Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Growing Green

I can usually follow directions. So once I learned a little kitchen terminology, I was able to cook. With the help of a recipe, of course.

For me, a recipe is like training wheels. Armed with the extra support, I can do it on my own. But without it, my cooking falls flat.

Proportions, substitutions and cook times elude me. Therefore, I never deviate from my beloved directions.

Often a recipe will call for fresh herbs, so I'll pick up a pack for $4 or $5 at the grocery store -- usually only using a leaf or two. So annoyingly wasteful. Yet, I'm always too afraid to leave them out (or, for that matter, add the extra to another recipe that doesn't specifically call for it).

This summer I decided to do something about it. Or rather, I asked M to help me do something about it. He's a much better crop master, based solely on the fact that he can remember to water them.

This weekend M set me up with an adorable window box, as well as a few other plants. We have basil, oregano, sage and rosemary. Plus we have red bell peppers, sweet potatoes and will soon add tomatoes to the mix. There's even been talk of possibly planting a blueberry bush. How great would that be!

I'm not much for tending crop, but I am all for eating fresh and local. It just tastes better.

What's in your garden?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Safety Schmafety

M and I were both away last weekend. I was in NYC. He was fishing, canoeing and camping.

Unfortunately, I got home first and was greeted by a loud BEEP. And another. And another.

Smoke detector must need a new battery. BEEP. Where do we even keep batteries? BEEP. Buy a new one? BEEP. No, it's raining outside. And getting late. BEEP! Just disconnect...

Ah, peace.


Seriously? Maybe it was the upstairs smoke detector? BEEP. Disconnect that one.

Silence. Silence. Silence. BEEP!

Are you kidding me? Maybe taking the batteries out isn't enough. BEEP. It must know I didn't change the battery and it's punishing me for it. BEEP!

A laundry basket full of towels. Perfect. BEEP. Wrap both detectors in towels. Bring laundry basket to garage. BEEP. Shut the door!

Back up the basement stairs. And then up to our bedroom. Victory? BEEP! Ugh!

Jump out the window? Kidding.

Call M. He'll know what to do. Ring. Ring. Ring. BEEP! Ring Ring...

"Maybe it's the carbon monoxide decor," M suggested. Oh yeah. That thing.

BEEP. Unplug. BEEP. A silence button! Hit silence button. Remove batteries. Silence....

And more silence. Still silence.


Now the only problem was every safety detector was in pieces all over our house. Taking them apart was one thing. Gathering the pieces and putting them back together. Not so easy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Basic Brownies

Looking back to some of my original posts -- and the memories that far precede blogging, I really think I've come a long way.

For example, just last night an old memory came flooding back. I was dining at Fat Head's -- a Pittsburgh fave -- with M and his brothers. Don't ask me why, but the topic of olive oil came up. The general consensus was it makes just about everything taste better.

Or does it? That's when I remembered a time when EVOO failed me. Or rather, I probably failed my EVOO.

In college, I was making brownies from a box one night. Nothing fancy. Mix ingredients together, pour into a baking dish, put in the oven and I was home free.

When the timer went off, the smell of fresh baked chocolate wafted through our old college house. Yum! I called the roommates to the kitchen for a treat.

But when I pulled the brownies from the oven, they were still really gooey.

"Maybe they aren't done yet?" my roommate suggested.

I was about to put them back in when she noticed the olive oil sitting out on the counter.

"Um.... What kind of oil did you use?" she asked.

"I used this," I said, grabbing the EVOO. "And I swear, I measured everything perfectly. I was even eye level with the bottom of the meniscus!" I automatically started justifying. I was so used to my mom and sister always questioning my cooking antics.

You'd have to know my roommate. She's the sweetest girl and I know she didn't want to hurt my feelings. She tried to get me to throw them away, but I insisted we try them first. She refused.

Smart girl. She knew they'd be totally disgusting. I wasn't so convinced. So I cut off a corner and took a great big bite. Holy gross!

In the end, I learned EVOO ≠ canola oil. What a sad, sad waste of olive oil.

P.S. M loves the edges, so we're now the proud owners of the Baker's Edge brownie pan. And so far, I have yet to screw those up!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Chocolate Covered Peeps

Sugar. On top of sugar. On top of sugar.

I think it's too much. To the Peep people -- simply sugar on top of sugar is enough. Please and thank you.


Monday, May 2, 2011

Live and Learn

We were grilling out. Steak with veggies. Yum! After I cut the peppers and onions, I decided to chop up the watermelon. Figured it would compliment the summer inspired meal nicely.

And it probably would have... if it didn't taste like onions. I was lazy and on a roll. So while I used a different knife for the veggies and the watermelon, I used the same cutting board. Thus, onion infused watermelon. Not very good.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Bunny Cake

The Bunny cake has been a long tradition in our family. He's made an appearance at every Easter I can remember.

But one year, he almost didn't make it. I was probably around 12 or 13 years old when my mom gave me the job of making the bunny cake. ME! What an honor.

I was only using a box cake mix, so it should have been a piece of cake (groan). Anyway, I added the eggs, water, oil and started mixing. And mixing. And mixing. Ten minutes later I thought my arm was going to fall off. I had no choice but to ask my younger sister what went wrong.

She took one look at the unopened box of cake mix and pointed out exactly what went wrong. I forgot to add the mix. So terrible to be corrected by an 8-year-old.

In the end, the bunny made it to the table and was enjoyed by all. But my mom never, ever asked me to make him again. Until this year...

She's really starting to show faith in me. She believes I'm FINALLY outgrowing my Domestically Deficient title. Thus, she turned over the bunny cake pan.

I didn't want to disappoint and decided to go all out with a homemade burnt almond torte cake. I made everything from scratch.

There were a few bumps in the road --
  1. I put too much batter in the pan and it started to overflow.
  2. I spilled flour everywhere (including on my brand new black sneakers). Such a pain to clean up.
  3. The icing called for emulsified shorting -- Does anybody even know what that is? Or where you can buy it? I never did figure that out. Apparently Crisco works as a decent substitute.
  4. Despite greasing and flouring the pan, the cake got stuck.
  5. And the almonds -- yikes. The recipe I used to toast them essentially cemented them to the pan. Roughly a third of them flew all over the kitchen as M and I tried to scrape them off. They were EVERYWHERE. Good thing I made extra!
But in the end, the bunny was served. And he was a huge hit. All was right in our home on Easter Sunday.

PS Take a vote -- Do you think he's holding the Easter egg in front of him or popping out of an egg? That is a question we've pondered for years.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How sweet it is

Sweet Potatoes. A favorite in our house. And on special this week!

I was flipping through my Nigella Lawson cookbook and her butternut squash with pecans and blue cheese recipe jumped right off the page.

Since I had the sweet potatoes, I substituted them for the squash. It turned out really well. M said this recipe is a keeper.

After cutting the potatoes for Nigella's recipe, I still had three left over. So I made Paula Dean's sweet potato fries on our baking stone. Tip: season both sides of the fries before making and flip them at least once in the middle. M also declared this recipe a keeper.

Of course, I don't like a meal to consist only of one type of food (even if it's in two different forms), so I heated up the remaining pulled pork (which was still delish) and served up a side salad.

And since we're on the topic of sweet potatoes, I have to mention my favorite go-to sweet potato recipe. I've served it at a few family dinners and it's a hit every time.

I also think praline yam casserole could work well with sweet potatoes. I'm still not quite clear on the difference between sweet potatoes and yams.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure I've ever met a sweet potato recipe I didn't like. What's your favorite sweet potato dish?