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Archive for July, 2012

Have I mentioned before my aversion to tomatoes?  I’ve gotten better over the years and actually eat things like marinara sauce when we make spaghetti because its a cheap and fast dinner option and chunky Italian sausage bits make it much more appealing to me.  But when it comes down to it I would much prefer just about any other sauce on my pasta or pizza.

I’m not sure about LA, but back in Wisconsin there are several places with some unique pizza options that feature non-traditional sauces.  Some of my favorites are Ian’s Mac n’ Cheese on alfredo sauce, Polito’s BBQ Steak & Fries with Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce, and Glass Nickel’s Thai Pie with its spicy peanut sauce.  Unsurprisingly when a craving for homemade pizza hit I wanted to make something beyond pepperoni and cheese on a classic red sauce (oh, did I mention pepperoni is also probably my least favorite pizza topping?).

I figured since I’ve made this citrus pesto before I could easily whip up a classic pesto for the pizza sauce by omitting the fruit juices and zests.  I’ve made enough batches that I just kind of wing it, I measure out the pine nuts and use a whole package of fresh basil from Trader Joe’s then add olive oil and cheese until I reach a desired consistency.  As far as toppings go I shredded chicken, spinach (slightly wilted) and sliced mushrooms go great with the green sauce.  This week Chris took charge of cooking the chicken while I was getting the dough for the crust ready.  He seasoned it generously with garlic, thyme, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper and I thought it tasted amazing and had a hard time not “testing” it all before the pizza was assembled.

As far as the crust went, I use this recipe that was printed on the packet of yeast and whole wheat flour.  I roll or shape it into a thick rectangle to bake on a cookie sheet because the short list of cooking/baking things we don’t own includes a pizza stone.  After the crust of the first couple pizzas we made turned out a bit underdone in the middle I precooked the crust a few minutes before adding sauce and toppings and baking for the last 10 minutes or so.  Then we cut it into big pieces and enjoyed!

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So…about this list.

I haven’t physically updated it since the end of September, but I have knocked off a few more entries since then!  I have moved to a foody Mecca in Los Angeles.  My neighborhood is a dream come true: crepes, tapas, Thai, pizza…all amazing, all within walking distance.  However, it took a few out of state trips for me to be able to cross most of these items off my bucket list!

1. Sushi  Hmm.  My first experiment with sushi ended poorly this spring.  The friends that took me out that night were worried/convinced it was the sushi that made me ill a few hours later, but I’m sure the combination of vodka and sake bombs did not help the situation 😉  I’ve successfully eaten sushi a few times since then, which further confirms my inkling that it was the booze and not the raw fish that did me in.

I’ve tried multiple types of rolls (California roll, crunchy shrimp roll, more authentic rolls I’ll never recall) at a few different places.  I’ve realized a few things.  I will never crave sushi like some people do.  I crave pizza, Mexican, burgers, Chinese, Thai, and any number of other foods…but I will never crave sushi.  Also, sushi will never feel like a complete meal to me.  I’ve never really eaten enough to feel full and satisfied.  Likely because, it’s just not up my alley.  The flavors are too alien.  I like new flavors, but I like to be eased into them.  It can be hard when traveling or trying ethnic cuisine here, because some foods are just far too pungent and different.  I have that problem with a lot of African dishes…foods that should be savory taste all wrong because of the excessive use of allspice, cinnamon, and the like.  With sushi, it’s the saltiness of the seaweed, the fact that it’s cold, and the odd and unknown flavors that combine to give me only a faint interest in eating it on a regular basis.

Of course, the fact that I can barely use chopsticks does not help…

2. Burnt Ends Mmmmmmm…

As I mentioned in the last post, I was in Kansas City over Memorial Day.  After research that involved polling friends and an extremely amusing episode of No Reservations, my friend Holly and I decided it would be Arthur Bryant’s that popped our burnt end cherries.  Ali and Chris had sampled them in November and had decent things to say about them.

I’m trying to judge the meat on its own, and not factor in the rude woman who took our order or the fact that the sides consisted only of fries or cole slaw.  Obviously, a deep fried corn cob couldn’t have hurt hehe 😉  Hol and I split a pound of the ends and generously sauced them up with each flavor on our table.  When you got a nice, meaty chunk, it was a delicious experience.  However, in the end I longed for a lean slice of Pappy’s brisket.  I was stuffed and happy, but not like I’m happy after Pappy’s.  2+ years later, and it’s still my barbeque Mecca.

5. A Malt from Crown Candy Kitchen, St. Louis

Ahh, St. Louis.  I flew into town in January for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday with friends.  We actually completed the entire Man vs. Food trifecta in one trip this time.  Iron Barley provided another awesome meal, and Pappy’s…well…see above!  At Crown Candy Kitchen, the malt itself was not particularly mind-blowing.  It was delicious, but it’s hard to screw up a malt when you’re using quality ice cream.  Likewise, it’s hard to distance yourself as something special when you’re making something as easy as a malt or milkshake.  I’m from America’s Dairyland, as were all of the girls that accompanied me into the ghetto to have dessert.  We all enjoyed our cheap treats, but we all commented that they were nothing extraordinary.  Maybe the St. Louisians are starved for quality dairy, and that’s why the place gets such a reputation for awesomeness.  What made me happy here was squeezing into two tiny booths, reminiscing about the time we spent at the custard shop back in our hometown as high schoolers, snapping pictures, and checking out the truly awesome looking handmade candies behind the counters.  I’d come back the next time I’m in town, although Ted Drewe’s is also highly recommended by locals.

