Tuesday, May 18, 2010

New Look, Same Great Taste!

What can I say? Timing is everything. Sometimes it's about the thousand little details that distract you from a real interest. Sometimes it's the call of responsibility, saying, "You have priorities and this is rather low on the list." Sometimes it's overwhelming to ask yourself, "What am I going to eat?" when you know what you really want and think you can't afford it.

Sometimes it's all these things and that is why the long hiatus from working on this blog.

But as the saying goes, where there's a will, there's a way! You just have to start somewhere and try not to worry about how to get where you want to go. Just put one foot in front of the other and let time take care of the rest!

That said, my husband and I are ready to give this another try. We've talked about where we really want this blog to go and have agreed: our heart lies with the penniless foodies. We know you're out there, working your butt off and watching the fruit of your labor disappear into bills, unexpected expenses or investments for the future. We know you watch Food Network, drool over magazine pictures, and head to the cooking section of the bookstore first. We know your eyes get big as dinner plates when you see the mile long ingredient lists and cooking equipment, thinking about how nice it would be if your money was going into your belly instead of that black hole called debt. We know because we ourselves are penniless foodies.

This blog will be for you, because I have great news: You CAN afford to be a foodie! It takes a little planning, forethought and creativity but there's no reason you have to be content with spaghetti, ramen and mac n cheese every night. The important thing Steve and I had to do was realize and be happy with our limitations; until we get out of debt/make more money/win the lottery, there are ways of eating we just can't afford on a regular basis. But trust me. During our adventures, we've discovered that there are many ingredients that are affordable, many ways to buy cooking equipment and many dishes that are simple but amazingly delicious and soul-satisfying. We're more than happy to share our experience and hopefully inspire you to stop dreaming (only for a moment!) and start cooking!

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Experiment

SO in case you haven't guessed, Nicole and I are friends. What, you mean you had no idea?? Well if there is one thing we have in common, it's food (and not the other thousand things we have in common too).

Rewind a little bit: about a week ago, someone I work for gave me two bunches of bananas. They had a ton of bananas because they run a bicycling vacation company -Carolina Tailwinds, if you must know- and bananas are a great recovery food for cycling. Weeell... the catch is that they apparently don't eat bananas unless they are on the green side. And they had a few days before running a new tour, so no guests would eat them either. Guess who ended up with 11 bananas? That's right: me. Guess who had a blog post not too long ago for banana bread? That's right: Nicole.

Let the choir sing.

I ended up making three batches of banana bread, two loaves each. I also ended up forgetting to pick up chocolate chips while I was at the store, and it made me think: why not do a chocolate banana bread? I have decent cocoa powder. What could possible go wrong???

Well, there are variables. First of all, what would the addition of 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of cocoa powder do to the dry/wet ingredient ratio? What would bittersweet chocolate do to the sweet/bitter ratio? First problem solved: I had an extra banana. Second problem solved: the banana was very sweet, due to it's near rotten ripeness. And the first batch of banana bread, which was done according to the recipe, was very sweet so I wasn't too worried. The only thing left was to try it.

This line can't say anything other than: I tried it.

It wasn't bad. Not bad at all, if I do say so myself. But it was definitely... off. Somehow. I'm not even sure how to describe it. The chocolate flavor was not a developed flavor at all. It was just... there. The banana still came through wonderfully, but it was like the classy flavor who wished the trashy cousin wasn't at the party, even though he was invited. Maybe it's just a revolt of the mind: banana bread should be banana bread and trying to make it anything else is a violation of principle and years of establishment.

Whatever the case may be, it definitely works if you can imagine you're eating a banana split drizzled in chocolate syrup. It really does taste like that. In bread form. Which is just weird.

If you have no interest in the chocolate, you should at least try making the following regular recipe. I don't have a lot of experience with banana bread, but I can tell you that this version is extremely delicious. It's moist but not too dense, and really shines a spotlight on the banana flavor.

Banana Bread

4 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup whole milk (or sour cream, if you prefer)
2 1/2 cups flour
Optional: 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (if you want to try the chocolate nanner bread)
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3 overripe bananas, mashed coursely so there are still small chunks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 8" loaf pans for baking and set aside.

Using the paddle attachment in a stand mixer, or a hand mixer if that's all you have (like me!), beat butter and sugars together until creamy.

Beat in egg and milk or sour cream until incorporated. Add dry ingredients and beat until just incorporated. Do not over beat. (Don't worry; the batter is supposed to be dryish.)

Add banana and beat until just incorporated. Again, don't over beat!

