Saturday, January 26, 2013

Intervention

For months now I've been posting about my crappy diet (coffee and Sour Patch Kids and egg sandwiches) and I think it sounds like I'm being dramatic and exaggerating the crappiness but it's the truth. I've tried to make food and failed. The only times I've really been successful have been when I am cooking for other people - dates, friends, or Cookie Monday. I can't serve up a bowl of candy for dinner, so I'm held to a different standard and end up producing real food.

Because I rarely cook, I rarely go to the grocery store anymore either. I used to go every Saturday like clockwork with a thorough meal plan and specific grocery list. I never do that anymore. This isn't depression or financial or being too busy - it's just laziness and lack of motivation.

I discussed this with friends on Twitter a few days ago. It seems that a large portion of my friends who live alone, or whose spouses are frequently out of town/deployed, also fall into this rut. Maybe not as bad as me (for sure), but suddenly popcorn bowls filled with Lucky Charms seem more appealing than a nice wintry pasta dish. It's just easier, and it's hard to cook for one person, and leftovers end up piling up, and why spend all this effort on just myself? These are all reasons my friends eat cereal and takeout.

I'm beyond that. My Lucky Charms went stale because I ran out of milk and never bought more. I have every ridiculous condiment and fancy-cooking staple: capers, Sriracha, creme fraiche, Himalayan sea salt, kalamata olives, four different kinds of peppercorns. I have containers of grains like quinoa and amaranth and couscous. I also do have some cans of beans in the basement. But I have 19 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, spread between my pantry and my stand freezer. NINETEEN. I have everything and nothing. I have all the stuff to make a good meal except for the main things, like - you know - vegetables and the stuff that makes a meal substantial.

While I've made an effort to change these behaviors, I never seem to make any progress. I realized the sadness of my situation but still kept falling into the old routine. This has been going on for several months now - beginning really around the time I decided to sell my house last summer.

BUT THEN, on Thursday, my 24 year old gentleman staged an intervention. He is a gentleman who likes beer, bacon, Cap'n Crunch, and food from gas stations. A daily food connoisseur, he is not. He had come over directly after work and was hungry, and could find literally nothing to eat. Nothing.

"Did you even eat dinner? Is this rice for show or do you ever cook it? Are your condiments for decoration? WHY DO YOU HAVE NO MILK OR BREAD? Lauren I'm poor but I feel like I need to buy you groceries because this is so sad." And thus the intervention began. And when I mentioned it on my twitter, my friends joined in. Especially Erica, who lived with me in the spring and knows my usual planning/cooking routine. She said, "You have done this for years and years so it's disorienting to see you not do it anymore."

So here we are. I was knocked out yesterday from a GI bug, but today things will be different. I will not make a meal plan this week. I also will not have Cookie Monday because I don't want to spread the plague via cookies to my coworkers. But I am going to clean out my refrigerator of expired things, and then I am going to go to the store and buy staples. And snack foods. And drinks. AND VEGETABLES. Even if it's just one of those party platters with vegetables, at least then I'll be more likely to snack. As the gentleman points out, I don't even have to cook nice meals - I just need to be able to make FOOD to EAT for MEALS. This is going to require baby steps.

My short-term goals are these:
1) Eat dinner every night. Including cereal. As long as it doesn't involve chocolate or coffee or sour patch kids.

2) Have fresh vegetables, milk, and bread in my house at all times. NOT EXPIRED, EITHER.

3) Grocery shop every weekend. Not just for the cookie-Monday ingredients.

Seems easy but this will be a struggle, but I can do this! I will monitor it here, so I apologize that my fancy ethnic concoctions will be replaced by "I had a burrito!" for a little while, but it's necessary. Thank you all for your patience :)

Monday, January 21, 2013

COOKIE MONDAY: Cake Batter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Today was Cookie Monday! One of the occupational therapists at work had tipped me off to this recipe, which has been making the rounds on Pinterest. I enjoyed the original post's scientific approach to these colorful cookies, particularly the method of making the cookies into little "pillars" versus balls to bake them more evenly. It worked SUPER WELL (see her original post for the instructions).

I used a mix of semisweet and white chocolate chips, and I used Funfetti cake mix instead of regular "white or yellow." I had some issues using the cake batter because it seemed like I was cheating, but then I decided that it was just kind of like replacing part of the flour. I also added the full amount of sprinkles even though Funfetti cake already has sprinkles in it. Doubling the recipe yielded 6 1/2 dozen cookies, which was just enough. Everyone really liked these. They actually said these were their favorite to date, so that's pretty cool. I bet these could be tweaked for all kinds of cake flavors, too.

cookie

Cake Batter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Copied from Sally's Baking Addiction via Pinterest

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup yellow or white boxed cake mix
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup rainbow sprinkles

In a large bowl, sift together flour, cake mix, and baking soda. Set aside. In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and sugars on medium speed. Mix in the egg and vanilla until creamy.

Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Do not overmix the dough. Fold in the chocolate chips and sprinkles. Cover and refrigerate dough for at least 1 hour, or up to 4 days.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Scoop rounded tablespoons of the cold dough onto an ungreased baking sheet. Shape your cookie dough balls to be “taller” than they are wide. Make sure to keep dough chilled when working in batches. Bake for 10-12 minutes until edges are slightly browned. The centers will appear very soft, but the cookies will set as they cool.

Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 4 minutes and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: 3 dozen

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Autumn Vegetable Roast with Orzo

I made this Autumn Vegetable Roast with Orzo for dinner last night for myself and my dining companion. It made my house smell like garlic, which is fine. I couldn't find celery root so I used brussels sprouts instead, and I finally used the right pasta (orzo). I also did use herbes de provence this time, which worked out fine despite my fear of lavender. And yummy leftovers! Perfect.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cookie Monday: Oreo-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

For Cookie Monday, I made Oreo-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies.

cc

When I originally made these cookies, they were amazing but I vowed never to make them again. I filed them in my Living Cookbook in the folder "Legendary But Never Again." Cookies the size of softballs! Obscene. But Denise commented on that post, a few years ago, and suggested using mini Oreos. A brilliant idea.

So my friend Jeff got to pick the cookie this week, and he picked these. At first I was reluctant because six dozen softball-sized cookies were basically going to ruin my life. But then I remembered the mini Oreos. While still time-consuming, I made one batch of these cookies and used the mini Oreos, along with mini chocolate chips. I managed to get four dozen out of just one batch, which is fantastic. While I ran out of cookies in the afternoon, at least I got to feed everyone these. Everyone said they liked them! And really, what's not to love about them?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Chipotle Sweet Potato, Black Bean & Guac Tacos

Tonight I made Chipotle Sweet Potato, Black Bean, & Guac Tacos, a recipe I'd originally tried during That Time when Erica and I tried to be vegan for a month (and lasted 5 days). I didn't read my notes from the last time, so I made it as the recipe had written. I wish I'd read my notes, though, because this time I cubed up the sweet potato and it didn't stay in the shell at ALL. Last time I microwaved the sweet potato and mushed it up in the pan, which helped it to stick on top of the guacamole in the taco shell. It's still delicious, but it's not as fun when it doesn't stay together. I shall heed my own advice next time!

Classic Banana Bread

I've had some bananas in my kitchen that I decided to save to make banana bread, so last night I felt inspired and actually made it. I was lazy with measuring things and just kind of guessed at it (not always the best thing to do, since baking is a science) so it turned out a little more dense than it usually is. I also used a darker bread pan than usual so the bottom is a little more brown than I would have liked. My Classic Banana Bread recipe is still my favorite banana bread, I just didn't bake it up to my own standards yesterday. Oh well! It's still delicious. I'm going to bring it in for some coworkers for breakfast.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Sriracha Macaroni & Cheese

Every week or so I check my stats on this page to see general stuff - where did people come from, to my blog? Which posts are the most viewed? How many people saw my blog at all this week? Etc. Consistently, every week, people search for "sriracha macaroni and cheese" and they come to my blog.

I think it's because I posted a recipe from the Sriracha Cookbook and no one wants to have to buy it for themselves. If this is you, FOR SHAME. Go buy the book.

That being said, last night I made the Sriracha Macaroni & Cheese again. I ended up feeding it to surprise company as well. I didn't bother low-fatting anything. I dumped in the butter and cream and milk, and I used a full half cup of sriracha. The funny thing about this is that it isn't the best thing ever. It's really good, but it's more saucy than cheesy and I certainly wouldn't pick it over one of my other baked macaroni & cheese recipes.

So I'm going to tuck this recipe away and probably not make it again, and people are going to continue to google it. If you do find this blog because of this recipe, let me know how you liked it? I want to know if I'm the only one who thinks it's somewhat mediocre.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Cookie Monday: Snickerdoodles

I originally posted this recipe almost exactly five years ago, WITHOUT A PHOTO (I KNOW, RIGHT?!), so it's time for an update. I've made these a whole bunch of times since then. I really love this recipe even better than my mom's, which used shortening.

It also has a secret ingredient, which is LOVE! Just kidding, it's vanilla sugar from Penzeys. I mix the vanilla sugar and cinnamon to roll the dough in, instead of just regular sugar. I think it makes it even yummier. I did notice that this time my cookies were more cracked and weird-shaped than they normally are, and I entirely blame the fact that I ran out of my Penzeys cream of tartar and had to buy some McCormick (for shame!). It was a significant difference though, so this really is what I'm blaming.

