Monday, December 28, 2009

Fish Fiesta!

Have I mentioned I like cheesy alliteration? Well, really I like just about anything with cheese. Alright, I'll stop.

I make this recipe for Mexican Baked Fish almost every other week, especially in the summer when avocado is fresh and cheap.

It's also really healthy - low fat fish, fiber from the avocado - plus after the back to back cookie recipes, I need it!

I do make one major change, I use Tilapia instead of cod. First, because the majority of cod stocks are severely overfished to the point they may never recover. The exception is Pacific Cod off the Alaskan coast, but it can be hard to know where/how fish is caught. Tilapia is also a cheap, basic, white fish that is easy to keep on hand.

This recipe is great because it uses minimal ingredients and things I usually have on hand, with the exception of avocado. The work-taste ratio is through the roof, it takes almost no prep time or cook time. Add some rice and it's a meal! It's easy to adjust the amount you want to make, just lay the desired number of fish in a pan and top with salsa and cheese. Simple. It's also good the next day to take to lunch or dinner night two.

I've also made an "Italian" version of this, substitute diced tomatoes or marinara sauce for salsa; mozzarella for cheddar; and bread crumbs for chips. It's not quite as good but will work in a pinch.

Taste: A
Cost: A-
Waste: A+

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Little gifties

Simple packaging and some home-baked treats make great little gifts during the holiday season. I like to give them to people I just happen to be meeting for a drink or dinner or whatever, not as gifts so much but just little holiday surprises. Alright well, I bring random food gifts all year round but during the holidays I try to step up the packaging a little. Or that is at least the idea, to which I aspire.

This year, there has been and unprecedented amount of things going on. This is the first year I've worked full-time, I'm moving, plus all the normal holiday activity. However, I actually managed to get a few things baked to give to friends I was meeting. Yeah, the friends I met up with last weekend got the shaft. Sorry, maybe next year I'll step it up. I did get Christmas cards mailed!

What do you like to pass out around the holidays? Any special recipes that your friends always request?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Baking 2: Brown sugar shortbread

The Wednesday Washington Post Food section is my guilty lunchtime pleasure. Just before Thanksgiving there was a special on Julia Child & Jacques Pepin "deconstructed turkey" that looked amazing (and required a 2 page(!) recipe). I took it home and showed my mom. Yes I stole the Food section from the paper and work and packed and flew home to Kansas with it to show my mom. She agreed that it looked fabulous and like a lot of work. There was also recently a recipe for "man crepes" that I've been thinking about making.

Anyway, about a week ago, the post did a feature on cookies - 12 cookie recipes for the holidays. Is it any wonder I love it? I decided to make the brown sugar shortbread (links to recipe at the Washington Post). You need a free account to view recipes on the post website, so I've reproduced the recipe below. Plus I'm not sure how long they archive their recipes. Anyone have any idea?


8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour


Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 325 degrees. Have an ungreased 9-by-13-inch baking pan at hand

Combine the butter and both sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on medium speed for about 1 minute, just until blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the vanilla extract and salt. Add the flour in 2 additions, beating just until incorporated.

Use your fingers or a sturdy rubber spatula to press the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until the shortbread is golden brown. The edges will be slightly darker; do not underbake. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; let cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes.

Use a sharp, thin-bladed knife to cut the shortbread, still in the pan, into 36 rectangles. Let cool completely in the pan before serving or storing.
Source: The Washington Post, December 9th 2009

So this turned out nice, I'm taking them along with some Spitzbüben, if there are any left, to my work Christmas party. However, I did grease the pan (uh-oh) and the recipe says not to, but nothing happened so far as I can tell. Also, DO NOT bake it for 50-55 minutes, mine were nicely brown in 25-30 minutes. So you might wanna watch them.

If I make these again, I think I will try using all brown sugar and no white sugar because I thought these would be really brown sugary but they're not. However, they do have a delightfully soft texture.

Taste: B-
Cost: A
Wast: A

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Baking: Spitzbüben - My favorite cookies!

These are my favorite cookies. And a complete pain in the rear to make. I have only made them myself on rare occasion due to their aforementioned pain-in-the-rearness but my grandma makes them every year for the holidays. They taste like Christmas.

Spitzbüben are a traditional cookie that came from my family's German heritage, one of about 10 such recipes. I'm not exactly sure where in Germany the cookies come from, but I have seen them in the Bavaria region. See photo below of a Spitzbüben I bought at Galleria Kaufhof (a German department store) in München last summer. Yes I took a photo of this cookie a year ago. I routinely take photos of my food and me eating. It's a small personality quirk.

This is what my final product looked like:

1lb butter (yes pound!)
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
4 cups flour

1-2 egg yokes
bread crumbs
powdered sugar
jam (strawberry, grape, apricot, or other)

Combine butter, sugar, vanilla and flour to make dough. Mix with an electric mixer and if necessary kneed together with your hands. It will make a very sticky dough.

Roll out and cut into cookie shapes. Use ample flour on the rolling surface and rolling pin because the dough will stick to everything! The traditional shape for these cookies is a diamond but it's very difficult to find a diamond cookie cutter. Whatever shape you choose, try to avoid lots of points (ie Christmas tree cookie cutters are a bad idea), circles are probably the easiest. A metal cookie cutter, rather than plastic, because they make a cleaner cut and this dough is very difficult to work with.

