Beat the Heat

June was really hot here on Tybee. Like multiple-days-of-heat-advisories-in-a-row kind of hot. Like, Matthew Broderick in Biloxi Blues playing in my head saying:

Man it’s hot. It’s like Africa hot. Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot.

Hot enough to inspire funny videos about bank robbers in the south getting caught because their getaway car is too hot.

The kind of relentless heat and humidity where we spent our weekend daylight hours going from my parents’ (albeit tepid) pool to a dip in the (also warm) back river to the a/c-with-all-the-blinds-drawn-and-fans-on-to-boot.

So naturally it was too hot to cook or, God forbid, go outside and man the grill (ahem…I mean, keep Ty company outside while he melts and mans the grill). We were going out of town on Friday, so I only had to cover four dinners…how hard could it be?

Back in my museum-working days, we had a core group of ladies who lunched (and an occasional worthy male counterpart), with a monthly standing reservation at the Kemper Museum’s Cafe Sebastienne to catch-up. From seasonal menu launches to cutting edge art exhibitions to birthdays, babies, and divorces, it didn’t take much of a reason for us to get together and celebrate. On one such occasion, I had a summer salad so sublime that I was determined to re-create it. It was a puff pastry with pesto, heirloom tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese broiled to perfection. This Caprese-on-steroids was nestled on a bed of spring greens drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Simple and delicious with a beautiful presentation. Puff pastry might seem tricky if you’ve never used it, but it’s as easy as thaw, fill, bake, annnnd impress your guests. On the occasions that I made the above salad, I used Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Shells.

I mention all of this background by way of explaining that this recipe was one of several that were perfect for the June heat, so I stocked up on groceries that I knew could be thrown together in under 30 minutes, taste great, and not cause me to sweat any more than I already was. Hence, my fancy (but easy! and delicious!) salad was back. Except that I couldn’t find my beloved pastry shells, only pastry sheets, so I improvised (if you know me or have read any previous blog posts involving my ability to improvise, you know where this is headed).

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I unfolded them and let them thaw a bit, then popped them in the over for about 5-7 minutes. They puffed up beautifully and I decided to just top them like a fancy pizza crust. I made one sample “plank” with a little olive oil, chopped rosemary, and leftover crumbled feta that was so good I forgot to even take a picture of it! I took the remainder of dough from the “appetizer” and made a white pizza for Jack with olive oil, shredded mozzarella, and a sprinkle of parmesan. He declared it delicious and was disappointed that I used the remaining pastry for Ty and my Caprese salad pizza creation.

I spread a little store-bought pesto on the dough, then topped it with the last of our Davis Produce’s famous killer tomatoes from the weekly Tybee Farmers’ Market, along with a generous sprinkling of coarse sea salt.20180626_185828

Next came sliced fresh mozzarella:

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Then a quick spin under the broiler (since the dough was already cooked, I opted for less browning of the cheese so as to not burn the delicate pastry).

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Sprinkled on a little fresh chopped basil from my herb garden, and voila! Dinner is served.

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It was actually so filling, that we both were only able to eat one “plank” of the two. This is a great treat to make for a crowd and slice into bite-sized finger food. An easy step up from the usual hummus or cheese and crackers!

Other easy recipes that week were ones that I pretty much know the ingredients and recipe by heart: one pot cheesy sausage pasta skillet (I used Ro-tel and pepper jack cheese to amp up the heat profile), The Dinner Doctor’s recipe for impossibly easy ham and cheese pie (perfect for using up hodge podge of cold cuts and cheese in the fridge) with a side salad, and a Rachel Ray recipe for “gyros” that I tried years ago with sliced flank steak cooked with Cavender’s Greek Seasoning (tastes great on everything!), diced purple onion, sliced cukes, feta, and pita bread.

I hope you’re keeping cool this summer! Comment with your favorite summer recipes to beat the heat!

