Today was a fun day of making Christmas gifts.

The International Grocery in Carbondale proved to be way, WAY cheaper than Walmart for whole spices... the prices are very low. I grabbed big bags of cardamom seeds, cinnamon sticks, cumin seeds, whole cloves, coriander seeds and a few others and toasted the spices before grinding. I have never wanted to be able to record smell more than today while toasting these spices. The smell was incredible. I found cute, inexpensive little glass holders at the co-op, tied a ribbon, and had super cheap, fun-to-make Christmas presents.

I'm still working on the scarf I'm crocheting, but hope to finish that tonight. We're on track to be completely ready for Christmas in time for our Wednesday morning departure. Phil's in the kitchen making tonight's dinner... I can smell the rice a'cooking.


Christmas Take One

Just returned from Indianapolis for Christmas at Dad's. It was a great time with a great meal and a great whooping of butts in euchre (Laura and I smoked Phil the Younger and Dad). Even Henry was in the holiday spirit:

Dad and Mollie were ready for the challenge of feeding a table full of meat-lovers... I think Dad said they had enough prime rib for everyone to eat 2 pounds. Scott came closest.

Obviously we had plenty of leftover steak, so Dad asked me to make up some hash (that's what you have to do with hash, you make it up. I don't know why.). Very easy:
1 medium potato per person, diced
1- 1 1/2 onions, diced
1 steak per 2 person, diced
a few cloves of garlic, diced

Fry the onion and potato in a tablespoon or two of oil, saute around 10 mintues, until potatoes are tender. Add the diced steak and diced garlic, salt and pepper, stir around for 3-5 mintues, until meat is hot. If you like eggs, top it with an over-easy (if you're lucky, your step-mom will make it). I know it's uncouth, but I love ketchup on hash, so that's something else to put on top.

Over the next several days I'll be lucky enough to celebrate Christmas with many other family members and friends. When interesting things happen in the kitchen or around the tree, I'll post it here!


Shawnee Hill Wine Trail

We finished up Christmas shopping at a couple local wineries today. The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail is really neat... all wineries on this trail must have around 90% local grapes in their wines, which, well, is really neat. I don't particularly care for the dry reds around here... chambourcin and chancellor, mostly, but the semi-dry blushes and whites are pretty good. Today we mostly compared rose' and traminette varieties. My favorite wines were at Alto Winery, but my favorite setting was at Von Jacob Winery-- very pastoral. We then found our way to Cobden, Illinois, where Phil knew of a good taco stand and I knew of a good pizza place. The taco stand began it's month-long Christmas break today, so we went to the pizza place, and it was AWESOME. They had several great beers on draught, so I had a Stella, and we had oysters Rockefeller-- HUGE oysters-- and a pizza they called 'Bavarian'... it had sauerkraut and peppers and was supergreat. It was one of those spontaneously fun evenings. When we left the house we planned on just going to one vineyard, but we ended up going to multiple vineyards and a wonderful pizzaria. Oh! And tucked in the middle of all the vineyards we went to Rendleman's Orchards, which was really cool. Locally made sauces and preserves and butters and jams, etc, from locally grown fruit. That was a really fun visit, and the owner lady was so friendly and helpful. In many ways southern Illinois is pretty bleak... it's very economically depressed and the future doesn't look good, but all these local agri-businesses are wonderful, and I want to take full advantage of having this opportunity (until I can move).

Brussel Sprouts and Cheap Wine

First, the wine. This brand, Oak Leaf, is at Walmart and sells for $2.97 a bottle. Yes, that sounds ridiculous. We've tried the Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz, and Cab. Sav. The Chardonnay and Merlot are very drinkable and are the only two wines we currently buy. The Shiraz and the Cab? Not so much. Will I continue to buy Oak Leaf Chardonnay and Merlot once I get a job? That's a good question. If I can find a $6-8 bottle that is markedly better I will probably change house wines, but if the $6-8 bottles are comparable in taste, I will stick with the $3 Walmart wine.

