Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Twelve Days of Goodies: Part II

Oh yes I am doing four posts in one day! Today I had the whole house cleaned by 1 p.m. I was bored. I had nothing to do. Julian was upstairs watching a dvd. A rarity. He's almost always climbing all over me. Really. So, I decided to go ahead and make a pan of Seven-Layer Bars. They are a childhood-favorite of mine. They are still a favorite. If I wouldn't have cut them and put them in the freezer, I'd be eating every last one. I really could. The photo here to the right didn't turn out that great, but I'm sure everyone knows about these magical bars anyway. If not you're missing out. So damn simple, but so good! I make them the same way my mom did:

Melt 1 stick of butter or margarine in 9x13 pan
Pat in 1 cup of graham cracker crumbs
Add one cup of chocolate chips and one cup of butterscotch chips
Add one cup of coconut
Top with a can of condensed milk (YUM! Yep, I licked the spatula!)
Sprinkle with a cup of chopped pecans

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool completely. Cut into bars.

By the way...All these goodies I'm making are pretty much going straight into the freezer. The week before Christmas, I'll start making up trays and packages for our friends and family. We're not doing a full-month sugar binge here, in case anyone was wondering. Sleek, the kids and I are allowed a sample or two from each batch, though.

Navy Bean Gratin

Another recipe from The Hippy Gourmet cookbook this evening. I was leafing through it while doing my weekly meal planning/grocery list. So, two of my meals this week came from there. As I was putting this dish together, I was unsure of the outcome. It just seemed rather bland to me. Navy beans mixed with some sauteed carrots and onion, thyme, salt and pepper. All that topped with some breadcrumbs mixed with parmesan cheese and a bit of olive oil. I have to say I was extremely pleasantly surprised when I took my first bite. Holy smokes! It was just unbelievable. Seriously.

I served the gratin as a main dish, with a side of sliced and sauteed brussel sprouts. I made a little sauce for the brussels using a few TBS of brown sugar, zest from an orange, juice from half of that orange, a splash of water, and salt & pepper. DAMN. They were out-of-control. Sleek and I have both decided we like the sprouts sliced instead of roasted whole (or halved). That's thanks to our friend, olives, who sliced and sauteed them for our Thanksgiving dinner. So, what I was thinking would turn out as a mediocre meal turned out to be fantastic. Definitely one I'll make again. Especially now that I've got plenty of already-cooked navy beans in the freezer!

Now that I think about it, I didn't turn on any music during my time in the kitchen today. Oh well, I couldn't have heard it over the kids playing and carrying on anyway. They get crazy in the afternoon!

Twelve Days of Goodies: Part I

Okay, so this year I decided I'm taking back Christmas for myself. For years, I've gotten really disillusioned with the holiday season. You know, the stores opening at 4 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving. People fighting over parking spaces and material items. Call me a Scrooge, but how is any of that in the spirit of Christmas? (Or any other holiday that holds spiritual meaning to people.) The consumerism and over-consumption is sickening to me. So, this year Sleek and I are going easy on the gifts for the kids and family. We're doing practically all of our shopping online. The thought of a department store or mall at this time of year nearly sends me into a state of panic.

So, here's the deal: I'm doing things I like this year. I'm going to be happy and make it a special time for the kids. (I've actually been listening to Christmas music with them for two weeks already. And I enjoy it!) I'm doing lots and lots of baking. I'm not getting stressed out. I decided it would be fun to blog about my holiday baking. I started last night by making my snowflake sugar-cookies. Unfortunately, my snowflake cookie-cutters didn't really make cookies that look much like snowflakes. However, they really, really taste good! I use a recipe given to me by a family friend. It makes the best sugar cookies, and the dough is very easy to work with. Here goes:

1 stick of butter
1 cup of sugar
2 cups of sifted flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 TBS Brandy
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Cream butter and sugar. Sift dry ingredients. Add to butter mixture and blend well. Add egg, brandy and vanilla. Beat until well-mixed. Shape dough into two flattened rounds, wrap and chill for at least an hour. Roll and cut into shapes. Bake at 350 degrees on parchment-lined sheets for 10 minutes. Do not allow them to brown!

