Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dirty Hippy

In America, if you suddenly spout out something like, "I worry that I waste too much water", most people will look at you like you've grown an extra head.

Too much water? What are you talking about? This is the United States, not the Sahara! We'll import more if we need it.

Oh, the follies of my youth.

Regardless of the condescending or totally confused looks I get, I do worry about this stuff. I'm not Super Green Woman (dun du-na na!) but I try not to be completely wasteful and occasionally try to find more ways to cut down. Lately, it's water.

Have you checked your dishwasher lately? Apparently, at some point I set mine to pots and pans to wash something particularly funky and forgot to turn it back. This was probably a few months ago now. That made me cringe a bit. However, I felt even more stupid because I constantly forget that I have a light wash option RIGHT NEXT TO my normal wash option. Guess which one I automatically set it to.

In these old apartments, nothing's been replaced or upgraded for years, so I decided to look up my dishwasher. This took forever because there's no manual online! Even with Whirlpool. Sure, they give you a link, but does it work? No. So after a bit of searching, I found that most old dishwashers use about 12 gallons of water load, more for pots and pans settings I'm sure. I never use the drying option, so that's something at least. I just need to start paying more attention.

I've gotten used to rationing my water for the simple fact that I have to use a filter. I decided to go the cheap route of using a pitcher with a refillable filter, but the downside is that I can only have so much at one time. If I want to cook pasta, for example, I have to wait until I filtered enough. If it's clean, it's not wasted. After that, I don't use my tap (in the kitchen) for much more than rinsing vegetables or dishes. That's good at least.

If you've read articles on water waste, you'll find other kitchen tips like using the water you've boiled vegetables or pasta in to water plants, or not running a dishwasher unless it's full. There's plenty of articles that even dive into the dishwasher vs. handwashing debate (dishwashing is the winner, thank Bob). In case you were interested (I know you're not), I've also been experimenting with army showers and trying to find a brick to put in my toilet tank.

So what are you doing to cut down?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tomato-Radish Salsa

You'll all be relieved to know that I came up with a rather brilliant way to use some of those pickled radishes I made. I've still got all those tortilla chips lounging about on the counter and some of the leftover fresh vegetables in the refrigerator. To round out my work lunches, I decided to try my hand at another salsa.

The base for this one was just a drained can of diced tomatoes. Add a little red pepper and green onion and you've got the bulk of it. If you're a garlic fiend, a little here goes a long, glorious way. Juice half a lime and add a little of the "pickle" juice from your radishes, plus a handful of them chopped and adjust. All mine needed after that was a little salt and pepper.

I like tomato based salsas, and the radishes added that tangy, spicy addition that it needed. I think I like this better than the last one. Salsa may be my new thing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Brownies with Chocolate Frosting

This constitutes my first peanut butter recipe. I'm so excited. And not only that, they were pretty tasty. I ate all of them myself. I'm still not sold on the idea, but you can't argue with this much chocolate. Speaking of which...

If you were trying to describe this frosting, I think the word you would be looking for is "fuckawesome". It's the best chocolate frosting I've ever made, though it's best when fresh. (I'm seriously on a roll with this best ever stuff.)

I followed the advice of some of the reviewers and used a little less powdered sugar and a little more cocoa. I only have the dark chocolate on hand (woe is me) so it turned out really nice and concentrated. I even whipped it again after sitting for a while, but didn't notice any graininess to start with so eh. Also, I would spread this pretty soon after mixing, while it's still a little warm, because it hardens up and gets harder to spread. It wasn't the fluffy for days frosting that gets everywhere, rather it stayed hard enough at room temperature that it wouldn't rub off accidentally but was still soft to the tooth.

The brownies turned out springy and didn't try to commit suicide coming out of the pan, which is so lovely. Funny, I forgot it was supposed to be brownies instead of cake until I linked to it. As a note though, I would remove them from the pan immediately, because I let mine cool as is and the sides turned out a little brick-ish. For the batter, I chopped up half a Ghiradelli bar and threw it in. Just cuz.

