Wednesday, December 26, 2007

My(dining) Space

The Columbus Dispatch had an article in today's issue about food bloggers. Check it out here:

It's been a busy last few weeks, but I have about five recipes worth of posts waiting for me to write! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Chicken Pot Pie

After a busy week and weekend, I felt like cooking something homemade on Sunday. I decided to make this chicken pot pie recipe that I'd found online awhile ago and had been wanting to try. It was really tasty and pretty easy. If I make it again I will use a little less onion. I should know by now to err on the side of too little onion. It just tends to overpower the other flavors for me.

Here's the recipe:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup frozen green peas
1 cup diced potatoes
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1-3/4 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup milk
2 (9 inch) refrigerated pie crusts

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. In a saucepan, combine broth, chicken, carrots, peas, and potatoes. Boil for 15 minutes. Remove cooked chicken and vegetables with a slotted spoon and set aside.
3. In another saucepan over medium heat, cook onions in butter until soft and translucent. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, garlic salt, and poultry seasoning. Slowly stir in chicken broth and milk. Simmer over medium-low heat until thick. Remove from heat and set aside.
4. Place the chicken mixture in bottom pie crust. Pour hot liquid mixture over. Cover with top crust, seal edges, and cut away excess dough. Make several small slits in the top to allow steam to escape. (I tried to be fancy and use my mini cutters, but should have made a few more cutouts closer to the edges because the crust ended up splitting there anyway.)
5. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Okay I have to admit something embarrassing now. I actually planned to make this recipe a month or two ago, and purchased all of the ingredients. But the thing is, the recipe didn't specify 'refrigerated' pie crusts (I added that detail). It just said "2 (9 inch) pie crusts" and I actually didn't know there was such a thing as refrigerated pie crusts. I had only ever heard of the frozen kind (the ones that come in the foil pan). So I bought those and put them in the fridge to defrost. I have to admit I was really confused about how I was going to use the second pie crust (that was already shaped in the bottom of the foil pan) as the top. When it was time to make the recipe I realized there was no way it was going to work and that there had to be some other kind of pie crusts I didn't know about. So I googled it and realized my mistake. The refrigerated kind are made by Pillsbury and are found with the refrigerated crescent rolls, cinnamon rolls, etc. I don't know how I hadn't noticed them before. But those bad boys are expensive. At my grocery store they were actually on sale for 2 packages (of 2 crusts each) for $10. So right there the pot pie costs at least $5. We were able to be somewhat frugal though, because Jason and I also ate the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Edited to add: the other day at Giant Eagle I noticed the pie crusts were on sale for 2 packages for $4. So... I must have been confused about the price when I posted previously!

Monday, December 3, 2007

for Aunt Nancy

Aunt Nancy, I stumbled across this blog today and thought you would love it:

She's also a 28-year-old woman named Heather living in Columbus (interesting...), but she's much more adventurous and has beautiful photographs!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ohio Proud

I wanted to share an interesting recipe web site I just found. I haven't made any of the recipes yet but it looks like a good source, and the recipes are supposed to "highlight Ohio's diverse agricultural and food products." Here is the link:

On a somewhat related note, I was thinking the other day about how I own so many cookbooks, yet most of the recipes I cook are ones I have found online or from some other source like the newspaper. I think I will make it a point to try to start using my cookbooks, and then I can review the book as well as the recipe itself. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Man, I am on a posting spree right now! Five in one day; that's some kind of record. I just said to Jason, "wow, I have been blogging for an hour and a half!" His response: "Um, I KNOW." Poor guy kept trying to talk to me about Simpsons, King of the Hill, Family Guy, and now the Blue Jackets Game, and I'm just not paying attention to any of them. I had this cache of photos and recipes built up that I had been wanting to post about but just hadn't felt like I had a chance to do so. Unfortunately that means the posts have been few and far between lately... almost three weeks since the last one. I hope there are still some readers around.

I wanted to post my all time favorite recipe for brownies. For so long I had been making brownies from a mix. I can't remember when or why I decided to make a batch from scratch, but I found this recipe at It's pretty obvious that a lot of my recipes come from or One of the reasons I love those websites for finding recipes, rather than going to a cookbook, is that they have great search features. You can enter the ingredients you want to use and search for a recipe that uses them. You can even specify which ingredients you don't want. You could search by course, and then sort by rating so that the highest-reviewed recipes are listed first. This is a great way to browse. I have found to be rather aggravating though, because you will see that a recipe has really high ratings, but then when you read the reviews people will say things like "this recipe was great! here's how I altered it" and then they will list about five things they did differently from what the recipe says. That problem seems to be more rampant on than it is on But sometimes that can come in really handy, if a majority of reviewers are in agreement about how a recipe should be altered.
Anyway, here is the recipe. It's easy and so delicious. And these brownies have a unique texture that I haven't gotten from a boxed mix. They are slightly gritty at first bite and then they just melt in your mouth.
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 9 baking pan.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together the oil, sugar, and vanilla. Beat in eggs. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt; gradually stir into egg mixture until well blended. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
3. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the brownie begins to pull away from the edges of the pan. Let cool on a wire rack before cutting into squares.

Spinach Dip

On Saturday evening, I went to my friend Kate's house for a Broad Street Presbyterian Church "young adults" get-together. I have only known Kate for a short time (since we both were ordained as new deacons last spring) but have quickly come to consider her a friend, and I hope to continue to become better friends with her in the future. Kate and I have a lot in common, including 1) being really active at church yet having a husband who stays as far away from church as possible, and 2) having big hips. We understand each other. =)
Anyway, there was a group of about ten of us who gathered at Kate's house to drink wine, eat some food, and enjoy each other's company. It was a really diverse group that showed up: single people, married couples, married people who were alone (Jason stayed home... was too afraid we would end up talking about Jesus? We didn't.); different races, coming from different parts of town; some knew each other well and some were brand new. We had some great conversation and now will have a few more friendly faces to look for on Sunday mornings. I think it was everything you could want from that type of gathering.
I showed up with Carolyn and brought a bottle of my current favorite wine (Alamos Malbec, pictured above) and an appetizer: a new spinch dip recipe I had gotten from (where else?) and some tortilla chips. The wine was a hit and the spinach dip was too.
I am usually reluctant to take photos of my food, because I know they end up coming out so bad, but this was one time I was really disappointed to not have my camera with me. I would have liked to visually document this delicious appetizer, as well as a fantastic time spent with new friends.
Here is the recipe. As I told my mom and sisters today, I think this has knocked our old standard Spinach-and-Artichoke Dip out of the top spot.
1 package ranch dressing mix
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 (8 ounce) container sour cream
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese, split into 2-1/2 cup portions
1 (8 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach
1. Defrost the spinach.
2. Place it in a colander and press until as much moisture as possible is removed.
3. Mix all ingredients (using only 1/2 of the cheddar) and blend well.
4. Put it in a shallow baking dish in the oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
5. Remove from oven.
6. While still hot top it with remaining cheese, heat in oven again for 5 minutes.
7. Remove and cool slightly before serving with tortilla chips.
When assembling this I started trying to mix it by hand with a wooden spoon, but then decided to mix it in the KitchenAid mixer instead. That ended up working really well. You could probably also mix it in a food processor but that would end up really chopping up the spinach.


