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Sweet and Sour Potted Meatballs

March 3, 2015

Two summers ago I bought myself a subscription to Saveur magazine. I enjoyed browsing through it, but most of the recipes either didn’t appeal to me upon reading through the ingredients/directions, or turned out to be duds. There also seemed to be a large percentage of articles about travel, whereas what I usually look for in a cooking magazine is good-sounding, well-tested recipes. And some pretty food photography. That’s it. I like the recipes themselves more than I like reading someone else’s story about their visit to the place of origin. :) So I let my subscription lapse. I can always browse recipes on their web site for free, and I don’t have to wade through ads or allow paper magazines to pile up “just in case.”

However, this is one recipe of theirs that we really enjoyed. Classic Italian meatballs in savory tomato sauce are amazing, but sometimes it’s nice to mix it up a bit! The sauce is still tomato-based, but the lack of Italian herbs and the addition of brown sugar and sour salt/lemon juice take these in an entirely different direction. I found rice to be an interesting inclusion in the meat mixture – not something I ever would have thought of to use inside meatballs, but the texture works well! I’m also not positive where the “potted” part of the name comes from… usually “potted” refers to a way of preserving meat/food. I’m guessing it’s that the meatballs are braised in the sauce rather than being fried/baked: “potted” like “pot roast,” maybe? A google search for “potted meatballs” indicates that this is primarily a Jewish technique for meatballs.

Either way, these were delicious, and really easy to make without using tons of dishes. Not quite quick enough to call it a weeknight meal, but I’d say not more than 45 minutes if you multitask the sauce and the meat. Enjoy!

Sweet and sour potted meatballs

See recipe

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Rant: Pregnancy + Rampant Consumerism

February 25, 2015

Warning: This post does not contain a recipe for anything delicious.

Since giving up Facebook for Lent, I’ve been spending more of my online time looking into what I need to prepare for baby V’s arrival. And more and more all I’m finding are the same things that irritated me about the wedding industry 7 years ago. Constant bombardment with more stuff you “need” for this big event, OR ELSE. Your entire wedding will be completely ruined without a monogrammed ring bearer pillow! Your baby will NEVER FORGIVE YOU if you dare to wipe her bottom with room-temperature wipes! You want to use some other natural unscented (cheaper) laundry detergent rather than the kind specially made for BABIES? She will shrivel up and DIE!

No. Just no. It’s consumer culture run amok.

A wedding is only a one-day event, but a baby most certainly isn’t, and that adds the anxiety of “WHAT IF SHE’S INCONSOLABLE FOR WEEKS BECAUSE I DIDN’T PURCHASE XYZ???” Which leads to even more pressure to treat everything on “registry checklists” as a NEED.

Problem is, all babies are different. Baby V will have her own preferences, and acquiring every variety of item that could possibly soothe/entertain/pacify her before we become aware of her preferences seems like a colossal waste. Of both space in our house and hard-earned money.

There’s also the frustration of having a house that’s filled up with stuff “just in case.” This type of clutter is a major source of stress in my life, and I am making a concerted effort to eliminate many of my own non-essentials before baby V arrives. How often do I cook a quantity of food such that I use three glass 8×8 pans plus one metal 8×8 pan all at the same time? (Answer: I’ve never needed more than one.) Why am I keeping this spatula that has a half-melted handle when I have 4 others that are perfectly good? (I have no idea. Do I even need 4 spatulas? No.)

I read “the myth of multiples” on The Minimalist Mom a few days ago and I realized I’d never thought about “backups” this way before: having multiple of the same item (like 6 spatulas) doesn’t actually lead to reduced work, just delayed work. Either way, I’m still washing/cleaning the same amount overall. Obviously soft things like burp cloths or clothes or bedding require more since washing these types of items takes longer than 10 seconds. But things that are quickly wiped down/put away? I can get by with a lot fewer (maybe even just one!) AND have less crowded storage spaces as a result.

