Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More Top Ten: Debbie Downers

Let's get the bad out of the way. Despite all the great things that happened this year, there were some not-so-great moments. It was a typical winter day in Lexington - gray, cloudy, cold, and rainy. So I'm in a gray, cloudy, cold and rainy kind of mood. Hopefully writing down some of the negativity will serve a cathartic function and help me move on, and enjoy the rest of my night.

Top 10 "Debbie Downers"
*note: if you are unfamiliar with the concept of a Debbie Downer, please go here: to watch a short clip before proceeding.

10. Plane Crash Nightmares
This one requires - wait for it - a flashback. During August 2006, my first month living in Kentucky, ComAir Flight 5191 out of Lexington bound for Atlanta took off from the wrong runway at Bluegrass Airport. It crashed, killing all but one passenger on board. This incident affected me greatly - maybe it's because the plane was heading to Atlanta and I felt that I could have been on it, maybe it's because I was still getting used to my new surroundings and this made me leery of flying out of that particular airport, or maybe it's because the stories about the passengers were so close-to-home, and tragic. Maybe it's because I personally know pilots, and feel like the errors that the pilots made on that particular day sound like something that could happen to any pilot, or to any group of passengers on board the wrong plane at the wrong time. Either way, I blame this event for spurring what has been my recurring nightmare for the past 3 years - plane crashes.

They happen frequently, and are a good indicator that I'm severely stressed out. Not one who's really in touch with my own feelings, I rely on my dreams to suggest what's really going on in my life. (Note: if I start sleepwalking, it's an indication that I need drastic life changes.) If I don't have a dream, it means things are pretty even-keel. Nightmares means I need to chill, and confront whatever is bothering me. I never have good dreams.

It's the same basic dream every time. I am outside. There are people around me, but usually I don't know them. Sometimes, Casey's there (probably because she was here the weekend of the 5191 crash). Each time, we look up and see a plane *almost* crash. We feel better, but then we see another plane crash, right before our eyes. Usually, they crash trying to land on a runway, or they crash by plummeting to the ground (kind of like Oceanic Flight 815). I immediately feel indescribably bad, and either I wake up right then, or I stick around in dream-world for a while to try to run over to the burning plane in order to help save people.

I wish they'd go away. Previous recurring bad dreams involved a big bridge (like the one on I-65 that's over the Tennessee River that is right between the Madison and Limestone County lines, or the drawbridge on Highway 31 in Decatur), that I had to cross, over the ocean, that I could never, ever get across.

9. 23,000 miles
That's how many miles I put on my car this year. I could have driven around the world. The positive thing is that it meant I got to see a ton of people this way. The negative thing is that it meant I spent an exorbitant amount of time in Cindy Ray Vaughn, mostly alone and bored.

8. Burning my hand
If I'm not careful, one day I'm going to chop off something that can't be reattached, or burn something beyond repair, or break something that will take years to heal. I am accident prone. This translates to "not good things" in the kitchen, where I'm surrounded by large amounts of heat, chemical reactions, and sharp objects. This year, my main injury happened when I grabbed the handle of my all-clad stainless steel sauce pan, that had just served as a roaster for a delicious piece of roast, and had just come out of a 500 degree oven. I thought I might have to go to the ER for a freaking burn. Luckily, with the help of Google, I figured out what to do and saved permanent damage.

7. Dave was in Atlanta and I was in Lexington
Long distance relationships are no fun. I know I'm not an interpersonal scholar, but I intend to someday write a book about long distance relationships. And how they should be avoided at all costs. Let's just say, Dave's proven himself a worthy and honorable man many, many times while we've been separated. If he's this wonderful far away, I can only imagine how great he'll be when I see him every day.

6. Doctoral Qualifying Examination
Answering 4 questions that test knowledge and competence on my supposed areas of "expertise" really wasn't so bad, nor was defending my answers in front of 4 legitimate experts (who are all brilliant). What was horrible was preparing for said exams. While taking 2 classes and conducting the pilot study for my dissertation. I can't imagine how intolerable I was from January-April. I apologize to anyone who had to interact with me during that time.

5. Sarah Palin
I usually don't get into political discussions. But. Seeing the "Sarah!" signs while out on my runs this campaign season made me want to stop and barf on people's yards. She is not a modern day Esther (despite what Pentecostal Grandmother thinks). She was not qualified to run for the office of Vice President. And I don't even think she was a feminist. Instead, she confused a lot of men and women out there about what it means to be a feminist. It nauseates me that people take her seriously and want her to run for president in 2012. That's all.

4. Havana Sandwich Shop was destroyed in a fire
The southern girl in me appreciates anything fried. Especially if what's fried is latin-spiced chicken or beef, cheese, and peppers. That's what I gorged myself on at Havana Cafe, in Atlanta. At least, until the place burned down this summer. I'm so bummed about it, I can't really say much else about the subject, other than if you went, you understand, and if you didn't get to experience the little shop's wonders, then you missed out. Guess I'll just have to go to Cuba?

3. Writer's Strike
Oh, how I fretted over what would become of LOST Season 4. They had such great storylines going, and the writers went on strike. It was such a depressing season for television, with even more reality shows and everyone all sad that their favorite shows were at a stand-still. I hope the writers are being treated more fairly and that this never, ever happens to us again. Especially not in 2010. When LOST is supposed to have its final season.

2. Auburn football
It's just no fun to wake up on Saturday mornings to watch a football game, when you pretty much know your team is going to lose. I got so many "WTF???" text messages this year from fellow disgruntled Auburn fans. I guess I was spoiled back in 2004 when we had such an amazing season, and at least had bowl-eligible seasons the past several years. But when both Kentucky AND Georgia Tech are both doing better than Auburn, something just ain't right. But...

1. Tommy Tuberville got fired
...the biggest disappointment is that Tuberville won't be around to coach them through another victorious season. At least I know that Auburn football will be back soon enough - I just can't imagine anyone other than Tuberville on the sidelines calling the shots. And no, I don't really care that much about football, but I do really care about Auburn. And you can't care about Auburn and not care about football. I was proud of Alabama and their near perfect season, I really was! But I don't think that Tuberville should have been let go because of one bad season either. War Eagle anyway, and we'll be back next year.

In typing this list of "downers," it makes me realize just how lucky I am that they are all so superficial. Never fear - I'll have a "Top Ten Best Things Ever" list later that celebrates the more positive sides of the year. But, to end on a happy, I'm so blessed that even the downsides in my life are not that bad.

Monday, December 8, 2008

End-of-Year Top Ten: Favorite Songs

So, this isn't food related, but I've been lazy lately and not had the energy to seek out new recipes. Instead, let's take a minute to reflect on the year. The end of the year. On my run the other day, I started thinking about what a monumental year it was, so to recap and reflect, I'll be writing a series of "top ten" lists over the next few weeks.

One of my favorite things about the end of every year was the Casey Kasem American Top 40 end of the year countdown. Not only did I enjoy listening to AT40 every single Sunday (and it's why I'm such a good person to have on your trivia team - anyone remember that night I figured out Purple Rain after 1 note at Loco's?), but the end of the year countdown was THE BEST because I got to hear all my favorite songs that had collected over the year, all at once. So, here is a list of my top ten favorite songs this year.

10. Africa - Toto
It's been one of my favorites for a long time (like, since 1984 maybe?) but I've listened to it a lot this year. It never, ever gets old. I can sing all the words. But I am a horrible singer - and basically sound like a dying cow when I try to sing it.
9. Black and Gold (acoustic version) - Sam Sparro
Sam Sparro is a new artist I discovered this year. This particular song is amazing. Not gonna describe it - just listen to it and see what you think. Is he talking about God? Or a woman? Or a man? Who knows. Who cares! It's amazing.
8. Praying for Time - Carrie Underwood
The Carrie version is the only version of this song I like. George Michael tried to sing it on American Idol after Carrie, and he sounded horrible. The song is beautiful, and when Carrie sang it on Idol Gives Back this year, it almost made me cry. So meaningful! And so true! I immediately went to iTunes and downloaded it. If you aren't a fan of Carrie Underwood, then what's wrong with you? She's the reason I can no longer listen to Jessica Simpson. Jessica sounds horrible compared to Carrie.
7. D'yer Maker - Led Zeppelin
Before the XM/Sirius merger, I fell in love with XM46 - Top Tracks. They played a lot of Zeppelin. Therefore, I fell in love with Zeppelin, and a lot of other classic rock songs. This one is my favorite Zeppelin song. Puts me in a good mood.
6. Just Fine - Mary J. Blige
The night before I defended my qualifying exams, I went for a run in the Johnson Center in order to clear my head and make myself feel better about the next day. This song put me at ease. No one quite like Mary J Blige to remind you not to worry about what anyone else thinks about you, keep your head on straight, and love yourself - even the way you look. Thanks Mary J!
5. Gimme More - Britney Spears (Kaskade Remix)
Don't hate me for putting Britney on here. The Kaskade remix of Gimme More is the very best way to start a workout. If this song doesn't make you want to run 6 miles, or dance, then I don't know what will.
4. Don't Stop Believing - Journey
One of my favorite songs of all time. Hearing it live, in person this year was a highlight of my life.
3. Shine - Luther Vandross (Freemasons Remix)
Another of my favorite running songs; this one doesn't get nearly enough airtime on BPM. I keep the extended 7 minute version on my Shuffle at all times, which means I listen to it nearly every time I run. If I'm running my long route, then I usually switch to this song when I get back to Pepperhill Road, to help motivate me to keep running up that one last hill and not stop till I get back home.
2. Sledgehammer - Dave Matthews Band cover, Peter Gabriel original
Best. Cover. Song. Ever. Heard it live this summer. I never realized how much Dave sounds like Peter Gabriel!
1. Livin' on a Prayer - Bon Jovi
Rose and I went to see Bon Jovi in concert earlier this year, and hearing this song live was an amazing experience. Every single person in the audience sang along. Every time I hear this song, I want to dance. Truly an amazing song, with a powerful message, and a hot singer.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Greek Pasta

First, some non-food related stuff.
1. Still in shock that I got tickets to see Elton John and Billy Joel in Atlanta on March 14. Warning: never open two browser windows when trying to purchase tickets via, hoping that at least one of the windows will work out. I lost potentially amazing seats that way today. But. I'm still going to the show. And I didn't get 3rd tier seats! Merry Christmas to me.

