I have been cooking, I swear.

Even though it feels like I just got back from Hawaii and haven’t started the new decade, I am well aware that it is halfway through the month of January and not one single, solitary post about my cooking adventures has been published.

I aplogize and have all the best excuses, none of which are really that great, and from here on out promise more recipes and delicious foodie pictures.

Especially because I have Julia and Ree to help me. These gals know cooking, and I am excited to try out their recipes as well as come up with some of my own. Heck, I even came up with a fabulous minestrone soup one random rainy night but haven’t posted the recipe for that.

With that being sad I promise that over the long weekend I will come up with not one, but two recipes to share. I am eager to share my minestrone soup recipe with you because honestly, it was delicious, filling, and perfect for these never ending dreary months.

image from vegalicious

Hopefully I haven’t lost too many of you during my quiet period, and I’m looking forward to what everyone brings to the table (ha!) for the new year.

I’m off to Hawaii for an entire week. My first, although most certainly not last, trip to the islands and I couldn’t be more excited.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to, besides the sun, the surf, and the sand, is the food. I’m looking forwards to fresh fruit, new spices, and amazing island dishes.

When I get back I promise to update this blog more. I cook more often than once a week, but haven’t been posting due to lack of light. That’s all going to have to change, regardless of the fact that I’m not home when the sun (if there is any) is shining.

Hope you all have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year!

I hate to admit it but I suck at cooking chicken. Usually I do well with legs or thighs, but chicken breasts or whole roast chickens never turn out as well as I think they will, with the end product being quite the disappointment.

One of the problems is that I don’t have a chicken rack to prop the chicken up in the pan. Another problem is that I have a strange affinity towards cooking chicken upside down. That is, on it’s breasts. This never works out and I always curse myself when my end product turns out horribly due to a topsy-turvy bird.

This is what happened when I tried my hand at Cornish game hens. My thinking was they were practically the same as regular hens (which again, I suck at cooking and thus made a bad decision when going for miniature versions) but would cook more quickly and we could each get our own.

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Although my hens were undercooked and chewy (how that is even possible, I don’t know), I didn’t have the heart to throw them out. So we ate what we could and stuck the leftovers in the fridge for a couple days. Don’t they look great though? Although, they have clearly been laying on their stomachs and aren’t happy about it one bit.

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Yesterday I had the brilliant idea of making chicken soup out of them. My freezer has become invaded by homemade stock and making soup gave me the perfect reason to use some. The soup, not like the hens, turned out fabulously and was as close to comfort as I have ever made. I added wild rice for a heartier meal, and omitted celery because I just didn’t feel like venturing into the cold for a stalk of celery of which half would go bad.

 

Chicken/Cornish Game Hen and Wild Rice Soup

3 large carrots, roughly chopped

2 cups shredded cooked chicken (both white and dark meat work well)

6 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

kosher salt to taste

pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 medium yellow onion

1 cup wild rice

Sautee onion in olive oil over medium heat in soup pot. Once onions have become translucent, add in carrots and cook for 2-3 minutes longer. Pour in stock and add chicken, thyme, and wild rice. The rice will cook and plump up, so add more stock if you would like a thinner soup. Simmer for 20 minutes and serve. I like to keep the soup over low heat for at least an hour, the flavors meld together over time and are even more pronounced the next day.

Season with salt and pepper to taste

Living a life without sugar or yeast isn’t easy.

I know Mr. No Sugar yearns for those pockets of air found in sourdough bread, sandwiches on whole wheat, and that sweet crunch of toast smeared with butter. Pizza, croissants, cookies, and cakes are all out and sorely missed.

And yet, he perseveres. The choice between being sick and eating certain foods is a clear one, although not always easy.

Our attempts at bread have turned out to be mediocre. The greatest accomplishment so far has been pizza dough, adapted from a biscuit recipe that doesn’t include yeast or sugar. Sometimes leaveners, such as baking soda and salt, or a combination of the two – baking powder – help to rise the breads, but can also make the finished product too salty. However, using leaveners is the best solution I’ve found so far to making breads without yeast.

And so, with this in mind, I tried my hand at scones. Almost everything I bake must be free of sugar, and thus the idea of savory scones popped into my head last Saturday morning.

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The recipe is adapted from Alice Water’s in her book, The Art of Simple Food. This cookbook is one of the best gifts I have ever gotten, easy to use but sends a clear message about cooking real food in simple, yet tasty, ways.

