Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Baking Station

Sorry to go MIA for the week! I spent the beginning of the week preparing to leave for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Affiliate Leadership Conference in Ft. Worth, TX (I work at Komen Central Virginia) and left out on Thursday afternoon, so not much cooking happened. The weather in Ft. Worth was amazing and the event was really inspiring, it made me even more proud to be a part of an organization who is truly making an impact on the fight against breast cancer.

Shameless fundraising plug: I'm raising money for the Central VA Race for the Cure in honor of my Aunt Dottie who passed away from inflammatory breast cancer, every dollar counts and I'd love your support!

In Ft. Worth there was plenty of country music:

And a giant neon cowboy.

I also got to meet Tim Halperin, who was in the top 25 of this season of American Idol. He was so nice! He performed a song he wrote before he was on AI called "We Fight Back" - I didn't really watch him on the show but he did great!!

I got back to Richmond around noon and wanted to pick up where I left off in my last post, organizing our kitchen to make it a little easier for me to find and get to stuff while I'm attempting to cook. I'm just tackling small parts of our kitchen at a time (cause I'm lazy) and the first thing I wanted to work on was my baking supplies.

I really like baking (it's more scientific, I like measurements!) but my baking supplies (flour, sugar, baking soda, etc.) were all over the place, which means I was running around the kitchen, occasionally tripping over or stepping on one or more of our cats who are always watching in amusement (and to catch anything edible that falls).

Before pictures: some stuff shoved in this cabinet which is beside the oven...

And some more stuff shoved in with our other food in the pantry (on the opposite side of the oven)

I've mentioned before that we're living in my aunt's house right now and she has these great ceramic canisters tucked into a corner between the oven and the stove. They had various crap in them so I washed them and for the most part, put in them what they were supposed to hold:

Sugar was an easy one, I also have brown sugar but I know from experience brown sugar gets hard as a brick if it's not in something air tight (but I did find some remedies if that happens!). Flour was not as cut and dry.

I really wanted easy access to both the all purpose and whole wheat flour but there was only one flour container. So I got a little crazy and mixed things up. We don't drink much coffee, so I put the whole wheat flour in the coffee canister and the AP flour in the flour container.

Note to self: the coffee canister does not hold an entire bag of flour. Also, when you dump flour into a canister you get a reenactment of my Lebron James impression.

I moved my tea from the tea canister:

To this cute mug:

And put the brown sugar and yeast packets into the tea canister:

Look how pretty they look!

They're easy to get to but also out of the way. Then Ty came downstairs and caught me doing this:

I wanted to move some of the martini glasses up since we don't really use them and leave more room for extra baking stuff.

Look how much nicer it looks!

So now we officially have a "Baking Station", organized and easy to get to. Now I think I need to make some cookies :)

Do you like to bake? What is your favorite thing to bake?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Setting up our kitchen for success

Our friends Angela and David gave us some great early wedding gifts, one of which is Cooking Basics for Dummies...they obviously read this blog :) and it couldn't have come at a better time. When I started this blog I would just find a recipe that looked good and try it. I watched (and still watch enviously) a ridiculous amount of Food Network, trying to pick up tips along the way. What I did not do is start at the beginning where I should have and really learn the basics of cooking.

Last week I decided I should do a Cooking 101 series each week (see the new tab above!) and 2 days later, Angela and David's gift was a sign. I sat down and started thumbing through the book, it covers everything I'd been wanting to try from braising to roasting to poaching.

I was going to skip the first section of the book that introduces you to your kitchen. I've met my kitchen, my kitchen probably knows more about me than most of my friends and family. It has seen me scorch, over cook, under cook, cry, laugh, say really bad words, and do my happy "I made edible food!!!" dance. Then a line at the beginning of the chapter caught my eye:

"Have you ever ricocheted around the kitchen desperately searching for a spatula while your omelet is burning in the skillet?"

Um yes. This book knows me too. Freaky. I really like the term "ricocheted" because that is exactly what I probably look like and that is the reason our cats watch all my cooking adventures, just to see me running around like a nut. Oh and because bits of food tend to fly through the air (hello, chopping cauliflower) or drop on the floor.

I'm spending the rest of the day reading these chapters on getting to know my kitchen and then I'm going to set out to reorganize it to minimize the ricochet effect. I'll take pictures :)

Is your kitchen organized so that you can get to everything you need easily? Any tips?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Grilled Pizza

We've made homemade pizza a few times but we haven't gotten around to doing what we really wanted to do: making grilled pizza. So last night we did just that.