Along with getting rid of identical/similar multiples, I’m looking at my stuff and asking myself “how else could this be used?” Storing one object that can be used three different ways is far preferable to storing three objects that each have one specific use. Why spend $20 for a plastic drum toy when my baby will likely be just as happy with a saucepan and a wooden spoon? (Or one of those spatulas, haha!) Why register for a nursing cover when a swaddle blanket can attach around my neck with a clip? Why buy special plastic “baby” bowls for solid food feeding when we already own several small (non-breakable) mixing bowls? The baby won’t care that they don’t have cute pictures on them.

I’d love to skip the traditional American baby shower entirely and have a “meet baby V” party some weeks after she’s born, but I’ve been told by several people that I’ll end up with even more unnecessary stuff if I don’t register for anything at all.

So to minimize the level of consumption, we are registering for some essentials that we’ll need for the first several weeks, and only stuff that I don’t already plan to buy used. Hand-me-downs/Craigslist/consignment in most cases are just as good as new, since baby stuff is often used for such a short time that it’s still in mint (or at least very good) condition. Better for the environment and better for the wallet! A win-win for everyone!

Please don’t misunderstand – I really am super grateful for everyone’s desire to help out when baby comes. I know I’m going to need a lot of help and I don’t want to turn any of it away! But since people go to baby registries first, I just wish there was a way to register for used items, or once-weekly bathroom cleaning, or home-cooked meals for the freezer, or an hour of baby-watching so we can go out for coffee… Hmm, maybe there’s some way I can fool Amazon into letting me do that via their “universal registry” option… :)

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Carolina Chicken Salad

February 18, 2015

I’m still alive! My new job (well, I’ve been at it for 6 months now, so I guess I can’t really call it “new” anymore) is awesome. However… there are always a lot of different projects going at once, and I have to juggle many different problem solving possibilities in my head at a time, so it’s much more work mentally than my old job ever was. Which means my brain starts to feel pretty “used up” by the end of the day and I really don’t feel like blogging or doing much of anything else that takes mental energy. I love the work though! I’m really glad I took the leap – my unique IT/pharmacy skill set is perfect for this position.

Another thing that been keeping the blog way down on the priority list is… pregnancy! Yes, my husband and I finally decided in the fall that it would be a good time to start trying to have our first child, and we were one of those lucky couples for whom it didn’t take much time at all! I’m currently 21 weeks along, and our daughter is expected to arrive end of June/beginning of July. So far everything has been going really well – I barely got any morning sickness (just a slight touch if I got hungry, but having a snack took care of that right away), and no weird cravings or food/smell aversions. The one symptom I did experience during the first 3 months was a lot of tiredness. Not really the “I can barely keep my eyes open and I’m going to take a 3 hour nap” type, but more the “I sat down and I don’t have the motivation/energy to ever get up” type. Very similar feeling to when I had mono in the fall of 2013, just without the fever and strep throat on top of it. :) I guess having mono was actually good preparation for first trimester of pregnancy!

Because of the pregnancy, I decided it wouldn’t be prudent to give up anything food-related for Lent this year. Instead, I’m giving up Facebook and reading fanfiction. Those are currently my two biggest time-sucking activities online, so I’m trying to put what energy I do have into things that are more productive, like finally updating this blog, for example!

So this recipe is a yummy one from my childhood. I would guess that my dad probably got it out of Gourmet magazine or Bon Appetit however many years ago. It’s a great weeknight all-in-one dinner salad, since it’s got plenty of veggies and protein, and doesn’t take too long to put together. The dressing is both tangy and sweet, and the olives add a nice briny touch. My parents would usually use leftover cooked chicken, but I’ve picked up a rotisserie chicken on the way home specifically to use for this recipe… fast and easy. It’s supposed to be garnished with tomato wedges too, but I didn’t have any on hand the day I took this photo and my husband doesn’t really like big chunks of tomato anyway. Enjoy!

Carolina chicken salad

See recipe

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Cherry Pie

August 4, 2014

Sour cherries are a truly seasonal fruit: unlike raspberries or blueberries, they can’t be grown year-round in a hothouse. Last year I let the short season pass me by, and this year I was determined not to miss it again. When my parents mentioned that they were going cherry picking a few weeks ago, I jumped on the chance to stock up. My mom asked me how much I wanted, and I told her “as much as you feel like carrying!” :) She’s the best mom ever: she picked me eight pounds of sour cherries, and felt so bad about how long it would take me to pit them, that she came over one afternoon and pitted all of them while watching a movie! So of course I shared samples of all my baking adventures with her… not enough of a thank-you for all her work. I’ll find a way to make it up to her somehow!

