Archive | October, 2012

Where You Done Gone?

31 Oct

Two weeks and nothing?? (ok maybe a little more than two weeks) I know, I know, I’ve been a bad blog-mother. Here are the things that have been happening in that time:

  •  I got a job (duh) so my cooking “free time” has been limited.
  • I got a job, so my running/workout time has been limited (you may see this translated to some healthier recipes…or not, I haven’t decided yet)
  • The weather is getting colder and darker, therefore I have been basing my runs around when I can actually still see the sun, which will change once we set back the stupid clocks thus weekend (sidenote: normally a changing back of the clocks is cool for one reason-an extra hour at the bar. I say “normally” because I don’t feel as though I’ll be able to take advantage of this annual booze-filled celebration since I still don’t know too many people here (read: about 3, maybe 3 people), and johns not what we’d call a “take advantage of being at the bar until 3 rather than the normal 2” type of guy). So once the change takes place it’s nighttime running for me. And hopefully hilarious injury stories for you.
  • I have toyed with the idea of signing up for a marathon for spring…we’ll see where that goes. I ran a marathon in may of 2011 (you can read about my wacky journey here) and swore I’d never run one again due to the injuries, time commitments, laziness, lack of television watching, etc etc. I’ve run several half marathons since then, which are a nice distance for me. But I digress from the more important issues: food.
  • My SD card in my camera stopped working after a 3 hour photoshoot for work, so I was temporarily unable to take pretty pretty pictures for this blog. And what’s a food blog without pretty pretty pictures anyways?
  • I opened one of the jars of my canned salsa…and I didn’t get sick! It’s good too! I have it on eggs every chance I get (including this morning…and yesterday)
  • I have discovered how delicious Quaker Sweet Chili Rice Cakes are. Trust me. Try them. (I’m also surprised you can purchase them online on Amazon)
  • With my new time constraints I find myself doing the dishes less, which I’m bummed of because I’m slipping into my old ways (read: never doing the dishes, and a general lack of cleaning up after myself), so I’m trying to correct this as well.
  • I went to the Detroit Beer Festival last weekend. There isn’t really a story, just lots of really good beer.
  • I received a great comment on my The Art of the Leftover (Plus Some Hard Cider) from the General Manager of The Produce Station about hard ciders (which reminds me I never followed up on the Totally Roasted Cider. Unfortunately I still didn’t come around after the tasting, but they had some that were really amazing! He left some tips, so hopefully you’ll be seeing some Hard Cider-centric posts shortly…

However, I have a brand new SD card, ingredients to make 4 delicious dishes this week, residual hurricane sandy weather keeping me inside, and a neglected blog to do some sucking up to. So hold on to your hats, it’s time to re-enter flavor country…with a vengeance.

This is how I feel most of the time while I’m cooking…or doing anything in general.



16 Oct

(the title kind of looks like “salmonella”)

Hear ye! Hear ye! I have taken a flying leap into the world of canning, and let me tell you…it’s not as easy as I thought!

I finally made it to the Farmer’s Market this Saturday, and now we are BARELY hanging on to tomato season. So with this in mind, I’ve literally had dreams about getting to the market and having the farmers look at me and slowly start shaking their heads. “Sorry ma’am, you’ll have your chance next year” NOOOOOO. Well, not to worry. While there wasn’t a huge selection, I got all I needed (and more). I spent about $13 on tomatoes, tomatillos, japalenos, peppers, cilantro, and sweet peppers. I’d say they threw in a good $4 or $5 worth of free merchandise. Economies of Scale! “But wait,” you’re asking yourself, “wasn’t Erica going to get a big haul of tomatillos from her mother’s garden?” Well, friend of friends, here is the haul from her garden:

I’m apologize for the Pirate terminology

Yowza. AND a few of these items were stolen (in the same fashion as before). But, as I stated, not to worry, because I got everything I needed at the market. OR DID I?

