Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Some Kitchen Essentials

We had another of our potluck dinners at work the other night. This time, I made the main course. Now I work a night shift and we usually eat mid-way through which is usually between midnight and one AM. We are limited to basically a microwave or George Foreman Grill and I do not have a crockpot, but I do have an electric wok. So I decided to make a stirfry and I am really happy that I did!

With the electric wok, everything was done in less than 10 minutes and we had a fresh meal cooked right in the office. My coworker enjoyed it so much, she went on and bought an electric wok that evening!

Ok, now for the reason for the introduction, in order to for this to have turned out as good as it was, I discovered three things that were essential to workplace woking.
The first is the electric wok. I am convinced that this is an essential part of any kitchen. Our electric wok was inherited from my grandparents and it is probably 20 years old. It is not fancy and I am guessing that it was not a super expensive model when they bought it. I mentioned that my coworker bought one on and she spent about $40 on it. I would think that you would be able to find a good, inexpensive one at Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond or Kohls too. This is definitely worth the investment!

The next thing that made the meal a success was microwavable rice. Lydia uses this all the time and swears by it. So I thought it might be a good option for my dinner. I ended up buying Uncle Ben's Basmati rice that was ready in 90 seconds. It was super easy: break it up in the package, open a vent, microwave for 90 seconds, serve. I used 2 packs and it was really good! Lydia was right and I would buy this again (even if I wasn't cooking at work).

Lastly, was having a good, premade stirfry sauce. Whenever I go to the Asian section of the grocery store, I spend at least 10 minutes looking at all the sauces and trying to figure out which one to buy. Well for this, I ended up with a Mandarin Sauce and it was really good too. I find that the secret to a good stirfry is to add the sauce last, right before you serve it.

Anyway, I hope this inspires you to think about making a delicious stirfry meal at home (or at work). It takes minimal effort and you will enjoy the payoff!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Toxic Cupcakes for Halloween!

I love, love, love Halloween (I better!  I got married on Halloween seven years ago!).  It's the only really fun holiday.  There's no pressure: you can dress up as who or whatever you want (or not), you get to eat candy, and there only stress you have is the stress you create for yourself.  There's no worrying over finding the perfect gift, cooking the perfect turkey, etc.  It's all about make believe....and if you don't love that, then there's something wrong with you.

The other night, I had the whole family over for an early Halloween dinner.  I made a a yummy (and surprisingly low-calorie) chili, cornbread, my famous guacamole, finish it all off...toxic green and black cupcakes.

Here's the recipe I followed.  The recipe is nice because it only makes 12 cupcakes--and 12 is plenty for my family of six!  The end result is a somewhat more dense cupcake than I am used to...a cupcake that's more like an old fashion cake donut.  These aren't the best cupcakes I've ever made, but they were yummy (and, since the recipe came from Cooking Light, they were relatively low cal and low fat for a cupcake!).


3/4 cup granulated sugar
5 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk (I used skim!)

  • Preheat oven to 350.  Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
  • Using an electric mixer, beat first three ingredients at medium speed until well blended, about 3 minutes.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • In a separate medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt (use regular table salt.  Also: you may want to sift the cocoa if it seems clumpy) to combine.  
  • Add flour mixture to the sugar/egg mixture alternatively with the milk, beginning and ending with flour (like this: 1/3 flour mixture, 1/2 of the milk, 1/3 flour, remaining milk, remaining flour).  Mix well after each addition.
  • Spoon cupcake batter into prepared paper lined tins.  
  • Bake at 350 for 22 minutes or until cupcakes spring back when touched lightly in the center.
  • Cool cupcakes in the tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  • Remove cupcakes from tin and let cool completely on wire rack.
  • Frost with your favorite frosting once completely cool.
  • Every time I make a chocolate cake, I add a teaspoon or so of instant espresso powder.  This gives chocolate a little more dimension.  I am not a fan of chocolate flavored things (though I do like coffee!), but I promise you won't notice a coffee flavor.  Like I just gives chocolate more umpf.
  • I was really lazy and used pre-made vanilla frosting (I think it was Duncan Hines?).  I added a boatload of green food coloring to the frosting to make my cupcakes look toxic.  Black and green is a great alternative to the traditional Halloween black and orange combo.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Tastes of Fall

It's official: fall is here.  After returning home from being out all day last week, I realized my house was only 62 degrees inside.  That meant it was time to switch on the heat (darn!) which of course means that summer and the hope for warmer days is long gone.  I don't mind too much...I love fall.  I was married in the fall and I think it's a really special time of the year.