Arrange the cookies on a greased cookie sheet, brush lightly with egg yoke and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Grandma uses real bread crumbs - mine came from a can. Bake the cookies for 10 min at 375 degrees.

The cookies are very fragile when warm so let them cool well before moving them off the cookie sheet. Spread cooled cookies with your desired flavor of jam. I like strawberry, my sister gets mad because I always eat all the strawberry ones. Coat lightly with powdered sugar and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday gift guides from The Kitchn

Like to give and get food gifts? The Kitchn has done a great round up of food and cooking related gifts for the holiday season. Check out the full spectrum here.

There are definitely some things on the list I want to give to myself!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A potato as a meal

The credit for this one goes entirely to my friend Jess. She is actually in culinary school now, honing her skills. Anyway, she came to visit me once and I had nothing to feed her, or I couldn't figure out what to make with it anyway and she whipped this up and it was tasty! Now I make it all the time.

I had a random assortment of veggies, potatoes and some bacon pieces. My old grocery store sold bacon chopped up into little cubes, it was amazing and I used it all the time but alas, where I live now they don't sell it that way, just in the customary strips. Sigh.

This recipe is great for a number of reasons, you can use just about whatever is in the fridge, it's great for lunch the next day, uses very little or no meat (ie it's cheap and healthy), only one pan needed! So, without further ado...

Baked potato with roasted veggie topping

2 large baking potatoes (1 for dinner, 1 for lunch the next day)
3-4 cups of chopped veggies (can use anything - broccoli, summer squash, fresh green beans, tomatoes, bell pepper...)
splash red wine vinegar
Italian seasoning
splash olive oil
shredded cheese (anything - mozz, feta, cheddar)
chicken or bacon, cut up (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Bake the potatoes. I usually microwave them for about 5-8 minutes and then cook them the rest of the way in the oven, while I prep the veggies. Splash some olive oil into a small pan. If you are using meat chop up the bacon or chicken into small pieces and put it in the pan first, sprinkle with Italian seasoning and cook it for 3-5 minutes on medium heat (little longer for chicken) until it's almost cooked. Then add the veggies (if using tomatoes add them a few minutes later) and pour a splash of red wine vinegar and a bit more Italian seasoning and some salt and pepper. Split cooked potatoes, top with veggies and finish with cheese. et Volia!

Cost: A+
Waste: A+
Taste: B

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Quick cinnamon rolls

Love cinnamon rolls? I do. But really I only LOVE my mom's and like everyone else's. Mom is known for her cinnamon rolls. People drive from other cities to buy them from her store and during the holidays, they are overloaded with orders. I, of course, request them every time I visit. Oh if only she could ship them to DC. sigh.

This quicker version is something mom used to make at home, when she did not feel like getting up at the crack of dawn to make the real deal. Waiting for the dough to rise takes forever and at home there is no proofer (an appliance that makes dough rise faster). This was my first try at making them. Something to tide me over until I can have the real deal over Thanksgiving.

I had a phone consultation with mom before I started. Did I ignore her advice? Yes. To my own peril? 50-50. I did not have the exact ingredients that I needed to really make this but I wasn't feeling like going to the store so I decided to wing a few things and it more or less worked out ok, tasted good anyway, maybe too good...I ate 3 already!

pre-made crescent roll dough
brown sugar
powdered sugar
cream cheese

I did not put in the amount of each ingredient because you can adjust based on how many you want to make. Roll out the crescent dough and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar roll them up and put them in a greased pan. You may notice in the photos I used a loaf pan, is there a reason for this? Yea, I couldn't find my 9" round pan. It's important that the pan not be too over sized, when the crescents are cooked and plump up you want them to touch lightly, so I used the loaf pans.

After the crescents are in the pan, prepare the brown sugar topping. This stuff is like crack. The total secret to the amazing-ness of mom's cinnamon rolls. Pour about a cup of cream in a saucepan and mix in a cup of brown sugar, you can make more or less but there should be about a 1 to 1 ratio of cream to brown sugar. Boil the mixture until the brown sugar dissolves and it bubbles nicely. It should be a dark brown, carmel color. You can add more brown sugar if needed and pour the mixture over the rolls. Put the pan in the oven and bake according to the package directions.

This is one place where I ignored mom (yea...there was more than one). I did not have enough cream so I used half and half for the carmel mixture and it worked pretty well. I added a little more brown sugar to make it thicker. No problem.

While the rolls are in the oven, make a cream cheese frosting. Mom uses cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla and cream. Like I said, I did not have enough cream and now I'd used all the half and half for the brown sugar topping, so I used milk. I also did not have any powdered sugar so I used granulated. Did it work? Um...not so much really. It tasted fine but did not have the same texture of mom's and was more of a sweetened cream cheese than a frosting. It still tasted yummy and I'm going to use the extra as a dip for apples tomorrow at lunch.

These are perfect brunch fare and soooo much easier than waiting for bread to rise for hours and hours. No thank you. Plus, you can make a few or a few dozen. I made one pack of crescent dough, so 8 and I will def be eating them all. Hopefully not all today...we'll see.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Moving on up...

I just found a new apartment and I'm super excited about it. signed the lease last night. But why do I feel the need to talk about it on a blog about cooking for the single girl? A few reasons...

