Saturday, November 28, 2009

V is for Cookie

Remember in the 1990s, the cool letter was "e"? E-mail, e-commerce ... It was 10 years ago; I can't remember more. Then we got to the 2000s, and now the cool letter is "i". I-phone, i-pod, i-nternet ... yup, couldn't think of any more.

During one epic flu in high school, I got the original "V" from Blockbuster. It was okay, although I think I slept through a lot. I was pretty excited to see the remake, and I'll probably keep watching it. Anyway, we're not talking about that particular V.

After we moved and found the local library, I decided I'd start reading more. I've been out of school long enough to no longer have a violent aversion to reading books, and there are just so many that I've wanted to read. When I was in school, I was mostly in the upper level English classes, which meant I had to read some truly dense books, but not the ones everyone else knows and loves. (Have your high school English syllabus handy? Send it to me!)

The Book

One of the books on my list happens to be "V for Vendetta." If you're more in the know than I was, you'll laugh. Yep. Because it's a comic book. When I picked it up off the library shelf, it fell open a little and I saw pictures. I was too embarrassed to let the hold lapse, so I checked it out and off I went. With my comic book.

I've read maybe one comic book in my life. I think it was the one where Superman died. (Can you believe that has it's own wikipedia page?) Comics always struck me as kind of weird, although I often watched the after-school cartoons based on comic book heroes.

It wasn't a difficult read, I guess in the sense that it didn't take long. The story was very complex, and I was constantly confused. There were so many characters! They all looked the same! There were no descriptions of what was happening, what characters were thinking ... just pictures. And some of it was pretty horrific. And I'm not really in to political statements. So I resolved not to like it.

But, in all honesty, it was a good book. Abundant messages in a book are easier to swallow when you agree with them, right? I'd had the recent movie on our Netflix queue for a while, and I wanted to see the movie while the book was still fresh, so I moved it up.

The Movie

The movie is immediately different from the book. There, I blew it for you. But the changes to the storyline made perfect sense; the original story wouldn't have flown with the general moviegoing public (including me!). And, being done by those Matrix guys, there were points in the movie that were very visually striking without overdoing the bullet time effect.

I can't say which I liked better because they both had good and bad points. But it was far easier to follow the storyline, even if it was somewhat different. I liked what the character V was in the book much more than the movie (he kind of struck me as a superhuman troublemaker in the movie). The movie was less political and cut out a lot of the scary/gory parts. But the book had more storyline that I liked!

Remember in high school when you'd read a book, and then the teacher would wheel in the TV and you'd watch some cheesy 1960s movie version? This was sort of like that but awesome and not cheesy. I've been missing out all these years!

I have a couple more books from my list on order at the library. If you're in Los Angeles, let me just mention that the public library is amazing. They'll order or pull books for you, and let you know when they're ready to be checked out. All for free*! If you're not in LA, you should probably still poke your head in your local library. I'll bet they're just as awesome, even if you're looking for a comic book.

*I pay taxes, OK? I'm just getting the most I can out of my 9.25%.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Eggplant Parmesan

Fall and winter are the best time for squash. Now that we're well in to November, I'm seeing a lot more at our grocery stores.

Did you know that eggplant isn't a squash, but a berry? And it belongs to the nightshade family, like tomatoes? I am a font of useless knowledge.

Regardless, I got so excited at the store that I picked up the biggest eggplant I saw. Yes, I get excited at the grocery store.

Last year I was all about making ratatouille. No offense to that, but the zucchini wasn't looking quite there yet. How about eggplant parmesan?

That large eggplant yielded me this. Barely enough to fit on my largest baking sheet! I threw two slices of toasted bread, garlic, and "pizza spice" in the food processor for a couple of pulses. Don't be fooled by how seemingly few breadcrumbs are needed; this came out to be just the right amount. Also, don't forget to blot and dry out the eggplant. I did, and it was sort of mushy.

I added the cheese in the last few minutes of baking until it got gold and crispy. A longer bake time probably would have solved the mushiness problem.

The spaghetti was probably superfluous, since I had two "steaks" the next day for lunch and that was more than enough food.

And this dinner is vegetarian! It seems like all the blogs I've been reading lately have been considering vegetarians during a holiday that's traditionally all about a giant turkey. I don't know any vegetarians or vegans (do I?), but meals like this sure do make it seem like a fine lifestyle!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lemony Garlic Chicken

When I was in college, I had a standard Thursday routine.

Thursdays used to be "good TV" night. Friends was still on, Scrubs was a new show, and Will & Grace was still funny.

I'm feeling a little old now.

With Thursday night TV came Thursday night dinner. I'd make chicken on my little George Foreman grill and coat it in lemon pepper seasoning. Then I'd make some variation of Pasta Roni, throw in some frozen broccoli. Voila! This dinner landed me a husband (many, many years later). Now, of course, I realize that eating an eight-ounce chicken breast and an entire box of Pasta Roni in one sitting isn't the healthiest.

I'm all about making stuff in the slow cooker later, so I was a little nostalgic when I read SparkPeople's Lemony Garlic Chicken recipe. Mmm. Can't go wrong with garlic, lemon, and chicken.

The mysterious "pizza spice" made an appearance in this recipe since I don't happen to have any oregano. I actually have a giant jar of parsley because I thought I was buying cilantro. Yup. Easy to confuse.

This would have been so awesome with Pasta Roni.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

South Beach

Yes dears. It seems that somewhere between the summer and fall, I gained some weight. This pan of mini-quiches could only mean one thing: it's diet time.

Before you get all critical on me, hear me out. There are some good things about the South Beach diet. One being you get to eat these for breakfast, and they're really good. They suggest dinners like grilled salmon and veggies with butter, if you like it like that.

Most people don't get enough protein in their diet, anyway. I eat a lot of salads for lunch, so that's not really a major life change.

Yes, I'm aware that you don't "lose belly fat first." You lose water weight. But it gets rid of that icky bloaty feeling, and that's nice. If you're a total bread-addict, it can help break the craving (seriously!).

We won't discuss how long I lasted. We'll just say I thought about it a little more.

I like having warm oatmeal for breakfast. This is a very good, healthy thing. And even though exercise apparently doesn't help you lose weight, it does something good. Eating too much meat can be rough on your digestive system, and really not good if you're limiting fat. Then there's the holidays. It's downright rude to turn down a beautiful cookie or a perfect piece of cake this time of year.

And I love to bake. Bakers just don't do diets.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Baked Acorn Squash

Happy fall!

This is one of my favorite dinners ever. It's slow to cook, but worth it. This is how I usually do it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Corn Chowder

Corn chowder is one of my favorite soups. I don't like clam chowder, but is there really anyone who doesn't like corn?

