Archive | March, 2011

Cooookies!

29 Mar

Coooookies!

You know I created, with Desiree Van Tassel, a project called On the Spot to raise money and supplies for middle school girls in the region who cannot afford menstrual products.  I’m a sucker.  At our first fundraiser we started a tradition of having a cookie table. So when Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails wanted to throw us a fundraiser, we offered to do a cookie table.  Being that LUPEC is all about old timey cocktails, we decided to bake old timey cookies to go with the cocktails.  Most of the recipes were from a 1953 Joy of Cooking cookbook, one was from the 20s and our Petit Fours were from epicurious.com.  HOWEVER, Petits Fours are so perfectly old timey that I was comfortable with this anomaly.

I have to admit Desiree did most of the baking this time, bless her.  She baked Key Lime Cookies, Gumdrop Cookies (nom nom nom!)  and chocolate wafers before I even opened a cookbook.  I’ve been very busy trying to save the world and didn’t get around to helping until the night before the event. Even then it was the famous Alix Levy who opened the doors to her kitchen and invited Desiree and I in to bake Petits Fours.  The cake was an earl gray pound cake (with several pounds of butter in it!!) with a lemon butter cream filling covered in poured fondant.

Alix made these darling flowers and leaves with which to decorate the Petits Fours so they would be pretty and appropriately 1950sish.

What would we do without Alix?

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Shrek the Musical

17 Mar

“I want to go see that” she said, pointing to the poster for Shrek the Musical as we left yet another show I liked a whole lot more than her.

Done.

You see, I’ve been trying to make up for my negligence as a parent, which became quite clear 30 seconds into the Ballet “Three Musketeers” in October, when she turned to me and said “Wait, there’s NO TALKING? Like, at all??”

How did my daughter make it to 11 without knowing that?? More importantly, how did I not realize this earlier??

You see my mother made sure to expose me to all the most essential elements of culture.  She thought it was crucial that I at least be familiar with Ballet, Musical theater, dramatic theater (plays), live music, literature, etc.  When we were broke, we went to see a High School production or summer stock. For my 16th birthday we saw Cats on Broadway.

I meant to do this with both my kids, and to some extent shared it with my son.  Unfortunately familial chaos during my daughters early years meant that cultural enrichment took a back seat and she is woefully un enculturated.

My attempts to rectify this have not gone smoothly. She’s not a big fan of the ballet…though she’s been polite, a mother knows. And the first musical I took her to, Madagascar, she was very cool about. (Meanwhile I am now totally addicted to live shows. I’ve been to three ballets, three musicals and a play since October!)

So her WANTING to go see Shrek, well, I had to do it.

We bought nose bleed seats, and I worried I was wasting money on something she didn’t really want to do. Boy was I wrong. It. Was. Fantastic.

She loved it. I loved it. Everyone loved it.  I’m not a theater critic so I don’t think I can really give a review to do it justice. But let me share a few reasons why I think everyone needs to go see it.

  • Funny. For everyone.  Adult jokes slipped over her heads and made me giggle, and we both thought the burp and fart scene was hysterical.
  • Great music. Sometimes it takes me a while to warm up to a musical score. Not this time. There were some real toe tappers.
  • Staging. Spectacular.  Lord Farquad was…well I don’t want to spoil it, but the way they staged that was impressive.  And the Dragon, I wondered if they would skip around it, but they really did the dragon justice.
  • ummm…see this is why I’m not a theater critic. I just want you to go see it for yourself and I promise there is a good chance you will love it.

So GO BUY TICKETS RIGHT NOW.

Something else I am not?  A photographer. I do ok with my little camera or my phone most days. But trying to get a picture of Riley at the theater yesterday was a comedy of errors.  I give you…

A Study in incompetence, a series

As I said.  Talentless. But I can cook. 🙂

–Also, I’m using my daughter’s laptop, and the keys are sticking. So forgive me if there are missing letters.

Slow cooker madness

15 Mar

Oh how I love my crock pot. The best thing in the world is to come home after a 12 hour day and have dinner bubbling happily away on the counter, the house permeated with the smell of cumin and cinnamon.  This weekend I chose 2 slow cooker recipes from Cooking Light to prepare for our weekly dinners and lunches. It’s going to be a crazy week with everyone out working or at school all day every day, and evening activities 4 out of 5 nights.  Having two solid pots of hearty goodness ready will be economical and helpful.  First I made a slow cooker beef stew (Daube) on Sunday afternoon, and prepped chick pea chili which I took out of the fridge Monday morning, set in the crock pot, and left for 12 hours.

