(Not quite) Foodie Friday

It’s been a while since I posted a new recipe, but I’m afraid it’s not going to happen this week. I’ve got three different recipes for roasted vegetables in various states of completion, but none of them are ready to be posted yet. Take a look at those pictures, though. Don’t they look delicious? I’ve been roasting a lot of vegetables lately as part of my attempt at a grain free diet, but I’m still perfecting the ingredient lists and cooking directions. Usually I just toss the vegetables with some oil and seasonings, dump them on a cookie sheet, and throw them in the oven until they look done. Not exactly scientific, but I always enjoy the results. I seriously can’t get enough roasted broccoli these days, so I’m looking forward to having a recipe to share soon. The carrots and green beans are pretty killer too. I think I’ll only need to make a couple more batches before I figure out the right oven temperatures and cooking durations. Stay tuned for a recipe next week!

Confessions of a reformed baker

I was invited to a Super Bowl party on Sunday, but since I could barely walk after the Surf City Half Marathon I opted to stay home and lie on the couch all afternoon instead. It was a good choice, but it meant that I missed out on an opportunity to make some brownies and chocolate chip cookies. It was a bit of a bummer. I find baking therapeutic (which I’m sure is evident by the fact that I spent the last few years testing chocolate chip cookie recipes), but no desserts have come out of my kitchen since August. Hard to believe, right? This extreme lack of sweets speaks to my attempts to improve my diet. I’ve actually done pretty well since the fall, despite the lack of progress shown on my scale, but I do miss baking cookies. It’s funny to have a cabinet full of sugar and chocolate chips and a huge bag of flour all sitting around doing nothing. I’m not sure if it’s a terrible waste of ingredients or if it’s a good thing that I’m not baking delicious goodies every weekend anymore. A little of both, probably. That’s why I’m sad that I missed out on the Super Bowl party. It was a legitimate reason to bake cookies besides the usual “because I feel like it” excuse! And I was going to try and perfect my dark chocolate brownie recipe too. Missed opportunities all around. I either need to find another relaxing hobby or else find someone else to throw a party!

Thanksgiving planning starts now

Now that my race weekend is over (more on that tomorrow) I can focus on other things. Like Thanksgiving! I’m sure one of the reasons I love this time of year so much is because I don’t have to cook a big Thanksgiving dinner for anyone! Less stress always means a more enjoyable holiday. For the last two years I’ve had the privilege of enjoying an amazing Thanksgiving meal with my brother and his friends in San Francisco, which requires very little effort on my part. All I have to do is bring some homemade cookies with me to make it look like I contributed to the feast. The cookies are completely superfluous since these folks make such incredible food, but at least I don’t arrive empty-handed. Plus, I use the holiday as an excuse to try new cookie recipes. Last year I made four different chocolate chip cookie recipes, three of which were really tasty. The fourth was a bit of a bust, but a 75% success rate ain’t bad, if you ask me! This year is a little different, though. I haven’t made any sort of baked good for a couple of months, mostly due to banishing grains from my diet (except for the occasional Egg McMuffin). But since I don’t want to subject everyone to the same restrictions (and since I’m planning on indulging when I’m in San Francisco), I’ll break out the all-purpose flour to make treats for Thanksgiving. So tonight I scoured my Pinterest boards for any cookie recipes that jumped out at me. I found quite a few! So far all I’ve decided is that I’ll make snickerdoodles of some kind and chocolate cookies of some kind. I need to find a couple more ideas this week (something with chocolate chips!), narrow them down to four recipes or fewer, and then start gathering the necessary ingredients. I am completely out of eggs and I think my cinnamon reserve is running low. The horror! But besides that scary fact, I’m really looking forward to baking cookies for Thanksgiving this year!

Another November weekend

It was not a very exciting weekend, but I did get a lot done.

