Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Can I just say that I LOVE Thanksgiving? I start dreaming about it in the summer. Then all the pie-making and turkey roasting accoutrements are put on display at the grocery store, then Thanksgiving-themed Food Network shows come on, and by the time November rolls around it takes all of my willpower to keep myself from "testing" recipes for stuffing and pie and sides and desserts- and by "testing" I mean "making and consuming all by myself". I cannot wait. There is only one week to go. I hadn't really thought about it, but I think Thanksgiving could be tied for my favorite holiday. What's not to love about a day full of cooking and eating and eating again because hello, it's Thanksgiving?

This Thanksgiving is especially exciting because, well, the last have been kind of disappointing. Three years ago we went back to see le hubby's family and we ate at a restaurant. WITH NO PUMPKIN PIE. Two years ago most of my family went up to my mom's for turkey, but we weren't able to go, so we went to my sister-in-law's family's thing. The food was good and they were very nice. So why would I complain about that? Well, because I was pregnant and all I wanted in the world on Thanksgiving were my mom's insanely good rolls. Hey, don't judge me. I am not ungrateful or ungracious. I did not complain ever... to them. Well, at least, not until now. But the fetus demands what it demands, and it was demanding mom's rolls. They were pregnancy cravings, people. Big, aching, mouth-watering pregnancy cravings. I HAD NO CONTROL. So, yes, the lovely gracious people who invited us to their lovely absolutely-nothing-wrong-with-it-except-not-having-mom's-rolls Thanksgiving dinner disappointed me. Sorry. I am evil. No, wait, I was PREGNANT, in case you forgot. Try it sometime. But, I digress. Last year Thanksgiving was being held across town. After I spent the day preparing my portion of the meal, my eight-month-old came down with a very high fever. Now, I love her, but again, the rolls. The year before I was having very vivid dreams about baked goods thanks to said child's incubation, and now she would be keeping me from them. For the love.

So, I am excited about this year. I'm not sure whose home I am going to, but my mom's rolls will be there. As will pie. And stuffing. Halle-frickin-lujah.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ladies Who Lunch

Every other Tuesday some of the women (Girls? Ladies? I never which category I fit in to. I mean, I guess at 26 I'm a woman, but still.) in our ward get together for "lunch group"- kinda like playgroup, but with food, and you don't have to have kids to come. I actually thought about doing something like this back in Vegas, but never really got up the motivation to do so, and couldn't imagine 20 kids tearing around our little townhouse. I'd crack. Anyway, when the weather was nice we would go to a neighborhood park, and now different women take turns hosting it. The only rule for lunch group is you have to bring something to share. No specific something, there's no sign up for main dishes and appetizers and such, but somewhow it seems to work out very well every time.

Bonus? Turns out one woman in our ward is writing a cookbook (and tests her delicious recipes on the group), one is part of some cooking group- and we again get to reap the rewards-, and a third is opening a bakery and needs people for tastings. This is me, in freaking heaven. It's like I landed in the midst of some sort of amazing food trifecta. The only thing that could make it better is if someone said that her aunt is Ina Garten and she will be joining us next time. I think I'd have to die immediately after said next time, not only from the heart attack brought on by her creamy buttery food goodness, but because I surely would not have another meal that decadent in the rest of my life. It'd be kind of sad for my family and friends, but if I could visit them from the grave, I would say, "The only thing you should be sad about is that you didn't get any of that food. Seriously. I died HAPPY."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Per Jamie's Request

Here is my banana bread recipe, which is actually my mom's banana bread recipe, although I have taken the liberty of tweaking it.

2 c. sugar
1/2 c. oil (vegetable or canola)
2 eggs
3 c. flour
pinch of salt
1.5 tsp baking soda
2/3 sour milk or buttermilk
5 mashed bananas

Mix sugar, oil and eggs until combined.
Stir in dry ingredients.
Add milk & bananas, mix to combine.

Bake in greased loaf pans at 350 degrees for one hour. Makes 2 loaves. Do not add nuts. This is not banana nut bread. If it were, I would have said so.

To make sour milk, add little white vinegar to perfectly good milk when you start this recipe and let it sit until you need it. Voila! Sour milk.

