Accidental Soup Volcano

For the past month, I’ve used my blender on a daily basis. I thought we were beginning to bond. I learned to love it despite its flaws, and in return it’s provided me with a delicious smoothie every morning.

Then this shit happened:

Bleepity bleepity bleep!

Bleepity bleepity bleep!

I was following a recipe for some tomato basil soup. It was almost simpler than the directions on a box of mac ‘n cheese. Essentially, it was this: chop garlic, dump stuff in pot, simmer for 20 minutes. After stirring in the basil, the last step was elementary: pour half the soup in the blender, process, and repeat with the second half. That’s it! Easy!

I’m stating for the record I put roughly ¼ of the soup into the blender. Not even half. I put the lid on, held onto it with one hand, and pushed the button.

My wall…my stove…my can opener…my microwave…my cabinets…my counter…my bowl of fruit…my shirt…my salt and pepper grinder…ALL splattered with thick, red globs of soup. The Mount Blender volcano violently erupted right before my eyes.

Somewhat embarrassed that my husband heard me shrieking, I quietly poured some of the (remaining) soup back in the pot so I could start over. I could only guess I’d filled the blender too full.

With about half a blender full of soup, I tried again.

And survived a soup explosion…AGAIN.

Believe it or not, it happened a third time. On the fourth try, with about a cup of soup in the blender, I managed to keep the top on and had no further messes.

The final product, which...was...worth it?

The final product, which…was…worth it?

Thankfully, the soup is superb. I mean, it’s some of the best tomato soup I’ve ever had. I just think the final step of the recipe might need to be tweaked a bit (my additions in red):

As a precaution, clear countertop of all items except for the blender, and have several wet kitchen towels within reach. Place half one cup of the soup in a blender; hold on to the lid of the blender like your life depends on it and process until smooth. Pour pureed soup into a bowl, and repeat procedure with remaining soup.

Amateur Candy Cane Pounder: or, Peppermint Cheesecake Cookies

Although I love to bake, I don’t do it very often. One reason is that it’s usually time consuming, and the other is that it would soil my plan of maintaining a healthy body weight. I typically channel my inner baker only for birthdays and holidays. And—oh my—Christmas is just around the corner!

I hadn’t thought much about baking any Christmas goodies yet this year. But I’ve been watching the Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network, and…well, try watching that show without getting a deadly craving for baked goods. Yesterday I finally made a date with Google to find a yummy recipe.

In an ideal world, I would have baked a cake. I LOVE CAKE. But the husband doesn’t care for cake, and for some reason I decided to be a nice wife and bake something we’d both enjoy. (Santa, are you taking notes?)

I settled on some Peppermint Cheesecake Cookies. My husband has been buying enough candy canes to warrant purchasing stock in Ferrara Candy Company, and everyone in my house just loves cheesecake. Win!

After a trip to the store to pick up some missing ingredients, my stepson asked if he could help bake the cookies. Ten years old and still wants to help me bake cookies—heart, please don’t melt! Of course I took him up on the offer.

The recipe calls for peppermint baking chips, which—of course—I couldn’t find at the grocery store. Why is there always ONE stupid ingredient you can’t find? Well, I’m an improviser if nothing else, so I purchased a ginormous peppermint candy cane for making my own peppermint chips.

The kiddo and I prepped the ingredients and while he mixed the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and pudding mix, I readied the candy cane for smashing.

Shit just got real.

Shit just got real.

I’m here to tell you, the way to a ten-year-old boy’s heart is to give him a candy cane and a mallet.

Before I tasked my stepson with the smashing of the candy cane, I took the first whack to make sure it would work. I hit it far too hard and sent shards of peppermint flying in every direction. Oops.

I think I broke it.

I think I broke it.

I gave the mallet to my stepson and instructed him not to hit too hard, and he gladly went to work breaking up the candy cane into little shards. While he created our impromptu peppermint chips, I mixed the flour into the batter until it made a nice, buttery cookie dough.

Boys and their tools...even in the kitchen.

Boys and their tools…even in the kitchen.

After several minutes, the candy cane was completely smashed but most of the shards were still pretty large. When we tried to smash them into tinier bits, they flew outward and landed on the floor, which excited my puppy to no end. Finally, I told my stepson to stop because I was tired of intercepting the dog’s consumption of the peppermint. Only then did the little light bulb come on. AHA!

I scooped up the peppermint shards and tossed them into my mini food processor. Within seconds, we had perfectly tiny peppermint bits to fold into the dough. What did I ever do without my food processors?

Eat my dust.  No really, it's delicious.

Eat my dust. No really, it’s delicious.