I think this is actually the first time I’ve made a sour cherry pie, and this recipe from the Gourmet Today cookbook was highly praised by the author of the Gourmet Project blog, so it’s the one I picked. Bon Appetit featured a cherry pie on one of their recent magazine covers with small holes cut out of the top crust rather than the traditional star-shaped slit. I don’t have any tiny biscuit cutters, but I found that the bottom of a cake decorating tip was the perfect size to achieve this effect! I like the way the larger holes reveal more of what the filling of the pie is (which is better for photographs), although those who feel squicked by the appearance of lotus seed pods would probably prefer a less hole-y crust. :)

The pie was fantastic; not too tart and not too sweet. To thicken the filling, this recipe uses a combination of both ground tapioca and cornstarch. At first I was wondering if this would  make it turn out too thick or gelatinous, but it turned out perfect for the amount of juices generated by the cherries. The touch of cinnamon added a really nice nuance to the flavor without being overwhelming. I would definitely make this pie again during next year’s sour cherry season! Or I may have to break out the gallon-size bag of cherries stashed away in the freezer… maybe mid-February when everyone could use a little touch of summer. :)

Cherry pie

See recipe

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Lattice-Crust Pear Pie

July 14, 2014

All pies, all the time!

Today I’m sharing another pear dessert recipe that I made back in the fall – a more complex pie instead of an easy tart this time! Although honestly the pie isn’t that much more complicated, just possibly more intimidating if you’ve never made a lattice crust before. :)

The most important thing when making a lattice is to not let your dough get too warm. As soon as your dough warms up, it’ll get really soft and tear easily. Which means you need to keep your top dough piece in the fridge until just before rolling it out and topping the pie with it. It’s also definitely to your advantage to have a stiffer dough rather than a soft, easy-roll pie dough. Adding sugar to pie dough makes it softer, so I choose to leave it out for this recipe.

The second important thing is knowing how to properly weave the lattice so it doesn’t look like you just have strips of dough sitting on top of other strips. GimmeSomeOven has awesome step-by-step photos of how to weave the lattice right on top of the pie itself, so you’re not trying to do it on your counter and then transfer the whole thing over (which makes tearing way more likely).

This past November was the first year my coworkers have let me make something for my own birthday. Since one of my coworkers and I share a birthday, I was able to pass it off as making it for her and not really for me. :) They always thought it was weird that I actually wanted to make my own birthday dessert, but since I love baking and I love to eat the desserts I make, I didn’t think it seemed too weird to me! Pear pie sounds a bit unusual, and since I love things that are out of the ordinary, I’d been wanting to try this recipe from Gourmet Today for a while. It was delicious! The texture was similar to apple pie, but a small amount of nutmeg instead of cinnamon allowed the pear flavor to come through without being overwhelmed by spice. I’ll definitely be making this again in the fall!

Note that this recipe requires a 9½-inch deep dish pie plate rather than a standard 9-inch pie plate.

Lattice-crust pear pie

See recipe

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German Potato Salad

July 13, 2014

Have I really posted nothing here at all in 3 months? Time flies when you’re having fun… or not having fun, in this case. Since the middle of April and up until 2 weeks ago, I’d been agonizing over a career decision and due to the stress/anxiety/depression involved, I’ve not been interested in much else besides passive activities like reading novels, watching movies, and taking walks. Still been cooking but I haven’t felt like I had anything interesting to say about what I was making.

