Chasers: Or, How to Conquer a Dose of DayQuil

I’ve always been that person who absolutely MUST have a chaser to follow a shot of liquor.  It makes no difference if it’s top shelf, root beer-flavored, or paired with a cute little lime wedge and a dollop of salt; a chaser is an absolute necessity.  Soda, orange juice, V8 juice…I don’t care what it is, as long as it masks the taste of the alcohol.

After spending the week with a nasty head cold, I can say with certainty that the same applies to liquid cold medicine.  I’ve always been more of a pill girl, but this time around I decided to give the syrup a try.  Not only does the liquid require a chaser, but it also involves a lengthy pre-swallow pep talk and a post-chaser handful of cereal for good measure.  It’s too bad the liquid works a million* times better than the pills do.

*Rough estimate.

Last Week’s Eats

I’m a little afraid of admitting it—I’d hate to jinx myself—but last week was a really successful week in the kitchen! A little sampling of the things I whipped up…

Black Bean Burgers:

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Sweet and Sour Chicken:

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Lasagna Rollups (without using a recipe!):

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Side note on the lasagna rollups: Toothpicks are a MUST. In every Pinterest post I’ve ever seen about lasagna rollups, there are NEVER toothpicks holding them together. Well, those people must have magical powers because if I wouldn’t have had toothpicks, these suckers just wouldn’t have happened.  Also, the curvy sides of lasagna noodles fall off MUCH too easily.  Someone should invent lasagna noodles that don’t do this.  It’s 2015, I’m sure it can be done.

Skinny Honey Lemon Chicken:

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The skinny honey lemon chicken was decent, but the sauce was more congealed and gel-like than I would have preferred. What bothers me more, however, is the fact that yet again, my final product looked nothing like the picture in the original recipe.

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It reminds me of this comparison of a marketing photo of a Big Mac, versus the actual product you get at McDonald’s. Of course the Skinny Honey Lemon Chicken looks like one of the best things I’ll ever eat, until I actually cook it and it looks like I stirred some chicken into a jar of Vaseline.  I realize blogs like Gimme Some Oven use professional photography and I use a non-fancy Canon with horrible lighting in my kitchen, but COME ON…

For the record, I did totally garnish mine with sesame seeds. You can’t even see them. Elusive, they are!

Also this week, I was going to make some oven-fried chicken until I spilled meatball casserole all over my oven and didn’t get around to cleaning it for several days.  So instead, I improvised a creamy noodle dish with seasoned sauteed chicken, and it was actually quite tasty!  I made the sauce from scratch, and it was by far the most flavorful sauce I’ve ever made without a recipe!

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This week I’ll be tackling squash browns (hash browns made out of spaghetti squash). It’s one of those things that will either go really well, or really terribly! Wish me luck!

Roasted Garlic White Bean Hummus: An Addict’s Tale

My name is Hope, and I am addicted to hummus. At a job a few years back, I became known around the office as the “hummus girl,” and at my job now, I was recently asked if I ever eat anything for lunch other than hummus spread on something. (The answer was no.)

When I got my first food processor about a year ago, it seemed absurd to not make some homemade hummus. Does that mean I got straight to the hummus-makin’? Ha! No!

I have no excuse. Well, I have several of them, but none that truly justify why I wasted a year of opportunities for homemade hummus. Long story short, two days ago I finally made my own hummus!

White bean hummus is probably my favorite. I’m especially fond of the Eat Well Embrace Life brand. If you like hummus and you haven’t tried this brand (they make several kinds—traditional, white bean, black bean, carrot, beet…the list goes on), you are truly missing out on one of the best things on the planet. Back to the point: I chose a roasted garlic white bean hummus recipe from Betty Crocker.

I’ve never roasted garlic before. I have roasted all kinds of veggies, so I knew the garlic would be simple enough. What I didn’t know was how strange a bulb of garlic looks when you slice off the very top. In fact, it seriously creeped me out. Somehow it reminds me of bugs—don’t ask me to explain this, it’s just my perception. And it creeped the shit out of me. I took a moment to collect myself and then I moved on and got the hideous thing into the oven.

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Once the garlic was roasted, the recipe instructed to “squeeze” the cloves out of the bulb. Holy hot oily mess, Batman! I struggled with this one a bit. When I wasn’t burning myself (despite giving the garlic time to cool down), I was wiping up the oil that was continuously trickling down my arm.

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Okay, at this point I’m just whining because everything else was a breeze, and I don’t want you to think this is becoming a cakewalk for me. Mmmmm, cake…

I’m sorry to have to break it to Eat Well Embrace Life, but there’s a chance I won’t be purchasing much store-bought hummus anymore. This homemade stuff is DELICIOUS!

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Do you have any favorite hummus recipes? Please share them in the comments so I can feed my NEW addiction!

