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Eclecticisms: March 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

'Twas Delish

About a week before St. Patty's day I tried to make my first loaf of soda bread. It turned out tasty, but dry. The next time I make soda bread I am going to try another recipe (probably my Mom's) and just add the raisins and caraway seeds, because they are too damn tasty to leave out.


I stayed in my comfort-zone, so this is another Martha recipe coming at you. You can find the printable version here.

I had buttermilk left over from my cinnamon bread recipe, so I was super excited that I got to use it up!


4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
2 cups golden or dark raisins
1 1/2 scant cups buttermilk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Parchment Paper! This isn't included in the list of ingredients on the recipe, but it's the kind of thing a lot of people might not have. For those of you (us) that do not read the recipe ahead of time, it always helps to have these items mentioned up front!

 I love when a recipe calls for parchment paper, because it means the sheet/pan/whatever will be super easy to wash! From what I understand, you can pretty much use parchment paper to line any sheet when baking instead of greasing it, but I'm a bit leary. I might try using it the next time I make blueberry cake.

Set your oven to 350. Line a baking (cookie) sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Begin with a large bowl with a bottom that is roughly the shape you want your loaf to be (about 8 in. across). You will be molding the loaf in this bowl later, and that just makes it all the easier. Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and caraway seeds until well combined.

Next the recipe tells you to use a pastry cutter or two knives in scissor fashion to cut in butter until the mixture feels like coarse meal. Now I had no idea what the hell a pastry cutter was and I looked pretty ridiculous trying to make my butter knives work like scissors. I'm not sure why I couldn't have just sliced the butter. I'm going to have to make my Mom read my blog let us know! Anyways, I Googled "pastry cutter" and got about 400 different definitions, ranging from a pizza cutter, so someting that I used to cut up play dough when I was a kid. Here's a Google image search.

Stir in raisins until evenly distributed. (No, I did not forget that I was in the middle of giving you a recipe.)

In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg, and baking soda until well combined.

This is a terrible picture, I'm sorry! My camera doesn't take good pictures in artifical light, and this is an especially unflattering picture, but at least  you get the idea. Poor, dough. Anways, it was at this point that I realized that my dough was extremely dry. You pour the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well with a fork. It is supposed to resemble "biscuit dough". Having never made biscuits, this was not much help to me. From here you mold the dough into a loaf and transfer it to the pan. Easier said than done! I ended up sprinkling a bit of water into the dough to get the drier spots to stick. The bottom of the bowl ended up being perfect shape to use to mold the loaf, so I lucked out.

Whisk the eggs and cream together and brush onto the loaf with a pastry brush (or improvise like I did, because you don't have a brush!).

With a sharp knife or razor, incise a cross, about 1/2 inch deep, into the top of the loaf. Be careful, as the dough might want to sneak out a bit with the knife. The bread was starting to look pretty darned delicious!

 Bake, rotating halfway through, until it is deep golden brown and a wooden skewer comes out clean when inserted into the center, about 70 minutes. Remove from oven, and transfer bread from the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool.

I used Golden raisins, but they darkened quite a bit during the baking process. I think the golden ones taste better and recommend you use them instead of the more traditional ones.

You're done! As I said earlier, it was delicious but dry. Sometimes I wish I could claim to live on a mountain and blame the altitude for my baking woes. Alas, I know someone would expose me for the rat I was.

Until next time!

Coming soon: Blueberry and Peach Pie, Mushroom and Artichoke Lasagna, and Butter Cookies with Frosting.

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Rice Pudding...or...The Story of How I Failed In the Kitchen

When I think of rice pudding, several adjectives pop into my mind. Delicious, creamy, sweet, comforting, cold. Last week I added two more words to my list: Epic and Fail. I suppose I'm exaggerating here, because it did look and smell like rice pudding. Unfortunately, the taste was terrible. Not only did this not taste good, but it left a terrible after taste in my mouth. The problem was not Martha's recipe (I got this from her Living magazine), but the soy milk I used. I had picked up a brand I do not usually buy, for whatever reason, and ugh. Terrible. Can I get sued for saying that 8th Generation soymilk is gross? I usually like Silk, or the Trader Joe's brand. This one leaves a funny taste in your mouth and is not pleasing to my palate!

I can't find the recipe, so I'll just type it out. This is Martha Stewart's form her April 2010 magazine. I want to make that clear so she doesn't get in line behind 8th Gen to sue my pants off for copyright protection.

