Adventures in Cooking: New Recipes!

I am constantly impressed by food bloggers. First they concoct consistently delicious meals, and then they photograph them! Generally in good light and on pretty dishes, too! Now I don’t know how you feel after slaving in the kitchen over a new recipe, but I’m generally pretty hungry, not to mention anxious to see how it turned out. Food bloggers, however, put all of that aside. They pull out the nice dishes that perfectly compliment the colors of the food. They find the one window that still has some sun or maybe a nice lamp, and they ignore the pleas of their “but Mom we’re starving” family, while they carefully photograph the dinner they’ve worked so hard to prepare. Food bloggers, I tip my hat to you.

These pictures are from mine or Trey’s phone (whichever was closest at the time) that just barely captured a few of our meals before they disappeared.

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First up, legit sesame chicken. I’ve been making several “easy” or “healthy” versions of Asian food off of pinterest, but sometimes you just need the real thing. This chicken was marinated, deep fried, covered in a thick sauce, and quickly devoured with each delicious calorie left intact. Next time, I might even put in the effort to fry the rice too :-)
Recipe from allrecipes.com

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Next, we have my first ever salad-as-dinner, and if you think I made to much, you’re absolutely right. While Trey was willing to admit that it was a very good salad, he still didn’t want to have salad for dinner. He was a trooper though and ate two bowl fulls (washed down with a half a row of Oreos ;-) ). If you do like salad for dinner, however, this is a great Southwestern take on it, and the creamy dressing keeps it from being too healthy. Note that you probably don’t need an entire head of lettuce for two people, though.
Recipe from greensnchocolate.com

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And finally, an old classic for when I’m too lazy to make real dinner: crescent dogs. Take a hot dog, wrap it in a crescent roll, follow the baking instructions on the tube, and voila! Dinner! My Mom used to add cheese too, but I don’t like the way it overpowers the butter taste of the rolls :-) . Of course I think she also used to serve them with fruits and veggies, but let’s not get carried away here.

Adventures in Cooking: Italian Spaghetti

The actual name for this recipe is spaghetti aglio, olio, e peperoncino, but there was no way I was going to remember that. It’s actually a really simple recipe, and its simplicity is what really messed me up the first time. All it is is spaghetti noodles, olive oil, garlic, chili pepper flakes, and salt & pepper to taste. See? Simple and delicious! Except for the chili pepper flakes.

The first time I made this recipe I looked at the pictures (from yumsugar.com),

and used red pepper flakes. Because that’s what the picture looks like, and that’s what I had on hand. Of course the result was scalded tongues and cries for large cups of milk. Oops.

So I went on a quest for chili pepper flakes. I had chili powder in my cabinet already, but the flakes were so pretty and really made the dish look delicious. I tried Walmart, Food Lion, and even Bi-lo (yes Bi-lo is my idea of a high glass grocery store, don’t judge), but no one had chili peppers in flake form :-(

So I used chili powder and I remembered to take pictures. It turned out quite well, though for the two of us, we could have halved the seasoning.

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Recipe is from yumsugar.com

Ingredients

7 ounces of spaghetti
2 large or 3 small garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons of chili pepper flakes
1/4 to 1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper

Directions

The measurements in this recipe can be shifted depending on your taste preferences.

  1. Cook spaghetti according to the directions on the package, until it is al dente.
  2. Strain spaghetti and place in a large serving dish.
  3. Add minced garlic, chili pepper flakes, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and mix together well.
  4. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 2 to 4.


Adventures in Cooking: Cornstarch

I wonder if, when Martin Luther King Jr was making speeches, organizing boycotts, and generally leading the Civil Rights movement, he ever thought that he would have a holiday named after him? I love MLK day because it comes at the perfect time of year. It’s pretty close to the longer breaks around Christmas and New Years, so you don’t feel the need to do any intense merry-making, but can simply stay home and do things that need to get done.

