Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy Birthday Pugs

The pugs turned 6 years old a few weeks ago (this is late).  We don't typically make a big deal out of their birthdays, because, well, we forget to (so awful!), but this year things were different.  We just happened to be on one of our 5x/week trips to a local bakery that makes these little wonders called "pupcakes"!

How did the pugs handle this birthday hedonism?

I presented to them da goods. Bunni is mesmerized.  Notice Kevin's hand in the background keeping Bunni's ass planted on the floor.

A closer look, madame? Perhaps you would like just a teensy leetle bite to make sure zat zeese pupcakes are to your liking?

What part of "teensy leetle bite" did you not understand??

While Bunni cleverly destructed her pupcake in .001 second, Rikki's strategy was to lock her jaws around the pupcake entire, trot around the living room in simultaneous jubilee and utter fear that someone would rob her of her precious pupcake, only to be nabbed by Kevin all wide-jawed and just bizarre-looking.  All the while, mind you, not actually biting into the pupcake.

She still doesn't get it.

After some considerable time (and, ahem, Kevin retrieving the pupcake from her jaws and breaking it up for her), she finally did get the hang of the pupcake.

After the carnage, the pugs retreated to their bed.

I expected gratitude after the pupcake extravaganza. I expected unadulterated love and adoration.

Instead, I received one sleepy look and one "what da f&#! you want?" look.

Rikki did open her eyes in hopeful anticipation of a stray pupcake.

Bunni, that blessedly iron-hearted pug of mine, gave me a glare that said it all: "You gave me one pupcake.  One. I don't understand how you expect me to live."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Roasted Mushrooms

I love mushrooms. I think they're delicious, I like the texture, and they add such a meaty component to dishes.  I know not everyone feels the same way about mushrooms, which makes me sad.  The cafeteria in my office building had roasted mushrooms every day as a selection in the buffet for about a month, which made up for the sadness.  But then the sadness returned when they stopped offering the mushrooms.  My emotions are being toyed with.

If you do like mushrooms, here's a recipe for an easy side dish. Or, if you're like me, you'll eat the entire pound of mushrooms all by yourself as a whole meal. It happens.

I looked at various roasted mushroom recipes and liked this one the best, and adapted it just the tiniest bit.


1 lb. mushrooms (crimini or white)
2 TBS plus 1 tsp olive oil
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 TBS finely minced garlic
1 TBS balsamic vinegar
1 TBS finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 TBS chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Serves 4 as a side dish, or 1 if we're talking about me

About prepping mushrooms: they say you're not supposed to rinse mushrooms because they soak up too much water, and that the best way is to wipe each f*(#$ one with a damp paper towel.  However, I was watching Jacques Pepin and he said washing mushrooms is fine, as long as you wait to do it right before you use them (otherwise the water soaks in too much, causes soft spots, something like that).  So I decided to side with Jacques on this one since it made my life easier.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Crank it!

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Trim the dried ends of the washed mushrooms and quarter them--some of then were petite enough that I just halved them, or, if extra mini petite, just left them whole.

Toss with 2 TBS olive oil, salt and pepper, and place mushrooms onto a baking sheet.  Give them some space so they actually roast instead of just steam each other.  Roast the mushrooms for about 15 minutes, stirring things around halfway through.

While the mushrooms are roasting, prepare the very complicated sauce.  What you do is combine the remaining 1 tsp of olive oil, balsamic, garlic, and thyme.

Toss the sauce with the roasted mushrooms (if there is a lot of liquid in your baking sheet, pour that off before this step).

Put the mushrooms back into the oven for another 10 minutes.

And enjoy.  I think they say mushrooms have a lot of umami. I find them addictive. Hence a pound of them disappearing into my mouth in 10 minutes.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

For the Twilight Fans, Again

Remember the cupcakes I came across last year that commemorated the release of Eclipse? Well, I'm a little late in posting this, but a local bakery made a very special Breaking Dawn cupcake a few weeks ago.

Reader, I ate it.

Oh it's just too much fun. Although do you know what's *not* fun? Not actually seeing Breaking Dawn in the theater, just being a sad half hanger-on by taking a picture of a cupcake with a photo from the movie.  When I suggested seeing the movie to a certain someone, that certain someone countered with Harold & Kumar (which I have nothing against, but that wasn't the point).  My life.  It's the kind of thing where I would probably have to ask to see this with Kevin as a Christmas gift, the resistance is that high.  

