The other side

At the beginning of this month I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the end of the month without going nuts. I worked every weekend this month and long days during the week. I managed to start my internship during one of the busiest times of the school year and we had Leia to deal with in the middle of everything. Thankfully Bob has been absolutely fantastic and understanding about how draining this month has been and I did manage to make it out the other side with my sanity relatively intact.

I will admit, the wine helped. A glass (or two) with dinner or on the back patio after a trying day is great for regrouping and getting thoughts together. The furry boys have also helped. Tigger is still a little unsettled and he is hanging around me more than he did before, but he is also getting along with Arthas really well. They seem to have an understanding, although exactly what that is I’m not sure.

Arthas … well, he is really a good boy. He tries to be good and to listen, and he mostly does. He is still a puppy (he’s two) so he has some maturing to do, but in general, he’s a happy boy. He has also decided that he gets a chair outside when we hang out on the patio. Like most dogs, he thinks he is part human.

What a decade brings

This month is was ten years that I have had the kittens. Ten years since I lost Patches and created a whole new family with three little furry creatures to help the big furry creature get back to her normal self. Ten years since I went from a normal-ish person to the crazy cat lady and back to relatively normal. So what did the last decade bring? Well …

  • I lost Patches at 21 years old. That’s a long time to have a cat.
  • I adopted the three kittens and brought them home.
  • Bob and I started dating.
  • I sold my house in Jersey.
  • Bob and I bought a house.
  • Jessie, the kittens and I moved to Florida.
  • I found a temporary job.
  • I found a permanent job.
  • Bob and I got engaged and married (4 months – I can count that as one).
  • I quit my job and found another job.
  • I started grad school.
  • We lost Jessie (I still miss that little girl).
  • We adopted Arthas (he is awesome and I love him, but it was not an easy few months).
  • We lost Gracie (just picture tears. Still).
  • Leia and Arthas started getting along (thank heavens).

In these same ten years we have also visited five countries (or six if you count Scotland and England as separate countries and not as the “UK”), eight U.S. states, and multiple U.S. cities (I tried to count and just ended up forgetting some so … multiple). We have gone from eating almost everything to trying almost no grains to going mostly vegetarian. Friends and family have had children and we have seen them start school and develop personalities completely independent of their parents (probably the coolest part of interacting with other people’s children, but has to be scary as anything for the parents).

So yeah. Ten years ago this month four precious kitties found a home. (Erin also adopted a cat when I got the kittens, but she was sensible and stopped at one. And I have to admit, there was something about Rosie that everyone just had to love.) Two of them are gone, and the hole they left will be felt for a long time. But two remain, and they are still as lovable as ever. I don’t regret a second of it, but I am fairly certain I’m not adopting three cats at one time again.

Quinoa Burger

Lately I have felt like I’m in a food rut. I know I have experimented with a few things, but they felt the same as many other things I’ve made. Between work and school and the pets, I just haven’t felt it. But after a week off work, a weekend away and getting a bit ahead on school, I wanted to make something different. Something that I don’t ordinarily make, but I wasn’t sure what.

Earlier in the week I made quinoa tacos. I love quinoa tacos and think Dana at Minimalist Baker is pretty much a genius with vegetarian recipes. I have raved about the quinoa taco meat and stand by my belief that the quinoa taco is better than a regular meat taco. I made tacos earlier in the week, and I even experimented with the leftover taco meat and tried to make quinoa mole enchiladas. These were … edible. Not good. Just edible. I didn’t even save the leftovers. The sauce was good, the filling was good, it just seriously did not come together well. Even after the mole enchiladas I still had quinoa taco filling and I decided to try my hand at a veggie burger with it.

I looked at recipes before starting this, but none seemed like something I wanted. There was always an element that looked off to me, so I decided to wing it and invoked the experiment rule. (The experiment rule in our house is simple – the food is an experiment and if it isn’t good, we order pizza. No forcing ourselves to eat something that is terrible just because.) Bob was game.