I had envisioned making salsa like I did previously, roasting some veggies to get that nice caramel-y flavor, and mixing it with some fresh veggies and cilantro, taste for salt and sugar, and BOOM, can the goodness and laugh all the way to the bank (i.e. cold winter nights with fresh salsa! Ole!). Well, clearly I had not done enough research because guess what YOU CAN’T CAN FRESH/RAW ITEMS. Also, he pH level has to be at 4.6 or lower for water-bath canning in order to react correctly with the heating to destroy any lingering bacteria.  Fun Fact: water has a pH of 7

So how do you make sure the salsa is acidic enough before canning? Well, you have to follow a proven and tested recipe EXACTLY. Too many peppers added may change the acidity, or any other deviation from the recipe can yield ruined results. You also need to boil everything for about 15 minutes before you even put it in the cans and then into the bath. So…no raw. Not even a little. Naturally I started to freak out. I looked through about 17 recipes, and finally settled on this guy:

Roasted Salsa Verde

After frantically looking through recipes upon message boards upon ball jar guides, I decided this one would utilize most of the flavors I want to highlight. I also learned you can substitute peppers for peppers, and tomatoes for tomatillos, AS LONG AS IT’S THE SAME AMOUNT SPECIFIED IN THE RECIPE. I’m sorry, still shaken. So, after a quick trip to the store for some lime juice and tortilla chips, I began the process.

The cans need to boil while everything else is getting prepared, and getting that GIANT pot of water to get hot took…some time. But that’s alright. We roasted the veggies. Tossed them in with cilantro, spices, and a vinegar/lime juice mix, blended it, and simmered it for about 15 minutes.

Slimey/sticky tomatillos. Wonky tomatoes. Everything pre-oven. Pretty pretty pretty.

Well, moment of truth. It’s-a canning time! Now to prepare the jar for insertion.

Try to take your eyes off the mound of onions in the background. Hey! Eyes over here!

Well, guess what, after being boiled for a while, those jars are HOT. Also, the water they’re in are HOT and for some reason I wasn’t being as careful as I should have been and bing-bong-boom I have a burned finger. But, small price to pay for a possible canning victory (we’ll know in a few weeks when I want salsa!). And now on to the water bath:

I don’t know why, but I just love this picture. It’s just soooo avant garde

And after CAREFUL tonging of the jars, they were placed on the counter to settle for 12-24 hours (it ended up being about 28 hours…overachieving)

One. Two. Three. Three jars of salsa. Ahh ahh ahh.

Now that one on the far Left I’m nervous about. You’re supposed to be very careful and exact-measurey about how much space is left between the contents and the top lip of the jar. This was supposed to be about 1/4 in. I didn’t have enough. I FOLLOWED THE RECIPE THOUGH! So that one I’m going to tread lightly as far as ingestion. I’m nervous, but excited.

Well, since I followed the directions PERFECTLY (I hope, god I hope, I did, I’m still freaking out about the possible contamination!) I had/have lots and lots of veggies leftover. So time for Plan A: make fresh salsa!!

I decided to make a half raw and half roasted veggie salsa.

  1. Cut up variety of veggies (tomatillos, tomatoes, jalapeños, sweet peppers, red onion, white onion)
  2. Roast at 500 for about 10-15 minutes (until you get a little bit of a char)
  3. Meanwhile, chop up raw cilantro, red onion, and salt in food processor. Keep chunky. Place mixture in bowl
  4. Add raw tomatoes and some sugar to food processor. Pulse (again, keep chunky). Now before you add this to the  onion mixture, strain most of the tomato liquid out (picture below). Now add to onion/cilantro.
  5. Let oven veggies cool a bit (who am I kidding, I give it about 90 seconds before I get impatient), and add to food processor. Add some more cilantro because, hey, why not. Pulse until combined (this will be less chunky than the raw veggies since they are already softer). Strain (like the tomatoes), then add to raw veggies.
  6. Stir. Taste. Add salt/sugar/more cilantro/lime/strawberries. Add some of the tomato/veggie liquid back for desired consistency.
  7. Feast.