So far, I'm 1 for 1 on the peanut butter recipes. Actually, I'm a bit more than that, but you'll have to wait for more. In the meantime, be jealous:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Roasted Carrot and Avacado Salad

I had a bag of baby carrots trying to petrify in my refrigerator after making the most awesome tomato soup ever. In defiance, and because it's me and I refuse to stop trying stuff I don't like, I decided not to just mask the flavor of carrots in other recipes. No, I was going to make it the star.

Unfortunately for me and the avocado that's now unused in my refrigerator, I don't like carrots! I just have to accept that fact for a little while. The flavor is just... wrong. Maybe one day I'll find that recipe that makes me believe or something, but it wasn't this day. *sigh* Maybe I'll just make guacamole or something...

Just in case you were really excited about the idea, I was going to steal the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. It looks beautiful over there. Just, you know, full of carrots.

Monday, August 10, 2009

What do you do with peanut butter?

Yes, this is another clean out the pantry post. Yes, I know that I've done these before, but I am getting better at them right? Well, now I've got too much peanut butter. I'm suddenly faced with this dilemma after taking a few jars from my mom's survival pantry. Now I've got about 5 jars staring back at me. We all know how this goes. Luckily, it's not fatal. For the peanut butter, I mean. It'll survive an atom bomb.

I'm sort of biased against peanut butter like I am against cinnamon. I think I don't like it until it's used right and then it's magic. And aside from a few PB&Js or some chicken satay, I'm definitely in a rut.

But let’s back up the bus here and talk about where all this came from. See, I work in a science lab. Sounds way cooler than it is. Still, my boss is Super Science Genius Man, so the job has its perks, agricultural anecdotes being one of them. For the last few months, I’ve been counting peanut germination on a thermogradient table. Again, sounds way cooler. Somehow, Dr. G-Dawg (as he’s named in my e-mails) started giving me a lesson in peanut types.

*This is “passive research”, Eddie Izzard style. If my boss lied to me, tough bananas. I don’t wanna check facts! If I did though, I could give you a citation list as long as my blog. Seriously, he’s got enough publications is the Journal of Peanut Science to make your eyes bulge.*

Apparently, almost 80% of the peanuts produced in this country go to making peanut butter. Shyeah. The most common cultivar was flagrunner. Or polerunner. Flagpole? Florunner*. Let’s say the first one. Anyways, in the 90s, we were slammed with a tomato wilt disease that also affected these peanuts. Long story short, RIP popular cultivar. Lots of tears later, they found a new cultivar that had many of the same characteristics. Thus, peanut butter lived on.

But have you ever noticed those little red dots in your jars of PB goodness? I always though it was some spice or something. I don’t know, I’m not that smart. Apparently, it’s something entirely different. When peanuts are roasted, the paper around the nuts dries up, then they blow it off. That’s all fine and dandy. However, this new cultivar separates a bit, pinching a tiny bit of the paper inside. When it come time to blow off the roasted papers, that bit is still inside, and that’s the little red dots you’ve been staring at for the last two decades. Neat huh?

We’re constantly testing peanut cultivars here, partially to make sure we’ll have a backup in case anything else happens. So, in a small way, I’m personally responsible for the longevity of peanut production and ensuring that you’ll still be able to enjoy a good sandwich for years to come. YOUR WELCOME. I want a raise now.

Anyways, I've started a list of ways to use peanut butter. They range from common recipes to... let's say innovative uses around the house. You shall be privy to my experimentation. Cuz I'm cool like that. Stick around folks!

*Thanks B.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Horsecreek Winery

I went to my first real wine tasting this past week(If you weren't convinced of my laziness before...). I've been really lucky to meet this network of people who always have something going on in such a small town. Much to my surprise, there is a winery in Nashville, Georgia. This tiny little place is on my way home and not too far out of the way, but who would have guessed it?

With a group of about 15 people, we reserved their tasting room for our little vino party. With most of the wines derived from muscadine grapes, it might be more of an acquired taste, but I thought it was nice overall. Several of the wines had what one taster described as a bit of "skunk". The nicest way to phrase that might be musky, but yeah. It was kinda skunky. Despite that, they still had a few good ones and an awesome wine slushy. I don't think any of the bottles are over $15 and I walked out with my favorite red of the night, a merlot-carbernet mix called Hahira Red that lacked the sweetness found in most of the others. We even got to keep our wine glasses.