Most creamy soups call for just that - cream. I'm not about to invest in a container of cream, since I rarely make anything that would require it. Luckily, SparkRecipes usually has me covered on the low-fat replacement recipes.

This was, unfortunately, the best photo I got. And unlike most low-fat recipes, I found this kind of ... thin. So maybe substitutions aren't always good. In the background, you can see a fried egg ready to be dropped in by my husband. Maybe that's the way to go.

The climate at our new house is much, much different from Long Beach. We're 2.5 miles from the ocean instead of seven, and it makes a huge difference! I expect the winter to get pretty chilly and damp, so you can expect more soups from my kitchen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Salmon & Polenta

A random, quick weeknight dinner:

(George Foreman) Grilled salmon. Plain ol' polenta (there's usually a recipe on the cornmeal canister - think mashed potatoes, except corn). And black beans.

I love black beans. They're fine plain, but they're very versatile. Here, I added onions, canned chopped tomatoes, and cayenne pepper. In a pan, cook the onions and spices in a little olive oil until they're soft. Then add the tomatoes and black beans, and just heat them up.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Avgolemono Soup

We had dinner at Daphne's not that long ago, as I was coming down with my most recent cold. Their lemon chicken soup sounded like the perfect thing for my oncoming illness. And it was! It was light, and not too acidic. I'd recommend it even if you're feeling great.

And then I was sick. And it was too hard to go out and get it, but all I could think about was how good the steamy lemon would be. So my dear husband took the recipe and made it for me. And it was just as good, if not better!

The thing is, my husband measures. Carefully. And follows instructions. I absolutely refuse to cook like that.

The night I chose to make it, though, made things very interesting.

It seems like almost every day, in the later afternoon, the wind picks up for a few hours. On this particular day, it picked up with a vengeance. We went for a short run, and it was like getting sandblasted. By the time we got home my eyes were tearing and my nose was stuffed. The whole time there were sirens up and down the streets, and I couldn't help but think it was because of downed power lines...

I set straight to work on dinner, and at that point a hot, clearing soup could not have sounded better. And then ...

Our power went out. Yes, that is me, cooking on the gas stove, in my running clothes and a headlamp. Is this why people prefer gas to electric stoves? Fortunately I had the stove's glow and was standing in front of the drawer with the matches when the power went out; my husband was back in the cavern of our closet collecting laundry. Yikes.

Thankfully, the soup wasn't interrupted at all. First off, I didn't have any chicken broth. So I substituted eight cups water. I couldn't find chicken soup base and instead got bouillon, and yes, I know these aren't interchangeable. But you can imagine how rich broth and bouillon might be! I'm not a fan of cooked celery (or celery at all, for that matter), so I just cut up more carrots. I had lemon juice instead of full cut lemons, and used only a couple of egg yolks. There always seem to be extra yolks when you bake a lot.

Rather than rice, I cooked up a cup of barley. There are so many interesting grains available! Barley seemed like a safe and easy one to branch out. I thought it was fantastic addition, and insanely filling.

If you think eight cups of liquid plus everything else seems like a lot, you're right. The recipe makes a lot, and easily got us through the whole week!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pumpkin Cake

Since I didn't have a proper treat to take in to my last day of work, I wanted to make something quick. And impressive. And tasty.

What did I have on hand? Pumpkin.

I also had an untouched springform pan. Normally they're for cheesecakes, but why not a cake? But, I was a little squeamish about making a pumpkin cake from scratch given my recent track record and short time frame. Pumpkin bread is pretty fluffy, so why not that?

I can't remember which recipe I used, but they're all pretty close to each other. Here's a big list of them for you. Take your pick.

Springform pans are generally a little larger than regular cake pans; therefore, it came out pretty short. To be honest, it came out pretty meh. So I made a simple, quick vanilla glaze out of my Betty Crocker. I've been meaning to learn how to make it, but was always kind of intimidated. Sometimes the simplest recipes come out the hardest! Now that I know what to do, though, I expect it to be a quick add for a lot of my baked goods.

I had some green frosting left over from a previous project (I don't know what, but it wasn't the Halloween cake. This actually came before Halloween.) and these awful, awful pumpkin spice kisses. They only taste good mixed with something else. So I made a little quick pumpkin-esque decoration around the edge.

It went over pretty well at work (and, I heard later, the next day). No one knew it was bread rather than cake. This is the perfect kind of thing to bring in: sturdy, travels well, keeps for a while, and easy to make!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Halloween Cake

This Halloween was totally awesome. Hectic, but awesome.

Friday night I stayed home to get the house in order, and put the finishing decorations on the cake. The preparation ended up more work than I expected, but it was worth it.

Saturday morning was the Pumpkin Run. I'll be the first to admit: I didn't want to be there. It was early, cold, I'm out of shape (with a few extra self-conscious pounds to prove it), and far enough for me to worry that we wouldn't have enough time to get cleaned up. I was not pleasant.

It ended up I ran faster than I ever have. My time was a boggling 28:37. Under 30 minutes!! I'm crediting the local hills, since the path was fairly flat. I think I scared the spectators toward the finish line after I saw the clock and hauled it across the finish line (but for the record, the clock was under 28 minutes when I crossed). You can read more about it here.

We came home, got cleaned up, and started partying. People came and went as they pleased, but I loved having everyone over. Where's this cake, you ask?

Of course, everything was edible. I used the doll cake pan to make the "hill." The fences were pretzels stuck together with chocolate. The tree was just chocolate chips melted in a pastry bag and squeezed out onto a sheet of wax paper. The same chocolate (Albertson's brand chocolate chips, to be exact) held together the graham cracker coffin. And if you look closely, you can see the green fingers creeping out. The tombstones were fun-size Heath bars, cut in half, and decorated with white frosting. Oh, and the dark gravelly road? Crushed Teddy Grahams. They were cheaper than regular graham crackers, albeit disturbing to crush up. The cake was chocolate, like dirt, according to my husband. Oh and those pumpkin spice kisses? Nasty. Just FYI.

I also roasted pumpkin seeds from our carved pumpkins. Thirty minutes at 375 degrees, coated in cooking spray and Lawry's salt. I roasted almonds in cinnamon sugar at the same time, but really that's not the right method. I should have melted the sugar and cinnamon in a little butter on the stove. Que sera.

We had an evening of trick or treaters. My favorites were the toddlers who, at the start of the night, didn't quite understand what was happening, but by the end of the night were totally in to getting candy from the strange lady who was oh so excited to see them. Cute.