The Beef Daube is basically beef stew, but the surprise ingredients that gave this a unique flavor were an orange peel in the bouquet garnie and some nicoise olives.  I also used a fantastic red wine, which I’m convinced added some depth to the flavor as well.

As a bonus, after forgetting to buy thyme, I checked my garden and sure enough, green was overtaking the winter brown on my thyme. I managed to get several fresh springs!

The Daube was wonderful!  After slowly percolating for 6 hours the olives don’t present themselves as OLIVES but they add a uniqueness to the stew that elevates it past the expected.

This picture up there is actually from Cooking Light. Unfortunately THIS picture represents the point at which I remembered I ought to take a photo. While there is still some left, out of the fridge it wasn’t very pretty. And being that I didn’t get to eat dinner until after 9 last night, I didn’t want to heat more up just to snap a pic.

The Chick Pea Chili, also from cooking light, went into the crock pot yesterday morning and cooked alllllll day.  The surprise ingredients in this slow cooked stew were green olives and cinnamon.  Despite the fact that the chick peas started with a boiling soak, sat in liquid all night, and cooked for over 12 hours, they retained a  surprising tooth.  I’d say its neither an asset nor a detriment, just surprising.  The overall flavor of this dish was fantastic. My kids LOVED it.  The dish lies somewhere on the spectrum between a chili and a curry (thanks to the cinnamon) making chick peas the perfect protein for the flavors.  Sprinkled with some cilantro, this was heaven.

Both dishes are diet friendly, both coming in under 400 calories.  I may be obsessed with the slow cooker. Prepare to hear all about the wonders of stews, though I expect grilling to quickly replace that obsession as it gets warmer.

On a final note, I’ve become a wine hoarder. I am currently stockpiling  just over 20 bottles, which I am loath to drink or allow to be drank.  I only open one if I have already bought it’s replacement. (Self employment = depression era obsession with stock piling resources of all kinds).  But I didn’t get to the store to buy wine to cook with so I grabbed what I thought was a cheap bottle. I’ll have to look it up, because regardless of price, this was a delicious wine.  Dry, but with a round dark cherry flavor to it and a hint of vanilla on the finish (my FAVORITE aspect in any wine)

Brazilian Feijoada aka best. meal. evah.

14 Mar

Brazilian Feijoada

I am no @BurghGourmand* so my picture doesn’t really do this culinary masterpiece  justice.

 

This recipe came from Cooking Light. It’s not spartan with 458 calories a serving, but neither is it horribly bad for you. And the flavor, oh the flavor!  The pleasure this dish brings is worthy of many more fat and calories, so over all it feels like a bargain.

The dish:

  • dried black beans
  • applewood-smoked bacon
  • boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt)
  • bone-in beef short ribs, trimmed
  • smoked ham hock

All that porky goodness is tossed into a slow cooker with a scant few other ingredients and slow cooked all day.   I am not lying when I say I dream of this dish. Slow cooking turns the beans velvety and imbues the entire dish with a mellow, smokey, flavor. It’s not a BAM in your face delicious.It is more of a long hot bath after a day of hard labor kind of delicious.  Its warming, homey, satisfying, comforting and fortifying all at once.

Good god I want to run home and defrost the leftovers and eat them Right the Heck Now.

And again, at 458 calories, you can make it work on pretty much any diet (except vegetarian of course).

——————-

On a related note, I’m loving Cooking Light. There is a definite focus on flavor and food that is often missing from “light” recipes.  Last night I made the Provencal Beef Daube and the Chick Pea Chili (which I prepped last night and put in the slow cooker this am) for meals for the week.  Both were featured in the same slow cooker article from this months issue. I’ll let you know how they are, but I’m psyched to have home made wholesome meals for the week ready to go.  Oh, and I made the Crispy Topped Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower Gratin too a few weeks back. It was luscious as well. The addition of bacon (veggie or real) is a brilliant addition that deepens the flavor and in the end doesn’t add nearly as much fat as it does flavor.