What made my job decision so difficult (and I realize I sound exceptionally privileged to say this, given how many people are struggling to find a job at all) was trying to pick between two amazing things that I love, when I can’t do both. My current job is awesome: I love the people I work with and psychiatric pharmacy is a special interest area of mine. But when my employer posted two brand-new positions in pharmacy informatics, I knew I had to look into it because of my IT background. So I interviewed at the beginning of May just to get some more information to see if it was something I might want to seriously pursue. And then I was stuck, because initially I thought I’d never leave my current position, but then this new one sounded so perfect for me. Due to a lot of HR logistics, they didn’t actually come back to me with an offer until 8 weeks after my interview, and in those 8 weeks, I think I probably changed my mind about 50 times. So it’s been a really rough 3 months, on both me and my husband!

Ultimately, I decided to accept the new position, and I start next month. :) It was really difficult announcing to all my coworkers that I’ll be transferring, but I feel better now that everyone knows and I don’t have to keep it a secret anymore. And I’m getting excited about all the new things I’ll be learning and doing! The types of projects with the informatics job are exactly the types of problem solving that I like doing, so I think I made the right decision. And I’ll be right up the road from the clinic I work at now, so I can always stop in to help them with their computer issues, and I’m sure I’ll be assigned to help them with some of their upcoming projects too.

So enough about jobs, back to the food… last weekend my husband, parents, and I met my in-laws at their condo in Chautauqua to celebrate July 4th. My father-in-law is currently undergoing chemotherapy, so he can’t eat anything with uncooked veggies or fruits unless they have an outer peel that can be removed. When my mother-in-law asked me to make a macaroni or potato salad, I wasn’t sure what kind would work well since all my recipes have fresh celery, etc. in them, or a lot of herbs. I finally settled on German potato salad, since the only veggies in most recipes are onions, and it wouldn’t affect the flavor too much to leave out an herb like parsley.

My grandfather always made amazing German potato salad, but I couldn’t find his recipe, so I turned to the internet to find a really good traditional version. I found one that sounded very similar to his at A Feast for the Eyes, so I adapted it a bit to my own tastes (and for my father-in-law’s restrictions). Turned out AMAZING. I increased the amount of bacon to 12 ounces (although it was probably closer to 11 by the time I finished snacking, haha) and used at least 1/3 cup bacon grease rather than 2 tbsp + lots of vegetable oil. I also used a little more than 1 cup diced red onion since my onion was big. I think my grandpa used red potatoes, which hold their shape better than Yukons, but I actually like the soft-with-chunks texture of the Yukons. I’ll have to try it with reds sometime and see how it turns out.

And with that, I hope to be back to a more frequent posting schedule now! Thanks for your continued reading. :)

German potato salad

See recipe

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Inside-out German Chocolate Cake

April 7, 2014

We visited my husband’s parents this past Saturday to celebrate his mom’s birthday, and as a surprise, I made her a birthday cake! I wanted to make sure that that cake would be something she would really love, so I got some inside information about her favorite flavors from my sister-in-law: citrus (lemon or lime), chocolate, coconut, or pecans. Not all together, obviously. :) But the last three of those flavors most certainly mesh well, and what better way to present all of them together but in a German chocolate cake?

The last time I made a German chocolate cake was a few years ago when I was still in school, and while the version from ATK was good, I don’t remember it being a totally amazing knock-your-socks-off cake. So I went looking in Bon Appetit and Gourmet for an alternative recipe. This one from the Gourmet Cookbook, called “inside out” German chocolate cake, appealed to me because the directions said it could be made up to 3 days ahead of time. No last-minute baking that morning: Perfect!

The “inside-out” in the name comes from that fact that traditionally German chocolate cake is covered with the coconut and pecans in addition to the filling, but this version is coated with a rich chocolate glaze. I did make one modification to the recipe as written: the original calls for baking the sweetened condensed milk in a water bath in the oven for an hour and a half, but I find it way faster to just caramelize the milk in the microwave. It requires more attention and stirring every few minutes, but it cuts the time down to about 20 minutes.

So the end result? Amazing. My mother-in-law loved it, and my husband’s aunt even said that it was one of the best chocolate cakes she ever had! It’s a very dense, rich cake… a small piece is more than enough to satisfy a chocolate craving. Totally worth the time and effort; I definitely need to make it again once Lent is over and I can allow myself more than one bite ! :)

Inside-out German chocolate cake

See recipe