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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…

Six Dollar Sangria

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

 

DIY: Garden Chair

This spring we caught the gardening bug.  Well, I caught the gardening bug, Danielle just re-potted a couple plants she already had.  I picked out a few packets of herb seeds and started growing them out on our little patio.  Since there are quite a few cats and squirrels running around our neighborhood, I’ve been looking for a way to get my little herbs off the ground.  I also looked for something that could serve as a sort of trellis for the ivy Danielle has.

I like the idea of using a chair as a plant stand/trellis and painting it a fun color. This article at Apartment Therapy featured a chair planter that was really inspiring.  I checked out Goodwill for old chairs that I could use for my project, but it was a new chair in the As Is section at Ikea that I ended up taking home.  The Ivar chair was 30% off of the retail price of $19.99 because it was missing packaging, and because it is an unfinished wood chair it was perfect for my project.  A tube of acrylic paint and an old t-shirt rounded out my supplies.

I wanted the paint job to look weathered, which is why I used cloth instead of a brush, and I was using a paint that was transparent enough to let the wood grain show through.  I think it turned out pretty good!  The bright color is also complimented by the colorful planters I picked up at Target to grow my herbs in.

After

Before (image from Ikea.com)

Pie!

Back home in Wisconsin our family ‘estate’ is just a couple miles away from the local pick-your-own berry farm.  I have a couple fond memories filling up a bucket with juicy strawberries as a kid with Grandma, or when Danielle and I decided to go picking a few years ago so we could make freezer jam and came home with about 10 extra pounds – oops, good thing they freeze well!  I know it will still be a few weeks until the strawberries are ready in Wisconsin, but we’ve hit the peak of Southern California’s year round season and the grocery stores around here have them on sale every other week.

While I am perfectly happy eating a bowl of whole strawberries, I wanted to try my hand at something “new” so I pulled out a couple of Grandma’s recipes and went to work making a fresh strawberry pie.  First we need something to put it in:

Grandma’s Perfect Pie Crust

  • 4 cups unsifted flour
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 cup Crisco
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water

Mix together flour, sugar, salt and Crisco until crumbly.  Add egg, vinegar and water; mix well.

Grandma’s recipe claims this yields 7 crusts, but I don’t think we’ve ever gotten that many pies out of it.  Danielle guesses maybe Grandma was just better at rolling out the dough or something, but for us we can usually make three, maybe four, crusts from each batch.  If you’re not making four pies in a day, just divide the extra dough and pop it in the freezer for next time!   Once you’re pie shell is baked (at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes) it’s time to make the filling:

Fresh Berry Pie

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 box Jello (flavor matched to berries, so strawberry flavored for strawberries)
  • 1 quart berries
  • 8 or 9 inch baked pie shell

Bring water, sugar and cornstarch to a boil until thicker and clear.  Remove from heat.  Add Jello.  Add berries.  Pour into pie shell and refrigerate.  Serve with whipped cream topping.

The first time I tried this recipe I wasn’t sure how “clear” the mixture was supposed to get and kept cooking after it had thickened until it was too thick to mix the berries in and while it tasted okay, it wasn’t the prettiest pie to look at.  This time around I’ve learned my lesson and once the mixture had thickened I removed it from the heat.

As a bonus, I had quite a bit of extra dough that I decided to roll out and bake (about 6 minutes) in a cupcake pan for some “mini pies”.   The little shells with a spoonful of strawberries looked great and were perfect for serving as a quick and easy dessert, rather than slicing up the whole pie.

I adore macaroni and cheese.

I adore the Kraft stuff, preferably left to cool and coagulate awhile before I eat it.  It’s even better the next day when it’s reheated (or even cold).