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Past the Halfway Point of Whole30

I recently decided to commit to the Whole30 program, which is basically a “reset” of the way you eat whereby you forego any dairy, grains, sugar, alcohol, legumes (and probably more stuff I am forgetting that you can read about on their website), in favor of basically just fruit, vegetables, and proteins for 30 days. I did a lot of research (and, of course, created the requisite Pinterest board) and felt like this was a good fit for me for several reasons: 1) I like having a clear cut, black and white list of yes or no foods, none of this restricted for 6 days and then eat your face off on the 7th day; 2) as much as I love bread and cheese (and, ok, alcohol), Tyler was going to be recuperating from surgery, so I’d be home for at least a week with ample time for meal prep (also, no time like the present!); 3) they have an amazing (FREE!) website/online community/forum for questions, support, and recipes and, even more appealing to me; 4) they offer an additional paid subscription for a daily email during your 30 day duration. This is great because it details the changes your body is undergoing (I admit to having dreams of sneaking a bite of Jack’s ice cream bar, which they say is totally normal!) as well as providing a link asking you whether or not you made it through the day staying Whole30 compliant (one of the main tenets of the program is that if you mess up, you go back to day 1), which the over-achiever in me loves to be able to check off affirmatively.

One thing I can tell you is that it is a lot of planning and prepping–I feel like I am always thinking about my next meal (and not in a hungry kind of way but more like not wanting to be caught unprepared and forced to eat something non-compliant). I also run the dishwasher every night because I am chopping and cooking so much. But, on the plus side, I have tried/made some new things (I blanched tomatoes and made my own sauce! made vegetable stock from scratch! and chicken tenders! and meatballs!) that I normally would just lazily buy pre-made and not care about all of the crappy additives.

I made my shopping list and started off pretty basic. Luckily, Whole Foods carries a Whole30-compliant bacon, which made my now carb-free breakfasts bearable. Once you get in the habit of reading labels for ingredients, you realize how often sugar sneaks in–yes, even in bacon–but I promise you won’t even notice a difference in taste (as exemplified by Ty and Jack happily scarfing down this bacon; note to self, cook the cheap stuff for them as this sugar-free brand works out to about a buck a slice). For dinner, I went the easy route, and just stir fried a mess of stuff together and served over fresh greens.

 

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zucchini noodles, peppers, onion, and chicken

For day 2’s breakfast, I branched out with zucchini & sweet potato latkes and poached eggs. I used the shred blade on my food processor and julienned one sweet potato and one zucchini, using half for the latke recipe and putting the other half in the fridge to add to salads. I also picked up a pre-made container of broccoli slaw which is great to throw in stir fries and salads. For lunch I sauteed some sausage (again, read your labels–most have added sugar. The brand below from Whole Foods is made with fruit juice, which is considered ok by Whole30 standards) with diced onion and brussels sprouts with a little wilted kale thrown in for good measure. Tyler pronounced the sausage “too sweet” for his taste, but I liked it.

 

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My lame attempt at cashew chicken in lettuce tacos (a sprinkling of sesame seeds make it look more appealing, no?!)

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With the luxury of time on my hands, I decided to try my hand at cauliflower fried rice (bear with me here–you can’t browse food pins or lifestyle blogs without having seen someone singing the praises of cauliflower crust pizza or crumbles in lieu of rice).

 

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Guess what? It was Ah-Mazing! I sauteed some cut up pork in sesame oil with a little bit of Chinese 5 spice powder and a splash of coconut aminos (sounds scary, but a great substitute for soy sauce in any Whole30-compliant diet). I even ate the cold leftovers for lunch the next day and it was every bit as tasty as regular rice.

Once I went back to work for week 2, mason jar salads were my go-to lunch choice. I cut up whatever veggies I had on hand (usually peppers), then added shredded zucchini, sweet potatoes, and broccoli slaw, then spring mix and/or baby spinach, topped with shredded deli turkey (get them to slice for you at Whole Foods deli as pre-packaged types have additives that you want to avoid) and a sprinkling of sunflower seeds. Tessemae’s sugar-free Balsamic dressing kept me from losing interest in my daily salad.

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To keep breakfast simple, I made an egg casserole on Sunday and cut it into individually-wrapped slices for grab and go ease. I sauteed onions and whatever veggies that I had on hand (in this case, spinach, peppers, and my zucchini/sweet potato blend), crumbled in a little hoarded (already cooked) bacon, then folded it all into 8 whisked eggs and poured into a glass dish to cook at 350 for about 30 minutes. I tended to eat this cold in the car en route to work, but I am sure it’d be even better if you took the 30 seconds needed to nuke it. Paired with a banana and/or a handful of almonds, and I was good until lunch.