Thank goodness Sunday was daylight savings day. We needed the break!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Macaroni and Cheese

It's finally gotten a little cooler here, and I've had a long standing craving for macaroni and cheese. Now, I was raised on the boxed stuff; I have nothing against the generic brand that comes out neon orange. But I was really in the mood for homemade, barbecue restaurant style macaroni and cheese.

Of course, I didn't have any macaroni. I had whole wheat rotini. Close enough, if you ask me.

I should have researched recipes and tips before I made it (you might be able to see where this is going already). I had my friend Betty Crocker, and that seemed good enough for a quick dinner on a weeknight.

I mixed in some spinach (it's embarrassing how few vegetables we eat!) and added parmesan cheese on top. Looks good, right? When has baked pasta ever gone wrong?

It was OK. I probably wouldn't make it again. Maybe it's the type of cheese, maybe too much flour and too little butter, or skim milk rather than cream, but it seemed grainy. Guess I'll leave the homemade macaroni and cheese to the professionals.

Rainbow Cakes II

Here's another funny story. See? Full of them.

A couple of weeks ago I started a new job. I was in a rotation program at work, and "graduated" a little early into my permanent job. That makes three jobs in one calendar year. Whew. There are a lot of pros and cons to a rotation program, but mostly I'd liken it to being on Quantum Leap. You go somewhere, do good, and go. Well, hopefully. I like to think I did good.

This permanent job was a long time coming, because I'm finally at a site close to home. I don't have to get on the highway to go to work. And I can carpool. But I was still kind of sad, because all of my really cool friends are now 25 miles away.

For my last day at the site, I thought I'd make a cake. The rainbow cupcakes came out so well, and I had everything out, I thought I'd try a cake out. But not just a plain, round or rectangular and boring cake. Can you tell I love my fluted pan?

Here's the funny part. I got everything all set, put the pan in the oven, set the timer for an hour, and watched the Biggest Loser. Spent the hour alternating between horrified and teary. Anyway, the timer goes off, I open the oven and ... it was liquidy. See, once you set the oven, you're supposed to press start. Oy.

It didn't rise. At all. But oddly enough, the layers formed arches! Like a rainbow! Completely unintentional and I will bet I can't recreate it. But I'll probably try (and turn the oven on this time).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Anniversary Cake

Seven months ago, I got married. It was truly and honestly the happiest day. I don't even have words for the kind of happy it was.

For our six month anniversary, I wanted to do something special. Now, the top tier of our wedding cake is still foil-plastic-foil-plastic-foil-plastic-foil wrapped in our freezer. It even took a secret trip to the freezer at work so it would survive the move. Yes, I'm aware most bakeries will give you an anniversary cake to spare you freezer burned cake, but ours doesn't. Oh well. I'd still order a cake from there.

We had a rather simple wedding cake. And I can make cakes too, you know.

In searching for canned pumpkin, I noticed that you can buy canned dulce de leche. Dulce de leche is simply condensed milk that's been cooked on the stove for a while, but who really has time for that? A can is much easier. Thus, the idea was born to recreate our wedding cake.

When we went to the tasting, the bakery asked if I wanted a white or chocolate cake. Apparently "Yes!" is a completely appropriate answer to this question, because each layer was half white and half chocolate. The awesomeness of this bakery knows no bounds, my friends.

I used my from-scratch recipe, which didn't fail me for the almond cupcakes, but sure did for this cake. Apparently you can't just dump some cocoa powder in and call it chocolate cake. Actually, the cake came out more dense and dry, like bread. Sad. But, a big thick layer of dulce de leche and some frosting sure does help.

So, the cake wasn't great, and it ended up I was still with the flu, but at least we had a good dinner!

Brides take note: while every detail of your wedding is of the utmost, critical importance before the event, it simply will not matter later. I know I left off the ribbon, although I probably had some around. And cleaning out the cake topper was a pain in the butt after the wedding, so I wasn't about to go searching through boxes to get it. But, here's a picture of our wedding cake:

So, despite not losing those extra pounds, or forgetting the rings, or a hangover, (all things that did not go wrong at my wedding, but you know) you're still married.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Rainbow Cakes

Here's a funny story. I'm full of them lately. Funny how most things I make are the collision of two wholly unrelated events that one day, due to stars and planets unexpectedly aligning, suddenly make perfect sense together.

Event #1: Months ago, the internet collectively gasped upon seeing this beautiful rainbow cake. Well, the part of the internet I read, anyway. We oohed. We ahhed. I promptly did not think about it until almost a year later, because apparently that's how long it takes me to process things.

Event #2: Funny thing. Just before my friend's birthday, for which I had made our special pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, I got sick. I've been living pretty high-throttle lately, so it's not that surprising. Anyway, I had the box sitting on my desk at work but was not there to deliver it, and by the time I did get back they just weren't fresh. Also some of the oil had leeched out into the paper box, causing my coworkers some concern. Anyway.

I used my from-scratch cake recipe, that so far has only failed me when I tried to deviate from it. This time I didn't, but the butter wasn't soft enough. Not really a big deal, but it made the batter kind of lumpy. But, it was important to under-mix it, since there would be significant mixing later.

I have exactly six of these pretty amber ramekins. There are six colors in the traditional rainbow. Coincidence?

The most daunting part of this cake is evenly distributing the batter not once, but twice. It came out to be about two generous soup spoons plus a little extra. If you're looking for an exact recipe ... you have come to the wrong place. Ultimately you end up with this:

Kind of reminds me of those watercolor paint kits from grade school.

Dropping the batter into 12 muffin cups was, by far, the hardest step. Although I wouldn't say it was particularly hard. By the time I got to yellow I was doing pretty well - it took about a regular table spoon's worth of batter to make it through (and the last one I used a spatula to scrape the ramekin, so I think I measured pretty well). I even rotated which muffin cup I started with. I am not obsessive at all.

I checked them at the 30 minute mark, and they were still really bubbly, so I set them for another 15. Ten minutes would have been better (total cook time, according to my oven, 40 minutes). It took me a long time to distribute the batter, though, so I wasn't very confident that the colors hadn't bled together at the bottom.

Obviously everything came out just fine. They make a huge visual impact, which is really cool. Imagine bringing these to your kid's school bake sale. You'd be the coolest mom (or dad) ever.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Round #2 of my 29-ounce can of pumpkin!

As soon as it starts getting cooler, or the calendar turns October, I want pumpkin flavored everything. And it's especially chilly in our new neighborhood.

Pumpkin for breakfast? OK!

I used this recipe from Country Living. Between Lovestoeat and Country Living, this can't possibly be bad. The ingredient list seems pretty hefty though, doesn't it? I only had half the cream cheese needed, but it didn't seem to be an issue.

