Saturday, September 19, 2009

So Lost

I feel completely lost on how to make up for not posting for SO long. It's been an interesting few months, and I'm still trying to get into the routine of cooking, taking pictures, cleaning, working and everything else. I realize that the last few posts have been apologies for not posting regularly and this one is no different.


To make up for it, I offer a picture of my pup gazing at a taco burger... along with a life update, pictures and recipes from Daring Bakers and Daring Cooks.


First of all, I think I've mentioned before that I managed to get a full-time job right after I graduated from university in June. It was a front desk reception/admin assistant position in a health care facility, which was great. Well, towards the middle of July, I was offered a promotion to administrator... of course I jumped at the chance. So from mid-August on, I've been learning new reports and protocol for my new position. Not that I'm making excuses for falling behind, but after not working for five years, I'm having a rough transition period to the "real world". lol I've been interviewing people this week as my replacement for front desk, and most people are shocked at the rapid movement you can have! :)

Now, on to what you're actually here for, the FOOD! Admittedly I have lacked the ambition to do the Daring Bakers' challenges for August and September (although I might attempt the September challenge next weekend). The last challenge I did were the Milan cookies from July, which were absolutely amazing, especially with coffee. I have no need to buy cookies anymore. lol Seriously, these were SO good, SO easy and inexpensive to make. One warning: when the recipe says to space the cookies apart because they spread... booooy do they SPREAD! My first "batch" made one gigantic cookie that I was too stunned to even photograph! A giant cookie thanks to Nicole from Sweet Tooth for picking these as part of the challenge. Mallow cookies were the other half, but I'm slightly intimidated by making homemade marshmallow. :-x

Daring Cooks' challenge for August was Rice with Mushrooms, Cuttlefish and Artichokes... at least, that was the original recipe. lol If you've visited before, you know the Hubs abhors seafood... and mushrooms... and artichokes. Needless to say, I got a little creative with ingredients. Another curveball I had to deal with was the fact that Hubs was told to cut back on his intake of more acidic ingredients, like tomato. So, there's a tomato-based version with green bell peppers, mushrooms and chicken for myself and the mother-in-law, and a white wine-based version with potatoes and chicken for the Hubs. If I'd thought about it, I probably would have written down what I did with the white version... if I make it again, I'll write it down and share with the class! :) Thank you a million times over to Olga of Las Cosas de Olga for giving such a great challenge that was so easily adaptable!

It's with a heavy bloggers' heart that I share this: I may have to politely step away from my beloved monthly groups, as I can't seem to keep up the way I'd like to. Hopefully I can come back once my daily routine is set more solidly. I plan to keep cooking and baking and posting as often as I can but I don't like feeling like I've let down a group of people by not following through with a previous commitment. :( Daring Bakers, Daring Cooks and Barefoot Bloggers have been such gracious and wonderful groups that I've learned so many things from and hope to learn more from in the future. Thank you to everyone for accepting me with my punctuality faults and for teaching me loads of invaluable information.

Click here if you're hungry!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rules for Blogging

So I've learned something very valuable in the last 2 weeks, and food bloggers will appreciate my hard-learned lesson.

What am I babbling about? Photography and timing are what I'm talking about...

I said at the end of my last post that I was making cake balls and potstickers for a work pot luck. And I absolutely promise that I made them, but lesson #1 was learned- NEVER plan to "finish the last batch" of something the morning of whatever it's for. I had one more batch of cake balls to dip and one more batch of potstickers to cook, and it was pretty late at night, so I said "Hey, I don't go to work till 11, I have time in the morning!"

WRONG. lol

The Hubs ended up going into to work late that morning because of health issues he was dealing with, causing me to be behind. So I ended up taking one batch of naked cake balls and fewer potstickers in to work.

Lesson #2 was learned at work... anyone who's ever had a cake ball knows how delicious they are. Considering my coworkers had never had cake balls before, they devoured them like the world was going to implode that night! So I wasn't able to get photos of anything that day.

This all leads into the Barefoot Bloggers first Thursday recipe, Pasta with Sun-dried Tomatoes. Like other bloggers I've seen, I also omitted the olives because I felt the brine flavour of the capers and the vinegar flavor was enough vinegar-y flavor and Hubs isn't a huge fan of olives. I was actually expecting him to really hate this because there wasn't any meat, it uses sun-dried tomatoes (which he tends to turn his nose up at), and the only cooking to it was cooking the pasta! My saving grace?