First I started by making the dough. If you haven't discovered this stuff yet:

you need to get some ASAP. Making your own dough is easy (obviously, because I can do it) and it is SO much better than store bought. We started making our own pizza dough and haven't looked back since. This yeast makes it ten times easier because you don't have to wait to let it rise, you just mix up and bake!

Pizza Dough
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 envelope pizza dough yeast
1.5 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup very warm water
3 tablespoons oil (I've found this is optional...really I just forgot it once and the crust was fine)

This dough is a little stickier than bread dough so just keep flour on your hands while you're mixing it!

I have a tendency to read through recipes too fast, missing key steps or ingredients (ahem like the oil in the above recipe). Last night was no different. I started mixing together the pizza dough ingredients and used 1 tablespoon of sugar. As I dumped it in the bowl something in my head yelled: TEASPOOOOOON. But it was too late. Sugar isn't something that can be easily fished out of a bowl full of flour, so I had to just hope it wouldn't make too much of a difference (it didn't). After that I stretched out the dough and got the toppings assembled for our first pizza. Yes I have tried throwing it up in the air, no it did not work. I almost dropped it on Basher's head because he was sitting at my feet watching and thinking "She's really going to try it, I gotta see this."

I purposely made the dough a little thicker than I would have if we baked it so it would be easier to manage. I also made our own red sauce for this one (mainly because I couldn't find pizza sauce for the life of me in the grocery store...seriously, why is not with the pasta sauce? or the tomato products?).

I mixed together one can of tomato sauce and one can of Basil, Garlic & Oregano tomato paste. I know you usually don't use that amount of tomato paste in this small of a batch of...well anything, but one of the things that annoys me most about my cooking is my sauces never thicken up. We wanted a good thick sauce so I wasn't going to slack off this time. I also sprinkled in some of this:

I really had planned to just sort of wing the whole grilling thing. I was putting this amazing olive oil on the dough:

When another little voice in my head (It's like I had Ratatouille in there last night...which could be possible, we've discovered we have mice...but that's a story for another day) said: "Hey maybe you should look at a recipe, you know so you don't ruin this." Ah, the voice of reason. I don't know whose voice it is but it saved our dinner last night.

Jess' plan: to put the toppings on the dough and throw it on the grill like you would put it in the oven.

How you actually do it:  you have to let the dough cook for 2-3 minutes BEFORE putting the toppings on.

Doughy, uncooked crisis narrowly averted.

This How to Grill Pizza article came in handy, and the fact that I'd already spread the olive oil all over the dough actually worked to my advantage because it helped the dough not stick to the grill.

I wish we'd video taped Ty and I trying to getting the dough onto and off of the grill. It was the opposite of everything you've ever seen Bobby Flay do. I took the first shot and tried to flip the dough from the pan onto the grill with the oiled side down. Note to self: grills are hot. When you drop pizza dough on one, don't try to pick it up and rearrange it. Second go round I let Ty make the dough drop, he did a much better job. Once you have the dough properly on the grill, you close the lid and let it cook about 2 minutes if your grill is pretty hot, maybe 3 if not, and you get this:

Yeah, YUM. So now one side of the dough is cooked and your ready to add the toppings to that side. We made two pizzas last night: pepperoni with my super thick and delicious red sauce and a Hawaiian with ham, pineapple, and no sauce just a layer of ricotta cheese spread on it first (oh and a little more of that Italian herb Garlic Gold).

Once the toppings are on, it's back to the grill for another 2-3 minutes. It is much easier to put it on the grill the second time since it's now holding it's shape!

The Verdict:

Grilling the dough makes this amazing thick crunchy/chewy crust, we could not believe how awesome this pizza was!

Of course Ty had to break out the party cut.

And I had to break out the wine :)

This wine is Apple-Strawberry Shortcake, it is really sweet but great for a summer afternoon, which is what it sort of felt like in Virginia yesterday! This bottle was brought to us straight from Bedford where the winery is by my bridesmaid Bekah :)

Tips for next time:

Pre-cook some toppings: The first thing I noticed making this grilled pizza is that it cooks really, really quickly. So next time we're going to pre-cook some of our toppings because they really don't have time to cook while they're on the pizza. Our pepperonis were fine but really they were just warmed up, not crispy like usual. If you were going to use veggies I would definitely saute them first!