These were the best pumpkin muffins I have ever had. No kidding. Even my husband declared them cafe-worthy. Although, I couldn't tell you the last time I had a muffin at a cafe. Do you know how many calories are in those? And no, I don't want to know how many calories are in these.

At this point, I've made both cookies and muffins from one can of pumpkin puree. And there is still some left over!

So I even made myself a pumpkin spice latte. Well, not really a latte, as I don't have an espresso machine. But the coffee seemed to work too. Who knew steaming milk on the stove was so easy?

And there is still some pumpkin left over...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Almond Cupcakes

In an effort to finally use up the last of my powdered almonds, I thought, why not cake? Those two bags lasted quite a long time. And to be truly honest, I have about a half a cup left. Arg.

Honestly, these came about because of a friend's birthday, and I do love a good birthday!

I also had a hefty amount of almond buttercream left over from making macaroons. Almonds are obviously growing on me.

It took me a while, but I dug up my cake-from-scratch recipe. Did you know that in my new kitchen, I have a whole drawer dedicated to cookbooks and miscellaneous internet recipes? It's like a magical drawer of ideas. Anyway, if cake mixes weren't so cheap and convenient, I'd always make cakes from scratch. I'd say it was easy, but look what happened when I declared macaroons easy to make.

Rather than two cups flour, I substituted one cup for the almonds. I was a little afraid the cake would be too dense and not rise. No worries, though. They came out the perfect combination of soft, fluffy, and moist, but not overly nutty tasting.

I busted out one of my mom's fancy decorating tips and beefed up the frosting I had (it was a little runny for my taste). No, I don't know why it's shiny in the picture.

Just for the record: did you know I don't use a digital SLR? I use my three or four year old Casio Exilim point & shoot. There's actually nothing very special about it. It's ooooold. But it still works like a dream. The fun added benefit of blogging means I get to practice taking pictures, too!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Did you know there is a shortage of canned pumpkin this year? It's true. You should start seeing it again in grocery stores this week, but for the month of September I was panicking that there would be no tasty pumpkin treats this year.

Especially because one of my very dear friend's birthday is in the month of October. And we tend to bond this time of year over pumpkin chocolate chip cookies/bread/muffins.

I ended up scoring two 29-ounce (!!) cans of pumpkin from a local Ralph's. Squee-ing the whole way, much to the chagrin of my dear husband. Who knows what he got in to when he married me.

If you look up a recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, you'll mostly get the same one over and over again. So I'll link you to this one, since I'm pretty sure it's the one I used. I didn't have any nuts.

What you see underneath them is parchment paper. I always thought that parchment paper wasn't anything special - just another roll to keep in the drawer. And I'd been getting by with wax paper or aluminum foil this whole time. But parchment paper is the way to go, my friends. No greasing, and the cookies slide off like little skiers. Magical.

Oh yes, and the cookies made a nice little birthday package. Happy birthday!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chicken Pot Pie

Remember that chicken I put in the slow cooker? It wasn't a particularly large chicken, but between the three of us, we sure couldn't finish it. The Kitchn serendipitously featured an easy chicken pot pie around the same time, so the leftovers were destined for a pie in the weebl and bob sense.

I don't really have any interest in buying frozen puff pastry sheets. In fact, every time I see a croissant, I wish I knew how to make one from scratch. But at the moment, all I had was my trusty Betty Crocker for pie crust. You can get the idea here. A pie such as this requires something that can stand up to a heavy, wet filling without leaking. But this particular recipe was not meant to be rolled and laid on top. Oh well.

I mixed the chicken meat with defrosted vegetables and a can of cream of chicken soup. This ended up requiring more pastry to cover the sides and top. In to the oven it went, and out it came.

That's my sad attempt to plug up all of the holes in the top of the pastry.

It was a pretty deep pie, meaning cutting and serving it was rather unappetizing.

Even in all of that goo, the pastry part held up really well. It was a little like chicken & dumplings. Despite being fairly unappetizing-looking, it was very tasty and easy to make to get rid of leftover chicken!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Banana Ice Cream

Sometimes, you have a banana that's just begging to be baked. And sometimes, you just don't have anything in the idea-queue. Did you know you can freeze them, and they'll defrost perfectly fine? I didn't know people were doing this. It's brilliant.

But I was ready to skip a step. Slowly but surely, I collected bananas in a ziplock baggie in the freezer. Why? Because I read this article and knew it was absolutely necessary to try it.

I was especially motivated, because we were moving and I needed to clean out the freezer. So in to the food processor they went ...

It took a while to get this way. But totally worth it.

Three bananas made two huge bowls of ice cream. So much, that we couldn't even finish it in one sitting (must be all that air in there). Since there's not much to it, it's actually pretty healthy. I could see adding yogurt, or chocolate chips, or whatever you might be possessed to put with bananas.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

4 Furniture Stores & a Wedding

Even if you haven't moved many, many times, you can imagine how much work it is. And moving in to your own home somehow quadruples the work. Which leads us to the first real weekend in our home ... where we hardly spent any time at all.

Friday night we drove to north for dinner. My husband and his brother went on an expedition to Argentina a few years ago, and said brother had discovered an Argentinian restaurant not far from where he is staying in LA. So away we went to Empanada's Place.

As we were crossing the street to get to the restaurant, the clock turned eight and they closed. Closed! We were about to shuffle back across the street to Fatburger before they unlocked the door and offered to stay open, if we would get our order to go. I'll bet they're glad they did, because we walked away with an order of 15! I wish I'd taken a picture of a pizza box full of empanadas, but you can imagine how late it was. They're all a little different, which I suspect is means to identify the different types, like a box of chocolate. I personally tried the corn and the spicy chicken. This place is small, but utterly amazing and worth the trouble to get there.

Saturday we planned a trip out to Mathis Brothers for furniture, based on a family recommendation. Keep in mind I like going to Ikea, but really don't like furniture shopping. At all. We looked for a while, but found out that anything we would save by driving over an hour to the middle of nowhere was outweighed by the delivery charge. There were quite a few other furniture stores, but many were out of business. We tried a few more stores before going through the whole Ontario Mills Mall. I love these. But, again, nothing worth spending the money.

We ended up coming back home and having ice cream for dinner at Rite Aid. When we first started looking at houses, we looked at one that wasn't far from this particular Rite Aid. And I imagined walking there on random evenings for ice cream, like we did when we lived in Huntington Beach. And now, here we were. Quite a moment for me.