The scones turned out amazingly well for my first attempt. I halved her recipe just in case they turned into and utter disaster, but didn’t need to worry as they were gone within the day.

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The addition of herbs and cheese made them fragrant and chewy in the middle, and I think next time I’ll top every one of them with cheese. However, if you aren’t eating dairy the cheese can easily be left out and the milk in the recipe can be replaced with a milk substitute. That’s what I love about scones, they’re quick, easy, and adaptable.

Cheese-Herb Scones

Makes six scones.

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup white flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups of milk

1 cup grated cheese (cheddar is what I used, but any medium to hard cheese will work well)

1 tablespoon of dried basil

1/2 tablespoon of dried oregano

2 teaspoons fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix together dry ingredients (flours, salt, baking powder, herbs) until evenly mixed. Add in the milk and stir until a thick, dough-like consistency is achieved. Mix in the cheese until uniformly distributed.

Form six lumps (clumps, balls, spheres?) of dough and space evenly on an oil or butter – lined baking sheet. I used a spoon to drop even amounts of dough on the baking pan. You can also use parchment paper to keep the scones from sticking.

Bake for about 17 minutes until golden brown.

Have you heard of The Pioneer Woman?

Ree Drummond?

One of my favorite bloggers and home of the best recipes ever?

If not, go here and check out her site and then let me know what you think of The Pioneer Woman. I’m sure you’ll say she’s grand, because she is.

I know she’s grand because she keeps me entertained with her witty and honest writing, gives out cooking supplies like Williams Sonoma is going out of business, and provides excellent directions for amazingly easy, yet delicious, food.

For Thanksgiving I was in charge of the vegetables. I decided to go with the classic green bean casserole, made with directions from the can of cream of mushroom soup. This dish has never been presented on our Thanksgiving table and due to the prodding of friends and coworkers I decided my family and I should try it at least once.

It was ok.

The second dish was roasted carrots with thyme from The Pioneer Woman’s cooking page. Turns out this fabulous side is courtesy of Pastor Ryan, a contributor to PW’s page.

Ah-mazing.

The carrots were a perfect fall dish, roasted just enough to bring out their sweet flavor but not too much to make them as mushy as mashed potatoes. The fresh thyme was a great herb to add, providing the dish with the depth and flavor it needed without being too overpowering.

IMG_0801Please excuse the colors. I was in my kitchen at night, trying to figure out what the best setting was for horrid lighting and orange colored food. This one turned out fluorescent orange. 

IMG_0802   A little too dull.

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Just right? Well, it will do.

Everyone loved the carrots, and were surprised at how easy they were to make. The only ingredients needed were carrots, olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme. So simple, yet so scrumptious and wonderful mixed with mashed potatoes and gravy. Or a bite of turkey and cranberry. Or on their own, the next day, standing in the kitchen.

The Pioneer Woman’s Roasted Carrots (by Pastor Ryan)

12 Carrots

1 Handful of Fresh Thyme

1/4 Cup of Olive Oil

This should be just enough to fill up a baking sheet pan. Also, enough for 6-8 people.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees

Carrots are not uniform in size. To help things cook evenly, we’ll need to cut these carrots into a uniform size for even cooking. This will prevent some carrots from being too crunchy and some from being too mushy. Cutting them lengthwise does the trick.

There is no need to peel your carrots if you’re lazy like me as long as you wash them well.

Once you’ve split your carrots down the middle into similar sizes, you can lay them out on a sheet pan and drizzle them with olive oil.

Season with thyme, salt, and pepper.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 35-40 minutes.

For the full recipe plus pictures and even more (and funny) commentary go here.

Buying condiments at the market is a trying experience. We check every label, scanning the ingredients for sugar, yeast, or vinegar. I’ve gotten pretty good at picking those three words out pretty quickly and now know which brands to avoid and which ones just might give me a chance.

Mayonnaise is one of those fickle condiments. We, as Americans, love the stuff. It goes extremely well with any type of sandwich, can be used in a dip, or added to sauces for extra creaminess. Unfortunately mayo is commercially made with either vinegar, sugar, or both.

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And so it was today that I decided to make my own. The ingredients are simple – egg yolks, salt, lemon juice, and oil. However, the tricky part comes when beating the oil into the yolks. Pouring the oil too fast will result in separation and a very un-mayo like goo. The key is to have all ingredients at room temperature and to pour the oil very, very, VERY slowly. As in slowly add in the oil drop by drop for all of eternity until the eggs are sure not to separate. This usually occurs after 1/3-1/2 a cup of oil is used.

