Thursday, July 31, 2008


Here it is, the last day of July. I haven't won any blogging challenges, since I missed two days, but this is indeed my thirty-first post of the month.

So, in retrospect, could I be a food blogger? Sure. Thirty-one posts in which I say the word "food" somehow, that counts towards something. SHOULD I be a food blogger? Nope. I appreciate the mental exercise of daily writing, and the way it documents my life (for my Mom). And I think that I will continue surrounding myself with the topic, because it is the thing about which I most like to think and talk. But on days when I don't have anything to say, about food or otherwise, I'm not crazy about boring you with the things I still think I have to put down on the screen.

Like tonight. There is a lot to talk about, a lot of crazy shit went down between last night and tonight. But I'm not even ready to discuss, and don't want to jinx the parts that could be good or harp on the parts that could be bad until the dust has settled. I'll keep you posted; even as early as tomorrow I should know more. In the meantime, I don't feel bad about closing the computer, washing my face, taking out my contacts, curling up in bed with a Real Simple and making it through three pages before I turn off the light. I get to sleep in a little tomorrow, since Austin and I took a joint day off to take care of things. I do promise to not take a whole month off, like the shock therapy after November NaBloPoMo. I will have more news to share, and I'll keep trying to take food pics as we're learning this new camera.

Sweet dreams out there, blogosphere. Rabbits rabbits rabbits.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The new 20

This is Casey reporting for Delaney because she's in a brown-out. Yep, that's apparently a term folks use for what happens when your power is out enough to make you unable to blog and worried about your many days worth of leftovers going bad, but not like totally out. Sounds scary.

Anyway, she suggested I tell you that she won't eat pizza without ranch dressing. It took me a few moments to figure out that this comment was intended to satisfy the food related aspect of this evening's post. I actually had pizza with ranch dressing for dinner, so there.

I think this should be good enough to keep Laney on her NaBloPoMo. She'll be back with y'all shortly!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sophie Germain

Dark Chocolate and Orange Tart with Toasted Almonds

Well-Loved Recipe

I first tried this recipe in the fall of 2003. I printed it out from Epicurious and made notes after reading the reviews. Among the changes I noted: multiplying the filling recipe by one and a half, taking the crust out of the oven after 9 minutes instead of the recommended 12, and stirring the filling into the ganache before spreading it into the crust.

Chocolate Shortbread Crust with cinnamon and sea salt, already baked

It's not a complicated dessert, really. I would give it an intermediate rating for difficulty. The only real trick is starting early enough. At least two days before you plan on serving it, or you'll be in the kitchen all day. That first time, I decided to make the tart to celebrate Casey's first week of law school, and planned ahead accordingly. I made the dough for the crust two days ahead and let it chill overnight, then rolled it out and baked it the day before.

Filling: chopped toasted almonds, chopped candied orange peel, brown sugar and cinnamon

I also candied the orange peel ahead of time, and let it cool and dry overnight before chopping. The filling is just the candied orange peel, toasted slivered almonds (both all chopped up), plus sugar (the recipe calls for white but I've used brown) and cinnamon. Then I made a ganache, which is so simple that it makes me laugh, and poured a little into the filling so it would hold together on top of the crust. Spread the filling into the crust and pour the rest of the ganache over, then chill overnight. Really, not difficult.

Melting the chopped bittersweet chocolate in the hot cream to make ganache

The night I planned to serve this tart, Trent and I went to a baseball game. The plan was for us to head back to the South Street house after the game, where we'd meet up with Casey, Jenny and Patrick and enjoy the dessert together in celebration. But the ballgame went to extra innings, and we started getting impatient phone calls from C, J & P.

Jenny: "We want to go ahead and eat the tart. We're tired of waiting."
Me: "No, just sit tight. I want us to all eat it together, so it will be special."

Ganache all smoothed out, then a little bit added to the filling to hold it together

Another phone call, ten minutes later...
Jenny: "We're getting really hungry and tired. We want to eat the tart. Stop being selfish."
Me: "Don't be mean! Just be patient!"

Phone rings again...
Jenny: "We aren't waiting anymore. We're going to eat it!"
Me: "FINE. Screw you guys. Whatever." Click.

Filling spread into the tart crust

And then another call, two minutes later...
Jenny (sounds sheepish): "Laney? We love you..."
Me: "Yeah, yeah."
Patrick: "Laney? We love you..."
Me: "Fine, fine."
Casey: "Laney? We love you..."

Finished, with ganache poured over the filling, smooth and shiny. Just chill!

I got home to over a third of the tart (which is supposed to feed 16) gone, and a note next to the pan on the counter:


If you can't read it, it says:
Suggested Names:
1. Holy Fucking Shit Tart
2. Ain't Fuckin' Around Pie
3. Does somebody have to go to law school to get this? Tart


4. Sex Pie All grown up
5. Everybody Loves Delaney (and we're gonna stay up all night thinking about it) Tart
(heart) J, P, C

After all these years, this is still known as the HFS Tart. I brought two to work today, and am feeling pretty good about my status as Most Popular Employee. Who Also Tries the Hardest to Be Most Popular. And Has No Problem Resorting to Shameless Bribery for Affection If Necessary.

Monday, July 28, 2008

far from February

Dad picked me up from work today and took me home so we could look at our impending dooms of home repair. Turns out the prognosis wasn't terrible: fixable hot water faucet, dying-but-not-dead-yet a/c system. No emergencies, just no running water in the kitchen tonight. He'll be here again tomorrow to repair the faucet, and we can hopefully ignore/encourage the air conditioning to just hang in there until we buy the house, at which point we're planning on replacing the whole damn thing. New ductwork and all, hopefully, to make the house more efficient and less, you know, hot.

I was pointing out to Dad that we could live with the a/c system at this level of terribleness, for the time being, because it's always this stuffy in our house, especially in the back. He agreed with me, but then said something like, "But you're my cooking girl. You need a comfortable kitchen."

This afternoon Suz and I were talking about babies, and siblings, and the story she heard on This American Life about girls who were switched at birth. Apparently when they found out, later in life, they realized that their personalities fit in much better with their birth families than the ones in which they were raised. We like to think that our lives are simply an overlapping of influences, but there is clearly something else there. I never really thought that I was born with a personality. I look at Ezra and Elijah and wonder at which points they will be different men, with different goals and ways of speaking. I'm surprised even now at their physical differences, when I mostly just think all tiny babies look the same. I found my picture of Elijah from the day after he was born, and the one I posted here of Ezra, and it's really remarkable the differences in babies' faces.

I think about my sisters and I, and we came from the same places, the exact same ones, and we turned out still very different in our personal selves. Was Jenny born stubborn? (yes.) Was Casey born permanently convinced of her own correctness? (yes.) Was I born prone to procrastination and easy distraction? (ah, yes.) There is the more extreme example of our California cousins, with whom we were raised in total equality, by our parents who are siblings in the most obvious ways, and I swear, those families couldn't be any more different than us.

And this is a silly point to which I'm leading, but how did I get to be a foodie? I know some people don't like that term, but I don't mind it. I don't want to be mistaken for the snob type of foodie. You all know that I will not just eat junk food but I will wallow in it. But I'm a foodie in the sense that I like to think about, talk about and do things relating to food. I'm sure I spent a quarter of my work day detailing my cooking disasters of the weekend (fried corn! that's all I'm going to say! exploding grease-filled kernel torpedoes!) to coworkers, and getting the goods on their own pulled pork and raspberry duck adventures. The friends that I have bonded with at this job, this is what we talk about. My amazing group of book club girlfriends, what do we do when we're all together? We eat. We exchange a month's worth of menu planning emails, and then we all cram into someone's kitchen and stuff our faces while we talk around food.

A few years ago my friend Craig asked me how I became a baseball lover, and I was able to respond to him (in essay form) with the rather precise timeline of my eventual love of the game. Tonight I was peacefully assembling tarts in my kitchen, moving about the motions of simmering cream, whisking ganache, and trying to think back to the time in my life when this started. As a little girl, I loved reading my mother's cookbooks, and eventually embraced my role as kitchen helper. But I don't remember feeling filled with thoughts of food the way I am now. Thoughts of candy? Is that the same thing? I started tackling baking projects, sometimes with Dad: decorating cakes, the baklava incident, salt water taffy that stained our hands blue. In college I was so poor and didn't have a working kitchen until my junior year. After that I started hosting dinner parties.

But I wonder, what did my parents think? Was this some obvious direction I was always heading, or was a fascination with food/cooking just another personality quirk that was revealed as I matured? The way other kids develop a penchant for mathematics or sports? Food is my hobby, my topic, my solace, my celebration. Tonight I reveled in my silent kitchen, my unrushed ballet of spatulas, measuring spoons, taking the lid off the jar of cinnamon with the dull end of a butter knife. Other times I love sharing the act of cooking. Projects like smoked pork butt or thai noodle soup are things that Austin and I can enjoy tackling together. I'm certain that my finest moments with Agnes have happened when one of us was at the stove and the other standing over the cutting board. I'm sure I don't have to explain that my fondest memories of both of my parents have occurred while we were sharing a kitchen.