And the brussel sprouts! Looooooooove brussel sprouts. The best way to make them is to roast them. No contest. 400 degree oven, put a little 'x' on the bottom of each sprout, so they cook evenly, toss sprouts in olive oil, spread on baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and whatever else you like, bake, stirring or shaking pan after 10 mintues, cook another 10 mintues, and they should be done. These were pretty small sprouts-- bigger sprouts might need a little more time.


Butternut Squash Soup

Ok, the rest of the squash made a super easy, super delicious soup. This recipe made about 3 large bowls, but it would be very easy to double this recipe... it would just take an entire roasted squash rather than half of one.

3 c. chicken broth (I used the stock from earlier this week)
1 chopped onion
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 T olive oil
1 T your favorite mustard (I loooove horseradish mustard, so that's what I used)
2 c. roasted squash (this is just what was left from the squash the night before)
3 rather small red potatoes, quartered and boiled, then smashed-- about 1/2 c. before cooking
1 t. sage
1/2 t. black pepper
a little salt

roasted squash seeds

Saute the onion in the oil over medium about 5 mintues, add the garlic, saute another 3 minutes or so. Add mustard and stir. Add broth, bring to boil, add squash, potatoes, sage, pepper and salt, stir for a few minutes, to a boil, remove from heat. Put in blender in two batches and pulse the soup 'till smooth. Serve with whatever toppings you like. Grilled cheese is great on the side!

Now, the soup was very good last night, with the bacon, parmesean, and squash seed sprinkled on top, and was very attractive. However, you could put a little pesto (or just basil or just pine nuts) on a shoe and I would probably eat it, so I'll have to say I liked this a little better for lunch today with the pesto. Just my opinion.


The Rest of the Rotisserie Chicken

Alright, so far with the rotisserie chicken I have made stock with the bones, made BBQ chicken for nachos, and ate the chicken with couscous and squash. Lunch yesterday was a quesadilla with some of the chicken, some black beans and a couple slices of muenster cheese. The rest of the chicken will be made into more BBQ chicken for wraps with soup for dinner tonight and a little chicken salad for lunch tomorrow.

My favorite way to make chicken salad: mix up about a cup and a half of chopped chicken, a chopped apple (I leave the skin on to get the fiber), about a third a cup of walnuts smashed with the back of a knife, and a handful of raisins. I squirt in mayo until it's the consistency I'm looking for, and if I have fresh parsley, I chop up a handful of that and add it in. Sometimes I just eat it with a fork, sometimes with wheat thin or triscuit crackers. The cool thing about chicken salad is that whatever is around can be thrown in. Sometimes I have almonds to get rid of, so I use those instead of walnuts. If I'm making it for other people, I will add celery, but since I hate celery, I don't include it if it's just for me.

Apple Crisp

While I love oatmeal, I am not a big fan of that oatmeal-topped apple crisp; it's too mushy for me, I guess. I was looking around for a way to use a few Gala apples I've had in the kitchen for about a week, and on my favorite recipe website, recipezaar.com, I found an apple crisp that uses nuts instead of oatmeal. I reduced the amount of sugar and increased the amount of apples and added some cinnamon... I think this is a keeper!

2 sliced apples
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. flour
1 t. cinnamon
2 T softened butter
1/4 c. nuts (I used a mix of walnuts and almonds)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange apple slices in a baking dish (I used a non-stick 8x8 and didn't lubricate it). Combine flour, cinnamon, sugar and butter... mix until all powder is incorporated, add nuts and sprinkle over apples. Bake 40-45 minutes, until brown and delicious-smelling.