Now that we're firmly planted in shorter days and longer nights, my palate is changing and I am wanting fall foods.  Here are some of my culinary signs of fall...let me know what fall flavors you crave in the comments!

  • Spiced Apple Cider.  I don't love the taste of apple cider, but my husband does.  I do love the way it smells--like apples and spices, essentially autumn in a cup!  Heat it up and it makes the whole house smell amazing.  I recently snagged a big bottle of Trader Joe's Spiced Apple Cider for about $3.  Not bad.
  • Pumpkin Seeds.  Every Halloween, my father would roast up our pumpkin seeds. He cooked them low and slow--giving them hours in the oven to crisp up.  He added salt and occasionally garlic to the seeds which gave them a huge flavor burst.  I still have a hard time saying NO to roasted pumpkin seeds!
  • Pumpkin everything!  While I am not a fan of pumpkin pie, I do love pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, and (most of all) pumpkin cream cheese on a pumpernickel bagel.  OMG that's the best bagel/cream cheese combo ever.
  • Rice Crispy Treats.  For some reason, these things scream FALL!  They're so simple to make and taste so yummy.  Again...another treat that's impossible to resist.
  • Stew.  I  was walking by Williams Sonoma the other day and noticed their advertising.  They had a huge photo of a bowl of stew and man...I wanted to take a bit.  There's nothing quite like super-tender meat that's been simmering away all day in a concoction of veggies, broth, wine, etc.  Yes, please!
  • Chili.  Just like stew, a good bowl of chili is hard to resist.  And, unlike stew, you get to personalize chili with your own toppings.  I love a hot bowl of chili with melty shredded cheddar cheese, freshly diced onion, and a spoonful of sour cream.  Now we're talking fall!
What's your favorite fall food?  Leave a comment and let us know!

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Beef and Cheddar Pie: Warm, Hearty Fare

    Warning: This is not a low calorie dish!

    This meal is absolutely easy, filling and guaranteed to be devoured with no hope of leftovers, but it is not that healthy, is full of cheese and meat and should be eaten only once in a while. However, this is wonderfully delicious and is a treat to eat.

    We love this meal (even my son, the picky eater likes this). We usually have a salad to go with the pie and it really rounds out the dish. Serve this on a cold night and enjoy with a nice glass of red wine!

    The following recipe is taken from Country Suppers: Simple, Hearty Fare for Family and Friends by Ruth Cousineau.

    Beef and Cheddar Pie

    For The Filling
    1 1/2 pounds lean ground beed
    1 cup finely chopped onions
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
    1/4 cup flour
    1 1/2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese

    For The Biscuit Dough (double this recipe)
    3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    3/4 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
    1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
    • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. To make the filling, cook the beef with the onions in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the beef loses all its pinkness, 5 to 6 minutes. Sprinkle with the mustard, salt, pepper, and flour and cook 3 to 4 minutes longer, stirring the mixture well. Stir the Cheddar and set aside to cool.
    • To make the dough, place the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and stir to combine. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or two knives or rub it in with your fingers until the mixture resembles oatmeal. Stir in the 1/4 cup milk with a fork just until the dough holds together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured worktable and knead 10 to 12 times. Cut the dough in half and roll one half into a 12-inch circle. Fit it into a 9-inch pie plate and spoon in the filling. Roll out the remaining dough into a 12-inch circle and drape over the filling. Trim off the excess dough and crimp the edges to seal. Cut several steam vents in the top crust and brush it with the remaining tablespoon of milk.
    • Bake until the pie is golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes. let it rest for 10 minutes for easier slicing.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    The Best in the World

    Chef Rene Redzepi from Noma
    Every weekday I drive home from work, listening to NPR.  Yup, I'm a pubic radio nerd and I have been for at least a decade (wow, I'm old!).  Anyway, the other day NPR aired an interview with RenĂ© Redzepi, the chef and creative mind behind Noma, a restaurant in Denmark that has recently been rated the best in the world.