Sunday we got up to run. Being 2.5 miles away, I was bound and determined to run to the beach. Unfortunately, it's a brutal 2.5 miles; huge hills up and down the whole way. And I'm used to running on an utterly flat trail with the occasional slope that I'd previously refused to run up. The hills make my minute per mile average pretty pitiful, but running along the beach is entirely worth it.

We then went out in search of some of the things we'd liked at Mathis Brothers, but hopefully closer to home. A few stores later, without any luck, we came home and got ready for a wedding! I've been in the mood for a good wedding for quite some time, and it was certainly a nice evening out away from house work.

Congratulations to the bride & groom, and here we go on another week!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pizza & Macaroons

We had our first houseguest the weekend before last! Yes, it's a hectic time to be entertaining. But it was one of my roommates from college, and you have to understand - I love these ladies. We were "randoms," and I was very, very fortunate to live with them! We don't get to see each other too often, so this was too good a chance to pass up!

I made pizza for dinner on Saturday night, which turned out to be perfect timing. My husband is quite particular about his pizza. Meaning it's not burned. It's supposed to look like that. Underneath all that cheesy goodness are artichoke hearts, spinach, and tomatoes. Have you tried making pizza crusts with the recipe I use? Did you know it's supposed to make two? And if you did, why didn't you tell me??

With a full day to play around, we attempted to make macaroons. Emphasis on the attempted. I fail as a cooking teacher. I could blame it on the change in humidity, as our old inland apartment is very dry, but let's face it - these were just a fail. My friend had brought us real macaroons and they were so soft and light and fluffy - definitely not the way mine turn out. So I thought putting less dry ingredients would make them soft and light and fluffy. It made them runny.

So we had lunch, visited the Huntington Library, attempted lobsterfest (never run out of lobsters my foot), had tapas for dinner in Hermosa Beach, and tried for round two. And failed again. Foil is not a good approximation for parchment paper. Wax paper is, but the last time I used it, the wax was hard to get off the baking sheets.

I made almond flavored buttercream for filling, but I think I put too much extract in, because they seemed to reek of alcohol. At least the second round survivors were tasty!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Slow Cooker Chicken

Man, you guys missed a couple of really good dinners. One night was burgers on sandwich-thin buns, with scalloped potatoes and corn on the cob. There was also a chicken experiment. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures. The camera was right there on the counter, but we were just so hungry and it smelled so good that it didn't make it!

On our first grocery trip to our new grocery store, we found whole chickens that were actually quite reasonably priced. The chickens at our old store all seemed to run $10 and up, and I have no clue why. For about six or seven dollars, it seemed like a good time to run this experiment. Especially since I couldn't wait to cook at home again rather than eat out every meal!

I did double check how to cook a chicken in a slow cooker, and got this recipe during my search. Doesn't it sound fantastic? It most certainly was. I won't lie, though. The clean up was a major pain. All the empty jars I'd saved for the occasion of getting rid of excess grease were at our apartment, and it was a nasty job to do without. But it's another win for cooking meats in the slow cooker: the chicken just rolled off the bone.

I also made couscous, which I've started buying plain and then seasoning myself. I added rosemary and parsley, since I'm now the owner of a can of parsley when I meant to buy cilantro. Oops. And a microwaveable bag of snap peas. That's just too easy.

Of course, I didn't mean to make couscous - I meant to make this stovetop flatbread instead. There's just something really nice about having fresh bread with dinner, and this was a quick and easy one. I also learned that some kind of oil - olive, vegetable, margarine - makes the bread flaky. This opens a whole new world for me. Flaky pastries here we come!

Since I'd call this one a success, I'm sure there will be another opportunity to photograph a whole chicken sitting in a goo bath.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Move Post

So, not long ago I was reading this article about a stealth pregnancy. And I realized that was sort of what was going on with my little home. We were doing a stealth move. And it's been enough work to feel like suddenly having a child! (and no, there are no babies in the future.)

Finding a place to live, more permanently than we ever have before, has been really tough. It seems like most people find a house in a few months. We took over a year.

But, we were holding out for what was right for us. Having lived all over the LA/OC area in the few years I've lived in California, it's become apparent what's important, specifically, when looking for somewhere to put down some roots. The place we finally chose is really the best place for us.

It's been a very hectic month, from packing and moving to getting to know the new neighborhood. The actual move, with truck and all, went incredibly smoothly. We had amazing help, to whom I am entirely thankful. Did you know you can feel pampered even when you're carrying boxes that are half your mass? We've met neighbors and tried local restaurants and now, a little over a week in, have quite a bit put away and organized.

My drive is longer, but it's a happy drive. Because I'm going home.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Disneyland Half Marathon 2009

Oh, how I love this race. It's the happiest race on earth, you know. Oh wait. This year it's a magical celebration from start to finish. My mistake.

We got up at 3:30 am to get over in time to check our bag. Yes, am. No, I don't like getting up early. Yes, I do like running.

It's been 51 days since I've been to Disneyland. That's just plain wrong.

Anyway, we bummed around a little before getting in the corrals. My poor husband did not have proof of time and was in the last corral, and now fully understands the horror. You can read about his run here.

But I ran last year in 2 hours and 26 minutes. I guess this, combined with it being my third year, granted me corral B status. Which, I'll confess, seemed a little generous. But as the race went on, it seemed like I was in the right spot.

I put on my headphones without turning on my iPod because some guy insisted on talking to me and telling me about how it was last year. I was polite but really, not interested. There were 13,500 people there to run, and they were all eerily silent for the National Anthem. Very awesome.

After the anthem and the big fanfare to start the race, my corral started moving up. Normally corrals and waves are one in the same, so I thought it was a little odd when people started running to the start line. Little did I know. My race start, in my head at least, sounded like: "Seriously, running? These people are really eager to start. Hm, we're awfully close to the archway, why are they running so fast OMG WE'RE STARTING!!"

I had a good but unremarkable 5k. This is actually important, because there's another 10 miles to go! Even still, I was just below a 10 minute per mile pace. The route through Disneyland was a little different this year, going through a part of the backlot I've never seen, where they keep horses! Funny how it smelled there, and yet, I've never smelled animals anywhere around the park.

Let me just say, my least favorite part of the course is the overpass over the 5 highway. It's probably the biggest "hill" and I hate it. A lot.

It's been pretty warm lately because of (or the reason behind) the recent fires. Here, the sun should have been up and in full force, but a miraculous marine layer had blown in just before sunrise. Thousands of people are thankful for that. Also around this point, I realized there were water/Powerade stations about every 1.5 miles. Excess, if you ask the girl who runs 6 miles without water. In the summer. But I also decided to walk through the stations to actually get water and because honestly, I was getting a little tired.