First, over the next couple of weeks while packing, moving and unpacking posts will be a little scant. Moving date will be around the 28th of December, so there will be a few posts before the lull.

Second, the new apartment promises several upgrades on my current kitchen set up. While the new kitchen, is actually smaller and without a pantry (I have a pantry now and it's FAB!), I will actually have more counter space. The dishwasher in the new kitchen is also a full-size one, rather than the apartment-size one I have now. This is both good and bad. Good when I cook because there will be room for all the pots and pans and bad because when I don't cook, it will take forever to fill it with just me.

And one upgrade that I was so excited about, I actually called my mom - a gas stove. If you haven't cooked on a gas stove, it is a whole new experience. There is a reason professional grade stoves are typically gas, they are amazing. My stove in the Netherlands was gas and I cannot be more pleased to move back to one. Now that I've raptured for several sentences, the two big pluses to a gas stove are that it's heats up faster (both oven and cook top) and the temperature changes much faster (almost instantly) on the cook top (both up and down) making it much more precise and that it will yield better results.

The major drawback to a gas stove is that they are normally more expensive to run because of the higher price of natural gas but I won't be paying utilities in the new apartment. The best of both worlds! Mom was happy for me too.

Update: One thing I forgot, the new place also has a yard space to BBQ! So look for some BBQ recipes coming this summer!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The power of food

Can the way we eat change the world? This question was posed to me last week by a coworker (I work at an environmental org) and myself and another colleague immediately said, "yes."

Since then, I've been thinking about what I eat and the choices I have at the grocery store. Is my environmental guilt escalating? You betcha. Over the years I've made a number of decisions about what to eat and how much based on both health and environment. For example:

1. I try to eat less meat, especially red both because meat cultivation is bad for the environment and red meat in particular should be limited for health reasons. I also have ethical concerns about industrial farming techniques and think some of that could be reduced if everyone was conscious about their meat choices.
2. I try and eat in season. This is good for the environment, healthier and saves me money.
3. I don't eat veal, or as I like to call it - baby cow in a box.
4. I try to be conscious of my seafood choices. This is a tough one because there are so many issues. Seafood is a great source of lean protein, can contain mercury, Omega 3s, some seafood is overfished, or farmed in environmentally harmful ways...sometimes I buy something at the store and then check Seafood Watch and see it's overfished and feel guilty (especially if it's yummy and I want it again). Luckily most of the issues surrounding salmon and tuna I can avoid because I don't like them anyway but I LOVE shrimp. Most shrimp is farmed in South East Asia or Latin America and it's really bad for the environment. I try to resist and definitely eat less than I used to, but sometimes I fall off the wagon.

So those are the things I'm doing pretty well on but room for improvement? Of course especially on:

1. Buying more local/organic produce. Organic produce is especially hard for me because it's much more expensive most of the time and usually doesn't keep as long, meaning I pay more for it and then it goes bad before I even get a chance to eat it. When you cook for 1 a single cucumber might be in 3-4 meals!
2. Health...yea I had hash-browns for dinner a few nights ago. I also eat way too much cheese and too many baked goods but I'm not trying to cut out either of those!
3. Organics/ethical products in general. Package organic food can also be challenging both because of the higher costs and because there is usually not a big variety of package sizes. This is still a niche market and normally only the 'standard size' is available, whereas I would usually buy the small size. I find this to be a problem with cage-free eggs especially. I feel I would like to buy them but they only come in 1dz packages and it's just more eggs than I can use, sometimes the 8-pack of eggs my store sells is too much!
4. Plastic. I recently became aware of the huge environmental problem that is plastic but almost all food comes in plastic. I don't put my produce in plastic bags anymore because there really is no need but past that I haven't made any progress.

I really do think what we eat makes a difference. The power of consumer purchasing is huge, companies will manufacture anything as long as they can sell it and make a profit, making good choices with our purchases shows that there is a market for good, sustainable products. I realize I'm a long way from perfect in my purchasing choices but I'm trying to be aware of the downfalls and slowly move in the right direction.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mussels al la Marinere

I've been wanting to try making mussels for a long time but have been put off because I did not really know what to do and thought I'd screw them up. Now I'm pretty sure they are virtually impossible to screw up!

Not only are mussels always delicious when I have them in restaurants (and now at home!) but they are also a great seafood choice because growing them has a very low environmental impact, they actually clean the water while growing! Mussels are also healthy and fairy inexpensive for seafood. I bough a bag of probably 50 mussels for $4.99.

I read up on cleaning and debearding mussels before making them but honestly when I bought them at the store they were practically ready to roll. A few still had beards attached but a quick tug and they were gone. This YouTube video shows you how to clean and check the mussels.

At one point, I was a little creeped out because I realized the mussles were still alive and found it a little disconcerting. However, they need to be alive or you don't want to cook and eat them. Still when I went to soak them in water it was weird to see little bubbles come up.

The recipe I made can be found here. I followed the advice someone else left in the recipes comments about doubling the sauce and serving the mussels and sauce over pasta but honestly, I think it was a totally unnecessary thing to do. I was perfectly happy with the mussels and some bread to dip in the sauce. You'll want a crusty bread. I used a multi-grain baguette.

