Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

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What have I gotten myself into?

So, between the time I announced my 31-recipe challenge and now, I’ve started actually reading the recipes in full (probably something I should have done BEFORE taking this on), and all I can think right now is, “What have I gotten myself into?

You see, just looking over the list and the pretty, seductive, inviting pictures, I was lulled into a false sense of security–if they can make that, I can make that. What I don’t take into account is “they” probably have a full size kitchen stocked with all the right tools, a huge island, double ovens, six burners and some blue birds to pull the cookies out the oven. I have an apartment kitchen with a tiny counter, tiny oven, drawers filled with an assortment of maybe-the-right-tool and a dog running around. I’m like Julie Powell without the gimlets or the book deal.

Not to mention, while I realize there will be a great time investment involved, I hadn’t fully taken into account the monetary investment–short ribs, whole duck, FIVE POUNDS of duck fat??? (I’m looking at you, duck confit) Those are not exactly budget ingredients. Thankfully I can pretty much subside on Greek yogurt and apples otherwise, because, as you may or may not know, I don’t exactly rake it in.

My only real solace right now is that my experiment starts promptly on February 1, which is promptly two days before Super Bowl, for which Kevin is having a party. For which I more or less demanded that I make at least two things off my list. So hopefully that can help get the ball rolling. (And no, I’m not making duck confit for Super Bowl Sunday. I know you’re all wondering.) And Kevin. Kevin loves to cook too, and he’s great at prep, so knowing I have an extra set of hands in all this is a  relief. Plus, I have a month of opportunities to wear my cute new apron.

I still have about a week to peel myself off the ceiling and bring my heart rate back down to semi-human levels before I dive head-first into what may either be one of the coolest or one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done (or both.) In the meantime, I have to refocus, avert my attention to the play I’m in this weekend (closing weekend), and BREATHE. Breathe…breathe…again…

I’m getting there. If nothing else, keep checking back in to watch my month-long journey toward mental breakdown. It should be fun, and definitely tasty!

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A sad day…an ode to my bullet blender

Well, it’s a sad day here at LLPF. Anyone who follows this blog on a regular basis knows how much I love my bullet blender and how I swear by it. Well, today, I am sorry to say, my bullet blender moved on. It died. I went to make a pre-work breakfast smoothie (a rarity for me in and of itself–I never have that kind of time before work) and found my bullet could no longer blend.

It could, however, screech like an electric screwdriver stripping a screw and send shards of rubber flying everywhere while heating up and emitting a lovely burned plastic smell. So, alas, the bullet is no more.

And I still have the components of an unblended smoothie sitting in a cup in my fridge:

Yum.

To honor the great life of my dear friend, here’s a look back at some of my favorite creations, courtesy of the bullet:

5-Cheese White Bean Macaroni and Cheese
So many smoothies!
Homemade basil-parsley pesto
Chipotle-honey chicken wings

The good news? Costco has a pretty good sale on these things, so I have a feeling my counter will no longer be bullet-less by tonight! Which means that sad, unblended smoothie can be blended once and for all!

Until then, RIP bullet blender. You were a dear friend and a culinary genius.

Learning from our mistakes: 5-Cheese White Bean Macaroni and Cheese

Sometimes I try new things and they don’t always work.  Sometimes that means utter, throw it in the trash failure, and sometimes that means it came out okay, but not great. This is a story of the latter.

I had seen this recipe for white bean mac and cheese a while back and decided to tackle something similar. I was craving the ooey-gooeyness of mac and cheese but didn’t want to go completely off track, health-wise, so this seemed like the perfect compromise.

I didn’t have a whole lot of any one kind of cheese in my fridge, but I had a lot of different kinds of cheese, so I just ran with it. At the time, I though using about a tablespoon of cottage cheese would be a good idea to help get a creamy consistency.  Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that cottage cheese doesn’t really melt.  It stays kind of chunky and clumpy, which is sort of off-putting in a cheese sauce.  So, if I were to attempt this again (and I plan to!), I’d probably go with a tablespoon of cream cheese over the cottage cheese to ensure that creaminess is there.

