Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Just a reminder

I'm not sure if anyone checks this any more, but I've been getting some strange spikes in views, so if anyone is checking in and wondering what happened, I can now be found at:

And I'm still doing balcony (well, patio) gardening over there!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

And so it goes

It's day nine of the initial two-week grocery ban, and the native is restless. My milk has gone questionable, and I'm low on any remaining fresh ingredients - I have some tomatoes that haven't quite started to wrinkle and one avocado that I attempted to save by throwing it in the refrigerator drawer, but other than that - nada.

I did manage to make banana bread on Sunday with the two remaining bananas, although it bears little resemblance to the bread I know from my mother (despite the fact that I used her exact recipe - one of the eternal mysteries of recipes that are passed around my family is that they never end up the same as what we all grew up with). It's not bad, just...more banana-y than I would've preferred. Perhaps I didn't mash the banana quite enough so that it wasn't able to disappear into the bread well (is that supposed to even happen?).

The banana bread. Doesn't taste bad! Just banana-like (imagine that).
I posted two other recipes I made this weekend: cardamom shortbread, which used up my oats, and a s'mores pie, which didn't finish off anything but certainly was tasty - my only regret was not using more marshmallows on top. I brought it into lab yesterday to have other people help me eat it. I'm keeping the shortbread for myself (it has enough oats in it that I feel it can be qualified as breakfast food).

Other items I've used up: an open bag of pasta, some frozen arancini rice bites from TJs, and with both of those I'm doing my darndest to work through some marinara sauce I have in the fridge. I've also managed to polish off a few more snacks. To feel accomplished, I've taken some "in progress" pictures (only of the places that actually look different, which in itself is telling - I'm not showing the other three locations).

The shelf in the hallway:
At first.
Now! Ok, so there isn't a ton of difference, but it is slowly starting to shrink. The root beer, the salsa, and a pasta package have all disappeared. It's also gotten blurry - sorry about that. It's hard to tell on my tiny camera screen whether things are in focus or not.
The table:
At the beginning.
This is my favorite comparison because so much has disappeared from the bowl of snacks, and other items have actually been replaced with home cooked goods - exactly what I am aiming for in this whole endeavor!
 The freezer:
When I started....
This evening. Moving the ice tray was a bad idea, as it doesn't leave the space open. But there are several items missing: a box of waffles, some broccoli, and two boxes of ice cream treats. Plus you can see the tarte flambee on the upper left - I guarantee that will be gone within 48 hours.
However, despite the (slow) progress, I can hear the siren call of the grocery store. As if my own internal battle wasn't difficult enough, this arrived in the mail today:

Thanks a lot, Trader Joe's. As if my willpower wasn't receding enough already. Why must everything sound so delicious?
I've started to compose my own mental grocery list: berries, cream, milk, cheese, veggies. The tricky part of this is that I still want to make sure I'm eating healthy - or at least not significantly unhealthier than usual - and a big part of eating healthy is eating and cooking fresh. I think the most challenging part for me will be buying only items that I am sure I will have time to prep in meals. I have no shortage of ideas - I just can't let myself delude myself about how much time (or energy) I will have to make things. But I am still counting down the days until I can get back into a store and freshen up my supplies (to help, I plan to go only to Stop & Shop or farmer's market, where I find I can control myself much easier than TJs or Target).

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Recipe #2: S'mores inspired pie

I came up with the idea for this recipe several months ago, and went so far as to purchase the marshmallows back in June, which of course means now they are sitting on my shelf taking up space. So today I used them! Or at least part of the bag. I may have to entertain myself several times over the next few months by putting the remainder in the microwave one by one.

So, here's the idea - I love s'mores, but I haven't been camping in years, and I don't believe you can get the same taste without toasted marshmallows. So using components from other recipes and my own imagination, I created a s'mores inspired pie. I hope you enjoy, and please feel free to mess around with the recipe - this is my first attempt at putting together my own baking concept (just let me know if you do, I'd love to hear additional ideas about this).

As usual, step-by-step pictures are below, and a shortened recipe is at the end.

