Tuesday, March 29, 2011

on second thought...

Almost the second I posted the previous entry I got a phone call. Remember how I said I was going to spend the whole of Friday in the kitchen? Yeah, about that. Apparently the teacher I am replacing while she is on maternity leave was on her way into the hospital at that moment. So instead, I'll spend Friday at a school teaching 6th graders music. Hmm. Almost as good as a day in the kitchen. Guess these will have to wait...

Beef Lombardi (ala Southern Living)

  • Stress levels around my house are starting to rise. Well, I don't know about Dave, because while he ALWAYS works so much, lately he's had a couple days off without other obligations. I also feel a little funny saying I'm feeling stressed, because compared to when I was working full time, this last year has been like a vacation. I've read so many books, it's unbelievable. I'm really grateful that Dave does work so hard and doesn't begrudge me all the times he's off to work and I'm at home reading on the couch. I just know I better get a job for next year or else that dynamic may change (and understandably so!)
  • But recently the countdown on the wedding clock somehow switched from a three digit number to a two digit number and I've begun to feel overwhelmed with the entire planning process. I suppose part of that is because we're no longer making decisions on big picture things like the venue or my dress, but now my attention is on the little things. Like what shoes to wear and how I'm going to have my hair done and where we're going to get photos done and so on and so on. Those little things really add up. Somehow all these things seem like a much bigger deal to me than choosing the venue or the flowers, potentially because I already had an idea about what I wanted in those cases, and with these little things I just don't know! I have to take a little time and remind myself every time my heart rate starts to go up when I'm thinking about silly shoes that the day is about Dave and I starting our lives together. If I do it right, the things I'm going to remember about that day aren't whether my shoes weren't "just perfect" or whatever mishap occurs, but that June 24th was the day that I made the commitment in front of our friends and family to spend the rest of my life with Dave.
I also haven't spent all that much time in the kitchen either. I'm quite convinced that the increased stress levels correlate to the fact that my kitchen time has been decreased. I'm planning on spending all day Friday in the kitchen. That should totally do the trick! 

This was a good, simple casserole we had over the weekend. I accidentally bought a 14 oz can of diced tomatoes and green chilies AND a 10 ounce can of diced tomatoes and green chilies, so ours had quite a kick. 

  • Beef Lombardi (Southern Living)
  • 1  pound  lean ground beef
  • 1  (14 1/2-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
  • 1  (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles
  • 2  teaspoons  sugar
  • 2  teaspoons  salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  pepper
  • 1  (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1  bay leaf
  • 1  (6-ounce) package medium egg noodles
  • 6  green onions, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1  cup  sour cream
  • 1  cup  (4 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1  cup  shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1  cup  (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Cook ground beef in a large skillet over medium heat 5 to 6 minutes, stirring until it crumbles and is no longer pink. Drain. Stir in chopped tomatoes and next 4 ingredients; cook 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and bay leaf, and simmer 30 minutes.
2. Cook egg noodles according to package directions; drain. Stir together cooked egg noodles, chopped green onions, and sour cream until blended.
3. Place noodle mixture in bottom of a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Top with beef mixture; sprinkle evenly with cheeses.
4. Bake, covered with aluminum foil, at 350° for 35 minutes. Uncover casserole, and bake 5 more minutes. Garnish, if desired.
Note: Freeze casserole up to 1 month, if desired. Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Bake as directed.
To lighten: Substitute low-fat or fat-free sour cream and 2% reduced-fat Cheddar cheese. Reduce amount of cheeses on top to 1/2 cup each

Monday, March 21, 2011

An ode to Penzey's

It has been a bit since I updated here, but I've been cooking... just fallen into that trap of forgetting to take photos. A couple weeks ago, we made Calzones at home. It worked out pretty well, but since I had to work that day we used store bought pizza dough. While I'm glad I didn't have to mix and knead the dough on a day when I was tired from work and life in general (although that can be quite therapeutic) the store bought dough just didn't do it for me. I think next time we'll make our own dough.

The calzones themselves are so easy. Just a quarter cup of ricotta cheese, any fillings you like (we used red pepper and hot italian sausage slices), fold 'em over,  and bake as the dough directions say. Serve with marinara or pizza sauce on the side (or as Dave did, pour it on top).

This weekend, we did pork chops and mashed sweet potatoes. I didn't have a specific pork chop recipe in mind, just knew I was going to do a breaded, seasoned pork chop in the oven. So I pulled out the "Mural of Flavor" jar from Penzey's, some basil, garlic, pepper, and oregano. But I honestly think they would have been great with just the "Mural of Flavor" on its own. This stuff is amazing!