Mmm, chili. As some of my coworkers know because they see me bringing it to my desk often, I love chili! When my sisters and I were kids, our mom would make a chili recipe that didn't have tomatoes in it because we were picky and didn't like to have chunks of tomato in our food. I think the base of hers was tomato juice and tomato paste. So for a long time I have used the chili recipe off of the can of tomato juice, but decided recently that I'd like to try to find a different recipe that is more like what they serve at the cafeteria at work. It's thicker and chunkier... less soupy. This was a recipe I found on (my new favorite recipe site) and it was really tasty. The flavor was actually really similar to my mom's chili.
(By the way, if the measurements seem a little strange (such as "1/2 can") it's because I scaled it down to have fewer servings than what was originally called for.)
1 pound ground beef
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can tomato sauce
1/2 can tomato paste
1/2 (15 ounce) can tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 can chili beans
1. Saute meat, onions and garlic until done.
2. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 2 hours.
I also made a quick bread that you can see in the picture but it was nothing spectacular.
When I was searching for the chili recipe, I found another one that I'd also really like to try someday. It had some unconventional ingredients (coffee? brown sugar?) but got a lot of rave reviews. I decided to go with that first recipe instead because it seemed like a safer bet. I also someday would like to try Bruin's chili recipe, which Sue gave me after I tasted it at their Halloween party, but since that one makes enough to feed an army I'm saving it for a special occasion, I guess.
Here is that second recipe:
1 teaspoon oil
1 onion, chopped
1-1/2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound lean ground beef
3/8 pound beef sirloin, cubed
1/2 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 can dark beer
1/2 cup strong coffee
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1/2 can beef broth
1/4 cup brown sugar
1-3/4 tablespoons chili sauce
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon cocoa
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 (15 ounce) cans kidney beans
2 chili peppers, chopped
1. Heat oil.
2. Cook onions, garlic and meat until brown.
3. Add tomatoes, beer, coffee, tomato paste and beef broth.
4. Add spices. Stir in 1 can of kidney beans and peppers.
5. Reduce heat and simmer for 1-1/2 hours.
6. Add remaining can of kidney beans and simmer for another 3o minutes.

Tortilla Soup

I don't have a photo to go with this recipe, or any story to tell about it. I'm mostly posting it here to save it for my reference.

Another recipe that's easy and delicious but not the healthiest.

1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can condensed chicken with rice soup plus 1 can water
1 (10 ounce) can chunk chicken
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chile peppers
1/2 packet taco seasoning

Pour everything into a large saucepan and simmer over medium heat until chicken is heated through (about 20 minutes).

I like to serve this with sour cream, tortilla chips and shredded cheese.

Blackened Chicken and Beans

This was a recipe I just happened to stumble upon while I was looking for a recipe for something else at It was easy and delicious!

2 teaspoons chili powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinse and drained

1 cup frozen corn, thawed

1 cup chunky salsa

1. Combine the chili powder, salt and pepper; rub on both sides of chicken.

2. In a large skillet, cook chicken in oil 4-5 minutes each side, until juices run clear. Remove and keep warm.

3. Add beans, corn and salsa to skillet; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 2-3 minutes, until heated through.

4. Put bean mixture on a serving dish; top with chicken.

Jason didn't like the beans but that didn't surprise me. Also I thought the dish was a bit spicy overall... I used medium salsa which I normally like because it has a little kick to it, but when it was combined with the chili powder it ended up being really spicy. Next time I would use mild salsa instead. The rice is a saffron rice made from a prepackaged mix... I forget the brand name but it comes in a yellow package.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Oatmeal Carmelitas

That is not my photograph (no surprise there). I forgot to take any photos of my cookie bars, so I borrowed this photo from, where you can buy Oatmeal Carmelitas at $19.95 for a box of 12. Holy mackeral. They do look spectacular. Mine were not that pretty, but they were really tasty!

I made these cookie bars to take to work on Wednesday, because we were having a dessert potluck in honor of Vicky's last day. You might remember that I made the pralines a few weeks ago in honor of Vicky returning to work from maternity leave... I knew at that time that we would not have her with us much longer. Someday within a few years I hope to follow in her footsteps.

This was a recipe I had clipped from a Smuckers coupon awhile ago. I would highly recommend it! The bars were easy, different, and delicious. Here's a tip: when I was adding the filling, I spread out the caramel topping evenly to all the edges of the pan. The next time I make this recipe, I won't do that and instead will just drizzle the caramel over the base without spreading it. The reason is that as the bars cooked, the caramel spread out and started to climb up the edges of the pan. Then when they cooled, the caramel got really hard at those edges and made it difficult to cut. I figure that if I don't spread the caramel it will still spread out on its own but without making a mess.