To summarize, my tips for making Mussels a la Mariniere:
1. Serving over pasta not needed
2. Be sure to soak the mussels in fresh water for 20min
3. Do not leave the mussels in a plastic bag after purchasing, they will die
4. Buy two bottles of wine if you want to have a few glasses with dinner, especially if you plan to double the sauce
5. Buy lots of bread, dipping is the best part

Taste: A+
Cost: B+
Waste: A

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I'm starting to feel adventurous...

I feel like I haven't cooked in ages. All last week I ate but practically no cooking, and the week before? I'm sure I cooked something, but spent most of the week subsisting on Lean Cuisine and cleaning out the fridge. So now I'm feeling a little spunky.

And I'm thinking mussels. I love eating mussels but I've never cooked them. I've never even seen them cooked by someone else! From eating mussels, I know that the secret is a fabulous sauce. If the sauce is good, eating bread dipped in the sauce can make the actual mussels a side-show. My last attempt at a learning a new sauce was a total disaster, however, a yummy looking recipe I found would fulfill the criteria for all 3 of my cooking goals this year: 1) Try cooking mussels or scallops 2) Learn wine sauces 3) Learn reduction sauces. Seems like it's meant to be.

So I'm doing some reconnaissance on mussel preparation. I read a great article on about mussel preparation and I'm starting to feel prepared, although I'm still not sure I have the slightest idea how to debeard a mussel. Maybe I will look for a YouTube video on mussel cleaning and give it a whirl this weekend.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving wrap-up and fabulous baking party

Thanksgiving past in a whirlwind of eating - and very little cooking on my part. I was treated to two fabulous Thanksgivings by my grandmother and sister. Grandma cooks old school, she uses lard. Yikes! But it was so good. She even made pumpkin pie with pumpkins that my sister grew, now that is scratch! Grandma also made my favorite cookies, a German/family cookie called Spitzbueben. They are yummy but such a pain in the rear, maybe when Christmas rolls around I will get into the spirit and bake some...we'll see. It was also the first Thanksgiving that my sister and her husband hosted, and it was really tasty!

My contribution? Fairly limited. I made the pumpkin cheesecake recipe again to take along to my sister's place. This time I used the regular canned pumpkin that the recipe calls for (not the Libby's Easy) and added my own spices but I don't think it baked as nice, it was really thick.

Today, I made up for some lost time. A friend of mine hosted a holiday cookie party and we baked cookies for almost 5 hours! Ok so there was a Chinese food/Love Actually break but we still had 5 times the number of cookies that we were capable of eating. All the girls will be taking cookies to work tomorrow, at least that's my plan. It was a super cute party theme. I'm thinking of throwing something similar but just making some sugar cookies in advance and having the girls come over for decorating. A great way to get into the holiday spirit!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Diet dilemma

My mom is my cooking inspiration. And to what I aspire. Some of my favorite foods I can't eat unless my mom makes them - chicken fried steak, honey pecan chicken - restaurants (and me) just can't measure up to mom. I don't get to make that many trips home these days, so when I do make it, I have a list of things I want mom to make for me. And I eat. And eat. And eat.

My mother is also severely overweight and I worry about her health. She has a tendency to yo-yo diet and every time I talk to her she has some new plan. When I went home last year for Christmas she had been on a shake diet for 4 months and lost about 40 lbs but she fell off the wagon when I was there and we went to lunch and has been up and down ever since.

Until a month ago when she started a new "lean cuisine" plan that was suggested by her doctor, she has portion control problems (not that I don't...) and she's been doing pretty well. She'd even been exercising a little bit. I'm worried that when I visit she will cook all the yummy things I want to eat for me and eat them too. For me mom's house is a huge splurge but for her it's easy to fall into a pattern.

I think food should be enjoyed and don't really believe in dieting per se but the adoption of a healthy lifestyle, which includes lots of veggies, leaner and less meat, some tasty desserts and exercise. However, my mom needs to lose weight and however it happens, I'm ok with that but I do encourage the adoption of healthy habits and want to see the foundation established because at some point, everyone wants to eat real food again.

Delicious food is one the pleasures of life and I hate to see it demonized. I only hang out with women who eat, there is not room for this obsession about eating a cookie. However, it is important to realize that eating properly is important for your health and not just because of weight but also getting the proper vitamins and nutrients - but veggies are also yummy!

So I'm off this week to visit my family for Thanksgiving - hopefully I won't eat too much and will be able to support my mom with her diet plan.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Turkey's not just for Thanksgiving

About a year ago, I decided, against all my childhood education, to eat less red meat. It's healthier, and cheaper. Ground turkey is about $3/lb vs a lean ground beef for $4-5/lb. My family thinks I'm nuts. My step-dad resolutely refused to eat turkey bacon last Christmas even after I expounded on it's health benefits and got my mom to buy and make some for breakfast. Yea...I'm from the Midwest, aka beef country.

So, I've converted to turkey bacon relatively easily and turkey sausage, on the rare occasion that I eat it. However, when I'm eating a BEEF dinner, I want it to taste like beef. No turkey meatloaf here. Alright, well, I don't actually like meatloaf, too bad as I'm told my mom's is excellent. It's one of her signature dishes that people always ask for, but I digress.