2. Bought Bela Fleck and the Flecktones' Christmas album yesterday. Strange and amazing. I'm looking forward to listening to it over and over on my next road trip to Atlanta.
2.b. Speaking of road trips to Atlanta, I'm done with Wendy's as my fast food burger of choice. Last time I got a Wendy's Jr. Bacon with Cheese, it was cold and disgusting. I'm now a Steak & Shake girl: single cheeseburger with mustard, ketchup and pickles, with a chocolate shake. Mmmmm. I can haz Cheezburger?
2.c. Really wish there was a Christo's Dairy Delite or Dub's Burgers in Lexington.

3. Every time I hear "Sleigh Ride," I think of my brother Heath, and how excited he gets when he hears it. Even in July, he'll sometimes look at you and go, "Did you hear that?" and you'll respond with, "hear what?" and he'll respond with "Just hear those sleigh-bells-ringagling!" It was one of the songs we had on an old 45 record full of Christmas music, and we used to listen to it when we were little. I don't know if that's why he likes it so much. But it reminds me of being little at home at Christmas.

4. Snow day in Lexvegas today. It's not much accumulation for Lexington, but more than enough such that if the same amount fell in north Alabama, all the news stations would be talking about "Blizzard 2008" and things would be shut down for a while. Apartment parking lot is covered with snow and icy patches. I wish they at least laid down a layer of salt to help clear the lot. I'm very paranoid driving in an icy, snowy, crowded parking lot. Another reason I severely dislike living at this apartment.

5. Swam 40 laps today, which is about 1.25 miles. Was a little rusty and almost quit near the end, as it's the first time I've swam since before NCA.

6. Came home starving. Made the following for lunch.
Greek Pasta
Put a pot of water on the stove to boil; salt it, add whole wheat rotini, cook until al dente, about 10 minutes.
In the meantime, in a sautee pan heat up 1 TB butter and 1/2 TB EVOO. When hot, add some drained, quartered artichoke hearts, a handful of drained/rinsed chickpeas, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and garlic. Sautee a few minutes over medium. Throw in some chicken stock (and white wine or vodka if you have it; I didn't, unfortunately) and add some drained diced tomatoes and chopped kalamata olives. Simmer over medium until pasta is done. Drain pasta, add the mixture in the saucepan, salt and pepper again, toss in some parmesan cheese, and add a handful of feta cheese. Spoon yourself up a bowlful and enjoy.

7. It's 3 p.m. and I've still not figured out exactly how I want to thematically analyze all these wedding websites. Hm. Oh well. At least I have pasta leftovers and a half pan of brownies for brain food.

8. Go Gators. And War Eagle anyway.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Special Edition

I planned and executed an entire Thanksgiving dinner all by myself, with a good deal of help from Dave. The dinner went over without a hitch - no one got food poisoning, everyone ate seconds, my turkey was juicy, the sweet tea was scarfed down, and, perhaps most miraculously of all, I managed not to cut, burn, or otherwise injure myself despite 2 days of being alone in the kitchen! Those of you who have been privy to my previous injuries (Rose, Casey, Dave) are probably breathing a sigh of relief that I still have all my fingers and avoided any trips to the ER.

Before I post the recipes I used, let me give you some tips for pulling off Thanksgiving; things they fail to mention on Food Network or anywhere else I've read. The thing about Thanksgiving is, if you're going to woman- or man-up and cook an entire traditional dinner all by yourself, you have to do it because you want to do it. If you're not looking forward to it, or feeling a lot of external pressure for perfection, or just unsure of yourself in the kitchen, then don't do it. Buy your meal from Kroger, or better yet, do what two of my Auburn colleagues were doing and go to the beach for the weekend. Turkey's great, but I bet crab claws, steamed shrimp and beer for Thanksgiving dinner is also pretty amazing. Anyway. I was really looking forward to my time in the kitchen, and to my first big turkey, and it helped the day go more smoothly.

Also, being prepared really paid off in this case. I made a detailed timeline of everything that had to get done by Thursday at 1 p.m., and sure enough, I stuck to my schedule and I had very little stress or rushing around on the big day. Figure out what you can make ahead, and write down the day and time you will "make ahead" whatever is on your list. I kept this list on my refrigerator until everything had been checked off.

Lastly, it helps to have a Dave. No, you can't borrow mine. But if you have someone who will go to the grocery store for you (mind you, following a list I categorized spatially by grocery store section and aisle for easy checking; yes, I have my Kroger memorized), and someone who will sanitize coolers for brining the turkey, and who'll vacuum before the in-laws come over, and who'll carve the turkey, and who'll tell you how cute you look in an apron, it makes a big difference.

I swiped some of my recipes off the internet, as usual. I did Alton Brown's roast turkey, and Paula Deen's dressing. I made a cranberry sauce kind of like Tyler Florence's, but instead I used plain sugar, no cinnamon stick, and some orange liqueur. I did green beans really simply, by boiling them in salted water until cooked through, and topping with a couple tablespoons of butter and salt and pepper. I also did mashed potatoes the way I usually do them - cutting them into cubes, boiling for 20 minutes, draining, and mashing them together with heavy cream, butter, salt and pepper. It's not Thanksgiving without Sister Schubert's frozen dinner rolls, so those were in abundance on our table too.

My favorite part of the meal, though, was dessert. Even though my grandmother sent me a pecan pie and two different cakes to use, I couldn't help but make a pumpkin crisp. It's a recipe from Loren (remember bean dip?), who probably got it from her mom, Barbara. The Hawkins family, like the Icenogle family, supplies me with many delicious recipes. This one is no exception.

Pumpkin Crisp

1 can pumpkin
1 large can evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
3 eggs
1 box yellow cake mix
1 c. chopped pecans
2 sticks butter -- melted & cooled

8 oz. cream cheese
3/4 cup cool whip
1/2 cup powdered sugar
(mix all three together)

First, preheat oven to 350. Then, prepare a 9 x 13 pan. Spray the pan with cooking spray, line the pan (sides and bottom) with wax paper, and generously butter the wax paper. Set aside. In a large bowl, blend the pumpkin and milk with a mixer. Add sugar, cinnamon & eggs. Blend well - mixture will be thin. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle cake mix over pumpkin mixture. Sprinkle nuts over cake mix and pat them into the mix. Pour butter over nuts. Bake for 1 hour or until firm. Let cool before turning onto platter. Carefully peel off the wax paper. Frost when cool.

This dessert is similar to the gooey butter cakes that Paula Deen makes all the time, but it is simply divine. I can't stop eating it. The pecans get all nice and toasty on the bottom, and I know some people think Cool Whip is evil, but I could eat it by the tub. That, and Velveeta are two ingredients from my redneck childhood I refuse to give up. You can't make Rotel dip without Velveeta, so it's a keeper to me.

Anyway. I hope everyone else out there had a nice Thanksgiving, full of not working, being lazy, and spending time with the ones you love.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thai Pumpkin Soup

Here we are, at that point in the semester where everyone's tired, burned out, and basically over it. Myself included, in some respects. Turns out, writing a literature review for a dissertation is not nearly as much fun as it sounds like. I have 47 pages of crap that I am determined to whip into shape sometime this coming week. I told my advisor I'd have Chapter 2 in its entirety to him on November 1. While he doesn't really keep track of these deadlines, I do (it's kind of our running joke); deadlines cause me to lose sleep, have nightmares (usually about plane crashes), and dang it can Daylight Savings Time end soon? It's dark outside until 7:30-7:40 a.m. and I can't bring myself to crawl out of my nice warm bed to go to the gym when it's dark and cold outside. My triathlon training is suffering. I had a nice swim with Liz today - 40 laps in 50 minutes, thank you - and I've been sitting at a computer all day trying to edit the aformentioned 47 page lit review. And feeling like a slob because I've only run once this week. Blah.

Anyway. Despite being tired all the time and frustrated with this chapter, I - believe it or not - still have to eat. I have been craving pumpkin soup all season, and I have to tell you about the pumpkin soup I made last night. It was di-vine. It was warm, and earthy, and Thai-ish, and made me feel good all over. I stole the recipe from somewhere online but swapped out a couple of ingredients. Here is:

Thai Pumpkin Soup
some olive oil
about 1/2 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic
some red chili flakes
some ginger
some salt & black pepper
1 15 oz can of pumpkin
1 about the same size can of low-fat coconut milk
some chicken broth

Heat the oil, sautee the onion, garlic, salt & pepper, and chili flakes. Add the ginger when the onions are tender, heat through. Add in the rest of the ingredients. Stir together. Once it's well combined and before it comes to a boil, transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor (or whip out the trusty immersion blender) and puree the hell out of it. Pour back in the pot, simmer for 15 minutes. Top with cinnamon.

I ate so much of this soup that I didn't even need a piece of bread or anything else that usually accompanies soup, but I did have my leftover today with a grilled cheese sandwich and it was yummy! I also think the soup would be a great stir-fry sauce. I tasted a sample with honey and cinnamon, and thought the honey made it delicious as well. But, I put honey on just about everything, so you may want to ignore that.