***I did a lot of shopping/returning. Online shopping has been my preferred method of updating my wardrobe lately, but it’s not always the most reliable method. More often than not the items I order don’t fit quite right. Not a big deal, but then I have to handle returning what I don’t want to keep. One of the good things about Los Angeles is that there’s a brick and mortar establishment of just about every store within a reasonable driving distance. This means that I can usually return items in person rather than through the mail This weekend I took clothes back to J.Crew (an itchy sweater), Old Navy (an ill-fitting pair of workout pants), and Lucy (another pair of workout pants I didn’t like). Unfortunately those three stores are located at three different malls spread out all over Orange County. Maybe I should have just mailed everything back instead! On the flip side of the shopping experience, I bought a jacket (love the new North Face store at South Coast Plaza), some chocolates (for Thanksgiving), jeans (cheap ones at Old Navy), and a Christmas ornament (Hallmark, of course).

***I replenished my food reserves. In the middle of last week I ran out of homemade meals in my fridge and freezer and started eating less healthy options. It was bad news. So this weekend I put together a bunch of meals consisting of meat and vegetables so that I wouldn’t be tempted by fast food, junk food, or leftover Halloween candy. I already had some ground beef, broccoli, and carrots left over, so I just needed a few things to augment those items. Yesterday I made some Crockpot teriyaki chicken, and then today I made two batches of green beans (one roasted, one sautéed). Now I have enough prepared meals to get me through the week, at least. After that I’ll be spending the weekend at Disneyland because the Avengers Half Marathon is early on Sunday morning. After the experience of the Disneyland Half Marathon in August, I decided to stay at one of the nearby hotels so that I won’t have to get up and drive to Anaheim at 3 AM on race day. It will be nice to be able to sleep a little longer and then just walk to the start line that morning. The only difficulty will be making sure I get the necessary nutrition. I’ll need to find restaurants where I can get some protein, vegetables, and probably some potatoes the night before the half marathon. I’ll work on that.

***I watched a lot of TV. This is probably true of just about every weekend for me, but I figured it was worth mentioning this time. The best thing I got to see was Florida beating Vanderbilt yesterday. It hasn’t exactly been a banner year for the Gators so far. But last weekend unranked Florida upset #11 Georgia, which shocked just about everyone, especially after three losses already this season (including homecoming). Personally I didn’t expect the streak to continue, but I was a very happy Gator fan when it did! We’ll see what happens next weekend against South Carolina, but yesterday’s win was a lot of fun to watch. After the game was over I re-watched last weekend’s episode of Doctor Who while doing laundry and washing dishes. It was the first half of the season finale. These seasons are never long enough for me! Rather than staying up to watch the second half of the season finale last night, I saved it on my DVR until this afternoon when I was done with my errands. The show had quite a sad ending, actually. I’m not sure I liked it. But Doctor Who is still my favorite show these days and I’m sorry the season is over. At least I have the Christmas episode to look forward to next month.

So that was my weekend. Thrilling, huh?

Baking distracted

Imagine you have a nearly perfect dark chocolate brownie recipe. After tinkering with it a little (original recipe here), you’ve got the flavor and the texture just right, but you need to make one more batch to ensure the correct pan size. Your last batch in a 13×9″ pan made brownies wasn’t quite right so you want to try an 11×7″ pan instead. You’re convinced this is going to be perfect and everyone who tries one of these dark chocolate brownies is going to be blown away. It’s going to be amazing! Then imagine as you get down to the business of baking these life changing brownies you are able to coax exactly the right amount of Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder out of the container, and not a teaspoon more. A good start. After doing a happy dance you set your last four eggs out on the counter to warm up, two for the brownies and two for a batch of cookies to come afterwards. It’s all working out just right! You melt some butter, and then mix it with the right amount of sugar and the carefully harvested dark cocoa powder. Everything is going well. But then you tune out for a few minutes, probably watching something stupid on TV, and accidentally add all four eggs to the mixing bowl. Aargh! You stare at the four eggs sitting there on top of the brownie batter. What now? You can’t very well start all over again without going to the store for more cocoa power and eggs (and it’s too late in the day to consider that). The remaining options are either toss everything out and give up, or make the brownies anyway and see how the turn out with four eggs instead of two. You choose the latter and cross your fingers as you put the pan in the oven to cook. Maybe everything will be fine. Unfortunately that’s not the outcome. The brownies turned out dry and spongy. They seriously had the consistency of a kitchen sponge. Basically inedible. What a waste of good baking ingredients! So the moral of the story is, don’t bake distracted!

