Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Santa Baby

Remember this post? Well, Santa sure did. (Actually, it was my mom-- and she doesn't even read this blog! It's like magic.) I got these tongs.

They are amazing. When you close them while they are pointing up, they lock. Then you point them down, and they open. It's also like magic. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how they work. But I think they are amazing.

But it gets better, folks. Oh boy, does it ever get better.

I also got this.

And this.

And you might be thinking isn't a pan just a pan? and then I would be thinking back at you how could you think such a thing? and then you might think for someone who loves to cook so much, don't you already have nice pans? to which I would think back I know, right?! Because the sad, sorry truth is that, when I got married and acquired my pots and pans, I didn't have the pretty penny needed to buy such lovelies as All-Clad or Calphalon (even the cheaper Calphalon found at Target!). So I have pretty low-grade pots and pans that have gotten the job done. (Luckily I did get a lovely crepe pan from my friend Jenna at my bridal shower, and I borrowed/stole a Calphalon soup pot from my mom. Good thing she doesn't read this blog! I'm not sure if she knows about that.) Anyway, having these two new beauties has sent me into full-fledged twitterpation. I can neither confirm nor deny saying to Sam that I wanted to "have a polygamous marriage with the pans and [Sam.]"

So, I have yet to christen the saucepan, but the fry pan-- oh the fry pan! It's so gorgeous. I love to just sit and stare at it. I have cooked in it a couple times, and it's perfect! It's so huge, so I never have to worry about everything spilling out of it. And the non-stick is fabulous and beautiful. I love hand-washing it and drying it and then just holding it like a new baby. (Did I mention that I love it? )

Well done, Mom. Well done.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I spent more time than I ever wanted to at the DMV yesterday and today registering our car in the state of Virginia. So, now it's official! I can stop driving in fear that our 2-months-expired Utah plates will draw the attention of a nit-picky police officer. The only glitch is that we didn't know we needed an emissions test, so our new plates expire in one month. I think we can handle getting it all done in a month.
I have to admit that I also spent more time than I ever wanted to eating sugary confections over the last week. But it was Christmas, so I don't feel too bad about it. We had a lovely Christmas, just the three of us. Bria didn't fully understand it all, but she did get it enough to continue asking me for presents (or "puppy" as she calls them) for several days after. We were happy to have two of Sam's brothers living in the area, so we had a Christmas dinner with them. I have to retract a former statement, I think. The turkey we had on Christmas was SCRUMPTIOUS. I had three whole servings of turkey. It was a tryptophan spectacular. Sam's brother Marc prepared the bird using brine-- which I've heard does wonders, and now I have proof. It was so moist and juicy and full of flavor. Man alive! I loved that stuff. It's seriously weird to me how much I liked it. I'm feeling all anxious and giddy at the thought of someday cooking my very own turkey. Joy and rapture abound in my imagination right now.
Which brings me to the next topic. Jello. The McPhie family Christmas dinner usually takes place on Christmas Eve (more on this later), where we have the usual stuff, but also jello. Not just any jello-- and certainly not green Utah jello with carrots or cheese or cottage cheese or any such weirdness. This jello is spiced with cinnamon and cloves and then stuffed full of citrus. Topped with freshly whipped cream, it's simply delightful. The only picture I could get was of the last two pieces, all disheveled in their tupperware, right before I devoured them (and licked the tupperware clean!). And while I'm sorry to have not shared this with you before Christmas, I will assure you that this jello's place does not reside solely with December 25th. This jello would be happy at any holiday party. So if you're thinking of something snazzy to serve at a New Year's Party. This is a delicious way to make jello a little more posh and exciting.

Christmas Jello
6 ounces raspberry jello (the big box, and don't even think about using sugar free)
1/4 t salt
1/4 t (heaping) cinnamon
generous dash cloves
2 c boiling water
1 c cold water
1 small can cranberry jellied sauce
2 oranges
2 grapefruits
1 apple