Here is the thing about any veggie burger – they are not hamburgers and the goal is not to replicate the taste of a hamburger. You will never convince someone that it is a hamburger or that any grain/vegetable burger tastes “just like” a hamburger. They are different species. Tigger is never going to be mistaken for a lion or a tiger no matter how I cut his fur or dress him up like one. (Not that I would do that to the boy, but you get the idea.) A veggie burger isn’t about making something to mimic a hamburger, it’s about making something to replace the hamburger. I want flavor and texture, but not the same flavor and texture of a regular hamburger.

So … I started with a cup of the quinoa taco meat. I had increased the spice level a little – adding more garlic and chili powder when I made the enchiladas, but in general, it was just the quinoa taco meat. I took one can of while beans and mashed them with a fork in a bowl. I added the quinoa and some shallot and carrot, chopped. I decided a little binding would be helpful and used some panko bread crumbs and one egg. I mixed it all together, took 1/2 cup of the mixture and made patties. Since it was time to feed the pets, I stuck them in the freezer just to give me a little time and so Arthas would not try to steal them. (I will fully admit to being pretty excited that these looked like veggie burgers; there may have been a little squealing involved.)

To cook, I pressed each patty into a little bit of panko and then pan fried them in some light olive oil. I think the key to these was not touching them – no checking, no moving around the pan, just let them cook and flip only once. I got a nice crisp crunch on the outside and then inside was lighter than most veggie burgers I’ve tried. The flavors came through and I have to say – total success. I loved these and Bob did too. He said it was my best effort on a “burger” and we both devoured them. (For serving, I used an onion roll from the grocery store and topped the burger, after tasting it plain first, with a little BBQ sauce and served the whole thing with a cucumber tomato salad and potato chips. Never said this was a healthy meal, but it was good).

Recipe: (makes 5 burgers),

  • 1, 15oz can white beans
  • 1 cup quinoa taco meat
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (plus more for coating if desired)
  • 1/4 cup chopped carrot
  • 1/2 shallot, chopped
  • 1 egg
  • oil for cooking
  • *salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder to taste

Drain and rinse the white beans and place in large bowl. With a fork, mash. You want them kind of smooth, but still chunky in places for texture. Add the quinoa taco meat and mix. Add in the shallot and carrot (and extra seasoning if using), mix again. Add bread crumbs and 1 egg and mix everything together.

Take 1/2 cup mixture and form into a patty. Press together. Press into panko bread crumbs, if you are doing this for the extra crunch. Heat oil in a pan and when hot, place patties in the pan. Don’t touch them! Let them cook for a few minutes (about 4-5) on each side, flipping only once.

*I added extra seasoning to the taco filling when I was making enchiladas, so I don’t know the exact ratios I used. I think I added another teaspoon of garlic power and chili powder to the mix, but I also made a double batch. I don’t think more spice will hurt these, and you could also consider some smoked paprika for the smoked/grilled taste, but I would be very careful with that.

** If you don’t have quinoa taco meat, you could probably do this with cooked quinoa, just make sure to adjust seasoning to give the burger enough flavor.

 

Biscuit Pie

Sometimes I want to make something only to realize that I either can’t remember the recipe or I am missing something to make it. Sometimes that combination leads to to experiment and that experiment really works.

img_2138A few years back I became obsessed with savory pies, especially the chicken, ham and leek pie we had in England. I made a few versions of it and they always came out well, but not exactly the same. Since then I’ve reduced my meat intake considerably, to the point where I eat almost none. Every now and then, especially when the weather gets cooler, I kind of want the comfort food aspect that a lot of meat dishes can give. With that in mind, I decided to do a chicken, ham and leek pie again, but this time, I decided I wanted biscuits on it. Yes, biscuits.

img_2139I started this with a vegetarian base so I could split the filling and have a vegetarian version for later in the week. Leek, onion, shallot, garlic and carrot. Then I made the sauce because, as we all know, the sauce is the best part of any savory pie. A little wine, some heavy cream, vegetable stock and it became perfection. After splitting the filling, I dded the meat and topped with buttermilk biscuit dough (yes, homemade and darn delicious I must say).

img_2140The results were pretty fantastic. Light and savory biscuits with the rich sauce and you have comfort food heaven. I’m actually super excited to cook up the vegetarian version this week as I think it will be just as good without the meat. Maybe better.