Earlier in the fall when I wanted to do a Viennese Chocolate cake that called for Dutch processed cocoa, we went to Penzey's. We had a coupon for a free "gift box" of four different spices. You had to spend $5 to get the free gift box, but in a spice shop that isn't hard to do. We got a bag of the Dutch processed cocoa, a bag of Penzey's taco seasoning to try, and walked out with the gift box as well. The cocoa was to die for, the taco seasoning flavorful without the high sodium you find in grocery store taco seasoning packages, and the gift box a real treasure. The four spices I received were the Mural of Flavor,  Garlic Powder, Ground Black Pepper and a jar of Cinnamon. I've been really quite pleased with all of them.

If you've got a Penzey's near you, you should go check it out! The variety of spices they have is just astounding. Walking around the store, I find myself wanting to try all the new things I haven't heard of and salivating over the things I have.

Monday, March 7, 2011


I know I told myself no Julia recipes on here, but crepes are just so fun (and seem so foreboding) that I had to post this.

Quick sidebar- the first gift from our registry has been bought and it is- TA DA! the KitchenAid!!! Now, before you go thinking I'm trolling our registry lists trying to keep tabs on what people buy us, my mom called to tell me to check on what color I wanted because Bed, Bath and Beyond had sent her a coupon, plus they were offering some kind of rebate and a year's subscription to Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. So it wasn't cheating.... she told me she was buying it, so I had to go on there to see the validation, really, that's why...

So back to the crepes. When I went to France in college I had my first Crepe. It was divine and glorious and I immediately wanted to make them when I got home. My mom said it couldn't be done. My mom doesn't really like to bake or do crazy stuff in the kitchen, so I don't really know why I believed her when she said this.

I didn't have too hard of a time with them, just followed Julia's instructions to the letter. Generally, I think if you can figure out what she means exactly (some times she is really specific, to the point of including illustrations- and then at times she is frustratingly obtuse) following her instructions to the letter is a guarantee of things turning out perfectly.

We just put some strawberries on our crepes and rolled them, but Dave tried them with some pear & pumpkin butter this morning and said that was good too. They are also good with just a little powdered sugar dusted on top.

Sweet Crepe batter (for stuffed crepes)
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup cold water
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons orange liqueur (I left this out- could have sworn we had some in the house, but we didn't)
1 cup flour
5 tablespoons melted butter

1. Place ingredients in blender in the order they are listed. Cover and blend at top speed for one minute.

2. If bits of flour adhere to the sides of blender, dislodge with spatula and blend 3 seconds more.

3. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.

4. Just before you wish to make the crepes, beat 3 egg whites and a pinch of salt until stiff. Fold half into the batter, fold in the other half, then make the crepes.

The Julia method for crepe-making (word for word more or less, just to preserve her fantastic writing voice)

The first crepe is a trial one to test out the consistency of the batter, the exact amount you need for the pan and the heat.

1. Rub an iron skillet or a crepe pan with a 6 1/2 inch to 7 inch diameter with a piece of fat bacon, pork rind, or a pastry brush dipped lightly in oil. Set over moderately high heat until the pan is just beginning to smoke.

2. Immediately remove pan from heat and, holding the handle of pan in your right hand, pour with your left hand a scant 1/4 cup of batter into the middle of the pan. Quickly tilt the pan in all directions to run the batter all over the bottom of the pan in a thin film. (Pour any batter that does not adhere to the pan back into your bowl; judge the amount for your next crepe accordingly.) This whole operation takes but 2 or 3 seconds.

3. Return the pan to heat for 60-80 seconds. Then jerk and toss pan sharply back and forth and up and down to loosen the crepe. Lift its edges with a spatula and if the under side is a nice light brown, the crepe is ready for turning.

4. Turn the crepe by using 2 spatulas, or grasp the edges nearest you in your fingers and sweep it up toward you and over again into the pan in a reverse circle; or toss it over by a flip of the pan. (I found it much easier to do this by hand than with the spatulas, and couldn't get it to flip- probably because of the pan I was using.)
This one needed more batter, but still tasted great!

5. Brown lightly for about 1/2 minute on the other side. This second side is rarely more than a spotty brown and is always kept as the underneath or nonpublic aspect of the crepe. As they are done, slide the crepes onto a rack and let cool several minutes before stacking on a plate.