Divide evenly between pans and bake until tester comes clean, about 35-40 minutes. Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then remove from pan and try your best not to cut into it until it is sufficiently cool. Wait five minutes, at least, if you can possibly handle it. I get to about seven before I have to have a piece. =P

*In case you're wondering, the chocolate loaves are shiny because I put a towel over the pans while they were cooling. Yeah... BAD idea. The steam created settles back on the top, making it sticky to the touch. Not very fun if you're a finger eater, like me, and don't want to use a fork. I'll have to figure out some other way to keep naughty kitties from nibbling when I turn my back.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mourning the Loss of my Bucheron

or, I am a culinary genius.

Julia Child, move over.

Tonight, my husband and I were trying to figure out what to do with leftover linguine noodles from the linguine carbonara recipe found here. I'd accidentally made the whole box, not realizing that the rest of the ingredients were for a smaller portion, hence the "deux" part. We wanted to eat them and not waste them. We're on a "diet" of sorts. Did we have olive oil and Parmesan cheese? Yes and no. Did we have tomato sauce? Yes, actually we do. But I was not content with just a can of tomato sauce poured over linguine noodles. Bo-ring.

So what did I find? A carton of heavy cream that was two seconds away from getting wasted. An onion. Garlic. Butter. Oh, I think I can work with this...

So I set to work sauteing the onion and garlic in a little bit of butter. I stirred in the tomato sauce, warmed it up, added dried Italian seasonings and then drizzled in the cream, stirring. I spooned the sauce over our linguine noodles and served our dinner.

It... wasn't bad. Not bad at all. BUT, it was very sweet. Sweet tomatoes. Sweet cream. Sweet onions. I actually looked forward the the pitiful frozen peas and corn I had warming on the stove, if not for anything except to eat something that would tone down the sweet burning in the back of my throat. It wasn't until my bowl was empty that a brilliant idea popped into my head.

A few weeks ago, Nicole introduced me to one of her favorite cheeses, Bucheron. I can't even think how to describe it, except that it's creamy on the outside and crumbly in the middle, rich, and goes exceedingly well with Pink Lady apples. I especially liked how the cheese toned down the sweetness of the apple as I ate the two together. (I'm getting visions of Ratatouille here.)

So I took out the last morsel of cheese I had left, forked off a piece and swiped it through the sauce. Oh, heavens to Betsy, yes. I was sure it would work. Sure enough, after I had reheated the sauce and melted every last bit I had into it, I tasted.

I am a culinary genius. Thank goodness I have more linguine noodles that need eating. But now my bucheron is gone and when my sauce is gone, I shall cry.

Rose Sauce with Bucheron

A can of tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes pureed.
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
pat of butter
dried Italian seasoning,
---or fresh herbs, primarily basil and oregano, and some parsley

Saute onion and garlic in butter, until onions are opaque and soft.
Stir in tomato sauce and heat thoroughly.
Add seasonings and stir.
Drizzle in cream, stirring, until incorporated.
**If you have not had bucheron before, make sure you try it before making this sauce to get an idea of what it's like.
Add small amounts of bucheron, stirring until melted. I'd start with about half a spoonful, then taste test. Add more, then taste test. You'll know when it gets the right balance of tomato and cream sweetness and bucheron creaminess. I used probably a good spoonful before it was just right.
Season lightly with pepper. Serve over pasta noodles.

Please forgive the horrendous pictures!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Saying Hello to Say Goodbye

But not forever! Anyone who's been checking this will see it has been ages since my last post. Well, my husband and I have been trying to buy our first house! Turns out just finding a house is a very time-consuming and energy-burning process. As much as I love to cook, I'm not like *certain* friends of mine, one of which will pack her entire house in four days and still spend time on a decent meal (and write a post about it). I did do allspice ribs the other day that I would love to share with you in the future... But mostly it has been bread, tabbouleh, chopped veggie salad, and other things of like convenient, noncooking nature. One day we even tortured our poor bodies with chips, salsa and sour cream, a mashed avocado with lime and sea salt, and Vernor's soda for dinner because we had worked so hard and felt like it!

However! In an effort not to disappoint, there is one recipe I made recently because it is so convenient, healthy and delicious: Crockpot Taco Soup. My intention in making it is to have leftovers that taste great, but my husband loves this dish so well that he always eats two portions; therefore, it lasts a lot less than it should! =)

I will get back on the ball as soon as my priorities allow! I can multitask well enough on a less focused level, but when it comes to big things, my focus tends to get directed to that and away from other things. Being so new to this kind of cooking, hopefully next time in the future I will feel more confident and be more knowledgeable about recipes that it won't seem so time- and energy-consuming to continue this level of cooking no matter what is going on. Until then, there's Taco Soup!