A Sampling of Pet Owner Ideology

Being a pet owner is…

Seeing a cat or dog hair slowly float into your food, making a move to catch it before it lands, and thinking:  Screw it.  There are probably fifty more already in my food.  And then taking a bite and moving on.

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Image source: http://wttf.org

I Want My Baby Back Baby Back Baby Back

I recently wrote about being intimidated by the prospect of cooking baby back ribs.  The day before writing that post, I’d cracked open an old crockpot cookbook I hadn’t used in over a year.  In it I found a recipe for Honey Ribs.  Aha! I’d thought.  The crockpot is foolproof!  No skill required!  After all these years, I was brave enough to purchase a rack of ribs at the grocery store.

First lesson from the experience:  The crockpot is not foolproof.  Yesterday morning, I gathered the ingredients to throw in the crockpot before work.  I…had…no…honey.

How does one make HONEY ribs without honey?  It’s like mac ‘n cheese without cheese.  Cherry pie without cherries.

So I had two problems.  One, I had no honey for my HONEY ribs.  Two, I had nothing else to cook for dinner.  With a pessimistic sigh, I retrieved the brown sugar from the pantry and decided it would be the understudy to my missing honey.  Because, you know, the consistency is pretty much identical.  (NOT.)

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The “before” pic.

In the end, there was good news and bad news.  The good news:  the meat itself was cooked to perfection.  It was tender and delicious.

The "after" pic.

The “after” pic.

The bad news: none of the other ingredients—beef consommé, barbecue sauce, dry mustard, maple syrup, or that blasted brown sugar—could be tasted. Not at all. The husband and I ended up smothering the ribs in Famous Dave’s barbecue sauce. Then they were pretty damn tasty.

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Awaiting a generous coating of Famous Dave’s Rich and Sassy.

While the recipe itself left something to be desired—aided, no doubt, by my failure to purchase honey before planning honey ribs—we both really enjoyed the end result. My husband’s great idea is that next time (because there will definitely be a next time), I’ll throw them in the crockpot before work one day, and he’ll take them out when he gets home in the afternoon, lather them up with barbecue sauce, and finish them in the oven until dinnertime.

The end verdict is that I can only laugh at how nervous I was about cooking baby back ribs. My fear was not about the flavor so much as it was about the actual meat. And that part was fantastic! Check one off the list for 2015 cooking milestones!

Anyone know of any crockpot rib recipes that actually pack a decent punch of flavor? If so, I’d love for you to share!

Not-Ruined Potatoes and the Barf of the Week

If you’ve read my past blog posts, you’re probably more than familiar with my disturbing ability to ruin potatoes.  POTATOES, of all things.  If you’re a new reader, let me tell you:  I usually couldn’t cook potatoes if my life depended on it.  I’ve always claimed I must be cursed, as I could dice a potato into half-inch cubes and bake it at 400 degrees for five hours and it would still be raw.

No matter how badly I ruin a recipe for potatoes, a certain amount of time always passes before I try again.  Things never get any better.  I truly deserve an award for perseverance, if nothing else.

Recently I found a recipe that instructed to dice the potatoes, place them in a bowl with a small amount of water, and heat them in the microwave for 6-8 minutes.  I’m one of those weird people who uses a microwave only as a last resort–call it a paranoia thing.  If anything classifies as a last resort, it’s cooking potatoes in the microwave because no other method works for me.

To my surprise, the potatoes did cook in the microwave–but they were a wee bit overcooked and slightly crumbling into a diced potato-mashed potato hybrid.

Tonight, I made a salsa chicken recipe I’ve cooked a few times.  Usually I make a side of rice or salad to go with it, but tonight I stepped outside of my comfort zone.  I not only decided to tackle microwaved potatoes again, but I didn’t have any kind of a recipe.  I was wingin’ it.

I diced the potatoes and placed them in a bowl with a little bit of water and a tiny chunk of butter.  I checked them every few minutes until they were perfectly done and then I tossed them into a preheated grill pan.  I sprinkled them with salt, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and BBQ seasoning, and tossed them until they just barely began to brown on the outside.

Pretty sexy, huh?

Pretty sexy, huh?

Not only was my husband impressed that the potatoes couldn’t have been more perfectly cooked, but he complimented me on how good they were several times as we ate.  Score one for my ego!

So, with the success story out of the way, it’s occurred to me that while the end result of cooking is often delicious and beautiful food, there are plenty of aspects of cooking that are truly barf-worthy.  Therefore, each week I will post a “Barf of the Week” picture to share how disgusted I am by some of the things we have to deal with in the kitchen.

This week’s Barf of the Week:  Congealed bacon grease!  EWWWW!

It smelled worse than it looked.

It smelled worse than it looked.

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.  😀

 

 

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.