Friday, August 27, 2010

Follow me to a new location

I'm giving up this site and in an attempt to make posting easier, I've moved all my content under a single email address. The posts from here have already been exported to the new site. Same design, same content, slightly different address. Join me at

All future posts will be there, and this blog will shut down at the end of August.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Vermont Cheddar Bisque or something like it

Yesterday was CSA pick-up day. We received cantaloupe, 1 pound of tomatoes (I picked some small green striped ones), peaches, peppers (sweet and hot), okra (yuck), green beans, and a loaf of bread. And I did not use a single one of these items for dinner. What I did do was make a potato soup using the last of our potatoes. It seemed like a hands-off kind of meal, and after grilling chicken two nights in a row (once for fajitas and once for a pasta dish with a walnut sauce), that was what I needed. The recipe I started with is below. I'm not sure of its exact origin; my mom sent it to me last year and I meant to cook it a few weeks ago when we were overloaded with potatoes but hadn't gotten to it.

Vermont Cheddar Bisque
1.5 C peeled potatoes, cut into ½-in cubes 2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 C low-sodium chicken broth 1.5 C shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 C unsalted butter 1/4 tsp salt
1 C finely chopped onions Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
3 T all-purpose flour 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1.5 C 2% reduced-fat milk
1. Combine potatoes and broth in a large stockpot. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat.
2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook stirring, until translucent, 6-to-8 minutes. Add flour and cook stirring 2 minute. Stir into potato mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until thickened.
3. Add milk and cook, stirring, about 8 minutes. Do not boil. Remove from heat and stir in mustard and about half the cheese. Stir until melted. Add remaining cheese. Season with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste.

I already knew there would be at least one substitution. I had a block of horseradish Cheddar cheese, not extra sharp. But, really, that was just the beginning.

First of all, I really hate peeling potatoes, a task that does not fall in the "low maintenance cooking" category. Since I skipped peeling, I decided to skip cutting, too, and just tossed 2 pounds of potatoes (all we had left) into 3 cups of chicken broth (all we had left) and let those babies cook.

Meanwhile, I melted the butter and sliced two small yellow onions and half of a red onion then cooked them in the butter. That's about what the recipe called for. I did not use any flour. I added some garlic near the end.

I'm not sure how long it took to cook the potatoes; I had the burner at about medium and did sit down to read a magazine so I definitely wasn't running around the whole time. I ended up cooking the potatoes for so long to make sure they were soft that even with the lid on the pot most of the chicken broth evaporated or was absorbed by the potatoes. I used a hand masher to mash the potatoes a bit and then added the onions to the potato pot. I then added 1.5 cups of milk, probably 3 teaspoons of Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to the pot and pulled out the immersion blender.

The potato mixture was very thick, more like mashed potatoes than soup, so I added more milk. Then I mixed in the cheese, which I had grated in the food processor. It was probably around 1.5 cups.

There were little bits of peel still, but the soup was overall thick and creamy. I sprinkled a little extra cheese on top. I wrote a poem before about Frank Lloyd Wright that had a line about the nutrients in a potato skin. Maybe it's a poem about potatoes and not about FLW.

I have no idea what the nutritional value of this meal is, but it feels pretty healthy -- onions, potatoes, spices, 2% milk, and local cheddar cheese. Filling and not bad to make for a late summer day when the temperatures have finally started to get below Unbearably Hot.

[Pictures to follow]

This weekend will definitely involve cantaloupe plus the watermelon we still have. Now what to do with the pears...

Monday, August 23, 2010

How to Gain 5 pounds on your honeymoon (in one week)

Sunday: get married and have a brunch reception. You probably lost weight in the days before due to stress, nerves, poor appetite, and running around, and even the increased consumption of alcohol has kept you at your lowest weight in almost 10 years. For the parties on Friday and Saturday, you were too busy talking to people to eat that much. Then you go to the reception buffet and try a little bit of everything. After all, you worked hard to pick a menu and It's Your Day: fresh fruit, salad, frittata, Hot Brown Casserole (a crowd favorite), and a waffle station with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Eat the fruit, salad, a little bit of the casseroles and two waffles. Don't forget the two mimosas from the bar (peach bellinis and bloody marys also available), a glass of white wine, and the champagne toast. There's the bite of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting after the cutting. Then the 1.5 slices later (yours and part of his, mainly the frosting part).