6. Grease the skillet again, heat to just smoking, and proceed with the rest of the crepes. Crepes may be kept warm by covering them with a dish and setting them over simmering water or in a slow oven. Or they may be made several hours in advance and reheated when needed. (Crepes freeze perfectly.) As soon as you are used to the procedure, you can keep 2 pans going at once, and make 24 crepes in less than half an hour.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

No Bake

After my freak out last posting, I thought a little more (perhaps more realistically as well) about it, I realized that I don't really want to go into the high pressure professional cooking world. Nor do I think I'm honestly that good. I cook well enough for home and friends, and I'm happy with that. I just want to do what I love for a living- whatever form that takes. Right now, I'm just having a hard time seeing how that is going to work out.

Plus, I also watched this documentary: "The Kings of Pastry" and that sure snapped me back into reality.
 Although, it did call my attention to the fact that there is a cooking school right in Chicago that is the only cooking school in the US devoted entirely to pastry. Run by the men from France who are featured in above documentary. Being realistic though, I think maybe I should start by checking out some of my local community college or adult education cooking classes.

Friday night (which is quickly turning into my night in the kitchen, for some reason) I decided I needed comfort food. Quick and easy comfort food. So I turned to my favorite cookie from childhood: the Chocolate and Peanut Butter No Bake.

These are one of those cookies that I always forget about, but as soon as something triggers my memory of them, I have to have one... NOW! Plus, they are super addictive and I could probably eat the whole batch in the span of a couple days. Not that I would do that, but the temptation is definitely there. 

They are also super easy to make- as long as you're patient enough to watch the sugar/peanut butter/milk combo boil for a minute. Which, when I was younger I could not do for some reason. I wanted them so badly I either didn't wait long enough, and then they'd just be a gloppy mess that never hardened to the right consistency, or I would sit on my hands too long trying to be good, and they'd turn out like hockey pucks. Thankfully, I have matured enough that I can finally manage to get it just right and have them turn out a good, chewy consistency. 

2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
1 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups oatmeal

In a heavy saucepan, bring first four ingredients to a boil. Boil for one minute, then add the peanut butter, oatmeal and vanilla. Drop cookies by spoonful onto waxed paper and wait for them to cool and set. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

recipe not included

This isn't an update about something fun I've done in the kitchen recently because I haven't been in there since the cake, and I'm just feeling wistful. Wistful and anxious. 

I subbed on Monday for a middle school orchestra/ elementary general music teacher. The middle school classes were as you would expect middle school classes to be, and the elementary classes just left me exhausted. Dave came home at 9:30 and I was completely passed out on the couch. Overall, the experiences I've had subbing have been okay, but I just have to say- I hate subbing. Even after teaching in my own classroom for four years, every day I go in to sub I'm filled with anxiety. And that's subbing in my subject area. I took a sub job for something seemingly innocuous like social studies a couple weeks ago, and had to cancel (it's all done through an online system so I can accept/reject/cancel jobs fairly easily) 20 minutes later after almost having a panic attack. Luckily this all happened the night before the sub job so they had plenty of time to find someone else to sub. I guess my reasons for typing all this is to just say again- I hate subbing. I'm only doing it because I didn't find a job for this school year. 

Now, I'm sure you've heard about the budget situation in Wisconsin. I went from watching for every update available and not sleeping well to a quiet desperation about the whole thing. A couple days ago the second shoe dropped on the whole issue, with the full budget proposal including huge cuts in education funding. And I was hoping that since the economy seemed to be doing better there would be more music jobs out there. It is still too early to tell what is going to be available for next year, but I'm terrified. That seems like such an extreme word, but there it is. Terrified is the right word to explain what I'm feeling about my job prospects. 

I look at all the cooking websites out there, and I realize that there are so many people who truly enjoy being in the kitchen. There are also a lot of people who are so much more creative in their kitchens than I am and that's okay. Most of the time, cooking is a therapeutic experience for me. There's really just something about taking all these different ingredients, prepping them, and then using tried and true methods to make a meal or a treat that is real and tangible and really has some worth in the eyes of those who partake of it. 

As I said before, I hate subbing. I honestly cannot see myself doing it again next year. Where does that leave me? I've decided that if I don't get a teaching job for next school year I am going to find a new career completely separate from teaching. Which is really sad to me, I love teaching. But there's a breaking point in everything, and I think not getting a job again is mine. Then I start to think about what the heck I could possibly do as a real job, not just something to take up time and give me minimal paychecks to sort of make ends meet. I think about what I love doing, and since music is out, and teaching is (theoretically) out, I find myself coming back again and again to cooking. I wish there was a way to make that be my work.

For now, I know it isn't a realistic possibility. A lot can change in 6 months. Hopefully in September I'll be writing in here about meal ideas that are quick and easy because I'll be too busy with my teaching job to spend the same amount of time in the kitchen as I do now. But for now, I'm just having that wistful feeling, wishing for the connection between pots and pans and paychecks.