The dough made 24 beautiful cookies. After an agonizingly long cool-down, I split one cookie into thirds and we all taste-tested it. Delicious!

Yum times infinity.

Yum times infinity.

The only thing that disappoints me is that in the pictures in the recipe, the cookies are nice and puffy and look perfect—yet my cookies fell very, VERY flat. They still taste glorious, but damn it, I want my cookies to stay puffy!

I found this thread on Chow about preventing cookies from falling flat and it looks like there are several reasons mine turned into pancakes. For instance, I softened my butter a bit in the microwave and the bottom of it (but not the whole stick) straight-up melted. Since I had the kiddo do most of the mixing while I was measuring ingredients, the batter might have been over-mixed. Lastly, in hindsight I realize I probably should have chilled the dough a bit longer before sticking it in the oven.

Still, the cookies taste amazing. I guess I’ll just have to make another batch next weekend and see if I can make them stay puffy.  :D

 

 

Guess what? Chicken butt. Guess why? Chicken thigh.

I cook a LOT of chicken. I spend more money on chicken than on any other kind of meat. I still remember the day my husband (then-boyfriend) taught me how to cube and cook chicken. Yes, I realize how pathetic that sounds. And sometimes I worry that he regrets teaching me, because from that day forward I’ve been a chicken-cooking machine.

However…I’ve only ever cooked chicken breasts. No legs, no thighs, no wings. Why? Because I don’t even know what you do with them. I love white meat and have never understood why you’d work with dark meat when you don’t have to.

Last week I picked out a recipe that called for chicken thighs. It’s not the first time, but I usually substitute chicken breasts. For some reason, I decided to stick to the recipe this time.

To my dismay, I discovered the smallest pack the grocery store offered still contained seven thighs. I only needed three; what the hell was I going to do with seven? Fine, I thought. They’re cheap, and I guess I can find a use for the rest of them.

The first time was going to be easy. All that was required was removing the fat and dropping the thighs into the crockpot. Piece of cake, assuming I could figure out how to remove the fat.

Let me tell you about the happy dance I did when I discovered the fat peels cleanly off in one big slab, like the thigh was simply wearing a little jacket! I had envisioned the fat clinging to the meat for dear life and my hacking away for a frustrating chunk of time.

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My celebration was short-lived. Peeling the fat away revealed what I couldn’t see beforehand: this chicken still had its bones. BONES! I’ve never cooked meat with bones before!

I had (and still have) no idea how bones impact cooking. I should Google it, but I haven’t yet. Furthermore, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea of chickens having bones. When I look at a chicken, I sort of imagine it as a squishy blob with no real skeletal structure…kind of like a giant marshmallow with feathers. Don’t get me wrong, I know chickens have bones. I just seem to…forget…until I peel the fat off a chicken thigh and see a bone sticking out of its center.

Anyway, I crossed my fingers and dropped the thighs into the crockpot, bones and all. That evening when I got home from work, I was relieved when I removed the chicken and the meat simply slid right off the bones and shredded beautifully.

So I had one successful chicken thigh meal under my belt, but I still had four thighs. Thighs with bones. Unless I wanted to embark on a shredded chicken frenzy, I was going to have to find another use for them.

I settled on homemade burrito bowls. (Yes, I really like burrito bowls. Don’t judge.) This one was tricky because I planned to cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and fry it up in some seasonings. Not usually a challenge, but what to do about that damn bone?!

Well, I managed to cut up the meat, but it was a real hack job. The bone was about 80% of the problem, but the fat was also another thorn in my side. Even after removing the little fat jackets, those stupid thighs were full of white rubber! Grrrrr.

Off-topic confession: when prepping my burrito bowls, this teaspoon of cilantro took me roughly three entire freaking minutes to chop. *sob*

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So, will I ever cook with chicken thighs again? Let’s just say, no promises. I don’t exactly feel a twinge of joy when I consider it.

Freezer FAILS

To a less-than-impressive cook, the internet is both a blessing and a curse. This past week it’s been a seriously awful, horrible, wretched curse.

Exhibit A: Bananas

I drink a smoothie every morning with my breakfast. Bananas are a staple of my smoothies. The problem is, bananas tend to ripen a little too quickly and I’m not a fan of overripe bananas. My solution in the past has been to slice them at the perfect ripeness and freeze them in big freezer bags. It’s easy to grab a handful in the morning and toss them in the blender.

Recently I read on the internet that as long as the peels are intact with no rips or openings, whole bananas can be frozen and the peel will naturally protect the fruit from freezer burn.

Somehow it seemed worth it to save the five minutes it takes to slice a bunch of bananas. I grabbed several bananas on the verge of becoming too ripe and arranged them neatly in the freezer.