By days 10 and 11, I admit I was getting a little burned out on the whole protein/veggie/fruit prospects. It was Friday, the last day of school, the annual Beach Bum parade, and I really wanted nothing more than to chow down on the pepperoni pizza I made for Jack and his friends after school and enjoy some drinks with friends before, during, and after the parade as usual. But, I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and head back to “Go” without collecting my $200 like in Monopoly, so I threw a pork roast in the crock pot, ate an orange, grabbed a sparkling water (in a coozie so as to feel more festive and party-like), and headed out. I grazed on the requisitely sad veggie tray at the party and tried the pork when I got home out of sheer principle vs. actual hunger. It was delicious! I followed a recipe from someone’s blog that I cannot seem to find now, but improvised with what I had on hand, in this case: 2 cups of homemade chicken stock (donated from my mom); 1.5 cups of homemade veggie stock (sounds impressive until you realize that I literally just tossed a bunch of veggies in a stock pot with some water and let heat do the work); 1 chopped onion; 1 chopped poblano pepper; 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar; a splash of coconut aminos; and some garlic (and, of course, the pork butt!).

 

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It was even better the next day–I never in a million years would’ve thought to put pork on a salad, but this was super good with just the pork, some torn iceberg lettuce, and broccoli slaw (with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds for added fanciness). It was so good, that I couldn’t wait to eat it again the next day.

Then I made meatballs from scratch, which again sounds impressive until you realize it was literally 2 ingredients (diced onion, ground pork) and some spices. Of course, I have the attention span of a goldfish, so the recipe called for sauteeing the onion and then blending it in with spices and meat, but I measured and dumped all of the spices atop by diced onions and just sauteed the whole mess together then added it to the meat without waiting for everything to cool. I served mine over spaghetti squash and the meatballs were so good that I didn’t even miss the pasta!

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So I have just under two weeks left to finish up and I can tell you a couple of things for certain: I am sleeping great (something they say should occur); I am not hungry throughout the day; I don’t crave anything (except in my weird dreams) as evidenced by the fact that I can make toast for Jack and not bat an eye (or find half of it in my mouth like Sylvester and Tweety Bird) or scoop ice cream at Jack’s end-of-year class party and not “need” to have some myself; and Larabars have several “approved” flavors for an emergency. Made up of mostly fruit purees, nuts, and/or fruit juice, they are good to have on hand (for example, early on at Skate Night I crammed one in my pie hole to avoid cramming some of Jack’s nacho cheese and chips in said pie hole) and I find the mouthfeel offers something akin to bread/treats that protein/fruits/veggies just don’t have.

Once I finish up, I’ll post again with more thoughts, recipes, results, but until then, have a glass of wine and a cookie for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve had quinoa in my pantry for almost a year and finally used it!

So, about a year ago, I decided to be super-efficient and organized and attacked monthly meal planning with a vengeance (by which I mean I dedicated a Pinterest board to recipes, made detailed grocery lists broken down by week, and was feeling so good about myself that I even created a 2nd Pinterest board for recipes I tried and liked because that’s way easier than just deleting pins that sucked, right?).

I had been reading so much about kale, quinoa, and their other super hero food friends, that I felt I must be missing out on something by not immediately adding them into our dinner rotation. The first week of meal plan implementation had several hiccups in that one or both of us had a meeting or event to attend that conflicted with dinner so the grand meal was foregone in favor of leftovers or pizza or something not on the insanely detailed master menu (in my case, usually a bowl of cereal). And then when I never got around to leaving the island on the weekend to go grocery shopping for week 2, well, it all just went to hell rather quickly from there as many of my pet projects tend to do.

So here we are almost a year later and I still had an unopened bag of quinoa in the pantry that I, in a moment of couponing-be-damned freedom spent $7 on (in my defense, I wasn’t fiscally reckless enough to justify the cost of organic quinoa). I decided to go back to my original Pinterest recipe for quinoa enchilada casserole (compliments of damndelicious.net) and give it a try. Although the cooking directions on the package suggested that I wash and strain the quinoa before cooking, I was having none of that busy work and just tossed a cup into a pot with 2 cups of water. Quinoa cooks pretty much like couscous and rice, with a 2:1 water to grain ratio and you let it all boil and then simmer covered and fluff. Super easy!

20151007_174540_HDR Ta-da! Cooked and fluffed. 

I harvested the last of our amazing chili pepper crop from the back yard, in a variety of shades from green to yellow to red and substituted them for the canned chiles in the original recipe. 

20151007_174544_HDR Paper plates make great cutting boards!

I added some garlic salt, chopped onions, and the rest of the suggested ingredients. Because Ty is a smart man and would quickly realize that this is a vegetarian recipe and immediately protest, I went ahead and added some shredded chicken to the mix.