You're saying to yourself: why don't you go see it with a friend? And then I would mutter to myself: most of my friends would react that same way as Kevin. I'm an outlier. It is my burden to bear. And I bear it with all kinds of angst, half-gasps, and incoherent sentences.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chicken and Dirty Rice

I'm sipping on an apple cocktail.  It's deleeeshous! And strong.  It took some stocking up of my non-existent liquor cabinet in order to make, but once as I bought the basics and made the thyme simple syrup, it was bottoms up. Okay not exactly bottoms up, since, and this is worth repeating, the drink is strong stuff.  It's not the most quick-and-easy of cocktails, but the making of a cocktail is a nice little ritual, isn't it? Plus, I feel ever so sophisticated. I fool everybody. And by "everybody" I mean my husband and the two pugs, the only living beings who are around while I engage in all this fine measuring and ice-and-liquor shaking and whatnot.

FYI--I've discovered that you don't need a real cocktail shaker to make cocktails. I used an old jam jar.  

Is there anything like the sound of ice gently clinking against glass?  It's such a happy, light tinkling sound.  Although when I hear the word "tinkle", I think of #1, and that's not what I mean in this instance.

By the way, this is not a sweet cocktail. While it has apple cider and the thyme simple syrup, don't be expecting Martinelli's (which I happen to love) with some alcohol thrown in. 

Onward to the point of this post...

As I mentioned, I've been starting to use my slow cooker and recipes from Slow Cooker Revolution by America's Test Kitchen.  You're like, oh my god stop mentioning ATK I can't take it anymore. And I'm like I can't. I just can't stop.

One of my favorite recipes so far is this Southern Style Chicken and Dirty Rice. Prep for slow cooker recipes can be super easy or pretty involved.  This recipe is an in-betweener.  But very worth it.

  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces of kielbasa sausage, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 celery ribs, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed 
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups instant rice
  • 2 scallions, sliced thin (I completely forgot these when I made the recipe, which renders them "optional")
Serves 6 to 8.

Heat oil in skillet on medium to medium high heat.  Cook kielbasa until well-browned, about 5 minutes.

While kielbasa is browning, prep your aromatics.

Add the onion, garlic, celery, bell pepper, chili powder, thyme and cayenne to the kielbasa until veggies are softened and onion is lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add flour. The two-word simplistic beauty of a command sentence.Which I just ruined with my rambling.

Stir for about 2 minutes to incorporate and cook flour.  Then whisk in broth, making sure to scrape up tasty bits on the bottom of the pan. Transfer mixture to slow cooker.

See? Those are the bits that you want to scrape up.  I am so helpful.

At this point you're wondering how the slow cooker makes life any easier, because this sure doesn't sound any easier than a regular recipe, and I wondered the same thing. I think this recipe is a great example of how the biggest benefit of the slow cooker comes after the prep, when you're letting it sit there doing its thing.  Be patient!

Anyway, season your chicken thighs with salt and pepper on both sides.

Place the chicken in the slow cooker and move it around a bit so that it's covered in the sauce.  Cook on low for 4 to 6 hours (I did 5 hours).

After you've gone to get a massage (or 3) and return to your slow cooker deliciousness, break apart the chicken with any utensil, or just look at it really, really intensely--the meat falls apart quite easily. Stir in rice and 1 tsp salt and cook on high for 30 minutes.

I know, you're like, why would I use instant rice?  Well, that's what the book said and we all know that ATK cooks things every which way, and they mentioned that using regular rice could lead to uneven cooking.  I don't know about you, but the last thing I wanted was for this thing to be cooking for 5 hours only to find that the dish would be ruined by misbehaving rice.  So Minute Rice it was.

This dish is really quite good, and I highly recommend it.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Saag Paneer

I love saag paneer.  I don't know when I started eating it, but it's one of my favorite Indian dishes.  That spicy and creamy spinach, plus the real kicker--cubes of cheese.  CUBES OF CHEESE.

So imagine how pleased I was when I was perusing through my sister's recipe files (she is the true cook in the family--really amazing) and I saw a recipe for version of saag paneer that was very doable.  The hardest thing to find was the paneer, but luckily they sold packages of it at the Whole Foods nearby for the bargain price of 10 dollars. Yes, 10 dollars.  The alternative was making my own, which, as my sister told me with a sniff (which might have included a scoff), is not that hard to make on your own.  Okay, then, you make it.  I spent the $10.

Next time I make this, I will take the extra step of taking an immersion blender to the spinach after it's cooked to get more of that creaminess that you do when you order it at a restaurant.  This was a bit more of a sauteed/quick braised spinach version.

1 large onion
3 cloves garlic (I used 6 the first time and it was a bit too much)
1 oz fresh ginger
1 lb frozen chopped spinach 

2 to 3 tsp vegetable oil (or other neutral oil)
1 cup plain yogurt
4 oz buttermilk (1/2 cup)
pinch of red chili powder or cayenne pepper 

2 tsp garam masala
1 cup half and half
6 oz paneer, cut into 1/2" cubes 

1 TBS butter
salt to taste

Serves 4 to 6

Grind the onion, garlic, and ginger into a fine paste.