Honey Rice Pudding

3 3/4 cups whole milk (Soy SHOULD be fine... just make sure the brand you use is tasty before you cook with it!)
1/2 Cup short grain rice (i.e. Arborio)
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
3 Tbs honey, plus more for drizzling if desired

Bring 3 1/2 cups milk, rice, sugar, vanilla, and salt to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often. After about 20-25 minutes the rice should be soft and most of the milk mixture will be absorbed. I like very soft rice in my rice pudding, so I let mine go a bit longer, maybe 30 minutes.


Almost there.... see the rice?

That's it for the pictures. I was too bummed to take any of the final product... though it did look tasty. After the rice is done, remove from heat and stir in remaining 1/4 milk and the honey. My honey was a bit solidified (did you know honey is the only food that does not expire?), so I had pre-heated the milk and let the honey sit in it while I made the rice. It worked like a charm! Having the honey in its solid state also made it much less messy to measure. Let stand for 5 minutes. Martha says to serve from  here, but I prefer my rice pudding chilled. You can try it warm, or cold. I'm sure if you make it right, either way is fine.

One day, when I am over this debacle I will make this again, only with a brand of soy milk that I prefer.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A New Kind of Blog

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about my blog lately, and how I feel bad that it is so focused on cooking. I really meant it to include much more, but it just hasn’t developed yet. One of the main reasons I haven’t done anything with jewelry on here so far is because any “how to’s” need good pics. My camera isn’t the best and there isn’t much natural light left by the time I get home in the evenings, so it just isn't too feasible right now . Hopefully, as the days get longer, I will soon be posting some basic jewelry lessons!

There are many things that I love other than jewelry and cooking of course, one being animals. I grew up with pets (cats) and always felt a special bond with them. 11 years ago, when I was 16, I decided to stop eating meat because the bond just felt that strong. I’ve stuck by that decision for many reasons, as over the years I’ve found more reasons to stick with it than I could begin to describe here. However, my blog is not my activist outlet, though I do think it’s about time that I brag about how awesome my pets are!

Footloose (AKA Foose, Handsome, Floose) is a mutt, and we have no idea what breeds he really is. I’ve thought about a “Doggy DNA” test to find out, but I can’t justify spending the money on it. The best guess is Huskey-Corgie… he pretty much looks like a wolf. I got him from a shelter about 5 years ago, and wow, has time flown by! He was about a year and a half when I got him- I tried training at PetSmart but he’s pretty stuck in his ways and only ever really learned to sit and lay down (which he does when he feels like, or if you have a biscuit). Still, he truly is my best friend. We’ve been on several moves together and he has always been around. We’re sort of a team, even though we now have the kitty with us. Foose’s favorite things to do are wrestle with the cat, play in the snow, and have his belly scratched.

Mr. Bo Jangles (AKA Evil, Bo, Jingles, Jangs, Little Meester) was named Tiger when I first met him at the same shelter I got Foose at. He’d only had the name for 2 days, and because I thought it was way too generic, I decided to change it to something with more personality. He absolutely chose me at the shelter, grabbing me with this paws whenever I started to walk away. As soon as he was out of his cage, he did exactly what he wanted (like hiding in the “staff only” area) and hasn't changed since. He's quite the loveable little bastard sometimes! I can tell why they chose to call him Tiger, based on his gorgeous coloring. His gut has gotten pretty large since I’ve had him these past 2 years (he’s on diet food now), but he's maintained his handsomeness! Bo’s favorite things to do are sleep, eat my plants, play with his mice, and beg for food when there is already plenty in his bowl.

I don't know what I'd do without these guys- they give me my first smile of the day, every day.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Fancy "Cheesy Noodles"

Although it was one of my favorite foods as a kid, it took me quite a few years to find out what macaroni was. "Cheesy Noodles" was always a favorite in my house (at least, among us kids). My Mom used to make it with porkchops fairly often (way back in my meat eating days!). One day, fate happened, and it met with applesauce on my plate- I discovered what a great mixture that is. Now, on the very rare occasion I have the cheap Kraft Mac n Cheese, I want applesauce on it! However, homemade mac n cheese is still on the top of my list of favorite foods and it does NOT need applesauce. I've made it several times from scratch, but I hadn't made a mac n cheese casserole in a very long time.