2 cups Pillsbury BEST® All Purpose Flour

2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats

1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups butter or margarine, softened


1 jar Smucker's® Caramel Spoonable Ice Cream Topping

3 tablespoons Pillsbury BEST® All Purpose Flour

1 package (6-oz.) (1 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped nuts
Heat oven to 350° F. Grease 13x9-inch pan. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. In large bowl, combine all crust ingredients; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake at 350° F. for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in small bowl, combine caramel topping and 3 tablespoons flour; blend well.
Remove partially baked crust from oven. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with caramel mixture. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.
Return to oven; bake an additional 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until filling is set. Cut into bars.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Chicken Noodle Casserole

I already knew it had been quite awhile since I had posted, but then today Jason even commented on how long it had been! (Jason usually doesn't "surf" the net, at least not like I do, but sometimes takes drastic measures when he is bored in class, and I must be in the rotation.) Well lucky for you, dear readers, I made a recipe tonight that got a thumbs up from both Jason and me.
It was a Chicken Noodle Casserole recipe from This was another instance where I already had an ingredient (in this case, egg noodles) and set out to find something to make with it. With this morning being pretty chilly (I actually had to let my car warm up and defrost for the first time this month), a casserole seemed like a warm, comforting choice for dinner.
I also appreciate meals that are baked because it's nice to be able to assemble something, put it in the oven, and walk away from it and have time to do something else for a bit. I try to multitask whenever possible. I generally have only about 4 or 5 hours of "awake time" at home each work day, and I usually struggle to find enough time for all of my interests. This is also why my house is usually a mess, the desk has piles of unfiled receipts and other papers on it, I have unfinished (or even never-begun) sewing projects, the dogs need to be brushed or bathed, etc. All of these things should be manageable enough to maintain, except that by the time I run necessary errands, do crucial chores (like laundry so I have something to wear to work), make dinner and catch up with my husband in the evening it seems like the day is gone. Then on the weekends when I actually have time to devote to these things, I feel like I am so tired from my busy week that I just want to relax and do nothing! I shouldn't complain because I know working parents have it even worse, but... sometimes it's hard.
So anyway, the point is that casseroles are easy and time-savers. Tonight, I ran to the grocery store after work (had to pick up some candy for the trick-or-treaters, among other things), got home around 6:30, put away the groceries, fed the dogs, started making the casserole, put it in the oven around 7:45, went into the basement, threw a load of laundry into the washer, and worked out (The Biggest Loser workout dvd... I recommend it!). When the workout was over, the casserole was done.
Here is the recipe. THIS IS NOT HEALTH FOOD, BUT IT'S GOOD!!

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
6 ounces egg noodles
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste
1 cup crumbled buttery round crackers
1/2 cup butter
1. Poach chicken in a large pot of simmering water. Cook until no longer pink in center, about 12 minutes. Remove from pot and set aside. Bring chicken cooking water to a boil and cook pasta in it. Drain. Cut chicken into small pieces, and mix with noodles.
2. In a separate bowl, mix together mushroom soup, chicken soup, and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper. Gently stir together cream soup mixture with the chicken mixture. Place in a 2 quart baking dish.
3. Melt butter in a small saucepan, and remove from heat. Stir in crumbled crackers. Top casserole with the buttery crackers.
4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 30 minutes, until heated through and browned on top.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


It's been quiet on the blogging front lately. For the most part, that's been because I haven't made any blog-worthy recipes. But tonight I made pralines and thought I'd blog about that.
The photo doesn't do them justice... although I don't know that they look much better in 'real life.' Jason said 'they look like poo!' but then quickly clarified that he meant all pralines in general, not mine in particular. Thanks, sweetie.
Anyway, my friend Vicky is coming back to work tomorrow after her maternity leave. Some of us at the office thought it might be nice to have a few snacks to welcome her back to her cubicle.
I decided to make pralines mainly because I happened to have the right ingredients, but I also have kind of a soft spot for them in my heart. I was first introduced to them back in high school when I worked at Mabel's Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor. I have never really been much of an ice cream eater, but when working at an ice cream parlor you can't help but eventually taste all the flavors, and I discovered that my favorite was Pralines-n-Cream. Then when I went to Savannah for the first time I indulged in some of the free praline samples at the candy shops on River Street.
I had two different recipes for pralines: one called for buttermilk and the other for whipping cream. I had tried the recipe using whipping cream awhile back, and didn't really like how they turned out. The sugar had overly crystallized and made them taste almost sandy, but that could have been a result of me overmixing and not a fault of the recipe itself. I still had half of the bag of pecan halves left over, and I happened to have some buttermilk that I just bought to use in a chicken recipe, so I thought I would try the other version of pralines.
Here is the recipe:
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups pecan halves
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted butter
Use large pot--mix sugar and soda. Slowly add milk. Turn heat on low and let mixture come to slow boil. Cook until soft ball forms in cold water. Remove from heat. Add nuts and butter. Beat by hand until mixture turns light brown. Pour out.
I have two complaints about this recipe (I found it on the internet in case you were wondering). First, the mixture turned brown way before stirring in the nuts and butter. (I used my candy thermometer so I could be absolutely sure about when I reached the soft ball stage, so I know I was timing it out okay.) Second, that last line... "Pour out." Pour out into what? Then what? I ended up using my cookie scoop to drop small clumps onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.
This recipe seemed to turn out much better than the other one. The pralines are tasty! But it is a candy that requires a lot of babysitting. The mixture takes a long time to get to 240 degrees, and has to be stirred constantly so the sugar doesn't burn. I ended up standing over the stove for about an hour. So be forewarned!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Chinese food, Trader Joe's style

(more out of focus pictures... sorry! Gretchen tried to fix the settings for me to no avail.)