In a large saucepan or pot, heat 2 to 3 tsp vegetable oil over medium high heat. Cook the onion/paste/ginger paste for about 3 minutes.  Add in the garam masala and chili powder. I think I also threw in a pinch of turmeric and extra cumin, but it's not necessary. Stir until spices are fragrant and cooked, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Add in buttermilk, yogurt and spinach (I just threw mine in frozen because the branch I bought was a bag of loose frozen chopped spinach, but if it came in a block I would have defrosted it first).

Simmer at medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Next time, at this point, I will mash the ingredients with a potato masher or blend using an immersion or traditional blender.

Add the half and half. Simmer until the mixture has a creamy consistency, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the cheese and butter, simmer 5 minutes.

Season to taste with salt.
Not as creamy as restaurant versions, but it hit the spot.

Serve with jasmine rice. Ta-da!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Light Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Never mind that it's almost 70 degrees today--last week it got a bit chilly and I was in the mood for soup.  I saw a delectable recipe for broccoli cheese soup on Pioneer Woman which really brought matters to a must-make-soup-crisis, but the amount of fat in the recipe pushed that past crisis mode, over the edge, down a cliff with an arrow sticking through your side and then you get attacked by zombies.  Sorry, too much Walking Dead there.

So I thought I would try looking for a lighter version.  Lo and behold I found a recipe adapted from, you guessed it, America's Test Kitchen.  I swear I use recipes from other sources, just not right now.  

This soup benefits from tons of broccoli--I weeded out recipes using only 6 or 8 oz of broccoli, which is not enough. I mean what am I supposed to do with the rest of the broccoli head? It also uses leeks instead of onions.  While I'm sure you could substitute onions, I think the leeks gave this soup a leaner bite that kept it from being too cloying.

However, I could totally be making that up.

The soup derives its "thickness" from evaporate fat free milk (genius) and of course some blending at the end.

Keep in mind that this isn't a thick, creamy soup.  It is definitely more of a soup as opposed to a hearty chowder-type consistency. Nevertheless, the flavor was spot-on and for the sake of continuing to excuse my lack of exercise, I would make this soup again.

Adapted from America's Test Kitchen
  • 1 bunch broccoli (about 1 ½ pounds), florets cut into 1-inch pieces, stems trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 pound leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, and rinsed thoroughly (see leek-cleaning method here)
  • 2 teaspoons canola or other neutral oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup fat-free evaporated milk (in these parts, this product comes in 5 oz. cans, which is a bit less than 3/4 cup. Nobody threw the soup back in my face so I think the 5 oz. is okay.)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup) (okay I might have been a little more generous with the cheddar cheese--that or my 4 oz. were super 4 oz. because I ended up with about 2 cups)
  • Salt and pepper
Serves 4 to 6

Hack your broccoli to pieces.  Keep the florets and stems separate.

Prep your leeks (see link above to how to clean leeks).  

In a large pot, combine the broccoli STEMS (not the florets, not yet, oh just you wait), leeks, oil and 1/8 tsp salt and turn heat to medium or medium low.  Cover (I forgot to do this) and cook, stirring once or twice, until vegetables are starting to soften, about 6 to 8 minutes.  Uncover and stir in garlic.

Stir in broth and water, and raise heat to medium high to bring mixture to a simmer. 

Cover, reduce heat to medium-low to keep things at a simmer, until broccoli stems are softened, about 8 minutes.  Add the broccoli florets, cover, and cook until everything is tender, about 5 minutes.

Now for the blending.  You can either use an immersion blender or a regular blender.  If using an immersion blender, you'll kinda have to "trap" broccoli pieces with the immersion blender "cup", blend it, then pick it up and move it around to get all the pieces.  Don't lift the immersion blender too much or else you'll spatter.  It's like playing whack a mole.  

If you use a traditional blender, do it in two batches. I can't give you any more tips because the last time I blended a hot liquid it exploded all over the place, even after taking the precaution of taking out the center thingamajig from the lid.  If you use a blender, transfer the mixture back to the pot after you're done.

Whisk in the evaporated milk and mustard, and warm over low heat.  

Turn off the heat and whisk in the cheese.  

Season to taste with salt and pepper, and sprinkle a little extra cheese over the top for serving.  Why not.

Makes a nice, light meal with a couple of toasted bread slices.  Ta-da!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mama Lemme Up

I was working from home one day, and got to see the pugs in their full lazy glory. They really do lay around and sleep all day. They moved from sunspot by the window, to couch, to their bed, and then for a rare moment they plopped themselves in the middle of the living room floor, a few feet from where I was working.