I've been craving mac n cheese for awhile. The last time I was in Trader Joe's (this past weekend) I ran across a cheese I'd never tried and was intrigued. In case you've never been to Trader Joe's, they have little blurbs on the price signs, either with a clever saying or information about the product. Apparently, this Moriber French cheese makes "the best mac n cheese ever". Ever? Really? I was intrigued. Time to try it out!

I started using a recipe from The Pioneer Woman, but ended up making a few changes. You can use the original recipe, follow "my" version, or adapt it to be  your own! Either way, this is a classic, cheesy and delicious dish that is a good staple for any occasion. (If you have guests that don't like mac n cheese, you should probably be suspicious...).

1 box macaroni
1 egg
1/4 cup salted butter (plus more for sauteeing)
1/2 sweet onion (finely sliced)
4 Tbs flour
2 1/2 cups soy milk
2 tsp dry mustard
4 oz cheddar
2 slices American
No idea how much I used... but I used a good chunk of Morbier. Maybe 6 oz? Maybe more?
Potato Chips (optional) I used Kettle Cooked, 40% less fat... as if it matters at this point!
1/2-1 tsp cayanne pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste (As The Pioneer Woman states in the recipe... don't under salt. It's not worth it!)

Cook noodles until very al dente. I let them go about 6 minutes (add noodles after water has come to a rolling boil and salt the water.) While noodles cook,whisk the egg in a small bowl.  Once noodles are done, stir in a bit of butter (about 1 Tbs, so they do not get sticky) and place in a casserole dish. Set aside.

While the noodles cook, you may also begin to sautee the onion in approx. 1 Tbs butter. Allow to cook over low heat for sometime. You want the onions see-through, but not burnt.
Now is a good time to preheat your oven... 350 degrees will do it!

This part of the recipe was very exciting... I learned what a roux is! Basically, it is a combination of butter (or oil) and flour, used as a gravy base and/or thickener. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a sauce pan. once melted, whisk in the flour. The mixture will be clumpy at first... be patient! Keep whisking over heat for about 5 minutes, and you will end up with a beautiful, creamy roux. Don't make my mistake and use a pan... it won't cook as well. I ended up transferring it to a sauce pan pretty quickly when I saw it was staying clumpy.

Too clumpy...


Add milk and dry mustard. Allow to cook about 10 minutes. The original recipe said the sauce would thicken... mine didn't. I'm guessing it was because I used soy milk, though everything I've read (and in my limited experience) has shown that it generally doesn't make a difference. Because of this I added the grated cheddar to the sauce and whisked until smooth so my sauce would be nice and thick.
With sauce on low heat, remove 1/4 cup's worth and add to egg, whisking until cool. This stops the egg from cooking when you add it to the sauce. I was super excited to learn another cooking term, tempering! I'm starting to feel like a pro! Well, not really. I'm closer though!


Once egg is thoroughly mixed, add to your sauce. This is where I added all the other cheeses, except for half of the Morbier. Whisk, allowing  for cheese to melt (it doesn't take long!). It's sort of like fondue at this point.. and super delicious!

Check out this cheesy goodness...

Season with cayanne, salt, pepper, thyme and mix in the onion.

Pour sauce over noodles and mix well.

Cover in slices of remaining Morbier (don't worry... that's vegetable ash, not mold. It's supposed to look that way!)

I really wish my camera was able to pick up colors better... without natural light my images never do a dish justice!

Sprinkle on desired amount of potato chips. There was so much cheese, that I was used them sparingly.

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

This recipe is delicious and VERY cheesy. Because it is so rich, I would recommend serving this as scrumptios side and not the  main dish (unless you trying to tempt a heart attack...). Or, I guess you could just use less cheese. But, really? Who wants to do that? Nicht mich!

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pico de Gallo!

Last night, despite knowing it was going to snow the next day, I was really feeling the 70 degree weather (Yes, 70 to snow in 24 hours. Go Chicago!) and decided to whip up some Pico de Gallo. Generally, I am not a fan of making this in the winter, because I hate buying ingredients that I can pick out of my garden for free in just a few months, but I went to a fruit market and got some really sweet deals last night.

This dish is pretty self explanatory, but I like to try slight variations, as I have yet to make it perfectly. This time I added lime juice and oilve oil. Although the olive oil was used very sparingly, I think I'll leave it out next time.