The most enjoyable part of the evening wasn't the wine. The staff there, including what I assume to be the wife of the grower and one of the owners led us through the tasting. She openly declared that none of them were wine drinkers before and had no idea how to use the fancy terminology of the aficionados. It was awesome. The owner and her two helpers were very nice. The atmosphere was refreshingly casual, with their four dogs roaming the grounds and two of the smaller ones camping out under our chairs waiting for love. I'm so glad someone found out about it and I could enjoy it with such a great crowd. It's amazing to think that I couldn't have done anything like this just a year or two ago.

If you'd like to check out the winery, or you're in the area and looking for something to do, check out their website for more information. Don't let the skunk put you off. A wine tasting might put you out $10 or so, but even if you don't find anything you like it's a very enjoyable time for pretty damn cheap.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Black Bean Mango Salsa

It was meant to make the bitchinest breakfast burritos evar! Then I realized I forgot to take out the chicken and didn't have time. It was also meant to be a simple black bean mango salsa. Actually, it needed a little of this and a little of that until suddenly it was a southwest salsa with mango. C'est la vie. It's still good and I've been tearing through it with some chips. Plus, add this to all the fruit I've been pigging out on and I think I'm hitting most of the food groups now. What a concept.

Let's see. It started with mango, black beans, cilantro, green onions, red pepper, and a vinegar/sugar mix. Then went the jalapenos, then some tomatoes and corn. Then hell, let's throw in a little garlic. Yeah. I'm pretty sure everything still alive in my refrigerator had a shot at this one. After a while, I started trying to mimic a black bean salsa I had recently that was awesome. Needs more kick, but getting close.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Pickled Radishes

Riffling through a few sites of real Ramen recipes inspired me to branch out my ingredients. This also led me to pondering the existence of pickled radishes. To my memory, I've never had them. But surely something as zesty on its own, like a humble radish, would benefit from a tangy-sweet bath in pickling juice. And so they did. These were lovely and tangy and spicy. Though they were meant for Ramen experimentation, the few times I've chucked a couple slices in hasn't really sold me on the idea. So instead, I've been eating them as is, straight from the jar as a snack. Ideas?

Of course, I can't find the recipe I based this on, though I didn't follow it exactly anyways. I started off with a mix of sugar and sushi rice vinegar. Then I mixed in a healthy bit of salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes. Let sit overnight in the fridge and shake every once in a while. I just used those cheap little baggies of radishes and they turned out so pretty. See?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tomato Soup with Lemon-Rosemary Cream

I'm going to cut right to the chase: This is the best tomato soup I've ever tasted. Far and away the best I've ever made. Really.

It's so strange to think that something made mostly of pantry items and low expectations can achieve greatness.

I halved the recipe to make a little over 4 cups. Didn't need tomato paste (amazingly), the can of whole tomatoes in tomato juice was enough. And it has a bay leaf in it. As in my best friend called when I was trying to fish it out and by the time we were done I'd forgotten about it and pureed the sucker. Some spoonfuls are disturbingly chunky. Oh well. Still, this is definitely a blender soup, in my opinion, so you may want to take that into account if you make a full recipe. Batches.

Plus, one day I will have a microplane grater. One day.

I'm not admitting that the carrots really helped the flavor. I'm just tipping my hat in recognition that maybe they kind of had something to do with it. Kind of. Baby steps.

Tomato Soup with Lemon-Rosemary Cream
From here

For Soup:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 onion, finely chopped (If you're going to blend it, don't fuss over chopping too fine)
2 carrots, peeled, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 bay leaf
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes with added puree
6 cups canned chicken broth

For Cream:
1/2 cup whipping cream
3/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary (I used crushed dried)
2 teaspoons lemon zest

1. In the soup pot, melt butter. Add next 6 ingredients. Cover and cook until onion is soft, roughly 5 minutes.

2. Add tomatoes and chicken broth. Recover and simmer until vegetables are soft, about 40 minutes.

3. FISH OUT BAY LEAF. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Feel free to skip this step. Puree until smooth in blender or food processor.