In a bowl (or a mortar and pestle if you're lucky enough to own one) mix the jello powder, salt, cinnamon, and cloves together. Make sure there are no clumps of the spices.
Dump the jello into a 9x13 and add the 2 c boiling water. Stir until the jello is completely dissolved, then stir in the cold water.
Dump in the cranberry sauce and stir until it is fully incorporated. This can be a little tricky and frustrating. I ended up dumping the jello through a sieve into a new 9x13 and then mushing the little cranberry sauce chunks through. This worked really well, but then I had two dirty pans. So, it's your call on that one.
Stash the jello in the fridge while you prepare the fruit. Cut the oranges and grapefruits into small, bite-sized chunks, removing all the pith (and I mean all!) (and pith is the white stuff). Cut the apple into small chunks as well. This will take a while and it will be messy, so just prepare yourself, or have your husband do it, like I did. :)
Dump the fruit into the pan and stir it all to distribute the fruit evenly. Then smooth the top back out and stick it back in the fridge. You might not use all the fruit. Just add enough to suit your tastes. I like mine very fruity.
Refrigerate for at least four hours. Cut individual squares and serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. This would look particularly lovely with some pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Last Friday, I was not really feelin' it for dinner. I wanted to get out of the house to get some Christmas shopping done, and my taste buds were itching for something new. So I called Sam, told him to get off the metro a couple stops early and meet us at the mall so we could shop, and on our way home, we would stop by Eamonn's for fish and chips. An inspired plan!
Bria and I headed over to the Pentagon City mall and picked up the gifts for our sibling gift exchanges and then met Sam straight off the metro. We hopped in the car and zipped over to Old Town to Eamonn's, which is on King Street and Columbus. Bria has been having some sleep issues, so she was at her wit's end in the back seat, and parking was scarce, since it was a weekend night, so we decided to call our order in and take it home with us. Our order was ready by the time we pulled up (maybe 5-10 minutes), and we headed home to enjoy our fish and chips.
Eamonn's was seriously awesome. I 100% recommend it for anyone looking for a bite to eat in Alexandria. The fish is fresh, which was very evident by the light and flaky texture. We both had the cod, which is a great, mild pick for fish and chips. I think even those who aren't fish fans could appreciate cod. The breading was pretty standard-- deep fried, so it isn't what you would call health food, but if you're eating fish and chips, why would you want to cut the grease? Just embrace it. The tartar sauce was fantastic-- flavorful and creamy. We also tried the chesapeake sauce, which had some spice that was so familiar, but I can't put my finger on it. It was good, but I much preferred the tartar. I will definitely continue to try their other sauces. They also have a curry sauce, which intrigues me. They are not stingy with sauce, so my fears of un-sauced fish were unfounded.
The chips are hand-cut and delightfully greasy (and far from soggy). Perfectly crispy on the outside with enough flavor that that you don't need to slather them in ketchup or another sauce. (Is it unethical to eat one's chips with ketchup when they are part of fish and chips? Is that decidedly nonIrish? Sorry to offend. I love ketchup too much.) Sam and I each had our own order of cod, shared an order of chips, and it rounded out to barely over $20. A fair price, I say.
I am already scheming our next visit to Eamonn's when I can try more sauces and other things on their menu (including some of their British import goodies!). And I would also love to try the Eamonn's creators' other restaurants. The pricey Restaurant Eve and the American classic restaurant The Majestic. When I have friends or family come to town, we will definitely be going out for some fish and chips. Eamonn's is an all-around success.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snowed In

When it first started snowing, I laughed at all the silly Virginians racing for their emergency preparedness gear. The forecast predicted about a foot of snow. I'm from Colorado and spent the last six years in Utah. I think I can handle a foot of snow. And then, last night, the snow started. And it still hasn't stopped. And when the snow drifts started coming up our windows, we decided Bria needed to experience it. So we bundled her up. She doesn't have snow clothes, so decided a garbage bag would do the trick.
She was in heaven.
And now we are just thinking warm fuzzy thoughts for our snow day tomorrow. Church is canceled, but at least Hannah and Rob live on our street so we'll have some other humans to interact with over dinner.

And if we weren't snowed in, or at least if we weren't out of flour, I might make this warm and fuzzy treat:

That would be monkey bread.

I got the recipe from Pioneer Woman, and I highly recommend it. But the difference is that I made homemade roll dough. And that is what I want to share with you. This recipe comes from my great-great-grandma Venice Bigler (how awesome is the name Venice?). It's perfectly flexible for any kind of roll dough you need: dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls, orange rolls, and in this case, monkey bread.

1 c milk
3 T butter
1/3 c warm water
1 T yeast
1 T sugar
4 c flour
2 t salt
1/4 c sugar
2 eggs

Heat the butter and milk together in a small saucepan until the butter is melted. Set aside to let it cool a bit. In a dish, put the water, yeast, and 1 T of sugar and let it sit for at least 10 minutes until it's foamy. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and 1/4 c sugar. In the the bowl of your mixer, combine 2 eggs, the yeast mixture, and the milk/butter mixture. Once combined, slowly add the flour by 1/2 c increments until it forms a nice dough. The dough should be sticky, but pull clean away from the sides of the mixing bowl. Let the dough rise for one hour (and double in size) before forming it into whatever kind of roll you need. (For the monkey bread, cut it into the little shapes now.) Before baking, let the dough rise one more hour. Unless you're impatient, because I didn't let the monkey bread rise a second time, and it was still delicious. For the most part, these rolls should bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, but the monkey bread recipe is different, so just adjust accordingly.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cranberry Pear Cake, aka HEAVEN IN CAKE FORM

Several years ago, on a cold December night, my mom went to a party at her neighbor's house. Little did she know the food she would eat there would change her life and the lives of those she loved.
My mom's neighbor Mary introduced my mom to the cranberry pear cake. The cake batter is simple: flour, sugar, baking soda, eggs, fresh cranberries, and an entire can of pears. The cake naturally forms into rough layers as it bakes, the most cake-like parts at the bottom followed by mashed pears, with the cranberries rising to the top. As the cake goes into the oven, the cranberries glisten on top, like floating little jewels. The heat of the oven causes them to burst, shining like rubies, juicy and vibrant from the heat. The crowning glory comes in the form of a sauce. Let me tell you four reasons the sauce will change your life:
1. Butter
2. Cream
3. Sugar
4. Vanilla

Combine those in a pan with some heat, and you might begin to cry from joy. The sauce is so sweet, it balances the tart cranberries, and the smoothness of the sauce covers the weirdness I usually feel from eating mushy, cooked fruit. Indeed, this cake is the one exception I make for cooked fruit. Plus, covered with a hefty dollop of freshly whipped cream-- this cake is truly perfection. I offer a 100% guarantee that this cake will wow your friends' and your own socks right off your feet. It's a perfect holiday party dessert.

this is my work and my glory

Cranberry Pear Cake
from Mary Brinkerhoff
2 c flour
2 c sugar
2 eggs
2 t baking soda
1 large can pears, with juice, mashed
1 bag cranberries

Combine all ingredients. I like to add everything except the cranberries and then use my hand mixer, which effectively mashes the pears, then stir in the cranberries with a wooden spoon. Pour the batter into a greased 9x13. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. (My mom swears hers bakes in 40 minutes, but mine always takes infinitely longer.) Do a toothpick test to be certain it is done.