1 can each:
kidney beans
black beans
pinto beans
diced tomatoes
tomatoes with green chilis

1 lb ground beef, browned
1 med onion, diced

2 packages of Ranch dressing powder
1 package taco seasoning

2 cups water

In a crockpot, throw in onions and browned meat. Add all the cans with their juices except the corn. Drain the corn, then add it. I like to stir in my Ranch and taco seasonings here because the water will bring the level up almost the edge, making it difficult to stir, but you can do it the other way around if you like. Turn the heat up to high and let cook for at least one hour. The longer the better. I think mine cooked for three to three and a half.

Do whatever you like afterwards. My husband likes to add cheddar cheese. We both put a dallop of sour cream on top. One day, we put the last crumbs from our bag of chips over top. It was yummy!

*I substituted a can of chili beans for the kidney beans. I can't buy kidney beans that aren't packed in high fructose corn syrup. Yuck.
*I also use frozen corn versus a can of corn. Not a big fan of canned corn, although I like creamed corn well enough.
*I use ground turkey instead of ground beef as well. Still very delicious!
*I'm sure if you aren't in hurry, it would also taste good with some roasted garlic and maybe a fresh herb. Seeing as how this is only the second time I've made this, I haven't tried either yet. I have it in mind to.

I guess that's it. Please be patient with me! I'm hoping to be back in about four weeks. If I do any more quickies worth posting, I will try to save some time and energy. (Yes, yes, I know, it's just a blog. But me being the writer that I am, I can't post it without it being it's best! This little post has already taken me 35 minutes and there aren't even any pictures! Sad, I know.) Anyway, in the meantime, take care, y'all!!!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tasty Tasty Confusion

Last night was our sweet three-year wedding anniversary. Despite being on an extremely tight spending commitment, we decided to celebrate by going to Village Tavern, a restaurant that is considered to be one of the nicer restaurants in Winston-Salem. They were kind enough to send us an email offering a free appetizer or dessert for our anniversary, and we thought, "Why not?" It felt more special than say, El Dorado, 4 Sisters, or Cha Da Thai, our other favorite restaurants.

Without going into detail (I'll do an actual blog on the conundrum that is Village Tavern later), this restaurant is a little confused, I think. And this confusion is represented best by the spinach salad I ate last night for dinner.

I believe that salad had to have been a college freshman salad, stuck in it's first year and not sure what it wanted to be: "Do I want to be a spring salad or a winter one? Do I want to be flamboyant or toned down? How about I try both and see which I like better!" And so it was dressed in a creamy poppyseed dressing out of which jumped apple cider vinegar notes like bright green stripes on a gray wool jacket. It was then accessorized with all kinds of stripes, spots, and nun's clothing possible. Thinly sliced green apples, delicious little cranberries, and tight grape tomotoes gave it the youth, vitality and vigor that befits a bed of spinach. This combination said, "I'm an art major and I love being up to my elbows in paint and clay!" But the goat cheese, bacon and spiced pecans told a different story: "I like math. It's neat and orderly." And you're left wondering, "So, which is it?"

To be fair, I totally understand creativity and I admire a leap of faith. Cranberries and goat cheese, green apples and bacon, it's all good. Not everything can be the center of the show; you do need your supporting actors. But the pivotal point, the thing that changed everything, was the spiced pecans. You're shoveling away and thinking about how cranberries, apples, and tiny tomatoes toned down with goat cheese and bacon makes you feel like you're frolicking in a meadow of sunshine and blooming flowers and all of a sudden, BAM! Suddenly you're transported in front of a roaring fire while sixteen inches of snow is falling outside the dark window. Where did that come from??? The crunchy pecan spiced with sugar and cinnamon is wonderful but you can't help but chew with your eyebrows drawn together... "Was I only dreaming of spring?" And just in case you think I'm nitpicking one small thing, the salad was served with a moist and delicious, but confusing, spiced muffin. What does that say???

And yet, for all my moo-ing, I have to tell the whole truth...

I inhaled that salad. I shoveled, I grunted, I mumbled how good it was around folded spinach leaves. I said, "Hello, spring!" while spearing the fruit into a greedy forkful and anticipating late night porch sittings, growing herbs and trips into the mountains. I said, "Winter, I won't forget you!" while gathering pecans, goat cheese, and bacon and reliving those moments of winter I love most, huddling under blankets, sipping a hot drink and reading a good book while the elements raged outside. After all, what is spring without winter? What is winter without spring? Life is a cycle, everything is connected, and I'm more than willing to let a salad go on an adventure to discover itself. How could I not? I've had my own college freshman phases.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I've Got Sole

This isn't really related to the kinds of posts I normally do, but I thought I'd throw this out there anyway. I love puns. I love wit. And I'm in the process of trying to develop my own t-shirt graphics. So as my husband and I were brainstorming for ideas with which to make a chef section, I came up with "I've Got Sole," which I obviously turned around and used for the name of my blog. Well, today I finally finished the shirt!