Four-cheese tortellini!

Instead of using a mix of simple pastas, I bought a pound of fresh four-cheese tortellini and tossed those in the "dressing". Heavens to Betsy was this delicious... I will absolutely be making it again. And even better is that the Hubs LOVED it! :-O I actually may try it with more dressing, simple pasta, and cut up cooked chicken breast for more of a meal next time.

But I digress... Once again, I was unable to get a picture of this lovely concoction, because my timing sucks. I made it after coming home from work, so there was no good lighting. I went to take a picture in the morning sun, and found the bowl empty! Mother-in-law and Hubs had taken all of it for their lunches! lol

Moral of the food blogger story: Time your recipes carefully, not only for the sake of completedness, but also for the sake of photographic integrity.

*slinks away sheepishly* I promise I will get more on the ball this month!

Click here if you're hungry!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Playing Catch Up

Like always, I've slacked off in keeping up with my poor little blog, but for good reason! My university graduation was 3 weeks ago, followed by starting a new job, so life has been off track and unscheduled for too long... Being that my weekends are the time I'll have to test out my recipes, hopefully I can catch up on everything I need to!

One major difference that I hope you guys will notice is a change in the quality of pictures-- my lovely Hubs surprised me on my graduation day with a Canon XSi digital SLR camera! Needless to say, we've taken a MILLION pictures with it but none of food yet. LOVE. If I could fit it my pocket and take it everywhere, I would. It's definitely pulled out my creative side, and I hope to explore my old hobby a bit more now. :-D

Another major change is that my blog layout is going to change slightly in the next little while. I may or may not be getting a domain just for this little space but we'll see about that yet. :)

On to the missed recipes, I made half recipes of the BB recipes to avoid having to worry about whether Hubs would like it, because I knew my mother-in-law and I would enjoy all of them! So first up is June's DB challenge- a Bakewell Tart... or Pudding (it's apparently a debated name!) The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

This tart was definitely a bit difficult for me. The recipe warned of how curdled the frangipane would look but it still made me quite nervous. lol The frangipane layer had a definite egg-y flavor to it, but balanced with the triple berry jam that I chose and the shortbread crust, this tart would be ah-MAZING with tea on a late fall afternoon. Even the Hubs enjoyed it, after picking off the flaked almonds on top. :-D I may have to try this with Nutella and maybe orange curd... mmm or maybe Nutella WITH orange curd...

Next up, Barefoot Bloggers' June challenges- Gazpacho and Curried Couscous.

Honestly, I've never had gazpacho before so I really have nothing to compare it to. The closest comparable food I've had is pico de gallo and that's only for texture! The white wine vinegar was a great mellow flavor in the background, but I found the red onion a teeny bit overpowering, and that's coming from someone who LOVES red onion. If I were to make it again, I'd probably cut down on the onion and add some zucchini and more red pepper... maybe some orange bell pepper? This would probably also taste fantastic if you used roasted red pepper and fire-roasted tomatoes. YUM!

The curried couscous wasn't entirely my cup of tea. I omitted the almonds and raisins because a- my mother-in-law isn't a fan of sweet & savoury together and b- I wasn't keen on going to the grocery store just for those two items. So essentially, I'm lazy. lol

I plan to make the Daring Cooks' June challenge of Chinese dumplings and dark chocolate cake balls for a pot luck at work in the last week of June, so watch for that in the coming week and also go check out the other Daring Bakers and Barefoot Bloggers for their posts about these recipes! YAY! :-D

Click here if you're hungry!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Birthdays, graduations, and parents- Oh my!

So life has been pretty crazy lately. Between Hubs' birthday today (Yay!) and getting my house ready for my family to visit next week (double yay!), I've also somehow managed to reserve my cap and gown for graduation next week AND find a new job! It's a part-time thing for now, so I'll still be able to cook.

But there are a few housekeeping things first...

So, obviously, you already know that I am completely unprepared to post about Daring Bakers or Barefoot Bloggers at this point. I *did* make Ina's Outrageous Brownies, but made a few key boo-boos; when Ina says butter and flour a pan, she doesn't mean butter and cocoa powder. I thought I'd be sneaky and use that little tip I saw a long time ago, where a chocolate cake recipe called for a buttered and floured pan and the chef used cocoa powder so the edges weren't covered in white powder.