What does a three-day weekend mean for the Hall household? It means we’re simultaneously caught up on sleep, dishes, and laundry! But wait, there’s more… Two of the dinners this week have included vegetables!! “But, Becky,” you may be thinking, “there have only been two dinners so far this week.” Heck yes there have! The Hall household is currently two for two on veggie consumption this week! Best homemakers of the year award right here! (If you think veggies should be consumed at meals other than dinner, your expectations are unrealistic and you’re ruining my moment.) So thank you, Rev. King, for your contributions toward race equality in this country, but also for a three-day weekend that means a cleaner, healthier household for my little family :-)

As part of the long weekend, I tried out a new recipe for Teriyaki Chicken. We had grown tired of my last Teriyaki Chicken recipe after we had to eat leftovers of it for a week and a half straight, and the picture on pinterest looked different enough to be tasty. Of course I later saw the same picture linked to two additional recipes, so who knows how it was really made. I would show you how mine turned out, but I was too busy eating it. Oops.

Anyway, the recipe was simple enough except that it involved cornstarch at the end to make the sauce. I hate working with cornstarch. It always clumps no matter how much I stir and it always seems to need more than the recipe calls for to get proper thickness, so I keep adding more at little at a time until suddenly I have a glaze instead of a sauce. Ugh!

Obviously the solution to the second problem is to be more patient, since it takes a little while for it to thicken, but that still didn’t solve my clumping problem. Until I read this recipe. It instructs you to mix the cornstarch with an equal amount of cold water before adding it to the sauce. Genius! The cornstarch dissolved beautifully in the cold water without any clumping! Then I was simply able to pour the mixture into the sauce and it came out perfectly.

Of course I have no idea whether this is a transferable concept (maybe mixing the cornstarch with water has some unknown effects in addition to the obvious one?), but you can bet I’m going to transfer it every chance I get until some disaster occurs :-D

Oh and by the way, this recipe was delicious! Trey even said it was just like the kind we had at Miyabi’s, but he might have been exaggerating a bit ;-)

 

 

Ingredients:

12 boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 3 pounds)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup soy sauce
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
4-1/2 teaspoons cold water
Hot cooked rice, optional

Directions:

1. Place chicken in a 4-qt. slow cooker.
2. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, garlic and pepper. Pour over chicken. 3. Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours or until chicken is tender.
4. Remove chicken to a serving platter; keep warm.
5. Skim fat from cooking juices; transfer to a small saucepan. Bring liquid to a boil.
6. Combine cornstarch and water until smooth. Gradually stir into the pan. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Serve with chicken and rice if desired.

*image and recipe from easy-cookbook-recipes.com

Christmas Eve!!

It’s Christmas Eve! It’s Christmas Eve!!! Sometimes I think that I like Christmas Eve more than Christmas Day because of the anticipation and all of the traditions I associate with it. Growing up, the Christmas Day festivities were usually over by 10 AM, but on Christmas Eve we’d play a ton of Christmas music, put up the tree, drive around looking at lights, and watch the classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This year is particularly exciting because I get to teach all of my favorite traditions to Trey and learn some of his.

On the more intimidating side, I also have to learn how to make my family’s traditional recipes. We have three really traditional Christmas recipes: Christmas Bread (my mom was 50 before she was entrusted with that recipe, though, so it’ll probably be awhile before I am allowed to try it ;-) ), Christmas Rolls, and our special sugar cookie recipe. Originally I was going to try to make both the rolls and the cookies, but the directions for both were a little overwhelming (who knew that cookies could be complicated?). Instead, I decided to try the rolls and learn how to make the cookies next year.

Here are all my supplies complete with Spotify set to a Christmas playlist =)

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*Note the package of yeast. This was my first time ever working with yeast and I was super scared it wouldn’t rise.

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But they did rise! They’re not nearly as pretty as my Mom’s or Grandma’s, but they’re still yummy =)

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Do you have any Christmas Eve traditions?

Curse of the Hostess

I have a curse. This curse in no way relates to delicious cakes wrapped in plastic, ex: Ho Hos, Twinkies, Donettes, etc. No, my curse is not nearly so sweet, nor is it particularly fattening. Whenever I try to cook for anyone other than Trey and myself, some unforeseen delay/catastrophe will take place. Think I’m paranoid?