Here are my tweaks:
*I always use whole wheat flour for 2 of the cups of flour. No one has ever noticed and it seems to make the bread more substantial.
*When mixing the wet ingredients, I pour in some vanilla (probably around a teaspoon), cinnamon and nutmeg. I don't measure, just pour until it seems like enough. I play around with other spices, too, but cinnamon and nutmeg are ALWAYS in my banana bread.
*I don't mash the bananas all the way. I like to have some gooey banana chunks in the bread.
*I usually use a couple of bananas that have been frozen (and are now thawed). They turn into this gross-looking banana liquid when they thaw, but it makes the bread really moist. (When my bananas are starting to get past the point where we'll eat them, I just put them in the freezer, in the peel, and save them for banana bread time.)

There you have it. This is my version of my mom's banana bread. It's kind of famous.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Oh, How I Love Thee...

Rotisserie Chicken. I bow to he or she who at some grocery chain board meeting said, "You know what would be a good idea? We should offer hot, juicy, delicious rotisserie chickens in our stores." Yes, yes, you should, brilliant grocery store board member. And the masses will thank you.

Rotisserie chickens are a staple of our diet. We buy a gihugic one at Costco every week (for only $4.99!), and it feeds us for about three meals. On the first night, we usually have it with potatoes or rice and vegetables. Night two, every week, is fajitas. Day three lunch is leftover fajitas. But the possibilities do not stop there, my friends. Rotisserie chicken is like the, well, it's like chicken- really, really versatile... BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO COOK IT. So it's better than chicken, even though it's chicken. You follow me?

Other fabulous things to do with rotisserie chicken: chicken enchiladas, chicken salad, chicken on salad, stir-fry, chicken noodle soup, chicken and whatever else soup, goop (a delicious cheese-and-chicken concotion we eat over rice), chicken stroganoff, chicken in pasta... the list goes on.

This is why I love rotisserie chickens. This is why I cannot live without rotisserie chickens. The word chicken is starting to sound very strange to me now. Chicken. CHICKen. chick-en. If I was Oprah, I would sing it very loudly, "CHIIIICK-EEEEEEEN!" And then I would give everyone in my audience a plate of delicious rotisserie chicken goodness and a certificate to the finest rotisserie chicken makers in the world, to have hot, juicy, delicious rotisserie chicken perfection sent to their home every week. You're wishing I was Oprah right now, aren't you? (Sigh) Yeah, me too.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Happy Experiment

Tonight was one of those nights where you look in the fridge and everything looks uninspired. You don't even really have ingredients for a meal, just eggs, milk, cheese and fruit, and a fruit-and-cheese omelette is out of the question. I don't know if they're ever in the question, but that's so not the point. So I looked in the pantry and was met with pasta, more pasta and cans and cans of beans. I was thinking it would be a cereal for dinner kind of night because I'm getting pretty sick of spaghetti, when I was reminded of the few episodes of "Pantry Raid" I've seen, where this chef goes into people's homes and makes a fabulous meal out of whatever is in their pantry and fridge. So I decided to play "Pantry Raid".

After looking at the endless cans of beans, I remembered eating a delicious black bean soup at a restaurant last year, so I headed to the internet for black bean soup recipes. Naturally, I didn't have the ingredients the recipes were calling for, so I decided to wing it. That's what all the best cooks do, right? (Also all the cooks who give their guests food poisoning, but it's best to look on the bright side.) My experiment turned out to be surprisingly good.

Here's my very own black bean soup recipe:

2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can vegetable broth (or whatever broth you have)
1 can diced tomatoes (mine had zesty chiles in them, but you could use whatever tomatoe-y product you have... tomato sauce, tomato paste, salsa... you get the idea)

Olive oil
1 half of a monstrous white (or yellow) onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1-2 tablespoons cumin (to taste)
A few shakes of red pepper flake
Black pepper

So, take one can of black beans and the vegetable broth and puree it in the blender. Put that mixture and the remaining black beans into a medium/big pot over medium heat.

In a skillet, heat a couple glugs of olive oil (I'm so precise, aren't I?) and the onion over medium heat. When the onions start to get translucent, add the garlic, cumin and red pepper flake. Stir it around and let it cook a few minutes, then stir it into the pot with the black beans. Drain the can of tomatoes and add to the soup. Add black pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat for 15 or 20 minutes until it thickens up a bit (you can always add more liquid if you want it soupier, or strain a little out if you want it thicker). Serve hot.

I put a big spoonful of sour cream on top of ours, but it would probably also be delicious over tortilla chips (or smashed taco shells) and shredded cheese, or with quesadillas. If you try it, let me know what you think, or what variations you used. Yay for kitchen bravery!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

My Quest

I love to make bread. I realize it's not necessarily cheaper than buying it, and it's certainly far more time consuming, but I enjoy doing it, and as far as I'm concerned, few things in the world are as heavenly as a slice of bread hot out of the oven.