Either way. Go make the soup and enjoy on a cold fall or winter night. Or in the summer when you miss fall. It's great for Halloween since it's orange.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Best Bean Dip Ever

That's Loren, one of my dearest and best friends, with her ah-mazing bean dip. She's part of the Auburn crew, and we have many, many happy memories together. I also have several dip recipes thanks to her. Her corn dip is a tailgate staple, and I'm anxiously waiting on her to share the recipe for pumpkin crisp, which will be on my LBDelicious Thanksgiving Blog Special. What's that, you ask? It's the blog I will do to highlight my first attempt at a full-out Thanksgiving dinner - full sized turkey and all - this November. Lindsey is going to Illinois for turkey day this year, so my cooking-partner-in-crime won't be sharing the kitchen with me as she did last year. Unless somebody else wants to come over, it'll be all LBDelicious this Thanksgiving.

Enough about me. Back to Loren and her dip. It was served cold, and was perfect with tortilla chips. Here's the super simple but incredible recipe:

Loren's Bean Dip
1 can black beans
1 cup salsa
chopped green onions
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 tablespoon cumin
salt & pepper to taste

Mix together. Chill. Eat with tortilla chips.

I think she made this for Bunco night. I'm glad there were leftovers for her to share with us.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Broccoli Soup

Even though fall weather in Lexington reminds me that a harsh, cold winter isn't far away, I absolutely love the fall weather here. If you're one of my friends from Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, or South Dakota (you know who you are), then go ahead and laugh at the fact that Kentucky winters are nowhere nearly as brutal as anything farther north, and I'll laugh at you when you're suffocating in the "Lexington humidity" this summer.

I digress. Fall's always been one of my favorite seasons, though growing up in Alabama, we didn't so much have "fall" as we did a week of cooler weather in November somewhere between summer and winter. With legitimate fall weather comes many culinary desires - I crave the warmth of pumpkin, nuts, apples, cinnamon and nutmeg, which means I'll be making a pumpkin soup before too long. In the meatime, and since Rose bought a bunch of fresh broccoli this week, I made a delicious and insanely healthy broccoli soup for dinner last night. It's not a cream-based soup, which cuts out tons of fat found in traditional broccoli-cream soups. Anne will have to verify, but I think it may be vegan friendly, if one uses vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. Based on a Rachael Ray recipe, here is:

Fresh Broccoli Soup
lots of fresh broccoli florets with parts of the stems (I think I used about 5 cups? not sure though)
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 Tablespoon dried thyme
couple splashes of Tabasco sauce
4-5 cups of chicken (or vegetable) stock
freshly ground black pepper
good amount of salt

In a stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Sautee onion and garlic with salt and pepper and thyme and Tabasco. Add broccoli and chicken broth, bring to a boil and cook until broccoli is tender. With an immersion blender (or in a food processor or in a regular blender), puree the hot soup mixture. Be careful and don't burn yourself, as I often do. Return pureed mix to pot, salt again liberally to adjust seasoning, simmer for 15 minutes. Top with cheddar or mozzarella cheese, and a pat of butter if you're feeling so inclined, and serve with:

Mozzarella Cheesy Bread

1 flour tortilla
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese

Heat a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Place cheese in the tortilla, fold in half, and heat up in the pan, flipping once, until cheese is melted. Cut into pieces and use to dip in the soup.

I was beyond frustrated last night when I tried to puree the soup mixture in our blender, and all the broccoli-flavored watery goodness started spilling out of the bottom before I even got it on the stand to puree. After saying several curse words and scaring Smokey, I brought out the immersion blender which scared poor Smokes even more (not that I blame him; I, too, am scared of the immersion blender) and it worked just fine. If I was making the soup at Casa Milam, I would most certainly instead used my trusty KitchenAid Food Processor, my favorite countertop kitchen appliance next to the Melitta Mill & Brew. It never spews broth out of its orifices, and it results in the most amazingly textured everything. But. In A-50, we have little counter space, so the KitchenAid lives at Casa Milam. Along with my trusty KitchenAid hand mixer, and LeCreuset stock pot. And my fiance. Sad.

Anyway. Go make broccoli soup. It's low-carb, low-calorie, low-fat, high-fiber, and green. Delicious.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I Love Gabriel's Desserts

As resistant as I am to much of the ritual that surrounds a wedding, I have been looking forward to doing a wedding cake tasting for weeks, or ever since I decided that Gabriel's Desserts in Marietta would be making my cake.

During the 2 hour wedding cake meeting, where I met with the owner, Johnnie Gabriel, about what I wanted, I also learned the secret to old-time cooked fudge and felt like I made a new best friend. I told her that I really didn't care what the thing looked like as long as it was the best tasting cake I could possibly get.

I knew that the 3 sample tasting cakes she would bake for me would be good, but I had no idea I was about to taste the most amazing cake I'd ever put in my mouth. Our choices were: 1. chocolate cake, with chocolate buttercream frosting and chocolate ganache filling, 2. vanilla, with vanilla buttercream frosting and cooked caramel filling, and 3. lemon pound cake, with raspberry filling and vanilla buttercream frosting. All three were fantastic. However, one bite of #3 was all it took - we knew we had a winner. The combination of the lemon with raspberry was simply to die for. The frosting is genuine, authentic, perfect buttercream. The whole thing melts in your mouth and is the most perfect flavor combination in the world. I thought I'd like vanilla best of all, and was hesitant about the idea of a pound cake for a wedding cake, but I was wrong. The lemon pound cake with raspberry filling is perfection in 7" round form.

I could go on and on about this cake. I will be dreaming about it until my wedding gets here, after, of course, I finish off the rest of the sample cake that I brought back to Kentucky with me. I'm tempted to eat it all myself, but I'll probably bring most of it, and the chocolate cake, in the office to share with everyone. Best of all, Dave and I decided this morning that we're going to get Gabriel's to make one of those cakes for us every year on our anniversary.

By the way, Johnnie just published a cookbook, that you can order here: on I'm definitely getting one for my collection. She's Paula Deen's cousin, by the way.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

My Favorite Lasagna

I remember the first time I made lasagna. I think I was 17, and I got the idea that homemade lasagna would be amazing for dinner that night. So I went out to Kroger (which was quite a journey from our backwoods house), spent $35 on ingredients (which I felt was an extravagant amount), and went home to prepare the recipe on the back of the box of lasagna noodles. It was the first time I ever cooked anything for my family. I'm not sure if they liked it or even if everyone ate it, but I was so proud of myself for creating a homemade lasagna, it didn't matter.

Ever since, I've tried variations of lasagnas and have come to the point where I no longer follow recipes but instead do my own thing with whatever I have in the fridge. My most recent attempt is my favorite tasting dish so far:

about 8 lasagna noodles (I used 4 whole wheat and 4 regular, because that's what we had)
1/2 jar spaghetti sauce
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, pureed in blender
1 tablespoon italian seasoning
1/2 lb ground beef, browned
1 10 oz package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 15 oz container low-fat ricotta cheese
some mozzarella cheese
about 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 375. First, prepare the sauce: combine the spaghetti sauce with pureed tomatoes, salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning in a saucepan, slowly simmer while you get the other ingredients ready. Cook the lasagna noodles in boiling, salted water only until flexible, about 6 minutes. Remove from water and lay out on an oiled cookie sheet to cool. In the meantime, prepare the ricotta filling: combine ricotta, parmesan, egg, salt and pepper in a bowl, set aside. Assemble the lasagna in an 8X8 ceramic pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray as follows: 1/4 cup sauce, noodles (cut to fit and cover the bottom), 1/3 of the ricotta mix, 1/2 of the spinach, 1/2 of the beef, mozzarella cheese, 3/4 cup sauce, noodles, 1/3 of the ricotta, remaining spinach, remaining beef, some more mozzarella, 3/4 cup of the sauce, remaining ricotta, noodles, and all the sauce that will fit on top without spilling over. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, place on a baking sheet (so that when it bubbles over it won't get the oven nasty), and bake for 55 minutes. After baking, remove the foil, throw some more mozzarella cheese on top of it (or cheddar if you run out of mozzarella, as I did), and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool for 15 minutes, and enjoy.

I don't know what it was about the combination, but it worked! I had extra sauce left over for a garnish or further drenching if desired.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Shorts with Words on the Butt

I went to Maggie Moo's today for ice cream after working for 5 hours straight - a record for me! - on the proposal. As I stood there in line debating on what ice cream flavor/mix in combination would be worth the calories, I realized what I hate about those shorts with words plastered straight across the ass.

Right ahead of me in line was a little girl, probably about 5 years old, and her mom (grandmom? not sure). I couldn't help but notice she had on a pair of bright pink, knit shorts that said "surfer girl!" with pretty flowers around it, on the butt. On the shorts of a 5 YEAR OLD. The problem is complicated with wearing any sort of words on one's rear end. On the one hand, you have this little girl, who just wants to fit in, thinks flowers are pretty, and likes the color pink, and wanted to wear shorts because it's insanely hot today. But on the other hand, it would not be cool for a little 5 year old boy to wear shorts that say "surfer boy!" with sharks or other stereotypically-gendered graphics on his butt. That we, as a culture, have accepted the word-butt-shorts for women, is a shame, especially because they make it seem ok for everyone - girls and guys - to stare at a woman's ass. There's a word on there - she must want me to look at it! Puh-lease. I think that if it was ok for men to go around with words on their asses, too, it might make the situation a little better, but would go no further in solving the problem. That there are now little girls out there who are clueless about this kind of stuff, and have parents buying the shorts for them, is even worse.

Seriously. No need for words on the ass, ever, regardless of sex or gender. Especially not in really young girls. The double standard is my big problem with the butt-word-short.

I walked out of there with a vanilla and chocolate chip cookie dough waffle cone shaking my head.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Drop Cookies

Of all the happy food feelings I have from my childhood, nothing makes me more nostalgic than the drop cookie. It was the very first recipe I ever memorized, and the first recipe that firmly established my place in the kitchen among the women of my family.

My mom's friend/cousin Lisa hand wrote the recipe for these drop cookies on a piece of notebook paper, and gave it to her probably when she first married. The cookies were so prized in our house, that the recipe lived in the very first slot of my mom's recipe binder, which was in actuality an old, clingy, photo album that resided in the drawer to the right of the stove in our kitchen. It was the recipe drawer, where all cut-outs, a binder, a "Calling All Cooks," and a few random twist ties lived. I remember these details because I looked at that recipe every time I opened the recipe book, which was a lot, and I cooked these a lot growing up.