I'm not quite sure where I'm leading with this, and my attention is waning as the evening draws to a close. I suppose it's not any good to try to identify the sources of my most basic self, any more than scrutinizing my needs for air and water. Is Lover of Food on the Meyers-Briggs test? (Is chocolate an emotion?) When my dad calls me his Cooking Girl, and my mom says I'm inspiring her with my food talk this month, and my sisters and friends are peppering me throughout each day with recipe discussions and ingredient ideas, I can see the bigger picture. Food is the physical representation of my need to take care of everyone.

The tentacles of these relationships run back and forth from Mom to Julia Child; from Dad to the black microwave cookbook, the pages stuck together with decades of toffee-making; from Jenny to the cold sesame noodles I haven't even made yet; from Casey to secret nights of boxed mac-and-cheese and vanilla ice cream with Hershey's syrup. From Agnes to the sledgehammer we used for crushing ice on the patio; from Megan to snapping green beans without a pause in conversation; from Amy to panicked ingredient substitution calls from the market; from Austin to that first flicker of wanting to lick ganache out of his beard. Distant and constant, primal and minute, the web of food in My Life and Family doesn't have a beginning, doesn't have to have come from anywhere. The only piece of advice my mother ever gave me that turned out to be untrue: Food is just fuel for the body. It is not. It's way more than that, and I'm glad for it.

Tomorrow: photo essay on the HFS Tart. That's right, I took pictures. And fair warning: this one involves some R-rated language. In my sisters' handwriting. Sorry, Mom.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

b stroke six

I don't even think I have time to get into all the mishaps today. And all the joys, of course. This morning we had a girlie breakfast dancing-movie party at Lauren's, and it was, delicious. And featured a special guest appearance by Brand New Ezra, the handsomest. It was pretty much a perfect afternoon, in good company, with great food (my contribution: hash brown casserole).

But things started to go wrong when I got home. I had intended to put together the HFS tart for the Emma staff (actually, two. Two HFS Tarts), and had already made the dough for the crusts and candied the orange peel this morning. I would like to think that I can make this tart in my sleep, but truthfully, I think my horrifically hot and muggy kitchen was working against me. I wrestled with a sticky and drippy dough and got chocolate on every item of clothing I was wearing (fortunately, those were all pajamas. I didn't put on pants today). Then finally I managed to get the dough fitted into the pans by basically pounding on it with my elbows, got the pans in the fridge to chill, and tried to shake my frustration off and concentrate on dinner.

The menu: Skillet Chicken Pot Pie, roasted CSA potatoes and fried corn. With no difficulties, I threw the potatoes in the oven, with onion and garlic and thyme, horseradish and Dijon mustard. I thought I was off to a pretty good start. This was probably at about 7:30? Then there was some kind of time suck between 7:30 and TEN, which was when dinner was actually finished. And apparently this time suck involved a bomb going off in our kitchen. Or at least that's how it looked when we went back in there after eating.

Honestly, I'll tell you about the rest tomorrow. I'm up against the midnight hour here, and I can't even keep my eyes open any longer. This way I'll have something to discuss tomorrow evening when I've only eaten leftovers all day. Ugh. I need an extra weekend.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

spacetime dimensions

We finally made it around to the Thai-Ginger Rubbed Salmon with Green Curry Sauce tonight. Beautiful and delicious! And pretty danged easy. As the name indicates, there is a spice rub and a separate green curry sauce. We made rice and a tomato salad (loads of pretty little yellow tomatoes in the CSA box this week) and roasted squash and zucchini with balsamic and pine nuts. The whole meal made tons of food (at least three times more than we could eat, just the two of us) and came together gratifyingly fast.

I took pictures of the whole process, just like I've been threatening to do since the arrival of the new camera, but now that I think about it, Blogger just isn't going to let me share them with you gracefully. Hmm. There isn't a captioning option, right? I don't think just lining up a bunch of photos is going to look very nice. I'll work on this some more and see what I can come up with.

I also had a new disaster to add to my Disaster List. I tried Jenny's damned caramel kettle corn and something went terribly wrong. I made the brown sugar syrup and made popcorn on the stovetop (which is new for me) and when I poured the syrup over the popcorn, as soon as it touched the bottom of the pan it burned. The pan was off the heat and couldn't possibly have been THAT hot for THAT long, but when I lifted it off the pot holder it was resting on, the pot holder was burned. How is this possible? And all the burned parts got distributed throughout the popcorn, so as much as I tried to pick out the edible bits, it was pretty much an epic fail. And I'm scared to throw it all away and see the bottom of my pan. Ready for the Oxyclean miracle trick.

In non-food news, there was a rather large snake in the rose bush/morning glory mess on the front porch this morning. Terrifying.

And something went wrong with the hot water in our kitchen sink tonight, which led us to also discover that our air conditioner has been dumping gallons of water onto our basement floor for god knows how long. These appear to be unrelated issues, and are both things we would sure rather not deal with until we OWN THE HOUSE. Dad's coming Monday to inspect, and I feel like I'm tiptoeing around for fear that something else is bound to go wrong.

Is there anything more disappointing than opening a Netflix envelope to find the disc OBVIOUSLY cracked? Damn. We're never going to make it through the first seven seasons of X-Files at this pace.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Another crazy week, all wrapped up. Busy at work, busy every night, just running on fumes here. After work today most of the Emma staff headed to the Flying Saucer for off-campus Beer:30, which was very fun but boy is that place not conducive to conversation. Towering ceilings, stone walls and tile floors do not an acoustic coziness make. I had those delicious soft pretzels with cheese and mustard sauces. And a pear cider, so pale that everyone asked if I was drinking water.

We walked over to Frist Fridays and fought our way through the crowds from one end to the other, finally locating Casey and Trent and then trying to visit in the middle of the horde. Made it upstairs to go (quickly) through the (beautiful) Tiffany exhibit and then headed east. Finally sat down for dinner at Las Maracas at 9:30, seated across the aisle from Sara and Adam and friends.

This was my first visit to Las Maracas, Austin's second. I had asked about it a million years ago but Megan, who lives very near there, said it wasn't good. They have apparently changed hands since her last visit there, and it was pretty delightful. Austin encouraged me to try Chuy's Special, which was basically the grilled meats from a traditional fajita dish, served on a bed of mexican rice with white cheese poured over the whole thing. With a packet of warm tortillas and some requested avocado on the side, it was pretty much all the things I love about mexican food without all the extra bits I never end up eating. The service was great, friendly, prompt, with a sense of humor. We didn't try any margaritas since I think a single drop of alcohol would have caused me to lay my head down on the table and snore. But I hear they are good...

That's my foodie report for tonight. I can't wait to sleep in tomorrow. I swear to you that this weekend will involve some cooking adventures. I won't have it any other way.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

end of the day

Three important points:

1. The Dark Knight was remarkable. I haven't even completely wrapped my head around it, and I don't think I will for a while. Heath Ledger's performance is spinning around my brain and won't settle down. Aaron Eckhart was note perfect, and so gruesome in his transformation. Gary Oldman for president? I'd settle for VP. Obama/Oldman 08!

2. Today Jenny dictated a recipe for deceptively simple homemade caramel corn, and I seriously considered coming home early to make some before we went to the movie. Now I'm so exhausted after this crazy week and I really want to just close my computer and go to bed. But there is brown sugar and butter and unpopped popcorn just calling my name from the kitchen, and I don't see how I am going to sleep without it. Laziness vs. Desperate Need for Buttery Sugariness: the battle of a lifetime.

3. Much more important: I can't believe I didn't recap my first meeting with Ezra. We went by the hospital early Tuesday morning, and got to spend a little quiet time with Leia and Richie and a happily sleeping, literally perfect baby boy. I am overwhelmed with awe and gratitude for this new arrival and the perfect storm of my life's influences that led me to be friends with this amazing woman and her remarkable husband and eventually get to be a part of their sons' lives. I just can't wait to get to know him, and to see him make that journey from baby to person the way we can see in Elijah right now. And I can't wait to spoil them both so rotten that their parents have to tell me to stop.

I wanna be like Mike

...another fail. At 12:15 this morning, I suddenly looked at my watch while standing in the middle of Mercy Lounge and said, "Shit! I forgot to blog!" Then I was distracted by the jangling rock of Old 97s, and I decided to not be too hard on myself.

But we did cook last night! Austin's famous bratwurst, with caramelized onions, brown mustard and goat cheese (!). Broccoli slaw on the side, and kettle chips, and frozen oreo pie for dessert. It was a rather Semi-Homemade meal (even if I do hate Sandra Lee) but pretty danged delicious. Emily came, which was a nice treat, and Jon too, because he's always hungry. Austin's brats are always amazing, boiled in beer and habaneros and sriracha, then finished on the grill. I couldn't find habaneros yesterday (?!) but we used like a mixed pickled jalapeno mixture and everything still turned out great, if not quite so spicy.