3/4 c cream
1 c sugar
3/4 c butter
1 t pure vanilla extract

Combine in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Drizzle (liberally) over individual pieces of cake and top with a hefty dollop of freshly-whipped cream.

You're welcome.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

homemade pizookies

I was going to say that I've had a real sweet tooth lately, but the truth is that I always have a sweet tooth. I commonly make brownies and cookies, but I'm always on the lookout for something exciting and new. And back in March, we took a little trip to Arizona to visit Sam's sister, and we had pizookies. What's a pizookie? It's a giant cookie baked in a little tin served hot and gooey with a giant serving of ice cream on top. I was remembering how delish it was and decided to mimic it for our home enjoyment.
I decided I needed to start with a nice, hearty, delicious cookie dough-- because it's served slightly underdone. Also, I was fairly limited on white sugar, so I needed to find something that didn't require very much. I did a little searching and decided on this cookie from Orangette. It was perfect, firstly, because it only calls for 1/4 c white sugar. Secondly, it's perfect, period. I've decided that this oatmeal chocolate chip is hands-down the world's best cookie dough I have ever tasted. And I don't take that very lightly. This is serious stuff.
So I whipped up the cookie dough, made fairly large cookies (and just baked them like regular cookies on a cookie sheet with a silpat), and as soon as they came out of the oven (which was when they were a minute or two from being done), I flopped them into big bowls with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
This dessert hit the spot in so many ways. The cookie dough is so incredibly rich, but the ice cream counters that so you don't have to stop before you want to. And it's so comforting and wonderful-- simultaneously warm and cold, and chocolatey and gooey and chewy and creamy all at once-- it's perfect. I replicated the dessert a couple nights in a row, since we only used enough of the dough for two pizookies a night (plus a couple regular cookies for lunch the next day). If you're in a dessert rut (and hey, even if you're not), I highly recommend this.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Not that YOU still have any turkey in YOUR fridge . . .

Truth be told, I hate turkey. I always eat a couple bites for Thanksgiving, but I never enjoy it. And more than turkey, I hate leftovers. And even more than leftovers, I hate pot pies. But, when I found myself with some leftover turkey from Thanksgiving and a leftover pie crust, I decided to give Pioneer Woman's turkey pot pie a try. And, let me tell you, I ate my words. That leftover-turkey pot pie was delicious.
Next time you find yourself with leftover turkey (or chicken) or with a hankering for a pot pie, try it out. It's fresh and delicious. And one thing I hate about pot pies is that I find them gluey and gummy (which I call glummy). Also, I hate soggy, mushy vegetables, and I hate soggy bread. But this pot pie was none of those things.
A note-- I left out the thyme, because I didn't have any. I didn't cook the vegetables very long in the beginning because I wanted them to stay firm. This was a good choice. And, when I opened my cream, it was one solid block (blerg). So I used whole milk.
And now, off to take some DayQuil for the fourth cold I have had in two months . . .

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pine Hen

I've been feeling a little homesick lately. It's December 1 and I know I don't have a hope of seeing a snowflake for at least another month. I didn't expect to miss the snow! But I miss those mornings when you wake up knowing there is a gentle dusting of snow outside. And you peer out the window, and the world outside is silent as the snow falls slowly, forming a delicate white blanket over the earth. I miss that beauty.
But more than the snow (because I certainly don't miss that crusty, black, icy grossness that sticks around from October to April), I miss my family. It doesn't feel like the holiday season to me without my family around. So, in honor of my family, I made my parents' famous Pine Hen Pizza last night.
My parents make pizza every Friday night together. They have a pizza stone and a really great crust recipe, and I love the image of them standing in the kitchen, ordering each other around to create the perfect pizza. My mom makes the dough while my dad chops vegetables. My mom grills some chicken, then my dad shreds it and mixes it with sauce. Then, when the pizza is ready, it's a team effort to slide the pizza from the peel to the stone. They hover over their creation like new parents over their infant child. They have perfected the toppings of this pizza, and it is truly delightful. I'm usually not a fan of tons of toppings, but all of these work perfectly together to create a unified dish. It might just be pizza, but it reminds me of home.

My sister Amy sprinkling pine nuts on the pine hen pizza this summer at our sisters' retreat, where we made the pizza with out parents.