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Recipe:

  • 1 pat butter
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts
  • 1/4 sweet onion
  • 1 small shallot
  • 2 smallish cloves garlic
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1/4 cup white wine (I used a moscato this go)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 chicken breast plus one chicken thigh
  • 4 oz. ham
  • buttermilk biscuits (I used this recipe from Girl versus dough – incredible and easy!)

To cook the chicken, heat pan over medium high heat. Add chicken breast and thigh and enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover and cook until cooked through, about fifteen minutes. Remove from heat and leave covered for a few minutes then transfer to plate to cool. Shred chicken with two forks.

Dice ham.

Heat oven to 425 degrees

Chop leeks, onion, shallot and carrots into a small to medium dice. Mince garlic. Heat pan with 1 pat of butter (about a half a tablespoon) over medium heat and add vegetables and garlic. Sauté until softened and aromatic. Season with a little salt and pepper. Add thyme and cook for about one minute, stirring frequently. Add wine and stir. Let the wine evaporate a little then add 1 cup of cream. Add flour (or arrowroot or cornstarch for no gluten, but with the biscuits … just use flour) to vegetable stock, stir and add to vegetables. Increase heat to medium high. Allow to cook for a few minutes until bubbling, then reduce heat to medium and let thicken and slightly reduced. (This is where I split the filling, keeping half totally vegetarian and adding the meat to the other half). Add chicken and ham and stir to combine.

Pour filling into an 8×11 pan and top with biscuit dough. Place, uncovered, into the oven for 20-25 minutes until biscuits are cooked through (mine took 23 minutes). Remove from oven and let rest for about five minutes, then serve. I served mine with a kale salad and it was comfort food bliss.

Chocolate Cake

I’m not a big chocolate cake fan. I know, that is practically sacrilege, but it’s true. I find chocolate cake to be either too sweet, too bitter, too dry or just very one note. I will admit my preference of vanilla cake with vanilla icing can be very one note also, but vanilla tends to have more depth of flavor all on its own. Chocolate, at least in cake, doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong – I love chocolate and will happily eat it. But don’t be surprised if I pass on the chocolate cake.

This being said, I needed something to make me feel a little better this past week. It was a rough week, but I did manage to finish my Educational Law class (yippie) and I am up to date on everything at work (a minor miracle) and the Leia and Arthas are actually (fingers crossed) seemingly getting along well enough. Well enough as in the walk past each other, sniff each other a little, and hang out on the couch without incident. It’s a precarious peace still, but definitely getting there.

So why chocolate cake? Well, because I saw the recipe and decided that it looked good. Really good. The creamy filling should keep it from getting too dry, the cake itself has coffee in it, which gives it a little interest and the chocolate whipped cream adds a nice element to it. So why not? What is the worst that could go wrong? … I won’t actually answer that because it didn’t and if I decide to make this again, I don’t want it to go wrong. It’s also a pretty cake – from all angles.

So this was pretty good. If I make it again, I am using regular whipped cream for the topping instead of the chocolate version. For me, I needed something to break up the chocolate and add another layer of interest. But it is good. Darn good. Bob had it for lunch several days good.

And because I love my babies and how cute they are and how far they have come over the last three months ….

Arthas is now going for walks approaching two miles. Tigger is hanging out with the family and not running away every time I walk by him. Yes, he started doing this about two weeks ago – not exactly sure what caused him to freak out suddenly, but he did. Leia is trying to get to know Arthas and be nice to him. She will hang out near him (see above) and even sniff at him every now and then. He is letting her, as long as she doesn’t try to sniff his face. It’s progress. I’ll take what I can get.