At each mile marker I checked the time, and I was still at a 10 minutes per mile pace. So I decided I should run as fast as I could the whole way and beat two hours. You'd think with all that time alone with your thoughts, you'd be able to do simple math.

One of the awesome things about the race is how many volunteers come out to entertain you along the way. The race goes through industrial Anaheim, which is kind of boring, and makes it seem like they just got lazy toward the middle of measuring the course. But there are
cheerleaders and dancers along the way, which really breaks up the monotony.

Around the Pond, down the bike trail, and up to the stadium. This was about mile 9, but I missed the marker. This year, we got to run through Angels Stadium to the cheers of hundreds of little boy and girl scouts. It was a real boost. Being on the field always reminds me of high school marching band, looking up into these stadiums that didn't seem so huge from the stands but were like mountains from the field.

We finished off through California Adventure, but the finish line wasn't at the end of Downtown Disney this year. Going by the hotels is a little less scenic, but we'd seen the finish line setup the day before so I almost didn't need mile marker 13. And for that 0.1 mile, I emptied out the last little bit of energy I had because honestly, I was kind of tired of moving. And around mile 10, my knees and hips started to go on strike. Thanks, knees and hips. I guess all your whining requires new shoes.

Normally volunteers attack you after the finish line with foil sheets and pliers to clip your chip off your shoe. This year, there was some winding around, but no chips to clip (where did these d-tags come from all of a sudden?). It was actually pretty calm. So I got some fruit and went to wait at our prescribed meeting spot.

A whole orange and a banana later, my husband hadn't shown up. Even though he started after me, he's much faster. Although I hadn't seen him pass me (our six minute time difference explained that later). He finally turned up utterly exhausted, and we loitered around a long time
before going home.
Such was my third half marathon. I wouldn't say I was in particularly good shape, but I'm pleased with my time. There's always the hope of breaking a major milestone like the two-hour mark, but with recent events, I'm pleased with beating my last time by almost a minute per
mile. In fact, I'd kind of forgotten a little how much I like to run. So, once we're settled again, the weather and location should be very conducive to running much more.

My only regret is that I wasn't more present in the moment while running. Although, my brain probably needed the break.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Pitas and Hummus

It's two for one!

I needed something to take to a picnic besides some ribs. I'd been meaning to make hummus out of the two cans of chickpeas in the cabinet, and to try making bread on the stove. This seemed like as good an opportunity as any! Obviously it's easier to make a simple appetizer from scratch than to spend $5 at the grocery store.

Our grocery store just started carrying pitas in the last year. In fact, they now have a little shelving section to all different kinds of flatbreads. But I'd seen this article on baking without the oven after watching a silly video of a man making English muffins on an iron in a hotel room. Did this actually work?

While the (whole wheat!) pita dough was rising, I got to work making hummus. Hummus is one of those foods that you shouldn't use a recipe to make. I loosely based mine off of this recipe, but after a long and bitter battle with the food processor, I really don't know how much I ended up putting in aside from two cans of chickpeas and 1/3 cup of almonds.

That's right. No tahini. Just almonds on hand. Tahini is just sesame seeds whipped in to a paste, so it stood to reason another nut could stand in. There's a wealth of information on the internet about tahini substitutions. It worked out just fine. Over-filling the food processor did not work out as fine.

There was plenty of extra-light olive oil involved. Hm, I wonder how butter or margarine would fare?

Embarrassingly, it took probably about an hour to get the hummus blended. The dough hadn't really risen much, but it was time to get cooking anyway. I'm starting to wonder, though, if my yeast is too old. Or if it just didn't have enough power to lift up the wheat flour, which seems extra heavy to me. Regardless, I pressed out six inch flat rounds and threw them in a pan in some olive oil cooking spray. They didn't puff up, but they did cook in about a minute in a half on each side as advertised.

Whatever. It came out tasting good. And even though there were leftovers, I'd say they went over with the crowd pretty well.

Very, very simple. And it's pretty Martha to show up at a picnic saying "Oh, I just made some pitas and hummus to bring this afternoon."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Pizza III

I'm really getting the hang of this pizza-making business.

If this wasn't leftover, it would probably look tastier. The toppings here were turkey pepperoni and plain old spaghetti sauce. I figured if they make turkey dogs and turkey burgers, they must make turkey pepperoni. And indeed they do! Although it's what I like to call "food product." Meaning something that tastes like food, looks like a fair impostor of food, and yet has been so processed it barely qualifies as anything more than a mix of chemicals and flavors. But it's astoundingly low calorie.

Yes, I'm aware that pizza sauce ≠ spaghetti sauce. But I'd used up my canned tomatoes and tomato paste, and mixing up a pizza sauce suddenly seemed overwhelming on a hot night when I really wanted takeout pizza in the first place. Yet, I didn't want to make the emergency frozen pizza we always seem to have on hand. Perhaps we won't even need these any more!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Chicken Scaloppine II

This looks radically different from the last time I made chicken scaloppine. It's the addition of spinach and artichoke hearts.

Unfortunately, I didn't stop and think before I started cooking, so the sauce was a little watery. Always drain your spinach if you're using frozen!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Vegetarian Chili

Because a mild "vegetarian chili" sounds a lot fancier than a bean soup so I can lighten the load of cans in my kitchen cabinet.

Last year, I discovered Von's Stompin' Steakhouse chili. It was, by far, the best chili I've ever had. So of course, I set out to make it myself during a rousing football season. Many batches later, I sort of gave up. Not that we didn't have good chili during that time. It just wasn't the same.

Anyway, the news is out: we're moving in just a couple of weeks. I've been cooking at home a lot more in the past week or two so our move is a little lighter, at least in that respect. And between the chili experimentation phase and the Mexican-food-fiesta, I've kept a lot of beans around for just such an occasion (these will make a debut sometime, no doubt).

It sure would be nice if I shared the recipe for such a fantastic soup, wouldn't it? I didn't even think to look one up. So I'll just credit all of the random chili recipes I attempted last fall.

Vegetarian Chili/Bean Soup/Get it out of your kitchen stew:

  • 1.5-2 cups Chicken broth (Oh shoot! That's not vegetarian! No worries, veggie broth would work.)
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • onion
  • garlic
  • chili powder
  • cumin
  • salt
Cook the garlic, onion, and spices in about a tablespoon or so of olive oil in the bottom of your biggest pot. All the fancy recipes I've seen say to do this because it releases the flavors. Ergo, my recipe is now fancy.