We were going to take pictures of the bratwurst cooking process but... we didn't. My total failure as a food blogger is really becoming apparent.

AND we're heading to see Batman after work, so I don't think I'm going to have anything exciting to tell you tonight, either. Seriously.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

the double deuce!

Tonight at the ballgame I asked Jon Burr what food-related topic I should blog about tonight. He suggested "Cake versus Pie." He says he wouldn't know how to answer. Austin and I looked at each other and acknowledged that we both knew exactly where we stood on that debate, and it was on opposite sides of the divide. I'm a cake person. He's a pie. I don't make a lot of pies because I don't *care* for a lot of pies. I can rarely convince him to try cakes I make, except rum cakes (or any other sorts that are soaked in anything. Tres leches is another good example).

During my second interview at Emma, my cheesecake-making experience at Rumours came up. I repeated my standard spiel about not ever really knowing that cheesecake-making was one of my true skills because I don't really like cheesecake, and why would I have made it? And then I started baking them on request, and it turned out I was really good at it. And I've definitely discovered some unique cheesecake flavor combinations that make them interesting to me, like chai, lemon-ginger, orange blossom and the recent triumph, s'mores. Someone at this interview remarked in a horrified tone that they couldn't understand me not liking cheesecake, and I said I didn't think they were even in my top 25 desserts. Thus followed one of the high points of my life, when someone ASKED ME WHAT MY TOP 25 DESSERTS ARE during a JOB INTERVIEW. I only made it through the top three, but it sure feels good to pretend that anyone cared...

1. Creme brulee (especially the pumpkin creme brulee from New Year's Eve)
2. Chocolate Chip Cookie (but only Dad's, and only when they are less than 12 hours old)
3. Yellow cake with caramel frosting
4. Devil's Food Cake with Seven Minute Frosting (only Grandma's, and really only in my memory. I'm scared to try to recreate it)
5. Shirley Willhite's Strawberry Cake
6. Salted Caramel Ice Cream (thanks, badness)
7. HFS Tart (ask me what that stands for)
8. Tipperary Bon Bon from See's Candies
9. Whole Lemon Tart
10. Turtle Bars
11. Semisweet Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Cream Filling
12. Strawberry Chocolate Chip Paletas
13. Caramels
14. Gulab Jamen
15. Phish Food Ice Cream
16. Dulce de Leche fondue
17. Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse
18. Grilled Peaches on Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
19. 100 Grand Bar
20. Three-Layer Brownies
21. German Chocolate Cake
22. Rosemary Shortbread
23. Rum Cake
24. Sour Patch Kids
25. Baklava

What am I forgetting?

You'll note the total lack of pies on that list. And I would say a pretty small occurrence of chocolate-based desserts, for a girl like me. I would rather have toffee or caramel over chocolate any day.

Monday, July 21, 2008

liquor up

Okay, then, let's talk about my cooking disasters:

-Once I left a batch of Forgotten Cookies (see!) in the oven overnight, as the recipe suggests. Then, you know, I forgot about them. Later the following evening, Austin turned the oven to 450 to preheat for an emergency pizza. Emergency indeed! Forgotten cookies, parchment paper and cookie sheet, all incinerated. Mess!

-I always swear that I have never had a failure from a Paula Deen recipe, but I did try her Caramel Pie and it just didn't turn out. Bland and lifeless, although Austin was a trooper and insisted it was fine. My only Paula-related screwup, to date.

-When I was baking the semisweet chocolate layer cake with vanilla cream filling (yes, that's right, an A recipe from my master list), I thought it was a disaster. The layers didn't rise evenly at all (big crusty rings around the outside, center still almost liquid after almost twice the recommended cooking time) and I only barely got them out of the pans onto the cooling racks intact. Charlie Murphy did not help matters by stalking and effectively ripping pieces out of each of the three layers (what can I say? He has great taste). So the whole thing was extremely hodgepodge and in fact the most ghetto looking cake I've ever presented. The good news is, it was DELICIOUS. Delicious enough to warrant an A, and the Delicious Happy Cake Dance from Badness at work the next day. Nice try, Charlie Murphy!

-That key lime pie from last month's book club never did set up. Not even after being stored in the freezer for weeks. I wouldn't classify it a failure, because it was tasty! But had to be eaten with a spoon out of a cup (with honeydew sorbet and grilled peaches? Ok!).

There are many non-specific situations that I remember from my younger years of learning in the kitchen. I didn't know olive or vegetable oil could go rancid, and had at least one batch of boxed brownies taste bitter as a result. I also didn't know that self-rising flour has an expiration date, a pretty short one, especially in a kitchen as hot as mine. This can produce many an uninspired (hockey puck) biscuit. These are all things I needed to learn the hard way, and I'm pretty hardcore about ingredient turnover in my cook-o-sphere nowadays. Except with jams and jellies, I will keep those things way too long. I hoard homemade preserves.

I've already posted blogs about the pomegranate-berry sauce incident (the near death of my precious Le Creuset) and the blackened apple crumb pie. I did also mention the burned skillet lasagna, which was the unfortunate result of me just not paying attention. I have had a bad habit lately of not setting timers and just getting cocky about my own sense of kitchen timing, which can lead to some mushy pasta and charcoal crostini.

In retrospect, though, I'm certainly my own worst cooking critic. I think my palate is picky enough to the point that I'll decide something tastes "off" when no one else can tell when I'm talking about. I'll certainly have a very lofty idea in my head when I start a new recipe, and rarely is the final result EXACTLY what I was going for.

P.S. Please join me in welcoming to the world my newest godson, Ezra Gore Buchanan. I get to go meet him in the morning, and I don't know if I'll be able to sleep tonight from the anticipation!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

animal, vegetable or mineral?

I have a small spiral-bound notebook that was a gift from Amy a few years ago. It is long and thin, with a cord to hold it closed and an illustration of a very tall dark-haired girl in an apron holding a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon. It says "Gourmet Girl" at the bottom. I transformed this binder into my Master Recipe Database. I divided it up into sections using sticky tabs, and I used the same chapter divisions from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks, which I consider to be the most well-organized basic cookbook that I own. It's basically alphabetical by major categories, and it really works for me. Under each section I list all the recipes I have tried (at least the ones I consider a success) and where that recipe can be found. They could be in a cookbook, on Epicurious, or in one of my six recipe binders or two recipe boxes. I can scan, for instance, the Salads section and know where my best coleslaw recipe is (Dark Recipe Box under Salads), or where that spinach and pecan salad came from (The Nashville Cookbook, page 116).

A few months ago, I was apparently bored (?) and went through this little notebook and gave each recipe that I remembered a grade. A letter grade, like in school, from F on up to A+. Actually, I don't think I have any Fs or Ds in there, why would I have written it down in the book if it was that much of a failure? But I might have marked some Cs on recipes that Austin liked much more than I did. I only put A or A+ on dishes that I consider to be Ultimate Classics, foods I will make again and again, things that would be a signature triumph.

So, for your reading pleasure, the A and A+ list from Delaney's Recipe Repertoire:


King's Hawaiian Crab Dip A+
Black Pepper Almonds A+
Slice and Bake Cheese Straws
Herbed Olives
Taco Dip
Spring Rolls

Beans, Rice and Grains:
Parmesan Rice
Rice Cakes
Curried Couscous with Roasted Vegetables
Cheesy Grits

Plantation Tea
Summer Watermelon Situation
Bethany's Mom's Tequila Punch A+
Margarita Watermelon A+

French Toast
Hush Puppies
Hoecakes A+
Stuffing with Cinnamon Bread
No Knead Yeast Rolls
Cream Cheese Banana Nut Bread with Orange Pecan or Cinnamon Crisp Topping

Sticky-top Pumpkin Cake with Brown Sugar Sauce A+
Semisweet Chocolate Layer Cake with Vanilla Cream Frosting
German Chocolate Cake
Gooey Butter Cakes
Grandma's Devil's Food Cake with Seven Minute Frosting A+
Triple Decker Strawberry Cake

Two Minute Fudge
Gill Family Microwave Toffee
Caramel-Dark Chocolate Truffles with Fleur de Sel A+

Three Layer Brownies A+
Hello Dollys
Katharine Hepburn Brownies
Orange Brownies
Rosemary Shortbread
Turtle Bars
Dad's Chocolate Chip Cookies A+

Berry Compote
Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse with Balsamic Strawberries and Whipped Mascarpone A+
Pumpkin Creme Brulee A+
Chai Cheesecake
Orange Blossom Cheesecake with Pomegranate Raspberry Sauce
S'more Cheesecake A+

