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?