Another mistake I learned from: garlic burns. Fast. And it makes your house smell. Brown garlic (as in burned) smells even stronger than just the regular cooked stuff. And it doesn’t make the other people in your house happy. Also, the flavor is INTENSE. Like, whoa baby, that’s garlic intense. (I contemplated throwing it out and starting over after burning the garlic, but since it was just brown and not completely charred, I decided to go with it. Next time, lightly cooked garlic or bust.)

So, yes, the final product was a bit too garlicky for my taste, and sort of a strange, overcooked garlic flavor. Also, I was probably a bit overzealous in my use of the white bean puree–I didn’t mind it, but the sauce was a bit grittier than a normal cheese sauce from the beans.  If you want to hide the white beans and get more of a traditionally smooth cheese sauce, go with less puree.  But, still, I could see the real potential in this dish, and so I still want to share it with you, with some adaptations to the recipe based on what I learned.

5-cheese white bean macaroni and cheese

Spiral pasta (or any shape you like)
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/2 can white cannelini beans, rinsed
1 tbs butter
1 tbs all-purpose flour
1/2 cup to 1 cup skim milk (depends how thin/thick you want your sauce)
1 tbs cream cheese
2 deli slices or 1 handful shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 slices American cheese
1 handful shredded provolone cheese
1 handful grated parmesan cheese
Dried mustard seed
Paprika
Fresh ground black pepper

1. Boil the pasta in a large saucepan with a tablespoon of olive oil to prevent sticking.  When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain and set aside. While the pasta boils, puree the white beans with a little bit of water or oil, if necessary, to get a smooth consistency.
2. In the same saucepan, heat the other tablespoon of olive oil. Add the garlic and cook through (until still white, not dark brown!)
3. Add the butter, let it melt, and mix in the flour to create a roux.
4. Once incorporated, add the milk and let it simmer and heat through. Add the cream cheese and stir it into the milk sauce until it melts.
5. Add the white bean puree, 1 tablespoon at a time, and stir to incorporate into the sauce.
6. Add each cheese, one at a time, and stir until melted. (Eyeball this–if you need more or less, adjust to that. And taste along the way!)
7. Add a few sprinkles of mustard and paprika, to taste. Grind in the black pepper, to taste.
8. When the sauce is smooth and reaches the desired consistency, add the pasta back to the pot and stir well to coat.  Add more seasonings, if necessary.
9. Turn the oven on to Broil. Pour the macaroni and cheese into a baking dish or into individual ramekins and top with more grated Parmesan and paprika.
10. Broil macaroni and cheese for 3-8 minutes or until the Parmesan topping begins to bubble. Remove and let cool for a few minutes before serving.

This recipe is great to just lighten up and healthify regular mac and cheese, but it’s also great for kids! You can sneak this white bean puree into their favorite dish and they won’t even know it’s there! Instant fiber, protein and vitamins–and they’re not the wiser! Ha!

This is also a great no-bake cheat to still create that baked macaroni and cheese flavor.  The Parmesan topping gets nice and crispy while the pasta inside stays super creamy and cheesy. I’ve never made a baked-style mac and cheese before–I’ve always made it with a cheese sauce and let it be, like a homemade version of the boxed stuff. But this time around, I wanted to try that baked casserole-style without actually baking it. Broiling it for a few minutes was a quick way to achieve that without actually sitting around and waiting for it to bake. (Cause I’m hungry!) And you know what? Yes, the burned garlic was a bit overwhelming. But with the crispy cheese topping and the ooey-gooey inside, this was still pretty darn delicious! Nothing beats a good mac and cheese, and the addition of white beans and skim milk instead of whole milk or cream makes this (almost) guilt-free!

I’m back, baby! Plus, an anniversary…and chicken balls.

Well, it’s been one solid month (and one day) since I posted anything, but I swear I have a (pretty) good explanation–I was in a musical! Yup, I was part of my first full-scale musical theater production since college and I couldn’t have been happier! We were in rehearsals since May, but June and July really put things into full-swing with dress rehearsals, tech week and performances. I spent days going straight from work to the theater, only home to sleep, really. But it was all worth it.