(Note that all of the photos link to their original sources. I have a problem when it comes to photographing food, in that I’m usually too busy eating it ;-) )

 Exhibit A 

It was mid summer and my parents had planned to drive down from Georgia for a weekend visit. I had only recently started cooking, so I picked an easy recipe that I had done a few times before: Tuscan Pasta

Tuscan Pasta With Tomato-Basil Cream Recipe

Now I’m very much a one-dish kind of girl. I’ll occasionally make dessert, but always at a different time or on a different day. Trey is a big fan of sides though, so I thought that I should try and stretch myself a bit and make bruschetta to go with the pasta. I looked up several recipes and got the general idea (you slice a french loaf, drizzle it in olive oil, cover with chopped tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, and toast it in the oven).

So what went wrong? Well for starters, the fresh basil I got from Walmart was incredibly fresh. I always do my grocery shopping there, so I’m used to their normal, just starting to wilt basil which (apparently) has about a quarter of the flavor of really fresh basil. I used the same amount that I always did and the pasta was quite overwhelmed. Secondly, I had never made bruchetta before, so while the idea seemed simple enough, I underestimated the amount of tomatoes and over estimated the amount of oven time, creating dry burnt toast.

Still not convinced?

 Exhibit B 

It was a quiet Saturday afternoon, and Trey had left to play golf with his work buddies. I texted my friend, Stephanie, to see if she wanted to hang out, and she suggested we get dinner together that night. Well I had already planned to try out a recipe for Lazy Day Casserole, and I didn’t really feel like paying to eat out, so I suggested she and JC just come over for dinner. Now I was already used to new recipes taking way longer than they should, so I got started early (memory says around two, but my memory lies a lot). I also knew that I had to start early because I wanted to make Honey Beer Bread to go with the casserole, and the two dishes bake at different temperatures.

Lazy Day Casserole

So I mixed up the bread, popped it in the oven and started chopping the vegetables for the casserole. My timing was almost perfect, and the bread finished baking just a few minutes after I had all the vegetables ready (maybe that’s more of a testament to my slow vegetable chopping, than my excellent timing, but regardless…) I reset the temperature on the oven and went back out to the living room while I waited for it to beep. Thirty minutes later I realized the oven never beeped. Dangit. I put the veggies in the oven, but at this point I didn’t have enough time to let the veggies cook for 45 minutes and then add the sausage for another 30. I improvised, but the potatoes and carrots didn’t really finish cooking. On the plus side the bread was delicious!

And finally, my last piece of evidence to prove to you that I am, quite legitimately, cursed:

 Exhibit C 

Just this week Trey and I invited our friends, Daniel and Alyssa, over for dinner. Now the only planned meals I had left for the week were new recipes. Obviously that would not be a good choice, so Trey suggested I make teriyaki chicken. I had just made it a couple days before and the recipe is fairly fast and simple to make. It really just involves cooking some chicken, mixing up a simple sauce, and dividing the sauce between the chicken and the rice. I don’t make it all in the rice cooker like the recipe says because mine isn’t nearly big enough. The only difference between the way I made it for Daniel and Alyssa and the way I made it a few days prior, was that I had used up the last of the white rice. I had been wanting to use brown rice since Trey and I first got married, but for some reason he had a ton of white rice in various half-used packages. We had finally finished it off with the last batch of teriyaki chicken, so I got out the brown rice and went about the recipe… until Daniel and Alyssa came over and the rice cooker still wasn’t finished.

We went on a tour of the new house. Still not done. We sat in the living room and chatted. Finally it clicked over from “cook” to “warm,” but it didn’t really look right. I tasted it, and it was definitely too crunchy. I added more water and let it do its thing. We hung out for a while longer until it eventually said it was done again. Now at this point the rice had been cooking for a full 90 minutes making dinner an hour later than originally intended. Only it still wasn’t right. So we went out for Mexican.

Here is my dinner for four that will now be eaten by two, over and over and over again.

Now of course there are more stories to add to my case, but these three are the most clearly supernatural. I mean Walmart having fresh basil? An oven not beeping when it has every other time? And rice taking longer than ninety minutes to cook?! Obviously I’m cursed.