Eggs and Cheese:
Deviled Eggs A+
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Scrambled Eggs with Pepperjack, basil, mushrooms, bell pepper and shallots
Fried Egg and Avocado on English Muffins

Herb-Crusted Salmon with Dill Sauce
Crab Legs A+
Baja Style Fish Tacos
Marinated Salmon in Pepper Crust

Grilled Corn with Parmesan Butter A+

Famous Pork Tenderloin
Beef Stroganoff
Caramelized Bacon A+
Taiwan Salt & Pepper Pork Chops with Sesame Noodles
Austin's Chili A+
Island Pork Tenderloin Salad
Austin's Brats A+
Italian Sausages with Peppers, Onions and Potatoes
Pulled Pork with Vinegar Sauce A+
Rory's Ribs A+
Wheeler Biscuits A+

Mom's Spaghetti Sauce
My Macaroni and Cheese
Cheesy Lasagna
Brandes' Lasagna
Sicilian Pasta A+
Buttered Noodles with Parmesan, Salt and Pepper A+
Baked Pasta
Spaghetti Carbonara
Penne with Sausage and Mushrooms

Pies and Tarts:
HFS Tart (Bittersweet Chocolate and Orange Tart with Toasted Almonds) A+
Caramel-Chocolate Tart with Drunken Raspberries

Poppyseed Chicken A+
Roast Chicken with Rosemary Mustard Sauce
Two Hour Turkey A+
Chicken Parmesan
Skillet Chicken Pot Pie

Mom's Potato Salad
Herbed Salad with Grilled Balsamic Vegetables and Lemon Dill Dressing
Seven Layer Salad A+
Taco Salad
Edamame and Carrot Salad with Rice Vinegar Dressing
Salad with goat cheese, dried cherries, green apple, caramelized shallots, avocado and mustard vinaigrette
Broccoli Slaw

Sauces and Relishes:
Blackening Seasoning
Lemon-Dill Dressing A+
Best Turkey Gravy
Cranberry Relish A+
Cilantro Yogurt A+
Dulce de Leche Sauce (use for fondue)

Soups and Stews:
Spicy Tomato Soup A+

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Onions with Rosemary and Parmesan
Roasted Zucchini with Goat Cheese
Cucumbers with Sour Cream and Dill
Corn Casserole
Famous Roasted Potatoes A+
Roasted Brussels Sprouts A+
Hash Brown Casserole
Peas with Rosemary and Pine Nuts
Sweet Potato Bake
Roasted Root Vegetables
Herbed Summer Squash and Yukon Gold Potato Torte
Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan Butter A+
Oven Roasted Tomatoes A+
Cucumber (Benedictine) Sandwiches
Sweet Potato Chips
Yellow Squash with Thyme, Pine Nuts and Balsamic

Want any of these recipes? I know just where to find them. Each and every one...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

prime one nine

I know you're tired of me making excuses every night for not providing a real post. At least you know tonight I've been busy, at the Roller derby, keeping stats. It was super fun, if a little light on the statskeeping because it was a down and dirty defensive game, and I was watching for offensive assists. After the bout we went to 12 South Taproom for dinner, and I had a really delicious ribeye quesadilla, with blue cheese, mushrooms, jalapeno and mozzarella. Yum yum. Then we came home so I could post a blog before midnight, and now we're summoning the nerve to head over to the rollergirls after party, at (strangely) Limelight. I don't know if it will be the weird thing of standing around not having anyone to talk to but each other, or if it will be a good social exercise (with plenty of alcohol, the social lubricant) and we can start making some hot roller girl friends.

Have I told you about the Best Patty Melt in Nashville? It's at the Gold Rush, which is one of my favorite places to eat in town. We don't go there as often anymore because they stupidly opted to go 21 and up so they could allow smoking, and who wants to smell like that while they eat? Gross. But weekend lunches aren't too busy there, and we managed to get out without reeking too much. I haven't bothered looking at the menu since I discovered the patty melt, cooked medium, with a side of onion rings with Ranch dressing. Delicious! Perfectly crispy bread, good greasy burger, sweet onions, gooey cheese. An excellent batch of beer-battered onion rings, always just the perfect size, nice and crisp, never stringy, easy to eat and dunk in the ranch.

We have a freezer full of meats from the CSA (a beef roast, two pork chops, a whole chicken from this week) and a week full of activities that preclude elaborate meal plannings. I'm trying to at least get it together enough to make a big dinner tomorrow that will leave lots of leftovers, because I ate out for lunch too often this week. It is almost enough to make me daydream about wintertime, with its long stretches of blank calendar days. I can't believe I just said that! All I do all winter is yearn for my balmy summer nights just like the one outside right now. Hazy and muggy, just the way I like it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

old enough to vote

I think I picked the worst month to be a food blogger. I'm eating Ritz crackers out of the sleeve and hanging out with Elijah. I don't have anything glamorous pictures of baking triumphs. I haven't baked at all. I haven't made a cake in AGES. I don't feel like I'm trying anything new. But there are so many fun things to do, and so few nights with nothing on the calendar. I'm just going to have to be cool with that, and pull together some culinary inspiration next week. I swear it.

Deb has been talking about our food phobias, what we're afraid to cook. Here are my thoughts:

1. I have had the same recipe for croissants, written out in pink ink on notebook paper from a magazine or cookbook sometime during college. If you count out the predicted amount of time for each step and add it all up, these should take approximately 13 hours. So if you wanted to have hot croissants with breakfast, you would have to start them at 8 pm the previous night and set alarms for every three hours to stretch, apply butter, fold, stretch, more butter, more folding. I know another option would be to just start them early in the morning and eat them with dinner, but I've just never summoned the nerve.

2. Shrimp and I used to be best friends. If you had asked me my favorite food when I was approximately 8, I would have said shrimp. But after learning the proper way to clean and devein those suckers, I was over it. I am happy to have the option of those handy frozen, pre-peeled, pre-deveined fellas, but honestly, I don't think I'm ever really going to embrace shrimp the way I did when I was young.

3. I'm intimidated by pie crusts. I believe the one from the apple crumb pies from Thanksgiving was ok, but honestly, since I incinerated one of them and the other got eaten up, maybe I didn't even try it. Everyday Food said it was their Best Piecrust Ever, but who knows? I don't feel comfortable handling dough like that, and maybe it's just going to be permanently too hot in my kitchen to ever really accomplish an ingredient that requires ice water.

4. And the same goes for yeast dough. The dinner rolls from last Thanksgiving turned out amazing, I will say. But most of the time, something goes so wrong. I don't know what. The most recent pizza dough was the best example; simply nothing happened. Do I kill the yeast? Is my yeast poor quality? Do I not let it rise long enough, or too long? I know I have accomplished some basic things with yeast in the past, but it is a dark and scary path I haven't yet gotten the gumption to trespass.

5. Walnuts. Only because I used to be allergic to them. I still avoid recipes that call for them, even though I can eat them now, happily. It will be a permanent block in my brain.

I think maybe two years ago I would have listed a plethora of foreign foods that I have most recently embraced. Thai food and Indian food, especially. So that's something, right? Here's to overcoming fears, one cooking adventure at a time...

P.S. Elijah thinks all remote controls are Wiis. I think we'd better go for a walk.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

you can dance, you can jive

Another nearly food free day. Leftover soup for lunch, leftover red beans and rice for dinner, a very late dinner, sitting down to eat at 10:30 pm. Tonight was the last Rollergirl practice before Saturday's bout, so we stayed and helped set up for a little while, and were busier and more social than the previous practices. Talked to a few of the girls, exchanged some smiles, had violent flashbacks to junior high school, and the years of just wanting to be friends with the cool girls.

The real question is, who is going to see Mamma Mia with me this weekend? I know, I know, there's a Dark Knight out there begging to be seen. But I'm just dying to catch Meryl in her overalls hoofing and hooting up a storm. For real.

Today was a busy day at work. Lots of accounts were frozen for lack of payment, and I spent some time plowing through them and getting payments where I could. It was a fun project and kept me busy and made me feel productive for the first time in a week. I'm also getting to sit in on some interviews, which makes me feel involved and helpful. I don't have to tell you how I have the best job in the world. It's public knowledge. Wish you'd all come join me!

Important details: tomorrow night, How I Became the Bomb at the Basement! Yay! FUN! Come see the pop show and dance with me! And Saturday, in case I didn't mention it, Nashville Rollergirls Inter-league bout, at the TN State Fairgrounds, don't miss it! AND Tuesday night: Nashville Sounds vs. the Tacoma Rainiers, featuring the Return of Terry Pollreisz.