At this point, you can start dumping. I drain and rinse my beans because the water they're canned in seems sort of gnarly. After 30 minutes of low boiling, you'll get this tasty soup:

Of course, it's summertime and it's hot, so a soup isn't as appetizing as, say, chopped melon. But once the temperatures cool down, you'll want to be making this. It makes a large quantity in a very short amount of time. And if you play your cards right, it shouldn't be too expensive all-told.

And it's suspiciously like Von's chili....

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A California Weekend

There's quite a bit going on in my little household lately.

Last Friday we started packing. Actually, the weekend officially kicked off with a stop at the gym, which becomes important later. Since I was already sweaty and dirty, I started to bring up the boxes we've been storing in the carport. These boxes have made many moves with us, and hopefully this will be the last for many of them. We spent the rest of the evening trying to wrap our brains around packing while keeping some things accessible. About three boxes in, I was done. It was a long work week!

Saturday we got up extra early for an adventurous day. It was set to be a very hot and dry weekend. Which means fires. I'd seen a smallish fire in San Gabriel on my way home Friday, and as we made the trip up toward Oxnard Saturday morning there was a new plume just north of the city that neither of us had heard about yet.

As promised, the first 0.7 miles of the Point Mugu trail were brutal. Not to mention the fatigue from my Friday night date with the stairstepper. Oof. The rest of the trail was pretty mild, although you can imagine the way down was a little rough as well. We had a whole troop from all over to check out Southern California living.

What better way to finish off a hike than to jump in the ocean? We camped out at a Malibu beach for the hotter part of the afternoon. It's astounding how much cleaner the beaches are there compared to those closer to where we live. The water was terribly cold but it made the oppressive heat a little more bearable.

Meanwhile, on the trip home, the little plume of smoke just north of LA had become something of a nuclear explosion. Especially heartbreaking for us, since we'd done some hikes around the Mount Wilson area earlier this year. Angeles National Forest is an amazing place.

Sunday we had brunch with a friend at La Creperie, then were invited to join some of our new neighbors to hear a country band perform at our new local park. It was a fantastic night out of the heat, with introductions to lots of new people. We never really met our neighbors at any of our past addresses. It became a potluck picnic with wine, pitas, hummus, and ribs.

On the way home, we could see the fires glowing in the hills. If I can see them from my stomping grounds, that means they are too close! We even fired up the TV to hear a little about it, then called it a night.

The next few weeks are going to be pretty hectic, and hopefully the weekends will be fun despite all the work involved!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Blueberry Quick Oat Bread

Much like bananas in my home, it came to be that I had a substantial amount of blueberries that were not looking as appealing for my morning cereal.

So, like bananas, it only made sense to bake them. Right?

And lo and behold, here's a recipe that asks for blueberries and oats. Doesn't it just sound like breakfast in a loaf?

Normally this recipe wouldn't see the light of day in my kitchen because it requires buttermilk. As much as I like buttermilk, it's something that I don't use enough to justify buying. It'll just go bad. And then I caught wind of a magical, mystical invention: powdered buttermilk.

And sure as sunrise, there it was in a nice little can at the local Ralph's. It has to be refrigerated, but a little internet research shows it lasts forever. Plus, there's the extra possibility of freezing, as regular milk fat gets damaged when frozen.

The only thing this recipe was missing was that crunchy, sugary topping that appears on all worthwhile-calorie muffins. I just used a quick streusel recipe from my Betty Crocker cookbook. It's essentially 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar, a few tablespoons of butter, and cinnamon. It shouldn't be this melty; for some reason I was convinced it wouldn't stick to the bread if the bread was almost finished cooking. But of course, the butter in the streusel melts and gets sticky! I'm glad I finally cracked the book open for this. It's the perfect substitute for frosting or glaze. This is too much for this size of a loaf, but like sweet, sugary, buttery topping was ever a problem.

I also kept in mind a lesson from earlier to go ahead and destroy those blueberries. This is a chunkier bread, though, so it's not as important.

And oh, what a wonderful bread. Highly recommended for work potlucks, especially if it will make you look like a domestic goddess to your coworkers.

An interesting story about my loaf pan: it's a little smaller than you'd expect. It's over 50 years old. Back then, banks offered extra little incentives to open an account, much like how they give out ipods or $25 now (I'd totally go for the bakeware). It sat in my grandma's attic for years in its original, unopened packaging. Sure, I'm probably adding a healthy dose of lead or asbestos to our food, but if it isn't the little trooper of a pan!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pepper Steak Stir Fry

This became dinner as soon as I read about it. Satiates new pepper obsession? Check. Cleans out the refrigerator? Check. Gets rid of random freezer meat? Check.

Unfortunately, disaster struck and the knife slipped while I was thinking about other things. As lovely as our nice knives are ... OWW.

Usually I read about these recipes, and then make it between memory and improvisation. For whatever reason, I actually printed it out today. Talk about a sign! So, Andy took over.

He did a ridiculously awesome job, despite my nagging and backseat cooking. Can you believe he actually follows the recipe? But I secretly added some ginger to the sauce pre-accident.

Remember how I was extolling the virtues of Sun Bird beef and broccoli sauce mix? And thinking of how to make it from scratch? The jig is up, my friends. I think I've got it. Cornstarch, ginger, sugar, garlic, soy sauce, and water.

And apparently I will obnoxiously add peppers to everything I cook. (I kind of, sort of, bought two giant green peppers and a four-pack of multi-colored peppers on a grocery run. That is TOO MUCH!)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Pizzoccheri II

I had a whole bag of egg noodles and some parmesan, or grana padano, (I forget which) from Trader Joe's, on hand. Since I was making a store run anyway, I picked up a head of cabbage for Pizzoccheri round two. And again, this cleaned out my kitchen just a little more.

Special note: as much as I hate Trader Joe's, they have an amazing yet reasonably priced cheese selection. Sigh.

Our giant bag of potatoes was long gone, but I almost preferred it without the extra carbs. I also added bacon, since bacon is like pizzoccheri's long lost soulmate.

I can see this becoming quite the staple in our household, with all kinds of variation. Egg? Bell peppers? Chicken or turkey?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pizza II

Continuing on the bell pepper kick...

Pizza with homemade crust and sauce. For the sauce, I just mixed one can of tomatoes with a half a can of tomato paste (leftover from beef curry, which was totally awesome but I forgot to photograph) and "pizza spice." I used up some sliced mozzarella cheese, shredded mozzarella, and asiago in an attempt to clean out the refrigerator a little. The green peppers and onions were leftovers that also had to go.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pasta Casserole

So one day after work my husband announces, "I want to make a casserole!"

Nope. No idea what brought that on.