When Tyler and I lived in KC many moons ago and were not yet parents but just a couple of carefree kids with plenty of disposable income and free time, we used to do things like go to the symphony, art fundraisers, the opera (ok, the opera was my 31st bday present to myself but we all got so hammered at the Young Friends of the Opera pre-party that we never made it to the performance-yes, even dressed the nines, we were classy like that), and book signings (yes, I also used to buy books as opposed to just checking them out from the library, life is funny like that).

On one particular occasion, my mom was visiting from out of town and I had purchased tickets for a book signing event with Anne Byrn, the so-called “Cake-Mix Doctor,” whose cook book for doctoring boxed cake mixes literally changed my mom’s life. Growing up, we never had a single homemade baked good in my home. Birthdays were a time for Pepperidge Farm cakes from the store (and usually a giant taper candle from the mantle to blow out–why waste money on cake-sized candles? It’s not like you had a year to plan for the occasion or anything).

pepperidge farm cake

Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas meant French Silk and Banana Cream pies from Baker’s Square (admittedly, not a bad thing. I wish we had a similar place in Savannah). Mom’s specialties were fudge and rosettes (most of which were given away; again, not a bad thing. Rosettes are like fried dough with powdered sugar, which in the case of beignets is a good thing, but in the case of rosettes, not so much) but never did we enjoy a home-baked cake within the walls of 1531 King George Court. Imagine my surprise decades later when my mom proceeded to detail all of the cakes she had baked for any and every excuse under the sun based on her new cake bible. But I digress. Anne Byrn wrote a second cook book called the Dinner Doctor, which is the book signing mom and I went to. This book taught me how to poach and shred chicken for a plethora of recipes and it changed my life (or at least the way I cook chicken most of the time). So, long story long, I poached and shredded some chicken and added it to this otherwise vegetarian dish.

20151007_180450_HDR Mixin’ it all together…

20151007_182718_HDR  Puttin’ it in the pan…

Then I gratuitously sprinkled way more cheese than the recipe called for and baked it…I skipped the suggested mozzarella and stuck with just cheddar plus a liberal sprinkling of parmesan on top.

20151007_192211_HDR  mmm…cheesy goodness!

Final verdict? It was really delicious (and even better as leftovers for lunch today!), but after cooking and serving it up, I realized that I forgot to include the chopped cilantro (I blame the distraction of cooking/adding chicken), which I do think would have added a unique zip to the dish.

Tyler pronounced it a winner, noting that the “one thing that would really complement the flavors is diced avocado.” Because of course I forgot the frickin’ avocado (along with the cilantro, both of which were still on the counter). No Kitchen MacGyver points awarded but I highly recommend the recipe nonetheless.

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

So if you’re read any of my previous blog posts, you may notice a trend that I like to cook and by cook I mean follow a recipe. We went to lunch recently at a Mongolian Grill-type place where you pick your own meats, veggies, and even spices and they cook it up before your very eyes. Way too much pressure for me with no suggested recipes to follow! So I am an average cook who doesn’t like surprises and is not much for experimenting or going beyond what the recipe calls for. My husband, Tyler, aka Kitchen MacGyver, is always whipping up something fabulous and then demurring, “I’m sure you would have come up with something similar.” Yes, in the same ways that monkeys left alone with a typewriter might eventually re-create the complete works of Shakespeare.

So, imagine my delight last night when I actually surveyed our available in-house edibles and improvised to come up with something amazing! Here is a picture of it…we both had seconds and I put the little bit of leftovers up for today’s lunch but Ty ate it as a midnight snack, which I take as a compliment! It was a simple chicken and rice casserole, but read on to see how I jazzed it up.

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Super Fly Yard Bird and Rice Casserole

  • 2 diced chicken breasts (I always use slightly frozen as I find them easier to slice and dice)
  • 2 cans cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup of milk (the 1/2 gallon remaining in our fridge expired weeks ago–note to self, clean out fridge–so I used the powdered milk that Ty insists on keeping on hand for hurricanes, zombie apocalypse, etc. Yay for being prepared for an emergency, like not having fresh milk!)
  • 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of frozen spinach (just happened to find a smidge leftover in the freezer and figured greens are always good)
  • 1 cup rice (I used quick-cook kind)
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese (I used the former because it was all that was left in the can, usually I follow the motto “you can never use too much cheese”)

Mix everything together in one bowl, then pour into a casserole dish sprayed with non-stick spray. I baked it for about an hour and 15 minutes at 350 degrees and when Ty came home, he sprinkled some breadcrumbs on top and cooked for another 10-15 minutes. The perfect finishing touch that I would’ve never in a million years eventually thought of.