The recipe I found was most certainly tried and true. The Queen of Cooking, Julia Child, is the one who pointed it out to me and I am most happy with the results. Her recipe found is in her book – Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Of course there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that she would lead me astray, but that it would be personal error that would cause a horrible mishap.

Luckily none of this happened and I came out with an olive oil mayonnaise that tastes almost like the store bought brand. And by almost like the store bought brand I mean much, much better. The olive oil taste is a bit overwhelming, but will be great with the addition of garlic to make and aioli and was very useful when making Dhale’s curry chicken salad for two, which I am taking with me for lunch tomorrow. Check out her site, Culinary Musings for some great recipes. Next time I’ll be using vegetable or safflower oil for a more mild mayo.

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Her recipe is delicious, with the perfect amount of curry and pears that add a great additional sweetness that sets off the wonderful flavors. The only substitution I made was the pomegranate seeds for dried cranberries since that was the only thing I had. It works out well because they add a great crunch and nice flavor, plus give the dish some much needed color.

 

Julia Child’s Mayonnaise

Ingredients

  • Round-bottomed, 2½ to 3-quart glazed pottery, glass or stainless steel mixing bowl. Set it in a heavy casserole or saucepan to keep it from slipping.
  • 3 egg yolks
  • Large wire whisk
  • 1 tablespoon wine vinegar or lemon juice (more drops as needed)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon dry or prepared mustard
  • 1½ to 2¼ cups of olive oil, salad oil or a mixture of each. If the oil is cold, heat it to tepid; and if you are a novice, use the minimum amount
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water

Directions

  1. Warm the bowl in hot water; dry it. Add the egg yolks and beat for 1 to 2 minutes until they are thick and sticky.
  2. Add the vinegar or lemon juice, salt and mustard. Beat for 30 seconds more.
  3. The egg yolks are now ready to receive the oil. While it goes in, drop by drop, you must not stop beating until the sauce has thickened. A speed of 2 strokes per second is fast enough. You can switch hands or switch directions, as long as you beat constantly.
  4. Add the drops of oil with a teaspoon, or rest the lip of the bottle on the edge of the bowl. Keep your eye on the oil rather than on the sauce. Stop pouring and continue beating every 10 seconds or so, to be sure the egg yolks are absorbing the oil.
  5. After 1/3 to 1/2 cup of oil has been incorporated, the sauce will thicken into a very heavy cream and the crisis of potential curdling is over. The beating arm may rest a moment. Then, beat in the remaining oil by 1 to 2 tablespoon dollops, blending it thoroughly after each addition.
  6. When the sauce becomes too thick and stiff, beat in drops of vinegar or lemon juice to thin it out. Then continue with the oil.
  7. Beat the boiling water into the sauce. This is an anti-curdling insurance. Season to taste.
  8. If the sauce is not used immediately, scrape it into a small bowl and cover it tightly so a skin will not form on its surface.

Julia Child’s tips for homemade mayonnaise:

  • Room Temperature: Have all ingredients at room temperature. If they aren’t, warm the mixing bowl in hot water to take the chill off the egg yolks; heat the oil to tepid if it is cold.
  • Egg Yolks: Always beat the yolks for a minute or two before adding anything to them. When they are thick and sticky, they are ready to absorb the oil.
  • Adding The Oil: The oil must be added very slowly at first, in droplets, until the emulsion process begins and the sauce thickens into a heavy cream. Then, the oil may be incorporated more rapidly.
  • Proportions: The maximum amount of oil one large egg yolk can absorb is six ounces, or ¾ cup. When this maximum is exceeded, the binding properties of the egg yolks break down, and the sauce thins out or curdles. If you have never made mayonnaise before, it is safest not to exceed ½ cup of oil per egg yolk.

(Build me up),

Buttercup baby?

Just to let me down,

(Let me down),

and mess me around…

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That is the song I sing in my head every time I make buttercup squash.

Not acorn, not butternut, but buttercup. It tastes like a cross between kabocha and acorn, slightly sweet with that wonderful depth that we all know and love that is squash.

Squash is incredibly easy to grow, cook, and then eat. Some are higher in sugars than others, so be careful with the amount if you are monitoring your sugar intake. Play around with different varieties to determine what works best for you. We eat is as a side to many dishes, last night the buttercup was accompanied by roast chicken and mixed greens. They are also great in soups, as salad toppers, and even for a sweet breakfast.