5. Whisk cream, lemon, and rosemary until slightly thickened. It says to use only half the lemon zest for the cream and put the rest in the soup. I say it's all going to get stirred into it anyways. Season with salt and pepper if you like.

Serve soup with cream drizzled over if you have company or a date (you guys constitute as my date). Otherwise, mix it all together and enjoy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Unbaked Lemon Pasta

Luckily, every once in a while, I'll look at something, make it because it looks interesting, and actually like it. This was one of those times. I mean spaghetti smothered in sour cream and lemon? Sign me up!

And have I been living under a rock or something? Why haven't I known about Pioneer Woman before this?

I don't have a picture because I was so hungry every time that it was finished before I could even think the word "camera" in my mind. (It's amazing how much I lie) Plus, I didn't bake it. Couldn't be buggered. I dished out individual portions with sauce. I'm sort of ambivalent about parsley. Granted, I haven't tried a whole lot of flat leaf parsley, so I'm not in a position to really judge, but it just doesn't seem like it would add a whole lot. It'll have to go on my list of things to try. Otherwise, this dish benefits from a heavy hand of black pepper. I do love black pepper so. One of those things I swore I didn't like until college when I actually tried it. How young and naive I was. Watch this space in a few years for the same remark on parsley.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Confit of Slow-Cooked Onions

I know, right? Ya'll, I've used nearly 3 pounds of onions in these past two crock pot recipes, most of them featured in this pretty little confit. But let's start at the beginning, shall we?

One day as I was flittering around the internet, I found an article about a woman who now makes a living selling her family's recipe for salsa. No, I don't remember who. No, it doesn't matter. What caught my attention was that she was amazed watching her husband put maple syrup on his pancakes. Her family would top them with salsa. It has such a fresh, green taste that they used it just like salt and pepper to flavor everything, even dishes that already had a sauce on them. This really stuck with me and now I've been seeing salsas, chutneys, and the like in a whole new way. It's all suddenly exciting. And now here we are.

That doesn't mean there weren't bumps in the road. Specifically, classes getting in the way of recipe prep time. The recipe called for softening up the onions on low in the crock pot for FIVE HOURS. That's all well and good, but we actually had class that day (I was expecting the teacher to be absent) so I softened them on the stove instead. Then even after more than the requisite time in the crock, my mixture wasn't sticky like it was supposed to be. It was still soupy. Back to the stove with me.

How did it taste? ...Um. Well, the thing is... this was around the time that school was slamming me with stuff and I stopped cooking for a while and started eating crap food again. So... I didn't actually eat any. What I tasted on the spoon was good. But as far as actually putting on the chicken it was meant for, no. Didn't happen. *facepalm* Don't say it. I know.

If you'd like to ignore my idiocy here, I'll make it up to you over here with a chocolate face mask recipe that I fondly call the chocolate faceplant.

Confit of Slow-Cooked Onions
Slow Cooker Recipe Book

Serves 6

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T butter
1 1/4 lbs onions, thinly sliced
3-5 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 T light brown sugar, plus a little extra
2 T balsamic vinegar, plus a little extra (I used a lot more of both the vinegar and sugar)
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup ready to eat prunes, chopped
salt and pepper

1. Put oil and butter in crock pot and melt on high for 15 mins. Add onions and stir to coat.

2. Cover pot with lid and place folded dishcloth on top. Cook onions for 5 hours, stirring several times to ensure even softening.

3. Sprinkle well with salt and pepper. Then add thyme, bay leaf, sugar, vinegar, and red wine. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved, then stir in prunes.

4. Re-cover and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 more hours, until it's thick and sticky. (This took me way longer. Seriously, I just shoved it in the fridge and cooked in down in a normal pan the next day.) Adjust seasonings, sugar, and vinegar to taste. Store in refrigerator. Serve warm or cold.

Monday, August 3, 2009


I don't think I've ever been so excited about zucchini. But lo! My eyes are opened to the beauty of its subtle flavor and gentle freshness. Plus, there's something about grating fresh vegetables as opposed to chopping them that is so much fun. It could just be me.