1/2 medium sweet onion (I'm trying red next time but sweet works well)
5-6 medium tomatoes
2 jalapenos, seeded
2 garlic cloves
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 bundle cilantro (or, if you're like me and LOVE cilantro, use more!)
1 Tbs Olive Oil

Slice and dice all ingredients, mix together in a bowl and serve with totrilla chips. I used Trader Joe's organic white corn tortilla chips. Yum!

(I was very excited to use my antique juicer for the first time ever!)

Health Benefits of Pico de Gallo:

Of course, eating any kind of chips in large quantities aren't going to shrink your hips, but this is a very low-calorie and healthy snack.

Tomatoes: Fiber, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Potassium! Several studies have shown tomatoes to be effective at lowering cancer risks.

Cilantro: Vitamin A, used in natural medecines to aide digestion. Also contains lutein, which is needed for good vision.

Sweet Onion: Fiber and Vitamin C

Jalapeno: Vitamins A, C and K plus folate. Did you know a "chipotle" is a smoked and dried jalapeno? I didn't! Not using the seeds will allow you to have a mild dip that everyone can enjoy.

Lime juice: Vitamin C

Oilve Oil: Heart healthy!

I still have to post about my soda bread, and tonight Leslie and I will be making lasagna and blueberry peach pie. Stay tuned!

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Easy Basil and Ginger Pasta

Tonight I made a simple pasta, with one major substitution (for me). Now, I love garlic. Let me rephrase that. I REALLY love garlic. Garlic, to me, is one of those foods that goes well with just about anything, and I'm not sure you can ever use too much of it. It is good for you, easy to combine in recipes and cheap. I put garlic in almost every pasta dish I make, but tonight I went wild and crazy and used some ginger instead.

I have a jar of minced ginger (yes, I cheated and didn't use fresh ginger this time) from the last time I made stir-fry, and I was afraid it would go bad before I finally used some again. After tonight's experiment, I can say with some certaity that the jar will not be forgotten, and I am going to try and find some ginger recipes to experiment with. Besides being delicious, ginger is great for the stomach and aiding digestion, nauesa, and enhancing qui flow. It's also amazing in fresh fruit juice, adding a bit of a kick to it. I can't wait to get a juicer again... my last one died about a year ago. :(

But, I digress. Here is what I threw together tonight for a quick-ready in 20 minutes-dinner. All measurements are completely adjustable to taste (and estimated here), and the dish is pretty darn healthy. Feel free to leave out the butter and/or cheese, but I think they add a nice touch.

Ingredients (Serves 3-4 people as a main meal, 5-6 as a side dish)
1 lb. pasta (I used egg noodles)
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 Tbs ginger (fresh or from the jar; add a bit and adjust to taste, as ginger can get quite potent.)
3/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbs butter
Sea Salt, Black Pepper and Freshly grated Parmesan to taste

Prepare pasta per box directions. Drain pasta and immediately toss with oil. Add butter. As the butter is melting, stir in your basil and ginger. Top with freahly grated sea salt, black pepper and parmesan cheese.

Voila! A quick, cheap and yummy dinner.

I also made the sour cream blueberry cake on Saturday; this time,with less blueberries and a bit more flour in the pan. It was MUCH easier to get onto the cooling rack! The real test was when a pastry chef tried some. She liked it so much she took some home!

Stay tuned to hear how my soda bread turned out on Friday!

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Apricots and White Chocolate

I made these cookies mainly for my boyfriend, because he loves dried apricots. Oatmeal is one kind of cookie I've never made, but I was definitely up for the challenge!

Another Martha Stewart recipe... thanks Martha!

 I ended up using raw sugar in place of regular granulated sugar. I had researched it a bit and everything I found said there would be no difference due to the substitution and, as far as I can tell, they were right! I went to and found the following: "Raw sugar is the residue left after sugarcane has been processed to remove molasses and refine the sugar crystals. With flavor similar to brown sugar, it should not be confused with brown sugar. Raw sugar contains molds and fibers which are considered nutrients, however, to be sold in the US raw sugar has been refined losing some of these properties."

Fascinating! I was under the delusion that raw sugar was just "ground less". Silly me. (I also used to think that my Grandmother was an airplane at one point in her life, when I was a kid. I'm not sure where I get these ideas from.)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar (I used raw)
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
8 ounces white chocolate, chopped ( I used whole chips)
7 ounces dried apricots, preferably California, chopped (1 1/2 cups)

The recipe starts by telling you to preheat your oven, but since you have to chill the dough there's really no sense in turning it on yet. Unless of course, you are chilly and didn't pay the gas bill last month. Oops!

