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.