That's right. Funnest week ever. Oh, and there is going to be a BABY here soon! Come on, Leia! We're all ready!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Finally got around to the Summer Corn Soup from this month's Bon Appetit. Used corn from today's CSA box, cut it off the cob, soaked the cobs in boiled milk while I sauteed the vegetables. Onion, then celery and garlic and the corn kernels, sauteed in butter until soft. Added the cobs and milk, a cup of veggie broth, a cup of water, bay leaf, sprig of rosemary, lots of thyme. Simmered for twenty minutes or so, then pulled out the cobs, the bay leaf, the rosemary stem. We mushed it all up with the hand mixer and tasted it. Pretty bland still and weirdly chunky, with lots of the corn kernel skins. So we strained it into a big bowl in the sink, and added cayenne, white pepper, s & p, hot sauce. Much better.

Served with some extra kernels of corn, crumbled bacon, shredded cheddar and sour cream. Turned out really delicious, plenty of good heat and creamy texture. I think if we keep getting beautiful corn from the farmers, I'll try it again.

I got a pint of blackberries in today's box as well. Huge, sweet and shiny.

We're watching Hellboy. I can't think of anything else to say...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Six minute recap:

Book club = amazing. As always. Feasting ensued, filthy talk about a filthy book, and somehow I came home with enough leftover red beans and rice for two more meals, plus an entire bag of new clothes. Seriously. A charmed life.

And tomorrow for Emma lunch? Mitchell's Deli! Yay!

Signing off before the stroke of midnight...

Monday, July 14, 2008

four. teen.

Foods I Didn't Eat When I Was Younger:

White Beans (still don't. gross)

Goat cheese, blue cheese, feta cheese (I still haven't fully embraced feta)

Anything with curry (now I'm a little obsessed)

Anything with cumin (warming up)

Fennel (I think I don't mind fennel. I wonder what it was that I was disliking when I thought I was eating fennel)

Sea urchin (still don't. gross)

Chicken teriyaki (sorry, Mom. I don't know what it was about your chicken teriyaki that I didn't like when I was a kid. I'm over it now, I swear)

Foods I loved when I was younger that I don't like anymore:

Shrimp and scallops

Ham (I mean, I guess I don't mind it? but I used to eat ham sandwiches all the time)

Jarred spaghetti sauce (this was less something I loved and more something I had on hand all the time because I was poor)

Tootsie Rolls

Seasoning Salt

Sorry for the world's most uninspired food blog. I gotta go back to thinking up my roller derby name.

son of a...

Oh, unlucky Thirteen, I missed you. My culinary adventures of yesterday involved sausage biscuits at Leia and Richie's house, and Taco Bell/desperation at 3:30, meals bookending a day of drywall sanding and painting, trying to get their house ready for the new baby. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent in sloth on the couch, gobbling Belinda before book club on Tuesday. I think you can see how I would have simply forgotten to check in with my food blogging efforts. I didn't cook anything all weekend. I am not cooking anything tonight. I am sure I will find some other food related comment for you by tonight, but right now, I'm just disappointed in myself for skipping a blog day, and enjoying some Grape Nuts while I try to gain control of my work inbox for once and for all. Catch you tonight...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

on the twelfth day of sushi, my true love gave to me...

*(DJ B points out that I never revealed the source of the title "Hut" on day nine. It's the dorkiest possible answer, and brought to you courtesy of Austin Gray: "hut" is the Klingon word for "nine". I can hear your groans from here, folks, and I'm immune.)*

As expected, I was moving a little slow today. Our power went out for about an hour this morning, at about 7:15, so things got pretty stuffy in the house. After the air kicked back on, I fell back asleep and was only roused at eleven by a freshly-showered Boo, who certainly knows the exact right time to request something I would ordinarily not be down with. He suggested in a very enthusiastic tone that today would be a great day for me to try the new menu at Kien Gang. A little back story... Austin just loves Kien Gang, a very spare and divey Vietnamese restaurant in the same parking lot as the K & S Market on Charlotte, site of many an exotic marketing adventure. I gave Kien Gang at least three solid tries before I decided it was simply not for me. I don't mind the spring rolls, although ours that we make at home are better. Beyond that there just hadn't been any entrees that I liked enough to finish. I'm not comfortable with pork of that particular shade of magenta, and shrimp and I are just so rarely on friendly terms.

But they introduced a new menu recently, with much more elaborate descriptions and a whole vegetarian section (and you and I both know I'm the furthest thing from a vegetarian, but if I won't eat the meat or fish there, I guess that's what I'm left with). And I've most certainly owed Austin a trip to his favorite place, especially after dragging him into Douglas Corner and Rumours last night. So we went, and the menu did look much more promising. I tried Sally-ing my own vegetarian special ("Can I get the deep-fried vegetables from #2, but with the vermicelli from #1 and the curry sauce from #5?") but was shut down (response: "No."). So I got the stir-fried vegetables and tofu with curry sauce, and it wasn't half bad. At least there were no bean sprouts or tiny corn, and I understand this was just barely a vietnamese dish at all, but I made a good effort and Badness accepted the leftovers. So there you have it: I ordered a tofu dish in a restaurant. Write it down.

After that I needed another nap, and then finally got my shit together enough to take a shower and straighten up the house. Then we went to acquire Casey from the airport, with the intention of going to eat with her at Rosario's after she'd put her things away and greeted Zeke. We should have realized, of course, that after three days in Texas she wasn't going to want any piddly Mexican Food-for-Nashvillians. Duh. She suggested Ken's, Austin said no. I boldly tossed out the idea that we celebrate my work-related windfall with a trip to Samurai, and Austin said yes! Sushi bound!

I can't imagine that you read this blog and don't already know this, but Samurai Sushi is my favorite restaurant in Nashville. It is a tiny hole-in-the-wall on Elliston Place, although it has become significantly less tiny since they renovated the jewelry store next door into an additional dining room. It is operated by a remarkable man who we know as Choo, who is kind and welcoming and generous, with a reputation for only offering high quality seafood. And it isn't just that his fish is fresh and tasty. Choo's special rolls are inventive and memorable, with surprising touches like sliced strawberry or mango, and I'm sure a high percentage of my enjoyment comes from the sheer beauty of this food. The colors and textures and repeating shapes lull me into a blissful sushi stupor.

When we first discovered Samurai in the summer of 2004, it became an obsession. Once we ate dinner there two nights in a row. We left Bonnaroo after four hours and drove straight there (best Bonnaroo experience ever). Then we realized we were dropping $50 a visit (including tip, but still) and cut ourselves off. Now it's a special date trip, an anniversary dinner, a celebration, a treat. And usually we decide way ahead of time that we can have Samurai on xx date, and I spend at least a week fantasizing about it. Tonight, with such a short time between decision made and dinner ordered, it felt like a surprise.

Here's a tour: on the left is the Vandy roll, with eel, salmon, avocado, crab, deep fried and topped with wasabi cream sauce. Casey thinks it's her new favorite. On the top of the plate, under the ginger, are Dynamite Rolls, spicy crab with cucumber. These are our longest-running tradition at Samurai, and we always start with Dynamite for our first bite. Over on the top right is Crispy Roll, arguably my favorite. It's almost interchangeable with the Vandy roll but also has cream cheese and teriyaki sauce. These deep fried rolls are bigger around than the others, which means only six big pieces instead of eight smaller pieces, and somehow they seem more precious. In the middle of the plate, towards the top, is the Oops roll: yellowfin tuna in the middle, topped with red tuna and three different sauces (dynamite, wasabi, something else). Below that is spicy tuna, which we only got because the Tornado roll isn't on the menu anymore, and the spicy tuna was the best part of that, but really it doesn't compare to all the rest of the glamour on the plate. At the bottom is Austin's favorite, Sushi Burrito: shrimp, crab, eel, other gooey things, wrapped in soy paper.

Plate Two: Across the top is a new special, called Ironmiss (what could that mean?). Salmon, avocado, something else, wrapped in soy paper and topped with a progression of kiwi, strawberry, mango, plus more yummy sauces. The pieces with mango had the best combination of flavors. At the bottom of the plate is the Sunday Morning roll, which isn't on the menu, so sometimes we run the risk of it not being made properly by a chef other than Choo. Tonight it was perfect: salmon and cream cheese, rolled up with rice on the inside, deep fried, sliced on the bias, topped with thick sweet teriyaki sauce and a dollop of sriracha on each slice.

Plate Three: Jewel-like slices of fish, salmon, white tuna, red tuna, a present from Choo. Thank you, Choo! I couldn't resist taking my pieces and sliding them around in the saucy goodness of the other plates. In the four years that we've been enjoying the revelation that is Samurai Sushi, we have never once left a scrap of food on our plates. Tonight was no exception. I think they could just keep sending out treats, and we would just keep eating them, until they had to lock the doors to keep us away. Bliss.