Mix flour, oatmeal, and baking soda in a medium bowl.

Cream butter and sugars with a mixer until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Add salt, vanilla, and eggs, and beat until well combined, about 1 minute.

Add flour mixture gradually, beating until just combined.

Stir in chocolate and apricots. Cover, and refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.

*Intermission* Feel free to wash dishes and preheat your oven now!

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies are golden brown around the edges but still soft in the center, 14 to 16 minutes.


Let cookies cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool. Cookies will keep, covered, for up to 1 week.

This recipe has gotten a lot of great feeback! I found that fresh out of the oven the apricots still seemed tart, but after a day (oh, that magical "next day" for food!) the flavor really mellowed out and blended well with the oats and chocolate. If/when I make these again I will probably use dried blueberries instead of apricots (just a personal preference).

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This past Saturday I made my first pizza from scratch. Other than having problems with the yeast I bought, it turned out pretty good! I used a recipe for the crust that my Dad gave me and I got an idea for a very different kind of pizza here.

I love grapes, I love goat cheese, I love pizza. This really sounded like an interesting combo served in an interesting way, so I decided to go for it. My cousin made a carmalized onion and goat cheese pizza (get the recipe here) that also turned out great!

Dough Recipe:

1pkg dry yeast (dissolve in 1 cup luke warm water, let stand 5-10 minutes)
3 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt

I had such a problem with the yeast, I plan to not use dry again for some time. When my first batch of dough didn’t rise at ALL, I caved and made another 7 cups of flour later, still no dough that will rise . I called my Dad, and he said I probably got bad yeast. I guess if it isn’t stored properly in transit or at the store it will pretty much not work at all.

Combine flour and salt in large bowl. Make a well in center of flour and gradually work 1/2 the yeast mixture into well with your fingers. Add 2 Tbs oil and gradually work in remaining yeast mixture. Add Tbs or more water if needed to make dough soft and smooth.

Turn onto flat surface and knead vigorously for at least 10 minutes (or with dough hook on mixer for 7-8 minutes).

Shape into ball, place in greased bowl and cover w/ damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let rise to doubled in bulk (45-60 minutes). *If you're luckier than I am!*

Divide dough in half. On lightly floured surface, roll each half into 13-14 inch circle.

There is nothing more disappointing that checking to see how much your dough has risen, to find it is still the same small blob you plopped in the bowl one hour prior. Ok, there are more disappointing things, but not many! Stupid yeast. Luckily, the crust turned out ok when we baked the pizzas, though it was a little hard to roll out (thanks for all the rolling, Steph!).

We made mini-calzones with the first batch of dough that hadn't risen, and although they weren’t great, neither my cousin nor I would want to eat them again. I’m thinking if we put more thought into them it might work though. The dough was a bit thick, but the insides were still delicious. We used sautéed onions and red pepper with garlic and basil.

After that ordeal, it was time to make some pizza! Here is the recipe for the grapes and goat cheese one. It's a good idea to prepare your toppings while the dough is rising.


2 1/2 cups green or red grapes, halved
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound store-bought pizza dough ( I used the homemade)
8 ounces soft goat cheese
*I also added 1 tsp truffle oil

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium, or the oven to 450° F. Toss together the grapes, rosemary, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil; set aside. I love that I can go into the next room and pick rosemary off my own plant, when cooking with it! I’ve heard that wintering rosemary can be difficult, but so far my plant is toughing it out. As soon as the weather is warm, I will transfer it back to the back yard.

These grapes looked heavenly!

Divide the dough into thirds and stretch each portion into a 10-inch circle. ( I just used enough to fit my 2 large pans.) Place the rounds on the grill or in the oven until cooked through, about 6 minutes, flipping each halfway through if using a grill. I have ventilated pizza pans, which really helps keep the crust crisp! I sprinkled cornmeal on them (after using cooking spray) so the dough wouldn’t stick. When making a pizza with sauce, you can also lightly coat it with oilve oil, to keep the crust crisper.

Distribute the grapes, spoonfuls of the goat cheese, and the remaining olive oil on the pizzas. Cover the grill (if using) and heat until the cheese begins to melt, about 5 minutes. I let mine go for about 6 minutes, to let the goat cheese melt a bit more. I’ve found that goat cheese seems to be one of the slowest melting soft cheeses!


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