I could have titled this post "Almost as Good as Takeout, Part II" but instead chose to pay homage to the amazing store that is Trader Joe's. I honestly could not name a single thing I dislike about Trader Joe's. It's a cute store with a small selection of items, many of which are their own brand. Because they have such a small selection, everything they carry is fantastic. The prices are low too. If you haven't heard of Trader Joe's, I would suggest checking out their web site to learn more about them. There are only a few in Ohio, but Columbus is lucky enough to have two!
(Oh, one more thing I love about Trader Joe's: their circular is called the "Fearless Flyer" and it reads like a magazine! It doesn't just list items and prices... each item has a paragraph about it that is so romantically written you'd think it was the J Peterman catalog!)
On my recent visit to TJ's, I spotted this General Tsao Stir Fry Sauce and decided to try it. (You might be able to see on the label in the second picture that it says "Trader Ming's." That's another cute thing they do. The Italian stuff says "Trader Giotto's.") I had cut a recipe for General Tso's chicken out of the newspaper awhile back, but hadn't made it yet because it seemed complicated and had a lot of ingredients since the sauce was made from scratch. I figured I could use this premade sauce and really simplify the recipe.
Here's what I did:
I cut about 1/2 to 1 pound of chicken breasts into 1 inch cubes. I mixed 1 large egg (beaten) with a little salt and pepper and 2 tablespoons of corn starch. I poured that over the chicken and let it marinade for about 15 minutes.
Next I was supposed to heat 2 cups of oil in the wok to 350 degrees and then fry the chicken in it. You have to dip the chicken pieces in corn starch and shake off the excess right before you fry them. Unfortunately when I was getting ready to start this step I noticed that I only had about 3/4 cup of vegetable oil left. I just made do with this and it still worked. The only accomodation I had to make was to turn the chicken pieces after about a minute since they weren't completely submerged in the oil. The chicken only took about 2 minutes total to cook. I was surprised by how successful I was at frying the chicken pieces. They had a nice crunchy coating.
I removed the pieces from the oil with a slotted spoon and blotted them on paper towels. I drained all of the excess oil out of the wok and into a bowl. Then I added about 1/2 cup of the TJ's sauce to the wok, and added the chicken pieces. I stir fried it until everything was heated through. The sauce got a sticky consistency and really coated the chicken pieces, just like it usually has when I order this dish from a restaurant.
Unfortunately I forgot to get any broccoli, but I did pick up some of Trader Joe's frozen fried rice to accompany the chicken. The fried rice was really easy to make in the microwave, but only tasted so-so. I think it may have tasted better if I had made it in a skillet with a little oil, but next time I would probably prefer to have plain rice.
All in all it was a good dish. I would have liked the sauce to have a little more kick to it, but I always like my Chinese food spicy. My very first job in high school was at a Chinese restaurant, and I always felt like the 'spicy' dishes weren't really very spicy. When I would order a meal to take home with me, the chef would always ask if I wanted it "American spicy, or actually spicy?"
Someday I'd like to make the recipe from scratch, but this bottled sauce is great if you want to do it in a hurry. And it's probably healthier (if only slightly) to cook this dish at home than to order take-out.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

White Russian Cupcakes

Friday was my mom's birthday. My sisters and I went to her house to celebrate, and I decided to bake some cupcakes for the occasion. I had gotten the book Cupcakes: From the Cake Mix Doctor (by Anne Byrn, the same author of the doomed asparagus blue cheese pesto pasta recipe from a few posts ago) from the library and copied a bunch of recipes I wanted to try, so I emailed my mom the following list of flavors and asked her which she might like:

Pineapple Upside Down Cake
White Russian
Key Lime Pie
Lemon Chiffon
Orange Almond
Chocolate Peanut Butter

She responded favorably to the idea of White Russian or Chocolate Peanut Butter. The Chocolate Peanut Butter cupcake recipe I had was actually from a Barefoot Contessa cookbook, and was a 'from scratch' recipe, whereas all of the Anne Byrn recipes start with a cake mix, so I decided to go with the White Russian recipe.
Here it is:
1 package (18.25 ounces) plain yellow cake mix
1 package (3.4 ounces) vanilla instant pudding
1 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup whole milk
4 large eggs
1/4 cup vodka
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Kahlua
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Kahlua Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon Kahlua
2 tablespoons semisweet chocolate shavings
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 24 cupcake cups with paper lines. Set the pans aside.
2. Prepare the cupake batter: Place the cake mix, pudding mix, oil, milk, eggs, vodka, 1/4 cup Kahlua, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping down the sides again if needed. Spoon or scoop 1/3 cup batter into each lined cupcake cup, filling it three quarters of the way full. Place the pans in the oven.
3. Bake the cupcakes until they are golden and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 17 to 20 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for 5 minutes. Brush the tops of the cupcakes with the remaining 2 tablespoons Kahlua. Run a dinner knife around the edges of the cupcake liners, lift the cupcakes up from the bottoms of the cups using the end of the knife, and pick them out of the cups carefully with your fingertips. Place them on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes before frosting.
4. Meanwhile, prepare the frosting: Place a large, clean mixing bowl and electric mixing beaters in the freezer to chill for 1 minute. Remove the bowl and beaters from the freezer. Pour the cream into the bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until the cream has thickened, 1 1/2 minutes. Stop the machine and add the sugar and Kahlua. Beat the cream on high speed until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes more.
5. Place a heaping tablespoon of the whipped cream on each cupcake and swirl to spread it out with a short spatula or a spoon, taking care to cover the tops completely. Garnish with chocolate shavings. The cupcakes are ready to serve. Store these cupcakes, in a cake saver, in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days.

The cupcakes were pretty good! I was a little surprised at how heavy the alcohol favor was in the baked cupcakes, and it really did taste like a White Russian. I did not like the whipped cream icing... it just seemed a little too light. if I made these again I would try to use some sort of butter cream icing with Kahlua in it. I would recommend this recipe and I can't wait to try others from this book.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Some general comments about redoing the bathroom

  • Thanks, previous owners, for painting over wallpaper. Those seams look really great.
  • Thanks as well for applying a new layer of flooring directly over the previous layer. Twice. Once we removed those layers and installed our new one, we had about 1/8 inch gap between the floor and the trim in some places.
  • I am still puzzled by the look of the door not matching the color of the door frame. This is something that has bugged me throughout this house since before we moved in. Maybe some day I will paint the doors to match the trim, but for now we decided to only paint over the previously painted surfaces.
  • The paint color was supposed to be a light brown taupe. Instead it looks like a light purple. It still looks nice but I would not have chosen to have another purple bathroom (our basement bathroom is purple too).
  • Sometimes directions from a trusted source (i.e. Reader's Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual) don't work, and you have to make it up your own way. This is what happened when we were figuring out how to cut the floor tiles. That floor is the thing I am most proud of because it was the biggest pain in the ass and I didn't think we could make it work.
  • I was worried that doing this home improvement project would cause tension between Jason and me. As my boss said, 'This will be a test of your marriage!' Instead, we were united in our hatred for doing home improvement projects. There was still tension but it was because we were so pissed at things like the above-mentioned many layers of floor, or surprise holes in the wall that we had to figure out how to cover (i.e. behind the medicine cabinet).
  • When I look at the Before and After photos posted below, I realize that the previous bathroom wasn't really that bad. I didn't mind the green walls or the wood fixtures. It was just that damn towel bar falling off that started this whole thing!!
  • I'm satisfied with the work we did but starting to think about things we didn't do but maybe should have. The new shower curtain bar, towel bars, light fixture, and medicine cabinet are all oil-rubbed bronze. Now I feel like the color of the cabinet should be stained darker to match, maybe a cherry or something. I'll save that for a future project. Also, the switchplates are white and the light switches are a yellowish color. This is another weird thing that is like that THROUGHOUT THE HOUSE. I totally forgot about that and will have to switch those out at some point.