That was mistake #1.

Mistake #2 was that I forgot to "rap" the pan on the stove shelf halfway through baking. I was in a bit of a rush to meet with a couple of friends for a super light dinner, and was completely distracted. Listen to Ina when she says to do something. She's not just a crazy lady who loves food- she knows what she's talking about.

Mistake #3 was using a 9"x13" Pyrex dish instead of a half-sheet pan. I didn't have a big ole half sheet pan that wasn't grody-looking, so I thought it'd be alright and I'd get FAT brownies instead.

Nope. lol What I ended up with was a pan of insanely rich delicious brownies that I have to eat out of the dish with a fork. That's fine with me, since I could eat the entire thing on my own. They are so rich, so chocolate-y... the inside is almost fudge-like instead of cake-y, brownie-like. *drool*

Now, on to Daring Bakers... This recipe is somewhat involved and I intend to do it over Sunday/Monday, as a "welcome" for my mom, who is visiting me here for the first time! It will be a bit of a culture-shock for her, I think, but I hope DB's streudel recipe will impress her and make her feel a bit more comfortable. :) Plus, she had mentioned cooking for me, so my gumbo post may be a guest post by my own mommy! Yay!

So, again, I apologize for being a total slacker. I hope having a job will make me more organized and focused, since I won't be a depressed lump sitting around my house anymore. :) So, thanks to all of you who visit and comment and leave me encouraging words. I really do appreciate it!

Click here if you're hungry!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Because I'm just that crazy...

I feel the need to share with you some revolutionary items that will change your daily routine. I have to thank Baking Bites for pointing me in the direction of the first item but the others have slowly snuck into my growing basket of "Things I Intend to Buy With My First Paycheck". :-D


All the photos are courtesy of Amazon.com, as are the ridiculous Christmas wishlists I've started to accumulate.

First, having the strongest sweet tooth known to man, I have to introduce Cupcake Dental Floss. How much more incentive do you need to floss twice a day! lol I'd floss every HOUR with this stuff...
Plus you can keep your breath "cupcake-ified" with Cupcake Mints! Between flavored dental floss and cupcake mints, you'll want to make out with yourself! Or pull your own teeth out to save on dentistry.... whichever works for you. :-D
Somewhat related, if you're not much of a cupcake person, there's also Breakfast Dental Floss for that added oomph to your morning routines. You can go for Waffles, Bacon or even coffee!! Or for a full-blown morning pick-me-up, use all three.
And one last thing, just because I'm a huge fan of food-shaped things that are something else entirely. I present to you Meatball Bubble Gum. Looks like an authentic, delicious Italian meatball, but is actually a little brown ball of gum! lol You might think it's weird but I think it's awesomely fun.

Enough of these odds and ends... I'll be back to posting recipes soon. The sun is finally coming out again which will make it easier to take proper pictures. :)

Click here if you're hungry!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Time for a little culture

First I have to say, I'll be posting the first Daring Cooks' challenge soon. I completely forgot the date of this new group's posting, so I feel like a goober that I haven't gotten to it yet. Next, I don't plan to make the BB Tuna Salad recipe for this past week, because I'm the only one in our house who eats tuna and, with our purse-strings getting tighter, I can't justify buying ingredients to make the recipe just for myself. Sorry. :(

So I promised a post with Persian stew, called "khoresht" in Farsi, and this one is one of our favorites. It was one of the first Persian dishes that I ever tried, and it's one that I begged my mother-in-law to teach me. It's called Ghormeh Sabzi and is so amazingly delicious but time-consuming so I'd suggest it for special occasions. lol There are tons of variations on it, like with any "traditional" food, and there are also some shortcuts you can use.

If you like red beans and rice, you'll LOVE this. Heck... even if you don't like red beans and rice, you'll love it. :)

Now is when I remind you that I am writing this recipe from experience and memory, and if the measurements seem odd, that's because they are. lol My "handful" may differ from your "handful" so I'll try to give rough approximations of the meausrements.