I like to just use coarse sugar on them, which I put on before baking. They could be baked plain and iced when cool. I also usually double the recipe.

Green Chile and Rice Casserole

My sister-in-law got me a new cookbook for Christmas this year. (We already exchanged gifts with Sleek's brothers and their families.) The cookbook is called The Hippy Gourmet's Quick and Simple Cookbook for Healthy Eating. Apparently, there was once a PBS show, The Hippy Gourmet. I somehow have never heard of it. Anyway, it's a pretty cool cookbook. After looking through it, I couldn't wait to try out some of the recipes. Last night was the first one. The Green Chile and Rice Casserole. I've been wanting to make a good, reasonably healthy Mexican-style casserole for quite a while. This recipe called for two cups of sour cream and three cups of Monterey Jack cheese. I don't know...I didn't want to turn this into a somewhat healthier version of the Pizza Bake, so I only used about 1 1/4 cups of light sour cream and 1 1/2 cups of cheese. It was delicious. I can't imagine that it would've been better with the full amounts of sour cream and cheese.

To go with it, I made my same old refried beans and some broccoli. Sleek and I have been wanting Mexican, and this definitely hit the spot.

I was in the mood for some classical music, and my NPR stream kept cutting out on me. I made a fantastic new discovery: Pandora's classical, string-ensemble station. I don't know folks, I may be listening to that for the next month, at least!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Fish Masala

I've been wanting to make fish masala for a long time. I used to order it occasionally at our now-closed local Indian restaurant. My first-ever blog post was channa masala, and I've wanted to make it with fish ever since. I used cod, since that was what I happened to have in the freezer. Any mild, white fish would work, though. I made the sauce using the same recipe as the channa masala. Instead of adding the chickpeas, I put in some cauliflower, peas and the fish. I pan-seared the fish first, then added it to the sauce. I let it simmer for a while (1/2 hour, maybe?), then turned the heat completely off. We ate it a half-an-hour later. The fish had gotten really tender and kind of fell into chunks. We had it over jasmine rice. I thought it was very good, and Sleek thought it was out-of-control good. So, I consider it a success.

I finally got Radiohead's In Rainbows album on my iPod. I've been listening to it like crazy. It's so damn good. You can link to download the album from their myspace page. (You know, you can pay whatever you want for it.) They also have quite a few songs from the album available for play on their myspace page.

Be prepared for some heavy posting on Chez Mama. Between now and Christmas I'm doing a "12 Days of Goodies" segment. I hope I'm not overly-ambitious!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving--The Day After

I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving. I know we did. After spending the beginning of the week with my parents, I came home to spend Thanksgiving with Sleek, the kids, and our friends. We had a great time. Our good friend, olives, came into town to hang with us. We had dinner with our friends, the Lester family and the getto-Dillon family.

olives arrived Wednesday after noon, and we decided what to make, made our list, and went to Kroger. The parking lot was just packed, with cars parked in parking spots that didn't actually exist. olives and I both feared that we'd have panic attacks. We also feared they'd be out of the sweet potatoes and cranberries we needed! They were fully stocked, so we got our stuff and got the hell out. We came home and spent a good 4 hours in the kitchen. I made a chocolate-bourbon pecan pie (Nov. 07 Southern Living), and a sweet-potato casserole (America's Test Kitchen). olives made the traditional Greek dish, Spanikopita. We drank some wine and listened to lots of music throughout the evening. I know Joseph Arthur was playing at one point. Also Super Furry Animals. Good stuff.

We woke up at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving day, and hit the kitchen once again. olives got busy making the cranberry sauce and sauteed Brussel sporuts with pecans. I worked on the mashed potatoes, chick-pea gravy and broccoli. We finally got out the door at about 3 p.m.

We arrived at the Lester's, and unloaded the car, laughing about the absurd amount of food we'd made. Soon after we got inside, getto got to work carving the turkey. We had some drinks, and dug in. Everything was fantastic. Jamie had made sweet-potato casserole, so we didn't even bust in to mine. (I was more than happy to have all of mine to bring home for leftovers. Plus, the one Jamie made so good!) I was so stuffed after dinner that I had to wait a couple of hours for dessert. Molly made an apple-crisp that was just off-the-hook, so that's what I decided on. My pecan pie turned out really nice, but I think I prefer regular pecan pie to the chocolate one. I think the chocolate flavor took over the pecan-pie flavor.