Before and During


Monday, September 24, 2007


I just wanted to post a quick update about the reason it's been so quiet here lately! Jason and I tackled a home improvement project that kept us busy the entire weekend. We redid our main bathroom. This project was all because one of the towel bars pulled out of the wall a few months ago (to be honest, it was probably about a year ago). The towel bar was wood that was mounted all across the length of the wall... it wasn't just mounted at either end. When it fell off we saw that the existing paint had been applied around the towel bar, so we now had a towel-bar sized stripe on the wall. Our options were to either reinstall the same towel bar in the exact same spot (since we didn't have the paint to patch the bare spot) or to install new towel bars and repaint the walls in a new color. I wanted to repaint and get new towel bars. I also wanted to redo the floor, because the existing tiles (the peel-and-stick kind) had probably been there for quite awhile and had some bad spots where tiles had shifted and had gaps between them, or they were starting to come unstuck at the seams. So anyway, we had a big project to do all because of one towel bar. I hope to post an update soon about the remodel as well as some more cooking posts!! Thanks for being patient, and keep checking back.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Carrot Cake

I remembered while eating one of the last slices of this cake that I hadn't taken any photos of it. Hence the dirty fork and crumbs everywhere in this one. This photo does not do the cake justice. It was delicious.

I had decided to bake a carrot cake for a few reasons. I had been thinking about making one since my friend Jen's wedding a few weeks ago. Each layer of her wedding cake was a different flavor, one of which was carrot cake. It was amazing! I also wanted to take a dessert to Sue and Bruin's house on Friday, and Bruin can't eat anything with chocolate in it because he is allergic to caffeine (gasp!), so I had to think of something without chocolate. Since I had plenty of baby carrots in the fridge, I thought the carrot cake was a perfect choice.

The recipe I used is from a cookbook called Best of the Best from Ohio: Selected Recipes from Ohio's Favorite Cookbooks. The book was edited by Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley, who have made compilation cookbooks like this for almost every state in the US. (I found out about them after buying Best of the Best from Georgia while on vacation this summer with my mom and sisters on Tybee Island. I borrowed the Ohio edition from my library.) The carrot cake recipe originally came from A Taste of Columbus Vol IV, which seems to be out of print but I would assume is a compilation of recipes from Columbus-area chefs, because the recipe notes that it was contributed by Chef Jim Girvis of the French Loaf.

Here is the recipe:

4 large eggs

1-1/2 cups oil

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups sugar

1 (8-1/3 ounce) can crushed pineapple in juice, drained

2 cups (packed) peeled and shredded carrots

1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used almonds because that's what I had, but if I made it again I would use pecans or walnuts)

Place eggs and oil in mixing bowl and blend well. Sift together flour, soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and sugar. Add to egg mixture and blend thoroughly. Add pineapple, carrots, and nuts. Mix well. Pour into greased 13 x 9 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Allow to cool.


1/2 cup butter

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 (1-pound) box confectioner's sugar

Cream together butter, cream cheese, and vanilla. Add sugar and beat well. Frost cake and refrigerate for 2 days before serving.

I ended up baking it a little longer than called for because after 35 minutes it was still jiggly in the middle. I probably baked it for 45-50 minutes. It was really golden brown but I thought it would be better to have it be a little overdone on the edges rather than undercooked in the middle. When the cake cooled, I tasted a sliver to make sure it came out okay before making the icing. It was consistently very moist throughout. Maybe a little too moist for my liking.

I took half the cake to dinner on Friday and the other half to Bluffton on Saturday. Everyone seemed to like it, so that's good! I thought it was pretty delicious but I might want to try a different carrot cake recipe sometime to see if I can get one that's not so moist. But I would definitely recommend this recipe.

My Corn-Hole is Full

This is Jason, doing a guest post in honor of my "preparing" a dish Friday. Heather and I were scheduled to go to some friends' house for a barbecue and Heather agreed to make the side dish, a corn casserole. Of course, Heather has a job (unlike me) so when she was running late getting home Friday after work, it fell on my shoulders to "prepare" the casserole. I am no expert in the kitchen but I did my best following Heather's over the phone instructions and there was general agreement that the casserole turned out edible. The following is my interpretation of the ingredients, hopefully for your sake Heather will add in her version before posting.

1 can of something Heather left on the counter (Note: try not to look at this stuff or get it on you because it's kind of gross) (This would be one can of cream-style corn --Heather)

1 can of something else Heather left on the counter (Note: see previous note) (This would be a can of whole-kernel sweet corn. Do not drain. --H)

1 box of stuff Heather left on the counter (This is a box of Jiffy cornbread mix. Thank God I had left this stuff sitting on the counter when I brought it home from the store and didn't have to worry about whether he was grabbing the correct cans/boxes. --H)

2 eggs - be careful not to leave shells in the eggs but don't worry unless it's really big pieces (I emphasized to Jason that he should crack the eggs into another dish instead of directly into the mixing bowl so he could make sure there were no shells at all, not just big ones! :-) He assures me that he actually did this.--H)

some certain amount of melted butter - I can't remember how much butter and I didn't know how to melt butter but Heather was able to talk me through it (1/4 cup of butter or margaine --H)

mix all of this in one big bowl

pour into another big bowl (casserole dish, greased. --H)

put second big bowl in oven - set timer for one hour (note: preheat oven to 325 setting because then oven will heat to 375, or so Heather tells me) (I have an oven thermometer, and we generally have to set the dial at about 50 degreees lower than the temperature we actually want. So, the casserole should be cooked at 375 degrees. --H)

I did actually try the casserole and it wasn't too bad, even though it had vegetables in it.
(Jason did a good job, and this dish was delicious! I would definitely make it again. I have previously tried a recipe for something similar that included sour cream, and this was much better. The sour cream made the other dish too moist, and this was more like cornbread. Jason, I appreciate you making the dish and blogging about it. :-) --H)

Comfort food

This past week has been quite a busy one. I had events at church on both Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, yoga on Thursday, dinner with friends at their home on Friday, and a trip out of town on Saturday. Therefore there hasn't been much time for homecooked meals lately, hence the lack of posts (although I did find some time to bake for a few special occasions... posts to come on those... hopefully soon!).

