Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy Pi Day!

Today's adventure was making pie for "Pi Day." For the uninitiated, it's Pi Day because March 14th = 3/14 = 3.14. Yes, har har. It's a dumb joke, but you might have guessed by now those are my favorite kind. ;) I hadn't planned on baking anything when I woke up today (nor did I realize it was 3/14 until I saw someone post about it on Facebook), but after some discussion and crowdsourcing for filling ideas, I went out and bought pie supplies.

This was actually my first time ever making a cherry pie. I've made a few apple pies, cobblers, dozens of cheesecakes, some fruit tarts, pecan pies, even a french toast pie... but for some reason never cherry. So I looked at a couple recipes online to get the jist of it. 99% of the time I use an all-butter pastry dough like this one, which tastes good, but the one thing I'd do differently next time is make slightly more dough and roll it out thicker. As for the filling, I've always thought the bourbon-cherry combo works well in mixed drinks, so I decided to add a splash. Here's exactly what I did:

Cherry Pi Filling

  • approx. 2 1/2 lbs. cherries (w/o stems or pits)
  • 1 1/2 cups turbinado sugar
  • 4-6 tbsp corn starch
  • a shot of bourbon

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Notes: 1. Prepare and chill the dough first. 2. I used frozen cherries because fresh ones won't be available until May, but definitely use fresh tart cherries if you can.

To start the filling, put the cherries in a pot over low heat to get the juice out. This took me about 8 minutes, but your stove top's mileage may vary. Remove from heat, then add the sugar and stir to combine. In a separate small bowl, combine the corn starch with a few tbsp of water (this helps it to evenly combine), then stir into the cherries. Place back on the stove over medium heat and add the splash of bourbon (I honestly didn't measure, but I think I added about a shot- if you're not sure it's best to taste it!). Simmer on medium heat until the filling thickens up, then remove from heat and let cool for 30 minutes.

I let my dough chill for an hour while I was preparing and cooling the filling, then rolled it out on a floured countertop. The first half I laid in the glass pie tray, added the cooled cherry filling, then rolled out the top dough layer and cut a pi symbol into the center. To fit that on top of the pie, I rolled up the dough around my rolling pin and rolled it back out over the top of the pie like the instructor in this video.

Bake the pie for 45 minutes, and cool for an hour before cutting and serving.

Overall, really tasty for a first attempt. The filling is really good, and the crust tastes buttery and wonderful, I only wish it was a little thicker to balance out the filling. Enjoy. :)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

New Food Category Labels

Time for a quick spot of housekeeping. I'm quickly approaching my 50th recipe, so I thought it was time to add some new labels to keep all these recipes organized and make them easier to search for. I've added five new categories based on types of foods/dishes, so in addition to being able to search by "vegetarian" or "vegan" etc., you can now search the following criteria as well:

1. Baking & Bread
I think this one's pretty self explanatory. It covers bread, and other baked dishes like pizza and savory pies (sweet pies will still be under Sweets and Treats as always).

2. Rice & Pasta
If it's served with rice or pasta, it'll be here. This includes some dishes that might overlap the Baking category, like lasagna or stuffed peppers with rice.

3. Sandwiches
The label for all things sandwich-related, including burgers, wraps, and pita pockets.

4. Soups & Stews
Weirdly, I think this might be my new favorite category. I hadn't realized that I'd been making more soups recently until I created the label.

5. Veggie Dishes
And finally, veggie dishes. These are recipes where one or more vegetables or plant-based foods is the star, as well as salads. There's a lot of overlap between this category and the Vegan label.

All the other labels will remain the same for now. Happy browsing, and I hope everyone's been well.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Spaghetti Squash with Chickpeas

Well, it's Valentine's Day. I'm steeling myself against the sappy climate of the internet in general today, and trying to sink back into my (disjointed) art work groove.

The past few weeks have involved a lot of heavy foods (pizza and cookies on my worst days). I guess that's normal when you're strapped for time or going through big emotional changes, but I don't feel very good about it. So I've been wanting to prepare something lighter. I'm snowed in for the time being, but I thought ahead and got a spaghetti squash to experiment with a couple days before the storm.

Spaghetti Squash with Chickpeas

  • 4 cups cooked spaghetti squash
  • 1/2 cup (dry) chickpeas
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • a squeeze of fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 tsp)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • lemon wedge (garnish)
  • dash of oregano (garnish)

Preparation Part One:
I prepared my spaghetti squash in advance, and divided it into two 2-cup portions for later. You can make it using a microwave, but I did mine in the oven, since I was actually trying to kill time, and I wanted to simultaneously roast the seeds. To bake your squash, cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and stringy bits, then place each half face down on a parchment-coated baking sheet. Bake for 45-60 minutes depending on the size of your squash. It's ready to be shredded into spaghetti-like strands when a knife can easily penetrate the outer skin. Here's the video I originally watched to learn how to roast my own.