Bon Appetit–let me know if you try it and like it!

Urban Homesteading, cont’d*

And now for the update on my mad gardening skillz…complete with first harvest/two easy peasy meals made from items lovingly grown by yours truly.

You be (bas)illin’

At planting time (approximately 2 months ago):     basil

Currently, 5 out of 6 4 out of 6 starter plants recommend my gardening talents (that sneaky one on the inner right side is technically an attached offshoot of the second plant in from the end!)

basil

You say toh-may-toes

tomato

I say, “can’t wait to make a tomato sandwich!”

you say to-mah-toI say to-may-to

There are three that are starting to ripen–they’re low and inside the pot, so I am hoping the birds will not have the chance to enjoy them before me. In years’ past, by the time I looked out the kitchen window to see a red ‘mater and the 30 seconds it took me to walk outside, they always managed to swoop in and peck my ‘mater (that sounds dirty, but I assure you, it is not).

I’m a pepper, you’re a pepper…

I don’t have a before shot for the three pepper plants, but they are growing like gangbusters! It was a little rocky after I first planted them and we had a crazy storm that blew them all over and they lost a lot of dirt, but, as you can clearly see from the multitude of peppers below, I triumphed!

pepper family

wouldntcha like to be a pepper toopicka packa peppers

A Sage for the Ages, But Neither Pine, Nor Apple

No before pix of pineapple sage, but it was just an itty bitty thing when I planted it and look at it now!

pineapple sage

I have been steeping it in sun tea and am thinking of creating mojitos this weekend (it worked with the loquats that grow like crazy around us!). It’s even getting ready to flower, and they look like they will be pretty and red.

The Honeymooners Special: Lettuce Alone

lettucelettuce alone

Not quite ready for a salad, but they’re getting there…and 100% of plants planted remain alive!

Gettin’ Figgy With It

One of the fruits of my labor (see what I did there?) that I am most excited about is the figs! Again, no before pic but I assure you this guy is thriving.

gettin' figgy with it   figgy 2

Can you see the tee-tiny baby fig? So far there are three whole fruits, which should be ready to enjoy sometime next month.

Eggs-cellent plants

Speaking of thriving, most of the plants I grew from seeds sown in egg shells started strong but are mostly all failing to thrive (read: dead). Not sure if they don’t get enough sun on the front steps, or maybe using regular eggshells instead of organic ones is the culprit (I am 90% sarcastic here but 10% convince-able that this could be a thing).

The seedlings out front are still hanging in there but don’t seem to have grown hardly at all in two months, especially when compared to the eggplant seedlings growing in the back yard.

eggshell plants

You see the white of eggshell but no green, yes?

eggshell plants2

Three visible egg shells, one visible plant (possibly a tomato? It was pretty obvious when planted what was cilantro, what was sage, etc., but with most everything dead, I have no frame of reference).

failure to thrive  Tee-tiny sprouts, but better than dead!

eggplants, meh  Eggplants

And now, for the stars of first harvest:

1st garden harvest   My precious…

I halved and de-seeded the peppers, laid them over a bed of uncooked rice, covered everything with 2 cans of red enchilada sauce and popped it all in the over. After about 30 minutes of cook time at 350 degrees, I sprinkled shredded cheddar over everything and let it cook for 15 more minutes until all melted and bubbly and gooey. Added chopped tomato as garnish and we chowed down.

I bought Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything about 20 years ago and still consult it on the reg. I used his recipe for pesto, combining fresh basil leaves, garlic, toasted pine nuts, olive oil, and parmesan (I cheat and use the “green can” parmesan because I know we always have some on hand!), which I tossed with cooked rotini pasta and shredded zucchini that I briefly sauteed in olive oil. Chopped another garden fresh tomato (Brenda 2, birds 0!) for garnish and color. Both recipes were delicious!

Also, I’ve convinced myself to move all of the front porch pots to the back yard. Stay tuned to see if anything changes, I mean grows…

*this title is still entirely ironic.

Pinterest Lies!

So I planned an amazing Lego-themed party on Pinterest for Jack’s birthday when I was on sabbatical. Luckily, I had it all figured out in my head AND on paper (ok, technically, electronic paper), so even though I was working when his b-day week rolled around, I figured I could get it done easily based on my superior planning skills.