To make pine hen pizza, make your favorite crust and top it accordingly:
Barbecue sauce (we use baby ray's)
Grilled and shredded chicken, mixed with a little more barbecue sauce
Red and yellow peppers, sliced julienne
1 small onion, sliced thinly and carmelized (cook slowly over low heat for about 20 minutes-- this can be done while you make the crust and get everything else ready)
Pine nuts, lightly toasted
Mozzarella cheese
Cilantro, chopped and lightly sprinkled over the top after it comes out of the oven

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Presto Pesto

The other day, I finally made something worth writing about: pesto. Pesto and I have a history. I didn't really know what it was, and was therefore mostly afraid of it until after I was married. I had it a couple times without feeling too strongly about it until August 2007. I had just found out I was pregnant, and it was the day I graduated from college, and my old roommate Alexandra was in town and having a dinner party for some close friends. She made this fabulous asparagus with orange zest dish and had piles of grapes and cheese (but I didn't eat any brie because I didn't know if I could in my condition). And she also made pesto. And the pesto was so incredibly amazing. I was truly and deeply inspired. I copied down her recipe and made it several times, even taking the recipe to a dinner group the following winter.
The whole school year I was pregnant with Bria, Sam and I would have international cuisine themed dinners with a group of my old school friends. We started with Indian and made our way through Thai, Mediterranean, French, Swiss, and Italian. We would get together in the evening and cook for hours and hours and then eat for hours and hours. And Amanda would always do the dishes. (Thanks for that, Amanda; I hate doing the dishes.) Those nights are wrapped in this magical, nostalgic, warm and shiny place in my memory-- I think they kept me sane that year as I was uncomfortably pregnant and working an awful, brain-deadening job.
So for Italian night we made homemade pasta to be accompanied by three sauces: a basic alfredo, Matt's secret-recipe marinara, and the pesto. Everything was so delightful and perfect and fattening and filling and mouth-watering. Except the pesto. Oy! The Pesto! The greatest misfortune of all time is that someone (no naming names!) made the pesto with 1 tablespoon of salt instead of 1/2 teaspoon. And there was no more basil or pine nuts or parmesan to hide the salty horridness of it all. I think a little part of all those present died that night.
And, interestingly enough, I have never been able to find that exact recipe since. I honestly have no idea where it ran off to, but I've just improvised my pesto ever since. Sometimes it's super spicy, sometimes it's very cheesy. But it is never, ever too salty. When I made it the other day, I decided to measure it out as I went along so I could share it. The way it turned out this time was rather thick. I really like it that way, because when you add it to the pasta, the residual pasta water and the heat of the pasta loosen it up, and it's so beautiful to stir it all together. But if you want a more thin sauce, just add more oil until it reaches your desired consistency.
It is incredibly easy and quick to make, which makes for a cinch of a dinner. You can even make it ahead of time and just pull it out when you make the pasta. It will become firm in the fridge, but will loosen up with the heat of the pasta. If I make this for dinner, I find I often need more than just pasta and pesto. I added bacon this time, and I was so pleasantly surprised by the results. It adds this rich flavor that is so different from the pasta; it really adds to the depth of the dish. And the crunch from the bacon just makes it more interesting and makes you feel like your getting a whole lot more with each bite. I definitely recommend topping your pesto with bacon, pine nuts and parmesan for a truly delicious meal.

1 c packed basil
2 cloves garlic
1 c parmesan cheese
2 small pinches salt
1/2 c pine nuts (lightly toasting these beforehand is a great idea)
3/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1 T pasta water

Place basil, garlic, parmesan, salt, and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Blend until the mixture forms into a thick paste. Slowly stream in oil while continuing to process until the pesto reaches the desired consistency. Add the pasta water last and blend to mix in.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Carbo Loading

I think I have something to make up for my lack of posts.

Homemade bread.

Yes? Yes.
I love the idea of bread-baking christening a new home, and I've kind of been putting off the bread-baking until I was ready to call this new apartment home. And it was finally time. I unpacked the third-to-last box the other day (those last two-- I don't know when that will happen. Later, for sure) and so things are feeling more real here. (mostly because there is finally room to walk around in our bedroom. maybe only four inches to walk in, but it's walking space nonetheless.) Anyway, I find the whole bread-baking equals home-making thing terribly romantic. And since I thought it was about time to make this place feel more like home, I finally did it. The recipe I have for homemade bread has been passed down for generations in my family, but . . . I don't really like it. (Gasp! Multiple female ancestors are turning in their graves.) It's too crumbly. So, it's fantastic and wonderful when it's fresh from the oven or if you toast it, but once it's cooled and sliced, it just becomes this crumbly mess. I need bread that can function for all my bread needs. So, I went searching.
Everything I found on the internet was geared towards bread machines. I'm sure I could adapt any bread machine recipe to suit my needs, but I didn't want my work to go into recipe adaptation. So, I pulled out a cookbook I got for my wedding (from Annie's family, actually). Lo and behold! A bread recipe that didn't require a bread machine. So I decided to give it a whirl.
The results were fantastic. The bread was firm and hearty without being dry or stiff. The flavor was light and fresh, with that wonderfully homey and chewy quality. It was delightful for plain old bread (for which I suggest you slice thinly), and it was even more delicious for toast, which I spread with peanut butter and eat every morning for breakfast.
After the first two loaves, I decided I wanted something a little meatier, so I updated the recipe a little to create a honey oat loaf (as opposed to the original plain white). I made this last night and ate this toast for breakfast. I am in love with this loaf. It feels healthier and heartier. I love the substance the oat flour adds to the bread. I'm excited to continue working on this recipe, but here it is for the time being. (P.S. All the pictures are from the white bread, not this honey oat loaf, which looks much more lovely.)