Raw veggies. Sweet sassy molassey

This leftover juice was TASTY. I wish I had some vodka to put into it for a fresh take on a Bloody Mary!

What a fake shot. Like that teeny cup of salsa would be enough for a sufficient snack!

So I often take for granted the use of contact lenses while cutting onions. I normally wear contacts all day, or at least will pop them in when I’m going to the gym, going for a run, or doing something where I have to go out into society. Well today I did not put them in before cooking, so I was stung by that distant yet familiar…sting? Yes. It is still awful. And you know what’s worse? Putting your contacts in for a late evening run AFTER cutting jalapeños and onions all day. Even with multiple hand-washings. No amount of washing is sufficient. I looked really sad.

One, Two, Three. Three Onions.

10 Oct

What. A. Day.

Where to start. Well, first off I GOT A JOB! And it’s in the food industry, how lucky! I will have my “first day” tomorrow, and then I’ll officially start next week. So today was my last day of unemployment (since Thursday and Friday I will be technically employed, just not at the office). I will explain more about the job later. The only bummer is that I was excited to introduce myself to new people as a “kept woman” and John as a “scholar”. Oh well, the sacrifices we make for insurance.

Being that this is my last “free” day, I made a list of things to do:

  • Go grocery shopping (check)
  • Go to the gym (check)
  • Go for a run (non-check, to busy cooking!)
  • Make a big Fall-y meal (check)
  • Watch trashy reality television I have DVR’d (check and CHECK)

Well, Meijer had a HUGE sale, and I ended up beating my previous savings in one trip by over $10! I saved over $34 with coupons and sales. I felt like an extreme coupon-er, but not really because I’m not crazy. Since I got a job I decided to celebrate in the best way: buying Kleenex Cottonelle toilet paper…with Aloe! I’ll have to smoke a cigar every time I’m in the bathroom now to really live the good life. I also decided to throw caution to the wind and buy a full gallon of apple cider rather than just the half since I needed 1 C for a recipe I made tonight. Fun Fact: the majority of apples that go into cider are grown in China. True story!

But anyhoo, on to the cooking. I decided to make the following items for a Fall feast not to be forgotten:

Yes, one full onion went into each dish. Thank goodness I wear contacts, so I can slice onions all the livelong day. Cider Braised Pork Shoulder. I know right?! This took about 2 hour of simmering’ so I started that first. And the 100% American apples that went into this were the one, the only, Honeycrisp. mmmm

So pretty. So Delicious.

You’re right, it’s too pretty…you must now be maimed!

I must add, while I was peeling the apples I was browning the pork, and hey, wouldn’t you know it, the smoke alarm goes off. What do I do? I run around my house, slipping about in my running socks (with left toe sticking out of sock because hey, good running socks are expensive, and I’m not giving them up without a fight) trying to furiously wave a kitchen towel in front of the detector to clear up the air around it. It was…an ordeal.

Once the imminent threat of fire had subsided, I simmered my stew, took in some Real Housewives of New York, and then prepared to finish the rest of the meal armed with a soundtrack of Greensky Bluegrass (again, Kalamazoo favorite). While I was preparing the cabbage, it happend. I’ve been waiting for this to happen for a while now, especially with the amount of cooking I’ve been doing lately. I sliced the hell out of my thumb. I was coring the cabbage and while pulling the knife out of the heart of the head my thumb was right in it’s path. I. Felt. Everything. Luckily I pulled my hand away fast enough so no blood got on the food, but…man did it bleed. My first thought was “Oh my god I’m going to need stitches! I don’t have insurance! I’m going to have to amputate my thumb!” Then I slapped myself in the face, grabbed myself by the shoulders and said “Get a hold of yourself man!” (not really) and ran cold water over it. When it started bleeding less, I wrapped it up tightly, and went right back to a’cooking. I felt like I was in a Top Chef challenge (you know, like when Fabio cut his hand…just like that, except with zero skill and charm). Do you know how hard it is to not use a thumb? Thank you evolution.