The out-of-town day trip was to my grandparents' house in Bluffton. My sisters and I all rode together. The purpose of this trip was to look at some keepsake items from generations past and decide what we might be interested in someday owning. These items included books and clothing that were over 100 years old and had been handed down to my dad's mother, as well as photos and memorabilia of my dad's father, who died when my dad was a boy. I'm sure it will be a relief to my grandparents to be able to clear some of these things out of their house and to know they are going to someone who understands their value and will cherish them. It was a really great afternoon, and we got to enjoy the company of all but one cousin on my dad's side, and hear some interesting stories!

We had left my house around 9 this morning to head there, and got back home around 5:30. Jason had been golfing at an MS fundraiser today, so we were both rather wiped out after our long days. We went out and grabbed some sandwiches and watched the last quarter of the Buckeyes game at a nearby sports bar, and then headed home to relax. Jason lay down on the couch to watch the Columbus Crew game, but promptly fell asleep.

I walked the dogs, did some laundry, watched some Food Network, and meanwhile thought a lot about all the tidbits of personal history I learned today. I had a strange sensation of missing people I had never even met.

With the trifecta of my nostalgia, the slight loneliness I had because Jason was napping, and the fact that I was watching the Parmigiano-Reggiano battle on Iron Chef America, one thing became perfectly clear: I had to make Cheesy Noodles.

Cheesy Noodles is one of the few dishes I ever remember my dad cooking. I don't know if my sisters ever cook this but it is definitely a go-to comfort-food snack for me. It's easy to make and I usually have all the ingredients on hand. It only requires three: pasta, butter, and parmesan cheese.

Basically you cook the pasta, drain it, return it to the hot pan with about a tablespoon of butter, stir until the butter melts and coats the pasta, and then stir in as much parmesan cheese as you like. Tonight I used ziti because that's what we had but my favorite pasta to use is spirals because then the cheese gets stuck into all the crevices of the spiral.

Cheesy Noodles is a weird dish. It's not really even a dish, in that I would never consider serving it as part of a meal, but it makes a great snack. It's the kind of thing that tastes even better when you stand in the kichen and eat it directly out of the pan it was prepared in. I only needed a few bites tonight.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Nutella goodness

I'd like to start this post with a shout out to my blogging companion:

Foxy likes to sit on that side of me while I use the computer, because my laptop churns out heat on that side. Sometimes it gets so hot that it just shuts off mid-use. I usually work on it with a wrought iron plant stand underneath to try to allow some air circulation underneath.

Okay, so... Nutella! I love Nutella. Mostly because it makes me nostalgic for my trip to the Netherlands. I ate it on toast almost every day there. (For anyone who doesn't know, Nutella is a chocolate-hazelnut spread. In Europe it seems to be as common for spreading on breads as peanut butter is in the US.)

I had seen a recipe for Nutella sandwich cookies online and had been wanting to make it. Tonight was the first session of a new 'season' of bible study at church, so I decided to use that as an excuse to bake.

Here is the recipe:

Gianduia Sandwich Cookies

1 cup Nutella
1 egg
1 cup self-rising cake flour, plus additional for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. Mix 1/2 cup Nutella and the egg with an electric mixer until well combined. Slowly add 1 cup of flour until a wet dough is formed. Transfer the dough to a flour-dusted board.

3. Knead gently, adding a bit more flour if necessary; dough will be sticky. Roll dough into 18 balls, flouring your hands as needed to make rolling easier. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet, several inches apart.

4. Bake 12 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. Split cookies in half horizontally using a sharp, serrated knife (see note below). Spread bottom with 1 teaspoon Nutella, replace top and press firmly. Let cool completely. Store in a tightly covered tin.

5. Note on flour: I didn't have self-rising cake flour, so I mixed 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt with regular cake flour before adding it.

6. Note on splitting the cookies: I had a problem with a couple of the cookie tops breaking a bit when I first started cutting them. I then tried it this way and had no more problems: turn the cookie on its side and carefully score the entire outside edge while turning it like a wheel, then gently cut the rest of the way through the middle.

This recipe was easy enough with only three ingredients, except that I didn't have self-rising cake flour... in fact, the store didn't sell any variety of cake flour, so I got self-rising all-purpose flour. (By the way, those 'notes' in the recipe above are not from me.) Not sure if that was a legitimate substitution... the cookies didn't spread at all while they baked. They just stayed as little balls just as I had rolled them and cracked slightly. And the actual 'sandwich' assembly was kind of a pain in the butt. But I deemed them tasty enough to share, so I took them to bible study with me tonight.

When I mentioned what they were, Kate (one of the group participants) said that she has a theory that "most women love Nutella, and most men don't get it." As soon as most of the women heard what the cookies were, they said "Ooh, Nutella!" and lunged for them, thus proving part of Kate's theory. (There were no men there to confirm the other part... when I see Jason at home later I'll try to remember to ask him what he thinks of Nutella.)

I mentioned to the group that I probably wouldn't choose to make that recipe again. When asked why, I explained that the cookie part was dry and bland and that its only appeal was as a vehicle for getting the Nutella into my mouth (a complaint I had seen from others in reviews of that recipe online). Someone (I think it might have been Kate again--I like her) said, "Yeah, next time just bring the jar of Nutella and some spoons."

I had also seen another dessert recipe using Nutella, and I wish I had made that one instead, although I don't know that it would have transported well. It was a dessert ravioli from Giada De Laurentiis of the Food Network, and it was basically wonton wrappers folded around Nutella, fried, and then sprinkled with powdered sugar. Yum! Maybe I will try that one someday when I feel like doing something extra special.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Almost as good as takeout

I want to start this post by apologizing for the poor quality of my photos in my entries. I use a very inexpensive digital camera, and I take the photos without a flash, which makes it difficult to focus (but I feel using the flash makes things look too washed out). I actually have a newer, better camera, but it's a digital video camera that also takes stills... and I haven't quite mastered its operation yet. Maybe some day! Anyway, the photos are just to give you a general idea of the preparation involved and the finished results, and aren't meant to be looked at for detail. Not that anybody has complained or anything, but I just wanted to acknowledge that I know they aren't the greatest.

