I’m not sure I like, and I cut the baking time by 10 minutes, which didn’t make the crust so dark (nor so caramely).

We slept in and cuddled all day and the only time we left the house was to run to the grocery store to pick up some shaving cream (for the boy) and three loads of firewood. Then the boy proceeded to burn through an entire bundle and got the living room temperature up to 83 degrees F, despite the fact that we’d turned the heat down to 66. I love manufactured steel fireplaces. They are toasty.

We ate radishes and salt on bread and butter on warm bread and turkey sandwiches on bread (roasted turkey, not sliced stuff).  Breeeeeaaaaad. So good.

We meant to go snowshoeing, but didn’t. Instead we stayed cooped up inside and I played guitar and sang in front of the fire in the dark (I’m getting quite good at guitar) and brainstormed ideas for the magazine my friends and I are going to launch this summer (keep your eyes peeled on this blog for the link).

We had leftover soup for dinner. I made chicken and collard soup with bread a few days ago. It was delicious. Here’s the recipe:

Chicken and Collard Soup

1 bunch FRESH collards
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (or 2 cloves)
frozen sweet corn (optional)
olive oil
1 quart prepared or homemade chicken broth

Plop a glug of olive oil into the bottom of a 5 qt., heavy-bottomed stock pot. Not too much, just a couple tablespoons. Saute the onion in the olive oil over medium-high heat, then brown the outsides of the chicken a bit. Turn down the heat and add about three quarts of cold water, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom. Add chicken broth. You should have about 4 quarts total (I like my soup brothy). Add herby-type seasonings (I use an all-purpose blend) and garlic and let simmer.

While broth is simmering, wash collards and cut off stems (but do not separate stems from leaves). Diced stems without leafy bits and add to pot. Then slice up leaf parts with center stems intact and add to pot. Cover if you like and simmer until the diced stems without leafy bits are tender and the chicken is done, about 30-40 minutes. Remove chicken and cut/shred into bite-sized pieces and return to broth. If using, add corn. Heat all thoroughly. Serve with crusty bread.

*TIP* If you have leftover bread that will get hard, tear it into chunks and add to leftover soup. The bread will soak up the broth and become deliciously soft and silky.

Tonight we’re going to be old people and go walking in the mall (since it is once again sub-zero out tonight) and hopefully the next few days will not find us snowed in. *sigh* I am getting sick of snow days – is that possible? Yeah, probably because I don’t get paid for snow days and all this cold weather is eating up our fuel oil and costing us money! Grrr…

At any rate, if we do get a snow day, I will be baking. 😀

Old Order Amish Bread

January 12, 2011

Holy crap, people. Holeeeeey crap! This bread is amazing. It contains no butter, no eggs, and no milk, and yet it is tender and slightly sweet, with an unidentifiable caramel-y flavor that is kind of addicting. Soft and slightly chewy inside, but with a crunchy (but not hard) crust.

Here is the recipe, straight out of Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads.

Old Order Amish Bread

5-6 cups bread flour
1 package dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups hot water (120-130 degrees)
1/3 cup cooking oil (I used canola)

In a large bowl, measure 2 cups flour, then yeast, sugar, and salt. Whisk to combine. Stir in water and oil until well blended. Add additional flour 1/2 cup at a time, first with a wooden spoon, then with your hands, until a rough mass has formed and the dough has cleaned the sides of the bowl. (Note: Use your judgement when adding the flour – I used only 4 1/2 cups of flour.) Dough should be elastic, but not sticky.

Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead 8 minutes.

Wash and grease the bowl, then return dough to it (I also greased the top of the dough to prevent cracking). Cover and let raise in a warm place (in my case, a 100 degree, door-cracked oven) until doubled, approximately 1 hour.

Punch down, then recover and let raise again, appx. 45 minutes.

Turn out onto work surface, punch down, and knead briefly to work out bubbles. Divide in half and form into 2 loaves and place in medium-sized greased loaf pans. (If you only have giant pans like I do, it will still work, but the loaves will be more free-form, not square).

Cover loaves and let rise until 1″ above pan (or until you feel like it), appx. 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees 20 minutes before baking (if you are letting your bread raise IN the oven – this would seem to pose a problem, but it all worked out okay – the bread spent half the time rising in the oven, and half in my cold kitchen).

Put loaves in hot oven and let bake 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 30 more minutes.

When loaves are browned and tester comes out clean, turn out from pans right away and cool on wire racks.

Try not to burn yourself when you cut into one approximately 5 minutes later because the suspense is killing you.

Slather hot bread with butter and devour.

If you were pretty on top of things (like I was, since I had the day off), you will have also made some kind of stew that was simmering on a back burner all day. I meant to make Vegetable Beef stew, but ended up realizing I had no stewing beef in the fridge and this was A) a snow day and B) there was no way I was driving all the way to the grocery store just for a little stewing beef when I had ground beef in the fridge. SO! I made hamburger stew.