After the reception, your appetite kicks in again so you order room service: cokes, a hamburger, and pork (his). They mess up the creme brulee order so give you 3 different desserts instead.

Monday: breakfast at the hotel. Coffee with cream and sugar. There's a buffet but you had that yesterday. Order the biscuits & gravy. Breakfast comes on two plates with toast, eggs, and bacon, plus the actual food you ordered.

On the drive to your first honeymoon spot, eat half of a giant cookie leftover from the rehearsal picnic. Stop for lunch at your favorite brewery (Restaurant #1). Order a wheat ale with orange slice. Split a smallish appetizer pizza with goat cheese and duck sausage -- three small slices each. Later, get a huge chocolate cupcake with frosting at a bakery but only eat half of it. More Coke.

Cook the food left for you at the cabin - steak and crescent rolls. Bake the brownie mix. Have a beer (you bought some at the brewery).

Tuesday: Cold cereal for breakfast (Frosted Flakes). Lunch: you end up at an outlet mall and split a huge tuna-salad sandwich and Dr. Pepper.
Dinner: You're at your inn in a scenic lake town. You decide to share dishes so you won't have leftovers and so you have room for dessert. Restaurant #2: Order a vodka martini because martinis are on special but then decide you don't like it so get Chardonnay instead. Let him have his gin martini and some of your vodka one. Split the bacon-wrapped scallops. Split the Saltimbocca ("Braised chicken breast layered with fresh sage and prosciutto, topped with artichoke hearts, lemon beurre blanc sauce, and capers and served on linguine." Order separate desserts: strawberry shortcake and creme brulee.
Drink French Press coffee (with cream and sugar) at the coffee shop while you play cribbage.

Wednesday: Breakfast at the inn: orange juice, fresh fruit, quiche, and a cranberry scone.
Lunch: Restaurant #3: Split the Spinach-artichoke dip and fish tacos. Nap and eat some of the leftover brownies you brought with you.
Dinner: Restaurant #4: Decide it's more cost-efficient to share a bottle of wine -- order the Oregon Pinot Gris. Split the Foie Gras, the Mahi Nicoise salad, and the Walleye Buerre Rouge. Order separate desserts -- creme brulee and something with chocolate. Share a pot of French Press coffee (with cream and sugar).

Thursday: Breakfast at the inn: fresh fruit, Eggs Benedict, and a carrot coffee cake. Coffee with cream and sugar.
Lunch: Restaurant #5, unnamed because it wasn't worth it even though it normally would have been fine: crinkly sweet potato fries, a burger with blue cheese and onion, and a vegetable wrap (his) that did not come with the guacamole. Only eat half of your meal but take it back to your room for someone (him) to finish later.
Snack: Wander the shops again which are having a street sale. Get gelato/sorbet (sour cherry and chocolate for him; hazelnut and coffee for you).
Dinner: he's full from eating the leftover lunch, but you're hungry and dessert first wasn't enough. Go to the Italian place (Restaurant #6) and order the calamari and the half-order of angel hair pasta. Drink water. He eats some of the calamari. Tip extra because you feel bad for taking up a table.
Dinner two: After playing cribbage by the water and skunking your husband thoroughly, you decide you want dessert, which works well because now he's ready for dinner. Return to Restaurant #2 and sit at the bar. In a role reversal, he gets a fancy cocktail and you get a beer (Blue moon). He orders the bacon-wrapped scallops and the key lime pie. You get the spinach artichoke dip (which strangely comes with tortilla chips and salsa) and a root beer float. You have one scallop and he has some dip and chips, plus the salsa.