Pre-assemble everything: This is a chronic issue for me. I really should have prepared both doughs and set out all the toppings instead of trying to make the second dough while the first was cooking. It made for a lot of scrambling around, which I know amuses our cats but that's also how I forget ingredients or important steps.

What are your favorite pizza toppings when you make pizza at home?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Weird Food Phobias

In general, I'm not a picky eater. I'll try almost anything once. A little mold on the block of cheddar? No biggie, cut that part off. Leftovers been in the fridge a few days? If they don't smell funny, there still a go for me. But I do have one big food phobia that literally stopped me mid-bite this morning:

I'm not sure if you can tell but the skin of the apple to the left of the stem is broken, so it looks like a little crack in my apple. My first irational thought: there could be a worm in my apple. Or larvae of some kind. I promptly threw the rest of the apple in the trash can.

So there you have it, my weird food phobia is that there will be some kind of insect in my fruit (or vegetables for that matter). I hate wasting food but I just can't get past this one!

Do you have any weird food phobias? I know a lot of people have texture issues with certain foods?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Called an Audible on Dinner

The plan for dinner tonight was to make Julie's crockpot pulled pork. This recipe caught my eye because it only has two ingredients (pork roast and beef stock) and unlike a lot of crockpot dishes there was no prep work. No chopping, no slicing, no searing. You literally just put the two ingredients in the crockpot and walk away! I've talked about my annoyance with how complicated the prep work is for crockpot meals before, it's supposed to me sooooo easy to cook in a crockpot but most of the recipes I've seen involve like an hour or prep work. I can make a whole meal in an hour so I never really jumped on the band wagon there.

Carnitas (pork tacos) are one of my favorite Mexican dishes so when I saw Julie's recipe they were the first to pop in my head to try and make. I love mexican food, my mom (who's dad was Mexican) makes the BEST fajitas but so far breakfast burritos are the only thing I've mastered.

This morning as I was walking out the door for work, I put the pork roast and about 1/2 a carton of beef broth into the crockpot and set it on low.The only things I added to the recipe were black pepper and a little bit of Garlic Gold :) love that stuff. I got home and resisted peeking inside so it could cook for a full 10 hours. It was worth the wait:

The house already smelled amazing but when I took the lid off, everyone in the house (that would be Ty and the 3 cats) came running! I didn't trim the pork before putting it in (Guy Fieri says fat = flavor) so before I started shredding the pork with two forks, I spooned some of the fat out that had cooked away. I'll spare you the visual.

The pork pretty much fell apart on it's own, and it was perfectly cooked! As I was pulling it apart, with Ty peeking over my shoulder, we made a game time decision to make pulled pork sandwiches instead of the carnitas. If I'd had all the toppings I really wanted for the tacos it might have been different, but I didn't and all I wanted to do was get this pork in my mouth as quickly as possible.

I'm actually a North Carolina style kind of girl my in the interest of my grumbling stomach I grabbed the first BBQ sauce I could find at got to eating.

The Verdict: Ty gave me a high five with his mouth still full of the first bite, so I'd say this was a success :) plus we now have leftovers for lunch this week! I think you could make it with any kind of stock you have on hand, except maybe seafood stock, that would be weird.

I'm thinking I'll try to make some type of vinegar based sauce tonight to put on my lunch tomorrow. If you have a recipe please let me know!

What type of BBQ do you prefer? North Carolina, Memphis, Texas?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Good food, minimal dishes.

Since today is Ty's brother's last day of spring break, we decided to have the future in-laws over for brunch at our house. I went with my go-to brunch recipe: Cali Scramble breakfast burritos. I started off with a few no-cook appetizers:

Krispy Kreme doughnut holes :) and fruit with homemade cream cheese icing for dipping. Making you're own icing is ridiculously easy, I'll share the recipe soon!

What I love most about these breakfast burritos is that it's almost a one pan meal. Ty is always amazed at the amount of dishes I can use to make one meal so I like to keep him on his toes and surprise him every once in a while by not recreating Mt. Everest out of dishes in the sink.

I also got really lucky today and found perfectly ripe avocados at the store this morning. Here is a funny article about how to tell if an avocado is ripe...I wonder if people will look at me weird if I'm pressing my forehead in the grocery store :)

In keeping with the breakfast theme of easy and using very few dishes, we're having pasta tonight for dinner which involves boiling water...

Not over cooking the pasta...

And trying this new sauce...