The next morning, I extracted a frozen banana. Not sure what I expected, but the rock-solidness of the fruit took me by surprise. Stupidly, I tried to peel it; the stem snapped right off.

At a loss and on the verge of running late for work, I tossed the banana in the microwave for about 15 seconds. It softened the peel just enough that I was able to remove a small piece just at the top. To my horror, the rest of the peel might as well have been super glued to the fruit. I ended up having to slice off the peel little bits at a time with a knife. This was the hideous result:

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So, I thought of a genius idea. I retrieved another banana from the freezer and placed it in the refrigerator. My hope was that it would thaw before the next morning and I wouldn’t go through this ridiculous little battle again.

The next morning:

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Not only was the damn thing solid black, but inside of it was practically liquid banana. It was revolting!

So, no more freezing whole bananas for this girl. It’s well worth the five minutes to peel and slice them first. Which brings me to…

Exhibit B: Potatoes

To pair with my smoothies, I also make a little egg-white and potato scramble in the mornings. I’ve been purchasing a bag of frozen Ore-Ida cubed potatoes each week just for this, but they’re almost four bucks a pop. For 98 cents I could buy ten pounds of fresh potatoes. Money-saving powers, activate!

Again, I turned to my friend Google. I found a Taste of Home article on freezing potatoes for hash browns. Taste of Home is a pretty credible cooking source, right?

I peeled quite a few potatoes—although I didn’t count them—and shredded each one in the food processor. As instructed by Taste of Home, I blanched them in boiling water for exactly three minutes, drained them and rinsed them in cold water, and then patted them dry before tossing them into a gallon-sized freezer bag.  Start to finish, it was about 45 minutes of work.  Not to mention the time it took to clean up the mess it made in my kitchen.  Mind you, this is just one section of the affected counter space:

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The next day when I opened my freezer, 50% of the shredded potatoes had turned dark brown. Google tried to tell me this was due to oxidization and they are still probably okay to eat, but I just don’t know that I can stomach eating something that looks like stringy poop. Anyhow, the potatoes all froze into a single, solid block. I’m going to cut my losses and consider it 49 wasted cents.

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I think I’ve had my fair share of freezer experiments as of late. For now I’m going to leave it to the professionals.

 

 

 

 

Last Tree Standing

This was our Christmas tree two years ago:

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We had put it up a couple of days prior and we were rightfully nervous about it from the start. Reasons included:

  • Our cat Winston had tried his damnedest to conquer the tree the previous year. Anti-chew spray, tin foil around the base, and citrus scent—all touted to keep cats away from Christmas trees—did nothing. Zilch. Nada.
  • Our other cat, Orville, was still a kitten, and quite the playful one at that.
  • It was our first Christmas with two cats. ‘Nuff said.

The third night or so after we put up the tree, I awoke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. From the hallway, I saw a giant shadow in the middle of the living room floor and immediately had a bad feeling. I took a detour to check it out and sure enough, the tree was lying on its side with ornaments scattered in every direction.

F*%#ing cats.

But I love them to death.

We learned the next morning that the artificial tree was actually busted. In two places. Sadly, it was broken enough that we had to trash it. Last year we moved into a new house just before Christmas and without an existing tree, we decided not to even bother. It was the Bah-Humbuggiest Christmas we’ve ever had.

This year, we’re back in the full swing of Christmas decorating. The lights are up outside, faux pine garlands are strewn about, and our gorgeous new tree has been up for FIVE days!

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Five days might not seem like much and it’s still too early to assume it’ll still be standing on Christmas morning. Although our kitten is now a mature adult cat with little interest in the tree, we do have a puppy this time around.

When we purchased the tree, the nice cashier at Home Depot asked if we wanted the two-year replacement warranty for $18. She explained that if something were to happen to the tree over the next two years, if Home Depot can’t fix it, they’ll replace it. My husband and I shot each other a sly glance and asked her, “Does it cover dogs?” She guessed it doesn’t, so we passed. But so far (I repeat, so far) Samantha has left it alone.

Winston, on the other hand, thinks it’s a salad bar.

Other than awaking to a few ornaments (shatterproof, I might add) that have been knocked off during the night, the tree has been safe and sound. I’m not ready to let my guard down quite yet, but I’m not horribly pessimistic.

Samantha was quite baffled by the Christmas decorating process. But she does make quite the fashion statement with bubble wrap.

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I'm watching you two...

I’m watching you two…

 

 

Cashew Butter Blues

My all-time favorite food is peanut butter. You could probably put peanut butter on a pickle and I’d still eat it. I imagine the first sign of the apocalypse will have something to do with the extinction of peanut butter.