But he did a fabulous job! Whole wheat pasta, mozzarella, ground turkey, and tomatoes. Oh, and lots of different Italian-style seasoning.

Just in case you thought I did all the cooking around these parts.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Danger Dogs

Not long ago I went to my very first soccer game, Galaxy versus Barcelona. It was quite an experience - there were about 93,000 people in attendance at the Rose Bowl, which made it the highest attended game in the US since the World Cup in 1994. That, my friends, is a lot of people. We started the night at Cafe Santorini in Old Town Pasadena, which I'd recommend if you're in the area. The bartender was super friendly and had an amazing white sangria.

It's amazing the physical strength you need to play soccer. But, for now, I think I'll just stick to American-style football.

I swear this is going somewhere.

Danger dogs have been around at every Southern California sporting event that I have ever attended. I've never seen them in Mexico, but basically what happens is someone puts a heating element in the bottom of a shopping cart, and a baking sheet over it. Instant grill! I've seen more legitimate-looking carts before, but the shopping carts are really funny. The hot dogs are wrapped in bacon and grilled with onions and served with hot sauce.

I have desperately wanted to try one for a long time now. I have no idea how much they cost, but I'm guessing it's less than the cost of whatever medical treatment you need after eating one. Alas, my sensible husband isn't too keen on letting his wife eat random, questionably prepared street food. Los Angeles regulates restaurants pretty strictly, and guess what? These guys constantly avoid getting rated. Gasp!

Obviously this means I have to make it myself. Here's the basics on our George Foreman grill, which is the closest I could get to a baking sheet over a shopping cart. Cooking is all about improvisation.

That's pre-cooked Hormel Black Label bacon, and reduced fat Hebrew National hot dogs. Probably not what you get on the street.

I toasted the hot dog buns with a little olive oil spray on a skillet. Served with some rather old hot sauce I got for free from Trimana as they were trying to drum up business. Sorry guys, you're still overpriced for an office park sandwich shop. But you really made my hot dog!

Altogether: YUM. You have never seen two people eat a hot dog so fast. Question: is it still a danger dog if it was made with proper food handling? I still want to try the authentic version, but now I think I can wait until football season starts.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Look at these! Aren't they pretty? One of my coworkers brought in a giant shopping bag of bell peppers from her garden. Evidently they grow like gangbusters.

I also learned that different colored peppers are all actually the same, just at different stages of ripeness. They get sweeter as they ripen from green to red to yellow.

So I bring these home and announce that I'm going to make stuffed peppers. To which my husband replies, "But you're not a pepper person." True. Peppers kind of freak me out. At some point during my upbringing in the midwest I decided that all peppers were spicy like jalapenos, and I was not in to spicy. So I avoid them even though I now know better and actually like eating spicy foods (although, still not jalapenos).

But these were just so darn good looking.

Normally you boil the peppers for a few minutes, then assemble and bake. I skipped the boiling part and instead cooked ground turkey, spinach, and black beans in a skillet before filling and baking the peppers.

Hm. They could look more appetizing, I suppose.

These were really good, but a little bland despite my pile of spices (cumin, garlic, salt, pepper, chili powder). No idea where all those flavors went! Next time I'd add tomato paste to make it all stick a little better, and way, way more seasoning.

Oddly enough, this was the SparkRecipe of the day just a few days after I made them!

Am I a pepper person now? Let's just say, I was wondering if I could plant the seeds I pulled out ...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Chicken Scaloppine

I would like to say this will not come out just like the salty buttery goodness at Macaroni Grill. And maybe that's because I don't have a recipe other than knowing what it tastes like. But that's not really a big deal, since there isn't much to it anyway.

For the chicken, there's butter, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, capers, and black olives. I cooked the chicken in this mix until the chicken and shrimp were done.

This would probably be better over pasta, so the sauce would mix in, but for whatever reason I made instant potatoes instead. And the preferred mix of frozen veggies. Baby carrots are so much better than lima beans.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The California Cake

Prepare yourself for an epic story about my most ambitious pastry project to date.

It starts with getting married. I went from only child to having a brother (in law)! This is all very exciting to me. Especially because he's great. I think I got all the good in-law karma.

He was considering moving, and I was just finishing the cake decorating class. So, as a bribe, I promised to bake him a California cake if he chose Los Angeles. Which, hopefully was not a real deciding factor because man, that's a lot of pressure!

While I was in St. Louis I was chatting with my mom about it, and she gave me her decorating tip kit. Seriously, there are tips beyond your wildest imagination. I can't even begin to describe the awesomeness so I'll just show you the picture.

Oh, the things I will do with these.

Of course, first we need a cake. I happened to have two red velvet mixes on hand, so that's what it was going to be. And what kind of frosting do you have with red velvet?

That's 12 ounces of cream cheese right there. And some sugar. On a side note, I do have an ingredient chute but the last time I used it to make frosting, it was like throwing powder into a fan.

Baked, split, and filled, it needed the shape. You know those state magnets they sell at the gas station gift shop? There was a time when I thought I'd collect all 50 states and put them on my refrigerator in geographical order when I grew up. And yes, I was aware they aren't to scale. But, that was the image I had in mind for this cake.

Obviously a template on an 8.5 x 11" sheet of paper isn't going to be the same size as a 9 x 13" cake. Then again, if you think you're going to be able to capture every little bay and point in a cake, then you sir, are a better cake cutter than I. But I'd say I did pretty well.

Unfortunately there is an issue with making a cake in the summer time. Frosting will melt, even when it's not very hot. Fully frosted, it was like the big one had finally hit and California was going to slide off into the ocean. So I outlined the top, which was a thinly veiled excuse to use another decorating tip. Plus it looks more like the magnet.

Did I mention the palm trees?

As if the cake itself wasn't a wild enough idea, I decided I would make palm trees. Out of frosting. This actually isn't such a crazy idea, since rose icing is actually slightly different in that it's stiffer, and dries out so the flower keeps its shape.

Yes, I know what those look like.

See? Fully assembled, they actually look a little bit like palm trees!

The problem is, I seemed to have blanked on the "make it the night before and let them dry out overnight so they're stiff" part. Instead I put them in the freezer to keep from melting. These are not interchangeable. So much so, that I was yelling at them in the car to stop melting. And I left the super ugly ones out on the counter in disgust. Which then hardened overnight, and would have made perfectly hardy little trees. Ugh.

To make up for the lack of non-melty palm trees, I put one in 2-D on the cake. This was probably not the best idea, if not poorly executed. Sorry about that.

I can't explain how not practicing writing with frosting has improved my penmanship (bagmanship?).

Oh, and it tasted pretty good too.

Welcome to California!