For your viewing enjoyment...

If you'd like have a look at the rest of the website, or if you'd like this on a shirt (I've got one for you lady-killers, too), go here. I don't have a chef section yet, so I've Got Sole is with the funny shirts. Hope you like it!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mussel Madness

I have a confession. The only reason that we ever put a mussel into our mouth was because it's one of the lesser taboo foods, like whole fish or pork skins. It's one of those foods that many Americans eat, but most wrinkle their noses at and say, "Ew. No, I would never eat that." We were indulging in a particularly adventurous phase, eating sea urchin sushi and soft shell crab for the first time, when we decided to try a seafood risotto dish containing fish, clams, scallops, shrimp, and of course, mussels.

We didn't love them at first bite. The risotto was served in a tomato sauce that just didn't do it for me with all the seafood. But we decided to be as objective as possible, and when we learned that mussels were cheap at Sea Products, Inc., we decided to give them another go -on our own terms. I'd come across a recipe that Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet magazine, thought was w
orth putting on her webpage, so we gave it a shot. How can you go wrong with a recipe from the ultimate foodie???

Turns out... Mussels are wonderful! The bigger ones, especially, were rich and buttery. The white wine added life and essence to every briny bite. I'd been right to buy a pound and a half: we consumed every last morsel, licking our fingers, and then looked forlornly into our empty bowls. Luckily, we'd thought to buy a crusty baguette with which to mop up the delicious wine and butter sauce laced with teasing hints of our long-gone bivalves.

I have to say, the best part is how inexpensive they are to make. Sea Products, Inc. makes it a habit to sell wine at more affordable prices, so I paid 10 bucks for a bottle of Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc. Butter and onions are something I always have on hand, and a bottle of wine will last through at least four separate mussel-making occasions. At least. Especially for us, because we don't drink alcohol. And mussels are a scant $3.00 a lb, plenty for two people. So for the better part of a week, I can feed us both for about $5 to $6 a night.

Not that I would eat mussels every night of the week. They're good but not that good. I'm just sayin'.

Storytime! Once upon a time, I bought mussels for the first time. Unfortunately, it didn't even occur to me that they were alive. I took them home, slid them into the fridge still wrapped in their plastic and paper, and didn't touch again until the next day. Needless to say, most of them suffocated. Some of them were barely holding on, but I ran them under water to try to revive them. They closed up in relief -then opened again as they relaxed in death. What could I do? I called my friend/chef's-heart-twin-separated-from-me-at-birth and invited her to the funeral.

Mussels in Wine and Butter
(as adapted from Ruth Reichl's recipe, found here)

1 to 1 1/2 lbs mussels, clean and debearded

2 shallots, chopped
1 small clove garlic, diced
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup white wine

Remove mussels from fridge and check each one to mak
e sure they are closed. If they aren't, tap them generously. If they close, set them aside to be cooked. If they don't close, throw them away.

Melt butter over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and saute until golden. We did this in the bottom of a pot, instead of a pan or skillet that you would have to transfer the ingredients from.

Add the wine and cook for one minute. Add the mussels to the pot and cover with a lid. After about five minutes, lift the lid and begin removing the mussels that have opened. I say do this at five minutes because mussels should not really cook longer than six, and it will take you a minute to remove the ones that have opened. After six minutes, throw away any mussels that have not opened.

Divide the mussels into bowls, dish onions and wine sauce over top, and ENJOY!

*Notes!! Because mussels are such interesting creatures...
-You can only cook mussels that are alive. That's the way it go
es, so find your local seafood market if you have one.
-While in your fridge, they may open to try to catch their breath. They are only dead if they don't close again when disturbed.
-DO NOT run your mussels under water to try to revive them or see if they'll close! Inhaling fresh water will kill them. I had about eight of them die in my fingers before I learned what was happening...
-Last, but not least! After you buy them, take them home immediately and remove them from whatever they're packaged in. Put them into a bowl with an inch of cold water in the bottom, ice cubes on top if you have any, and covered in a wet towel. (I've read so many different ways to keep mussels that I basically combined all of t
hem. Can't go wrong now, can I?) They should keep for about two days after purchase, but I would eat them as soon as possible. I don't even shop for mine until the day I'm ready to make them.

Oh yes, you know you want to try it. You'll be so glad you did.

See, even Jackie wanted a piece of the action! She didn't care that they had long been devoured by those big mammals she lives with.