My mom says that I have been baking since I could pull up the stool in the kitchen and stand up to stir things. Luckily, she let me help in the kitchen quite a bit, and encouraged my food habit. She made these cookies all the time, as they use ingredients we always, always had on hand. Before I took over the primary responsibility for making them in our house, I would stand in the kitchen and watch her make them, taking a spoon and scooping up the warm, gooey, unhardened cookies and devour at least 4 of them. They were best washed down with a Sun-Drop. (My today self says, "how unhealthy, and no wonder I had self esteem issues, I was probably a bit large for my bone structure.") They can cure any bad mood, and make any day better.

I first made them for my high school scholars' bowl team around 9th grade after we'd won a big competition. They were devoured in seconds, expected of me from then on out, and became my signature recipe in high school. My aunts used to have difficulty making them, because they never hardened up properly for them. And when my grandmother would make them, they tasted funny. Mom's version was the best, and I think my technique is foolproof. Mine taste just like hers did, so you won't be disappointed in the taste.

Drop Cookies
1 stick butter
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 1/2 Tablespoons coco powder
2 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional, I usually leave them out)

First, lay out a sheet of wax paper or aluminum foil sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Then, measure out your 2 1/2 cups of oats and 1/2 cup of peanut butter. You will be glad you took the time to do these steps later, as the cookies move fast toward the end. In a large, heavy, nonstick stock pot, add butter, sugar, milk, and coco. Then, turn on the heat to medium-high. Constantly stirring, bring the mix to a boil. As soon as it comes to a full, rolling boil, continue to stir vigorously, and count to 90. Then, turn off the heat, quickly add in the oats and peanut butter (and pecans if you are adding them), stir to combine, and drop by spoonful on the wax paper. Eat warm with a spoon (or with your fingers, not that I'm speaking from experience) or allow to harden and enjoy.

These cookies remind me of my mom, more than anything else. Happy home memories, from me to you!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Anne's Smoothie

I know that Veganne already has her own smoothie recipe. But, when I made this today, I thought of her, for two reasons: 1. soy milk and 2. cinnamon.

I have been loving the 8th Continent Light Vanilla Soy Milk that I purchased in honor of her visit back during the Charleston weekend. You might even say that I crave it occasionally. It has magical powers - I transformed plain ol' wheat Chex to something that tasted like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, using soy milk and a good sprinkle of cinnamon on top (seriously, it was amazing, and much healthier than the real kid's cereal). Anne's a big proponent of cinnamon, too, as apparently it as a ton of health benefits, all of which she can tell you about but I can't remember off the top of my head. Suffice it to say that we need to be adding cinnamon to everything possible. I even have an idea for a cinnamon campaign slogan: "Cinnamon: When Broccoli Just Won't Do."

I have a whole bunch of leftover fruit from our Rock Band party on Saturday. I intend to transform the apples into some sort of caramel apple tart, have been tossing grapes in my yogurt, smearing Nutella on my bananas, and have been nibbling on the fresh pineapple, but I worry it's going to spoil before I can eat it all. Dave actually goes to work every day (novel thought) and isn't here to help me snack on it, so it's all up to me. In an effort to use up some of it, I created a smoothie, and I think Anne would approve of this recipe.

Anne's Smoothie
1 small container Yoplait light strawberry yogurt
about 1/2 cup vanilla soy milk (see above for brand)
1 banana
handful of pineapple chunks
cinnamon and honey, for garnish

Combine yogurt, milk, banana, and pineapple in a blender until well incorporated. Pour into a glass, top with cinnamon and honey. Enjoy!

This will give me energy to finish a section of my proposal as well as go to the gym later this afternoon. It is a tasty summer treat, and would probably benefit from the addition of a few ice cubs to make it even colder and refreshing. It's not an overly sweet smoothie; I'd venture to call it a savory smoothie, so if you like a whole lot of sweetness, maybe add in some honey before you blend it all together. There's a good deal of fiber in the drink, and it makes a large portion, so it's very filling and satisfying.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Puff-Pastry Quiche Lorraine

I just spent the weekend eating in Charleston. Sure, we did other things like shop and lay out on the beach and play Celebrity 2-Word Tango with only musicians for an hour on the way home while translating rap lyrics into non-rap language, but we mostly ate and drank our way around Charleston. Let's just say that by the time we had our lunch of "fried" on Sunday afternoon, calorie content had stopped mattering completely, and we were hoping that some combination of fried pickles, fried shrimp, french fries, and fried flounder would absorb some of the leftover liquor that was probably in our systems and give us enough energy to make it home.

So, I resolved to try to eat healthy foods this week, and to make it to the gym. I didn't really accomplish either of those things today. Nor did I work on the proposal. Last time I tried to work on it, I sat there for 20 minutes, stared at it, and cried a little bit. If you've ever written a dissertation, you understand. It is kinda funny.

Dinner tonight ended up being healthy in that it used romaine hearts, spinach, and eggs. It was unhealthy in that it used eggs, a large amount of cheese, puff pastry, heavy cream, and pork fat, in solid and liquid form. I came up with:

Puff-Pastry Quiche Lorraine and Hearts of Romaine Salad with Dijon-Bacon Vinaigrette

For the quiche:
1 sheet frozen puff-pastry, thawed
4 eggs
about 1/2-3/4 cup milk (I didn't measure)
couple of tablespoons of heavy cream
1 10 oz package frozen spinach, thawed and liquids squeezed out
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt & pepper to taste
dash of nutmeg
3 strips bacon, cooked on the stove top and crumbled, bacon drippings reserved

Preheat oven to 350. Unfold puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll with rolling pin until stretched large enough to fit a pie plate. In a 9 inch pie plate sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, arrange the sheet of puff pastry, on the bottom and up the sides, mashed into the plate gently.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, cream, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in cheeses. Stir in spinach. Pour in prepared pie dish, and top with freshly grated parmesan. Bake for 35 minutes, cool for 10 before eating.

Dijon-Bacon Vinaigrette

Drippings from 3 slices of cooked bacon (about 2 tablespoons of rendered bacon grease)
2 teaspoons (approximately) Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

Whisk ingredients together, pour over salad.

This was by far the best quiche I've ever made. It tasted like it had butter in it, and there was no butter except for what was in the puff pastry. The bacon added a nice crunch, and it was more spinach/cheese than egg, which I loved. The puff pastry got nice and crispy on the top, providing an adequate and flaky crust. Next time, I think I will make my own crust, or just pour it in a pre-bought pie crust.

The dressing was my first attempt at using bacon grease for anything, really. It did not disappoint! I considered using maple instead of honey, but I have a severe honey fetish, hence the use of it in the dressing. The white wine vinegar really balanced out the flavors nicely. I would have used red wine vinegar, but I think the bottle I have has gone rancid.

More posts later about the Charleston trip - especially about the deconstructed bruschetta that Veganne created for dinner last night. We have pictures. MMMMM.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Curried Chicken Salad

Without question, my all-time favorite band is the Dave Matthews Band. I was slightly obsessed with them back a few years ago, and I still love them, know all the words to all their songs, and see them live at least once a year. DMB concert day is kind of like Christmas to me; I always have a great time, they never disappoint musically, and I leave feeling inspired by all the positive energy that radiates from thousands of people dancing and singing together, all getting along, for 2 1/2 hours, sharing a night of incredible music.

Dave (Milam, not Matthews) was my date to the show, and we got there early enough to do some pre-event tailgating. Call us cheap, but beer is $10 a pop inside the stadium, and the only food options are incredibly unhealthy and equally as expensive, so I packed us a picnic that we ate out of my trusty cooler sitting on the back of the CR-V. I intended to serve Giada's Antipasto Salad as a main course since it involved no mayo and seemed substantial, but I was not crazy about the taste of it after I'd created it. Of course, I did add honey to the dressing, probably didn't put enough Dijon in there, and added artichokes and more roasted red peppers and left out turkey. Either way, unsatisfied with that as a main course, I whipped up a chicken salad to bring along as well.

Curried Chicken Salad (for two servings)
1/4 cup mayo
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon curry powder
juice of half a lemon
one chicken breast, cooked and diced (I prefer to roast mine in a soy sauce bath)
handful of chopped pecans
1 celery stalk, diced
small handful of dried pineapples, chopped (or fresh pineapples, diced)
couple of tablespoons of craisins
couple of tablespoons of raisins

In a bowl, whisk together first 4 ingredients. This will be the dressing - taste it, and adjust seasonings using salt/pepper or adding more of either of the dressing ingredients based on your personal taste. Stir in the diced ingredients, chill, and serve with a crusty baguette, in a pita, or on any sort of bread/cracker.

This salad is amazing because you can put whatever you have in the fridge as part of the salad. My dressing is the only thing that stays the same when I make this time after time - that, and the addition of chicken. This is a great way to use leftover chicken. Other ingredients that are yummy here are grapes, apples, or even oranges. I originally found this recipe in "Calling All Cooks," an old-lady cookbook that was put together by the phone company years ago as a compilation of recipes from women who referred to themselves as "Mrs. So and So" instead of "First Name, Last Name." The original recipe called for just about a half jar of mayo, which was too much for me, and I found out you can reduce the mayo amount drastically and still form enough dressing.

Those two salads, with crusty bread and brownies for dessert, made a perfect little picnic dinner.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Raspberry Lemon Drop

You know, people don't share often enough the things they try in the kitchen that just don't work out. Take, for instance, my first attempt at making, step by step, an actual recipe with no substitutions, something from Mastering the Art of French Cooking - Julia Child's masterpiece cookbook. Last night, still on a high from submitting a draft of a proposal and secretly hoping my advisor never gives it back to me so I don't have to look at it ever again, I decided to be brave by cooking a fish dish, and a fancy one at that. My bacon wrapped scallops turned out well; I should not be so afraid of the fishes.