*He takes the prettiest food pics in the Burgh.  Frankly I’m outdone by the mere fact he takes pictures at all.  I guess I’m a piss poor food blogger. I get so excited about making and eating the food I forget to take pictures. Then I realize I want to share the deliciousness but I’ve eaten it all. I’ll try to remember…

Diet

11 Mar

I’m on a diet. Fuck middle age. (Sorry for the profanity, but if you are over 38 or so, you know what I mean)

My best friend Jackie and I used to post up in front of the TV after school and scarf down a bag of Doritos. Or a pile of Hershey Kisses with peanut butter strait out of the jar. Or Ice Cream by the half gallon (back in the day when a half gallon actually contained a half gallon!). Or a pile of pop tarts.  We could eat anything and still be slim size 6s.

Granted that disappeared by my 20s, but middle age has been particularly bitchy towards me as my peasant roots rear their pudgy head.

I have done Jenny Craig twice and lost a ton of weight, but if I don’t marry it with constant exercise and restrained consumption-BOOM. Back on go the pounds.

This fall, in the face of a ton of stress and a lot of death in and around my family the exercise didn’t happen and the stress eating did.  So rather than it taking 2 years to put back on lost pounds it took about 3 fricken months. Like I said, Fuck You Middle Age.

I’d settle for being pudgy and just buy new clothes, except for one fact.  Its just not a healthy weight for me. I don’t feel great. My blood pressure is back up, and I’m sure my cholesterol and other indicators are up too.  Sooooo I’m gong to diet.

This time I’m trying Weight Watchers.  So far, about 5 days in, there are several things I like:

  • Online point calculator. It’s easy to use and it lets me play with portions and ingredients to adjust points up or down depending on my daily needs.
  • Activity points. Yeee effing haw. You can exercise and see it translate into more food, and HOW MUCH more food.
  • Weekly fudge factor.  You have 49 points to play with through the week. You can eat the extra daily or you can splurge.
  • Booze. Jenny Craig strongly discourages using your daily extras for drink…not that I ever followed that prescript.  Weight Watchers however says women should generally not drink more than one alcoholic drink a day while dieting except for the occasional splurge. (Guess what I’m using some of my 49 points for??)
  • Focus on fresh food. Jenny Craig is EZ.  Pre-packaged food (much of which is very good), preset menus–E to the Z. I’ve been in the mood to cook and share meals with my family lately, so JC would actually be a crimp in my life. Weight Watchers lets me do that.
  • I like a challenge. I love to learn. Figuring out how to cook meals that make me and my family happy without killing my diet is fun for me.
  • Did I mention the Booze?

On that second to last point. Fun. It is fun. But planning a meal around the theme of Mardi Gras or a Polish lenten meal or something (I LOVE a themed meal) without the concern over calories and fat would be a lot more fun.  So I may be a bit cranky for a while. Forgive me if I randomly drop the eff bomb or curse out mother nature, middle age, and my peasant heritage on occasion.

Meanwhile I’ll probably post some of my “discoveries,” namely foods that make me happy, satisfy my inner gourmand, and don’t turn me into my grandmother, after whom I unfortunately take.  Now if I can just figure out a way to convince my boobs not to head south for my winter…

Craft beer on a budget

10 Mar

Self employment has its advantages and disadvantages.

One disadvantage; Income Insecurity.  Sometimes I’m floating in cash (ok, not really, but it can feel like it comparatively) and sometimes I’m telling my kids to suck it up and eat pasta again because I don’t have any money to go grocery shopping.

Mostly we’re in between somewhere.  But I tend to be pretty miserly because of this income variation. Still a passionate foodie (or gourmand more accurate, h/t @burghgourmand for the distinction) I’m always looking to answer my desire for great food and drink without breaking the bank.

There are a ton of really good beers around the $30 a case mark and I’ve been exploring my local distributors selections for cases that fit my miserly tendency but make my beer loving soul purr. However a recent spate of  brokeassedness sent me looking for more economical options.  Enter Ithaca Brewing Company.

Can you see that price tag???  I was actually a little worried to try this thinking “you get what you pay for.”  In this case that turns out to be false.  All four beers in this case of Ithaca Beer were a delight and at $20 a case (?!?!?!) it’s cheaper than Budweiser. The variety pack includes a Nut brown, a Belgian style wheat, a hoppy red ale, and an apricot wheat.