Okay, onto the recipe. This is the first time I have made "Broccoli with Garlic Sauce," and it's a keeper. I'm not joking when I say it's almost as good as takeout. It was delicious. The recipe was from a Weight Watchers cookbook called Take-Out Tonight! so I guess the book delivers on its title. Here is the recipe

1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons sake or rice wine
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound broccoli crowns, cut into florets (about 4 cups

1. Combine the broth, sake or rice wine, soy sauce, oyster sauce, cornstarch, and sugar in a small bowl; set aside.
2. Heat a nonstick wok or a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles. Swirl in the oil, then add the garlic. Stir-fry until fragrant, about 10 seconds.
3. Add the broccoli and stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the broth mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils and thickens, about 1 minute.

I used regular versions of chicken broth and soy sauce, because that's what I had on hand. I also used rice wine instead of sake. And I halved the recipe, which was the perfect amount for one person. The recipe says it serves 4, so I guess that's one reason this is a WW recipe.

If you wanted to I think it would be easy to incorporate chicken or beef and even some other vegetables to make a complete entree.

One reason I think this recipe really works and tastes authentic is that it uses authentic ingredients. Too often, recipes for Chinese food I've seen in cookbooks seem to be American adaptations of Chinese food using more common ingredients (mostly just soy sauce). If you aren't using things like rice wine and oyster sauce, you just aren't going to get the same taste.

Here's a bonus recipe, using another authentic Chinese food ingredient: garlic chili sauce. (By the way, I was able to find all of these ingredients in the Asian food section of my local Giant Eagle.) I have no photos of this recipe, but I have made it quite a few times and it's also delicious!

Sweet and Spicy Green Beans

3/4 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced (I often eliminate this, because there is plenty of garlic in the next ingredient)
1 teaspoon garlic chili sauce
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons canola oil

1. Arrange a steamer basket in a pot over boiling water, and steam the green beans 3 to 4 minutes. (I usually just steam them in the microwave.)
2. In a bowl, mix the soy sauce, garlic, garlic chili sauce, and honey.
3. Heat the canola oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the green beans and fry for 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in the soy sauce mixture. Continue cooking and stirring 2 minutes, or until the liquid is nearly evaporated.

Friday, September 7, 2007


For dinner on Thursday, I tried a recipe from a cookbook called The Dinner Doctor, which I got from the library. The author of the cookbook is Anne Byrn, who is best known for her book The Cake Mix Doctor, in which she takes a packaged cake mix and adds other ingredients to spruce it up. The Dinner Doctor follows the same principle, by making dinner starting with store-bought packaged ingredients. Sounds great and easy.

The recipe I decided to try first had a pretty straightforward title: "Penne with Blue Cheese Pesto, Walnuts, and Asparagus." Anne Byrn writes,

As the Cake Mix Doctor I have been asked many times, "What is the one cake from your books you would bake for yourself?" If you asked me this question as the Dinner Doctor, I would answer this penne. It requires little effort but delivers a big impact.

The recipe gets a ringing endorsement from the author, and it seemed like a winning combination. I like blue cheese. I like pesto. I like walnuts. I like asparagus. Who doesn't like pasta? I liked every single ingredient (and the only ingredients were those named in the title!), so I thought this would be a homerun. But I wasn't sure Jason would like it, so I planned on cooking a package of brats to have as backup.

In a nutshell, this is what preparing the recipe entails:

- toast nut pieces in the oven.

- boil water and cook pasta.

- throw asparagus pieces in with the pasta for the last few minutes of cooking.

- mix pesto and blue cheese in a large bowl.

- drain pasta/asparagus and toss with blue cheese pesto.

- sprinkle with toasted nuts before serving.

Easy. It came together in minutes. And I love this method of cooking vegetables in the pasta water. Funny how I'd never done that before, and then this week I've made two recipes in a row that used that method.

As I'm mixing together the blue cheese and pesto, I start to have my doubts. It's just not smelling very good. Then when I toss the blue cheese pesto with the pasta and asparagus, I'm really having doubts. I'm starting to wonder if these three strong flavors will meld together very well. It's looking beautiful, but it just smells questionable. To reiterate, I really like all of these bits and pieces, it's just that something seems wrong about combining them.

And when I tasted it, I decided rather quickly that it just wasn't working. Jason was at class so he didn't even have a chance to try it. It was a total write-off.

When a recipe fails like that, it's really disappointing. Not only does it mean having a bad meal, but it's a waste of ingredients (not to mention time and money). But I think trying new recipes and risking these failures is worth it, because there's nothing like finding a recipe that works, one you'll make again and again. Sometimes it's just hard to predict what type of recipe it will be.

I'm not going to bother typing the recipe here, since I don't care to save it and don't think anyone else should bother trying it either. :-) But if you are interested, check out that book at the library. There are a few other recipes from the book I still plan on trying, and they definitely are timesavers.

Also, this was the first time I ever tried sprinkling toasted nuts on top of pasta, and I actually really liked it! That was the best part. So maybe I'll try that again sometime.

When all was said and done, this was the dinner Jason and I ended up enjoying (but hold the mustard for Jason):

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Spicy Garlic Lime Chicken Pasta

First of all, I have to "give props" to my Grandma Cotterman for giving me this awesome cookbook holder. I usually use it when I cook. Isn't it cute? It says "Read 'N Do." I do!

Last night I made "Spicy Garlic Lime Chicken Pasta" for dinner. This recipe was the rave over at the "What's for Dinner?" message board at (a site for newlyweds---gag me. I shouldn't criticize it, because I do visit there, but mostly it's because I discovered that message board and it is right up my alley: girls sharing great recipes!). I have to credit the source, which is another "nestie's" food blog:

Here is the recipe:

Spicy Garlic Lime Pasta
(Source: Amber's Delectable Delights)

1 cup chicken broth
1.5 tbls lime juice (adjusting amount to your liking)
1 tbls corn starch
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried parsley
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (cut into bite size pieces)
1 tbls butter
Few drizzles of olive oil
8 oz pasta
1-2 cups broccoli florets

Optional - Parmesan cheese for topping

1) Bring pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. During the last 5 minutes of pasta cook time add the broccoli into the boiling water. Drain.
2) Mix together all the sauce ingredients (chicken broth through parsley) and set aside.
3) Meanwhile, heat butter and olive oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add bite size chicken pieces into heated pan. Cook chicken until no longer pink. Pour the sauce ingredients into the pan with the chicken and bring to a simmer. Let simmer until chicken is cooked through and sauce has thickened.
4) Toss cooked broccoli and pasta with the chicken and sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese if desired and serve.