I attempted the very French technique of poaching fish fillets in white wine and water. I followed, to the letter, Julia's instructions on how to do so, following a variation of the master recipe that included a sautee of mushrooms, carrots, onion, and carrot julienne, baked with a cream sauce made with the poaching liquid, cream, butter, and flour, topped with swiss cheese and dots of butter. Sounds amazing and simple, right? For some reason, I hated it. I loved the sauce - could have stuck a straw in it and drank it - but hated the dish. Dave said it was the celery that threw the flavors off. I think it may have been the cod. For whatever reason, I couldn't eat more than 5 bites, which was truly a shame considering I invested about 2 hours of my life on the dish, counting prep time, cook time, studying the recipe time, and cleanup.

If you know me, you know that I don't handle failure very well at all. And I saw dinner last night as a failure; subsequently, it ruined my night and put me in the foulest of moods for the remainder of the evening. Bless his heart, Dave tried to make it a learning experience, and help me articulate what it was that went wrong and what I learned from whatever mistake I made. I was having none of it. I think I gave him "a look." I just wanted to reheat my pizza and sulk and forget about white wine poached fish fillets, no matter how amazing they sounded or their sauce tasted.

Anyway. The last huge kitchen failure I had involved tilapia, that were supposed to be sauteed and ended up inedible. The one before that involved coconut shrimp, and I think I scared Jonathan from ever wanting to come over for dinner again. Let me say it here, now, I cannot cook a fish to save my life. There was one stellar performance involving Paula Deen's parmesan tilapia a few weeks ago, and the great scallops dinner, but that's about it over the course of my culinary adventures. Other things I consistently fail upon attempting in the kitchen are: biscuits, chocolate & biscuits especially, yeast breads, and bread puddings (including French toast). I don't get what I'm doing wrong in these areas; they just don't work for me. I think that there should be a once-weekly show on Food Network where they showcase the chefs making things that fail. This would truly make the home cook feel better about her accidents, mistakes, and shortcomings in the kitchen, and I bet it would be quite a learning experience as well. Instead of showing us what we do right, why not focus on what happens when things go wrong, and how to bounce back from such a disaster?

So tonight, I had to make up for last night's lackluster dinner performance. I made a version of Giada's Steak Salad, keeping the steak, cheese, and vinaigrettes but placing them atop a bed of bagged greens, adding toasted walnuts and caramelized onions (and I don't like blue cheese so I swapped out goat cheese crumbles on mine). For dessert, we have Giada's limoncello cheesecake squares. And, *finally* I was able to create a martini involving limoncello that is chuggable. Cause, you know, that's how I like my martinis.

Raspberry Lemon Drop
1 oz limoncello
1 oz cranberry juice cocktail
1 splash vodka
1 splash raspberry vodka
1/2 Tablespoon lime simple syrup (which is just 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, and zest of one lime combined together over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves, then chilled)

Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with crushed ice. Shake vigorously, strain into a sugar rimmed martini glass.

Dave actually came up with the name, and the drink tastes like summer. It is pink and pretty and delicious. Very refreshing after a day of painting, laying out, cleaning, and cooking.

Friday, June 27, 2008

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

I don't exactly remember the first time I had an Otis Spunkmeyer white chocolate macadamia nut cookie, but I think it might have been at a Subway. I just remember how delicious they always were, fresh out of the oven, warm, gooey, and white-chocolatey. I got a craving for them this week, bought macadamia nuts for the first time ever, and created them based on a recipe for chocolate chip cookies that I found on the internet that came from a Baker's Illustrated cookbook.

2 cups plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar (dark or light)
12 Tablespoons melted butter
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup white chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 325. Combine flour and soda with whisk, set aside. With a hand mixer, cream butter and sugars, then add in egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Add flour mixture in gradually, then stir in the nuts and chocolate chunks. Bake on greased cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes.

I loved these, but I love all cookies, so I'm a little biased. They are just as good as Otis Spunkmeyer's.

I'm in proposal-finishing mode, so that's all you get.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Drinky Drink

I've been making a lot of progress on my proposal lately, so as a treat, I've been playing bartender at the end of a long day, sitting in one spot, writing, thinking, surfing the net, scribbling ideas, and maybe going to the gym or laying out.

This is my Italian Sweet Tea.

First, you have to make sweet tea, which, if done correctly, is basically tea flavored simple syrup. The only person who's ever actually given me a recipe more than "what do you mean, how do you make sweet tea, all you do is add some tea bags to hot water and add a lot of sugar, silly girl" is Dave's dad, the retired civil engineer. I have grown to love the engineers and their ability to articulate things such as abstract, ancient recipes like sweet tea into exact form. According to Donna Jo (Dave's mom), this tea was famous back in the day among Dave and Chris's (Dave's brother's) friends. So here is:

Dean's Sweet Tea
2 quarts water, boiling
2 Tetley tea bags
1 cup sugar

Steep 2 tea bags in the boiling water for no more than 5 minutes. Discard bags, pour tea into a pitcher, stir in sugar. Refrigerate and serve over ice.

(side note: I try not to make sweet tea very often because I tend to drink it by the gallon, which probably wouldn't be a bad thing if I used, say, Splenda instead of sugar. But I don't use Splenda unless I'm making something for my diabetic grandaddy.)

For the cocktail:
Fill a tall glass with ice. Add 1/2 oz limoncello, and fill up with sweet tea. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

This is a weaker drink. It's Italian because limoncello originated on the Amalfi coast since that's where lemons come from. I have been watching a lot of Mario Batali lately, and subsequently increased my love of all things Italian food. I can't believe I just pulled out that limoncello comes from the Amalfi coast. That's good trivia to have on hand. Of course, you can make limoncello yourself; that's another post, but Mario and Giada both have recipes over at Never had it? Don't wait a week for the lemon peel to steep in sugared vodka, just run out to your local liquor store and spend the $20 to get yourself a bottle. Keep it in the freezer and you'll be drinking it all summer. It's amazing on ice, after the ice has watered it down just a bit, after a big dinner.

I actually added some bourbon to the first version of this drink, but it was a bit too strong for me, hence the suggestion to only add limoncello. If you love bourbon (like Loren, who is just about the only person I'll willingly drink bourbon with, and even though I live in Lexington and by default *should* love bourbon), then by all means add it.

And then go burn off the calories on the Wii Fit, which rocks.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Pound Cake with Ice Cream and Blueberry Sauce

Here is a delightful little summer dessert.

Coincidentally, do you know how I remember that there are two s's in "dessert," subsequently never confusing it with "desert?" Just remember that you always have apple pie and ice cream. 2 things for dessert - 2 s's. It's one of the same devices that Mrs. Hagood (who wasn't even my teacher but taught my aunts Sherry & Leia and my mom and my dad) drilled into the brains of my loved ones who then passed it along to me. I also remember the day that Sherry, Leia and mom taught me how to never misspell "separate:" There's always a rat in separate. See it? No i or e misplacement in that word, ever, thanks to that little device. I was a dork even as a small child; I just wish that there was some sort of device I'd picked up along the way that instructed me how to write a dissertation proposal in, like, 15 minutes. That'd be really helpful about now.

Back to dessert. I made another pound cake (and the Swan's Down cake flour pound cake as shown in this post is simply divine, baked in the high quality Nordic ware bundt pan my mom got me for Christmas this year), and topped it with a scoop of Blue Bell Homemade Ice Cream (or the vanilla-ish ice cream of your choice) and this homemade sauce:

about 1/2 pint fresh blueberries, washed, stems removed
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon orange liquor
2 Tablespoons orange juice
and the zest of an orange, if you have one laying around
or substitute orange for lemon
or just leave it out all together, really the blueberries and sugar and water are the main ingredients

In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, boil blueberries with water and sugar (and other ingredients) until the berries start to burst, the water turns dark blue, and it becomes somewhat congealed, anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool.

What a simple yet delicious sauce that goes on top of ice cream by itself, pound cake by itself, or biscuits, or pancakes. It's a variation of the cranberry sauce I make for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Blueberries happened to be not quite as expensive as a gallon of gas at Publix a few weeks ago, so I splurged, got a pint, and have been enjoying them in this form for some time. It lasts for several days in an air-tight container in the fridge.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Feeling Frenchy? Tomato Bisque, Crusty Bread and Balsamic Dipping Sauce

It's 45 minutes until I have to leave to go to the airport. I'm on my way to what I hear is a lovely Lake Michigan beach for the roommate's bachelorette par-tay. So, to kill time, I can work on the proposal, or blog.

Blog it is!

Two nights ago, I was craving bistro-esque food. Not that I have ever been to a French bistro, mind you; I've only seen them on television and I think I would probably enjoy dining at such an establishment. After my trip to Harry's (the first one I've made all summer!), I was really craving something gourmet yet non-pretentious. And, it's hot outside, so light suppers have been sounding better and better. I whipped up a delicious and perfect menu:

Tomato Bisque
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz can tomatoes, chopped (or whole or diced but pureed in the food processor)
1/4 cup white wine (anything drinkable will work, I used Pinot Grigio, which is my favorite and a fridge staple)
3/4 cup low sodium chicken stock (use veggie stock if you don't eat meat)
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream
generous amounts of salt and pepper
1 tsp freshly chopped thyme
2 Tablespoons freshly chopped basil
small chunks of fresh, authentic parmesan cheese, optional (if you're planning on using the stuff out of the green plastic can, then just don't even bother)

In a large soup pot, heat butter and oil together. Sautee shallot, thyme and garlic along with salt and pepper to taste until cooked through, only about 4 minutes. Add in wine, simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add in chicken stock and tomatoes, salt and pepper generously. Bring to a slow simmer, heat for at least 20 minutes on low to medium low. At the very last minute, before serving, stir in the cream and basil. If you have fresh parm on hand and eat it by the handful like I do, toss some chunks into the soup right before serving, so you get melty-gooey-cheese bits in the soup.

Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
bag of salad, your choice of greens
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar, the more expensive, the better (though I used a nice mid-range brand that wasn't the cheapest or most expensive and it was amazing)
2 Tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil (again, I splurged on this occasion, and it was well worth the investment)
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together the vinegar, oil, salt and pepper. Toss on top of greens. Save some of the dressing as a dipping sauce for crusty bread.

The soup also functions as a delicious dipping sauce for the bread. I chose a demi-baguette at Harry's that had rosemary baked into it. For a bit more protein, I served the bread on a plate with some sliced gouda. I know soup in the summer may sound weird, as it's served hot, but the way I see it, we have air conditioning inside, and it tasted so dang good, it didn't matter how hot it was outside to me. The leftovers were nice the next day, as always.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Oh, Dear


As a 1930s wife, I am
Very Poor (Failure)

Take the test!

But Dave scores much better...


As a 1930s husband, I am
Very Superior

Take the test!

At least we have discovered this before the wedding, and there is still time for me to change my ways. I guess my cooking-in-pajama, red-nailpolish-wearing, drinking alcohol days are over for good.

Chess Squares

Another side project I've had this summer has been to reorganize my personal recipe collection. My collection started out as random clippings and hand-written recipes on index cards, stored in a clear index card storage box. I created it the summer before I went to Auburn. The summer before I started at Kentucky, my storage box was out of control and in need of redesigning, so I created a binder. This made me giddy, as I love things organized in binders. You can imagine my elation when I realized that, this summer, my one binder had outgrown itself. My personal recipe collection now spans three whole binders! Binder 1 is appetizers, dips, salads, soups, breads/breakfast items (yes, I have enough appetizer recipes that I have to partition them into actual appetizers and dips). Binder 2 is main courses: beef, poultry, pork, pasta, vegetarian. Binder 3 is desserts: cookies, cakes, brownies, pies, other, and drinks. One of my favorite things to do is peruse the collection, a very organic assortment of things I've jotted down on post-it notes, things printed from, recipes passed on from both grandmothers, and clippings from food magazines and newspapers.

While perusing the other day for a dessert, I came across Momma Charlie's recipe for Chess Squares. Over Christmas, while we were home visiting Aunt Debbie, she shared part of a chess pie with Dave and me, and I had no idea he loved that dessert as much as he did. He thought it was some sort of lemon treat; admittedly, it does taste somewhat lemony though there is no lemon in the filling or crust. After making them, I felt like they oddly resembled Paula Deen's Gooey Butter Cakes. I cross checked my recipes and, sure enough, Momma Charlie's is just like Paula's except she only uses one stick of butter instead of two. In my mind, this makes a great "healthy" dessert.

Chess Squares
1 box yellow cake mix
3 eggs
1 stick butter, melted
1 8 oz package cream cheese (as always, I use 1/3 less fat), softened
1 16 oz box powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Grease the bottom of a 9 x 13 cake pan.

In small bowl, combine melted butter, one egg, and cake mix. The batter will be stiff. Spread it out on the bottom of the cake pan. In another bowl, combine cream cheese, powdered sugar and remaining 2 eggs with a hand mixer until well incorporated. Pour mixture over the top of the cake crust. Bake for 25-35 minutes, until set. Allow to cool completely before serving. Cut into small squares and enjoy.

These are amazing, and we've been eating on them for 4 days. Store in the refrigerator for maximum freshness.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Summer Reading

Here is an interesting article about food, recipes, cooking, and overall fear in the kitchen.

For a good laugh, read the comments. Someone on the first page agrees with my post right underneath here about Food Network ruining our cooking philosophies, though they hate on Rachael Ray which is not cool with me. I don't have the time or money to spend every day in the kitchen for hours, even when I'm on summer vacation, so feeding my family in under 30 minutes is something I truly appreciate, thank you very much. Some of the "recipe deal breakers" are just insane. Of course, some people would think that I am insane for refusing to cook anything with squid. I know Giada loves squid tentacles, and has been seen on national television eating them, but I just can't bring myself to do it. It'd seem too much like eating a wacky wall walker, those little plastic toys that used to come in cereal boxes and would "crawl" down walls with their suction-cup legs.

If you aren't already reading a newspaper (or two, or three) online every day (even the Athens-Limestone News Courier has a website; no excuse for not keeping up with the exciting local news that goes on back home) and political action blogs (BitchPhD is my favorite), make it a habit this summer. It's a great time-waster for when you're, like, trying to write a dissertation proposal. And, you actually learn things if you read newspapers and blogs and the like online. Throw into the mix some sites for fun, like The Superficial and Lostpedia and, of course, LOLCats, and you've got yourself some nice summer reading, all online.

Now. Time to prepare a grocery list. I am out of coffee and milk, so I must visit the local Kroger today.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Chicken Teriyaki Sandwich with Black Bean and Corn Salsa

LOST may be over until January (what a GREAT season finale - thank you Damon & Carlton!), but one of my many tv guilty pleasures is back - The Next Food Network Star. I simultaneously love and hate this show. I love it for several reasons; mostly because it's just like every other reality show I like - it's a trainwreck. Get all these people together in a room who, for whatever reason, think they can cook, and think they have cool personalities, and think that they are the next Rachael Ray, and watch them flounder as they get put in their places by Mr. Attitude himself Bobby Flay, as Alton raises his eyebrows at their antics, as Giada tries to smile through their miserable attempts at cooking and acting, and as Susie and Bob blatantly remind them just how much they suck.

But I hate it for a very specific reason. TNFNS is part of what is going wrong with Food Network. Lindsey analogized Food Network to MTV, and she's exactly right. Remember how MTV used to play music videos? Remember how once upon a time, Food Network only aired shows featuring people who actually knew what they were doing in the kitchen and it didn't really matter what they looked like as long as they cooked good food (Mario Batali, Sara Moulton)? Remember how you could sit down in front of the tv from 10-7 every day and get actual recipes and techniques that you could theoretically put into rotation or practice that night for supper? Remember how Food Network used to teach us how to cook rather than show us where hot dogs come from, or how to make elaborate cakes, or how to fight with food (or, shall I say, the overt and unnecessary masculinization of the kitchen... Justin Wilson never had to "throwdown" with another Cajun cook to prove his worth)? Unfortunately, Food Network is losing its edge. Don't get me wrong - Emeril, Giada, Tyler, Rachael, Paula, Ina, Michael, Alton, and even Elie and Robin are amazing; they're just not getting the screen time they deserve. They should get ALL of the screen time. They have street cred, and they either went to culinary school or were forced to learn how to cook in order to feed themselves or their families. If you fall into one of these categories, you're cool with me. Get rid of the posers! Food Network should be a network devoted to education - culinary education - and most of their daytime programming now does not fit that mission. Seriously people. If you're going to give Mary Nolan a cooking show, you may as well turn it over to LBDelicious, or anyone who's ever set foot in a kitchen and cooked a meal. I love the Neelys, and appreciate Food Network's "commitment to diversity" by finally putting someone on the screen who is not white (just as they've also done with Sunny Anderson and Ingrid Hoffman), but they're just not working. All their "diverse" shows somehow still reek of hegemonic discourse, communicating one singular message: "real" cooking is for people of privilege. It's for people who have the time, and money, to spend time thoughtfully considering what kind of table linens would work best with their themed meal. It's like they've taken chefs who are not white, and put them in a white woman's kitchen. Am I out of line on this? If Food Network truly wanted to show diverse cooking perspectives, then they should follow the lead of Alton's "Feasting on Asphalt" and talk to the old black women who've made biscuits every morning at the diner on the corner for 25 years. Take your camera back to the kitchen of the local meat & 3 restaurant that is ugly on the outside and is greasy on the inside, but has the best collard greens, macaroni and cornbread this side of the Mississippi. I want to see how those women are cooking. Visit kitchens that aren't shiny and pretty, ones where cooks may not have the money for All-Clad but have recipes that would run circles around the semi-homemade crap that Sandra Lee dishes out day after day. That, Food Network, is "cooking for real." Have fun with your Next Food Network Star, but please, for the love of Julia and all that is beautiful about learning the art and science of cooking in order to provide nourishment for yourself and your family, bring back real chefs who can show us how to be better cooks, and better eaters.

Rant over.

Last night, still on my "I'm not going to the grocery store until I absolutely have to" stubborn streak, I came up with this meal. I had frozen chicken, buns leftover in the fridge from last week's hamburgers, and half a can each of black beans and corn, from the taco pie expedition. I threw together:

Chicken Teriyaki Sandiwches
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, split in half
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1 Tablespoon olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
a few pineapple wedges or slices
1 bun or 2 slices of bread

Preheat oven to 350. Combine soy sauce, sugar, oil, ginger, salt, and pepper in a baking dish; add chicken and marinate for 15 minutes, turning once. Bake for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, toast the bread. Spread with mayo (or leave out if you're healthy). Top bread with chicken, then top with cheese and pineapples. Serve with:

Black Bean and Corn Salsa
1/2 can leftover black beans
1/2 can leftover corn
1 tsp EVOO
salt & pepper to taste
dash of cumin
dash of chili powder
zest and juice of 1/2 lime

Combine together, chill until ready to eat.

This was a nice, healthy, refreshing dinner that I am looking forward to enjoying again tonight. I will be glad when Dave gets back from Orlando so I can rant out loud to him and don't have to bottle it all up inside until I have the chance to blog it out.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Taco Pie

So far this summer, I have not cooked the same thing twice for dinner. It's become kind of a game for me to use up leftovers and random fridge items in unique ways. Such was the case for me last night; Lindsey, Dave and I grilled hamburgers after our 10K on Monday, and we had two leftover. Something about a re-heated cheeseburger was just not appealing to me, so I started looking for inspiration via Google blogs search about what to do with leftover ground beef. A taco pie thus was born. I felt somewhat semi-homemade making it, what with the crescent roll crust and crushed up tortilla chip topping, but it was dang tasty. Here's my version, that I'm certain could be gourmet-ified if needed.