Preheat oven to 350F. First step - if you don't have any graham cracker crumbs, make some. I go old-fashioned and use a rolling pin and a plastic bag (be sure to get out as much air as possible before sealing).

Start with this, and after some rolling and pounding...

you should get something like this!
Add in melted butter and sugar, mix until butter is evenly dispersed.

Action shot!
It will still be crumbly, but should appear damp from the butter.
 Set aside around 1/4 cup of the mixture. Press the remainder into a greased 9-inch pie pan. Bake for 8 minutes at 350F. Remove crust and turn oven down to 325F.

You can, of course, start with either a pre-made crust or graham cracker crumbs. I like making the crust fresh - and I use the arm workout of crushing the crackers as justification for eating more pie at the end.

While crust is in the oven (don't forget about it!), mix together melted butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Whisk until well-mixed, then add cocoa and flour. Mix until smooth, pour into partially-baked crust. I used this recipe as my inspiration for the filling.

Butter, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and cocoa. How could it not taste good?
Almost there!

In the crust, before returning to the oven.
Place pie in oven for 20 minutes at 325F. Take out - center will be jiggly still.
This is after 30 minutes - as outlined above and in the actual recipe, I recommend reducing the initial baking time to 20 minutes. Unless you really, really don't want a gooey center.
 Top pie with marshmallows and remaining graham cracker crust, return to the oven for 10 minutes.

Add more marshmallows than this. Please. This is the voice of experience talking. If I had mini marshmallows, you wouldn't be able to see the surface of the chocolate underneath.
In the oven for (almost!) the last time.
 At this point, the marshmallows should be gooey. If you want them lightly browned and better toasted (I did), you can turn the oven up to broil and stick it back in for a SHORT period of time - I got browning within 2-3 minutes.

 Slice and enjoy. It will be crumbly and the marshmallows will be sticky, but trust me, it's worth it.

Sample slice!

Verdict: As I mentioned, I would change two things about the way I did it. I would add WAY more marshmallows (they shrink while baking, so add more than you think you will need to compensate), and I would also do the initial baking for 20 minutes, so that the pie is baked for a total of 30 minutes and the center is ultra-gooey - think half-baked brownies. However, if you are not a fan of gooey half-done brownies, you can increase the initial baking of the chocolate center to 30 minutes and then add the marshmallows for an additional 10 minutes at the end.


For crust: 
1 package graham crackers (about 1 2/3 cup crushed)
5 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons sugar

For filling (inspired by this fudge pie):
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix together graham cracker crumbs, butter, and sugar. Set aside around 1/4-1/3 cup. Use the remaining to press into a 9-inch pie pan. Bake for 7-9 minutes at 350 degrees, until the crust just starts to brown. Remove from oven and turn temperature down to 325. 

For filling: Beat eggs with butter and sugar. Add in vanilla, mix well. Add cocoa and flour, mix until smooth. Pour into crust and bake at 325 for 20 minutes. Remove pie from oven (top will be soft still) and add marshmallows on top, pressing lightly. Sprinkle the remainder of the graham cracker mixture over the top and return to oven for 8-10 minutes. If desired, turn oven to broil and return pie to oven for a final time - watch closely! Remove when marshmallows start to turn a light brown.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Recipe #1: Cardamom shortbread

This was the sunset this evening, as taken from the roof of my building. It's not related to anything in this post, I just thought it was beautiful
I'm beginning my weekend cooking a bit late (9 pm on a Saturday isn't late, right? Lots of people stay out until the wee hours. I just cook until the wee hours). I was a little overwhelmed at all the options and still haven't decided on a savory meal. So instead, I'm turning to my usual procrastination method and baking some sweets.

I'm not sure where I initially found the recipe, but I love cardamom, so it was perfect: Cardamom shortbread! As a bonus - err, justification - it uses up the rest of my rolled oats.


Only 6 ingredients! I added some nutmeg to make it seven, but overall, super simple.
It sounded straightforward, simple, and tasty - just what I need to get back into baking (I haven't really done any since my return from Zurich in mid-July). Pictures below, actual recipe at the end.