I started by roasting some beef marrow bones (because I had them) with some vegetables (old carrots and celery and an onion). Then I tossed it all into a big stock pot and added a lot of cold water and some herbs. Then I simmered the heck out of it. Then I pulled the bones from the pot, ladled out a quart of the stock, then pureed the veggies into the rest of the stock. I was browning hamburger in another pot as I was doing this (and the bread was rising in the oven). I scooped out all the bits that refused to puree (mainly strings from the celery) and added it to the pot of by-then-cooked hamburger. A large can of diced tomatoes, two diced red potatoes, and two ribs of sliced fresh celery got added. Frozen green beans, salt, and garlic powder got added last. It was delicious.

The boy and I each had a bowl of stew, but we somehow managed to eat almost the entire loaf of bread. Hmmm….

I did finish that piece, by the way. It was just there for illustrative purposes. Also, be forewarned that if you do bake homemade bread, your table (or wherever you cut it) will invariably be covered in a variety of crumbs. I am sad to say that some of those crumbs are leftover from Icelandic Brown Bread. That stuff gets hard, fast! But it also makes terrific bread pudding. But that’s another post, methinks.

Time to get my butt out of the house, if only to go shovel out my car.


When life gives you snow days – BAKE!

January 11, 2011

So last Friday, since we were essentially snowed in (after coming back from Fargo the day before – and a double whammy blizzard the weekend before!), I decided to bake bread. I tried my hand at Icelandic brown bread – which was not the stuff I was used to (I miss you, Breadsmith!). It was, however, quite good despite poor risings in a cold house. Very dense, oh-so-slightly sweet, and a little crumbly. The boy loved it crumbled up with unsweetened homemade applesauce and more whipped cream than was probably good for him. We ate up almost the rest of the second loaf toasted with butter (in the oven, not the toaster) with leftover split pea soup.

We’re supposed to get massive amounts of more snow dumped on us tonight (8-12 inches, maybe more), so going to work tomorrow is probably not going to happen. So I’m going to bake again. The only question is, what to bake?

So I dug out all my baking books, and the teeny weeny unassuming little paperback from 1950, Ann Pillsbury’s Baking Book is stymieing me! Everything sounds so fantastic! Do I make No-Knead Pecan Sticky Rolls? (Yes! No-knead! 60 years ago!) No-Knead  Oatmeal Bread? No-Knead Potato Puff Rolls? No-Knead Onion Barbecue Rolls? The possibilities are endless!

Seriously, Ann Pillsbury really knew her stuff! And half her recipes are from old ladies who have won blue ribbons and other such awards. It really is a fantastic little book. The recipe format takes some getting used to – what appears to be an ingredients list is actually directions as ingredients are listed in order and prefaced by a verb, such as “combine” or “add” or “bake.” The book also includes several explanatory drawings.

It really is too bad that this cookbook is out of print – I checked. It’s about $25 online, which is ridiculous because I got mine for free in a lot of vintage cookbooks from a work friend who knew an old lady who was downsizing to move into retired people housing. 😀 Guess I’m just incredibly lucky that way.

Hmmm… Maybe I need to “bake my way through” this book. And then get a book and movie deal out of it? (Julie, I’m looking at you!) Lol. Maybe if I weren’t in graduate school… It would also probably add 10-30 pounds of pure fat to both me and the boy, so maybe not every day.

At any rate, I’m sure I’ll figure out SOMETHING to bake tomorrow. Bread, probably. Cake might also be necessary. Or something pudding-y with those leftover hard ends of Icelandic brown bread.

Soup definitely needs to be made tomorrow. Maybe beef barley, or even just beef tea, since I have some nice beef marrowbones that need roasting and simmering. So maybe some kind of bread for broth dipping. Mmmmm… perfect thing to eat after a cold day at work (the boy can walk to work, so he has no excuse). Just have to make sure the house is warm enough for rising bread. Might have to ask the boy to make a fire before he leaves for work, just to warm the house up. Since we’re thinking that maybe our house has no insulation in the walls – since our highly efficient furnace goes through over 50 gallons of fuel oil per week. *sigh* Thank goodness for our heat-efficient manufactured fireplace!

Okay, back to the 1960s “Green Hornet” marathon on Syfy. Although I secretly hate Syfy right now because A) they changed their name to an idiotic alternate spelling and B) THEY CANCELLED STARGATE UNIVERSE!!! Stupid Syfy – teenaged boys don’t even watch you! Why are you courting them so ardently?! Wrestling?! Seriously!?

*sigh* But I digress… off to cuddle the boy and hope for snow…