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Preparing squash almost always has the same universal instructions: cut in half, scoop out seeds, bake for at least an hour. You can add brown sugar (for obvious reasons we don’t), butter, or olive oil to the flesh and in the basin that contained the seeds. We like our squash on the well-done side, so I tend to cook it for about 10 minutes longer than others might. It’s wonderfully fun to mash up and scoop right out of it’s skin, and the longer baking time enhances the natural sugars that are present.

Baked Buttercup Squash

Preheat oven to 325.

Cut squash in half from stem to tip (like a hot dog bun, not a hamburger bun).

Scoop out seeds and discard. If you would like to roast the seeds you could probably pop them in the oven on a cookie sheet for about 15-20 minutes while the squash is baking. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on salt.

Cut a small slice of the skin off each side of the squash. Do this where you will lie the squash, flesh side up, on the cookie sheet. In the picture above you would cut parallel to the squash on the round side. This is to help stabilize the halves.

Add in 1-2 tablespoons olive oil or butter. Be sure to smear some on the edges of the flesh and drop a good amount in the seedless basin.

Poke a few holes in the flesh with a knife, just to score it a tiny bit (see knife marks in picture below).

Place on a cookie sheet, and put in the oven. Before you close the door add about 1 cup of water to the bottom of the sheet. This will prevent the skin from burning and keep the squash moist.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until squash is easily pierced with a fork.

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I just have to say that breakfast is my favorite meal. My breakfast of choice doesn’t include pancakes, waffles, french toast, syrup, whipped cream, or macerated fruit in sugar. I prefer a savory breakfast, or one with only a little bit of sweetness.

Most days I eat oatmeal. It’s filling, versatile, and of course – good for you. Rolled oats are also extremely cheap, and if you don’t buy the pre-packaged kind they’re full of fiber and don’t contain any sugar or yeast.

This morning I had the day off work and instead of making a complex meal with eggs and other goodies such as bacon I decided to stick with my good old standby of oatmeal. Yesterday morning I enjoyed eggs over medium, wheat toast with jam, and hash browns from one of my favorite breakfast spots in Eugene, Oregon. Now that I’m back home and have fulfilled my weekly craving for greasy breakfast food I’m back to my routine.

The day is incredibly windy and rainy, I’m still in my pajamas at 11:34 am, and plan on staying in them until I get some work done on my graduate applications. A hot breakfast is what I wanted, something nourishing and filling without grease or salt.

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Today I had some apples and pomegranates on hand, a perfect complement to my bowl of oats and and provided some wonderful holiday colors to boot. Pomegranates have to be one of my favorite fruits, low in sugar and filled with antioxidants to keep me healthy during flu season. As seasonal fruits they’re only available from October to January, so I gobble them up while I can. Learn how to seed a pomegranate here.

Apple – Pomegranate Oatmeal

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup chopped apple (I chose fuji, because that’s what we had. Any sweet apple will do).

1/2-1 cup of boiling water

1/4 cup pomegranate arils.

1/2 tablespoon ground flax (optional, but doesn’t have a taste and adds Omega fatty acids plus more fiber).

Combine oats, boiling water, and apple in a bowl. The fast and easy way to cook the oats are by popping them in the microwave for 2 minutes. The apple cooks a bit, bringing out it’s natural sugars, and the oatmeal stays nice and creamy. If you prefer you can cook oats on the stovetop as well – use a bit more water and boil it before you add the oats.

Once done, top with arils and enjoy! Play around with ratios of the fruit, as well as water to determine what kind of consistency you like. Add in some cinnamon or sprinkle nuts on top for more depth.

Fall is winding down and winter is almost upon us.

This morning while riding the bus I noticed that most deciduous trees are bare and only the most stubborn of leaves are hanging on. The mountain passes are once again being filled with snow, and ski season is so close I can almost taste it. Soon we’ll be decorating our apartment for the holidays, our first Christmas season spent together in the same home.

The changing of the seasons always makes me move a bit slower, taking in each day like a long, slow breath. The kind of breaths you take while sleeping.

The nights are comfortable, quiet, not nearly as busy or loud as summertime evenings. Working and commuting doesn’t leave much time for cooking, but if I plan ahead I can usually get the crock pot going or thaw out a whole chicken to roast for dinner. Braising and slow roasting occur on the weekends, when I have time to plan out our meals and play with different flavor combinations.