We had some more wine and Molly, olives and I sat around talking. The guys played Guitar Hero, and the kids ran around playing and acting crazy. Then we played Scrabble, Jamie and olives won. Sleek and I came in second, only two points ahead of getto and Molly. By the time we rolled out, Sleek, olives and I were feeling way overstuffed. We came home and hung out for a couple hours. We complained about how full we were, yet contemplated digging in to the leftovers. We finally just had to go to bed. I was still feeling full when I woke up. Ridiculous.

Some random pics of the day:

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Wild Weekend

As I mentioned in my last post, we had Sleek's brothers and their families in for the weekend. We wrap Thanksgiving and Christmas into one weekend with them. I won't lie. It gets crazy at times, but our kids sure love having a whole weekend to play with their cousins. Fortunately, one of my sisters-in-law usually brings a "portable bar". Together, they are the martini masters! They are always shaking up some new kind of martini. I love it!

I began to prepare for the weekend on Friday afternoon. I made a batch of Apple-Pie Crumb-Cake Muffins from VWaV. Those are so good. I usually make a batch every other week. I substitute whole-wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose flour. Then I made a pumpkin pie, which really turned out nice. (Sleek's brother actually thought it was fake when he saw it! Yeah, I always keep fake pies sitting around. Heehee!) For my pie-crust, I used previously-made dough, which I had frozen. It was actually very easy to work with. Maybe I'll start freezing all of my dough before I use it.

On Saturday morning, I woke up early to get my broccoli-cheddar quiche into the oven. I made the same as the onion quiche, but instead of onions and gruyere, I used broccoli and cheddar. It's really easy to make, and Sleek said he liked it better than the onion quiche.

Saturday evening was when my sisters-in-law and I made the big meal. We decided on broiled sea bass, potatoes, corn pudding, and salad. I know everyone sees "corn pudding" and thinks WTF? Many people would call it baked corn. I'm fairly sure it's a southern thing. Anyway, the recipe is from my great-grandmother, and everyone who's ever tasted just loves it. It's not very healthy, so I usually just make it when Sleek's family is visiting. Here's the recipe for it:

2 cans creamed corn
1 small can whole-kernal corn (like 6 oz?)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 stick of melted butter or margarine
1.5 cups evaporated milk (I use fat-free)
6 eggs, lightly beaten
1 good pinch of salt

Mix everything well. Pour in baking dish and bake in a pan of water at 375 degrees for about an hour and 15 minutes.

Unfortunately, the bottle of Viogner that the girls and I drank while preparing the meal prevented me from taking a picture of the food! Sorry!

The kids and I are at my parents' in rural WV (as opposed to the extremely urban Morgantown) for the next couple of days. I can't wait to spend Thanksgiving Day with getto and his family and my great friend, olives. It will be so much fun!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

West Virginia Pizza Bake

Not much cooking going on today. We have family coming to visit for the weekend, so I've got lots of preparation to do. It should be a great weekend. The kids will get to hang with their cousins all weekend. They live about 7 hours away, so the visits are few and far between.

Anyway, our local news station is doing this "Flavor of West Virginia" series, where they choose viewers' recipes and even make some of them on-air. Sleek and I watched the one last week, and it was just painful. So, of course when I noticed a new one on the website I had to watch it right away. It's a Pizza Bake. You just simply won't believe this. (You have to click the "Watch Story Video" link in the low-middle of the screen. You have to watch this. Please, please, please!)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Veggie and Tofu Stir-fry

Mmmmmm. Stir-fry. It's definitely a regular around here. When I recently made a strong effort to abandon processed foods as much as possible, I had to learn to make my own sauces. So I needed to come up with a good one for my stir-fry. Here's what I came up with: A decent sized handful of brown sugar (not packed!), a few (several?) TBS of Shoyu or soy sauce, a smidge of Thai chili paste, a few drops of sesame oil, garlic powder, a pinch of salt, and a few good shakes of Chinese Five-Spice Powder. Mix all that up and add a little water to thin it out. It's actually an excellent sauce. I have no idea how I came up with that, but like many other random things, it just entered my head.