Solution? Mix it half and half. I buy a pound of turkey and a pound of beef, use half of each and put the other half in the freezer in freezer bags. The freezer is the single girl's best kitchen friend. If you want less than one pound, you can divide into 3 parts. I do this with lasagna and tacos all the time, throw both the beef and the turkey in the pan and cook 'em together and not only does it look exactly like beef but you can't taste the difference. Only your thighs will notice!

So on the plus side we have good health, save money and no taste loss. Single girl gourmet approved.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A fabulous fall cheesecake

Winter is coming. That means we all need to gain as much weight as possible to stay warm during the winter. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it! So it's time for cheesecake...pumpkin cheesecake!

During my pumpkin craving craze I saw a fabulous recipe for pumpkin cheesecake - I wasn't even looking, I swear. Do I need to eat an entire cheesecake by myself? I want to say yes, but I'm pretty sure the answer is no. So I made this to take over to a friend's place where I was headed for dinner. I got to have a slice (or two...) and leave the rest for other people to eat.

I cheated as much as possible. I used a pre-made graham cracker crust and the Libby's easy pumkin pie filling again, so it took almost no time at all. The directions say to bake it for 35-40 mins but I think next time (oh there will be a next time) I will bake it a little longer because it was a little runny making it hard to get out of the pan. I'm already planning to take this to my sister's place for Thanksgiving!

Taste: A-
Cost: C+
Waste: B

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

International breakfast - Not IHOP!

This weekend I went for brunch at my friend Alex's place and it was a real treat! Alex made a "Colombian Breakfast" for me. (She's Colombian.) She made a special kind of hot chocolate, arepas and eggs. It was delicious.

Arepas are a typical food in Columbia and Venezuela. They are kind of a cheesy-flat-corn bread but there are a bunch of different kinds. This was only the second time I've had them but I might try to make them, if I can find a recipe in English. Yo no habla espanol.

What I really want to talk about were the eggs, she put corn in them! And it was fantastic. I will admit to being highly skeptical of the corn in the eggs but as soon as I tried it, I was instantly converted. She just sauteed normal canned corn with a little salt and pepper until it was essentially roasted and then mixed in eggs. Fabulous! I will definitely be making eggs like this. A lot.

While eating my fabulous eggs I tried to ignore the fact that Alex put cheese in her hot chocolate...apparently this is a normal Colombian thing to do. Anyone heard of this? I did not try it but will definitely be asking around to see if this is "normal."

I also tried to ignore the fact that, her basil is kicking my sad little basil's butt.

I, of course, brought mimosas. Any excuse to drink champagne during the day!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Simple scalloped potatoes - from Japan?

This recipe is from a Japanese cookbook. No...I don't speak Japanese. My neighbor when I lived in Holland, Sachi, was Japanese. She was also interested in experimental cooking used to make recipes from a "modern" Japanese cookbook, which were mostly sort of a Japanese take on western food. There was also a recipe for kind of an egg plant-tempura-lasagna, which was fabulous and I've never made but might try it sometime...

So this recipe is very approximate, given my aforementioned ignorance of Japanese.

2-3 large potatoes
about 1 cup cream (or half & half)
2-3 Tb butter
bread crumbs
salt & pepper

Slice the potatoes, making sure to slice them all into a similar size. Place in a pot and cover with water. Cook on high heat for 10-15 until almost cooked (cooking them partially on the stove cuts down the oven cooking time significantly). Place the semi-cooked potatoes in a baking pan and cover about half-way with cream. You can use half & half to make it a little healthier (and cheaper) but you will need to bake it a little longer so that it thickens. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle about 1 cup of cheese over the top (you can use just about anything, in Holland we used Gouda, today I used Colby Jack) and put a tablespoon of butter in 2 or 3 different places, top with bread crumbs and bake.

So, on our oven in Holland you could not adjust the temp (challenge), in short you want to bake it until the cream reduces and thickens. Today (my first time making this in the US) I baked it at 350 for 20 min and another 20 min at 250. I'd say bake it longer at a lower temp in general.

I was a little heavy handed with the bread crumbs this time, but still tasty! This is also excellent the next day, better I think actually.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Herb garden update!

This is the best my herbs have ever done! *knock on wood* I've been moving them around the apartment like crazy trying to catch any of the fleeting winter sunlight coming in my apartment. I have been continually thwarted by rainy weather but at least they are growing. Slowly. At this rate, I will be able to use them by...July. But as long as they don't die I'm happy.

I'm a little concerned that the soil is growing some kind of mossy-mold, anyone have experience with this? I don't think I'm watering them too much, I think I've only watered them 2-3 times since I planted the seeds. Perhaps my apartment in just that hummid because of all the rain we've been getting in DC, any ideas anyone?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Festive Halloween Treat

Coworker: "Hey Lacey, what are you bringing for the Halloween party?"
Me: "Dirt."
Coworker: "What's in that?"
Me: "Dirt!" I made dirt this week. Do you remember dirt? I made it as a kid both at home and as a school "project," well, an elementary school project. They served it at my uni dinning hall every other week. I also made it in grad school by request of an Italian girl - she apparently lived in the US and her host family made dirt all the time. They have dirt everywhere!

So I was quite surprised that a number of my coworkers were not familiar with dirt. Have these people been living under a rock???

Dirt is perfect for Halloween! I dressed mine up with some gummy worms for a little but of fun but later I thought that I should have looked for gummy spiders or something a little more spooky, maybe next time around.