Just another Manic Monday

Can’t write tonight. I had a disastrous day at work (I’m really not looking forward to facing the consequences tomorrow morning), and then I spent all evening cooking a dinner I’m feeding some friends tomorrow night. At least the cooking went pretty well. I’ll have to take some pictures to share. But right now I’m mentally and physically exhausted and my alarm is going to wake me up way too soon. Good night.

Resolution #1 revisited

New Year’s Resolution #1: Eat good breakfasts

Breakfast has changed a lot for me already in 2014. Earlier this year when I decided that my first resolution would be to eat good breakfasts, I had no idea just how big of an impact it would have. Believe it or not, breakfast seems to set me up for better eating habits throughout the day. In that sense my new breakfast sandwich maker and blender have already paid for themselves! I don’t know how I lived without them! In the last month I’ve tried many different combinations of English muffins (regular and whole wheat), cheese (cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella), meat (turkey, ham, turkey pepperoni), egg, and spices (salt, pepper, Italian seasoning) to make some absolutely delicious breakfast sandwiches. This might be controversial, but I think they’re better than a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin! It only takes ten minutes to make one so it’s faster and cheaper than going through the drive thru every morning. And I think it’s slightly healthier since I can use whole wheat English muffins and lean meat like ham in my homemade versions. The one thing I haven’t tried yet is egg whites in place of a whole egg so that will be my next experiment. And bacon. Everything is better with bacon, right? As awesome as breakfast sandwiches are, for the last couple of weeks I’ve been using my new blender to make fruit smoothies before work every day. My first few attempts turned out OK but not great, so I was a little skeptical about getting decent results, but I made a few minor additions to my smoothies and now I’m in love with my blender. Who knew you could combine simple things like frozen fruit, yogurt, and milk to make something so delicious! I finally hit the jackpot with frozen banana slices, frozen blueberries, berry Greek yogurt, milk, honey, and powered peanut butter, and my next goal is to branch out and see what other nutritious beverages I can concoct. Substituting almond milk for regular milk worked great on Friday so that’s encouraging. I’ll try swapping out other ingredients one by one and see how they turn out. This morning I made something totally different – a cherry chocolate smoothie. Frozen cherries, chocolate almond milk, vanilla yogurt, cocoa powder, and vanilla protein powder. It was amazing! Like an indulgent milkshake, but surprisingly healthy. I’ll definitely be making that again, maybe with some other berries too. So has my breakfast sandwich maker been gathering dust while I’ve been blending my first meal of the day? No! On days where I have a smoothie for breakfast I usually make a sandwich for dinner when I get home. Add some honey mustard to the English muffin, use Havarti cheese, and throw some banana pepper slices after everything is cooked makes for a yummy turkey or ham sandwich (with an egg – more protein!) at the end of the day. So I’m happy to report I’ve been doing very well on my first New Year’s resolution of 2014. Baby steps, but I’m determined to make this a great year.

Writing prompt – Cooking in 2014

NaBloPoMo writing prompt from December 31, 2013:
What do you want to do more of in 2014?

