Sunday, February 05, 2012

One Month Done

201201 photo365 by terpkristin
201201 photo365, a photo by terpkristin on Flickr.

Well, we're a bit more than 1/12 through 2012 and so far, I have managed to take a photo every day except January 1st. I used Picasa to create a collage of the 30 photos I posted for January in my Photo 365 project.

Oz was featured prominently in January, mostly as a result of working long hours. I have two favorite photos, and both are of clouds. I really liked the colors in the sky of the picture I took on the 4th of January. I also liked the puffiness of the clouds and the framing of the photo on the 27th.

Hopefully February will bring a few more outdoors shots. Maybe some more cooking shots, too....

Friday, January 27, 2012

2012...The End?

So it's 2012 and I utterly failed in my 2011 goal of cooking out of each cookbook I own (though I did diversify my "goto recipe" list a bit). The Mayans say that the world is going to end in 2012 so I figure I may as well try to write a little more in this last year here. I'll admit, I was partly inspired by Lindsey's renewed blogging in 2012, too, to write more here.

Not much has changed since 2011. My back is still jacked up. Surgery in early 2011, like the one in 2010, helped a bit but then I grew tons of scar tissue on the nerve roots and so I'm still dealing with pain and burning down my left leg. My right leg is also feeling it, though it's not as bad. I've been trying different things with a pain management specialist including drugs and steroid injections.

As a direct result of my back issues, I've been spending a lot less time at the gym. I need to get back into my gym habit, as it will probably help or at least not make things worse...but it's hard to motivate to go to the gym when you wake up in pain and have to take a lot of drugs to keep it away. So that's kind of depressing. However, also as a direct result of my significantly more sedate lifestyle, I'm doing a lot more reading. I joined Goodreads when the Sword and Laser book club moved from Ning to Goodreads. I'm terpkristin over there, should you want to follow my reviews. I'm probably going to start posting my reviews over there on this blog, too, so you can see what I'm reading. I have made a goal of reading 52 books in 2012 (compared to the 47 I read in 2010 and the 44 I read in 2011...in both years, though, that ended up being right around 21,000 pages).

Something else new for 2012 is my "photo 365" project. Every day, I'm posting a picture I take with my iPhone to my twitter account. During the winter, when I work long hours, there are a lot of Oz pictures. I'm hoping that on weekends and during the spring, summer, and fall, I can get some non-indoors shots. :) I'm also curating the photos at flickr and am going to try to do a once-a-week summary here.

And, who knows, I may end up posting some of my cooking and crafting adventures. Time will tell. So, happy 2012, people.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Confession Time

Beef Stroganoff by terpkristin
Beef Stroganoff, a photo by terpkristin on Flickr.

So, I have a confession. I've never bought beef other than ground beef. Nor have I ever cooked beef other than ground beef/hamburgers. That all changed today.

In continuing with my new year's "resolution" of cooking at least one recipe from each cookbook I own, the next cookbook on my shelf was Light & Healthy 2010 from America's Test Kitchen. While I was going through the cookbook, I had to force myself to try something different. There were a lot of recipes in there that look like things I like to make and eat regularly (such as chicken stew). After all, part of the point of the resolution was to try out some new things. Though there were plenty of recipes for things I've never made before (not just beef, but also pork--other than the pound of real bacon I bought for a party and the very occasional sausage, I've never bought or cooked that, either...just not a fan of the flavor). In the end, there were two recipes that fit all my requirements: beef stroganoff and spring vegetable risotto. Since I've just gotten over a period of doing a lot of vegetarian dishes, I opted for the beef stroganoff.

I'm not sure if my mom ever made beef stroganoff when I was growing up. I think I've only had it once or twice, and what I remember of it was a thick cream sauce. I think I remember coming across a recipe while in home ec in middle school that used cream of mushroom soup. This recipe did not.

I was surprised at how long this took to put together and cook. Including prep, it was a bit over an hour (albeit, a lot of it is just waiting for things to cook so it's not an active hour). I guess, though, that if you want to develop flavor without as much fat, you have to let things cook. I'm not complaining. The result was a supremely tasty brandy cream sauce with big chunks of beef and big mushrooms. The sauce isn't as thick as I remember it being (or remember seeing it at restaurants), but that might have been partially my fault. The sauce spends about 30 minutes simmering at medium heat; I think for the first 15 minutes, I might have had the heat a little too low. I kicked it up for the last 15. What I really like about this dish is that I can really taste all of the components in the sauce. I still get a touch of the brandy, the beef isn't hidden in salt, and a little bit of lemon juice and parsley added at the end round out the flavors. I'll be keeping this recipe in my repertoire.