Ground Beef Taco Pie
1 package reduced fat Pillsbury crescent rolls
1/2 lb ground beef, cooked and drained (I crumbled up my 2 leftover grilled hamburgers)
1/2 onion, diced small
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 can Rotel tomatoes (with juice)
1/2 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup corn kernels (frozen or canned)
salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp cumin
3 tsp taco seasoning
1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, monterrey jack, pepper jack or combination)
7-10 large tortilla chips, crumbled

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9" pie plate with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange the crescent rolls flat in the pie pan so that they cover the bottom and sides. Bake for 5 minutes, remove from oven. In the meantime, sautee diced onion, garlic and pepper for 7-8 minutes, until onions are tender. Salt and pepper to taste. Add in the can of Rotel, beans, and corn; salt & pepper again, and add cumin. Add in ground beef and taco seasoning; heat through, about 5 minutes. Place one layer of beef mixture on top of crescent roll crust, then top it with cheese, then place the remaining beef mixture on top, and top with crumbled up tortilla chips and more cheese. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, slice and enjoy. Serve with guacamole and sour cream on the side.

My homemade guacamole:

1 ripe avocado
juice of 1/2 lime
salt & pepper
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1 Tablespoon finely diced and seeded jalapeno pepper

Combine together in small bowl; cover directly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

See! It's so semi-homemade, what with the taco seasoning and crescent rolls. It felt very 1950s to make; I felt like I needed to be on my way to a potluck or church supper. However, it was quite tasty, and Dave and I both loved it. That crescent roll crust makes a huge impact since it's buttery and crispy, and works wonderfully with the spiciness of the filling. We don't like things incredibly spicy, so I always remove the seeds and ribs from my peppers before cooking. If you like it hotter, then include the seeds in the sauteed onion mixture. You can also top each serving with more shredded cheese if you have cheese lovers in the family. This made about 5 servings, which means leftovers for lunch! Again, not a very original recipe, but it was tasty and resourceful. This one's going in rotation!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Banana Oatmeal Cookies

I am sick and tired of produce being so freaking expensive. Seriously; the 0.01 of an acre we have in the backyard is about to be turned into a garden so I don't have to rely on Kroger's anymore. What's up with the price of green peppers? And bananas? And avocados? And everything, really? Not to let my browning bananas go to waste, and since Lindsey and I were talking yesterday about that time Marti I. brought in chocolate banana cookies that were more like muffin tops, I searched the internet and found a recipe that I pretty much copied to make:

Banana Oatmeal Cookies with 3 Chocloates
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 overripe bananas, mashed with a fork
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups oats
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup white chocolate chunks
1/3 cup dark chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 350. Combine flour, soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and oats in a bowl; set aside. Cream butter and both sugars with a hand mixer in a large bowl until well incorporated. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and vanilla. Beat in the bananas. Gradually add in the flour/oat mixture (I did this in two batches). Stir in the chocolates. Drop by rounded teaspoon onto a greased cookie sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Cool and enjoy.

I realize that I should have been a good southerner and put chopped pecans in there for good measure. I happen to love these cookies; they really are like muffin tops. Dave didn't like them because he said they were too much like banana bread. How this is a bad thing, I have yet to figure out. Either way, these are really more like little loafs of goodness in cookie form. I had one as a supplement to my breakfast this morning since they had fruit and fiber in them. If all you have is one type of chocolate, by all means you can substitute for the other two. It just so happens I had 2 pieces of baking chocolates and about 1/3 cup of actual chocolate chips that I wanted to use up in this recipe. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

California Salad with Avocado, Strawberries, and Ginger-Citrus Dressing

Well kids, welcome to the most exciting/depressing couple of weeks in the year: season finale week. It's exciting, because what equates to a whole semester, or year, of television watching gets summed up in breathtaking and adventurous and emotional finales. However, the day after your favorite show's finale is kind of like the day after Christmas. You feel all empty and sad, because you know there is no more happiness coming for a long time. What on earth am I going to do for an hour on Tuesday and Wednesday nights without American Idol? (My assessment of this season is evident in my decision not to buy tickets to see AI Live, even though they'll be at Rupp in August...)I know, Hell's Kitchen still has a few weeks left, and The Next Food Network Star picks back up sometime in June. But for the love of God, you're taking LOST away from me AGAIN for 7 straight months? I know, I should focus on the positive, like the fact that we get a 2 hour season finale next week. And that it'll be out on DVD (or Blu-Ray, thank you Dave) soon and I can sit and watch the season all over again along with the cool bonus material (I love hearing Naveen Andrews talk in his British accent and anything to do with Michael Emerson). Still. No more LOST? Til January 2009? It's like taking away my coffee. And facebook. And myspace. And kittens. All at the same time. For 7 months. The absence of LOST means more than just no more good television; it means no more official podcasts, and a slow-down of activity on, two of my favorite distractions. I guess it will force me to focus more on writing a proposal, which is insanely frustrating to me at this very moment.

So, let's talk about food! This week is a healthy-eating week for Dave and me. Last night I made my favorite salad, what I like to call a "California Salad." I've only been to California once, but I'm guessing this dish would go over well there since it's light, refreshing, and uses avocados. And it can be vegetarian friendly!

Ginger-Citrus Dressing:
2 tsp ground ginger
2 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup honey
1/4-1/2 cup orange juice

Combine ingredients together well with a whisk or fork. Taste; for sweeter dressing, add more honey. For a spicier dressing, add more ginger or mustard. For a creamier dressing, add more mayo. For a more thinned-out dressing, add more orange juice.

Drizzle on a salad assembled as follows:
greens of your choice (I prefer romaine hearts/cabbage blend in this salad)
sliced avocado
sliced fresh strawberries
orange supremes (sliced into juicy tidbits)
nuts (chopped pecans, almonds, or cashews work well)
chow-mein noodles (if you have some)
roasted chicken (optional, best for when eating as a dinner salad)

Trust me, you will crave this salad and want to make it over and over again. I based this recipe off a salad recipe I got from Food Network a long time ago, and can't even remember the original ingredients or proportions. I know it's very similar to what I have here, but this version is better than the original. The dressing makes about 4 servings, and keeps well in the refrigerator for at least 3 days. This is Rose's favorite meal, and it's one of my all-time favorite dishes. It's very "girly," so it's great to make and serve for a luncheon, brunch, or tea. You can go ahead and assemble all the ingredients ahead of time - except for the avocado, which tends to turn brown very quickly with or without a squirt of lemon juice - and prepare immediately before serving.

Wonder if avocados, strawberries, and oranges grow on the island, or just coconuts and mangoes?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Thai-ish Pork Stirfry

I mentioned I had a roast pork loin from dinner on Thursday (quite simple - sear off a pork loin on all sides in a pan with olive oil, then place in a roasting pan and in an oven at 325. Roast for 1 hour or until internal temp gets to 135. Tent with foil and let it rest out of the oven, and it will heat up to 145, which is where the experts say you should consume pork. Use a meat thermometer!). The roast was delicious, but I was scheming as to how I could transform it for dinner the next night (last night). I have been craving Asian-inspired foods lately for some reason, and after searching a few Thai pork stir fry recipes, I came up with this.

Thai-ish Pork Stirfry
1/2 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 lb roasted pork loin, julienned or diced
1 green bell pepper, thin sliced
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup frozen broccoli, thawed slightly
4-5 leaves fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup chopped peanuts

Sauce: (I didn't measure anything last night, so these are all really random guesses)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup peanut butter
3 Tablespoons honey
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
3 Tablespoons ground ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a small bowl (or, my preference for sauces is a large measuring cup with a pour-spout), whisk together sauce. Taste it, and adjust seasonings if needed (if you want it hotter, add more pepper flakes. If it's too peanut buttery, add soy sauce. If it's too sour, add honey. You get the picture). Set aside until ready to use.

Prepare vegetables and pork for stir fry. Heat up oil in saucepan, and sautee peppers and shallots until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add in broccoli and pork, and sauce. Coat everything with sauce and heat through, cooking over medium heat at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes, if you reduce the heat to low and allow to gently simmer. Immediately before serving, top with chopped peanuts and basil. Serve with white or brown rice, and enjoy!

The sauce was surprisingly good. I think it was my favorite invented teriyaki-style sauce ever. I thought about adding cornstarch to thicken it, but just left it saucy instead. I also wish I had used a red bell pepper for color's sake (all the veggies are green otherwise). If I had an onion, I would have used it instead of a shallot, but I like the milder flavor of shallots. Of course, substitute whatever meat or vegetables you have on hand - the sauce will stand up to just about anything.

I feel so... Robin Miller.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Chocolate "Not"-lage

There are very few things in my life that are absolute certainties. I prefer to deal in hypotheticals, dreams, ideas, and gray areas rather than concretes. However, there is one fact that I face daily now that the hell that was Spring 2008 is over. If I do not write a dissertation proposal this summer, I will not graduate in May. Even if I write a proposal, there is still no guarantee that I will graduate then. But, failure to write down what I plan to study over the next year certifies that I will under no circumstances walk in May.

You'd think that understanding the implications of not writing a proposal would be enough motivation to push me in the right direction. And it is, as I had full intentions of writing something, anything, down yesterday, on my first full day of summer vacation. Instead, I went to the grocery store, planted an herb garden, got paint samples for the guest bathroom, made cupcakes from scratch, roasted pork tenderloin for dinner, and laid out by the pool. I did read the first two chapters in "Tune In/Log On" by Nancy Baym while I was laying out. So I guess that counts for something; regardless, I woke up today determined to do more work. So far, I have run 3 miles, did yoga for 45 minutes, made lunch, baked a new dessert for tomorrow's lunch with Dave's mom, and decided to blog about it. I call this my creative writing exercise for the day.