I am a whiz at banana bread and I have a very good white bread recipe, but have yet to find that perfect, soft whole wheat bread recipe. I've tried several, but each one seems to be worse than the last. The cookbook that gave me my white bread recipe has a whole wheat bread recipe in it, and everything I've made in this cookbook has been good thus far, but I have a problem with this particular recipe. It calls for powdered milk. I know what you're thinking: so what? I'll tell you what.

When I was a kid, we had to endure the cruel and unusual punishment of drinking powdered milk. When we ran out of milk, we didn't go to the store to pick up another gallon, we pulled out a box of powder, mixed some with water, and voila! Milk... if that's what you want to call it. It is nasty, nasty, nasty stuff. Do you know I didn't know milk came in gallon jugs until I was about eight? I never drank milk at my friends' houses (Kool-Aid was our drink of choice), so I just didn't know. Anyway, when I saw "powdered milk" listed as an ingredient in this recipe, my first thought was, "Do they even make that stuff anymore?" and then I felt my throat begin to close in rebellion to even the mere thought of it. Still, I thought I could probably find milk of the powdered persuasion and try the recipe.

I went to the store, and found it on the baking aisle, where I cleverly thought it would be. After being shocked that it was $3.00 for a box that would make three quarts (is there really that high of a demand for dehydrated milk?), and then being annoyed that I would end up with a bunch of leftover powdered milk, especially if I didn't end up liking the bread, I went to pick up the dreaded box. As I lifted it towards my cart, I had to stop. I couldn't do it. I couldn't buy it. What if someone thought I was making my child drink this? What if someone came to my house and looked in my pantry and saw it? It would be so shameful. If you never had to drink it, year in and year out, you can't possibly understand. There were flashbacks. It's like I have post-traumatic stress from the fake-milk of my developmental years. I have PPMD. Post-powdered-milk disorder. I put the box back. It took a few minutes for the sweat to evaporate and the dizziness to go away, but after a few deep breaths and a quick escape from the baking aisle, I felt much better.

I'm still looking for a good recipe, though.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A favorite dinner

I discovered this recipe while watching the television version of Real Simple (it's a magazine, too). I decided to give it a try, since we adore salmon in our house, and it seemed like a relatively painless process. Also, since it was on TV, I got to see what this mysterious vegetable called fennel is and how to prepare it. Just in case some of you are as lacking in education as I am, this is fennel:

Apparently, in some grocery stores, they call it anise. I don't know why. Some vast self-righteous foodie conspiracy, I'm sure. Anyway, in the middle is what the recipe-making lady called a "woody core". You don't want to eat it, unless you like chewing on things that are tough and tasteless. If you cut the fennel bulb in half up and down, you'll see it at the bottom in the middle. Cut it out. Also, fennel tastes a bit (and smells a lot) like licorice. Black licorice. This scared me because I do not black licorice as much as Hollywood doesn't like President Bush. Yeah, it's that serious. However, once it's roasted, it's quite good, so don't be afraid of it. If you are still afraid of it, I suppose you could come up with some sort of substitution, but I'm not gonna help you with that... mostly because I have no clue what you might use.

Anyway, my husband and I don't usually agree on what tastes good, but we both love this- as does our 18 month-old, who will eat almost as much of it as we do. The tomatoes burst open and are so good (and I'm not big on tomatoes in general), the onion gets sweet and soft and the salmon is fantastic, and the recipe practically makes itself. What's not to love?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why you shouldn't believe everything you read on the internet

On my husband's birthday I decided to be a good little wifey and get up early to make him one of his favorite breakfasty items: blueberry muffins. Having no blueberry muffin recipe of my own, I turned to the internet, where I found several recipes labeled their authors' favorite. One of them said something to the effect of "all of my houseguests are amazed at how fantastically delicious these muffins are". That sounded good to me, so I decided to make them. BAD IDEA.