    Can you imagine being told you're the best in the world at something?  How do you even judge that?

    I digress.  Noma is a tiny restaurant (I think NPR mentioned it seats just 12) and the main focus is on local food.  You can't get the trendiest offerings in the culinary world at Noma, but you can get food that is made from ingredients local to Scandinavia.  They smoke and salt their own meats, pickle their own fruits and veggies, and--from what I heard--a true artisinal restaurant. 

    I'm sure dinner at Noma would be unforgettable--if you could even get in!  All the press from being labeled the best restaurant in the world will probably make it a bit tough to get a reservation these days.  I'm not planning a trip to Denmark anytime soon, but I did take a look at their menu nonetheless.  I haven't the foggiest idea what some of these ingredients are, though I must admit that chowing down on "The Oyster and the Sea" sounds appealing.

    I also checked out the website that lists the top 50 restaurants in the world.  The good old US is represented three times in the top 10, so that's encouraging.  For fun, here are the eight US restuarants declared to be in the top 50 of the world...anyone ever been to any of these?  I don't live in NYC and I am not made of money, so I can't say that I have.  Still, I can click on their websites, read their sample menus and imagine what I would order.  Vicarious eating through the internet!

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Get Your Eat On!

    Ok, Seattle peeps: Seattle Restaurant Week is almost here!  From October 17th through 28th (excluding Friday and Saturday, of course), you can get a three course meal for $25 (per person) at the over 100 participating restaurants. 

    What's really awesome is that the participating restaurants are all around the Puget Sound.  Normally, it seems like all the "it" restaurants that get involved in Restaurant Week are confined to Seattle proper. But this year, a bunch of places up in my part of the world are on the list. 

    My husband and I are taking off the last week in October (we always do--our anniversary is on Halloween, so a week of no work and togetherness is how we celebrate), so I am hoping to hit up some of these restaurants.

    If you live in the Seattle area or are planning to be up in this part of the woods, be sure to check out some of the restaurants.  A full list of participating places (and more details) can be found here.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Pot Full of Yummy!

    Last week I told you about a book my husband gave me, Glorious One Pot Meals.  I pulled it off my cookbook shelf recently for two reasons: 1) it's getting cooler so I want to eat heartier foods; and 2) I've been trying to cook at home on the weekends more often to save money and because it can be a hassle to go out over and over again.

    I'm cooking my way through this book and thought I'd share one of the recipes, Chicken Marsala.  I'm not giving you the exact recipe in the book--instead, I'm giving you what I did to whip this up.  It's a super fast one pot meal, perfect for two people.  It can be easily adapted, so have fun with it if you decide to give it a try.

    One Pot Chicken, Marsala Style

    PAM, or olive oil spray
    1 shallot, sliced fine
    3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
    1 cup rice (use any kind you like--I've done this with normal white rice and arborio rice)
    1/2 cup chicken broth
    1/2 cup marsala
    1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
    1/4 tsp. ground fennel (optional)
    2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    Sea salt and pepper to taste
    1 small zucchini, cut into circles and then in fourths
    Mushrooms--about 16 oz., give or take--any kind you like (baby bellas, shiitake, etc.)
    3 sprigs, fresh thyme

    Ready for the oven!
    1. Preheat oven to 450.  Spray the inside and inner top of a two-quart dutch oven.
    2. Scatter sliced shallots and half the garlic on the bottom of the dutch oven.
    3. Add the rice to the dutch oven in an even layer.
    4. Mix together broth, marsala, red pepper flakes, fennel and remaining garlic.  Stir, then pour half of this mixture over the rice.
    5. Season the chicken lightly with sea salt and pepper.  Place the breasts on top of the rice (do not overlap).
    6. Pour the remaining liquid over the chicken.
    7. Scatter mushrooms and zucchini over the chicken.  Tuck the sprigs of thyme into the mushrooms.
    8. Cover and cook in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.
    9. Remove thyme sprigs and serve immediately.
    All cooked up and ready to serve!
    • Unlike normal marsala chicken, you do not get any sauce out of this dish.  What you do get is perfectly cooked, moist chicken and rice that is infused with the flavors of a traditional marsala.
    • If you want, you can substitute the rice for couscous.
    • If you don't have any zucchini, try another squash.  You can also add carrots to the mix if you want.
    • Instead of thyme, try rosemary for a heartier taste.
    • The possibilities are endless!