Butternut Squash day 1

I love butternut squash, but just about every recipe on the internet or in print calls for sweet seasonings: honey, cinnamon, sugar, maple syrup, etc. It tastes good that way, but I prefer savory butternut squash. It's great just wiped with olive oil then salt and peppered, but last night I wanted a little more flavor, so I got out my mortar and pestle (because any I'll take any excuse to use it) and ground up a seasoning mix. I used 1 t. cardamom, 1 t. cumin, 1/2 t. cinnamon, 1/2 t. tumeric, a dash of ground red pepper and several black peppercorns.

I then, using my best knife, carefully cut the squash in half. There's no problem in cutting it into strips or chunks, but I think it looks neat to roast it in two halves. I preheated the oven to 400 degrees, melted 1 T butter and mixed it with 1 T olive oil and rubbed it all over the squash. I then sprinked the spices on and baked for 50-55 mintues.

I'm still not used to photographing everything I do, so I forgot to take a picture as soon as I pulled it from the oven. The second picture there is after I cut the bulb part off and filled it with couscous and some of that rotisserie chicken, which I spiced with some of that spice mix.

The big holes in the bulby part of the squash contain seeds and pulp, just like a pumpkin, so I gathered the seeds, throughly rinsed them in a colander, dried them with a paper towel, and tossed them with 1 t. olive oil and 1/2 t. of that same spice mix. I baked at 275 degrees for 60 minutes, stirring/shaking the pan every 15 minutes. These are super delicious and crispy and hard to stop eating!

And I've still got half a squash (and 1/3 of that rotisserie chicken meat) to use!


Rotisserie Chicken

We were at Walmart Saturday night around 8:30, and while we were checking out an announcement came over the intercom, saying rotisserie chickens were $3.00. First off, that seems so antiquated, an overhead announcement at a supermarket. Secondly, $3.00!! They are a great deal at the normal price of $5.00, and I thought I was probably going to get a rotisserie chicken this week anyway, so we went back and got a chicken. And this was a great chicken! The meat was not dried out at all-- it was succulent, in fact. So, I took most of the meat off the bird and got enough for several meals.

Of course my favorite use of a rotisserie chicken is to make stock for use in future soups (or anything else that requires chicken broth or stock). So I left most of the meat on the back and the wings, removed as much skin as possible, and put it in a soup pot, fully covered with water. I brought the bird to a boil then added a chopped carrot, a chopped celery stalk, a chopped onion, and some herbs-- an allspice, several black peppers, half a bay leaf, a couple sprinkles of thyme, marjoram, and oregano. If I would've had some fresh parsley or fennel, I would have added some of that too. I simmered this for 2-3 hours, mostly covered. I took it off the heat when a little bite of chicken tasted like nothing. I strained the stock into two big bowls (there was alot of stock) and put the bowls outside for an hour or so until the stock was cool enough to stick in the fridge. It's in the fridge now, and today I'm going to scoop the fat off the top then measure the stock into one quart freezer bags and keep frozen until I need it.

While the stock was cooling outside, we made some BBQ chicken nachos. I chopped up a couple handfuls of the chicken and mixed it with BBQ sauce. We laid a bunch of tortilla chips on a baking sheet, topped them with the chicken, chopped jalapenos, and shredded colby jack cheese. Baked it in a preheated 350 degree oven until the cheese was melted, around 10 minutes. Removed from oven, slid the nachos onto plates, topped with sour cream, salsa, and chopped green onion. Yummy!!

As the week continues and I do more stuff with the chicken, I will post it. I just love rotisserie chicken because it is so versatile. Also versatile and on the menu this week: butternut squash. It's way delicious!



Whenever I want some information about a food, this is the first place I turn. This website is great for health, nutritional information, and recipes for fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, and lots of other healthy things. I sometimes find the recipes on this website on the bland side, but I just love the information about vitamin and mineral content and health benefits of the foods I eat or want to start eating. This is one of my favorite websites on the whole internet.


Now I'm going to watch the IU-Kentucky game, in which IU has the early lead!