Friday: Breakfast at the inn: fresh fruit, another coffee cake, and a different type of quiche. Coffee with cream and sugar.
On the road. Coke. Lunch: (Restaurant #7) at Thai place downtown. Coke and noodles with vegetables. Snack: coke and half of a giant oatmeal raisin cookie.
Dinner: Back in the town where you had lunch on Monday. Dinner reservations at Restaurant #8: Order a Manhattan with a cherry. You loved them at this place before and it's half-price martinis (which this drink qualifies as). Split the Trio of Artisan Cheese, the Indiana Tomato Salad, the filet mignon which comes with fancy mac-n-cheese and an herb salad. Sop up the extra salad dressing using the freshly-baked bread. Order a second Manhattan, this time with two cherries. Split the Strawberry Jubliee for dessert. Make reservations for the same restaurant the following night.

Breakfast at the b-and-b: fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, bacon, and mini cinnamon rolls. Coffee. Talk with the couple getting married later in the day. mid-morning A&W root beer. Lunch at one of two Tibetan restaurants in town - Restaurant #9: Split the samosas. He gets mo-mo; you get cho-cho. Share the plates. Decide you're too full for crepes at the place you were looking for in the first place.
Snack: buy some tacky college-town t-shirts and two dark chocolate truffles. Open two beers back in your room but only drink 1.5 of them between the two of you.
Dinner: Same restaurant (#7), different floor, different server from before. Order a Manhattan and a Femme Fatale for the table. Order separate Indiana Summer Salads this time. Split the pork tenderloin for dinner. Order one more cocktail each. Order the Chocolate pate and the Black-and-Tan for dessert.

Sunday: Breakfast at Restaurant #10. Coffee (with cream and sugar), Order the french toast plate, which comes with 2 plates: one with four slices of french toast and maple syrup, one with scrambled eggs, bacon, and four slices of wheat toast.
On the road: A coke and half of a king-sized Snickers bar because you feel like it.
Home: Snack on Greek yogurt with raisins. Weigh yourself later and cringe.
Dinner: Wait too long to cook at home because you've been unpacking and napping so you get burritos at Qdoba. Go for the queso burrito with chicken instead of the usual vegge burrito. Add sour cream, cheese, and fajita vegetables. Drink with water at home while catching up on Mad Men. Save half of the burrito for lunch on Monday.
After dinner: go to your neighbors' place for football. Drink a Pepsi, eat two slices of cheese and eat one chocolate-chip cookie.

Monday morning:
Weigh yourself. Down 1/2 pound from Sunday afternoon but up 4.5 pounds from your lowest weight the week before. Recognize that walking an average of 10,000 steps a day doesn't count for as much when you're essentially walking from restaurant to restaurant. Enjoy every bite of it all.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Weddings, Kitchen Tools, Canning, and Corn

Followed by an actual dinner report.

Planning a wedding takes a little more time and mental energy than I originally anticipated with my "Let's just get these details out of the way and don't worry about things we don't like" plan. But there are lists to make and things to cross off and people to talk to and more lists to make and dreams about too many people coming to the wedding that wake you up at 4 in the morning. Plus, it is really, really hot here. This time last year we were flooded (just parts); today it's supposed to be 100 degrees and not a cloud in sight. I'm not worried about the wedding going through or not; I know that whatever the temperature, we'll still be married at the end of the day. I'm worried about heat stroke and just walking from a car to the building.

We have been cooking at home and making use of fun new kitchen toys: the mixer, grill, and immersion blender have been joined by an awesome Vitamix, Which I have not actually used yet but I did watch the DVD. I do plan to make smoothies today after a hot walk home from the bus. Rich started us off with Carrot Top smoothies last week. The first batch tasted a little too much like dirt and carrots. I think this was because he used the stems and greens. Other ingredients included aloe vera, flax seed oil, protein powder, milk, and frozen fruit. The second batch was an electric green color and tasted better. But you still know there are carrot tops in there.