Anyway, I decided to make these for Cookie Monday this week after doing an informal Twitter poll. My loveypie Cody picked snickerdoodles, which others then supported, and thus it was decided. I made one recipe, which yielded five dozen cookies for me, and I ran out of them in the afternoon. After some trial and error each week it does seem that six dozen is the ideal amount. I will keep that in mind for next week!

So now I'm going to re-post the original recipe, along with a new photo.

cookies

Cinnamon-Sugar Cookies (Snickerdoodles)
Everyday Food, September 2004

These cookies will keep up to 3 days in an airtight container at room temperature; include a few marshmallows to help the cookies stay moist.

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still slightly firm
1 2/3 cups sugar, plus 1/4 cup for topping
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt; set aside. With an electric mixer, cream butter and 1 2/3 cups sugar until ligt, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add egg and vanilla; beat until combined. Add flour mixture; beat, scraping bowl as needed, until dough comes together when squeezed (it will appear dry).

2. Make the topping: in a small bowl, mix together remaining 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon.

3. Shape dough: Scoop 48 level tablespoons. Squeeze each tightly with fist; roll into balls. Roll balls in topping to coat evenly. Place 1 1/2 inches apart on baking sheet; flatten with bottom of a glass. Sprinkle tops with remaining topping.

4. Bake, one sheet at a time, until tops are puffed and crackly, and bottoms are golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Cool slightly on sheets; transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Yield: 4 dozen

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Noodles & Vegetables with Sesame Dipping Sauce

I don't know what attracted me to this recipe. Possibly that it was quick and has a lot of vegetables, but also utilizes magic things like sambal oelek, a staple in my refrigerator (not to be confused with sriracha). It was indeed very easy to make.

I am scared of agave nectar because it can be way too sweet, but it wasn't at all in this recipe. I also increased the sambal oelek a little to make it spicier. And instead of steaming the tofu (gross), I melted a little bit of coconut oil (it's solid in a jar; mine is from Trader Joe's) and sauteed the tofu til it was brown and crispy. Seemed to work out well. This was actually really good. I doubt I'd make it again, but I really liked it.

noodles

Noodles and Vegetables with Sesame Dipping Sauce
Vegetarian Times

Sesame Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 tablespoon hot chile sauce, such as sambal oelek
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Noodles and Vegetables
4 baby bok choy, quartered lengthwise
4 large carrots, peeled, thinly sliced on sharp diagonal
8 ounces snow peas, trimmed
1 14-oz. pkg. firm tofu, drained, patted dry, and cut into 2- x 1/2-inch pieces
8 ounces thin rice noodles (rice vermicelli)
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

To make Sesame Dipping Sauce: Blend all ingredients in blender until smooth. Set aside.

To make Noodles and Vegetables: Set steamer rack in large skillet, and add 1 cup water to bottom of skillet. Bring water to boil over high heat. Arrange bok choy on rack, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and steam bok choy 1 minute. Add carrots, snow peas, and tofu to rack, and steam 2 minutes more.

Meanwhile, bring large pot of water to a boil. Cook rice noodles in boiling water 3 minutes. Remove noodles from cooking water with fork or tongs (this helps prevent them from sticking together), and divide among 6 bowls. Divide vegetables and tofu among bowls, arranging around noodles. Sprinkle with green onions and sesame seeds. Divide Sesame Dipping Sauce among bowls (2 Tbs. per serving), and serve with noodles. Dip vegetables, tofu, and noodles into sauce while eating.

Servings: 6

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Ode to Egg Salad

In my effort to eat Real Food even when I don't feel like cooking, I hard-boiled a bunch of eggs the other day so I could make egg salad sandwiches instead of eating a bowl of Lucky Charms for dinner. Brilliant idea, right? I mentioned this on my Twitter and it sparked a whole discussion of egg salad, particularly between myself and my friend Scott (who, by the way, is a musician so go listen to his stuff). We discussed our sandwiches and our methods. As Scott describes this event, "Giving out my egg salad recipe on twitter is the closest l'll get to having a mommy blog. Or perhaps is even worse.

My recipe: Two hard-boiled eggs (room temperature preferred), smashed up with some mayonnaise, little bit of mustard, salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne. Not too smushed, though. And it always has to be on toast.

Scott's Recipe: Basically the same as mine except about 3/4 teaspoon of horseradish instead of the cayenne. Sometimes he adds tomatoes or pickled peppers. Also not too smushed.

eggs

I did make his version yesterday (see photo above) and it was good but I like mine better. It should also be noted that I am strongly against celery and relish in my egg salad. I also don't love it when it's so mushy that it's almost like an egg paste. That's gross. I think everyone has their own version. How do you make yours? And if you don't like egg salad at all then you have no business reading this blog post.

I also had a brief comparison of methods for making perfect hard-boiled eggs (with no gray around the yolk) between several of my other friends via the Twitter. I learned my version from Giada de Laurentiis, which is:

Put eggs in a pot. Cover with cold water. Put on the stove and bring to a boil. When it hits a rolling boil, turn off the stove and cover the pot. Let it sit for 12 minutes. Drain and set the eggs aside to cool.