I made this recipe but I halved it, because my dish wasn't quite 9x13 and our work parties seem to have an excess of food and I still had to bring a little dirt home! Do I mind? Nope! Did I already eat some? Maybe...

I thought it was a little vanilla-y, and next time I might use butterscotch or do a chocolate-butterscotch layer to play up the dirt look. I think we did that once in elementary school, though that might be too much work...Oh and more dishes. hmmm...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New and improved butternut

When I wrote about my favorite baked butternut recipe (which is in the oven again right now...) I complained about what a pain in the rump it is to slice the skin of the squash, well, I was complaining also to my aunt and she came through with a tip! Well, apparently it came from grandma first - the wisdom of the ages.

Auntie said to put the whole squash in the oven on low heat like 250 for a few minutes until it warms up and then cut it up. Worked like a charm! Butternut sans frustration!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Finally, Pumpkin!

Well it's about time. I was seriously considering taking the metro to another grocery store because the one by my apartment did not have any pumpkin and then finally on Thursday, success! I've been there so often this week, I'm surprised none of the employees thought I was stalking them. I bought two cans, just to be safe. You never know when there might be a pumpkin emergency.

I actually bought the Libby's easy pumpkin pie mix because I thought the recipe called for cloves (it doesn't) and they were out! (What is wrong with this grocery store?) But this is probably best as I now am looking at recipes for pumpkin cheesecake and muffins...and did I mention that pumpkin pie is my favorite?

So I get ready to bake and realize I also needed buttermilk, which I did not buy...I go back to the store (I swear the manager mumbled something about a "restraining order") to get my buttermilk. What else could go wrong? Well, I was about 1/2 a cup short of brown sugar, so I had to supplement with some granulated sugar. So, I mix up the ingredients and am about to pour it in the pans and I realize I forgot to put in the butter, it's still sitting there on the cabinet. sigh. I'm once again ready to pour the batter into the pan and my mom calls, totally distracting me and I almost forgot to grease the pan! yikes.

But I finally have some pumpkin bread! And it's really tasty. One loaf to eat this week for breakfast and one to put in the freezer for later, which I made mostly so I wouldn't waste so much pumpkin and buttermilk.

See the recipe I used here.

Taste: B+
Cost: B
Waste: B+ (buttermilk)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Have a bunch for brunch

Brunch is one of my favorite meals because you can sleep late and still have breakfast food, plus it'a also appropriate to drink alcohol - I love me a good mimosa! I also really enjoy omlets but I'm not very good at flipping them, honestly it's just too much work to bother with so when I make brunch at home, I opt for a scrambled omlet.

Chop up your desired veggies (in the photo I have brocoli, tomoatoes and red pepper) and put them in the pan with a splash of olive oil. If you want bacon or sausage in your eggs put it in first and you can probably forego the oilive oil because the meat will have enough fat, then add the veggies when the meat is almost cooked. Toss in some cilantro and garlic. When every thing is fully cooked add the eggs and mix it all together and cook for 3 more minutes or until the eggs are done. Add some cheese (feta, swiss, cheddar...) and wait until it melts a bit before taking it off.

Invite your single girlfriends over for brunch at your place serve this with some fruit, toast and mimosas (OJ & Champange) and then head out for some shopping. Fab way to spend the weekend. Or make it for yourself and sit on the sofa and veg, also a fab way to spend the weekend.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The art of food

Cooking is a science - combine ingredients x,y & z and you will get effect a. Some universities even offer degrees in things like "bakery science." So cooking is a science.

Or is it an art? High-end restaurants agonize over plates and garnishes trying to come up with unique presentations. Photos on menus draw us in, notice all the photos on my blog? Deserts are often on display in glass cases, when we see it, we HAVE to eat it (at least I do), it just looks so good. In Japan they take it one step further with plastic food displays to entice customers into restaurants.

So earlier this week, I watched a video clip about the use of plastic food in Japan (which I now can't find) and then I read this post by One Hungry Chef about the pursuit of concepts in food presentation and the taste becomes lost. These combined to get me thinking, how important is the presentation of the food?

Don't get me wrong, I agree with Hungry Chef that taste should be the most important concern but I think that presentation is a close second. Do I take the time to slice up garnish? Not normally. Do I have a few tricks up my sleeve for special occasions? Hell yeah. I can make strawberry fans, orange curls and tomato flowers with the best of 'em. Ok well...maybe their sloppy assistant.

Like I said, how food looks makes us want to eat it. If it doesn't look good I won't even find out how it tastes. Take sushi for example. I'm a picky eater, so I was never into having all my food put together in a little roll but it always looked so pretty! I just had to eat it, eventually. Ok so I don't need my salad to come in a martini glass, but I don't want to eat it after it's been through a blender and turned into a greenish soup. I'm pretty sure Hungry Chef also puts some thought into the aesthetic - he has gorgeous photos!

Maybe 60% taste and 40% appearance. What do you think?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cravin' me some fall

You know how you start thinking about a food and you just have to have it? Alright maybe it's just me who has pregnant-woman-style cravings. About 6 months after I moved to the Netherlands, I realized I hadn't had ranch dressing. I loved ranch. In college I used to eat it on everything, even pizza. Just realizing I hadn't had it made me want it all the more.