I also cooked my chickpeas in advance. To cook from dried, soak the chickpeas for at least an hour (preferably overnight). Replace the soaking water with fresh water, and boil the chickpeas for about 45 minutes or until tender, and drain.

Preparation Part Two:
To your (reheated) spaghetti squash, add 1 tbsp olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

To your cooked and drained chickpeas, squeeze in about 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice, then stir in cumin and minced garlic. Top the spaghetti squash with your chickpeas and garnish with dried oregano and a lemon wedge.

It's a little bit like a chickpea salad with some familiar flavors borrowed from traditional hummus. The recipe listed above uses one whole squash, and makes about four servings. If you're preparing it for two on a date night, you can store the other half of the squash in the fridge for another night.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Fried Eggs on a Snow Day

It's an official snow day here in Northern Virginia, with 12+ inches that accumulated overnight. Thankfully we had plenty of advance warning, and I stocked up on groceries and got a full tank of gas (even though I'm not planning on driving anywhere).

I like to treat myself to a hearty breakfast on snow days, so today I fixed myself a big mug of dark roast coffee, some fried eggs and vegetarian sausage patties.

I think fried eggs were top of mind because my friend Matt and I have been discussing them. He's into trying different egg cooking techniques (today, in fact as I type this, we're discussing Spanish style fried eggs). There seem to be hundreds of ways to fry an egg, and I definitely haven't tried them all, but this is the way that's been working for me lately:

I start by melting a pat of unsalted butter in a skillet on medium-low heat (the whole process involves slow cooking on a lower heat). Crack the eggs directly into the skillet, being careful not to break the yolks, of course. Let the whites start to cook while sort of corralling them gently with a spatula... when the whites are about halfway cooked, use the spatula to fold them around the yolks. Continue to cook for another minute or so, then season with salt & cracked pepper. I actually filmed myself breaking the first yolk to show the consistency:

My youtube channel= in-depth painting tutorials, and random food videos.

Just out of curiosity (and to pass the time so we don't all get cabin fever), what's your favorite way to make eggs?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Valentine's Day Cookies

Today I broke in the new oven for the first time, and I think we're going to be great friends.

I used the same sugar cookie recipe that I used for my last batch from over the holidays, with one change: I used an extra tsp of baking soda to make them fluffier and soft, and it worked exactly as I hoped.

I also rolled them out a bit thicker than last time, closer to 1/4 inch. Baking them for exactly 7 minutes each they came out just right.

I also used the same kind of icing for both the base and decorative scrolly stuff this time. The basic confectioners-sugar-and-milk recipe is a little easier to control than royal icing, but gets unwieldy as you keep using it because your hand warms it up in the piping bag. I'm also still waiting to get my hands on a #2 or smaller icing tip- still using the larger #3 here.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Shelves, At Last!

Ok, this is not a post about food or crafts. This is a post about VICTORY.

Today, I installed the last of my shelves. I can't believe these never fell down before, given how poorly they were secured to the walls in my old studio. Not this time. I'm like... the wall anchor champion today. The real victory is getting these installed despite having metal studs throughout the whole apartment. I already ran into issues with them when I put up the curtains and a small spice ledge in the kitchen, but thankfully the classic knocking-on-the-wall to find the hollow parts did the trick this time. I was also prompted to download a bubble level app for my phone, which will come in handy again, I'm sure.

Now I just need to re-stock those shelves with art supplies and knick knacks, hang a bit more art and add plant life, and I will be able to get back to drawing/painting/relaxing in a space that feels like home.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Meditation and Grilled Cheese

The past few days have been really hard. Lots of crying about the divorce. As much as my logical side tells me to calm down, that things are the way they are for good reasons, I can't help but start thinking horrible things like "no man will ever love me," and "I failed." One way I keep my emotions stable is meditating, sometimes on my own, and sometimes with a guided meditation video like this one.

The other way to center myself is, of course, cooking. Not to be confused with stress eating, I find it healthier to deeply involve myself in the nuances of food-making instead of acting on my despair in self-destructive ways. Today, instead of drinking alone or being woeful at my decreasingly-patient friends, I made a sandwich. The idea to make said sandwich followed this tongue-in-cheek post from yesterday, called 31 Grilled Cheeses That Are Better Than a Boyfriend. Looking at those pictures, I was inspired to drive to the grocery store immediately, with 50% visibility while it was raining tiny ice pellets, because I felt I needed to make a grilled cheese as soon as possible.

Darn it, Buzzfeed, look what you made me do.

Anyway, here's the story of my grilled cheese. It's sort of a combination of #12 and #13 from that list- I feel that despite minor differences, the spirit of my sandwich is the same.