I liked this recipe because it was really EASY to make. Just one pot and one saucepan. I did make one modification: I only used half the lime juice called for in the recipe, because I was afraid Jason wouldn't like it if it was too lime-y.
Here are pictures of how pretty the broccoli looked cooking with the pasta, and the chicken simmering in the sauce:
And, the finished product:

Overall, I liked the flavor and would probaby make it again. But I think it could be improved on. It was spicy, and I like spicy food, but I think in this combination I would have appreciated a little sweetness or tangy-ness. And maybe some corn. I'm envisioning the type of pasta dish Chipotle would create. :-)

By the way, I asked Jason last night if he was going to read my blog. He decided that he probably wouldn't, because he's "living the blog." So I can talk about him, and I will say that with Jason, a neutral review is often the best you can hope for. With food, he's more of the "eat to live" type rather than "live to eat." He will sometimes rave about a dish, but generally I just hope he doesn't hate it.

I asked him what he thought of this one, and he said something along the lines of, "It was all right." I asked if I could make it again sometime, and he said "Sure." So there you go. A success.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Welcome to my new blog

Welcome to my new blog: Heather in the Kitchen. I am a regular reader of other blogs, and always thought it would be fun to have my own. After seeing a number of cooking blogs recently, I was inspired to use that theme.

I thought I would use this space to keep track of recipes I have made and liked as well as share those recipes with others. You will see recipes with reviews and photos, and potentially other entries about drinks, cookbooks, or products, for example. I hope to update this blog a few times a week, as time--and cooking opportunities!--permit.


"Faux Latte" = my reason for getting out of bed

I am not a morning person. In fact, most mornings when my alarm goes off, I feel a slight sense of panic: "I'm exhausted! I can't possibly get up yet. I won't be able to function!" Consequently I end up hitting the snooze button many times, until I absolutely have to get out of bed or risk being late for work, and then run around like a mad woman getting myself ready to leave (and end up being late anyway). This routine usually gets me off to a frazzled start, and makes for a rough day at the office.

I've tried in vain to force myself to simply get up earlier; to obey my alarm clock the first time it goes off. But my sleepy logic usually demands more pillow time. So lately, I've attempted a new strategy, and it seems to be working quite well. I now get up much earlier than I have to, but reward myself with some time to relax and do whatever I want while enjoying a special treat: a latte.

I've changed my options from "shower/go to work" versus "sleepy time" (sleepy time wins hands down) to "sleepy time" versus "coffee/goof-off time" (coffee will likely win). It makes perfect sense (and is probably blatantly obvious to those who are already "morning people"): I have made waking something to look forward to, and by the time I do have to get ready for work I am more alert and in better spirits!

In order to continually lure me out of bed, the promise of coffee must be pretty darn enticing. And I think it is. My "faux latte" is the closest thing I can create at home to a coffee-house latte. The trick is having the right tools. This job requires three: a coffee grinder with some espresso beans, a Bialetti stovetop espresso maker, and a milk frothing wand. (All three are inexpensive investments when compared with the price of a daily latte: the coffee grinder was a gift (but probably cost around $20 or less), the Bialetti was around $20 at Target, and the milk frother was also around $20 at William-Sonoma. A bag of espresso beans costs around $8 and lasts me about a month.)

Making the latte is easy. First I coarsely grind the espresso beans. My coffee grinder actually has an 'espresso' setting, but I found that created too fine of a powder and resulted in grounds ending up in my coffee. (That setting must make powder appropriate for a "real" espresso machine.) Freshly ground beans are best, but I have taken to grinding the night before as to save time in the morning.

Next I have to prepare the Bialetti. I fill the base of the Bialetti with cold water. I am not sure how much water goes in there but it might be around a cup. There is a little line on the inside that tells me where to stop. Then I place the silver basket into the base. The basket has tiny holes in the bottom of it and a stem that reaches down into the water. As the water is heated it travels up through the stem and through the espresso grounds. I fill the basket almost full with about four tablespoons of espresso. At this point, it looks like the first photo above.

Then I screw on the top part of the Bialetti and place it on the stovetop, with the burner set to medium heat. See the second photo above. Then comes the hardest part: waiting for the espresso to brew. As the espresso brews, it travels up through a spout and fills the top teapot-looking part. It usually takes about ten minutes to finish. I could use a higher heat setting and get it to brew faster, but that heats the water too quickly and the espresso sputters and splatters all over the place and results in really hot coffee.

While the espresso is brewing, I prepare the milk. I pour into a glass (your average tumbler) about 1/3 cup of milk (I prefer 2%). Then I use my milk frothing wand to froth it up. The wand is battery-operated, and has a metal stem with a coiled metal disc at the bottom of it. When you hold the button, the disc spins. Do this while you move the wand up and down in the milk and it adds so much air to it that you can make 1/3 cup of milk fill the whole glass. I should have taken a picture of this because it is pretty cool. The frothing takes about 30 seconds. Then I heat the milk in the microwave for about 35 seconds so it doesn't cool off the espresso when it is added.

When the espresso is ready, I put about 1/2 tablespoon of sugar into a mug, and pour espresso into it until the mug is about 4/5 full. Then I pour the warmed frothy milk into the remaining 1/5 of the mug (using a spoon to hold back the foam while I pour, just like they do at the coffee shop!). Finally, I spoon some of the foam onto the top, and you have the final photo.

I call this a "faux latte" for a few reasons. Since I don't have the same tools, it's not going to taste exactly the same as a latte purchased at a coffee shop. But also, the proportions aren't correct. A latte has a lot of milk and small amount of espresso. My concoction has more espresso than milk (but my espresso also isn't as strong as that brewed in a machine). So I'm not sure what it is. But it's delicious.

As you can probably tell, there is quite a ritual involved in its preparation. It is both the delicious taste of my drink and the ritual involved that make it so much better than brewing a pot of coffee in a drip machine. I recommend it to any coffee lover.