Yesterday we received a trifle bowl -- over winter break, I made two trifles but used regular pans because I didn't have a trifle bowl. This is one of those desserts where I think you really need the right dishes. A lot of the trifle is about the layers, although it does taste delicious, too. I'm looking forward to making one soon (maybe September) in the new bowl.

The CSA is still coming in every Thursday. Starting next week we'll get a rotating loaf of bread, too.

Much of the cooking at home has been canning as wedding favors. At least three weekends were spent canning three different items: green tomato chutney, apple-tomato relish, and hot pepper jam. Two of those weekends, we had help from two friends. Some of the produce came from the CSA but we also got some from farmers markets, ordered directly from a farmer, and at the local grocery store's weekly produce sale.

Last night's dinner made use of 4 ears of corn from the CSA and of the Oxo Corn Stripper my mom sent me last summer. As soon as I received it, I stopped getting corn in the CSA, so last night was my first opportunity to use it. It was a lot easier to use than a knife to scrape the corn off. However, I did still manage to cut myself -- right on the top of my left thumb. This affects my texting skills more than anything else. The idea had been to make this Pan-Roasted Corn and Tomato Salad from the New York Times. I think we've made it before. Except we did not have cilantro or red onion or Thai chilies or avocado. Rich worked late and neither of us wanted to drive to the store in the heat. The market near his office did not have any of these ingredients. Plus, we had fresh produce at home, just not that specifically. So this is what it became: bacon, 1 small yellow onion, corn, green and red tomatoes, salt and pepper, basil, and goat cheese. Yum, so delicious! I immediately put some in a container to take to work before we ate it all last night. To go with it we finished up the gazpacho Rich made this weekend using the Awesome Vitamix.

[Pictures to follow]

Tonight I'm considering something with brussel sprouts and pasta. Because tomorrow we pick up more produce.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Grilled Flounder, Cream of Garlic Soup, and more

It feels like there hasn't been a lot of at-home cooking this past week. I think we made a few big meals and have been living off those. Last Thursday we picked up the CSA and had cabbage, two types of green beans, blueberries, kohlrabi, onions, cilantro, and cooking apples. Later that night my friend L. came over for dinner and I gifted her with a head of cabbage (we had 3 heads total at that point, and I don't care how great your cole slaw recipe is, a person can only eat so much cabbage. I much prefer the dark leafy greens). The menu for Thursday was Red Snapper with Fava Bean Puree, roasted beets and beet greens with bacon. Maybe using so many Food Network recipes isn't trendy, but there are some good options there, and Giada's dishes are pretty simple but satisfying.

Changes we made: we didn't go to the grocery store until Wednesday night and there was no red snapper, so we bought wild flounder. We put the flounder steaks in aluminum foil with some olive oil and green garlic and cooked it on the grill. I was not about to deal with shelling 3 pounds of fava beans, so we bought the frozen lima beans. The chicken stock was made with water and bouillon cubes because I had forgotten the grocery list and rewrote it from memory but did not remember chicken stock as an item. I think dinner turned out well although Rich wasn't happy with the beet greens. The roasted beets were good with a little salt sprinkled on top.

For dessert we had the option of blueberry buckle (still there from Tuesday) or peaches cooked with balsamic vinegar -- both with vanilla ice cream. We all went with the buckle.

This weekend Rich cooked a delicious cream of green garlic soup and an orzo salad with dill and fennel tops. Recipe links to follow later. I made a peach crisp from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (sometimes, you just need the basic plaid-covered recipe). I have not had it with ice cream but have added it to my oatmeal and yogurt.

Those cooking apples may become a Brown Betty; otherwise, basic applesauce.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Roasted Turnips, Cream of Potato Soup, Blueberry Buckle

Last night, not only did I cook dinner by myself (Rich got home just as I was finishing up), but I cooked three dishes: Roasted Turnips, Cream of Potato Soup, and a Blueberry Buckle.