We did have the “vision” to make our party favor crayons well in advance, but that was mostly due to Jack’s eagerness to use a knife for chopping crayons.

lego crayon man 1

It took a while to chop, melt, cool, and de-mold the crayons, and we lost about 50% of the mini Lego man figures per batch due to them not completely coming out of the mold, so as usual, it took much longer than I had originally planned, but at this point in time, the party was well over a month away, so no worries!

Keepers on the right, broken men on the left:                                      lego man crayons       

crayon army:       lego man crayons 3

crayon army casualties   lego man crayons 2

Aside from that one advance-made bonus, I ended up doing EVERYTHING in the 24 hours prior to the party, while my husband looked on like I had lost my mind yet again. Fortunately, Jack is old enough, and interested enough, to want to help, and I had even made a list of things he could do, which included, among other things, all things related to the party favor bottle cap necklaces (from cutting out the circle images we would be ModPodging into the bottle caps, to cutting the thread into necklace lengths, to hot gluing the little jewelry bails on the bottle cap for the thread to loop through),

 bottlecap necklaces

to party favor goody bags with foam circles attached by two-sided tape to make them look like Lego bricks,

lego goody bags

to drawing faces on the square yellow plates, to cutting string cheese to make little circles for Lego crackers (this was totally a stroke of genius while waiting in line at the deli counter; I was thinking I would just get a brick of cheese and somehow manage to cut a million little circles when I realized I could cut string cheese…finally, my love of all things cheese pays off! And of course, he HAD to say, “look, mom, I’m cutting the cheese!”), to writing little menu cards in his best Lego Chima font. It was awesome…see for yourself:

Lego party spread

Put I am here to say that Pinterest lies. I pinned this Chi-colored rock candy, thinking, two ingredients, one of which is water, plus food coloring…how hard can it be (famous last words)? This is another recipe that calls for a candy thermometer, so of course it was doomed to fail from the get-go.

chi rock candy   This is the pinterest pic, not mine. I dissolved the corn syrup in water and added the magic gel-based food coloring that took me 20+ minutes to find at Michael’s until it was the perfect Chi hue. It bubbled and boiled for a good while and, not wanting to scorch it, I poured it into a foil-lined jelly roll pan, just like in the original pin (ok, they did not line their pan with foil but I am all about the easy clean up). To further speed things up, I stuck it in the fridge, figuring that would make it harden faster. Or not. It was basically like Chi-blue-colored corn syrup, so we named it the “Sacred Pool of Chi” and called it even. By the time the party started and we had everything out on the table, we ran out of room so I discreetly pitched it…no muss, no fuss.

However, all prior candy-making attempts aside, the biggest Pinterest lie was these chocolate-covered marshmallows designed to look like Lego heads:

:  lego heads

On the above-referenced trip to Michael’s, I set out to find yellow candy melts and a black icing pen. I got to the (slightly intimidating) candy/cake aisle replete with all of the terrifically complicated-looking cookbooks with misleading names like Hello, Cupcake! Irresistibly Playful Creations Anyone Can Make to Wilton cake pans designed to make any aspiring baker hang up his or her apron.

.stand-up-cuddly-bear-cake-main

Have you ever tried baking a 3D cake? Years ago, when I was young and naive, I bought this duck shaped pan to bake an adorable duck cake for a rubber duckie-themed baby shower I was hosting for a friend.

bathtimes-just-ducky-cake-main

This was my goal; luckily this was before digital cameras were ubiquitous, so you’ll just have to use your imagination to envision how horribly sad my duck cake turned out to actually be. HINT: even your worst mental picture is probably not nearly hideous enough.

As for the candy-coated marshmallows…dip a marshmallow in melted chocolate and put it on a stick–how hard can it be, right? I am starting to feel like Charlie Brown when Lucy continually tricks him into trying to kick the football.

Charlie Brown and Lucy with football

So there I am in Michael’s, looking for yellow candy melts. They have EVERY color you could think of, except, you guessed it, yellow. They have sea foam green candy melts, and cherry red candy melts, and even chocolate brown candy melts (um…forgive my lack of candy-making skills, but couldn’t you just use, y’know, regular chocolate for brown?), but NO yellow. There wasn’t even a space where maybe yellow candy melts had been but someone else on a marshmallow Lego-head-making frenzy bought them all up leaving an empty space to let me know yellow candy melts had been within my grasp. Ok…I am a reasonably smart girl, I can figure this out. I purchase two bags of white candy melts, knowing I have yellow food coloring at home. BOOM! Take that, non-existent yellow candy melts and, by extension, me for not actually having clicked on the original pin to maybe find such helpful tips out.

