Archive | December, 2012

I Said “I Do”: Cooking for One

28 Dec

What a whirlwind of a…few weeks? Why, I can remember it as if it were yesterday: ’twas the week before Christmas, and all through my office, everyone was coughing, even those not in the office (the only word I came up with to rhyme was “cannabis” and I couldn’t think of a clever phrase, so office again it is). I had dodged the inevitable “unidentified office illness” for quite some time now, so of course my luck ran out DURING THE HOLIDAYS. I had to take a day and a half off work and watch a lot of HBO’s The Newsroom, so needless to say I was not doing any cooking (except heating up a “Cup of Noodles” which I’ve never had-it’s even lazier cousin of ramen, who knew-and at a cool $0.50, the price was right…that’s like 1 cent per 29mg of sodium!).

Back up even further than my sickness you say? Well, not that this has anything to do with the culinary arts, but before a delicious meal at Michael Symon’s Roast in Detroit for our mutual Christmas gift, John proposed to me. I said yes (obviously). We kept it a secret from everyone for a full week so I could tell my family in person when in town for Christmas. So why the cooking alone? I’ll explain later.

This is the "complimentary breakfast" I took from the Holiday Inn Express we stayed at in Detroit even though we were leaving to go to a breakfast place. Why? To have bagels and yogurt for the rest of the week. Complimentary meal = free breakfast for 3 days!

This is the “complimentary breakfast” I took from the Holiday Inn Express we stayed at in Detroit even though we were leaving to go to a breakfast place. Why? To have bagels and yogurt for the rest of the week. Complimentary meal = free breakfast for 2 days!

Disclaimer: my camera battery has been dead for over a week, and I haven’t charged it yet, and I left my tripod at work, so all the photos from this post are from my cell phone. I apologize profusely. It won’t happen again. Hopefully.

What’s Christmas time for other than baking goodies? Lindsey and I (you may remember her from such posts as Fancy Family Dinner) decided we had to make an afternoon of it. On the menu: Salty Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Bon Apetit and Peppermint Puppy Chow.

Notice the expertly placed candy cane, and the cheerful green tupperware lid backdrop

Notice the expertly placed candy cane, and the cheerful green tupperware lid backdrop

The cookies were REALLY good (3 types of sugar!), but each hour that passed after they were pulled out of the oven, they became increasingly SUPER crunchy. As in, hard. Bygones. For the puppy chow it was ridiculously easy:

Box of Chex, 1/2 stick butter, 10 oz chocolate, 1 box candy canes (crushed), 3ish cups powdered sugar.

Melt chocolate and butter. Pour over chex. Mix until covered. Add candy cane “dust” and/or “rocks” (I’m trying to give examples of how large the chunks of cane we used, but it all just sounds like drugs), and mix until covering all the pieces. Pour powdered sugar in big container/bag, then add chex/chocolate/drug mix. Shake. Shake. Shake. Try to eat without breathing in powered sugar.

Now, I must mention, Lindsey LOVES Christmas, just can’t get enough. Listens to the radio stations that only play Christmas music for the full month, and nothing else (except maybe her Glee Christmas album). Wears christmas tree earring in a non-ironic manner, along with a Christmas broach. Will probably tear up if you mention Christmas in May and refer to how long away it is. Just loves it. So I thought it was proper to mention “I wish Christmas was tomorrow!” as we were baking, to which I was greeted with a stony “are you crazy!? I don’t!”. Her reasoning: once it’s here, it’ll be over, and then “everyone will forget”. Heartwarming.

Moving right along: Christmas Day. We celebrated Christmas morn’ with a hearty breakfast of Bagels, Lox, Fresh veggies, and a Zucchini and Onion Tortilla (or torta). We opted for breakfast as “our meal” since we had a special Koran Bibimbop on Christmas Eve (I apologize, I have no pictures, but let me assure you, it was pretty, and AMAZING).

Ahh Christmas Breakfast, a mere appetizer to the real meal: Les Miserables on opening day! Buenicimo

Ahh Christmas Breakfast, a mere appetizer to the real meal: Les Miserables on opening day! Buenicimo

And guess what: I got a cast iron skillet! Get ready for future trials and tribulations utilizing it. But now for the real question: why am I cooking for one? Well, for Christmas, since I had to be back in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, I did not go down to Indiana with him to see his family (it’s about 4.5 hours away form Ann Arbor), so I have 4 days of “cooking for one”. I must say, it IS an adjustment, since he ends up eating about 80% of what I make, so I had to tread carefully. What to make? Soup! And we got a snowstorm, how perfect!