I adore the more gourmet versions you find in fancy restaurants.  I adore pretty much every recipe Rachael Ray has concocted.  I adore the little balls of the stuff that get breaded and deep fried.  I adore it on Ian’s pizza, especially after a night of heavy drinking.  Hold the ranch 😉

And, I adore the Velveeta Shells & Cheese we gobbled so much of in college.  Once, when I asked a friend what he was making for dinner he told me shells and cheese.  I went on about how I loved the stuff, used to eat it all the time, it’s such a guilty pleasure…blah blah blah.  Then he goes “ya, I make mine with ricotta.”  Being the cook that I am, I was a little embarrassed I had misunderstood him and made myself out to be that girl who can’t cook anything that doesn’t come pre-assembled in a box and an aluminum pouch 🙂

I returned from my first trip home to Wisconsin last week and walked right into a crazy week at work.  Every time I thought I’d have a chance to get some groceries, my schedule changed.  So we finally made our list and went this afternoon.  We were still staring at almost 2 pounds of Velveeta that Ali had bought for that cream of cauliflower soup.  And since I was feeling a little lazy, I suggested we just make some mac n’ cheese.  Which quickly had Chris and Ali suggesting we add bacon and crab meat to it to mimic a dish they had had for their anniversary dinner at Maggiano’s.  I was down.

The recipe on the side of the box goes as follows:

  • 2 cups of elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
  • 12 oz. Velveeta, cubed
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper

We grabbed a 6 oz. can of lump crab meat at TJ’s.  We actually had bacon out thawing when we left for the store, but we stumbled across another “manager’s special” in the bacon section: that Oscar Mayer stuff that is pre-cooked and microwavable.  Chris had to walk away in disgust, but for 99 cents, how could we pass up the convenience?!  I’d highly recommend using this for this recipe, but you will likely find regular bacon for far cheaper than the regular price of about 5 bucks per 8 ounces!

Just like with any easy mac n’ cheese, once the noodles are cooked you add the cheese and milk and heat until melted.  I used 1/2 cup of [2%] milk, just because I felt like it.  I warmed up the bacon and crumbled it in, and then added the drained crab.  I just seasoned with pepper to taste.  Then, we threw it in my stainless steel casserole pan (I sprayed it first), threw on a handful of [real] shredded sharp cheddar, and put it under the broiler for a few minutes.

Easy!  Quick!  Delicious!

Okay, not exactly what I needed after trying to hop back on the diet train this weekend.  But, I think the deep fried cheese curds and pickles we’re attempting as our snacks for the Game of Thrones viewing tonight will do a little more damage.  And that package of Oreos I just couldn’t resist….

It’s been beautiful in California this week: sunny and warm, perfect weather for drying laundry out on the patio like we did yesterday.  It’s just over 70 degrees today, so not exactly soup weather, nevertheless I have been craving this for weeks and decided to waste no more time.  This is one of my favorite of Grandma’s recipes from my childhood, and I can’t say I’ve had it since before she passed away over a decade ago, high time I tried making a pot for myself.

Cream Sou

Assembling the ingredients for Grandma's cream soup

  • Boil together until tender: 1 small diced onion, 2 carrots diced fine, 1 medium head broccoli or cauliflower (flowerettes & tender stems).  Use only enough water to cover the veggies.
  • Add: 6 cups milk, 2 Tbsp Butter, and 1-4 oz Velveeta cheese
  • Thicken with flour and milk mixture.
  • Mushrooms optional
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste

Obviously, I chose cauliflower and looked for my best guess at what a “medium” head would be.  In case you’re wondering it rang up at 2.3 lbs.   We’ve only got medium-largish onions in the pantry so I just chopped up half of one.  I was also curious how much water would be the right amount so I measured out how much I used, turned out it was just shy of 8 cups.

Turns out our local grocery store only carries Velveeta in 2 lb bricks, which when you only need 1-4 oz can seem a little excessive.  Lucky for us  it keeps in the fridge for a while so we can use it in shells & cheese or a dip later and those 28-31 extra ounces won’t go to waste.

The only hiccup I had was getting the soup to thicken, I was using skim milk since that’s what we keep in the house, but as Danielle brought up Grandma was almost certainly using something with more fat in it.  Even with a 1/2 cup or more of flour my soup is a little thinner than that of my memories, next time this gets made we will make a special purchase of whole milk.

When I first brought up the recipe with Chris he was full of suggestions for things to add, but I’m hesitant to mess with my Grandma’s recipe, especially one so beloved to me.  I compromised with him by adding the optional can of mushrooms and frying up some bacon crumbles on the side for him to garnish with.

All in all, I’d say this was pretty successful.  The soup, albeit a bit thin, tastes exactly how I remember it.  I’m looking forward to heating it up for lunches all week long.

Cream of Cauliflower Soup

The delicious end product.