So there's a restaurant in Birmingham, Cobb Lane. It is difficult to find, and I've only really eaten there once for Allison's bridal tea. At night, it turns into a martini bar - Blue Monkey - where I have sipped on many an inspirational chocolate martini (it was the first place I ever tried one, actually). Cobb Lane is a charming little Southern restaurant, and I fell in love with one of their desserts - chocolate roulage. It's like a grown-up version of a swiss cake roll. I loved it so much I bought the cookbook on the way out the door that day, and resolved to make it for myself at some point. Unfortunately, I'm not as talented of a chef as I wish I was, so I had to modify it. Here is, then:

Chocolate Not-lage
5 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, divided
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 60% cocoa squares), melted over a double boiler with 3 tablespoons water
coco powder
1 cup whipping cream
2 tsp vanilla extract

To begin, melt the chocolate with water, set aside to cool slightly. Preheat oven to 325. Generously butter a cookie sheet, cover with one piece of wax paper, and then generously butter the wax paper. In medium-sized bowl, whip egg whites until stiff peaks form, set aside. In another large bowl, beat egg yolks well. Add 3/4 cup sugar, and beat until thick. Stir in the cooled, melted chocolate. Gently fold in the egg whites. Spread over the wax paper, bake for 10 minutes, and reduce heat (I reduced it to 300, the cookbook did not say exactly what temperature I should reduce the oven to) and bake for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven, and cover with a cool, wet towel until cooled completely. While cake is cooling, whip cream, sugar and vanilla until stiff.

Here is where the recipes diverge and things got tricky for me. The original recipe calls for you to dust the cake with cocoa, and turn it over on a clean sheet of wax paper, then gently remove the old wax paper. Then, you are to spread the whipped cream all over the cake, and roll it up like a jelly roll.

This results in a beautiful presentation and makes you look like a kitchen rock star. However, my cake came out a little cracked. I was too scared to attempt to jelly-roll it. So, I took out a clear, small casserole dish, and made a "not-lage." I cut out a section of cake, and laid it down in the bottom of the dish. Then, I covered it with 1/3 of the whipped cream. I layered the dessert until I had used up all the whipped cream and topped it with the last section of cake, which I dusted with cocoa. I put the lid on the dish and stuck it in the fridge, where it will stay until I'm ready to go tomorrow. I haven't tried it yet, but I did eat some of the whipped cream with a piece of the cake, and boy howdy, it is amazing. I plan on cutting little squares to serve, and maybe even garnishing it with some fresh raspberries.

And, I plan on getting right to work on the proposal, right now.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Daughtry, Bon Jovi, Carrie Underwood, and Keith Urban: Worth the Tinnitus

I have a new addition to the list of songs that, when heard live by the original artists whose genius spawned them, brought me to tears.

1. One Sweet World - Dave Matthews Band
2. Dream On - Aerosmith
3. Livin on a Prayer - Bon Jovi

I spent this weekend going from one rock concert to another. The Daughtry/Bon Jovi show in Nashville was simply amazing. Daughtry was hot, and he needs more songs for me to learn and love. I wondered why the venue did not have his beautiful face on the jumbotron? We were puzzled. Bon Jovi was so high-energy, that Rose and I got tired just watching him. I was a little worried he would focus too much on new stuff and neglect his loyal old fans like myself, but he delivered. He played my favorite classics. I didn't realize I liked "Bad Medicine" so much. I will seek to attend his concert again. You seriously have not lived until you've heard Bon Jovi songs, played by Bon Jovi, live.

Now for Carrie and Keith, we have a similar quality of music, but a different experience. Let's focus on the positive first. They both rocked. Carrie has greatly improved her stage presence since American Idol and I seriously thought for a second that she was Stevie Nicks on stage with Mr. Urban when he played "Stop Dragging My Heart Around." Kudos to the girl for doing a Stevie song justice. Keith Urban is an unbelievably talented guitarist who was almost upstaged by a teenage girl from Hazard who he brought up on stage. It was one of the many times that night they brought down the house. I am a new Keith Urban fan. They informed us that all the cameras were around because they chose Rupp as the location for their new live DVD. I cannot wait to purchase this DVD to look for myself and relive the night. For the downside, I think I will just write an open letter sharing my feelings and letting go of the negativity instead of posting a recipe.

Dear Fellow Concert Goers to all Future Concerts that We're Both Atending,

I am certain that you are just as big of a fan of (insert band/artist name here). I am sure you work just as hard for your money as I do, and when you spend an ungodly amount on tickets to see (aforementioned band/artist), which angers you because you know how cheap they used to be but you won't complain because you LOVE live music and feel it's important to support the artists who bring you so much joy but sometimes for me I end up spending for one night of entertainment more than what I make in an entire day and I get very sad, you hope to get a good return on your investment of at least $60 for the seat, $10 to park, and $6 per beer. However, and I am speaking directly to you Sec 29 Row D seats 1 & 2, the answer is NO - I will not sit down during my favorite songs so that "everyone else can see," especially if I am not disruptively dancing like a drunken idiot (i.e. last row of floor seats, guys in jeans & button downs). If I am standing, tapping my feet the best a white girl can do, to the best of white people rock, attempting to have rhythm and sing along and have a good ol' time, I repeat, I will not sit down. Rather, YOU should get off your lazy ass and stand up. You are at a concert, not an opera. Not a play. Not a musical. Today's concerts involve standing, dancing, singing, and an attempt to relax, unwind, and let loose. Forget about the fact that you are old, and try to act young. It will make you feel young. For real!

Further, your request for me to sit down placed me in a more awkward position, as I was trying to give Rose more room to get away from her neighbor in seat 5 who reeked of cigarettes, pot, and old whiskey, wearing knee-length jean shorts and a cutoff white button down shirt, who kept trying to talk to her and was looking at her with that redneck-I'm-gon-git-my-gun-crazy look and whose nasty, unwashed, long, fried hair kept rubbing up against her. Said patron in Seat 5 did not smile, sing, or dance, save when Keith Urban played a medly of classic rock tunes which resulted in his tossing his nasty hair-head back, whistling, and head banging. This was such an ordeal that even the patrons in Row E took note, pointed and laughed. I was standing partially to give her the opportunity to get further away from skank-man. You messed up our plan.

I am glad you decided to leave two songs into Keith Urban's setlist. You missed a 2 1/2 hour tour finale, Nicole Kidman coming out with Carrie during the show among the crowd to support, the band coming out to that weird circular thing at the end of the stage which would have placed you within 100 feet of them in their hotness and talent, the beautiful & pure & acoustic "Raining on Sunday," and the last song that brought Keith Urban to tears. Yes, your leaving gave us room to get further away from Seat 5, and also allowed me greater opportunity to avoid Farty McFartster, the patron in Row C seat 3 standing directly in front of me who decided to "let loose" whenever he stood up.

In closing, please refrain from asking us to sit down during concerts. Instead, please try to behave more like the patrons at Daughtry/Bon Jovi who were in the nosebleed section with us but were just as die-hard fans as we were. The nice ladies on either side of Rose and me talked briefly (she had a wanna be singer, I had a midlife crisis bleach blonde who was not studying for her dental hygiene final that was the next day but had brought her teen boys to enjoy Bon Jovi), and sang along and danced with us. Here again, we were not drunken idiots ruining anyone's night (as we were during the Dixie Chicks show last year, sorry for the inconvenience Mr. Bald Man, for rubbing your head over and over); we were simply enjoying the music. If someone standing up at the concert is blocking your view, proper protocol dictates that you must stand as well in order to see. Just as paper smothers rock, rock dulls scissors, and scissors slice through paper, standers take sitters.

Sec 29 Row D Seats 3 & 4

Monday, April 21, 2008

Maple Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I generally like for my posts to have something creative in the title; as Cooper once told me, all good titles must have a colon. However, all my creative energies are currently going toward my CJT790 final report, and the color-coding of themes that emerge from 12 engaged women's experiences with planning weddings. Besides that, I ran outside 6 miles today, which is the longest I've ever run, ever, and I bet the run sucked out the remainder of my brain cells.

However, I made these cookies last week and I have felt the need to blog about them, mostly so I don't forget the recipe or what I did wrong. I saw Anne's recent post about Maple Strawberry Muffins, and for some reason I just had to have something with maple in it. So I found a recipe and adjusted it based on what I had in my cabinets and needed to get rid of. Here is my version of:

Maple Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups oats, quick cooking
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350. In small bowl, mix ingredients flour-nutmeg together with a fork; set aside. In medium to large bowl, cream together butter and sugar on low/medium speed with a hand mixer. Pour in syrup and vanilla, combine with mixer. Add in eggs one at a time. Gradually add in flour/oat mixture until just combined. On greased (or Pam-sprayed) cookie sheet, drop by tablespoon. Bake for 10 minutes, cool, and enjoy.

When I made these, there were a few things that went wrong, but still resulted in a yummy cookie. For one, the original recipe only called for 1 1/4 cups flour and 1 1/4 cups oats. I used the correct amount of flour but used about 2 cups of oats because I wanted to get rid of all the oats I had in my cabinet (I'm leaving for summer in about 2 weeks and am trying to rid the cabinets of a lot of things). I also used only one egg, per the original recipe (again). I also didn't have quite 1/2 cup of brown sugar, so I used about 1/3 cup brown sugar and filed the space remaining in my measuring cup with white sugar. And, I only had about 1/3 cup of raisins. They were still very tasty and flavorful, but they were too crumbly in my opinion. I brought the entire batch to the office in a ziploc bag, and within about 2 hours, they weren't so much cookies as they were a granola-ish trail mix. Luckily, my colleagues are usually desperate for food so no one seemed to mind. Someone even mentioned baking them longer and making a cereal out of it, which is not a terrible idea. I think that with my tweaks as noted above, they would actually work as cookies. Again, I haven't actually made them with that recipe, but it's just what I figure will work better next time. Let me know if they don't work for you.