 

Happy September!

It has been a month! August went by both very quickly and very slowly. Very quickly because there has been all kinds of excitement around the house with the Arthas now firmly ensconced with the family, and the kitties alternating between being ok with this and very unhappy about this. Mostly things have gone well, but every now and then we have an issue. It can be Arthas going on the ottoman in the living room and causing Ms. Leia to go ballistic or Gracie kitten brushing up against the puppy and him reacting as though she is going to hurt him. In those moments, I sometimes feel like a failure for not being able to solve this, and full of guilt for bringing a new pet into the house. But then Arthas or one of the cats does something totally cute and cuddly and I renew my efforts to make this work. 90+% of the time everything is fine … it is just those moments when it is not fine that I question pretty much everything. However, it has only been a month, so we keep going. In rational moments I remember that it took several months for Leia to be ok with Jessie, and given Arthas’s background, it may take more time than that for everyone to work everything out. I love them all and so we will make this work.

In the meantime, I have been back at work, and I finished my fourth class towards yet another degree, with the next one starting tomorrow. As in Tuesday. We also came through the tropical storm just fine. I had a harrowing drive home Wednesday and then didn’t go in on Thursday or Friday for fear of being swept away by flood waters. And no, I am no exaggerating about this. The roads were bad in parts and I am very lucky to be home in one piece after Wednesday. But … I got lots of puppy and kitty time over the last few days – and it will have to last me until November as the week of Thanksgiving is my next time off.

I have also been very …. well, very much in a rut cooking wise, so I am attempting to make things that are different yet still seasonal. We’ve spent the last three months eating tomatoes, corn and zucchini and I’m just about tomato, corn and zucchini’d out. Not that I don’t love those flavors, but I need something different. I do this every time the seasons change. I want new flavors, but I have to wait for them to be in season.  But I should have a few food posts up in the next few days. Not totally exciting, but still not bad.

Enjoy your September!

 

General Tso’s Tofu

One of the few things I REALLY miss about living in Jersey is the Chinese take out. Everywhere I lived in that state, even in the middle of no where growing up, there was decent to good Chinese take out. Florida? Not so much. We’ve tried a few places over the years, but for whatever reason, either the food isn’t good, the restaurant closes, or both, we just don’t have good Chinese take out here.  So whenever I want vegetarian comfort food, I go for Indian, but it’s not the same. There is nothing like a good General Tso’s.

I found a recipe on-line that looked interesting. Tofu instead of chicken? Check. Ingredients that I can actually get? Check. Reasonable cooking time and method? Check and check. So .. why not try it. And the best part – when making this at home, I can actually get rid of the broccoli and substitute snow peas! /squee!

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OK – how did this do? I bought the tofu already cubed, thinking this is one less step for me. I used about half the contained (16 oz. container, so 8 oz. tofu) but didn’t change the sauce portion. I like the sauce – its the best part!

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I marinated the tofu, which isn’t something I normally do. Tofu gets its flavor from the sauces, not from any marinade – or so I thought. This one may have proven me wrong. The tofu was just a touch spicy; not hot or burning, but enough that you knew there was some flavor there. The marinade also helped when I added the cornstarch to make the paste like coating. Full disclosure – at this stage, I honestly thought we would be ordering pizza for dinner. It looked gloopy and sticky and just awful, but it did match the description in the recipe, so I kept going. I am so glad I did.

That horrible sludge on the tofu in the marinade bag makes a perfectly crispy coating when fried. I mean beautiful. It crisps, turns golden in color and the tofu inside stays moist and silky. I was surprised. Really surprised.

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I stirred together the Thai Chili’s (thank you to the Asian market on the way home!!)  and the snow peas and scallions also thinking this isn’t going to work, but it did. I had fresh chili’s, and we didn’t eat them, but they did impart a nice heat (not too much) to the dish. Bob did get one bite on a snow pea, so I know they transferred the flavor and heat as expected. I added back in the tofu and tossed in the sauce. The sauce gelled really fast. It was still kind of a sauce, but it clung (which it should do) to everything. The problem for me was that there wasn’t any sauce not clinging to vegetables and tofu to pour on the rice.