The first zucchini recipe I tried from The Student's Vegetarian Cookbook was the Creamy Zucchini Somethingorother. I forget what it's called now. It calls simply to saute 1 grated zucchini with some basil (I used italian seasoning) in a little olive oil until warm and "green". Then mix with 1 T of yogurt (sour cream is particularly good), salt and pepper to taste, and shove in a pita pocket. It may not sound like a delicacy, but it really is filling and very comforting.

It even inspired me to grate up a little more zucchini and finally use the last of my radishes before they went bad in a new spin on the same recipe. The radishes added a little more zest with the same great results. Seriously, can we all just be totally proud of me for a second? ........ There.

The second recipe was Zucchini Pizza. Again, saute a grated zucchini, some basil, chopped onion (I used half a shallot), and one or two chopped tomatoes. After a pita pocket is split and baked at 450F for about 3 minutes, top it with the vegetables and some grated Monterey Jack, and bake until cheese is melted. That simple and so good. On a side note, I bought real Monterey Jack cheese a week ago. Before, I'd only had the Kraft version. If you've only had Kraft, you don't know jack about Jack. (Heh.) It's so much stronger and just perfect and tangy and so so so good melted.

And there you have it. What do you do with zucchini?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Remember these? A year or two ago, there was a violent flurry of these recipes swarming food blogs everywhere. Just like the rest of the world, foodies get caught up in trends too (remember clafotis and the year of rhubarb?). Well this was one of them. One I was all too willing to jump on, I might add. Alas, it was not to be. My extreme laziness stood in the way of chocolatey indulgence and this idea fell to the wayside like so many others.

However, like most ideas that get stuck in my head, they circle back eventually. I was running out of flour but wanted something chocolatey, preferably a cake. We can all see how this went. On the upside, I got to use my springform pan for the first time. On the downside, I'm not sure how I feel about this cake.

It has it merits, namely a rich chocolate flavor and beautiful presentation. I'm just not sure I baked it right. The middle was pudding with a top shell and the outsides tasted like (well check the ingredients) a chocolate meringue. Not bad, but I was just sort of unsure about it. So while the jury is out, let's direct our attention to the beauty of the finished cake. I loved the rustic look of it. And check out my effort with the powdered sugar topping. Guys, I tried to make something pretty. Can I have a round of applause? Just a little one? This was a monumental step for me in the pretty food category.

Try your hand at it and let me know how it goes. I chose this recipe based on the simplicity of ingredients.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Brown Bread Pudding

I do almost all of my grocery shopping at Winn-Dixie. A few years ago, if you asked me what a grocery store was, I probably would have said Walmart. You know, on the opposite side from the tires. The town I lived in could be summed up by watching the commotion of the 24 hour Walmart in a two day period, tops. But now that I live in a larger city and do most of my shopping during the day as opposed to 3 a.m. like I used to, I prefer an actual store oriented around, you guessed it, food.

Why Winn-Dixie? They have damn near everything I need or want at any given time, they're incredibly close, and everything in the store is BOGO! Seriously, I've whinged on about them before and all the food I've wasted because of a good BOGO, but done right, it can be awesome. My latest BOGO was whole wheat bread. The fancy kind I like so much. But what does someone who rarely eats bread do with it all? If you're like me, you start a search for brown breading puddings.

I found a likely recipe on the Hillbilly Housewife site. I liked the simplicity and the fact that I had all the ingredients. Two hours later, I was left with rather unimpressive bread-glop. There's nothing inherently wrong with the recipe. However, I like to err on the side of ridiculously rich desserts and this doesn't fit the bill. It's a bit bland and dry. Next time, I'm thinking Bourbon, raisins, and caramel. Anyone have a good Brown Bread pudding to share?

Also, this is the first post for my personal NaBloPoMo challenge. I'm trying to post every day for the month of August in both this blog and my craft blog. Wish me luck!

Response to Comments:
Yes, those are before baked pictures. I couldn't get a decent "after" shot. It was pretty in a rustic way and I was hoping that the simplicity would make each flavor stand out more, but no. It was not to be.

BOGO= Buy one, get one