First, cream the butter and sugar together well, then add oats and vanilla.

Creamed mixture plus oats. I forgot to take a picture of just the butter and sugar, I got wrapped up catching up on the first season of Grimm (a poor not-really substitute for Buffy, but I do enjoy the wise-cracking werewolf-like sidekick).
An empty can! Am I the only one excited about this? (yes, probably). I can't guarantee there won't be more pictures of empty things as I use items up.
Add in flour, cardamom, and any other spices you might enjoy (I added some nutmeg), mix until it all comes together. Press mixture into a very, super well-greased 9-inch cake pan.

All pressed and ready to go! I would recommend tamping down around the edges a bit more than this.
 Bake in a 350F oven for around 25 minutes (I did closer to 30, but I'm fairly convinced that my oven thinks that 320 is the new 350). Let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes (important!).

Out of the oven and smelling divine.
 Carefully loosen the edges with a knife (this is made easier if the edges don't stick up very much, hence my advice to tamp them down well) and turn shortbread out onto a cutting board. Cut while still warm - hypothetically into wedges, but you can get creative. Allow to cool entirely before storing away into an airtight container.

I didn't wait an entire 10 minutes before the cutting board, so I had one piece that broke off. I then had to get creative with my wedges. Luckily, it doesn't have to be pretty to taste good.
Verdict: As might be expected with this much cardamom and so little flour, the flavor is strong - almost too much in some bites. However, I love cardamom and thought overall it was delicious - not too sweet, the texture was spot on for shortbread, and would taste absolutely divine with a lovely cup of chai or other black tea. I added in the dash of nutmeg to the recipe, and next time I would vary the spices more, but probably keep the overall amount (1 tsp total) the same. And I would definitely make it a next time!

Shortened recipe:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup rolled oats
1 tsp ground cardamom
2/3 cup flour
dash of nutmeg

Cream together butter and sugar. Add vanilla and oats, mix in. Add cardamom, nutmeg, and flour, mix until a dough forms. Press dough into very well-greased 9-inch cake pan and bake in a 350F oven for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Carefully loosen edges with a knife and tap out shortbread onto a cutting board. Cut into wedges while still warm, let cool completely. Enjoy!

Can I go shopping yet?

It is Day 6 of my self-imposed no groceries, and I've decided I need to set the rules quickly, as I can sense my willpower slowly receding and being replaced by the urge to hit up a grocery store or a weekend farmer's market.

The Rules:

1. There shall be an initial two week ban on any food products entering the apartment.
2. Once the initial ban is lifted, all products purchased must be fresh/perishable (eg, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, eggs). Preferably organic or local.*
3. Items purchased must allow for progress to be made on at least two food articles currently inside the apartment - this can be two separate recipes, each helping to rid of one item, or one recipe that would use up two items.

*Ok, really this is just an excuse to seek out and troll farmer's markets and Haymarket while all the fall harvesting is happening. Because that is some tasty stuff.

We'll see how this works. Last night I was so proud of myself for baking up some crusted haddock from Target that I impulse bought last month, and adding some corn salsa from TJs that was sitting on my shelf. "This is awesome," I thought. "I'm going to be done in just a few weeks at this rate!" (I like to delude myself. It's an important part of surviving the PhD process).

My dinner, before. That red clearance tag might as well be a siren singing when I'm wandering the Target aisles.

My dinner, after. Honestly, the fish wasn't bad, I just need to find a better way to dress it up.
The problem is that, frankly, it wasn't as delicious as I imagined it would be when a starving me plucked it from the Target freezer, and now I have another 2 baked fish pieces sitting in my refrigerator for reheating.

I'm sorry to report the first collateral damage: I lost an avocado and all the grapefruit. I checked the avocado just a few days ago and it wasn't quite ripe - but apparently it turned the corner rather quickly. The grapefruit also seemed to go fast - probably should've kept them in the fridge. Live and learn! I'll have to choose my produce carefully when I let myself back into the grocery store to prevent such future tragedies.