Black Bean Soup

I know everytime there is a recipe for a food some people don't like, the first line is, "Even people who don't like [whatever food] will love this recipe!" And yes, I say that all the time, so I too am guilty of uttering this annoying phrase. But really, even people who don't like black beans, or aren't interested in eating any bean of any kind will like this soup. Really.

1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can low sodium chicken broth
2 c. water
2 c. salsa
3 15-oz. cans black beans (not drained)
1 15-oz. can corn (drained)
1/2 c. dry rice, preparred

optional garnishes
shredded colby jack cheese
sliced green onions
sour cream
tortilla chips

Saute chopped onion in olive oil over medium for 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and saute a few more minutes. Add broth, water, salsa, black beans, and corn, bring to boil then reduce to simmer. Simmer for about 45 minutes. Add rice, then serve with optional garnishes on the side


What Not to Eat

This is pretty interesting.... we're always reading about the best things to eat, so here's the other side. I can't recall having seen 'canned' tomatoes in a glass jar. I'm now on the lookout.


Pork Marinades

Both of these marinades are delicious... we made both last week and compared the two to see if we could determine which was better. We couldn't; they are both really yummy. I've used both pork loin and pork tenderloin and both are great. I've read that you shouldn't use much acid on tenderloin-- the delicate nature of the cut makes it easy to get mushy in an acidic marinade, but the OJ in the Cuban marinade didn't mush it up at all.

Spicy Asian Marinade
1 T olive oil, canola oil, veg oil... whatever you like
1 T hot chili sauce (I use that Sriarcha sauce, with the rooster on it)
1 T sugar
1 T soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
1/2 T ginger (fresh is best, ground is ok)
2 T chopped green onion
a few cloves of garlic, smashed or diced

Cuban Marinade
1/3 C orange juice
2 T lime juice
1 T olive oil
a few cloves of garlic, smashed or diced
1 t dried oregano
1 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
1 t cumin

Choose a marinade, combine all ingredients in a ziplock bag big enough to fit your meat, marinate a pork loin or tenderloin in the fridge overnight. I find it easiest to cook a 1- 1 1/2 lb. loin in the oven at 325 degrees for around 50 minutes. The tenderloin I've been cooking in a deep skillet on the stovetop, turning occasionally-- takes around 20 minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, remove meat from heat at 155 degrees. Cover with foil for about 10 minutes so it can finish cooking and juices can settle. I am happiest when the meat is kinda rosy-pinkish in the center.


Real Macaroons

I looked through several websites to get the recipe I followed. I used this recipe because the cook who posted it said she had been through several trials and errors in her quest to making good macaroons, so I figured she already knew the little secret tricks to help me out.

1/2 c powdered sugar
6 1/2 T almond flour
1 egg white
4 1/2 t granulated sugar

1/8 c butter
1/8 c shortening
1 c powdered sugar
1/2 t vanilla
1 1/2 T cocoa powder
2-3 T milk

The first thing I did was age the egg white. I read about this in a couple of places. Letting the egg white sit for 24 hours removes extra water. Cover bowl with paper towel and set aside on the counter until tomorrow.
Since the Murphysboro WalMart doesn't carry almond flour (can you imagine?), I made my own by buying slivered almonds and grinding them in my coffee grinder. Of course, not the grinder I grind coffee beans. Two seperate grinders.
To dry out the almond flour, I let the flour sit in a pan in my turned-off oven, heated by the oven light only, overnight.
RTG! Egg white, powdered and granulated sugars, and almond flour.
Beat egg white a bit, starting low, going to medium speed. When stiff add granulated sugar and beat still stiff and glossy.
Fold in the almond flour and powdered sugar, which have been mixed together. I put the flour-sugar mix through my coffee grinder (since I don't have a sifter) to insure I would get a smooth mix. I folded the mix in 3 batches. When it was gloppy but well-mixed I stopped stirring, so not to overmix.
Pipe onto parchment paper using a ziplock with the corner cut out. Make 1-2 inch circles. Making the circles circular was a challenge. Leave the piped circles alone for an hour, so the top crust will form.
Put them in a preheated 275 degree oven for 15-18 minutes. I put my baking pan on top of another baking pan while in the oven to heat more gently.
Cool for 10 minutes before removing from parchment. In the mean time, make the icing by creaming the butter and shortening, add sugar, vanilla, and cocoa and beat well. Slowly add in milk while beating until desired consistency. Frost when cool.
Sandwich together!