I set my sights on 2 soups for the week: a re-do of the Miso Soup, this time making it for individual portions (so smart!) and Big Girl Small Kitchen Parmesan, White Bean, and Kale Soup with Torn Pasta, modified.

I began with the kale soup, and modified it to this beauty:

  • 3lb can of Chicken Stock (low sodium!)
  • Parmesan Rind (in my case, a HUGE parmesan rind)
  • 1 Tbs Leftover “I’m not sure if this is still good” cream
  • Grocery store roasted chicken, meat torn into shreds, carcass saves (I’ll explain later, again)
  • Head of Kale
  • 1 Can White Beans, rinsed
  • 8 oz small pasta
  • Lemon

To make:

  • Bring stock and parmesan rind to a boil. Simmer covered for about 40 minutes
  • Rifle through fridge, see that that old carton of cream in the back of the fridge EXPRIES TODAY. It was a sign. Use those little drops to add a little more texture to your broth
  • Meanwhile, remove stems from Kale, and submerge in boiling water. Cover and boil for about 8 minutes
  • Discard parmesan rind (or save it for later use!) Add pasta and boil for about 2 minutes
  • Drain Kale, and reserve cooking liquid. Chop up the Kale, and add to pot. Simmer for a few minutes
  • Add beans, and shredded chicken, and cook until pasta is done, and kale is niiiice and soft. Add reserved kale cooking water to desired consistency.
  • What I should have done but did later: squeeze juice of lemon into pot, stir. Enjoy

Now, this soup is da bomb. It’s so comfort-foody, tasty, and it has Kale! It quickly turned into more of a stew or a casserole since the noodles basically soaked up all the liquid, but it doesn’t take anything away. What I misjudged: how much this would make. I’m on day 3 (and currently eating it now) of having it for every meal (including breakfast), and I’d say there’s at least 50% left. So now I wonder, can I eat it all in time? Do I change up my soup-only diet? Is this the end of cooking-for-one as we know it?! This and more will be answered…in the next blog post.

Almost expired cream and strew! mmmmm

Almost expired cream and strew! mmmmm

But wait! What to do with this saved chicken carcass? Make homemade stock…my very first!

Throw the carcass into a pot, cover with water and add any “aromatics” you may have laying around the house (in my case: rosemary, bay leaf, garlic, shallot with skin, red onion with skin, green onion green parts, carrots). Simmer for about 2-3 hours covered. Taste. When you think it’s ready, strain, throw in fridge for the night, skim off fat on top, throw in freezer bag, place in freezer. Think of a use, put it to work!

Don't be afraid when you pull it out of the fridge and it's all jell-o-y

Don’t be afraid when you pull it out of the fridge and it’s all jell-o-y

Full disclosure: I ate that carrot you see in the picture. It was not my proudest moment.

I have not had the chance to make the Miso soup, so I’m hoping to try it out tonight to CHANGE UP MY CHICKEN/KALE/BEAN SOUP ONLY DIET. Only time will tell.

Pasta, Embarking on a NEW Frontier

10 Dec

Let me set the scene. The day: A chilly-post Bell’s Eccentric Day after an early 2 hour car ride back to Ann Arbor. The mood: hungry and a little groggy (and always sleepy).

I have had this recipe bookmarked for a little over a week, and knew today…today was the day. What’s better for post-indulging nights than a hearty pasta dish? (and just to be clear, I was not hungover, simply drained)

Christmas Honeycomb Cannelloni – Cook Republic

Do you see this? The pasta doesn’t simply roll over and take that sauce, it STANDS UP as though possessed by the great culinary spirits from days of yore (breaking’ it down, the “NEW frontier” in the title of this post is the vertical frontier. Clever.). How could this NOT be good? It’s almost as fun to eat as the ingredients tell me it will be flavor-wise, according to the picture. And wouldn’t you know, it needs STICKS OF CINNAMON THAT I HAPPEN TO HAVE JUST PURCHASED! Victory all around.

The first thing I did was spend a ridiculously long time figuring out what type of baking apparatus I would use for this dish. I started standing up each noodle in the pans to see which would fit the best, and quickly abandoned that practice as it was TAKING FOREVER. I settled on my small red Dutch Oven, leaning down and whispering sweet nothings “today, today is the day we explore new territory, VERTICAL NOODLES, and we’ll take this chance….together. As equals.” But then after some quick complex-calculations, I realized it would be too small, and un-ceremoniously tossed it aside (not really, as that thing is heavy and capable of lots of damage). I settled on a spring form pan I usually reserve for cakes and the like.