Honey Oat Bread
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook Bridal Edition

6 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 oat flour (made by grinding raw old-fashioned oats in your food processor to a fine meal)
1 package active dry yeast (about 1 T)
2 1/4 c whole milk (I'm sure skim a fine substitute, but why not use whole when you can?)
2 T honey
1 butter
1 1/2 t salt

In the bowl of your mixer (with dough hooks attached), Combine 3/4 c oat flour, 1 3/4 c flour, and yeast.
In a medium saucepan, combine milk, honey, butter, and salt. Heat on med-low until warm and the butter nearly melts. In fact, I just noticed that the butter is supposed to nearly melt. I've completely melted it every other time, and it's been just fine. But not melting it completely would certainly save some time. Also, you don't want the milk mixture to be hot, as that would kill the yeast. It should be warm, but not hot, so let it cool a touch if you melt the butter completely.
Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and mix on low for about a minute, stopping in the middle to scrape the sides. Once it's completely incorporated, mix on medium or high for about 3 minutes. Return the mixer to low and start adding the flour gradually. Add as much flour as you can to create a moderately stiff dough. This usually means adding flour just until the dough pulls clean from the sides of the mixing bowl. Don't add too quickly-- you can always add more flour later if you realize it's too wet. Once all the flour is incorporated, turn the mixer to high and knead for 6-8 minutes. In my mom's words, you want to mix the heck out of it.
Kneading is an important process in bread-making because it allows the flours to release their glutens, which is what makes bread bread. It gives bread the right texture and allows it to rise properly. It's nearly impossible to knead the bread too much at this point, so just go to town. You know you're finished when the dough has a smooth, elastic texture. This is much easier to tell by hand, I find. So once I think it's ready, I remove the dough from the mixer and feel it. The dough should stretch without breaking and should feel smooth over the surface, without sticking to your hand. If it's not quite right, knead it with your hands for a couple more minutes. Once the dough has the right texture, form the dough into a ball shape and place it in a lightly greased bowl.
Cover and let it rise in a warm place until double in size (about one hour).

Once dough is double in size, punch the dough down with a single blow of the fist. Use your fingers to pull the edges to the center then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into two equal parts, then cover and let it rest for ten minutes. At this point, you don't want to work the dough too much or it will become tough. Meanwhile, grease two bread pans. After the dough has rested, shape each dough half into a loaf shape, gently tucking and pinching into the desire shape. Place the loaves into their pans, cover, and let rise a second time in a warm place until double in size (about 40 minutes).

Bake the bread in a 375 degree oven for about 40 minutes. When it is done, the bread will sound hollow if you lightly tap the top. My bread took about 38 minutes, so don't be afraid to check it early. Immediately remove the bread from their pans and cool on a wire rack.
Be sure to eat at least one slice while it's still warm. I like mine best spread with unsalted butter and honey.

You can make the bread completely by hand or using a mixer. I've adapted the recipe to be made in my Bosch. I think making bread can seem really daunting, and as I typed this out, I realized that it is a very long and detailed and involved process. But, it's not difficult. I think the work is well worth it. Warm bread fresh from the oven is one of the most delicious and comforting things in the world.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Do It. Do It Now.

I've been away forever, I know. And I'm planning some really great posts, I promise. But until then, head over to The Wednesday Chef and try this recipe. Seriously. It is every bit as delicious as she says. (I'm not joking. I'm eating it right now and simultaneously dying of joy.)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Salad for Salad-Haters

First of all, I am not really into salads. They are often boring, they are rarely filling, and wilty lettuce gives me the creeps. So, for the most part, I steer clear of salads. But my mom made this salad just before I moved, and I have been craving it ever since, so I made it for Sam last week-- and then ate it for several days in a row and shared it with some extended family. A couple times I found Bria standing with the fridge door open eating out of the salad bowl (including popping green onion in her mouth and chewing with delight), and every time I ate it, she perched down next to me and helped herself to everything in my plate, use her little fingers like tongs to pick out what she wanted to eat (usually the lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers)
The recipe comes from my Aunt Karen, and I have no idea where she got it. But I love the complexity of this dish. The wild rice adds such an awesome texture, depth, and flavor, it feels like this salad is a real meal. And the flavors aren't strictly lettuce and dressing-- the rice helps here too-- but all of the other vegetables blend so well together, it feels like a masterpiece in your mouth. And, despite never being a lover of salad, I have always been a lover of French dressing, so there you go. I give you Southwest Wild Rice and Black Bean Salad, adapted from Aunt Karen:

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 heads romaine lettuce, chopped into salad-sized pieces
1 bunch green onions
1 cucumber
10ish grape tomatoes
1 avacado
1-2 c cheddar cheese, shredded (or colby jack)
1-2 c blue corn tortilla chips, lightly crushed
1 rounded c wild rice (cooked)
1/2 t chili powder
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t cayenne
1/2 t garlic powder
French dressing (I like the creamy French)

In a small bowl, combine the wild rice with the spices. In a large serving bowl, combine other ingredients. Then, devour! This serves a TON, so if it's just for a couple people, either scale it back or enjoy the leftovers. If you do keep it, don't dress the salad, just add the dressing to each part as you eat it. Also know that the chips will lose their crunch and become more like bits of tortilla rather than tortilla chip. I didn't mind this, but it bothered Sam. The original recipe calls for one head of romaine and one head of red leaf lettuce as well as 2 cups of shredded pepper jack cheese and 1 c cheddar cheese. Both of my substitutions came from what I already had in my fridge and didn't feel like making a trip to the grocery store for. I'm sure following either method would turn out equally delicious.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pee-Pee! (but not the kind you think)

Bria learned a new word today: pizza. But when she says it, it sounds like this: "PEE PEE!" Yes, it's all very exciting. She was thrilled we were having pizza for lunch, and went around squealing her new word while shaking her hands and dancing on her tip-toes.