So. Not a bad first beef experience. I actually didn't like the smell of the beef cooking in the skillet. Once it was cooked, though, the flavor was pretty good. I'm not sure that I've learned much about buying or cooking beef. I cooked the beef much like I cook chicken. And, if I were to be honest, if the cookbook hadn't told me to get tenderloin and showed a picture of how to cut it, I probably wouldn't have had any idea what type of beef to look for in the store. Sometime this summer, I'm going to have to buy more beef and figure out what one does with beef, other than grill it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Vegetarian Paella

Vegetarian Paella by terpkristin
Vegetarian Paella, a photo by terpkristin on Flickr.

With one week left in Lent, my "forced" vegetarianism is almost over. It seemed like as good a time as any to make a recipe out of a third cookbook, to keep up with my New Year's goal (yes, I'm behind on that goal...I'm still having back issues, which is making it harder to cook).

I've never had paella. It's always associated with shrimp and other things that will kill me, so I've avoided it when going out. I have yet to come across a non-shellfish version of it that looks appealing or doesn't look like a lot of work. Thus, when I came across a vegetarian version in Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, I was intrigued. It looked fairly straight forward and fairly quick to make. Truth to tell, I wanted to order pizza for dinner tonight so these were very good attributes for a recipe. ;)

I made the mushroom variant of the "Paella with Tomatoes" recipe and, based on a suggestion in the book, added 4 eggs to the pan (I wanted to be sure I was getting enough protein). The recipe is straight-forward enough: stock or water, olive oil, rice, onion, garlic, mushrooms, tomato paste, saffron, and smoked paprika. Throw it all together and bake for 15 minutes, and then keep it in the oven for another 15 with the oven off. I was surprised by how soupy the dish was when it went into the oven--I wasn't even sure it would hold the eggs very well. In retrospect, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, as the cooking technique is very similar to how I make my tomato-based chicken and rice dish.

The dish turned out all right. I think I could have cooked it a smidge longer with a little more liquid; the rice came out very slightly underdone. Also, I think it would have been better with butter instead of oil (for a better brown on the bottom). Bittman, in the book, suggests putting the pan over high heat for a few minutes when it comes out of the oven to give it more of the characteristic "crust" on the bottom. I'm not sure how well that would have worked with an electric range, though. Also, to make this dish I used mushroom broth in place of normal vegetable broth. I've found that mushroom broth is a bit more flavorful. If I make this recipe again, I may use vegetable broth and a bit of wine; the mushroom was a bit too earthy when combined with the baby bellas on top.

All in all, I think it was a success, but I think the next time I make "paella," I'm going to try a non-vegetarian version. I think this would have been tastier with chicken broth instead of vegetable broth. This isn't the first time I've found vegetable broth to yield results that have left me wanting a bit more. I make a wicked lentil soup that when made with chicken broth is rich and flavorful, but when made with vegetable broth, falls a bit flat.

Bittman's cookbook is a large tome, I'm going to have to try some other recipes out of it...after I get through the other cookbooks.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cooking...again

Gordito by terpkristin
Gordito a photo by terpkristin on Flickr.

It's been a long time since I posted. Truth to tell, it's been kind of a rough year. As I posted on May 9, 2010, I fell and hurt my back. I ended up with a left-sided herniated disc at the L5-S1 level. After epidural steroid injections, therapy, and anti-inflammatories didn't work, I ended up having surgery on June 2, 2010 (#12 for those playing at home).

Things went well at first, but then I ended up having continued pain down both legs. An MRI revealed that I had re-herniated my disc, and this time it was bilateral. 2 more injections and a lot more therapy later, I found myself scheduling a revision diskectomy. Two days after scheduling it, I fell in the shower and made things worse. I finally ended up having the revision on 1/6/11. So it's been about two months and my recovery hasn't gone nearly as smoothly as it did the first time. It's a bit frustrating. I have a feeling my Ehlers-Danlos is playing a role in this.

Before my surgery, though, I'd made a New Year's resolution to cook more and take more photos. As far as "cooking more," I cook a lot. But I have a lot of old stand-by recipes, and I wanted to move away from those. So I resolved to make at least one recipe from each cookbook I own. So far this year, I've done two. About 3 weeks ago, I made Cuban-style Black Beans from Betty Crocker's Slow Cooker Cookbook. They were OK. They didn't have a lot of flavor, but when served with some green salsa on top, they were pretty tasty.