With the use of my right thumb out of commission, and the many many tasks I had going on at once (I was using all four burners at once!) I didn’t have time to stop and take more pictures, so for that I apologize.

Wow, using four burners at once? I bet that made it hot in the house.
Yes. Yes it did.

Once the burners were turned off, and a proper bandage was affixed to my thumb, I was able to take a breath, and a taste of what I had created. Boom. Diggety. Wow, so great! And each dish goes so well with the others!

The dancing white O’s were the best part

Now let’s let everyone have their moment in the sun:

Beautiful white plate. Fennel fern garnish. It’ll make anything look fancy.

Alright, let’s get a close up of that delicious stew:

Just. Delightful.

Upon actually eating, I put them all on the same plate so the delicious cider broth from the pork seeped into the side dishes.
mmm, seeping pork juice…

I am extremely uncomfortable based on how much of this meal is inside of me right now, but I’m so glad I was able to make this today. It was the prefect last “I have no job and therefore have all the time in the world…someone please give me something to do!” meal. I am very excited to see how this blog transforms now that I will be working, because I have no intention of stopping the culinary genius that is inside of me. Too dramatic? I thought so.

And the last piece of amazing news: I received my canning equipment today! I’m hoping to have some pasta sauces and salsas ready to be canned before the weekend!

A Feast of Cilantro: Mexican Chicken Meatballs and Sweet Potato Chili (with Beer!)

3 Oct

It’s official. The leaves are changing and Starbucks is featuring their Pumpkin Spice Latte. It’s Fall.

Random Story: Like any female, I love pumpkin. Why we do we love it? This I don’t know. But with the coming of the season, I too enjoy a pumpkin spice latte every once in a while. The difference, I get it with half the normal amount of syrup because it’s too sweet for me. Last year it was a chilly November day, and I was running errands, and thought “well, the time has come” and dove out of my way to a Starbucks I knew had a drive through (I ain’t getting outta m’car for NO ONE) and ordered a small pumpkin spice latte with half the syrup. When I grabbed it from the window I knew it was too hot, and just let it sit for the 10 minute drive home, all the while filling my car with the spicy crisp flavor. I got home and threw my bags on the floor, and braced myself for the first sip. It was like an attack of sugary synthetic flavors as this thick and not-at-all what I was expecting liquid poured down my throat. I looked on the side of the cup where it was the order typed out, and rather than “1/2 syrup” it says “2 x syrup”. Crap. I took off the lid and it was this crazy radioactive orange color. The Starbucks was 10 minutes away, and I knew I was out $4. I had no choice but to throw it away. End of story.

So I’ve been looking up some Fall-ish recipes to focus on lately, and I thought I’d utilize a favorite website of mine: { Big Girls Small Kitchen } Great great website (and cookbook) with great background stories and approachable recipes. I have a list of about 10 things I will be making my way through, but for this specific meal I focused on two:

Eat for Eight Bucks: Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

Mexican Chicken Meatballs

I should also interject that I am going to be cooking a little lighter…as in spending money less (no more fancy fish I’m afraid) until my Quarter-Life Retirement comes to an end. And when it does? Caviar and Foie Gras for all! Vegan? Well you’re not invited!

Yes, I realize besides the sweet potatoes, this isn’t a very Fall-ish meal, but the dishes have such similar flavors to them, so…there.

I had set aside an afternoon to execute this meal, and then after re-reading the recipe I realized…it’s only going to take about an hour! So extra bonus, it’s super fast to make! I’d say what took he longest was cutting up the Sweet Potatoes

I cut these up about 2 hours before I started cooking so it was a breeeeeeeeze.

