Friday, July 22, 2011


People, it is hot.

The bugs are gone.

My glasses fog up when I open the front door.

The humidity has been so consistently high that the water I set out on the front porch for the cats has not evaporated at all. (They do come inside at their leisure so it's not like I make them drink hot water all day. Please don't call the ASPCA on me.)

Most telling though is that I actually turned up the thermostat a few degrees today in a vain measure to lessen the stress placed upon our local electric company. See how responsible I am?

I've been spending the day looking through piles of recipes and gardening tips I've collected from magazines over the years and getting wrapped up in Lost in Austen on some cable channel I've never heard of before. My main refreshment today has been ice water with a packet of True Lemon (not to mention this Iced Coffee with breakfast) but one of my favorite summertime (or anytime) drinks is one I (by way of my mother) discovered at Starbucks:

Passion Iced Tea (unsweetened) with Lemonade
Makes about 3 quarts

  • Two bags of Tazo Passion Tea (the purple box, recently found at Whole Foods)
  • One can frozen Minute Maid Pink Lemonade concentrate (regular Lemonade is good too)
  • Water

Boil enough water to fill a teapot to steep the tea and steep the tea a good ten minutes. Pour into a pitcher large enough to hold 3 quarts. Add the lemonade concentrate, making sure to hold the can as close to the tea as possible if it's still mostly frozen - it'll plop and splash. Add the 4 1/3 cups of water as directed on the can. Stir. Add ice if desired (and if you have the room) but not too much as it'll dilute everything. Chill it if you can wait, pour immediately over ice if you can't, and be charmed by the sweet-tart taste and the pretty raspberry color.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cookbook Review Wrap-Up: America's Test Kitchen 2011

As you no doubt noticed, last week I petered out after three days of recipes from this cookbook. I didn't cook much dinner on Thursday (BLT sandwiches) and Friday we ate out (and had a surprisingly delicious and well-cooked meal at Outback) after seeing Harry Potter. However, I didn't want to let it go without further inspection. This is a very nice cookbook and one that has given us plenty of good things to eat.

Last week, I tried to choose recipes that covered different types of food. The Slow-Cooker Sticky Wings and Amish Potato Salad came from the "Starters & Salads" chapter; Almost Hands-Free Risotto came from the "Vegetables & Side Dishes" chapter; and Maryland Crab Cakes came from the "Seafood" chapter (shocking, I know). On Saturday, I attempted their Reduced-Fat German Chocolate Cake with rather awful results but I'll go into that later. I had plans to make Grilled Vegetable and Bread Salad (aka Panzanella) and Chicken Tacos (even though their recipe called for 3/4 cup chopped cilantro) but, as usual, overestimate my drive to cook on those days where I'm feeling less than the thing.

We have eaten Easy Cheesy Quiche for Two (using the Easy Ham and Swiss Quiche for Two variation) several delicious times; having failed to locally find a 6" pie plate, I've been doubling the recipe for a 9" pie instead AND using a different pie crust recipe since theirs is rather fussy for my liking. One of the first recipes we made was Grilled Asparagus with Garlic Butter - so yummy! The Baked Manicotti with Meat Sauce, Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and Black Pepper (the cheese did exactly what the writer claimed it wouldn't: all the cheese clumped together and stuck to my tongs) , and St. Louis Pizza (where are you supposed to find shredded American cheese?) were all just okay. Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts were good but it felt strange to bake the chicken first and then brown it.

Now, about the cake. Did you know that baking soda and baking powder are chock full of sodium? Baking soda is Sodium Bicarbonate after all, with well over 1,000 mg sodium per teaspoon. That presents a problem for me since I'm now on a low-sodium diet but there are alternatives you can get and that's what I used when I made this cake:

And here's what I got:

To be more specific, size-wise:

For reference purposes, that donut is a regular glazed donut from Dunkin' Donuts. Not very impressive, eh? The cake turned out chewy and dense, even more so than a brownie, but did not have a bad flavor. The frosting was better but after it sat, I could peel it off the cake in sheets. I've been tempted to bake the cake again with regular baking soda to see if there would be a difference though there really wasn't too much cake batter to begin with.

Don't despair! I've saved my favorite recipe from this book for last and let me assure you that if I was not concerned about my salt intake, I would be making these at least once a week for sure: Crispy Roasted Potatoes. Just typing that makes my mouth water. I love french fries and roasted potatoes but any time I've tried to make oven fries I get frustrated. The fries don't become crispy and more often than not, they stick to the baking sheet, even on non-stick! This recipe solves those problems and is pretty dang easy. Just make sure you've got plenty of ketchup!