I almost always add tofu to my veggie stir-fries. You know, the whole protein thing? As many of you know, I very much prefer Spring Creek tofu. It's made here in WV. Spencer, to be exact. (Hi, Rebecca!) It's vastly superior to any other tofu I've had. I know, y'all think I'm crazy. Tofu is tofu. Right? WRONG!

So, I like my tofu to be chewy as opposed to mushy, so I start by pressing it. I place it between some paper towels and put a cast-iron griddle and skillet on top of it. I let it sit for about an hour. Then I slice it in thin slices and crisp it up in a non-stick skillet sprayed with PAM, or some such spray.

After I've got the whole block crispy, I cut it into bite-sized strips:

Then I heat a bit (1-2 TBS) of oil in my pan. First I add a sliced onion, a few good-sized cloves of minced garlic, and two large carrots (cut however you like them). After that has softened just a bit, I add a head of broccoli florets, a sliced red pepper and the tofu. I stir-fry that for a while until it's looking close to done. Then I crank up the heat, and add the sauce. The high heat helps the sauce thicken a bit. I let it cook for a few minutes, and then it's ready. Easy, huh? I like it served over brown rice.

Today I listened to an album that I hadn't listened to for a long time, Neko Case's Blacklisted. I had forgotten how much I like it. Totally reminds me of Mazzy Star with more of a country twang. After that, I just couldn't help myself and played Coldplay's X&Y for the billionth time this month. That's good stuff.

Soup and a Sandwich

One of our favorite soups around here is potato soup. I've eaten it my whole life. My Mamaw made it all the time, and so did my Mom. I pretty much make it the same way they did, with just a few changes. I use No-Chicken Broth, instead of real chicken broth. I start by peeling and cutting up my potatoes and adding them to the pot of broth and water. I boil. I slice an onion (or two, depending on how much soup I'm making) and sautee it with a couple of cloves of minced garlic until it's golden. When potatoes are ready, I drain some of the liquid off. I mash roughly with a hand masher. I add half a stick of Earth Balance and a can of fat-free evaporated milk, salt and pepper. If it's too thick, I'll add as much milk as needed to get to the consistency I like. Really, the whole process takes under an hour. So easy, and so good.

I served it with grilled cheese sandwiches. Last night I saved some of the onions to add to the sandwiches. Around here, we pretty much live by the motto: "Everything is better with onions." Seriously. We love them.

Yesterday was an NPR day all the way around. I don't think I listened to anything else. Not a thing wrong with that.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Moroccan Chickpea Stew

After a few days of not cooking, I was glad to find myself back in the kitchen today. Sleek and I had a busy weekend of decluttering/cleaning our house. It was hard work, but it's so nice in here now. So worth it.

A few weeks ago when I received my November issue of Cooking Light, I began looking through it and saw a recipe for Moroccan Chickpea stew. (The pic on the right looks out of focus, but it's just steam rising from the bowl.) It looked really easy, and good, so I decided that I'd be making it soon. Today was the day. It was really, really easy. It was also very good, but didn't have as much flavor as I would like. The other chickpea dishes I've made, Channa Masala and Spinach and Chickpea Curry, were more flavorful. The Moroccan stew was so easy that it really was worth it, though.

The recipe called for a dollop of plain yogurt to finish the dish, so I got my favorite, Fage Greek yogurt. It is so good. Really. The best plain yogurt I've ever tasted. It really made the stew.

I've been listening the hell out of the new Beirut album that I downloaded last week, The Flying Club Cup. Please indulge me and check out this live performance of "Nantes", one of my favorite songs on the album. It's really amazing.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Pizza! Pizza!

A few months ago, our favorite brick-oven pizza shop/bakery closed it's doors. Sad, sad, sad. Since we all love pizza here (especially the kids), I decided it was time to try making it on my own. I found a dough recipe in VWaV (I swear I'm getting some new cookbooks soon!), and it looked really easy. So, I started yesterday afternoon since it had to rise for an hour and then rest for an hour. It was so easy! I was thinking, "Wow. If this turns out to actually taste good, we're going to be having pizza more often!"