(not the best picture, but the only one I have on this computer, so better than nothing, right?)

Last summer I decided to try making homemade pizza-- I don't know why I had never tried before. But now pizza is a regular on our menu-- I make it nearly every week. I love making pizza because there are so many options. Our regulars are bbq chicken, veggie, and hawaiian. As long as you have cheese and crust ingredients, you can really make a pizza out of anything you have in your pantry. I'll likely post more pizza options later (I have a recipe for a mexican-style pizza that would make you drool), but here is the basic crust recipe I have adapted from my friend Erica. I find making this pizza takes me about one hour start to finish.

1 1/4 c warm water
1 T yeast
2 T sugar
1/2 t salt
4 c flour

In a large bowl, dump in water, yeast, and sugar. Do not stir. Let it sit for about five minutes-- the yeast should become all frothy and bubbly. If not, your yeast is stale, so your dough will not rise. Dump in salt and 2 cups flour, stir to combine. Gradually stir in more flour until a spoon will no longer cut it, then resort to your hands to knead and fold in more flour until you have a smooth and elastic dough. Sometimes I use only three cups of flour, other times I have used over four. You want the dough to be just past sticky. Not dry, but not making a mess. Form the dough into a ball and leave it in the bowl for at least ten minutes.

While waiting for the dough, turn on the oven to 425. If you're lucky enough to own a pizza stone, pull it out and place it in the oven to preheat. Unfortunately, I don't have one, so I just lightly grease a jelly roll pan with canola oil. Once the ten minutes are up, stretch and pull the dough out to the size and shape you desire. I stretch mine as much as I can in my hands before putting it on the pan and pressing it to the shape of the full sheet. Place it in the oven and bake for ten minutes.

While waiting for the crust to bake, chop and assemble your toppings. Pull the pizza out and top according to your desires. Today, we had veggie. I used a store-bought pizza sauce and added red onion and orange bell pepper, topped off with mozzarella. Place the pizza back in the oven and bake until the cheese is starting to turn golden all over. Then, devour!

Monday, October 26, 2009

On Trial: the spaghetti squash

Kind of like how I love pumpkins, I think all squash are very, very cool (except butternut squash, whose taste I despise, although it is beautiful). I don't really ever know what to do with squash, so I usually end up just looking at them with wonder and awe. But, when I was at Trader Joe's last week (don't you love that I can say that now?!) they had some spaghetti squash for $2.79-- total! not per pound! So I decided to snag one and try it out.

First, Bria snuggled and kissed the thing and called it her baby.

Then we cut it open. I tried it with no success,

so I snatched my man and had him use his brawn to muscle the thing open.

Then I was deeply concerned with what I found inside.

But then I decided it was normal. Those things weren't worms, like I feared, but rather seeds turning all sprouty. I figured it was ok. So I scooped out the squash's innards.

Then I rubbed in a little olive oil, (kosher) salt, and (freshly-ground black) pepper.

While the squash relaxed in the oven, I set to work on some sauce. I decided to spice up a bottle of plain marinara with some veggies.

I sauteed garlic, onion, and zucchini, then added carrots, bell pepper, and tomatoes. Once the veggies started to soften, I added the sauce and let it simmer for a couple minutes.

After an hour in the 350 degree oven (cut-side down), the squash came out all golden and steamy and beautiful.

Once it cooled enough that I could handle the little beast, I set to work with my fork and began scraping out the spaghetti-like strands. It was surprisingly easier than I expected, and it yielded surprisingly more than I expected.

Once the squash shells were hollow, we dished it up with some sauce and, of course, some parmesan.

The verdict: so, so, so delicious! Sam isn't much of a pasta-with-sauce lover, but he adored this (obviously, I know it isn't pasta, but it was a very similar idea). The texture of the squash adds so much more interest than plain spaghetti. There was more bite than pasta, and more to chew. It felt heartier, but it also didn't feel like a big bowl of pasta sitting in my stomach-- it was a surprisingly light meal. It felt healthy and rich, and I loved the flavor. Bria also thought it was fantastic. She ate it plain and with sauce. The tomato sauce was great as well, and I think I will definitely continue adding things to my sauces to make them more interesting. I am interested in trying different sauces on spaghetti squash and see how that translates. It lends itself very well to a tomato-based sauce, but I am not sure how it would mesh with a pesto or creamy cheese sauce. I do think more spaghetti squash is in our future: ca c'est delicieux!

Friday, October 23, 2009


I try to have an adventure every day-- culinary or otherwise. But some days are not meant for adventures. Some days are meant for easy meals and three hours naps (for babies) and one and a half hour naps (for moms). I like those days.