Besides the pasta, there are 2 main sauces to tackle: red veggie mania, and cool and creamy spinach (I improvised the names a bit). The white sauce is really easy, and straightforward: sauté spinach, add sour cream, cream (or in  my case, milk), and parmesan. Mix. Season with salt, pepper, lemon zest and juice. Boom. White sauced.

Hope you like dairy. There's a WHOLE lot of dairy

Hope you like dairy. There’s a WHOLE lot of dairy

Now the red veggie mania has a little more prep involved, and that fancy ingredient: cinnamon stickz!

We start by sautéing some of the aromatics: cinnamon stick, bay leaf, dried chili pepper, and once fragrant, add LOTS OF ONIONS.

Lots of strong "personalities" in the pan. What's not to like?

Lots of strong “personalities” in the pan. What’s not to like?

Once soft, add everything you have in your kitchen that you think would be good in a sauce: chick peas, red wine, chopped tomatoes, rosemary, black olives, garlic, mushrooms, carrots…hell, lets add some prepared tomato sauce too. And now we simmer.

It was at this point my previously selected understudy of the spring-form pan was starting to look too small. It wouldn’t have been able to fit just the monstrosity that was the amount of red sauce created. So I, again, started to weigh my options. I threw caution to the wind, and picked my BIG roasting pan, normally reserved for casseroles and big meats. For the record, that’s the 3rd baking dish I settled on (don’t worry, this time it was the right decision).

I poured about half of the red sauce on the bottom, and began the awesome task of standing up the noodles. At first I crammed them all together while I was placing them, afraid I’d run out of room. I filled 1/4 of the pan with about 45% of the pasta, and began to re-evaluate my plan of attack. It was spread-out-noodles time. After what seemed like full calendar days, I had them all standing up, and (somewhat) evenly spaced. While I would normally be upset at this point that my dish isn’t going to turn out like the prototype (THE PROTOTYPE!), I had long abandoned that notion around the second baking dish selection. I didn’t have time for frivolous thoughts: I was hungry, and it was sauce time.

Once the noodles are pointing high toward the sky, pour half the white sauce over the noodles (trying to get into each crevasse), and then do the same with the rest of the red sauce…and then the rest of the white sauce. The single coolest part of this was after pouring the sauce over the noodles, bending down and listening to the sauce break air bubbles in the noodles and sink in. *pop*pop*pop* It was like a strange pasta-equivilant of Rice Crispies.

So. Much. Sauce.

So. Much. Sauce.

And then we bake. We bake for 30 minutes. The longest 30 minutes of my life because at this point I’m STARVING, so much so that when there is 0:03 seconds left, I take it out of the oven, test a noodle, and my general reasoning and cognitive skills have left me as I think “this scalding hot and chewy….REALLY chewy pasta is PERFECT, just perfect!” and make 2 big bowls (one for me, one for John). After we finish it up, my senses start to come back to me, and I realize: ok, it needs to go back in the oven so the noodles can finish cooking. 15 minute later: perfection.

The noodles! They STAND

The noodles! They STAND

While mine didn’t turn out quite as pretty, it was damn DAMN tasty. The cinnamon notes are very pronounced, making it not-your-average-vertical-baked-pasta-dish. It lasted for roughly 8 meals (between John and I), which was just dynamite in my book.

An under-cooked delight

An under-cooked delight

Whole Roasted Tandoori Cauliflower

10 Dec

Show of hands, who likes Indian food? Hopefully everyone’s hands are up, and if they’re not, that just means you’ve never had it. Just delightful. I came across this recipe last week, and I almost ruined my computer by drooling all over my keyboard. Cauliflower? Good. Tandoori? Gooooood.

Whole Roasted Tandoori Cauliflower – My New Roots (Any hey-o, a new food blog site to start pulling recipes from! It was quite the day of discovery, to say the least)

I did have some slight trepidation embarking on this recipe since I had to purchase some new spices for the blend: Whole Cinnamon sticks and Turmeric. Now, I’m all about new spices, however I’m all about them when I know that I will be making use of the $3-$8 glass viles, not when I’m thinking “Cinnamon sticks, what else do you use with these other than fancy hot chocolate and elaborate spiced wine/cider?” but I bit the bullet, and made the purchases anyways (mainly because the entire aisle of spices were on sale when I went shopping, high five). I did encounter a surprise at the checkout when the HUGE cauliflower I purchased rang up for $12. Twelve dollars is so much money! I could get two $5 foot longs and a $2 customer appreciation 6 inch from Subway (I watch a lot of tv commercials…). I froze and all I could think was “THIS IS LIKE THE SCALLOPS ALL OVER AGAIN, I’M LIVING A NIGHTMARE” as I saw dollar signs with wings flying away furiously. But once I got the attention of a nice young cashier, she said I just selected the wrong produce item (bulk cauliflower vs Michigan cauliflower…of course, how could I be so blind?), and it ended up being a nice and tidy $2.99. Whew.