But the flavors were pretty perfect. Both Bob and I were actually impressed with this dish. It tasted like *good* Chinese takeout and had a perfect consistency for the tofu. Best part – it was super simple to make and I now have everything on hand. (I still have leftover Thai chili’s, so I’m planning to dry them for future use.) Start to finish this was about 25 minutes. Perfect for a weeknight dinner or even a lazy day lunch. The only thing I’m changing is the cornstarch in the sauce – I’m definitely cutting that in half. While I think it was meant to cling to everything, I really wanted sauce on my rice.

Recipe:

I used the recipe from Minimalist Baker pretty much straight through. I reduced the tofu to about 8 ounces, and changed out broccoli for snow peas. For soy sauce, I used the regular soy sauce I have in the fridge – it might be tamari, but I’m not sure. When the recipe calls for something or maple syrup, I went with the maple since I have that on hand and don’t have the other sugars. I used toasted sesame oil and regular canola oil. I was out of ginger, so I used a tiny bit of dried ginger and it worked fine – maybe an eighth of a teaspoon. The next time I make this, and there will be a next time, I am cutting the cornstarch in the sauce to one teaspoon, but otherwise, doing it the same way.

 

Eggplant Bolognese

I will never be a no carb person. I love pasta, in almost all forms, and pasta with a good tomato based sauce can be pure heaven. I had a craving for eggplant this week and decided to combine the two for a nice little meal.

I found a recipe that looked good, was doable with what I had on hand, and would not take up too much time. I didn’t make the recipe exactly as they said – I didn’t have dried basil, and I used one 28 ounce can of tomatoes instead of three 15 ounce cans (yes, I know those are two different amounts – I didn’t care). But otherwise, I did follow the recipe fairly closely.

For the noodles I used lo mien noodles or Chinese egg noodles. I like these more than basic pasta as I think they absorb more sauce than traditional pasta. When I make this again, I’m going to use the same noodles, but I’m going to change the tomatoes to crushed tomatoes as I think it will make the bolognese more saucy. The original recipe has the tomato sauce as more of a topping – it’s good, but I really like sauce.

And, of course, a gratuitous kitty picture.

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Chickpea Salad with Apple and Quinoa

The last few months have been a whirl-wind of work and school. When I do get a little down time, the last thing I want to do is log onto the computer. So far I’m doing well managing both work and school, and Bob hasn’t run screaming, so I think I’m balancing everything fairly well. We did get up to Tallahassee for a few days to see Bob’s parents, and I managed to sneak out for an afternoon to see the panhandle side of the family. Little Miss Violet is growing up fast, but is still an absolute delight.

With Spring break here, I’m furiously working on completing a project for school so I have it done when ACT madness ensues in April. It’s slow going (Curriculum is not my favorite topic in education, at least not curriculum development, but I can do it … I just don’t like it). Like anyone doing something they would rather not do, I plan small rewards – bike down to Main Street and have a soda while Bob has a beer, have dessert or watch an episode of Friends (which holds up surprisingly well). I would love to be a little more creative in the kitchen, but reading cookbooks and menu planning and grocery shopping for odd items is just not in the cards right now.

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But, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t cooked and I may have found a new favorite lunch dish. My typical cheese and carrots isn’t going anywhere, but this one has a place in the rotation. This is taken from a Plated box we got a few months ago and I just love it, so I made it workable with regular items around the house. (Full disclosure, that only works if you are like me and keep chickpeas and quinoa in the pantry.)