So have a good weekend. I'll see you next week when I'm back to having daily adventures-- and, oh!, the adventures I have planned for next week!

Thursday, October 22, 2009


A significant amount of my time is spent getting this girlto eat.

Bria really is a good eater. She loves fruits and vegetables more than any other food, and would probably trade any of her possessions for a tomato, olive, or piece of black licorice. She might even trade me in for a piece of black licorice. But then there's lunch. I hate lunch. I think it's the trickiest meal of the day. Bria hasn't yet mastered utensils, and she doesn't like sandwiches, yogurt, or applesauce. What am I supposed to feed this girl?

The solicitation for advice is now open.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Penne with Bacon and Zucchini

Sam has been working the swing shift these first two weeks, so instead of a fancy dinner to come home to, I send him off to work after a fancy lunch. I've actually found myself more motivated to cook at 11:30 am than at 5:00 pm. Hopefully I can transfer that enthusiasm, because Sam will work a more regular shift starting next week.
One of the lunches I made was this wonderful pasta dish that felt healthy but probably added a couple inches of plaque to my arteries. Oh well. The zucchini and lack of heavy sauce made it feel light and scrumptious-- the perfect kind of lunch. And of course it was delicieux because it featured two of my all-time favorites: bacon and parmesan. I should state, for the record, that bacon is why I am not a vegetarian. When I was 9, my friend told me she was a vegetarian, so (naturally) I decided I would be, too. Then, I went to a slumber party for a different friend, and in the morning, bacon was served for breakfast. I have this clear shot in my head of sitting at the table, staring longingly at the bacon, wanting so badly to eat it but feeling this moral obligation to stand firm. I gave up vegetarianism not long after. Plus, have you had the bacon bar? I love it.

Anyway, back to the pasta.

This dish doesn't need a firm recipe. I think it better to just explain the process. Cook some penne pasta al dente, and reserve about 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Cook up some bacon. I used half a package. I also cut the bacon beforehand so I didn't have to crumble it after; this was much easier. Just before the bacon is finished cooking, toss in some diced zucchini and saute it with the bacon until it is tender. Throw the pasta, bacon, zucchini, and pasta water in a big bowl with a hefty amount of parmesan. Stir it up then add more parmesan to serve. It is surprisingly flavorful and complex. You'll love it, I'm sure.

Monday, October 19, 2009

P is for Pumpkin

When Sam and I were making the list of places in Utah to go one last time, one of our last stops was Nielsen's Frozen Custard. We went the night before Sam set out on the Great Trek Across the Nation, and to our delight, the flavor of the day was pumpkin. I am all about pumpkin. This is one huge reason why autumn is my second favorite season (to spring): pumpkin cookies, pumpkin soup, pumpkin curry, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin custard. Last fall, when Bria was eating her first solid foods, her first choice was always freshly baked and pureed pumpkin. In high school, I went absolutely nuts for pumpkin bagels from Einstein's. I would go after school and buy every pumpkin bagel they would give me. It bordered on obsession.
So, with pumpkins on my mind, I decided we needed to mimic Nielsen's amazing creation. I purchased the ingredients several days ago, and finally found time in the lazy Sunday afternoon yesterday to whip it together. While the custard froze in the ice cream machine, I baked my favorite brownies, and then we had something to look forward to for the rest of the day.

As I should have guessed, Bria went nuts for it. As I transferred the custard to a freezer tupperware, Bria spotted me. She ran over and demanded some. I gave her one little taste, and that was it. She was signing "more" before she even finished each bite. She ate quite her fair share before I finally managed to distract her and stash the custard in the freezer. And when Bria finally turned in for the night, I dished up some bowls of custard and brownies, which we devoured while watching old episodes of 30 Rock. It was the perfect way to end the weekend and gear ourselves up for Monday.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Glory Be the Farmer's Market

When I was in California last month with my sister Amy, I had two things I wanted to do: go to the beach and go to a farmer's market. We went to a beach in Santa Cruz and I ended up with one of the top three worst sunburns of my life. (But it was worth it.) And then we hit up the Palo Alto Farmer's Market. Words can't describe my joy. I kept exclaiming how I wanted to live in Palo Alto just to go to the farmer's market and that I wanted to maybe just live at the farmer's market and never leave, and then maybe I just wanted to be a farmer's market, just so I could be so glorious. It should be obvious by now that sometimes I get carried away around food.

Unfortunately (and this was a very serious travesty) it had been kind of a crazy morning, so we forgot to stop by the bank and get cash-- and when you're traveling with five kids, it's not worth it to turn around. So, we scrounged up about $11 in change to buy some crepes, and then the rest of the goods were tasted with our eyes. The crepes, though, were amazing. We had a ham and cheese crepe to suit those of us (um . . . that would be me) with hypoglycemia and a chocolate hazelnut crepe. Now, before you start thinking I said a Nutella crepe (and not that that would be a bad thing), I said a chocolate and hazelnut crepe, which meant dark, dark chocolate that was so divinely on the edge of bitterness melted with ground hazelnuts. Oh drool. It was heavenly. I was so sad I didn't have millions of dollars to just buy and devour crepe after crepe after crepe. Alas, we only had that scrounged up change, which I don't think the crepe makers appreciated.