It had started to rain when we got to the restaurant, and picked up steadily as we lingered over our meal. I tried to dash with the umbrella to get the car while Austin and Casey were waiting for the tab, and ended up with my jeans soaked to the knee and nearly lost a shoe in a river running out of a drainage pipe. Thunder and lighting and horizontal gusts of rain, the works. After some maneuvers to get my dinner partners dryly into the car (mostly successful) and then up to Casey's porch (not quite so effective), we rolled home at a snail's pace and tried not to hydroplane off the road. At home we had to stage a kitchen holding pen to keep our muddy dogs from destroying the rest of the house before we could get them toweled off. Now everyone is (mostly) dry, and the muddy damage was minimal. I'm still rolling around on the couch holding my sushi-full belly and smiling a lot, and feeling very satisfied and magnanimous with the world in general. It's my sushi-colored glasses, they make me a nicer person.

P.S. I was almost reluctant to post these sushi pictures tonight, because I know they aren't great pictures, and I'm terrified of folks like JenYu and Melissa Strawberry who have recently expressed opinions about low quality food photography and photographing meals in restaurants, respectively. We haven't figured out the features of our new camera yet, so hopefully my food blogging photos will improve over time, or at least I can have more opportunities to take pictures in natural light, which I know makes all the difference. So please don't judge, I know I have a lot to learn!

Friday, July 11, 2008


This is a very close call. It's 11:45 and I almost forgot. I got distracted by:

1. the best day at work ever (ask me! I'll tell you all about it) which led to
2. margarita party at work in the afternoon, then
3. randomly dropping into Dad's show at Douglas Corner, and sampling another margarita there
4. then heading to Rumours for three hours, which encompassed two glasses of wine, one tiny bowl of perfect, perfect parmesan vegetable rice and one big bowl of summer salad (greens, white balsamic vinaigrette, sliced pears, pecans, goat cheese, yes, please).
5. Long rambling ride home with Leia and Carmen, and enthusiastic welcome by animal menagerie of Eastside Avenue.

Now I'm in bed and so ready to fall asleep and Austin is snoring happily and Mischa is curled up between our ankles. It was a delicious salad at Rumours, and tomorrow I'm going to give the corn soup from the most recent Bon Appetit a whirl. I'm out for tonight, foodie talk or otherwise. Sweet dreams.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Should I try to type or compose while I'm actually watching an episode of the X-Files? No. I shouldn't.

But I do have some fun news, as I hinted at yesterday. Austin and I spent this evening at the Nashville Rollergirls practice, learning how to keep stats. In theory, we're going to be two of the new Statsgeeks, and tonight was the first night we started to learn the process. At first everything was a little weird but once we started actually watching some jams and marking down the offensive and defensive moves, it started to come together like a puzzle. Who knows if this will turn into a major extracurricular, but it was entertaining and it was fun to talk about it on the way home.

Here's my food-themed contribution for tonight (because you don't want to hear about the frozen pizza I just happily consumed)...

Foods that Remind me of My Mother:

Potato Salad- When I write this on a menu, I refer to it as Mom's Potato Salad. On the recipe card, which I wrote down from her dictation about thirteen years ago, there are such helpful instructions as "add a clunk of mayonnaise, maybe a little more." I don't know at which point she started putting chopped dill pickles in her own version, but Uncle Bill told her that Grandma said to him privately, in a very prim manner, "Vickie puts RELISH in her potato salad." I started using unpeeled red potatoes in my own variation, and I feel a little impious every time I do.

Sweet Potatoes- My mom isn't quite a foodie. When we were little, her mantra was, "It's just fuel for the body." This was generally in response to us saying, "I don't WANT to eat white beans! I HATE white beans." (Okay, to me. I was the one who said that.) It is certainly a universal truth that often the simplest foods taste the best, and for my mom, when she only has herself to feed and no obligations for the evening, nothing satisfies like a baked sweet potato. It is both an indulgence and a necessity.

Tootsie Roll Pops- In retrospect, I don't know if Mom even likes these. But she always had them in her purse, and we only got one if we were well behaved. Candy was a very, very limited commodity in my youth, so these made an impression. The unfortunate side effect is that now, they don't really count as candy to me at all. Only the hundreds of other forbidden sweets will do.

Toasted Bread with Garlic and Tomato- In the summer of 2003, the week of our Jansen family reunion at Dunn School, I got there a day or two earlier than my sisters, and got a little private hangout time with Mom. I cooked dinner for her, Kam, Mark and Amy, but I can't remember what I made (probably the famous pork loin, and grilled corn with Parmesan butter, my favorite recipe that summer). Mom came out and sat with me on the steps of the patio, and she brought a knife, some slices of toasted crusty bread, a few ripe tomatoes and some garlic cloves. She had learned a trick in her travels to Italy earlier in the summer, and she showed me how to slice open the garlic and smear the cut side into the bread, really pressing hard to imbue the bread with the garlic oils. Then she sliced the tomatoes in half and crushed the open tomatoes against the garlicky bread, seeds and all. I can't remember if this trick also involved olive oil; it seems likely but I am pretty sure I'm skipping a step. I only remember it was sunset, and she was describing these perfect evenings in Italy that started with this simple snack that oozed with flavor and freshness.

Katharine Hepburn's Brownies- Surely the simplest brownie recipe ever, and I think she says she cut it out of the newspaper. Who knows if Katharine Hepburn ever actually baked them, but I love the idea that such a classy and timeless woman would definitely have preferred a classy and timeless recipe like these. We always cook them a little bit to overdone, and the nearly-burned corners are, of course, the best. I can remember many a night, growing up, that would end with brownie snacks while we finished a movie downstairs in the family room, all five of us piled up on the big gray sectional couch with Grumpy at our feet and a pot of tea on the coffee table.

I'm sure there are so many more, and I'll think of all of them as soon as I close the computer and start getting ready for bed. Maybe I'll pull together a Volume 2 for you, as we soldier on through July, the month of Food Writing.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


I asked Austin for a food topic I could write about tonight. With gusto, he immediately suggested,"SAUSAGE!" Thanks, babe. We did have our new favorite sausage dish tonight, Rigatoni with (Italian) sausage and Parmesan. I'm not sure if I'm crazy about rigatoni? It's tough to cook just right, without it ending up too toothy or too mushy. But it's an easy carbonara-type recipe where you stir eggs and cream in at the end and it comes together as a creamy sauce. Mushrooms, onions, garlic, can't go wrong there. Loads of beautiful roasted squash for a side dish, from the farmer's market, including butterfinger zucchini, which is the same shape and texture as regular zucchini but super rich sunflower yellow. Just gorgeous.

The good news is, our new camera came. And it is great looking, and I already took one very cute picture of Emily. The bad news is, I did not take any pictures of our cooking adventures tonight. I forgot.

I was going to try to pull something thoughtful out tonight, but James McAvoy is on The Daily Show and boy, am I distracted. Are Austin and I going to see Wanted, and not even be embarrassed about it? Yes. We are.

Our dogs must have had a long exhausting day, out there in those storms. Our house looks like some kind of canine Chernobyl. Limp, muddy corpses littered every few feet, both the living four-legged kind and the shredded, emptied stuffy kinds. Most of the time we keep the dog toys closed up in a box with a lid. If we leave it open, Mischa will continually play with a single toy for sixty seconds, discard it and dive back into the box for the next. You can't take a full step without an objecting squeaker under your heel. But she's seemed extra bored lately, and the joy with which she responds to every re-opening of the toy box is always worth it.

No more cooking plans til this weekend. Fridge crammed with leftovers, and fun plans tomorrow, about which I will hopefully brief you tomorrow night.

**You get a bag of chocolate chip cookies if you can correctly i.d. the origin and significance of tonight's blog title. Goodnight, y'all.**

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


The good news is that Amazon, miraculously, announced that our new camera should be here tomorrow! So hopefully by this time tomorrow night I'll be ready to wow you with detailed photographs of the simple steps leading up to rigatoni with sausages and Parmesan. Actually, by this time tomorrow night I plan on not being awake at all, because folks, it's late, and I almost fell asleep without a post for today. I don't even know what reminded me after I'd already turned out the light.

It was another unsettled day, really tough for me to concentrate, with these weird minor undercurrents of vertigo ever since I opened my eyes this morning. I can't even begin to imagine what is tugging along at the back of my brain that is keeping me from being productive and effective. Some kind of worry that I haven't even found, something unfinished that is an unconscious distraction. I honestly do not know.

But I know I feel behind at work, and I know that when my inbox swells to 97 messages that I can't move out it makes it hard to focus on anything. And I also know that when I went to my director today and told her I was backed up on a project that I wanted to present tomorrow, she was so incredibly cool about it and it made me want to work even harder. I swear I will continue to work hard to deserve that job, the way I will always work hard to deserve the gift in my life that is Austin Gray. And I keep saying life is so good, to the point of feeling boring with nothing to talk about. So what is keeping me from feeling like I have my shit together this week?

Spice-rubbed salmon with green curry sauce got punted to next week's menu. I had leftover poppyseed chicken tonight, about six pounds of it, and am taking more with me to work tomorrow even though it's Emma Lunch Wednesday. That's right, I'd rather eat more poppyseed chicken than eat the catered lunch from Pei Wei. I'm telling you people, it's my favorite.