Cyn's 'No More Tears' Grilled Cheese with Avocados & Peppers

  • 8 slices of bread (I used Pain de campagne)
  • 6-8 oz monterey jack cheese, sliced
  • 2 ripe avocados, sliced
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, finely chopped w/seeds removed to taste
  • 1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil (divided between cooking and the bread)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • salt & pepper to taste

Put about 1 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat, and add the red pepper. Cook for about 2 1/2 minutes, occasionally stirring, then add the chopped jalapeño and cumin, and continue cooking for another 3 minutes, or until the peppers are fragrant. Season with salt, and pepper, stir, and remove from heat.

I made a conscious decision to use finely chopped peppers (like a salsa) instead of roasting halved jalapeños. Why? Because the skin of the jalapenos I bought were kind of tough, and it gets messy biting into a sandwich and having some of the bite stay attached.

Drizzle or brush the remaining olive oil on the outside surfaces of the bread slices to help them grill to perfection. Assemble the ingredients as follows: cheese slices first, then the peppers, then top with avocado slices. Add another dash of salt and pepper on top of the avocado to season. You can easily grill the sandwiches the traditional way in a skillet or grill pan, but I wanted to try out a new kitchen gadget in my arsenal that a friend of the family gave me for Christmas- a sandwich press:

Impressive... Most impressive.

Press (or grill in a pan) for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, or until the cheese is melted, and the bread is fried to your desired color. The ingredients as I listed them would make 4 (really filling) sandwiches.

"I will stop the flow of your tears, and your arteries."

This is one of those recipes where it doesn't matter if you follow it to the letter. It's near impossible to mess up anything involving cheese and avocados, and you can take massive liberties adding or switching out ingredients. If you make a grilled cheese of your own, leave me a comment!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Apartment: Week 1

It's been exactly a week in the new apartment today. I've made a lot of progress getting the place set up, and certain areas are already totally satisfying. There are still boxes to unpack, of course, and one more load of stuff (mostly artwork) to get from the old house, but I'm pleased with things so far.

Yesterday I took a fun trip to Ikea with my parents, and came home with some wonderful things including curtains and counter stools:

I can sit down to eat now... yay!

I also got some decorative items like a new lamp shade and candles, and storage items like a hanging closet organizer and these awesome spice jars, which I just finished labeling this morning:

This weekend is busy. I'm going over in just a few minutes to help some of my best friends paint their new house, but I expect I'll be doing some baking very soon. And I can't wait to get 100% settled in so I can really get back into my day-to-day groove, and start having people over again!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hearty Apple Corn Chowder

I'm so excited to share this recipe. 1.) it's the first real cooking I've done since moving, 2.) it's the first personal recipe I've posted in more than half a year, 3.) it helped me work out some of the challenges of photographing my food in the new apartment, and 4.) it's delicious.

Hearty Apple Corn Chowder

  • 16 oz yellow corn
  • 3 small red skin potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 apple, peeled and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup cream (or cashew cream for a vegan version)
  • 4 heaping tbsp flour
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste

Start by heating 2 tbsp of olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the red pepper and thyme, then cook for about 5 minutes while stirring frequently.

Reduce heat to medium-low, add another tbsp of olive oil, then add the garlic and corn, and continue roasting for about 2 minutes.

Add the flour and stir to coat the veggies thoroughly. Pour in the vegetable stock, stir, and let the soup come to a boil. Add the potato cubes and continue simmering with the lid off for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Stir in the diced apple pieces, then pour in the cream and season with salt and pepper. Continue to simmer on low until the chowder has a thick, soft consistency- if it gets too thick, add more veg stock 1/4 cup at a time. Makes 4 generous servings.

I first came across the idea of adding fruit to chowder a couple years ago when I saw a pear corn chowder on a menu at a Fairfax hotel restaurant. I didn't order it that day, but it stuck with me. You're playing with the same flavors and ingredients you might use to make a good cornbread, but instead of adding the traditional sugar you get some sweetness from the apple. It's a really nice balance of salty and sweet, and the flavor is super rich and savory.

I might try a variation on this in the summer when corn is in season- I used canned yellow corn for this, and much to my dismay, this led to a discovery that I don't have a can opener... I ended up using a screwdriver and pliers to do the job. I've been so organized, I can't believe I missed that!

Monday, January 27, 2014

New Apartment: Days 1-3

The move is finally over! I never ever ever ever want to do that again. Despite being really sore still, I can hardly complain. My new apartment is wonderful, and I have amazing people in my life.