Yesterday morning I had the forethought to throw something in the crockpot, knowing I would be home well past dinner time. I was right and barely made the nine o’clock ferry, but was pleased with myself for thinking ahead. There was a pot roast waiting to be cooked, along with some basics – celery, carrots, onion, a splash of broth and some herbs.

Since moving in with Mr. No Sugar I’ve been eating a lot more red meat. A lot for me is 1 to 2 times per week. This is okay for now, since the cold days and nights call for something more hearty. The crock pot is my easiest solution to cooking meat that can be overdone very easily. All I have to do is place all the ingredients in, turn it on, and have faith that when I get home the meat will be easily shredded and all the flavors will meld together.

My lunch today, a poor shot but it gives you an idea.

Slow Cooker Pot Roast:

1 pot roast, chuck roast, rump or round roast. Whatever you can find at the market.

1 yellow onion, chopped roughly.

3 large carrots, peeled, and cut into rounds.

2 celery stalks, chopped roughly.

2-3 garlic cloves, halved.

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1-2 teaspoons thyme

1-2 teaspoons oregano

2-3 bay leaves

1/2-1 cup stock (vegetable, beef, or chicken – whatever is on hand. Use water if you like.)

1/2 cup red wine. I bought cooking wine at the market since we don’t drink much and don’t have any on hand. Whatever you have is great.

Make a bed in the crock pot of the onions, celery, garlic, and carrots. I chop all my vegetables into bite-sized pieces, but you can cut them bigger or smaller. Nestle roast on top of vegetables, add broth and seasonings. Usually I start off easy on the salt and pepper because those can always be added later on, but usually add in a good amount of each spice. Pour cooking wine over top and set on low for 8-10 hours or high for 5-6.

I find my slow cooker (a small one, good for two people) cooks everything better on high and the flavors become more pronounced this way.

Serve with noodles, rice, or any other starch. We don’t add potatoes, due to their high sugar content but they can certainly be added and then picked out for those following a candida diet.

Pronounced taboo-li this dish is so easy and flavorful that I’m surprised I haven’t made it more often. It’s a great summer dish, but also perfect for any time of year when you’re in the mood for a quick, easy meal. The flavors meld well together with the tartness of the lemon and depth of the olive oil, reminiscent of hot summer days. Some of the items I usually have on hand – lemon, olive oil, salt, and pepper, while the others I must get at the market – green onion, bell pepper, garbanzo beans, more lemon, and tomatoes. Most people like to add herbs such as parsley but I prefer mine dressed only with lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. The star of the show is most definitely the olive oil.

I had brought it back with me from Italy and left it at home for about a year. This gem was found in a small port town in Northern Italy, while I was traveling by myself the year after I graduated college. Once I rediscovered it in my childhood room I now I use it sparingly and only for great punches of flavor. So far I have been unable to find anything like it and don’t really want to try. I guess when I run out I’ll have to go back to Italy and purchase some more…

Below is my recipe for tabbouleh, feel free to add in feta, parsley, other veggies, or whatever you want to kick it up a bit. The lemon and olive oil go perfectly together, so don’t skip over those, but otherwise the tabbouleh world is your oyster:

2 (or 3 or 4) cups cooked and cooled bulgur*
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1 red bell pepper
4 green onions
2 lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, cut lengthwise

*To cook bulgur add 2 cups water to a pot and set to boil. Once water is boiling add in 1 cup bulgur, turn heat down to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes. The bulgur is done when it’s light and fluffy – kind of like couscous. Making bulgur ahead of time and allowing it to cool will save loads as time seeing as how this is a cold dish, however I don’t think it would be too bad served warm.

Chop bell pepper and green onion roughly the same size as the tomatoes or garbanzo beans. Drain garbanzo beans and add into bulgur. Add in the bell pepper, tomatoes, and green onions and mix well. Feel free to add more if you want to pack in the veggies or have made an overabundance of bulgur. Cut lemons in half and squeeze over mixture making sure not to include any seeds. Mix well and slowly add in the olive oil. The lemon juice and olive oil is mostly to taste, some like the taste of the oil and some prefer it on the lighter side. Season with salt and pepper and voila! You have just made tabbouleh and also know how to pronounce it.

This dish is one of my favorites to make because of the convenience but also because a few simple ingredients can pull together a refreshing meal in a matter of minutes. It’s incredibly easy to make a huge batch and then eat it for leftovers during the week, and would be a great dish to bring to a potluck.

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