Crispy Roasted Potatoes
Serves 4 to 6 (or two very hungry people)

  • 2 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 5 medium), rinsed and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • Kosher salt
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • Pepper

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, place a rimmed baking sheet on the rack, and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the potatoes and 1 tablespoon salt in a Dutch oven and add cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and gently simmer until the exteriors of the potatoes have softened but the center offer resistance when pierced with a paring knife, about 5 minutes. Drain the potatoes well and transfer to a large bowl. Drizzle the potatoes with 2 tablespoons of the oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Using a rubber spatula, toss to combine. Drizzle the potatoes with 2 tablespoons more oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt and continue to toss until the exteriors of the potato slices are coated with a starchy paste, 1 to 2 minutes.

2. Working quickly, remove the baking sheet from the oven and drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over the surface. Carefully transfer the potatoes to the baking sheet and spread into an even layer (skin side up if an end piece). Bake until the bottoms of the potatoes are goldne brown and crisp, 15 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheet after 10 minutes.

3. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and, using a metal spatula and tongs, loosen the potatoes from the pan and carefully flip each slice. Continue to roast until the second side is golden and crisp, 10 to 20 minutes longer, rotating the baking sheet as needed to ensure the potatoes brown evenly. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

You can get it HERE from Amazon.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Week-Long Cookbook Review, Wednesday

I realize it's Friday and that I missed posting Wednesday's dinner review yesterday but, you see, when you take two small children to a swimming pool and chase them around for several hours, it wears you out. Even more so when you're sunburned and have stuff you have to do at home later that you can't put off any longer... Well, you get the picture.

Anyway, here's what we ate for dinner Wednesday - TWO recipes from this book:

Slow-Cooker Sticky Wings and Amish Potato Salad.

 (Sorry about the awful pictures. The lighting in my house is crap and my camera thinks I'm a dummy. It is not necessarily wrong.)

First, the wings. I (obviously) own a slow cooker but have never been a big fan. Any meat I have ever cooked in this contraption (adding liquid or no) has turned into a doorstop. Recently though, I do believe that Kelsey Nixon from Kelsey's Essentials on Cooking Channel set the foundation for some slow-cooker cookin' when I saw this show for a few weeks ago with her Roast Turkey Dip with Melted Gruyere sandwich recipe. I was still a bit skeptical though.

Well, worry no more. These wings were Awesome! (They deserve a capital A.) They are simple to make and the sauce/glaze is absolutely delicious. The Man decreed that when/if we have our annual Football Draft Day party next year, these will be the main course. (We usually eat ribs.) These wings are spicy and sweet with a bit of heat - much like the sauce in General Tso's Chicken. The directions call for the wings to be cooked for three to four hours on low. Mine cooked for 3.5 hours and were almost falling apart; I halved the amount of wings made here since there are only the two of us but kept the amounts for the sauce the same so I didn't make any mistakes.

Slow-Cooker Sticky Wings
from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2011

  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 (3-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 4 lbs. chicken wings (I bought wingettes), halved at joint and wing tips removed
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste

1. Pulse 1/4 cup of the sugar, 1 tbsp of the soy sauce, the ginger, garlic, and 1/4 tsp of the cayenne in a food processor until finely ground. Transfer the mixture to a slow cooker. Add the wings and toss until combined.

2. Cover and cook on low until the fat renders and the chicken is tender, 3 to 4 hours. Using a slotted spoon, remove the wings from the slow cooker and transfer to a large bowl (discard the liquid in the slow cooker.) Let the wings cool for 20 minutes (or cool briefly and refrigerate for up to 24 hours).

3. Adjust an oven rack to be 10 to 12 inches from the broiler element and heat the broiler. (Note: my broiler is wimpy and I found that I kept having to move the wings closer and closer as I broiled them. You may want to start at the next to the top rack setting in your oven to get the proper results.) Set a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and spray the rack with vegetable oil spray. Whisk the water, tomato paste, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, remaining 3 tbsp soy sauce, and remaining 1/4 tsp cayenne in a bowl. Add half the sauce to the bowl with the cooked wings and toss gently to coat. Arrange the wings, skin side up, on the prepared rack. Broil until the wings are lightly charred and crisp around the edges, 10 to 15 minutes. Flip the wings, brush with the remaining sauce, and continue to broil until well caramelized, about 3 minutes. Serve.

Now, about the Amish Potato Salad. I have another version of potato salad in my repertoire that I am partial to. It's pretty standard with hard boiled eggs, celery, and some onion action mixed in amongst the taters. Mayo, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar make the dressing. I was curious to see if the Amish could impress me. 