Monday, July 7, 2008


Today was actually sort of a long day. There aren't many of those at my job, two or three a month. Most days I can't believe how fast the time has flown, and I'm feeling good about all of it. Today I didn't eat lunch until 3:30, and only a bit when I did. Sometimes I revert back to my oldest ways of not being able to organize my thoughts and my projects, and everything takes longer than it should.

It has been a proud accomplishment in my life to have moved almost completely away from my original scatterbrained nature, which I came by honestly, thanks to Dad and Grandma Jansen. It was a conscious decision, an internal effort, to stop being the girl who got an F in Math in fourth grade because she lost her homework every day. Even as recently as college, I got behind on my bills not because I didn't have the money, but because I forgot to mail the payments. I just never really had my stuff together. I had a whole room in our house on the highway that was filled with junk and projects I couldn't manage to make sense of.

At some point during this process of transformation, I also became a control freak. And I'm sensitive about it, enough to the point of making fun of myself but getting my feelings hurt if you make fun for me. I learned that I was good at organizing, particularly events (and spatial dimensions like refrigerators, but that's not my point). I get flustered when I'm in the midst of upheaval, I want to place order to it and take the reins. And, in truth and ego, things mostly turn out better when I do. Things turn out fair and even, or logical and calm. I will ruin a perfectly good chaos by applying systems and sense. Thanks to Mom for this, although she's been comfortably submerged in many a shared maelstrom in these most recent years.

Here's my example that I'm thinking of: cooking at home. This is, of course, a topic that I will happily entertain for hours of every day. I've been a mental and manual collector of recipes almost as long as I remember. I love putting together a menu and making a plan. But I can remember many nights, in my early twenties, of wandering around the grocery store after work, collecting my thoughts and ingredients, and eventually cobbling together a very disorganized meal that wouldn't be ready to eat until 10 pm. And somehow I'd drop $60 on every one of those grocery trips, three or four nights a week, and be mystified by how I was spending so much when I wasn't eating out.

Now I make a meal schedule for the whole week in advance. I spend a few hours on Saturday on the floor of the kitchen with my dozens of cookbooks, making assignments of menus to go along with our weekly social plans. I try to know ahead of time which nights we're eating at home and which nights we're going out, hitting the ballgame, going to a show, or hosting friends. I make a master list of all the ingredients needed for the whole week, and then go through the cupboards and fridge and cross things off the list as I confirm that we already have them. I can't even tell you how much food and money this particular step has saved. How often did I grab a bottle of soy sauce because I couldn't remember for sure if I had any, and then came home to find I already had three half-used bottles? Wasteful.

I do waste one piece of paper every time, rewriting my grocery list from the master with all the items crossed off. I organize the list by aisle at my neighborhood Kroger, so I can start at the top and work my way down without doubling back or losing my focus. I rarely buy anything that isn't on the list, and I'm sure I've saved enough for a year's supply of groceries by doing this. I also hardly ever succumb to the temptation to shop at one of the nicer groceries, and this is a major secret to frugality. If there are fancy cheeses available to me, I will buy them, every time, so I just go to the store that doesn't sell fancy cheeses and I make do.

When I get home from the store and get all the groceries put away, I stack all the week's recipes on the desk and post the master menu on the refrigerator. This item earns more surprised exclamations than anything else in our house, I swear. People see it and laugh, or express their admiration. Everyone acts like it's crazy, to have that list, the whole week, all planned out. But it gives me mental peace of mind, and something to think about during the day, a game plan so that I can walk in the door and start cooking instead of knocking around trying to figure out what I'm doing. I'm really starting to hate feeling rushed in the kitchen, especially in the summer when the heat makes our house feel like a pressure cooker.

Tonight I made poppyseed chicken, the kind your grandma made with canned soup, sour cream, Ritz crackers on top. Served it with rice (perfectly cooked, from my new rice cooker, thank you MCB!) and frozen spinach. The ultimate comfort food for me, and just about my favorite leftover lunches ever. I walked in the door after work and put the pot of water on to boil, and moved efficiently through the meal preparation until the rice, chicken and spinach were all finished at nearly the same time and we sat down to a delicious meal.

I'm not saying that I'm always a well oiled machine. More often I am not, like on Saturday, when I had a ketchup massacre while I was trying to put together the barbecue sauce for the ribs. I pride myself on having a well stocked and supplied kitchen, but I have to admit that too much of my fridge is dedicated to condiments, and I shouldn't have to completely unload my baking cupboard every time I need brown sugar, which I'm sure is the thing I use the most from that shelf. And even though I don't have an entire room for my messy projects like my old house, I do keep a disaster of stacked cooking magazines and ripped out recipes in our living room, and I know it's an eyesore and should be dealt with. Every weekend I plan to tackle that stack and do something about it, but then my thoughts get drawn into baking adventures for Sunday afternoons or perfect side dish pairings for that new salmon recipe I can't wait to try...

Sunday, July 6, 2008


So my camera? That's right. Toast. Still taking pictures of black screens with horizontal lines, even when I turned off the digital display. Sad. But I'm happy to announce that Austin, in all of his infinite kindness and generosity, let me order a new one today on Amazon, featuring an upgrade from my measly 3.2 megapixels to a whopping 7.1! Whoop whoop! Thanks, my Boo. I'm so excited. Of course once I accepted the death of the SD110, I spent all day seeing things I wanted to take pictures of. Like three sweet and funny dogs passed out on the floor, or Charlie Murphy and Corvinius hanging out on the treat table like best friends, or Mackenzie giving herself a very ungraceful bath in the brown chair. What a champ.

I also really wanted to photograph the (slightly elaborate) process of assembling Curried Couscous with Roasted Vegetables, Cilantro Yogurt and Peach Chutney. It's an interesting recipe and one of our favorites, really extra great for summertime. Let's see if I can sum it up for you:

We chopped a whole bunch of farmer's market zucchini up and tossed them with cumin, crushed red pepper, chili powder, curry powder, olive oil, lots of salt and pepper. We roasted them at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, tossing occasionally, then left them out to cool. Then we sauteed some chopped onion in my biggest heaviest Le Creuset saucepan (oh, the beauty) in some olive oil, then stirred in two big tablespoons of curry powder, and let that get toasty for a second. Added three cups of water and simmered for ten minutes (hot curry water! not to be confused with hot ham water). Then toasted two cups of couscous in one tablespoon of olive oil until it was browned, then poured the curry/onion water over. Put the lid on and took it off the heat for ten minutes for the couscous to fluff up. Then stirred in a half cup of dried currants so they would plump up by the time it cooled.

Then I pureed two big bunches of cilantro with the juice of two limes and a half a lemon, plus some salt, and stirred that into a combination of plain yogurt and sour cream. In a different bowl I combined some hot mango chutney, some peach preserves, a little sriracha, a little hot chili oil, some rice vinegar and rice wine. This is my sub for peach chutney as the recipe calls for it.

So we ate the couscous with some roasted, salted cashews and the good, spicy roasted zucchini, all piled into warmed up pita with the cilantro yogurt and the spicy peach mixture. It's a super recipe because you can make everything ahead of time and it's all perfectly good at room temperature. The leftovers are great too, and trust me, it makes a vat. The whole recipe is here but I clearly made a lot of adjustments. We decided this time that eggplant is just not for us, and I eschewed the roasted red peppers too, I just never *get* them. I think by spicing up the roasted zucchini it adds a great depth of heat to the whole thing, and I'm sure I almost double all the flavorings in the cilantro yogurt, which is by far the best part.

I'm telling you, this would have made a great photo essay.

Badness, I'm going to crib a cue from you and start working on my own Moments in Food, since I'm sure tomorrow no one is going to want to hear about Poppyseed Chicken. I'm positive I am the only person on the planet who gets so excited about a canned-soup based casserole, but I am. really. excited.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Boy did I have an exciting photo post planned for you folks. I (foolishly) didn't photograph the literal FEAST that was assembled today. Menu: those best and famous ribs (the recipe has still never been posted on Epicurious, even though I know for a fact I cut it out of Bon Appetit, and this baffles me because it is remarkable), broccoli slaw (thanks, Paula!), mashed potatoes and grilled corn with hoisin-orange butter. For dessert: coconut chess pie from the Amish stand at the farmer's market, god bless those Amish because what a pie it was. Served with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream and some grilled brown sugar peaches. Such sweetness, such delight. I'm a little worried that the shivers of ecstasy that this meal brought on may or may not induce an early (but not too early) labor in Leia, but it was probably worth it.

But no, I didn't take any pictures. I didn't even think of it. But I DID take pictures of the MEGA HAUL I got from my Pampered Chef party products that came in today. And then I took pictures of my kitchen, and was going to provide you with possibly a 360 degree tour including notes (surely there is a tool like that on the web, right?). And then, instead of taking the final kitchen photograph which includes the area with the desk and the rolling cart, my camera decided to start taking photographs of black backgrounds with some moving horizontal purple lines. Aack.