The turnips and potatoes seem more winter than summer, but we have a lot of turnips (from the CSA) and potatoes (to go with the turnips but not from the CSA). Earlier, Rich was going to make "neeps and tatties" but a weekend trip with a delayed return screwed up our schedules, leading him to work late last night. Dinner responsibility fell to me. I do like to cook, but I'm a one-dish girl. I also didn't have the highest energy level last night and probably would have been happy with cereal or something similarly basic. In fact, when Rich called and asked what I was making, he said "it's not something with an egg on top, is it?" (Another of my favorites!). by the way, never comment negatively when someone else is doing all the cooking.

I made the blueberry buckle first. The idea had been to cook it Tuesday night and serve it Thursday night when a friend came for dinner, but it was too good looking to resist (sorry!) Maybe we'll get more blueberries this Thursday. This batch of blueberries came last Thursday and since we ate out Thursday night and left town Friday, we didn't have a chance to eat them, so I froze them (spread out on a cookie sheet). I needed a recipe that only called for one pint of berries and not a lot of eggs (I had been planning on using them at dinner but not on top of something!) since we only had 4 left. This one fit the bill. Changes I made were only to the topping because I ran out of sugar. I mixed some cinnamon with brown sugar to sprinkle on top. We ate it with peach ice cream.*

Roasted turnips: I have never used this recipe before and have never used a Mario Batali recipe before. He's, um, a little short on details. Do I peel the turnips? (I didn't.) How hot should the burner be? (I covered the full range and even popped the pan in the oven for a little bit.) I do think my turnips were a lot bigger than his -- I cut them in 8ths more than quarters -- but this took much longer than 8-9 minutes to saute to a light golden brown. Fortunately, the soup was still cooking. But the cake was also in the oven, and that's a lot to deal with. They did end up being tender enough and the paprika helped with the color.

Potato soup: I almost went with potato pancakes, which would have required using at least one egg. But soup seemed a little more hands-off and less messy. This recipe won because I had all the ingredients except cream. I just realized I skipped the cayenne step -- oh well. I substituted milk (2%) for the cream. The problem with this recipe is it gives you no sense of how long it should take. I had to cook the potatoes (cut in at least quarters) for at least 20 minutes on high to soften them enough. Fortunately for me, I guess, I started dinner and dessert 2 hours before Rich was supposed to get home from work.

The highlight of the potato soup recipe was I got to use the immersion blender! I ended up using the hand masher to start and then used the blender. I sliced up some scallions and cooked some bacon for toppings. We even put a little goat cheese on the soup.

The cake was already cooling when Rich got home and everything else was ready 10 minutes later.

* One of the downsides of downtown living is no grocery store. We walked about 3/4 mile in 90+ degree weather to the fancy market/restaurant. Except the market part was closed. Even though the sign on the door says it's open to 9. And this is the 2nd time we've been there that they closed early. The guy let us and 2 other people who had just shown up buy something since we were not paying with cash. And then they didn't even have vanilla ice cream. In retrospect, we should have just gone to the crummy CVS.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What happened to the squash recipes?

Our summer squash and zucchini have gotten lost in the piles of greens (kale, lettuce, collard greens, etc, etc). This will need to be corrected. The pasta this week should focus on the squash and not the broccoli (Hmm, maybe broccoli pizza crust later). Or is there such thing as a summer squash soup? Then we can break out the new immersion blender again (post to follow on the the new blender and its first use for kale soup).

Ooh, this one looks good. By the way, I'm also not sure about sneaking vegetables into meals for kids, but since I don't have kids, I guess it doesn't really matter. I did think about the concept when making the cauliflower pizza -- you could totally hide that from children or adult picky eaters.

Or this one. Especially since it's so hot outside. If the weather continues like this through the summer, there will definitely not be an outdoor wedding in August. We will wed in the AC like civilized, non-sweaty people. A third option, although we don't have buttermilk (I think we have the ingredients for everything else, even tahini.) Finally, this one would also use the pasta but would not require use of the immersion blender.

Soup options: Sunny Summer Squash Soup, Cold Zucchini & Summer Squash Soup, Buttermilk, Summer Squash Soup, or Summer Squash Soup with Pasta & Parmesan. Which one would you pick?