The nut brown was fine, though its hard for me to offer a rounded critique as it isn’t my favorite style.  I did notice though that when I finished the first case I didn’t end up with a pile of nut browns at the end, which is usually what happens when I’m really ambivalent about a beer.  And the Cold Front Belgian style was wonderful.  But the other two sent me back to stockpile cases of this beer.

My first apricot beer was Magic Hat #9 about 15 years ago in Burlington VT, before it was widely distributed. It was love at first sip.  Oddly, over the years, I have found the apricot in #9 to fade. Maybe I’ve become accustomed to it, but I’d be wary of insisting it still has apricot–though I cant imagine it doesn’t.

Not so with this beer. Ithaca Apricot Wheat wears its fruit front and center. I Love It.  I’d have to do a side by side comparison, but I think it very much resembles #9, the main difference being the easily identifiable nature of Ithaca’s fruit. If you like fruit beer and apricots, this is a MUST TRY.

*I’m also firmly convinced that the best beer to carry fruit is a wheat beer. Nothing quite marries the beer to the fruit so well in my mind.

The other stand out in the case for me is the hoppy red ale. At 7% its a hearty brew with lots of lovely hops and a great balancing sweetness.

I cannot imagine why the case is bargain priced, maybe the brewer is trying to establish a foothold, maybe its presence here is a short lived fluke.  The combination of quality and price makes this the runaway favorite in my recent string of variety case taste testing.  I actually bought several cases to stockpile in case it goes away and at $20 a case, that was more than doable.

Teh Google Stalking

1 Mar

I assume you all know that I CAN SEE YOU.  At least, when you come to me by google search, I can see the search term that led you (or someone) to me. It’s pretty cool. Ginny over at That’s Church and my good friend Agent Ska at The Collected Notes of Secret Agent Ska often have WTF moments re google searches. I have been watching mine with bemusement and sometimes confusion for a while and thought I’d share.

The wierdest search, and it just came in over the weekend, has to be “hang this plate near a door” ??????  What led someone to search that?  How was google supposed to know WHICH plate “THIS” was referring to? I feel like it was an older person who just couldn’t quite grasp exactly how to use Teh Google.  Well, when you search again, welcome stranger. Feel free to leave a comment as to what you were actually looking for! Maybe we can help out.

“delicious weeknight dinners” Because the search results for “sucky weeknight dinners” just really didn’t live up to expectations?

“desk comparison of einstien and Obama” Someone has toooo much time on their hands.

“jennie englund blog and einstein’s desk” Old middle school friend?? No one has called me Jenny since 1983. I punch.  And how did they know I have a blog??

In the category of confusing and probably disturbing:

“jennifer england suck” At first I was all “aw man, who thinks I suck?” and “wait, why would I write about my own suck on my blog??” Lightbulb.  I believe this might be referring to the other Jennifer England. Glad my google search didn’t actually turn up what I now think that person was looking for.

“man looking at woman cooking” …probably a fetish, don’t you think?  And what did I saw to draw this googler??

“yellow labs who love human babies” It’s the qualifier “human” that get’s me here.  As opposed to alien babies I suppose. Also, when did I write about either human or alien babies??

“vomit sniffer” Ew. and WTF?

Also  “creeping hangover” and “brussels sprouts hangover.” Teh Google is awesome for letting you know you are not in the least original. Apparently “Creeping hangover” is a thing, and someone else wanted to know if their hangover craving for brussels sprouts had any basis in scientific fact!  (Ok, I am reading that into the search, but I think its a totally reasonable assumption.)

And finally, of course, Steelers related searches.

There are a lot of Steeler related searches.  Some are strait forward, like “yellow lab terrible towel

But there were a handful that I suspect were from gloating Steelers haters.

  • steelers fans react to loss
  • steelers lose super bowl fan reaction
  • steeler fans after loss to packers

This made me think of the reaction by Seahawks and Cardinal fans to their Superbowl losses.  I realize those games were close and in the Seahawks game there were some controversies, but still. The general reaction by Steelers fans that I saw was along the lines of “good game packers, you out played our guys” and/or “thanks for a great season Steelers!  We’ll be back!”  ❤ (I’m sure there were some in Steeler Nation that threw a tantrum, heartbreak is hard. But overall, Go Us!)