The problem? You can't buy ranch in the Netherlands. Only Joghurt dressing, which is in the same salad dressing family but more of an estranged step-child than a daughter. I went to every grocery store in the Hague (slight exaggeration) and even biked two hours in a vain attempt to find an expat shop that was God knows where, following which I broke down in complete desperation and my best friend took pity on me and shipped ranch packets to me from the States so I could mix my own.

And now? Now it's fall and I want to enjoy the bounty of the season. That's right I said "bounty."

So around yesterday, I got to thinking about making pumpkin bread. So I found a good recipe (low-fat!), I go to the store to get provisions and they are out(!) of canned pumpkin. Apparently, there is a national shortage. Is that the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard? I thought so too til I they were out at the store. No one in DC even bakes. Or so I thought. I've since been back to the grocery store three times. Stay tuned for either pumpkin bread or nervous breakdown.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A foodie, but a seafoodie?

Making seafood automatically impresses people. There are so many different kinds of fish whereas beef is pretty much beef and chicken is chicken! But don't be intimidated by the variety, making seafood is so easy. Plus it's healthy (lean protein, low calorie, Omega 3s) and quick.

I'm a Midwestern girl but I've always loved seafood and now that I'm living near the coast I'm taking advantage. This week, I made flounder for the first time and it was absolutely delicious. It was an old family you believe that BS? I'm from the Midwest! The recipe is one they were giving out at the seafood counter.

I pared the recipe down a little to make it more single girl appropriate and it says to use flounder but you should be able to use any flaky, white fish (tilapia, halibut, bluefish - I think any would work).

Parmesan Flounder

12 oz Flounder (3-4 fillets)
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese
olive oil or butter

Place small amount of olive oil or butter in a medium skillet on medium heat. Place flour and egg each in shallow bowls. Mix bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese together in a third shallow bowl. Coat fillets in flour, dip in egg and then coat in the bread crumb-cheese mixture. Place in skillet and cook approx 6 minutes, turning halfway through.

Be careful not to overcook the fish, they really only take a few minutes. I actually singed the last fillet a bit because I was trying to take a picture of the finished plated product. Oops.

This was the first time I made this dish and it turned out fabulously. Very light. Definitely going to be making this again possibly with tilapia or mahi mahi.

Don't tell anyone how easy it was, let 'em be fooled!

Taste: A-
Waste: B (breading)
Cost: B-

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Gourmet no more

Have you heard? Conde Nast announced earlier this month that they were closing Gourmet magazine and 3 other publications immediately. Conde Nast has decided to focus on publications with more long-term sustainability and broader appeal. While Gourmet's name says it all. Gourmet, elite, expensive. And in the current economy none of these are good, so the long running magazine is being closed. I will especially miss the Politics of Plate articles by Barry Estabrook.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Gardens and things...

One of the nicest things about living in a house, is having a yard and a garden. Growing your own veggies not only ensures you get the freshest ingredients for your gourmet fare but it's also dirt cheap...literally. My step-dad has a green thumb, I swear he should be secretary of agriculture because in 4' X 5' square in our backyard he fed not only our huge family but friends and half the neighborhood.

I, on the other hand, am virtually hopeless but I try. and I try. I get very hopeful looking at the little sprouts...before they all die of course.

House living, is unfortunately not the reality for most of us single gals. So I have an excuse? Not quite. There is room for herbs and they are supposed to be one of the easiest things to grow. Well, I tried last spring to grow some basil and parsley. Failure. I blame it on my apartment not getting enough light, sounds plausible right?

But last week, one of my coworkers brought some rosemary and basil from her herb garden to the office for everyone. I swear, the cuttings from her plants were the largest plants I'd ever seen. It gave me renewed motivation and I'm trying again. This time basil and oregano. I bought two of the little one dollar herb kits from Target, but I'm using my own pots because they need more space than the tiny ones they come with. The pots are from IKEA, in my last attempt, I bought two IKEA herb kits. We'll see, maybe I'll have better luck.

This is what they look like now...I'll keep you posted. Hopefully they will grow and then I will have fresh herbs all the time.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A girl, a chicken and a plan: part 3

The chicken saga comes to a close and was a resounding success! I took the chicken out of the oven and tore into a drumstick (notice it's missing in the photo...). Yummy. The chicken yielded tons of meat, I ate some for lunch and portioned the rest off into containers to put in the freezer. I see chicken tacos, quesadillas and salads with chicken in my future. Low maintenance cooking!

Monday, October 12, 2009

A girl, a chicken and a plan: part 2

The chicken is successfully in the oven and really it wasn't that bad! The part that I was dreading, taking the bag of chicken parts out of the chicken was really no big deal. Everything was contained in a neat plastic bag. No fuss no muss!

Before I opened the chicken, I called mom because I was sure I would need assistance but I really didn't. I took the bag out, rinsed the chicken a little and put it in a pan with some water. I sprinkled some spices (pepper, salt, garlic and a chicken seasoning blend) inside the chicken and all around the outside and put it in the oven. The package even said what temp and how long to cook it! It also said to tie the feet together but Mom said I did not have to and Mom trumps package.

It also doesn't need to cook nearly as long as I thought, only an hour and 10 minutes (according to the package), I'm assuming it's because this is a fairly small chicken at about 6lbs. I told mom when I go home for Thanksgiving, we're making a turkey together! She laughed. We'll see.