So now that we have the sweet potatoes, let’s finish up the chili. When you think of chili you normally think “long cook time” and this took maybe 30 minutes. Sauté some veggies, toss in some beans and tomatoes, simmer with a dark beer. I was most excited to choose the beer at the store. How dark shall I go? Should I get a fancy 750mL or go for the full 6 pack? I finally decided on Bell’s Best Brown because BIG UPS KALAMAZOO and, it’s a great great beer. I even tweeted about it and Bell’s (the brewery) favored the tweet! Add the sweet potatoes, simmer some more, and boom, you got yourself a chili. The strangest thing this recipe called for was cilantro stems. Stems? So strange! I’ve never heard of using just the stems, but hey, that freed up the delicious leaves for garnish and later addition.

What I tweaked: I added 1/2 a jalapeño (because it was HUGE) and the juice of half of a lime. I would also add more salt next time.

I drank that beer. And then another.

Now what’s a sweet potato chili without some mexican meatballs?? Again, such a fast and easy recipe! Make the chicken meatballs (which have cilantro in them, they’re great. I almost would have put more cilantro in) and pop them into the oven for about 25 minutes so they get a nice brown to them (and they’re lighter than pan frying them…although…everything is better pan-fried…)

Do you ever use parchment paper? If you’re not a fan of doing dishes (like someone I know) it’s the best thing to arm yourself with in the kitchen!

Then you made the sauce. Sauté the veggies, add some crushed tomatoes, boom, you got yourself some sauce. Add the cooked meatballs and some additional cilantro


Pour these into a glass baking pan, top with cheese, and l bake until cheese is melted (so fast and sample!). Serve with a side of additional cilantro and limes

*Mexican Hat Dance Song*

Don’t worry, I’ll have some type of pumpkin cake/bread/muffin/something shortly. But here’s to the kick off to Fall and utilizing sweet potatoes! Oh, and cooking with beer Beer BEER!



Yes We CAN

2 Oct

So I’ve taken the plunge. I just purchased a canning kit. It should be here in 5-8 business days (thank you Super Saver shipping, Amazon). I’ve been wanting dip my can into the boiling water that is home canning (bad canning joke, apologies). A few months ago during a cook cook shopping spree (I bought two), I purchased { The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux } by Paul Virant.

It’s a hardcover. Fancy.

I’ve been leafing through this book for a few months now. With no canning equipment. Well seeing as it’s ending tomato season, and I like making homemade pasta sauce and salsa (side note: I made this AMAZING tomatillo salsa with some of my mother’s homegrown tomatillos the other day…I really should have made a post, it was great. I was shocked. But I didn’t think it would turn out so well and I couldn’t find the memory card for my camera SPOILER ALERT it was still in my computer) I should probably be bottling this red liquid gold for future use. And plus, that basically gives me awesome homemade stuff to hand out at Christmas (and Channukah) every year. “Wow, Erica is so talented and thoughtful. And also attractive. So attractive.”

So, I made a list of things I’d like to can in the upcoming months (or weeks, let’s see how much FREE time I will have…in comparison to my current 100%):

  • Salsa (verde-medium)
  • Pasta Sauce
  • Onion Jam
  • Pickled carrots (from book)
  • Dill Pickles (from book)
  • Tomato Jam (from book)
  • Red Wine-Pickled Beets (from book)
  • Peach Saffron Jam (from book, and because I have some Spanish Saffron)
  • Currant Mostarda (from book, if I can find fresh currants)
  • Sauerkraut (from book)
  • and more!

Yes, this is a tall order, but I’m excited! I have my jars and kit on their way, and I’m excited to see what happens! I just hope I don’t mess up the pressure and the glass ends up shattering, and wedging into major arteries in my arm, and I’m bleeding out in the kitchen, all the while my non-insurance is laughing at me…laughing at me all the way to the bank. But enough about blood, back to the culinary arts!

Until my jars (cans? why do we can it canning when it’s jars Jars JARS) come, I have a great list of fall-inspired dishes to play around with. Pumpkin and Sweet Potatoes and Squash, oh MY!


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