Today, I made recipe #2, from cookbook #2. This time, I made the Gordito recipe from Quick and Healthy Meals from Trader Joe's, which was a Christmas gift from Wendy. I had no idea what "gordito" meant, and nor was I sure what the texture would be. The cookbook actually has an error in it--the directions call to add marinara sauce, but only tomatoes are on the ingredient list (and it didn't say what to do with the tomatoes). Turns out "gordito" means "sloppy joe." Or, something like that, because that's what this came out looking and tasting like. It's vegetarian, made with the Morningstar Farms Grillers. Full disclosure, I didn't end up actually using anything from Trader Joe's to make this, I picked up ingredients at my local Wegman's.

I served it like you see, on top of some flatbread. I also had mixed vegetables on the side. Turned out pretty tasty, I'd recommend this recipe to others. The recipe makes 4 generous servings, though one serving was too big to be sandwich-able. I think when I eat the leftovers, I'll throw a little cheese on top. Maybe some avocado, if I can find any that look good.

Next week, hopefully another recipe.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Healthy Comfort Food: Chicken Stew

Awhile back, I happened across a recipe for "chicken stew proven├žal" in the Washington Post. It was based on a recipe from Runner's World, and was touted as a simple, flavorful recipe that runners could use as a nice post-run dinner to replenish their systems. After making it a few times (even though I'm not a runner anymore and will never be again), I have to say that this has become one of my goto recipes for a healthy dinner. It's also a great way to use up leftover vegetables. The one big difference I've done from the original recipe was that the original recipe called for red potatoes. I am not a big fan of potatoes, so I substituted a can of white beans instead. As written below, it makes about 6 servings. The recipe can also easily be halved, and extra portions freeze very well.

Ingredients
olive oil
approx. 1.5 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
2 small or 1 large onion, cut into thin wedges
2-3 stalks celery, cut into 1/2" pieces
2 carrots, cut into 1/2" pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
28 oz. canned diced tomatoes, with juices
2 cans white beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp Herbs de Provence, crushed
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper (or to taste)

Directions
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until it is brown on all sides (5-7ish minutes).

Add the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery. Cook until onion is soft, about 5 minutes, stirring every couple minutes.

Add the broth, tomatoes, beans, and spices, stirring so it's all combined. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 45 minutes (so chicken is cooked through).


As I said in the intro, I sometimes use this recipe to use up leftover vegetables. If the vegetables are fresh/stand well to satueeing, I add them at the same time as the onions and celery (stuff like zucchini works well here). For frozen vegetables (like peas or cut green beans), I add them at the same time as the broth. Adding other vegetables might require adding additional broth and/or tomatoes, so just keep that in mind.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Quick Bread Interlude: Mango Tea Bread

I love quick breads. I do not particularly like mangoes, at least served on their own. Mangoes to me are nice accents to other ingredients, but on their own, they're too sweet for me. My mom brought me a couple mangoes the other day, and I had no idea what to do with them (the easy solution would have been to make some Black Bean and Corn Salad, but I'm having surgery Wednesday and am trying to not create any more leftovers, plus I had a spin on that salad last week). So, I went to epicurious and looked for recipes, finding a ton that sounded interesting but a) would take too long (too much standing around hurts my leg) or b) would create too many leftovers. Eventually I came across a recipe for Mango Tea Bread. I modified it slightly, and the result was a smooth bread that was slightly sweet and not overly mango tasting (a win in my book).

Ingredients
1 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup brandy (I actually used Remy Martin V.S.O.P. cognac)
2 large mangoes, peeled, diced
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 heaping tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
heaping 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, brought up to room temperature
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a bread pan (I used a glass 1.5 qt loaf pan, the same I use for all my breads). In a small bowl, mix raisins and cognac and put aside.

Puree the mangoes in a food processor or blender until smooth. It should be about a cup (I ended up slightly less than a cup and it turned out okay. If it's more than a cup, I'd use about a cup and reserve the rest for another use).

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and nutmeg in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, beat together the brown sugar and the butter until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then mango puree and vanilla. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the mixture and beat until just combined. Then, using a spoon or spatula, fold in the brandy-soaked raisins.

Pour batter into the bread pan. Bake it for about 75 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan on a cooling rack, then turn the loaf out and let cool completely.

This bread was really tasty with a little bit of butter in the morning. This bread doesn't taste too much like mango, but is still tasty. One thing I did notice was that the raisins retained some of the cognac flavor, which was a nice counterpoint to the bread.