My friends all use the same method, generally, but the cooking times varied from 8 minutes to 12. I have found that anything less than 12 seems to yield a slightly less-solid yolk, and I hate hate hate runny (or even just kind of not-quite cooked) yolks. They freak me out and are gross.

Tonight I made a real dinner and will post about it tomorrow, but egg salad has been my sustenance on several occasions this week thanks to the forethought of boiling eggs, and the conversation last night sparked my idea of posting about it on my blog. Everyone has their own preference and recipes, and that's neat.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Black-Eyed Pea "Falafel" with Spicy Aioli

Black-eyed peas are supposedly "good luck" for the New Year, and I'm pretty much desperate to have 2013 go well so I figured I'd stick with this stupid superstition and make something with black-eyed peas for dinner on 1/1/13. Most of the time, people make their black-eyed peas boiled with some bacon or ham hock or whatever, which obviously I can't do since I don't eat meat. I cam across this recipe in a local news website and thought it sounded interesting. Might as well try.

Well, it was interesting. It was weird. I ate it - for good luck, obviously - but I wouldn't eat it again. And perhaps the best (worst) thing about it is that this morning my kitchen smells awful from cooking them. Awesome.

So oh well. Hooray for 2013!

falafel

Black-Eyed Pea "Falafel" with Spicy Aioli Sauce
Lehigh Valley Live

Black-eyed peas,€” which really are a bean,€” originated in Africa and found their way to ancient India and Asia thousands of years ago. As early as the 5th century people were eating them for good luck on New Year's Eve.

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil -- divided
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic, divided
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
15 oz can black eyed peas
1 large egg
2 tablespoons well-stirred tahini
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, to taste
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
Chopped scallions, to garnish

In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat 1 Tablespoon oil. Add onion, reduce heat to moderately low and cook for 5 minutes until softened. Add 1 teaspoon of garlic, cumin, coriander and cayenne. Cook for 1 minute and transfer to a medium bowl.

Drain and rinse black-eyed peas. Pulse in food processor until coarsely chopped. Remove ½ cup of chopped peas and add to onion mixture.

To remaining peas, add egg, tahini and salt. Process until very finely ground, then stir into onion mixture. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare spicy aioli.

In a small bowl, stir mayonnaise, remaining ½ teaspoon of garlic and hot sauce. Set aside.

Once pea mixture has chilled, shape into 18 patties. (The mixture will be loose). Spread out breadcrumbs in a pie plate lined with waxed or parchment paper. One at a time, dip patties to coat on all sides, lifting paper to move around. Shake off excess.

In a large non-resistant skillet over medium, heat 2 Tablespoons of remaining oil until hot. Working in batches, add falafel patties and cook until crisp and golden on one side. Add remaining 1 Tablespoon oil and turn patties; cook for 3 minutes or until crisp and golden.

To serve, arrange falafel patties on a platter and top each with aioli and a sprinkle of scallion.

Servings: 6 (18 falafel)

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Baked Spinach Dip Mini Bread Bowls

How was everyone's New Year's? We are into 2013 now, which means heading into the 8th year of this blog. That's completely nuts.

So last night I went to a friend's house for a party to celebrate the New Year, and I wanted to find a quick and delicious appetizer-y type thing to bring. I had found this recipe recently on Pinterest (surprising, I know) and decided it would work really well. And it did! These are super easy to make and REALLY good. They worked well for the party. Portable, easy to carry around and eat, still good even at room temperature. I will warn you that it only makes 10 servings but they are substantial. I really liked these. I have no idea if other people liked them because vodka. I came home with an empty serving tray though so I'm going to assume people enjoyed them? I will definitely keep this recipe around.

rbead bowl

Baked Spinach Dip Mini Bread Bowls
Picky Palate

1 roll refrigerated french bread loaf
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
3 oz softened cream cheese
1/2 cup light sour cream
2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground ancho chile pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 10 muffin cups with non stick cooking spray. Unroll package of french bread loaf and slice into 10 equal size slices, about 1 inch thick. Press each slice into about a 3 inch round by pressing in between your hands. Press into the bottom and up sides of the muffin cup. Set aside.

Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir spinach until wilted, about 3 minutes then add garlic, cook and stir for another minute then turn heat off.

Place cream cheese, sour cream, cooked spinach and garlic, Parmesan Cheese, Ancho Chili Powder, garlic salt, salt and pepper into a medium bowl. Mix until well combined. With a medium cookie scoop, scoop dip into each of the centers of bread bowls. Top evenly with shredded cheese and bake for 15-17 minutes until just turning brown on edges. Remove and let cool for 3-5 minutes before removing from oven.

Servings: 10