I wasn't. But I don't think it's the salad's fault.

Having to cut out quite a bit of salt out of my diet has had more impacts than just decreasing the salty aspect of food. Salt is crucial for balance; sweet and sour need salt to balance them out and keep them under control. I did add some salt to this dish but it wasn't enough to keep the sweetness of the 1/4 cup of sugar and the sour of the 1/3 cup of vinegar from being overpowering to me. The Man added some salt to his plate and said that it helped tremendously. I guess this means that you'll have to take my opinion here with a grain of salt. (So bad, I know, but I couldn't resist.)

Amish Potato Salad
from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2011

  • 3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 6 to 8 medium), peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
  • Salt
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp yellow mustard
  • 4 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled
  • 1/2 tsp celery seed
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 celery rib, chopped fine (I added more because I like the crunch)
  • Pepper

1. Bring the potatoes, 1 tbsp salt, and enough water to cover the potatoes by 1 inch to boil in a large pot over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes.

2. While the potatoes simmer, microwave the vinegar and sugar in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves, about 30 seconds. Process the vinegar mixture, mustard, 1 hard-cooked egg yolk (reserve the white), the celery seed, and 1/2 tsp salt in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl.

3. Drain the potatoes, then spread them in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle 2 tbsp of the dressing over the hot potatoes and toss until evenly coated. Refrigerate until cooled, about 30 minutes.

4. Whisk the sour cream into the remaining dressing. Add the remaining eggs and egg white and, using a potato masher, mash until only small pieces remain. Add the celery and cooled potatoes and stir until combined. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve. (The salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Week-Long Cookbook Review, Tuesday

This crab cake looks like a crabby patty. Can you tell I was watching Spongebob earlier today?

I live in Maryland. I have lived in Maryland all of my life except for those two years we won't speak of. We Marylanders take our crab cakes pretty seriously. In my family, if we want to go out for a good crab cake, we go HERE. These crab cakes are known as being among the best in the region. Shaped like a baseball, they contain only a minimal amount of anything BUT crab; they use only enough filler to hold it together. That was my comparison for America's Test Kitchen's "Maryland Crab Cakes." Will they measure up? Hmmm.

Or should I say Mmmmmmm. I really enjoyed Tuesday's dinner: Crab Cakes and Sauteed Corn. These crab cakes were pretty darn delicious and were also easy to make. The ingredient list was simplistic but logical; see the recipe for yourself below.

Maryland Crab Cakes

(adapted from America's Test Kitchen)

  • 1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over for shells
  • 1/2 cup saltine crumbs (14 saltines get blitzed in the food processor)
  • 3 scallions, minced
  • 2 T unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 T mayo
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 T Dijon
  • 2 t Frank's Hot Sauce
  • 1 t Old Bay seasoning

1. Blot the crabmeat with paper towels to get rid of excess moisture. Place in a bowl along with half the saltine crumbs and all other ingredients, combining gently, making sure everything is evenly distributed.

2. Portion mixture into four evenly-sized patties and gently dredge in remaining cracker crumbs. Put all four patties on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate (they say up to 8 hrs) for at least one hour or until ready to cook.

3. Heat a cast iron skillet (my newest toy) over med-low heat and add 2 T butter and enough oil to thoroughly coat the bottom of the pan (but don't get crazy - we don't want things to be greasy later). Cook until golden brown on both sides and thoroughly cooked, 15 minutes. (Here, ATK wants you to cook them under the broiler 12-15 minutes, with only one side of the crab cakes coated in crumbs. That side should be on the bottom, placing the cakes in a buttered 8x8 section of a rimmed baking sheet. My broiler is wimpy and therefore I decided to forgo the risk of undercooked crab and the subsequent vomiting. Besides, I like fried stuff better anyway.) Serve with lemon wedges. (That would have been a nice touch.)

My only complaint could be that I would reduce the amount of hot sauce to 1 tsp. I like the heat of the two teaspoons but I think that if I was making these to serve to, say, my parents, they wouldn't appreciate the heat as much. Otherwise, all I can say is that I will definitely be making these again.