So I'm going to let my camera sleep it off and think about what it has done, and try not to assume that an enemy from my past life is trying to contact me through the photo memory card (thanks, X-Files, I never would have thought that up all on my own). And hopefully tomorrow my 4+ year old Canon Powershot SD110 will wake up bright and sunny and feel like properly documenting Curried Couscous with Roasted Vegetables, Peach Chutney and Cilantro Yogurt, and we can revel in the cool easy deliciousness together.

Oh damn, and can I say, how great are three day weekends? Usually we get one lazy day and one worky day every weekend (except for terrible weekends when we get two worky days), and the real thing is which type of day we want to be the Saturday and which the Sunday. But yesterday we had a lazy day, and today was a worky day, and TOMORROW CAN BE LAZY AGAIN.

On that note, buenos noches. Please send my camera Get Well Soon thoughts. Or send me a new camera. Either one. No bigs.

P.S. Big up thanks to my tied-for-first-place (sorry, Mom) Best Sous Chef Ever, Megan, for not only helping but staying til every last dish was cleaned and put away, and also for helping me photo style my new kitchen goodies for your photographic pleasure. Stay tuned!

Friday, July 4, 2008


This is going to be one of those "damn, I forgot to blog" blogs. Sorry, folks. No excuses here, either; I didn't get out of my pajamas until 8 pm and I was on the computer for a healthy portion of the day. Nope, I'm just lazy, and I ate leftovers for lunch and grilled cheese (yuuuuuum) with canned tomato soup for dinner. There are no food tales to report.

...exCEPT we watched Waitress this morning, and it made me (of course) want to make a pie. I'm not much of a pie person, and am slightly dreading Austin's birthday request for this year, which is raisin cream pie. But this movie made pies look like pop art, and was otherwise quite charming and well done. Andy Griffith especially was a winner! What a guy.

So check out Waitress, it's in the Free Movies on Demand right now, and stay tuned for Rib-tastic goodness tomorrow.

Happy 4th, folks. Be safe.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Today was an unremarkable day for food, a most remarkable day for movie-going. Please see Wall-e, immediately. It was certainly one of the most transcendent cinema experiences of my life. I didn't even realize I had tears running down my face. This movie is also perhaps the most effective campaign advertisement for regime change imaginable. And it is really, really funny. If I had more thumbs, I'd have them turned up for this one. Two doesn't seem nearly enough. The opening and closing credits are unmissable. AND that damn cute short film at the beginning, god bless Pixar.

I had leftover noodles and vegetables for lunch, maybe my favorite leftover lunch ever (no, that's not true, it's poppyseed chicken, lined up for next week!). Dinner was movie popcorn, and I'm still not quite back to hungry after that.

As promised, though, I can review this weekend's cookfest.

Saturday, I made two cheesecakes for Leia's baby shower. One orange blossom, with a gingersnap crust and mixed berry compote. This is one of my classic cheesecakes, pretty much straight off of Epicurious, except I don't fuss with the more complicated crust on there and I half the berry sauce. I think it's a really interesting approach to cheesecake because it has a few tablespoons of flour in the filling, which makes a rather firm and even texture, and it bakes for 12 minutes at 500 degrees, then turned down to 200 degrees for 55 minutes. WAY off the cheesecake norm, let me tell you. The other cheesecake is straight out of the July Bon Appetit: S'mores Cheesecake. HOLY MOTHER it was good. And simply beautiful. Graham cracker crust (I sub in brown sugar for white sugar), chocolate cheesecake (oops, I used bittersweet instead of milk chocolate, oh well!), with a marshmallow meringue topping. Toasted the top with my kitchen torch and let the oohs and aahs just roll over me. Served both with that good (but risky) pomegranate berry compote and felt pretty pleased with myself.

I also made chocolate chip cookies, and I'm happy to say they were a damn close facsimile to my father's, but I still would like them to be a bit chewier. They were better on the first night, but that's always true, right? We hosted Jon and Ali for shredded beef tacos, potato and yellow squash torte and layered salad. The beef was a triumph, a 2 lb. beef roast from the CSA, I cubed it and browned the cubes, added cumin, tomato paste, tomato sauce, onions and bell peppers, and left the whole thing in the slow cooker for the rest of the day until the meat was falling apart. Served the tacos with refried beans, guacamole, a relish made with red onion and yellow bell pepper, cilantro, cheese.

Sunday I made benedictine (cucumber) sandwiches for the shower. For dinner we had lasagna and roasted vegetable panzanella, both of which were good that night but I can't muster much enthusiasm for the leftovers. I can't quite wrap my head around the panzanella; many changes would be made before I tried it again. Roasting green beans was a disappointment; we've gotten so many with the CSA and I can't find a way to cook them that I'm crazy about. I thought surely roasting with olive oil and s & p would be a winner, since it transforms all other vegetables into works of art.

Monday night we made chimichangas with the leftover taco ingredients, and they were shockingly good. I was forced to offer my gratitude for Austin's college job, which was waiting tables at a Mexican restaurant. He said we were going to fry them and I thought he was stark raving mad. Turns out, about 3/4 of an inch of hot oil, and he was totally right. They looked professional and tasted phenomenal with lots of cheddar cheese.

Folks, that's all I've got. I'm so OVER people shooting off fireworks outside my bedroom window. I'm glad I don't have the type of dogs who think we're under attack. Really, they can hardly be bothered with it all...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Instead of eating leftovers last night, I played a Whiny Card and demanded pizza. All I could think about was pizza. Specifically ground Italian sausage on a pizza. Austin finally gave in, asking if it could please be hot Italian sausage, and onions on half. I graciously conceded, I know when to settle my bets. We picked it up from Nashville's Most Wanted, which is definitely our favorite pizza joint. And it turns out their hot Italian sausage is sliced, not ground. And the mushrooms seemed sort of wet, and all in all it was a rather meh experience.

Then at approximately 6:15 this morning, I opened my eyes and remembered it was Pizza Wednesday at work, and I'm a moron. Why would I throw away a Whiny Card that could have been used for a Guaranteed Delicious meal like Gold Rush or Samurai? Dumb. And of course I wasn't even in the MOOD for Pizza Wednesday by the time it rolled around. What a waste of two perfectly good meal opportunities.

Happily, today was also CSA day in addition to Pizza Wednesday. I was inspired by a beautiful box of goodies. The contents of today's box of 1/4 bushel of veggies plus 4 servings of meat:

6 ears of corn
2 green bell peppers
2 good-sized yellow squash (one is yellow on one end and pale green on the other)
3 baby beets
1 hot pepper (resembles banana pepper, have been warned it's hot. That's all I know)
1 white onion
5 small young Yukon gold-type potatoes
2 small, simply gorgeous, heirloom tomatoes
2 lemon cucumbers
1 patty pan squash
6 eggs
1 2 lb. beef roast
1 2 lb. jar of popcorn (special order)

All this for a grand total of $33.50 (the popcorn was an extra $3.50).

When I planned this week's menu, I took CSA day into account and didn't buy a side dish for tonight's planned dinner, chicken Parmesan (with noodles). So when I got home I scrubbed and cut up the yellow squash, pattypan squash and those darling baby beets, plus a yellow onion. Olive oil, salt and pepper, tossed on a cookie sheet, roasted at 400 while I worked on the sauce for the chicken. It's a pretty simple puttanesca type, sweat garlic and onion and bay leaf in olive oil, stir in chopped Kalamata olives and some torn basil, then two big cans of crushed tomatoes.

Then things went awry. I had three chicken breasts from a recent CSA delivery, so I started to unpack them while I had Austin breaking some eggs into a pan for coating the chicken, eventually with breadcrumbs. He said, "These eggs are kind of stinky," right as I was cutting open the chicken package. I replied, "I don't think it's the eggs." The chicken was most. definitely. bad. Pretty much worst nightmare kind of circumstances. Double bag it and take it straight out to the trash. Ga-ross.
Luckily I hadn't messed with much more of the prep on the chicken, so I didn't waste any more ingredients. Austin the Logical pointed out that we could just eat the sauce on the noodles, which would never have occurred to me (I was winding up to send him the store). This is how we ended up with Off the Cuff Pasta Puttanesca with Mixed Vegetables.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

July = Food

So remember back in November, when I annoyed you every day for thirty days with rants and raves about roof construction and Thanksgiving menus, all in the name of NaBloPoMo?

Well, here we go again, baby. The cheerful folks over at NaBloPoMo have started assigning themes to each month to encourage folks to participate in the daily blogging world, and the theme for July is Food. Okay, I'll bite.

Today's post will be short, because first of the month is the busiest for us at work. So I'll just post this photo to show you how the CSA has affected our life, and will start spilling out the details of this weekend's cooking rampage (which hasn't stopped yet!) shortly. Stay tuned for 31 days of foodie talk, folks.