I have to say, the hardest part was stretching the dough into a (sort-of) circle. The first one, which was for the kids, I shaped pretty well. They just like cheese on their pizza, so I made them their own. The next one, which is the one in the picture, didn't look quite as good.

I couldn't find a jarred sauce and Kroger that looked acceptable, so I was like, "Screw it, I'll make my own damn sauce!" I got a can of tomato sauce and tomato paste. I poured the sauce in a pot and added a couple scoops of paste, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, etc. It turned out really nice, and I even had enough to freeze for my next pizzas. Sleek likes onions on his pizza, so I sauteed a red onion for his half. For my half, I had onion, cremini mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. I also went light on the cheese on my half. It was so good. I couldn't believe I'd made a pizza completely from scratch and it actually turned out great! Plus, I got to use my pizza stone, which I hadn't used for years. YEARS!

I didn't post last night, because I was busy watching the WVU game. Louisville gave us a game, that's for sure. We went from having a sizable lead to being tied near the end of the fourth quarter. The Mountaineers scored a touchdown with about two minutes left, and won the game 38-31.

The kiddos are going to the Grandparents' for the three day weekend. You all know what that means for Sleek and me? People! Get you minds out of the gutter! We've got a weekend full of decluttering/cleaning/home maintenence, of course!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

3.5 Hours of Gnocchi

Whew! Yesterday, I decided to make homemade gnocchi. I've wanted to do it forever, and I did. The recipe looked simple enough. (Which it was.) However, I didn't realize it would be a 3.5 hour deal. I used the recipe from VWaV. The mixing up the dough went just fine. It was the rolling into ropes, cutting and rolling with a fork that took forever. It made so much gnocchi that I was able to freeze half of it for later.

I didn't want to just eat the gnocchi with a marinara sauce. So, I sauteed some garlic and a bunch of spinach in some oil and Earth Balance. After the gnocchi was boiled, I added it to the skillet. In VWaV, it is recommended that once the gnocchi is boiled, it should be sauced right away. So, most of it I added to the skillet, but for the kids I put some aside for them to dip in marinara. I have to say, I think it's much better if it sits a while before saucing. It gets a chewier texture, which I like more than the soft texture. So, it turned out very well in the end. Next time I make it, I'm going to cut it smaller. It would also be a good thing to make on a weekend and just freeze it all instead of worrying about completing a dinner after 3.5 hours of work! I also made the garlic-toasted Brussel sprouts from VWaV. Very, very garlicky and good.

Oh, and my daughter is a very picky eater. She loved the gnocchi, and even asked me to pack some leftovers in her school-lunch today. Now that I consider a success!

So, on Monday I downloaded the new Beirut album, "The Flying Club Cup". It is AWESOME. I know you all are probably tired of my going on and on about Beirut. Please, please, please watch this video. Pretty please? It's one of the best things I've ever seen. I really feel an obsession coming on here, folks. Bear with me.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Sunday (Not)Soup

Well folks, today was my first attempt at making risotto. I was inspired by carrie's risotto that she posted about on her blog, Adventures in Vegetarianism. I decided on the sun-tomato and mushroom risotto from VWaV. Sleek hates mushrooms, and doesn't really like sun-dried tomatoes either. It's a good thing he was gone for the day! I felt like I needed a strict recipe since I was a "risotto virgin." It was a little time-consuming, and definitely required constant attention when the time came for adding broth/stirring. My arms were certainly tired when the 1/2 hour of stirring finally ended. I was well-rewarded with a steaming hot dish of risotto, though! Holy crap. It was so good that I just couldn't believe it. OMG. Risotto will definitely become a regular dish around here. I can't wait to experiment with some different flavors. I'm thinking a garlic/parmesan or roasted red pepper/spinach risotto would be good. (Sleek-friendly too!)

One thing that helped me get through all that stirring was listening to Beirut's "Gulag Orkestar". I know I've mentioned that album here before. I really can't stress enough how amazing this album is. Please check it out. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

One Year Ago Tonight...