So we continued around and sampled what we could. Bria was having fits she was so excited about the peach, nectarine, and watermelon samples. She was signing "more" as fast as she could, and she got a slight crazed look in her eyes as I lugged her around looking for more sample fruit. That girl loves produce, that's for sure. And she was positively devastated there were no tomato samples. Poor girl.

The peaches we sampled weren't quite ripe, so they were a little too firm, but the flavor! Oh, the flavor. It was like Plato's idea of the perfect peach exploding in your mouth. If they had been ripe, I would have pawned my wedding ring for those peaches.

As we walked around I think I kept clasping my hands together with a knit brow exclaiming, "oh! look!" I wanted everyone I know and love to be there so I could show them the beauty of the food. When I die, if heaven doesn't resemble a farmer's market, I will be severely disappointed.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review: Founding Farmers

When I was here several weeks ago before the move, I met up with my dear old friend Ashley, whom I have have been friends with since we were wee babies. We hadn't seen each other in three (!) years, so it was so delightful to meet up. She's lived in the DC area for almost year, so I asked her to pick a place for us to go that was close to her work and Sam's work. She picked Founding Farmers, and I can't tell you what a wonderful choice that was.
The design of the restaurant was fantastic. So modern and chic. I wish I hadn't been there at such a crowded time and with a toddler so I could have appreciated it more. Plus, the bathrooms were worth noting with their lovely design. I am all about bathrooms with real doors rather than industrial stalls. And, they featured the Dyson hand dryer, which I am a little more than obsessed with. Ok, you probably don't really care about the bathroom. On to the food!
I have a confession to make. I like to think otherwise, but I am not very adventurous when it comes to food. I seem to always order the same type of thing at every restaurant, and this time, it back fired. I was debating between the cheeseburger and a salad, and I settled for the cheeseburger. I love cheeseburgers, and they usually hit the spot, but this experience may actually have cured me of my addiction.
When my burger came, and I bit into it, it was nearly red inside. So I sent it back, and they comped it, which I highly appreciated. But it was very, very slow to return. So by the time I finally got my burger, I had munched enough on everyone else's food and I wasn't really hungry anymore. The burger was good, but it didn't hit the spot. It wasn't special, and I really wanted it to be. So, from now on, when I try new restaurants, I will try new food.
Please, don't let this deter you. Now I will continue to tell you how Founding Farmers could change your life.

Fried Chicken and Waffles.

Both Sam and Ashley tried this dish, and holy cow. Stop everything, fly to DC, and order this dish right now. First, the chicken. The seasoning is so spectacular-- very complex, but not busy or over-the-top. And it is breaded just the perfect amount. Then you have the waffles. Sam described it perfectly: "it's like eating a cloud." So very, very flavorful! And so light and fluffy and delicious, they don't even need the syrup, although the syrup is perfect too. The chicken and waffles are also served with perfectly-steamed fresh green beans and macaroni and cheese. And that macaroni and cheese is so creamy and so cheesy, you might actually die from culinary delight.

Now you can see why just my plain old cheeseburger was a bit of a disappointment. I mean, the fried chicken and waffles were so amazing, we wanted to devote the rest of our lives to eating that dish. I extend my sincerest gratitude to Ashley and Sam who shared their food with my while I waited for my burger.
We finished it all off with the fresh, homemade donuts with a chocolate glaze. Honestly, it was a little too rich for me after so much food. (I though it came with ice cream, which I can always eat no matter how full I am.) But they were quite good. Next time I will order a dessert with ice cream.

I cannot wait to go here again with Sam-- next time without Bria. There is too much to experience and appreciate to bring a toddler, and I want to have time to study the menu next time without worrying about feeding another human who is furiously signing "hungry!" And Ashley said last time she went, she saw LeeAnn Rimes. A celebrity sighting possibility and life-changing food? I don't think there is a higher possible rating in my book.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sweet Ginger Beef

So, to start off our first real week in Virginia, I wanted to make a special dinner-- a Back-to-Work dinner for Sam, of sorts. And when I was in California, at the beginning of September, my sister Amy made this fantastic dish I've been dreaming about ever since, so I knew exactly what I wanted to make.

Sam usually doesn't go for heavily flavored beef dishes, particularly Asian-style. He is a red meat man, and he doesn't like that beefy goodness to get covered up with other stuff. (I, on the other hand, need lots of flavor to distract me from the fact that I am eating animal flesh.) But Sam was very pleasantly surprised by this dish. Both times I have had this, I find myself eating more and more and more past the point of fullness almost to the point of tears. It's that good.

Sweet Ginger Beef
from Amy Allebest

1 big beef tri-tip (I got mine from Costco)

1 c soy sauce

1 ½ c sugar (I did half white, half brown)

A medium size chunk of freshly grated ginger

3 cloves fresh pressed garlic

Bake the tri tip on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees until done. When you remove it from the oven, let it rest for 10-15 minutes, then slice very thinly against the grain.

Combine sauce ingredients into a sauce pan. Bring to low-heat boil until it thickens. (Amy adds: I always add something else too, just depending on my mood. Squeeze some orange juice in for orange beef, add some hot red pepper flakes for some zing, pineapple juice for a Hawaiian feel, a touch of sesame oil if you like, etc.)

Serve over rice (Jasmine or Japanese) and with some vegetable. I did broccoli this time, and my sister served it with fresh green beans.