Technically my move-in day was the 24th. My dad and I arrived that day with the first two car loads of stuff, I signed all the requisite paperwork and got my keys. To me, Saturday the 25th was officially Day 1. Both my parents, plus six of my best friends showed up to help unload the rest of the stuff, then my friends stayed to help me assemble some of my furniture. I have trouble reaching out and asking for help even when I really need it sometimes, but they coordinated with each other and came anyway. After all the carrying and building we had pizza together, using two yet-to-be-assembled glass shelves as a makeshift table on the floor. I already know my friends are great, but that experience was heartwarming beyond words.

Golden morning sun falling across my work-in-progress living room...

On Day 2 (Sunday) I woke up before my alarm. The first night was rough and I didn't sleep very well, but I was greeted in the morning by a really beautiful gold sunrise. I'm not superstitious or the kind of person who interprets "signs from the universe," but if I was, I'd say this was a start of good things to come.

Day 2 started quietly, with a mug of coffee and a loooong soak in the tub. Then I set up my computer, did a load of laundry, and shopped for some home essentials. This whole experience has given me a new appreciation for all things quotidian. In the evening I did my first tiny bit of cooking- really it was just making popcorn on the stove, but it was delicious, and a good way to start breaking in the hand-me-down pots and pans my parents were kind enough to give me.

Where the Magic happens (literally).

This morning's great event was getting my internet connection set up. I had to go to Best Buy and get a new wireless adapter, but after that, voila. Still need to manage that jungle of wires in the back, but everything works, and for today that's all I care about. I'm back online, and ready to get back into some semblance of a routine. I also did some neighborhood exploration while I was out, and tried out the business center at my leasing office (to print out some new recipes, go figure).

So with all the goings-on, January feels almost like it didn't happen. I'm mentally and physically exhausted, but I'm feeling stronger now that the moving experience is over. I'm looking forward to taking things slowly from here, doing some real cooking this week, and hopefully getting back to more regular updates!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2013 Holidays and Life Changes

The 2013-2014 holidays brought about some unexpected life changes. The big one: my husband and I are going through a separation. Sometimes you get comfortable thinking things will always stay the same, and then you get flipped on your head. I hadn't prepared for this even a little bit, but it's a reality I'm facing with different emotions and strength every day. The details are our business, though I will say there's no real "bad guy," and the decision to separate is a consequence of incompatibility, not wrongdoing. But it still hurts, and it's still a process.

When I started this blog I was on a journey of health and wellbeing, and learning to express myself with food. The inspiration tapered off when things got busy with work, and in June I stopped writing altogether because things were hard all over. I was too exhausted to write. Normally when I'm feeling down, I choose not to write openly or post to social media (so I don't say anything I'll regret later), which sounds fine and polite, until you realize that I missed a lot of days in 2013.

Now, a year later, I just turned 30 and I'm packing to move into an apartment of my own. Even though this has been a very hard change so far, I'm trying to stay positive, and looking forward filling the new living space with good vibes and things that make me happy.

Future box fort?

I wasn't sure if/when I'd return to this blog, but maybe writing here will help me cope with my feelings. Maybe strict silence isn't always the healthiest response to pain or change. Renewing my passion for kitchen adventures is something I wanted to do anyway, but feels extra important now in light of these massive changes. I need good food in my life to keep myself strong, and cooking and baking are expressive and therapeutic.

So that this isn't all doom-and-gloom, I wanted to share some of my Christmas cookies, too. I spent a lot of time distracting myself with baking in December, and had some visually cool results with these gingerbread and sugar cookies, which were gifts for my family and close friends.

Cookies rolled out, cut, and baked.

I made the gingerbread cookies using the Eileen's Spicy Gingerbread Men recipe, which my friend Laura introduced me to a couple years ago. The only sub I made was using real butter instead of margarine. The sugar cookies were from The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies recipe. In the comments, several people mention the dough being sticky and hard to work with. They're not entirely wrong, but if you run into that problem you can re-chill your dough in the fridge before rolling more out and/or use additional flour.

The icing process...

The base coat of icing was applied using a paintbrush (yes, that's very me). It's an extremely simple mix of 1/3 cup milk to 3 cups confectioner's sugar. If you want to give it a flavor you can use orange or lemon juice instead of milk (which is what I drizzled on the Elizabethan Lemon Cakes for last year's Game of Thrones party). Then I mixed in some simple food coloring gel and made red, green, and gold icing, and applied it with a clean artist's brush. It's remarkably easy to work with and dries to a glossy but durable finish.

Piping on royal icing.

The white icing on top is also just a basic royal icing, made by beating together 4 cups confectioner's sugar, 2 egg whites, and 1 tsp cream of tartar. I find it easy to use squeezing it from a sandwich bag with an icing tip attached, though in the future I'd like to try it with a smaller #2 tip instead of a #3.

All that said, I wish you a very belated Happy New Year, and here's to the remainder of 2014 going better than it started.