Full disclosure: I had all the other 10000 or so ingredients ready to add into this AWESOME gif photo shoot, but as I was placing cumin, I kicked the tripod, and therefore compromised the whole project. So enjoy the first 5 (overandoverandoverandover)

Now the cauliflower needs to marinate for at least an hour, so I figured I would make it, pop it in the fridge, and go for a nice dark and lonely evening run. Well, wouldn’t you know it, preparing food in your heated apartment while in your WINTER running gear isn’t super comfortable, considering all your clothes are made from space age material designed to hold heat in. So with each spice grind

I use this for grinding BOTH far-away spices and coffee, so all my beverages and spice blends have a similar flavor. Are you jealous of my elevated palate?

I use this for grinding BOTH far-away spices and coffee, so all my beverages and spice blends have a similar flavor. Are you jealous of my elevated palate?

…and garlic/ginger mash

Never get a wooden mortar and pestle, it doesn't do much. But it sure looks cool

Never get a wooden mortar and pestle, it doesn’t do much. But it sure looks cool

I was red faced, and slightly sweaty.

I began the yogurt marinade once the spices and mash were ready, and a slow panic started to slowly fill through my body. I have never had any success with yogurt sauces. For some reason the lemon/salt ratio I can never master, and I always end of adding more of one to counterbalance the other, and it just ends up being an unedible bitter/salty mess. So I assembled it, with the 10000 spices and potent additions, and then added the lemon, yogurt, and salt. This thing is just a flavor powerhouse. I took a deep breathe, and  cautiously dipped my pinky tip into the sauce. After careful sight and smell evaluation, I slowly placed the sauce-swabbed finger into my mouth. Yikes.

Then of course I get offended when John doesn't eat it, although this is what happens when placed in the mouth.

Then of course I get offended when someone (John) doesn’t eat whatever salty/bitter concoction I make, although this is what happens when placed in the mouth. I hope your jowls hurt just thinking about it.

I tried not to freak out too much because baking mellows things out right you guys? Right. I placed it in the fridge and set on my run (where a dog scared me, a guy running past me scared me, and I almost fell throat first into a wooden spike…which of course scared me as well, all in the first 2 miles! Sidenote: according to John to scare/startle me all you need to do is exist in 3 dimensions. Apparently I’m jumpy?). I came back, and it was oven time!


Do you think it looks like a brain? It totally looks like a brain.

Well now doesn’t that just look delicious?! And now to prepare a plate:


We slice, just like a…..heavily spiced and savory cake?

After consulting the recipe for presentation, I noticed a glaring error in my efforts: I did not purchase anything for the mint chutney!!! I dropped to my knees, fists in the air, and cursed this wretched world. Well, not really, it was more of a “damn, scroll down FURTHER next time Erica!” I did have some cilantro in my fridge, so I garnished the slice and added a drizzle of some olive oil.

Hmmm, for an Indian dish, this sure looks Christmas-y...

Hmmm, for an Indian dish, this sure looks Christmas-y…

Well, don’t worry, the marinade was delicious. It does have a very powerful flavor, but it balances VERY well with the cauliflower. What I would change net time: the brain I picked out was SO big, that even after an extra 15 minutes of baking the middle was still a little al dente (not bad though), so next time I would perhaps cut it into quarters and then toss in the marinade so after baking the middle will get to that great creamy cauliflower consistency. All in all, a lovely evening with my sweaty clothes and baked cauliflower (and not wooden spike-impaled throat!)

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things or: Buy Me This

3 Dec

The Holiday season is upon us, and that means one thing: making lists of things you hope to get from other people, which when you start you think “oh, I don’t think I really need anything” but then 20 minutes later your greedy mind glazes over and your hungry, bloodshot and consuming eyes pour over more and more things you NEED AT THIS VERY MOMENT. Every year, like clock work.

While making this tumultuous list, I realized that most of my “want” items revolve around the kitchen this year. Which is really a win win for me (cool new stuff) and you (getting to read all about my trials and tribulations….and victories….with my new items). Which reminds me, I really need to can more items. Perhaps pickles or jam for gift giving this year? Because I’m sure everyone has on their list “homemade canned items from novice self-deprecating bloggist”

So these are the things I want. I don’t need them, I just want them.


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