I could quickly come up with a multitude of answers to this question, but the one that comes to mind today is cooking. I usually have a culinary New Year’s resolution of some sort, like in 2011 when I challenged myself to try a new recipe every week (and I more than succeeded!), but this year I haven’t settled on a particular goal. I’m definitely eating out too much these day so I’d like to start making more lunches and dinners at home. And how else am I going to be ready for the chili cook-off in October if I don’t practice? I’m mostly kidding, but that isn’t stopping me from making two batches of chili for a Super Bowl party tomorrow. I love making food for my friends and family, and just feeding myself is much less fun so I jumped at the chance to cook for the party. Can you believe that besides a batch of red velvet brownies for a co-worker’s birthday I haven’t cooked a single thing in 2014? Crazy, I know. I have been using good use of my new breakfast sandwich maker and blender to make some interesting things, but that’s a topic for another day. Let’s just say there seems to be a bit of a learning curve when it comes to making smoothies. But anyway, I can’t believe I didn’t use my kitchen to cook any meals in January. Fortunately that’s going to change in the morning when I fire up my Crockpots to cook the chili. I spent today baking two different kinds of cookies for the party, but not until after I went to the grocery store three separate times (not counting my shopping trip last night where I got the bulk of the chili ingredients). The first time was to get ground chicken at Whole Foods for the chili. It was the easiest trip to Whole Foods I’ve ever had, which should have been an indication that something was wrong. When I got home and started gathering all of the ingredients together I realized that I didn’t have any cumin in my spice cabinet so I ran over to Pavilions and picked some up. And then as I was halfway through mixing some cookie dough I discovered that my flour bin was nearly empty. One more trip to Pavilions and I finally had everything I needed. Phew! The chocolate chip shortbread and sugar cookie bars turned out very well so I hope the partygoers like them tomorrow. I also chopped all of the vegetables for the chili so I should be able to assemble everything for the chili and get it into the two Crockpots quickly in the morning. And it’s a good thing too because I’m planning to go to Disneyland before the party. Enjoy the Super Bowl, everyone!

Ending of 2013

It’s only the fourth day of 2014 and I’m already behind on my webpage posts! Not that I haven’t been still been updating it every day, but I have yet to write anything about New Year’s. Terrible! So let me back up a few days and get at least partially caught up.

New Year’s Eve was mostly devoted to preparing for the party I was invited to that night. The host tasked me with making a dessert and I got requests for both cake and cookies from two of the other partygoers. No problem! After a trip to the grocery store (my sugar stores were dangerously low), I quickly whipped up a batch of olive oil chocolate chip cookies (recipe to come) which my friend Joelle asked for. This was my second batch of chocolate chip cookies made with olive oil and I really like them, but more on that in a future post. When the cookies were done I got started on a chocolate pound cake, using this recipe that I found on Pinterest a while back. It’s incredibly sinful with three sticks of butter (one more than I’m used to in a bundt cake), 8 oz of cream cheese (the key to a dense and moist pound cake), and more sugar than I’d like to admit (twice what I usually use). Based on the slice I had at the party the cake itself was very tasty, but everything fell apart when I tried to frost it. The fudge icing did NOT turn out as advertised. It was more like a glaze – thin and watery – not at all “thick and rich” as the recipe described. I should have just thrown it out, but against my better judgment I poured some of the icing over the cake anyway. It didn’t make the cake any less tasty, but it made a huge mess and didn’t really improve the cake at all. But anyway, on to the party! I had a great time. Since there were so many families in attendance the party started at 6 PM and we celebrated the New Year on East Coast time so the kids could go to bed at a decent hour. And honestly the adults didn’t stay up that much longer! I was home by 10:30 PM and asleep before midnight. Party animal, that’s me. The photo I posted on January 1st is me with my friend Joelle (who finished chemotherapy back in October which should explain her very short hair!) and her daughter Sara at the party. We were coloring at the time, meaning I was removing caps from markers so Sara could use them and then replacing the caps when she was done with each one. Shortly after I took that picture Joelle took the opportunity to escape and talk to adults. I didn’t get much of that since I kept getting dragged back to the playroom by a couple of the kids any time I tried to extricate myself. At one point Joelle said, “Lauren, you’re hired.” I swear my friends invited me to their party so I would babysit! But with kids that cute I didn’t mind at all.

Come back tomorrow for a New Year’s Day recap. Exciting!