Up Next - Slow-Cooker Sticky Wings AND Amish Potato Salad

Week-Long Cookbook Review, Monday

To start off this new direction I'm heading here, I've begun a week of cooking from one particular cookbook:

I've had this book for a few months now. When I first learned about America's Test Kitchen's existence - while reading Kelly Eddington's blog - it was pretty much love at first sight. With the exception of that whole immersion blender debacle and their obnoxious need to make you pay for absolutely everything on their websites (which is why I've not added them to my links list), they're pretty much spot-on with everything they publish. I've since subscribed to Cook's Country and Cook's Illustrated, a sure thing after I ordered this book from amazon. I knew I wanted to review it when I got going again and here we are.

The plan is to make one recipe from this book per day. Monday was risotto. "Almost Hands-Free Risotto with Parmesan and Herbs" to be specific. What's not to love about risotto? It is creamy, cheesy, starchy elegance. It's also a pain in the butt to cook - who wants to stir something you're planning to eat as a side dish for thirty minutes straight? America's Test Kitchen has come up with a way to cook risotto that allows you to walk away from it for almost twenty of those thirty minutes and I wanted to see if it made authentic-tasting risotto.

(You get this pic because, as usual, I forgot to take a picture of the finished dish. The risotto is simmering in the cast iron dutch oven.)

You know what? It pretty much does. This recipe contains all the classic ingredients for risotto: arborio rice, white wine, onions, garlic, chicken broth, butter, and parmesan cheese. It was much easier to cook, allowing me to spend time on the stuffed chicken we ate alongside.

Low sodium note: America's Test Kitchen called for 3/4 tsp salt plus more to taste. I added a decent-sized pinch of this grey salt, which has about half the regular amount of sodium present in regular table salt (or kosher salt), and I didn't miss the difference what with the chicken broth and parmesan:

I will say this about the risotto, it was pretty yummy (I left out the herbs even though they are amongst the counter mess) and the less work the better, but there was something missing. Maybe it was just my imagination, but this dish felt, or tasted, easier than it should have to be true risotto. Most of the cooking required the lid. 'Nuff said.

Up next - Maryland Crab Cakes

Friday, July 8, 2011

The 2.0 Version (Or, I'm Back! Now, With Food!)

Hello. I would like to reintroduce myself.

My name is Jen and I have been a book addict for most of my life. Being a bookworm totally suits me and my books have always been a major part of my existence ever since my dad taught me to read when I was three. I am married to a wonderful man who loves football, Batman, and me (but not necessarily in that order).

I am now thirty-three and have been writing book reviews on this blog for almost three years. However, as much as I love my books, I've recently become so very tired of the subject. I haven't even been reading that much.

Burnout stinks, baby.

There's a topic that's more interesting to me lately: FOOD. In the past year, I've become more and more infatuated with cooking; my kitchen feels stuffed to its gills with gadgets, my cupboards are bursting, and the little shelf that used to hold all my cookbooks is now inadequate. I'm growing tomatoes and bell peppers in five gallon buckets in my backyard, herbs on my deck. I'm also going organic which, let me tell you, is not easy in my neck o' the woods. The closest Whole Foods is. . .105 miles away! I had my first Whole Foods experience last week and Oh. My. God. I bought carrots with their "plants" (as my nephew would say) still attached and when my husband got home that day, I proudly showed them to him with a big, goofy grin on my face. I kinda wanted to fight a woman at my local organic produce stand the other day for the last quart of heirloom tomatoes.

Here's the hitch. I have been having recurring ear problems. The diagnosis? Meniere's Disease. My case isn't super-disruptive but it can be annoying as hell. Sometimes, it feels like the worst part is the low-sodium diet I've had to maintain. I'm a big fan of kosher salt and kept a salt pig on my counter. Sodium is in everything and salt makes anything taste better. Check out the food labels on some of your most basic convenience foods - mayo, soy sauce, ketchup, bread crumbs, etc. - and you'll see how difficult it can be to stay below 2000mg of sodium per day. So, I'm now making everything from scratch. Now, I know it's a good thing because most of the stuff I just mentioned is most likely full of chemicals so it'll last longer on the shelf but it's such an inconvenience! On the other hand, so is losing my hearing so I'll do what I have to and that's what I plan to talk about here. Other stuff too, definitely including books, but I'm shifting the focus. Also, please bear with me in this. With the Meniere's, I have days where I'm a complete airhead, can't remember anything, and I have no (or often the wrong) words. (Yes, I've had an MRI on my head.) Any pics I post are bound to be totally amateurish too. Just try not to laugh too too hard.

I'm trying out this background with the tomatoes what with all my tomato fever I've got right now and I hope it's not too hard to read. There was a background that looked like salt but I thought that might be too cute. As it is with moving, things on the blog will be shifting around until they find their proper homes. Comments and suggestions are always welcome so please don't be shy. Thanks!