So, into a pot on the stove they go, but they aren’t melting quite fast enough for Jack, Mr. Impatience himself, so I move them to a microwaveable bowl and zap them for a minute or so. I take a spoon to help facilitate the melting and for a moment, all is right with the world. Then Jack squirts a couple of drops of food coloring in and I continue to mix…and…it seizes up like bright yellow cement. I think the problem might be that is isn’t hot enough (I never claimed to be good at science), so back into the microwave it goes, only to become even harder if that is physically possible (maybe I am on to a new kind off synthetic diamond here!). Good thing I bought two bags of melts. I actually read the directions this time around and see that anything added to the melts will basically ruin it. Duly noted.

lego marshmallow heads 3

I decide to try and outsmart candy-making science (never a good idea), and melt the chocolate and add just a teeny-tiny bit of food coloring. Not exactly smooth enough to dip the marshmallows in, but definitely spreadable like think frosting. Good enough.

lego marshmallow heads 2

lego marshmallow heads 1

I added some smiley faces with the black icing, stuck them in the fridge, and filed this experience under Pinterest lies. Or I suck at candy making. Maybe a little of both.

lego marshmallow heads

A Clean Fridge is a Happy Fridge

So I decided to clean out the fridge, which inspired me to utilize the mish mash of random ingredients on hand before venturing out to re-stock the fridge and fill up all of that newly available shelf space. I even cleared away the forest-full of mostly obsolete schedules, expired coupons, and other paper items that have accumulated under our fridge magnet collection in the past couple of months.

And voila! Look at all of that empty space just begging to be filled up! Of course, I quickly realized that I put the drawers in wrong, so there is actually a small shelf now available under them, which I have decided to use for thawing meat items rather than go through the trouble of taking them out and correcting the situation.

clean fridge

And the super clean, brand-spanking-new-looking front! Of course, there are a number of important items that need to live in this location, so I simply moved them to the side of the fridge where they are a little less visible to kitchen visitors who perhaps don’t care about Jack’s karate class schedule or summer reading program rewards coupons.

clean fridge 2

I inventoried what I had against a stack of recipes I have been wanting to try, and made a list of just a few things I needed to make the most of what was on hand.

One of the first things I tried was Gwyneth Paltrow’s recipe for banana ice cream, as I am pretty much the only one in the house who eats bananas, banana ice cream, banana cream pie, you name it. It called for Almond Milk, which I have never tried, but decided to in this instance so I could make the recipe…besides, I had a coupon!

The additional topping  of chopped almonds mixed with maple syrup and sea salt really made this extra delicious…so good in fact that I decided to have a second helping, which was decidedly not a good idea when I went for a run an hour later with all of that sloshing around in my belly. Verdict: Absolutely easy once you have the supplies on hand (i.e., almond milk and sliced, frozen bananas), but you really should eat it as soon as it is made because it freezes too hard to eat later. Plus, the almond milk is really good on cereal, less calories than my usual skim milk, etc. Bonus!

Whenever we head downtown Savannah, my son loves to stop by River Street Sweets for a praline sample (or two, since I usually give him mine). If you’ve never had a praline, it is a butter-y, sugar-y, delightful little sugar-high-inducing treat. But at almost $3 per praline (they are sold by weight), and only 4 ingredients, all of which I had on hand, I decided I would try making some myself. Of course, I only had about a half cup of cream on hand, so I ended up having to do some math and half the recipe.

NOTE: This is the first of three attempts (more on the other two tries later) at cooking something that needed a candy thermometer that I thought I could wing without one. Apparently, recipes call for specific tools for a reason, as I have no idea what the “soft ball” stage of cooking is, but figured if it was bubbly and gooey and smelled delicious, I was getting close. I didn’t want to overcook or burn it, but apparently it wasn’t quite done. I dropped them onto waxed paper and let them cool. They were good, but they weren’t transcendental, like those made on site at River Street Sweets. And you’d better believe my candy snob son did not think they were a worthy substitute. I guess I will continue to pay the premium for someone else making them and hope that maybe Santa will being me a candy thermometer for Christmas.And, yes, I realize these pictures make them look ever less-appetizing, but they were all eaten before bedtime, so they weren’t all bad.