These were really great for a first attempt. There are some things I will change for future batches...

First off, I will use real almond flour. My cookies were a little darker in color than I'd hoped for, because the almonds I ground had their skins on. If I wanted a tan colored cookie, this would be good, but in most cases I'll want a light colored cookie so I can dye it accurately. Also, I'm not completely sold on the buttercream icing as a filling; I'd like a filling that's a little heavier. I will investigate other fillings.

The taste of both cookie and filling was very yummy, and they complimented each other wonderfully. I look forward to experimenting with variations on flavor and color... while these were very good, they were quite basic. It was really fun to try something so out of my comfort zone. I'm not much of a baker, so when I bake something successfully, I kinda marvel at it for a bit. Although these looked a little like tiny hamburgers (due to the darker than desired cookies), I spent a fair amount of time marveling at these cute little treats.

I made these on 12.09.09. It was sunny but cold and windy, and I was listening to Louder Than Bombs, by the Smiths.


Also, macaroons are done and look delightful! Cannot cannot wait to try one. The kinda good kinda bad thing is that the recipe I used was a pretty small recipe... it made 8 macaroons. Good because who knew if it would turn out ok, bad because they did turn out good and 8 isn't enough (in this case).

Probably tomorrow I'll post the macaroon story, but I tell ya, this is not as easy as it looks. I might have to do some research into how to post blogs and pictures. There is no way I am doing this the right way, or no one would be doing it. Luckily I have plenty of time on my hands.

Pesto Risotto

The recipe I adapted from Lynn Rosetto Casper's book, How To Eat Supper, was a success! Phil said, "This is [expletive deleted] incredible!" What more needs to be said? We ate the risotto with some chicken breast Phil cooked up while I stirred the rice for around 20 minutes.

The recipe:

3 T unsalted butter or olive oil
1 minced onion
S and P
3 chopped garlic cloves
1 heaping cup of arborio rice
1/2 c. white wine (I used an un-oaked Chardonnay)
4 c. chicken broth
5 T pesto
pine nuts

In a medium saucepan, warm the chicken broth and keep just below a simmer for the duration.

In a little skillet, toast pine nuts 'till brown.

In a larger saucepan, cook onion with butter over medium heat for about 3 minutes, 'till onion starts to soften. Add a few grinds of salt and pepper. Add garlic and rice, stir for 3 minutes.

Increase temp to med-high, stir in wine, keep stirring until mostly absorbed. Add 1 c. broth, stirring until mostly absorbed. Adjust heat as needed to maintain a simmer-- I had to go back to medium. Add another cup broth, stir 'till mostly absorbed. Add 1/2 c. broth, stir 'till mostly absorbed. Add another half cup, stir a couple of minutes. At this point, check for doneness (by eating a bit)-- rice should be a little bit firm in a near-soupy state. Add a bit more broth if necessary, otherwise, remove from heat. Let stand for 3 minutes while it firms up a bit.

Fold in pesto, top with toasted pine nuts. Serve immediately.

(We ate it with basil-garlic-orange marinated chicken breasts)


The Adventure Begins

I have taken the first few steps for French macaroons. Egg white is aging and almond flour is drying-- I'll put it all together tomorrow. Will it be a disaster? Quite possibly. Tonight I'll be trying another possibly disasterous dish: risotto. All the books say it's not as hard as you hear it is-- I'll be the judge of that! Pictures of all, success or otherwise, to follow.