Oh and just in case you think I’m just a terrible cook, I made this amazing pork roast for Trey and myself perfectly on the first try.

Adventures in Cooking: Chocolate

When I was making my grocery list this week, I realized that I had’t done hardly any baking since Trey and I got married. That struck me as odd since I’m generally a much better baker than I am a cook, and I baked for Trey several times while we were dating. In an effort to remedy this situation, I quickly scanned through my Pinterest list of recipes and picked out one that looked both delicious and simple: HolyCrapTheseAreAmazing Cookies.

When I returned from the grocery store, I set about making our apartment smell heavenly. The beginning of the recipe was incredibly simple: mix corn syrup and sugar over medium heat until boiling, add peanut butter, add cornflakes, make little balls on wax paper, done! Except for the chocolate drizzle. For that you have to melt chocolate. Now I had melted chocolate a few times before while making Scotcharoos (really my aunt’s specialty, but she lives 9 hours away and isn’t always on hand when a chocolate/butterscotch craving hits), but there’s no drizzling in that recipe. I proceeded in the same manner, however, with short bursts in the microwave and stirring in between. I got the chocolate to a smooth, melted state, but it came off of the spoon in globs instead of a thin good-for-drizzling line. I assumed I just needed more heat to truly liquefy the chocolate and was rewarded with a large cloud of smoke pouring from my microwave followed by a terrible stench.

I still had more chocolate, though, so I decided to melt it on the stove where I could better keep an eye on it. The chocolate got to the same melted-but-not-drizzly state as before. I kept stirring and turned up the heat a little bit, but instead of getting thinner, the chocolate started to thicken and I felt I was on the verge of another smoking pot of wasted chocolate. I took it off of the heat and consulted the internet, source of potentially accurate information on all subjects.

The first lady I came across used a bowl on top of a pot of boiling water, and her chocolate came out super liquid-y. The process looked a little too complicated to me,but she did explain that you could use vegetable oil to smooth out slightly singed chocolate. The next page was a little more helpful on the drizzling aspect. It suggested using a plastic bag to get pretty lines, but had nothing to say about the melting process. Finally the third page went into much more detail on all areas of the process. Apparently the chocolate I was using didn’t have a high enough percentage of cocoa butter, so it would never get super liquid-y. Once it melted it was as thin as it was ever going to get, so heating it more just ruined it.

With a little vegetable oil, I was able to save the batch of chocolate from the stove, and Trey agrees that the cookies came out quite yummy :-)

Adventures in Cooking: Garlic

A few days ago I came across a recipe for pasta sauce that I really wanted to try. Most of the ingredients I was familiar with: canned tomatoes, olive oil, onions, etc, but it also said to use two cloves of garlic. The only kind of garlic I had used before came in a spice jar, so I wasn’t a 100% sure what I was looking for.

I wandered around the produce section for awhile until I finally asked one of the employees. She was kind enough to point me toward a small, out of the way stand, labeled “Garlic” which I stared at blankly. There were a few jars of minced garlic, a few jars of powdered garlic, and then a pile of these

Now these looked a little bigger than I thought a clove of garlic should be, but there wasn’t anything else around that looked promising, so I just figured I was wrong about the size, bought two, and headed home. Of course when I started to peel the garlic, I realized it was made up of smaller parts. Ohhhhh! Yeah, so hopefully garlic lasts a long time because I have more than plenty. And for anyone else out there who needed to know: you can’t buy a clove of garlic at the store, you can only buy a head which will have several cloves.

Fourth Meal

Monday morning I was sitting in my living room planning the meals for the week when I remembered that Wednesday was the 4th of July and I should make something special. Trey got home from work that night and asked me what I got at the grocery store, so I showed him the ribs and told him they were for our 4th of July celebration on Wednesday.

That night as we were laying in bed it hit me, next Wednesday is the 4th of July. Oops. Trey just laughed and said he wondered why I got the ribs this week.

So here is our beautiful 27th of June meal complete with red white and blue salad (the bowl had to be the white since Trey hates bananas), my first ever attempt at mashed potatoes from potatoes instead of a box, and my mother’s super easy best in the world ribs. Go ahead, be jealous :-)

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