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Mom's Artichoke Chicken

    A few weeks ago my Mom was rummaging through her pantry in hopes of finding inspiration for a chicken dish. She found a can of artichoke hearts and then she turned her attention to recipes and how to make use of them. What she found was a recipe in the Southern Living Cookbook for Baked Chicken and Artichoke Hearts - it was delicious and I would happily eat this again, often. Here is the recipe.

    Baked Chicken and Artichoke Hearts
    6 chicken breast halves, skinned and boned
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon paprika
    1/4 teaspoon pepper
    1/4 cup butter, melted
    1 (14 ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and halved
    1/4 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
    2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    2/3 cup canned diluted chicken broth
    3 tablespoons dry sherry (Mom used Marsala)
    • Sprinkle chicken with salt, paprika, and pepper. Brown chicken in butter over low heat; transfer to a lightly greased shallow 2-quart casserole, reserving drippings in skillet. Arrange artichoke hearts between chicken breasts.
    • Saute mushrooms in reserved drippings 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in flour, and cook 1 minute. Gradually add chicken broth and sherry; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Pour over chicken and artichokes. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.
    This was a really good dish! Mom served it with rice and green beans & toasted almond slices. It was very much a comfort food dish and I would recommend it for a yummy take on chicken. Thank you Mom and Southern Living!

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    My Favorite Comfort Food: Spaghetti

    Yesterday I talked about soup and sandwiches, today it's my very favorite comfort food - spaghetti. When I was pregnant with my son, I ate this everyday for a month (I was craving tomatoes and this was a way to get my fix). I love this dish because it is easy to make, can be dressed up or down, is relatively inexpensive to make, and can feed a family with leftovers!

    Spaghetti Sauce:
    1 lb ground beef
    1 large can crushed tomatoes
    1 medium can diced tomatoes
    1 small can tomato paste
    2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
    1 small onion, peeled and chopped
    1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning
    1/2 tablespoon chili powder
    1/2 tablespoon sugar
    salt & pepper
    • In a medium-large pot, brown ground beef and onion; add salt & pepper to taste. Drain all the fat when done cooking.
    • Add the meat and onions back to the pot and add all ingredients. Simmer for at least 1 hour (the longer the better).
    • Serve with cooked spaghetti noodles and top with Parmesan cheese.
    You can add all sorts of things to this basic recipe - sub in sausage for beef, add mushrooms, carrots, or peppers to the sauce.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    A Fall Favorite: Soup and Sandwich

    Since fall has started to make its presence know, I have been wanting warm, soothing foods - what better than soup accompanied by a sandwich!

    The following recipe is supper easy to make. The most involved part is cleaning and chopping the escarole. I made this the other day while on hold with my insurance company (I was on hold for about 25 minutes) and by the time I spoke to a human, the soup was ready! This is a really good recipe - it doesn't look or sound like much, but it is delicious and very satisfying. If you like soup, try it! It is also very low in calories (if you are watching your caloric intake).

    Escarole and White Bean Soup

    8 ounces escarole
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 onion, peeled and chopped
    2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
    4 cans of chicken broth
    2 cans (15 oz. each) cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
    salt & pepper
    grated Parmesan cheese
    • Cut base off escarole; rinse and drain leaves. Cut leaves crosswise into 1/4 inch wide strips.
    • Set a 4- to 5-quart pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add oil, onion and garlic; stir often until onion is limp, 3 to 5 minutes.
    • Add broth and beans, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in escarole and cook just until wilted, about 1 minute. Add salt and pepper to taste.
    • Ladle into bowls and top with Parmesan cheese.
    I brought this to work for a pot luck and my co-worker (Jaime) made grilled apple and cheese sandwiches to go with it - it was the perfect accompaniment! The following is Jaime's recipe.