If you're more apt to try a formally written recipe by a cookbook author, check out New Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij. It's such a fantastic book, full of amazing recipes and stories about Persian traditions and ceremonies, and it's peppered with images of traditional Persian art. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an introduction to the Persian kitchen. :)

Ghormeh Sabzi

1 bunch each- curly parsley, cilantro, green onions, minced VERY finely
1/2 bunch of fresh spinach, minced VERY finely
2 Tbsp. dried fenugreek
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil (I wouldn't substitute olive oil here- the flavor will be too strong)
2-3 handfuls of dried kidney beans, either red or striped (roughly 1 c.), soaked overnight
1 yellow onion, diced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. stewing beef, 1 in. cubes
2 Tbsp. mild curry powder
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
7 c. water
1/4 c. lemon juice, fresh is best!

3 c. white basmati rice, soaked at least 3 hours in salted water
1 Tbsp. salt
1/4 c. butter
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 whole wheat pita rounds, split in half and ripped into big pieces

1. Before anything else, fry the herbs, green onions and spinach in the vegetable oil, until very very very dark. They will look almost black, and it's ok... really! :)
2. In a pressure cooker, heat the olive oil over medium heat and brown up the chopped onion. Add the meat, and brown on each side. Add curry, salt and pepper. Cook for a minute or so.
3. Add water and put on lid. After the pressure cooker goes off once, set a timer for 45 minutes and let cook.
4. After 45 minutes, release the pressure. Drain and rinse the soaked beans and add to the pot. Add the cooked herbs too. Stir well. Let simmer over medium heat until beans are cooked, maybe 25-30 minutes? (I'm terrible at watching the clock, because I'm usually watching a TV show while I cook this.)
5. Add lemon juice and turn off heat. You can add more salt and pepper to taste.

The following "recipe" for rice is the standard sort of rice that you'd have with most Persian stews. Some people like making the "tadiq" (a crunchy layer at the bottom of the pot) with rice, but I much prefer either pita bread or very thinly sliced potato. :-D

1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. When the water is boiling, salt liberally. Rinse the soaked basmati rice 2-3 times until the water runs mostly clear.
2. Add rice to boiling water and stir once. Let it come back up to a rolling boil, and cook for 8-10 minutes (again, keep an eye on it because this is a pure guess-- if you want to test its "doneness", taste a couple of grains. The rice should be very slightly undercooked.) Drain into a colander.
3. Put the same pot back over medium heat. Melt butter and oil together. Swirl the fat around to coat the bottom, then pour it into a coffee mug. There should be a very thin layer left in the bottom.
4. Layer your pita bread pieces, overlapping, in the pot. I tend to pour a tablespoon of the melted fat back over top, just to make sure they get crispy.
5. Pour rice back on top of pita, and use a spoon to make it a mountain-like shape- take care to NOT press the rice down. Pour remaining melted fat over the rice.
6. Cover the inner part of the pot's lid with a towel, and cover rice. Reduce heat to low and set a timer for 25-27 minutes.
7. When the timer goes off, turn the heat off and remove the lid. Let sit for another 10-15 minutes.

Before serving, it's best to pull the tadiq out of the bottom or it will get soggy. Ick. Soggy tadiq is no fun.

Like I've said, this is purely from memory, and it's how my mother-in-law taught me. Other families may have other variations, just like any other food. :)

Click here if you're hungry!

Monday, May 4, 2009

One Year Gone

Well, yesterday was my blog's first birthday! I can honestly say this is one hobby that has turned into a serious passion for me- I love talking to other bloggers and learning new photography techniques and presentation tips... this past year has been a great learning experience and I can't wait to learn more!

I know I did a poll on what I should make for Southern Eh?'s birthday, but I've decided I'm going to use the poll results a bit differently. Cupcakes got the most votes, for obvious delicious sweet-tooth-killing reasons, followed by Thai curry, Persian stew and Gumbo. So rather than only doing cupcakes as the winner, I thought I'd work from the items that got less votes up to the winner...

First up- Thai curry!!

This is my first time making a Thai curry at home, so I was admittedly a bit timid. I've only ever had Pad Thai and another chicken & veggie curry that I can't even begin to spell properly. lol I wandered the Asian foods aisle of my favorite grocery store for a good 20 minutes, reading the labels of almost every single jar of red curry paste. I'd done a bit of online research about "authentic" flavors and wanted to make sure I found something that had everything in it- Kaffir lime, galangal, etc.