Unfortunately, juggling a full-time job, a packed rehearsal schedule AND a food blog is a little too much, and something had to give. And since I couldn’t very well just stop showing up to work (as nice as that would be!), I had to take some time off from the blog.

Oh, did I mention one of my coworkers was out the first week of tech rehearsals, so on top of everything else, I was pulling double-duty at work. Yeah, there was no free time.

But now the show is closed and I’m back and better than ever! And lucky for you, I have some recipes and other fun stuff banked from before the show that I can share! (Since I did literally no cooking during the run.  Honestly, I don’t think I turned my stove on for four weeks.)

In the meantime, here are some production photos to prove I wasn’t just slacking off 😉 (I did “42nd Street,” for those that don’t know.)


In other news, today’s a pretty big day here–it’s officially my six-month blogging anniversary! I can’t believe I started Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness six months ago–on a whim, no less!

Now, technically, since I just took a month off, I’m not sure I can actually call this my six-month blogiversary. BUT, it IS still the six-month anniversary of the blog itself. It has been in existence for six months, even if I haven’t always been here. So, I guess it’s more of a happy birthday to LLPF than a happy anniversary to me. Either way, this is a milestone I’m happy to hit and the perfect day for my big return!

No worries, plenty of yummy (and healthy!) goodness will be coming your way soon! Glad to be back! 🙂

Oh, also, anyone who follows me on Twitter and Facebook already saw this, but this came with the Chinese food Kevin and I ordered Saturday night:

Thanks, but I think I’ll pass…

The Great Leftover Challenge: Take One

A blog I follow regularly, Danny’s Kitchen, posted a rather fun and interesting challenge that he is calling “The Great Leftover Challenge.”  The rules of the game are:

  • Start with a leftover ingredient in your fridge, freezer or pantry.
  • Create something new that you’ve never made before.
  • Don’t use a recipe, be creative and just “wing it” at that moment.
  • It can be for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack and any serving size.
  • It can be savory and/or sweet.
  • Everyone is welcome so spread the word!

Well, how could I not try that? So, I scrounged around in my fridge and discovered the base for my first leftover challenge attempt: Mom’s meatloaf. I’ll tell you, it looks a little gross (cause leftover loaves of cold ground meat often do), but my mother’s meatloaf is probably second only to my own (I’m very, very proud of my meatloaf!) So this makes for a pretty delicious leftover.

Mmm, yummy!

I looked at this meatloaf and decided to attempt a soup/sauce/chili-like concoction. So I dug through my fridge, shelves and pantry to gather up these ingredients:

The ingredients for today's challenge

I started by sweating a little bit of red onion and a garlic clove in a splash of

Sweat it out (garlic and onions, that is).

extra virgin olive oil and then added some frozen broccoli and cauliflower that had been relegated to the bottom of my freezer. Once the veggies thawed out, I chopped up the meatloaf and added it to the pan with some more olive oil, salt and black pepper.

Next, I added the liquids: tomato soup (pre-made, yes, but the idea here was to use only leftovers or things

Added the liquid--tomato sauce and white wine

I already had on hand) and a (generous) splash of white wine, plus some more seasoning. Cook until everything heats through, simmering for a few minutes–also let it simmer to keep it warm/reheat it. I also had some leftover brown and basmati rice, so I mixed those together to serve the sauce/chili-like mixture over.

It came out looking pretty…mushy. And brown. It tasted good, but I don’t think I’ll be submitting this one to the contest. It just kind of looks, well…gross.  I think I was wrong to attempt to make meatloaf into something besides what it is–there are some things you just don’t mess with, and Mom’s meatloaf might be on that list. (Along with the leftover coq au vin in my fridge–that’s pretty much meant to be eaten straight.)

It kind of looks like chili, but kind of tasted like meat sauce. You know, meat sauce with meatloaf in it.

Not a bad quick meal, but not what I’d call a kitchen success either. Hence, this was leftover challenge take one. Must keep trying!

By the way, head to Danny’s blog to enter the Great Leftover Challenge yourself if you think you can whip up a mean leftover dish!

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