Do you see Bunni looking at me? Like boring her eyes into my head?  It's because despite all the changes in sleeping locale that day, there was one place that she hadn't graced with her turgid self.

So she wanders over and does one of classic "Mama lemme uppp!!!" poses. She will perch her paws on your chair, arch her back, and then paw at you like she's kneading bread. Or trying to dig herself out of a grave. Either one.

While Kevin usually caves in and rewards this kind of behavior, Bunni's mama is made of tougher, meaner stuff. Not quite iron, but maybe some good synthetic rubber.

She takes the unusual tactic of sitting there and just willing me to pick her up.  Don't be fooled.  This is the dog that usually when reached for, backs away like you're coming at her with handmitts of fire. 

Rikki, in the meantime, lay there watching everything.  I know that if I picked Bunni up, Rikki would have been there in a hot second to use her big saucer-eyed puss 'n' boots look on me.  By the way Kevin doesn't like it when I refer to it as her puss 'n' boots look, because he thinks Rikki has proprietary rights over the look and I shouldn't sully it by dragging in a reference to something other than Rikki.  It is all her own.

Back to Bunni, who has kinda given up. I say "kinda" because do you see those ears? Yeah, she's still hoping.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chicken Enchiladas

There's been a whole lotta America's Test Kitchen recipes in our household lately.  Do you ever go through phases with your recipe inspiration? 

My sister alerted me to this recipe years ago. I don't cook much Mexican food, so when I realized there was a recipe that I could actually use to create some delicious enchiladas at home all by lonesome, I pretty much lost all my senses. I gave the recipe to a friend, saying it was so "easy". She kinda gave me a dirty look after she had used it and mumbled that it wasn't so easy. That's what I call LAZY.

Okay, so it's not as easy as wrapping a tortilla around a package of taco seasoning, but in the universal scheme of things it's kind of genius and straightforward, and seriously good. You essentially make the enchilada sauce, poach the chicken in it, then separate the two by straining so the chicken part becomes the filling and the sauce part becomes...the sauce. And if you want, you can make the sauce and filling on one day, and save the assembly/baking for the next day. I mean, what could be easier than a 2-day recipe, I ask you? Note sarcasm.

I am clearly conflicted by this recipe. But not by the results, which are straight up good.

Adapted from America's Test Kitchen

1 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs chili
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
12 to 16 oz boneless chicken thighs, cut into ¼” strips
2 cans 8 oz Hunt’s tomato sauce (this is what you're supposed to use--I, on the other hand, read this as 2 cans of 14.5-oz tomato sauce and had to siphon off about 1 1/2 cups that I saved and later used in a chili recipe. Point being that put those literacy skills to work and don't be like me.)
1 cup water

½ c cilantro, minced
3 c shredded cheddar (or queso fresco)
4 oz jarred jalapenos, chopped (I couldn't find these and just used canned diced green chilies)

10 to 12 corn tortillas
Optional toppings (I took the "optional" part seriously):
sour cream
lettuce, shredded
diced ripe avocado

Serves 5 to 6

When you prep your ingredients, take a moment to contemplate the cilantro. Some people love this herb, others can't stand it. I am in the camp of the former.

Heat 1½ TBS oil in saucepan at medium-high heat. Add onions until translucent just beginning to brown (about 4 minutes), then add garlic until and continue to cook, stirring, for about 1 minute more. 

My onions are looking a little anemic.
Add spices and stir so they get nice and fragrant, about 1 minute.  
Add the tomato sauce and water. 
Stir chicken into sauce.
I know, another great picture of raw meat. MMmmm....
Bring to simmer and cook 8 minutes. While it's cooking, preheat oven to 300 degrees. Back to the chicken: strain mixture through coarse mesh strainer into large bowl. 
Transfer solids to separate bowl or plate, and mix in cilantro, cheddar & jalapenos.
Spray tortillas with oil and warm in oven for 4 minutes at upper and lower middle racks, on baking sheets. This dries them out a little so they don't get too soggy during the subsequent baking, but if you're going to cut a step this would be it.
Raise oven heat to 400.  Coat bottom of 9 x 13” pyrex pan with ¾ cup sauce. Place generous 1/3 cup chicken filling in middle of each tortilla, and roll that sucker up.
This kinda looks like I'm rolling but I am not--my tortillas curled up during the pre-bake. Funny little things.
Place the filled tortillas in pan, seam side down. Feel free to pack them tightly. Squash 'em and show no mercy.  

Pour the rest of sauce over tortillas, and sprinkle with 1 cup shredded cheese.

Cover pan with foil, and bake on lower middle rack for 20-25 minutes.

That's about as good as this picture-taking venture is going to get. Feel free to accessorize with lettuce, tomato, avocado, creme brulee, whatever! Ta-da!