I make no claims as to how authentic the flavors of this curry are, but it was just spicy enough for me (meaning the spice isn't all over your mouth and on your tongue), and was absolutely delicious. I'm always open to any suggestions and constructive criticisms, so please drop a line and say hi! :)


Red Thai Shrimp Curry


1 lb. jumbo shrimp (or jumbo prawns), cleaned, deveined & shells removed
3 Tbsp. red curry paste
1 can coconut milk, shaken (I used just shy of 1 can, but it thickened considerably, so you may want to use the whole can)
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, sliced
1/2 orange bell pepper, sliced
1 Tbsp. lime juice
Handful of clean cilantro leaves
1 c. brown rice
2 c. water (or a combination of chicken or vegetable stock with water)

For the curry:
1. "Melt" the curry paste in a medium-sized pan over medium heat, stirring around to loosen. Add coconut milk and bring to a simmer.
2. Add peppers and simmer for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally., until peppers soften slightly
3. Add shrimp and cook for 2-3 minutes per side, stirring gently
4. Add lime juice, and stir. Turn off heat. Stir in some of the cilantro.

For the rice:
1. Toast rice in a pot over medium-high heat, for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.
2. Add liquid and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low to bring it to a simmer. Cover and cook for 45 minutes.
3. Remove lid and fluff rice with a fork.

Spoon the curry over the rice and garnish with remaining cilantro leaves. Try your hardest not to eat the entire pot on your own. :-D

Next up... Persian stew!!

Click here if you're hungry!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A little Mexican flair

I'm a huge huge huge Mexican food fan. HUGE. Anything smothered in melted cheese with chili powder, cilantro or lime will make me almost as happy as anything covered in dark chocolate sauce. lol Although there's no melted cheese the simple fajitas I made for dinner last night had all of my favorite Mexican flavors going on.

I'm sure Rick Bayless would choke if he saw my bastard child of a fajita and enchilada, so I hope this makes up for that delicious insanity.

Simpler was the key motivation. But like every other part of my life, I had to complicate matters. I had WAY too many chicken breasts defrosted so I ended up making fajitas AND a Thai-inspired curry (that will probably be posted on Monday). :-D I still have some left, and plan to make yogurt-marinated kabobs and a Persian chicken salad called Salad-e Olivieh.

Like most things I make, I didn't think to measure anything as I went, so all the ingredient quantities are approximate.

Fajitas!

3 chicken breasts, sliced into 1/2" strips
1 green bell pepper, sliced into 1/2" slices
1 red bell pepper, sliced into 1/2" slices
1 orange bell pepper, sliced into 1/2" slices
1 red onion, sliced
Juice of 1 lime, divided in half
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. ground cumin
4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided in half
8 corn tortillas (or small whole wheat tortillas)

To garnish:
Shredded cheese (Monterey Jack or sharp Cheddar)
Sour cream
Cilantro, chopped
Salsa

1. Heat half the oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Toss in chicken "tenders", and cook for 2-3 minutes per side. (It's ok if they stick a tiny bit, because those bits will be picked up by the peppers and onions.) Add cumin, salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Turn off heat and add one half of the lime juice. Remove chicken to bowl or plate.

2. Add the other half of the oil to the pan, turn up the heat to medium-high heat. Throw in the peppers and onions, and let them soften and caramelize slightly.

3. Heat 2 tortillas in the microwave by putting them on a plate between 2 paper towels for 30 seconds.

4. Place 2-3 chicken strips in the middle of a warm tortilla, top with pepper/onion mixture, and garnish with any of the condiments listed above!

One of my new favorite side dishes for any type of Mexican or Mexican-inspired dinner is black bean and corn "salad". Besides being insanely simple and cheap, it's filling, delicious, and you can customize it to your family's tastes! Even Hubs eats it, and he's beyond picky, so you know it has to be good. :)

Black Bean & Corn "Salad"

1 can (19 oz/540 mL) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (19 oz/540 mL) whole niblet corn, drained and rinsed
1/2 red onion, diced (similar size to beans & corn if you can)
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
Other half of the lime juice
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. chili powder
2-3 garlic cloves, grated (optional)
1-2 medium tomatoes, diced (optional)
1/2 jalapeƱo, diced very tiny (optional)

1. Mix everything in a big bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the fridge until ready to eat. The longer it sits, the tastier it is!

Click here if you're hungry!