Sleek and I were in NYC seeing this:

I had wanted to see Joseph Arthur for a looooong time. The show we saw was part of the "Nuclear Daydream" tour. It was the first tour that JA did with his band, The Lonely Astronauts. The show was amazing. It was a sold-out show in a Brooklyn club, Southpaw. The band was insane. That recording doesn't even do it justice. I have a copy of the soundboard recording (JA does this for all his shows. You can usually buy a CD copy of the show not long after the show is over.), and it's just awesome. I still listen to it ALL THE TIME.

While there, we stayed with our friend Jeff (Yes, it's been nearly a year since he posted on his blog. A damn shame.) and his girlfriend Liz at Jeff's place in Brooklyn. Jeff lives very close to Grimaldi's Pizzeria. It is consistently rated as best pizza in New York by Zagat's. We walked there for dinner one evening. It did not disappoint! We had to wait in a line outside in the cold for about an hour, but it was so worth it. Actually, there was so much food to try in NYC, that we pretty much ate every couple of hours. We had traditional English pies at a soccer bar, where we went to watch Jeff's favorite team, Newcastle United. (Obviously we consumed some Newcastle's there too.) We had gourmet mac and cheese at a Manhattan eatery called s'mac. All they have is mac and cheese! It was a fantastic weekend, and I can't wait to go back.

Sleek was lucky enough to catch a JA show a few years back right here in a club in Morgantown with 40 or so others. WTF? That was when he didn't have a back-up band. It was just him, his guitar and looping equipment. I hope he does a solo tour again some day.

Fish Tacos

Way back on my "Veggie Tacos" post, Jessica posted a recipe for fish tacos. It looked so good, that I knew I would be making it soon. Well, last night was the night. Wow! They were off-the-freakin'-hook. I pretty much followed her exact recipe, substituting Cod for Tilapia. I asked Sleek to bring home some taco shells a couple nights ago, and brought "Garden of Eatin" blue corn shells. They were perfect. I may never buy yellow corn shells again.

For the cole slaw, I made the dressing as recommended by Jessica. I did add a pinch of cumin. It almost tasted like the slaw at one of our favorite locally-owned restaurants, Black Bear Burritos. (Jessica, I think I remember you liking Black Bear as well.) Add too much cumin would take away from the flavor of the fish, though. So, I definitely didn't want to go overboard with it.

I also made some refried beans and a side of roasted asparagus to go with it. I just place the asparagus on a baking sheet, drizzle with a little oil, and a sprinkling of Kosher salt. Roast at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, take it out and give it a toss, roast for 8 more minutes. It's so good and so easy!

Yesterday in the kitchen, my daughter wanted to play computer games, so I was forced away from NPR. Oh, well. I decided to listen to Clinic's album, "Walking With Thee". It is fantastic, and apparently the Radiohead guys were really into Clinic when they were creating their "Hail to the Thief" album. The two albums definitely have a similar sound. The guys in Clinic sure must have thought it was super-cool to be influencing a band as great as Radiohead.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Breakfast for Dinner

Last week, my son Julian was begging me for pancakes. I promised I would make them for dinner one evening this week. My kids both love pancakes, so it's a real treat for them when I make them. I usually use a whole grain pancake mix, such as Bob's Red Mill. This time all I had was some Bisquick, so I just made the recipe from the box. They turned out beautifully! I have a really hard time getting the griddle to the right temperature when making pancakes. I tend to overheat it. This time the pancakes all came out golden-brown and perfect. I like to make fruit toppings for pancakes and french toast sometimes, but the kids prefer maple syrup. So, that's what we had. I like Grade B maple syrup the best. It has a stronger maple flavor than the rest. We can get local maple syrup at our natural-foods co-op here in town.

I couldn't get started on dinner until Sleek came home, so I listened to the sounds of him playing with the kids while I was cooking. He did come in and make the scrambled eggs for me. I have a hard time making anything else when I'm making pancakes. They definitely seem to require my full attention.

Cute kid quote of the day: "Pancake, meet your new home. My mouth!" That was from Annelies, my 5 year-old daughter.