homemade pralinehomemade praline 1

Then I decided to get really creative and make ravioli! I had made pasta from scratch years ago in a cooking class at the museum where I planned such events for our members and knew it was pretty simple (again, 2 ingredients! How wrong can it go??). So I mixed up some flour and eggs and rolled it out:

homemade ravioli dough

Then I used up all of the random bits of stuff I had leftover: some ricotta cheese, some frozen spinach, some pine nuts, and parmesan cheese (in the green can, we are not fancy), and threw in some crushed red pepper because I just love that kick it gives everything.

homemade ravioli stuffing

homemade ravioli 2

They weren’t the prettiest pasta I’ve ever eaten, and in fact the dough was a little thick so I should have rolled it out even thinner, but overall, I was pretty impressed with myself!

homemade ravioli 1homemade ravioli

And of course, no pasta dinner is complete without freshly-baked bread! I used the bread machine cook book for the recipe and let the machine do the mixing, then rolled it out to proof, then simply baked it.

french bread 2    french breadfrench bread 1

The house smelled amazing, and I managed to not burn the bottom while having uncooked dough on the inside like I have in the past…it was delicious! The down side was that we were completely out of butter and is there anything better than bread hot from the over slathered with butter? I could’ve sworn I still had a pound of butter in the freezer from the boatload I picked up at Sam’s, but apparently not. Naturally, when I picked some up the next day, at the more expensive store than I usually stop because it was right next to karate so I didn’t have to make a detour en route home, I discovered the last pound of Sam’s Club butter in the freezer. Lesson learned? Cleaning out the fridge is great for organizing meals, but not when you skip the freezer and have an iffy grasp of what lurks in the frozen kitchen netherlands.

Next up, a fancy-dancy, ladies-who-lunch kind of salad reminiscent of one of my fave spots in KC, Eden Alley. I threw together the last of spring greens salad mix, leftover wild rice (crazy!), the remaining half of a peach that Jack vetoed, some blue cheese crumbles (I try to have blue cheese and Frank’s hot sauce on hand at all times for when I crave buffalo chicken, which is pretty often), the last of the pine nuts (I even took a minute to toast them since this was no ordinary lazy girl lunch but a fancy salad), and tossed it all with a little bit of peppery Greek dressing (bottled…I am the only one eating this salad, so no need to be a total overachiever and make it from scratch. Besides, the point is to clean out the fridge, so in using the bottled dressing, I am one step closer to finishing it off). The verdict? Amazing! I even took the time to sit at the table, with a napkin, and enjoy it, as opposed to many of my consumed standing up/in front of the tv/in my car meals.

toasting pine nuts for homemade raviolipeach salad with rice

While walking the dog, I happened upon a fig tree in a vacant lot, so naturally, I liberated a handful before the birds could get them. A little leftover French bread, a drizzle of olive oil, and the last of the blue cheese and I had a snack worthy of a chichi bistro with sky high prices!

fig feta bruschetta

Then I made a couple of recipes that I had pinned. No pics, mostly because mine wouldn’t be nearly as pretty as the original posts. The baked sweet and sour chicken was a little scary in the making…dredging chicken in corn starch and then dipping them in eggs is not as easy as it sounds and I had to stop and scrub all the gooey stuff off my hands a couple of times so I could actually use my fingers and the whole cooking-with-ketchup thing had me grossed out (I hate ketchup…love tomatoes, marinara sauce, salsa, cocktail sauce, but hate ketchup. When I worked at the Wheel at KU we had this big industrial bag of ketchup that I had to refill the individual ketchup bottles from and I don’t think I ever recovered from it.) but everything came together in the oven and was delicious! We had a friend over for dinner and he wasn’t sure if he should be pleased dinner was so good or worried that we served him an untested dish, essentially making him a guinea pig.

.ketchup dispenser

I also whipped up some Spicy White Bean Dip, which I actually bought sriracha sauce for because when I used to eat at Blue Koi in KC, they had amazing lettuce wraps and won tons and I would douse them in sriracha until I was practically crying from the heat. So I thought this would maybe be a little like that. Except it wasn’t. The sesame oil was too overwhelming…I think I might try it again but substitute Frank’s buffalo sauce for the chili sauce, skip the sesame oil, and top with blue cheese crumbles. I’ll keep you posted on how it works out.

Jack has a new favorite phrase, “rub some bacon on it.”

Mine would be “put some Frank’s buffalo sauce on it and add a little blue cheese. sriracha