On that note, I need to go and baste it a little!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A girl, a chicken and a plan

I must be crazy. I bought a whole chicken today and I'm one person. A few days ago, I was reading this post on saving money by cooking a whole chicken and then browsing through the circular for my grocery store, I saw that they were on sale and I thought why not?

I called my mom to ask her how I should do this and she started telling me about removing the stuff inside the chicken. eww. I'm not crazy about sticking my hand in a chicken and removing whatever is in there. Gross. But for some reason unbeknown to me, I still bought one. The woman at the store, whom I also consulted, offered to do it for me but I thought (stupidly), "I'm a big girl, I can do this" and said, "no" (again, stupidly).

Now there is a chicken in my fridge.

I'm planning to make the chicken tomorrow because I have the day off (Columbus Day). I'm going to have it for dinner and portion the rest out into containers to put in the fridge to use later. I'll let you know what happens.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What does fall mean? Butternut squash!

I don't like to be cold, so I'm not a fall fan, but I absolutely LOVE butternut squash. It's so sweet and delicious. I also like that it's something that is really only available when it's in season, it gives me something to look forward to, but a lot of butternut recipes are for soup. Eh, not such a fan here, I'm always looking for other uses and I love that too - there are possibilities out there, I just gotta look for them!

So I'm sharing one of my favorite butternut recipes. I like it for several reasons (not a soup!), it's versatile - can be an entree or a side and you can make as much or as little as you want, perfect for a single girl.


Butternut squash, cut into 1" cubes
Olive oil
bread crumbs (seasoned or plain)
Feta cheese (can use blue cheese or mozzarella, gorgonzola would probably work too, I like feta)
salt and pepper

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place butternut cubes in a non-stick baking dish Coat butternut cubes lightly in olive oil (not too much, will make it greasy), sprinkle thyme on the cubes when mixing the oil on them. Sprinkle cheese on top (for 3-4 cups of butternut cubes, I use about 1/3 cup of cheese, this will make it pretty cheesy)or you can try to mix it in a little so it's in the middle and top. Next sprinkle a little salt and pepper (to taste) and about 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs on top. Bake approximately 30-40 minutes or until squash is soft.

To cut cost, I often use a little bit of feta and supplement with some mozzarella.

See the photo of the finished product'll notice part of it is already gone, yea sorry about that I was really hungry and kind of forgot to take a photo first. This will likely be a reoccurring theme.

One thing I don't like about butternut - otherwise it would be a perfect love affair - it's a pain in the rear to cut up. I advise a sharp knife and to be careful. I'm not sure if this is because I'm not buying the right ripeness, sometimes it seems easier than others but if you have any tips, I'd be glad to hear them.

Do you have any butternut recipes you'd like to share? I want to hear 'em! If yours sounds yummy, I will try to make it and post it on the blog.

Cost: A
Waste: A+
Taste: A

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

3 pots = mediocre dinner

Since this is my first real post, I feel the need preface it saying that this is WAY more complicated than my normal Monday-night-meal. There were 3 different pots/pans used. That is a lot, normally, I'm low dish. 1 is ideal, 2 is pushing it, 3 is almost unheard of. Ok, I'm done - to the dinner.

I had some fresh basil to use that a coworker gave me (I'm working on growing my own, more on that later), that was the impetus for this plan. So I planned to make a new sauce a creamy butter sauce. It was a failure. It was supposed to be this but I was gonna use basil, cuz I had it, instead of sage. The sauce would not thicken. I almost called tech support (mom) but instead I added some flour, more flour and finally it was edible but not fabulous by any stretch.

But the next time I make alfredo sauce, I might use some chicken broth to make it a little lighter. Food for thought.

I also made some pasta and pork chops. They were both great. Pork chops were on sale (boneless, center-cut 3.99/lb), so I got some, sounded good. It occured to me, in the middle of cooking naturally, that I was making pork and a chicken broth sauce...mmmm...bit odd but that wans't bad really. Maybe it will be better when I have serving two for lunch tomorrow.

Too bad I had to start off the new blog with a failure (or at least not a sucess), I should have made the butternut squash that will be for tomorrow - if I'm feeling motivated.

Cost: C+
Waste: B (Lots of chicken broth left, no idea what to do with it)
Taste: C-

Monday, October 5, 2009

If you say "mmm" in the kitchen and no one hears it, is it still good?

I'm a single girl, who likes to eat but it's challenging to cook for one. Recipes are designed for families of four. Package sizes at the store are too big to use for one person. Leftovers are depressing. No one to make "mmmm" sounds when it's really good. The list goes on. There are some benefits, no one to complain when it's bad, and only one person's likes and dislikes to accomodate. Big pluses.

My mom, is actually a chef, she runs her own catering company, so most of my kitchen education as a kid involved watcthing from the bar while I talked to my mom or her kicking me out of the kitchen. She made it look so easy. She never measures and it's always amazing, I call her the "approximate chef." It gave me impossible standards, which I did not realize until I grew up and figured out that not everyone has these amazing abilities.

So the goals are to cook for one person (maybe with leftovers to take to work for lunch the next day), save money, cut out food waste where possible, and make lots of "mmm" sounds, even if no one else around to hear it.