    Grilled Irish Cheddar and Honeycrisp Apple Sandwiches

    1/2 lb sliced Artesian Irish Cheddar Cheese (or your favorite cheddar)
    1-2 Honeycrip apples, sliced thin
    1 loaf Rustic sourdough bread (we had a round loaf), sliced
    olive oil
    • Lightly brush 2 slices of bread with olive oil (only on one side).
    • To the "naked" side add a slice of cheese, then an apple slice, more cheese, another apple slice, cheese, the top with the other slice of bread.
    • Either use a panini press or grill in a pan - both sides of the sandwich until the bread is nicely browned.
    • Cut the sandwich in half and serve with the soup.
    You will find that the cheese is gooey and the flavors are wonderful. I really enjoyed this meal! It really celebrated the flavors of Autumn and had I not been at work, a glass of wine would have made this a gourmet meal!

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Versatile Blogger Award

    The other day, I noticed that one of our fabulous readers, ~She~ from SHE Says, awarded us with The Versatile Blogger Award.  Thanks, ~she~!  ~She~ just completed a marathon (great job!) and her blog is all about her life and her family and includes a few tasty recipes here and there (her Texas Sheet Cake looks pretty darn awesome!).

    As part of accepting the Versatile Blogger Award, we're supposed to include 7 things about ourselves. you go--7 things about me (Lydia) and my sister (Greta):
    1. Greta is a sci-fi nerd.  She has always loved Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.  She dragged me to a Star Trek convention when I was a kid and we got to meet Scotty!
    2. I'm a girly-girl, quite opposite of my sister.  I love clothes, makeup, jewelry, etc.  My iphone case is Hello Kitty, so that kinda sums it all up.
    3. Growing up, my sister and I hated each other.  We fought constantly.  There is a 4-year age difference and that, along with our very different personalities and interests, meant that we had little in common and were in a constant state of conflict.
    4. Greta got a degree in science (sorry, Greta--I can't remember your exact field at the moment), but minored in English.  She went to school in the snowy tundra of Wisconsin.
    5. I have a degree in history (with a minor in womens' studies).  I went to Vermont for college--we both went to cold places with a strong dairy tradition!
    6. Greta's least favorite foods are bananas, peppers (red, green, etc.), and sage.
    7. My most hated?  They include ham, broccoli, and tarragon.
    We're also supposed to present the Versatile Blogger Award to a bunch of other bloggers.  I'll have to work on that!  In the meantime, though, check out the "Read the Yum" section of our site for other food blogs (and our Friends and Fellow Bloggers section...on the right).


    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Cookbook Corner: Glorious One Pot Meals

    Now that fall is officially here, it's time to change how we're cooking.  To hell with grilling and making more delicate's time to cook (and eat) more hearty dishes, like pot roast, stews, and chili.  One problem with this (for me!) is that one pot meals generally make enough food to feed an army.  When I cook, it's just for me and my husband.  Thankfully, Glorious One-Pot Meals includes tons of tasty, hearty recipes designed for two.  Yay!

    What to expect: This is sort of an appliance cookbook because all the recipes require the use of a small cast iron Dutch oven.  All the recipes are for two people, but they can be easily double, tripled, etc.--especially if you have a larger Dutch oven.  I have a small, two-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven that is the perfect size for these recipes.

    All the recipes are full meals--they include a protein, a carb, and veggies.  They're easy and quick to make, and, best of all, they're all very healthy (the author rarely uses butter or oils).  If you have a family or are just a very busy person, this book will help you put a tasty (and healthy) meal on the table in less than an hour.

    Best recipes: I think of the recipes as a springboard--you can swap out meats, veggies, and carbs to your taste.  That said, here are a few of the standouts:

    • Shrimp Masala with Rice, pg. 78
    • Adobo Pork, pg. 82
    • Beef with Sherried Mushroom Sauce, pg. 88
    • Chicken Marsala, pg. 126
    • Rosemary Chicken, pg. 150
    • Eggplant Parmesan, pg, 172
    Complaints: The recipes tend to be repetitive, and I kinda sorta wish there was a dessert section (come on! You can totally whip up some sort of ooey-gooey dessert in a Le Creuset pot!).  Other than that, I think this book inspires you to create you own combinations of grains, meat, and veggies to cook up in 45 minutes in the oven.

    Deliciousness scale: 4 spoonfuls of yum out of 5.

    Details: This review is based on the 2009 edition of Glorious One-Pot Meals by Elizabeth Yarnell; ISBN 978-0767930109