Christmas recap (part 1)

Written on 12/28

I’m on my flight from Dallas to Los Angeles (using an inflight wifi credit I purchased months ago and didn’t use until now) and I’m finally getting around to writing about the last few days. It’s been quite a whirlwind! When I’m at home I usually write my daily webpage post after I climb into bed for the night, but while I was in Tallahassee I was way too tired by the time I got there. I was staying up too late every night. Let me get started with the recap and maybe you’ll see why.

As soon as I got up on the morning of Christmas Eve I started cooking. I was making a vegetable lasagna for my family’s dinner that night and the sauce needed to cook for many hours before it would be ready. (I used the slow cooker marinara recipe I posted last month with some diced bell peppers, sliced baby carrots, and a can of drained diced tomatoes added to give it a little more bulk.) While I was practically still in my pajamas my mom helped me prepare the vegetables, I cooked them on the stove top a bit, and then everything went into the Crockpot so that it would be ready by 5 PM. It was raining that day so after the marinara sauce was simmering my parents and I went to the mall to walk around. Maybe not the best destination on Christmas Eve, but we did it anyway. We grabbed a quick lunch at Chick-Fil-A, I returned something to American Eagle, and I even got a couple of shirts on sale at The Limited. Nice! When we were back at home I picked up where I left off with dinner. Besides the veggie lasagna we were having green beans and salad as side dishes. I actually tried four new recipes while I was in Tallahassee, and the skillet green beans I made on Christmas Eve was the second. (Vegetable chili was the first on the 22nd – I’ll have to share that recipe sometime.) I had never simply stir fried green beans before and I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious they were. Everything turned out really well for dinner that night and I sat down to eat with my whole family. Later that evening my mom and I bundled up and headed out on our annual Christmas Eve neighborhood walk to see the Christmas lights. Some of the houses nearby are decorated beautifully, and one of the cul-de-sacs even puts luminaries up and down the street on Christmas Eve. It was lovely, but it was very cold that night and my hands and feet were frozen after an hour outside! After a showered I finally sat down to wrap my family’s Christmas presents. Do you think I procrastinated long enough? Fortunately I got to watch “A Christmas Story” with my dad while I worked (I just told him not to look while I was wrapping his gifts). What a hilarious movie, and a great Christmas Eve tradition.

Christmas Day dawned less rainy, but cold! (I had originally thought it would be warm the whole time I was in Florida, but I’m glad I packed a warm jacket at the last minute!) My brother was still asleep when I got up so my mom and I started making breakfast preparations. I mixed up a batch of buttermilk pancakes using a Martha Stewart recipe (my dad almost always makes us pancakes on Christmas morning – we even gave him an electric griddle many years ago to facilitate the tradition!) and she got some eggs ready to scramble. I added a teaspoon of cinnamon to the pancake batter (my third new recipe of the week) on a whim and they turned out excellent. When the whole household was awake and presentable we opened presents. For the last two years we have only gotten each other small gifts, but my brother and I both got iPad Minis so we did quite well! I asked for one to replace my aging Kindle that will no longer hold a charge for very long. I know I am going to enjoy using it for reading. My brother was flying back to San Francisco that afternoon because he had to work on the 26th so we took him to the airport after brunch. To avoid sadness due to my brother’s departure my parents and I immediately went to see “Saving Mr. Banks” after we left the airport. What a wonderful movie. I highly recommend it for anyone who’s a fan of Disney, or Mary Poppins, or Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks! Since we had quite an elaborate brunch that morning our dinner just consisted of some leftover chili which was really good (yet another recipe I need to post – I have quite the backlog), if I can say so without sounding immodest since I made it! After that we took a walk around the neighborhood and got back just in time for me to watch the Doctor Who Christmas Special, “The Time of the Doctor,” at 9 PM. I can’t say it was the best episode I’ve ever seen, and I honestly think Matt Smith deserved a better send off as we said goodbye to the Eleventh Doctor, but I still enjoyed it. It was the perfect way to end Christmas Day.

Stay tuned for part 2 of my Christmas recap tomorrow!