Strong as my feelings are for peanut butter, my curiosity has been growing. Lately in the organic section at the grocery store I’ve seen hazelnut butter and sunflower seed butter. I’ve read about cashew butter and macadamia nut butter. Considering that I always dig the cashews out of my husband’s trail mix, I decided to try some cashew butter.

I also decided to make it myself.

I have a decent food processor that is capable of making nut butter, so I purchased some cashews in bulk at the grocery store and did my research online. First step: dump the cashews into the food processor.

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I used unsalted cashews, so I added a smidge of salt. I turned the food processor on, suffered through a minute or so of what sounded like screws inside of a wood chipper, and watched as the cashews slowly morphed into a thick, Play-Doh-ish substance.

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I stopped the food processor a few times to give it a rest. Each time I stopped it I got a whiff of the butter. I’m not going to lie, it smelled eerily similar to wet cat food. I was not feeling optimistic.

After about 20 minutes, my cashews had finally reached “butter” status. I excitedly scraped the butter into a plastic container. At this point it was lunch time, the point in my day when I usually make a peanut butter sandwich. It was perfect timing to try out my new cashew butter.

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I spread the cashew butter on a slice of nutty bread and topped it with a second slice. I typically eat peanut butter sandwiches without jelly; this might have been my downfall with the cashew butter. Not only could I not get past the cat food smell, but I just wasn’t enjoying the taste or the texture of the butter. It was sweet in a way I didn’t expect, but had lost that familiar cashew taste I was hoping for.

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I suppose there’s an epiphany to be had here. Not failing at something does not mean I’m not going to be disappointed by it. Pulling something off does not mean I’m going to enjoy it.

On the bright side, peanut butter is cheaper than cashews anyhow!

Have you tried cashew butter?  Do you like it?  How do you eat it?  I still have some leftover butter I need to use somehow, so I’m open to trying something new!

Thanksgiving Success!

I have never truly contributed to Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house.  It’s not to say I don’t offer.  Every year it’s the same drill:  I ask my mom what I can do to help and am assigned chopping the celery, opening the cans of olives, and setting the table.  Anything to keep me away from the actual cooking.  It doesn’t bother me; this arrangement has always been a necessity because of my notoriety for ruining anything that touches the stove.

This year I tossed out my usual offer to help, but several weeks ahead of time.  My parents were hosting between two and four additional guests and I didn’t want my mom to be overwhelmed.  To my surprise, she said, “Sure, you can be in charge of the rolls.”

Now I should be honest:  my mom kind of thought I would just buy some rolls at the grocery store.  At first, I kind of thought I would just buy some rolls at the grocery store.  But damn it, I’ve worked hard on my cooking skills and a surge of confidence came over me.  I was going to make the Thanksgiving rolls.  From scratch.

Of course, I always have to have a Plan B.  Just like Plan B for ruined dinner is a trip to Chipotle for burrito bowls, Plan B for Thanksgiving was a trip to the grocery store to buy some bakery rolls.  For this reason, I made my rolls on Wednesday so I would still have time to hit the store that night if all else failed.

Before I continue, look at this picture of the rolls we had for Thanksgiving.  You’ll have to keep reading to find out if they are Plan A or Plan B.

IMG_0528Tuesday, 7 p.m.  First things first, put on my trusty apron.  I rarely wear it but I was working with flour and…well, let’s just say I’ve learned my lesson.

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I mixed all of the ingredients, got in a mini-arm-workout stirring what felt like 50 pounds of wet flour, and stuck the dough in the fridge to chill overnight.

Wednesday, 1 p.m.  Punched the dough down as instructed.  (No one warned me baking was such a violent activity.)  Divided it in two and honestly couldn’t imagine each half turning into twelve glorious and perfect rolls.

IMG_05211:30 p.m.  Rolled a total of 23 little balls and took the puppy for a long walk for the 45 minutes I needed to give the dough to rise.

2:30 p.m.  Took the first half of the rolls out of the oven.  They…were…PERFECT!  Tried not to squeal.  Squealed anyway.  Stuck in the second tray while the first twelve cooled on a wire rack.

I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I make adorable little rolls.

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There were seven people at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner, and I brought 23 rolls.  By the time we cleaned up from our giant feast, only three rolls remained.  If that’s not success, I don’t know what is!

I’m really pleased I didn’t ruin the first Thanksgiving item I’ve ever cooked.  This year rolls, next year THE TURKEY!  Bwahahahahaha!

(Just kidding, mom.  Don’t scream.  I won’t touch the turkey until it’s carved and on my plate.)