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.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Back in Black

I'm back! It's been so long, and I have been aching to write about some wonderful food experiences I have had over the last couple months, and those posts are going to come soon. We finally got internet today, but we are still awash in boxes. I was hoping the first meal I made in this new apartment would be something fancy and delightful, but it ended up being mac & cheese for Bria last night. Oh well-- I am planning something fantastic for dinner tomorrow to make up for it. Pictures and a recipe will definitely follow.