First of all, this recipe called for cornmeal. Odd, I thought. But, hey, people put raisins in their meatballs, so who am I to judge? (By the way, if you put raisins in your meatballs, never make meatballs for me. That is a crime against nature.) I should have listened to myself. Once the batter was almost completely mixed, it had the consistency not of batter, but of polenta that had been kneaded on the beach- in the sand. However, there was still one more ingredient to add: three tablespoons of melted butter. Because that was somehow going to save this crap. However, I, being utterly brilliant, decided to substitute the butter for sour cream, because I read over and over that "the secret to great blueberry muffins is sour cream". Oh, okay. Sour cream I shall use! I figured it would be akin to substituting applesauce for oil in cookies- not that I've ever done that, but I've heard about it. Once the sour cream was mixed in, the "batter" still looked questionable at best, but I thought that perhaps somehow the baking process would save this train wreck. WRONG.

To say that they were gross would be generous. These things were nasty. Like dry, mealy cornbread with blueberries. A complete waste. My husband offered that if you put "a ton of butter" on them, they "weren't horrible". This man eats a "salad" made of lettuce, cheese, oil and huge amounts of vinegar. And he's saying they're not good. Yeah. Needless to say, I made a trip to the bakery that morning.

So if you find a muffin recipe with cornmeal in it, put it away. Do not cross go. Trust me, if you knew what I was saving you from, you'd thank me later.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Culinary Evolution

I love food. I mean, I really love food. I think about it. I read about it. I crave it. I long to know what the foodies know. I, however, am not a foodie. Not even close. This is not a blog for foodies. This is a blog for people like me. Me, who at the age of 19 or so discovered that garlic did not, in fact, originate in powdered form. Who had no idea what basil was, or that oregano could be obtained as a fresh herb. Who could not cook many things and did not cook well. Who thought Olive Garden was authentically Italian.

I'm really not dumb. I could whip out my standardized test scores and prove it. I was just food-dumb. I know it's so blase to blame things on one's mother, but it's kind of her fault. Not entirely, but kind of. She just never really liked cooking or bothered to excel at it, or loved food, and she had an army of children to feed. Our family was big. Not the four-kid "big" family of today. I'm talking sports-team big here. With that many mouths to feed, I'd probably hate cooking, too. The woman could bake like nobody's business, though. No one's been able to duplicate her dinner rolls yet, even with the recipe. But, I digress. I came from simple All-American food. Meatloaf, casseroles, homemade pizza, pot roast on Sundays. We never ate anything more ethnic than sweet-and-sour chicken from the Chinese restaurant in the grocery store.

When I was engaged to my husband, he came to dinner at my place with his buddy and his buddy's girlfriend. With some serious advice from people who knew their way around a kitchen, I'd successfully made him salmon and shrimp during earlier dates (though the shrimp triggered his first-ever allergic reaction to shellfish and landed him in Urgent Care), so I had him somewhat fooled into thinking I was a better cook than I was. So, on this night, I went to the grocery store to procure the necessary ingredients. Chicken breasts. 2 limes. Rice. So far, so good. Six green onions. I went to the onions. Red onions, yellow onions, white onions, but no green onions. I looked and looked. I settled for yellow onions; six of them, just like the recipe said. Seemed like a lot, but who was I to question the almighty recipe-writers? When I got home, I began slicing the onions per the recipe. After three, I thought, "Holy crap, this is a lot of onion. I think they cook down a lot, though." After four, I decided that since no more onions would fit in the pan with the rest of the ingredients, the other two would just have to be our little secret. (I don't know who else was part of the "our", but that's not the point.) Needless to say, I think on that night my cover was blown. My husband didn't ask me to cook much after that. In fact, a lot of the time when I would offer to cook dinner, he'd say, "No, you had a long day. I'll cook." A few months into our marriage, I began watching the Food Network. Imagine my surprise when green onions were mentioned and out came these green straws-on-steroids. "Six of those would have tasted a lot better," I thought.

And thus began my quest. I became a woman on a mission. I was determined to figure out this cooking thing, to become that woman whose skills inspire people to angle for dinner invitations. I'm not there yet, but I'm getting better. My husband says I'm "an excellent cook" now, and not just to me. Before, when asked about my cooking he would say, "My wife makes the best banana bread" and leave it at that, unless further pressed, at which point he would divert attention by speaking about his own cooking skills. I must be getting better- or his taste buds are getting duller. One of the two. I've impressed others with my cooking and cooking-related tips (okay, they're not necessarily mine, but I remembered them, so I deserve some of the credit). I've even shared recipes with others and had them later complain to me that theirs was not as good as mine was and proceed to grill me on my exact ingredient choices. So, yeah, I'd say I've improved. But when you remember where I'm coming from, that's not saying much. I'm sure I'll have more green onion moments, and when I do, feel free to mock. Just don't ask me to cook you dinner.