If I'm feeling fancy, I might saute these up and add them to the sauce:

I've heard good things about so many of Trader Joe's products (and can tell you personally their almond butter is awesome) so I'm excited to try their pasta sauce. Really the only step here I can possibly mess up is the pasta cooking. I like those odds!

What is your favorite one pot/pan meal?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Finding My Mojo...

and my wedding dress!!

I had a great start to the morning, I'd made plans to meet up with my gym buddy Brittany early this morning so we could get in a workout and then be first in line at the J. Crew Wedding Clearance Event. I'm not sure if they do these everywhere, but basically J. Crew rents out an empty store front for a few days and has a massive clearance sale. Over the summer they had one that had all of their clothes but today was specifically their wedding line and shoes. They also had a few other special occasion dresses as well.

We did an hour of cardio and chatting (makes the hour fly by!) before heading over to do some shopping. We were really going to look more at their special occasion dresses (or bridesmaids dresses that could pass for special occasions) and I had no intention of wedding dress shopping but I figured it wouldn't hurt to look. Besides looking online, I have done ZERO wedding dress shopping and was a little worried my mom and sister would FREAK if I found a dress without them there, but again I really wasn't expecting to find anything.

I really didn't even know what I was looking for, I'd only seen one or two dresses online that I liked so when I came across what would end up being The Dress I liked it but wasn't thinking "oh this is IT." I'd found a few other non-wedding dresses to try on so Brittany and I went into the dressing room - and I use the term "room" loosely, really they'd just hung up pipe and drape along one wall.

It went something like this:

Tried dress on.
Said to Brittany: What do you think?
She liked it.
Took dress off.
Stared at dress.
Took picture of dress and sent it to one of my bridesmaids.
She loved it.
Put dress back on.
Checked price tag: $300.
Let's do this.

It needs one minor repair and it's about a foot too long (I'm only 5'2 so this is to be expected) but for only $300 I couldn't pass it up!! I found out it normally retails for around $900, which made me feel even better.

Since Ty reads this I can't post a picture, you'll have to wait until the wedding sorry :)

On to the cooking! I'll admit, over the past two months I have done almost zero cooking and tonight is no different. But I did make an amazing and super easy meal a few weeks ago and never got to write about it, so I give you Tuna with Mojo!

I didn't realize mojo was an actual thing until I tried to Google this recipe so I could share a link with you (couldn't find the exact one so recipe is below), I thought they were just trying to be cute by naming it that. Turns out, this particular mojo sauce is similar to the kind you would find in traditional Puerto Rican cooking.

First things first, ingredients:

The Mojo:
4 cloves garlic
1/2 to 1 small jalapeño
Fresh cilantro
4 limes (or lime juice from a bottle)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. salt

The Tuna:
2 tuna steaks
1 tblsp. olive oil
Salt & pepper

The recipe says to grill the tuna but the night we made this was exceptionally cold so I seared it in a pan instead. I'd planned on getting fresh tuna but what they had at the grocery store wasn't too impressive so I went with frozen tuna steaks and you would've never known the difference. I'm pretty sure they were Martin's brand frozen tuna steaks.

The mojo is really easy to put together while the tuna is cooking but I recommend doing all your chopping first before you start heating the pan up. I've burnt many pans making this mistake :) maybe I'm just a slow chopper.

Chop up the garlic, jalapeño (taking out the seeds first if you want to bring the heat down) and cilantro. I know some people would scoff at the idea of not using fresh limes here but I'm too lazy to juice 4 limes :P so instead I juiced two, gave up and used some more from the little bottle I had in the fridge.

Now's the time to get your pan heating up! And then you do the strangest thing, you're going to essentially "roast" the garlic in the microwave...Cooking tip alert: this is seriously amazing. All you do is put the chopped garlic in the 1/4 cup of olive oil, cover it loosely with plastic wrap, and nuke it on high for about 2 minutes until the garlic gets soft. It even turns a golden color like you really roasted it!

While the garlic is working it's magic in the microwave, brush the tuna steaks with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper then throw them in the pan. Finish assembling the mojo by mixing all the other ingredients with the magic microwave roasted garlic and olive oil and let it sit while the tuna cooks to however you like it - the recipe recommends 3-5 minutes per side for medium rare and 4-6 minutes per since for cooked through.

That's it! Just top the tuna with the mojo and enjoy.

The Verdict: Delicious and healthy! We'll definitely be making this again. We paired it with some roasted veggies my mom made for us - one of the benefits of my parents living down the street and my mom buying her veggies in bulk.

Hope you're having a great weekend!