By my count, I’m now 5 for 10 on my original list.  It may be time to actively seek out some of the other entries, and start brainstorming some new ones!

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S’mores Bars!

They say you always want what you can’t have.

All I want is to sit around a campfire, drinking beer and hanging out.  The problem is that I no longer live in a corn field in Wisconsin.  Rather, I live in what is essentially, at this time of year, the desert of Los Angeles.  A quick Wikipedia search assures me the climate in L.A. is “subtropical-Mediterranean.”  Not desert.  However, the only precipitation we’ve had in weeks were a few ill-timed drops last week that ruined a beautiful car wash.  So basically, desert.  The first ten results on Google when I searched “are campfires legal in Los Angeles” all involved arson.  I’m leaning towards them being against the law 🙂  So yeah, really missing those fires at the land right now!  Especially the s’mores!

I come from a s’more-centric home, where it was an odd summer day indeed if you raided the pantry and couldn’t find two boxes of graham crackers, three bags of marshmallows, and 12 Hershey bars.  And there’s something about the smoky, slightly charred marshmallow that adds so much to a s’more.  I know I could create one in the microwave, or even revert to my college days when we roasted marshmallows over Sterno flames while watching Brewers games…but it’s just. not. the. same.

Alas, the Fourth rolled around and I was in need of a dessert that would appeal to the masses we had invited over for tacos.  [Yes, we celebrated the birth of America with a distinctly Mexican dish, however the fact that they were served over Fritos instead of in tortillas lent an authentic American feel to the whole thing.]  Our family had been having mini-reunions the past two summers right around the Fourth, and I was homesick for them and the bonfires and the s’mores those gatherings entailed.  And, my brain did it’s funny-train-of-thought thing.  Berkey Bash –> Jess (cousin) –> party at Jess’ house –> she served those amazing bars –> S’MORES BARS –> where’s that recipe?!

These things are so stinkin’ easy, it’s almost unfair.  However, after years of cooking for summer bashes (reunions, graduations, birthdays), I’ve learned the important lesson that easy is usually the most popular.  Rice Krispie treats are always a home run, even if there isn’t a child in sight.  Bonus points for making them with Fruity Pebbles.  Any bar will win raves and disappear immediately.  I am currently reading the book “Paris In Love,” a memoir written by a middle-aged mother of two who takes a sabbatical from her job as a professor and moves her family to Paris for a year.  I have had a difficult time relating to her for obvious reasons, but I related to this blurb the other night: “One of the hardest things for me to remember is that just because a dish takes six hours in the kitchen it will not necessarily make guests as happy as a familiar recipe done well.”  Very true, Eloisa James, very true.  So, with only a few hours to spare, I decided on the s’mores bars…

Cream the following:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

In a separate bowl, combine:

  • 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp. salt

Add the dry mix to the creamed mixture and mix well.  Press half into a greased 9×9 pan.  Over the dough, place 5 Hershey bars (the regular, 5.5 oz ones).  I actually use about 5 and a half bars, breaking the last one up to fill in the gaps.  Over the chocolate, spread a 7 oz. container of marshmallow creme.  Lastly, crumble the remaining half of the dough over the marshmallow.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Prepare to be a rock star.

🙂

In all honestly, I’ve made like four pans of these in the last two weeks, and they keep on winning raves.  When I trekked to Kansas City over Memorial Day, my friend Holly made a version she had seen on Pinterest (she’d had these with me several times) which used Reese’s peanut butter cups instead of Hershey’s.  So I also experimented with that.  In an 8×8 pan, I used 12 peanut butter cups.  Let’s just say, I was doubly popular that day!

I currently have a pan cooling downstairs to bring to work tomorrow for a coworker’s birthday treat.  They’ve enjoyed my cupcakes, but it’s always the simplest things I make that people love (crunchy peanut bark for Christmas, anyone?).  Maybe it’s because we’re almost all a long way from home, and we’re getting a long way from our childhoods, and we need to be reminded in this crazy world how easy and good it all really can be…

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Last week we were preparing to grill out and have dinner outside so I decided to do something different and whip up a pitcher of sangria to enjoy.  An internet search for “sangria recipe” brings up just under 2 million entries, so I think its safe to say everybody has a different way of making it, like chili or meat loaf.  Danielle seemed a little wary that I wasn’t following a specific recipe, but I was confident that I could just wing it.  I used fruit and brandy we had on hand, made a simple syrup from pantry staples and picked up 2 cheap bottles of wine to make a delicious drink for under $5.

Sangria

  • 2 bottles red wine (We use Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon, but any drier red should be fine)
  • 2 shots brandy
  • about 1/3 cup simple syrup
  • 1 large or 2 medium oranges sliced
  • 1 lime sliced
  • handful blueberries, strawberries, or other fruit

Tonight when we decided to make it again we didn’t have as many ingredients on hand, but calculating the cost its still amazingly affordable to mix up your own Sangria for a refreshing drink on a sunny summer evening.

Cost breakdown:

  • 2 bottles of wine = $4.00
  • 2 shots brandy = $0.50 (1.75 liter of Korbel was $16 so each shot is about $.25)
  • 2 medium Valencia oranges = $0.60 (a bag with 12 oranges cost $3.50)
  • 1 lime = $0.50
  • simple syrup = pennies (according to one internet page a cup of sugar cost 15 cents or less)
  • Total = $5.65

 

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