Chickpea Salad with Apple and Quinoa

  • 1/2 cup quinoa (I like the mixed quinoa, but any will do)
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 lemon, divided
  • 1 apple, chopped
  • spinach (an ounce to more depending on how much you like)
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas
  • 1/4 teaspoon (or less depending on taste) chipotle chili powder (go for the chipotle version for the smokiness)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 container greek yogurt (non fat, low fat, full fat – whatever your taste)
  • 1/3 cup walnuts (or whatever you have on hand)
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
  • olive oil
  • water, salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400. Toss the chickpeas in about 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. When the oven is hot, roast for about 20 minutes.

Combine quinoa, 1 cup water and some salt into a pot. Bring to a boil and the reduce heat. Allow to cook for ten minutes or so then turn off heat, keep covered and let sit 5-10 minutes more until all the water is absorbed.

In a large bowl, combine the honey, chipotle chili powder, juice of 1/2 lemon and about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Mix well, season with salt and pepper. Add apple, nuts, cranberries and shallot and mix to coat.

Mix the remaining lemon juice (of 1/2 lemon) with the yogurt. Season with salt and pepper.

When the quinoa and chickpeas are cooked, add them to the bowl with the apple salad. Add feta and toss together. If serving immediately, toss the spinach in also. If not serving immediately, leave the spinach out so it does not get soggy. Serve with a dollop of lemon yogurt dressing and enjoy.

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One of my favorite parts of this salad is how nutty and crunchy it is. The apples and the nuts offer some texture and the yogurt dressing doesn’t take away from the chipotle honey that the apples and quinoa are tossed in. It all works together. For easier transport, leave the spinach out, but I like the greens in the salad. If you don’t like yogurt (and I don’t but I do love the dressing) leave it off – there is enough flavor in the rest of the salad to be just fine.

I am hoping to be a little creative this weekend – I gave up cake for Lent, so I’m planning to try a Heath Bar Cake (or my version of such) for Easter Sunday. Not sure what I’m going to make for an actual meal, but I have dessert all planned.

 

 

A Week of Experiments

I’ve been lazy this last week. Not lazy in the cooking experiment department, but lazy in the posting them realm. I did make a few new things, most of which were fairly successful. Why was I lazy about posting? Part is the end of summer blues (yes, I’m ready to be back at work, but there is also something about knowing vacation is almost over that is a little melancholy inducing) and part is that the app is still crashing if I try to add photos, so I have to use my computer to post. I prefer the tablet – it is way more convenient so I post more frequently when it works right.

But the experiments …

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I started with a watermelon quinoa salad with melted cheese. Yes, it sounds weird, but it kind of worked. Not a put in the rotation worked, but kind of worked. Tomato, watermelon, quinoa, basil, cheese and a red wine vinaigrette.  Good, but not great.

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Way better was the Chopped Asian Salad from the NY Times cooking app. This one was incredible. This is a make again on a regular basis good. The marinade, which then becomes part of the dressing for the salad was just about perfect. Baking the tofu (and I really only used about 1/3 of a package of tofu instead of the whole thing, but I keep to the rest of the recipe) was easy, although I do like the crispy crust that frying gets it.

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The squash cakes I made were also good. I was able to use up the rest of the Greek yogurt from the Chopped Salad to make a dressing. I like these and they were fairly light, and I’ve made them before but they are not a regular feature on our dinner table.

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I had really high hopes for the bugler and squash kefta. Such high hopes. I love bugler, I love squash but this was only ok. This needed something else, another element to add some oomph, but neither Bob nor I could figure out exactly what it needed.  So ok, but not a make again dish.

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Chickpea Fritters. I was a little nervous about this recipe, but I love fritters, I love ratatouille and it was a fairly fast dish, so I went for it. This was the winner for the week. The red wine vinegar in the ratatouille was a surprise, but it really worked and added something to the vegetables. I used a Pecorino cheese instead of Parmesan, but this worked. The fritters were light and flavorful at the same time, the ratatouille was so good and basil on top kept it light and fresh. Bob suggested this be a more frequent dinner, which is pretty high praise from him. I have to agree; I really liked this.

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And we have the requisite cute kitty picture. I looks like they actually like each other, doesn’t it?