Monday, September 15, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of September 15

Last Week

On Thursday we had our old regular tank water heater removed (it had started a leak) and replaced with a tankless water heater.  I don't really notice much of any difference with the water, but the low hum when it kicks in keeps tricking me into thinking I'm getting a call and my cell phone is vibrating.

One night during the week I roasted delicata squash with miso paste and butter, it was great.  I highly recommend it.  I hadn't had delicata squash before, but it's a sweeter squash, pretty similar to acorn squash, but without the stringiness.  I've had a hard time finding delicata squash, but I will buy it as often as I can and make this recipe.
miso-butter roasted delicata squash
I needed to make a treat for work so on Thursday night I baked up a pan of brownies from a mix and looking up recipes to use up the bananas I've got in the freezer and the huge jar of peanut butter that Husband Jeff doesn't like.  I ended up making these Dole banana peanut butter cookies and they were great.  They were great as-is (well, with the addition of a teaspoon of vanilla and a handful of chocolate chunks) but next time I would double the bananas and increase the peanut butter to 1/2 cup.
Peanut butter-banana cookie dough.
I took off Friday and headed to the big Half-Pint kids' resale event and bought $92 worth of clothes for Sonny D.  I had a hard time shopping because I had to finally buy clothes for him (we've always gotten hand-me-downs) and I had no idea how much to buy.  I ended up panicking after my volunteer shift and went out and bought a second small load of clothes. 

On Saturday evening we went to Husband Jeff's company's summer gathering.  One of the other employees invites everyone to his house and feeds us and we all hang out chatting.  There was a bonfire in the back yard, but it was too cold outside and I was too busy chatting to go out there.  We got home after Sonny D's bedtime so he didn't get enough sleep that night and then didn't take a nap the next day, so he had a total meltdown on Sunday afternoon at our friend's house.

On Sunday morning Sonny D and I took the wagon up to the farmers' market and hauled back a large load of produce.  We bought (L to R and top to bottom) - green beans, onion, celeriac, tomato, eggs, Roman beans, okra, bell peppers, potatoes, sweet corn, raspberries, delicata squash, eggplant, Gala apples, and kettle corn (most of it's already gone in this picture).  I rarely plan ahead what I'm going to buy, I just pick out whatever sounds good and can easily be incorporated into our weekly menu.  The celeriac and okra were total impulse purchases, I've never had them before and wanted to try them out.  I think I'm going to use the celeriac in my mom's chicken rice soup recipe and I'd like to grill the okra since I've heard that prevents it from getting slimy.
Our score at the Northside farmers' market.

This Week

  • Monday - creamy butternut squash mac & cheese (totally winging this, might not work out) along with Roma beans and sweet corn from the farmers' market.
  • Tuesday - Sonny D and I are taking the morning off and heading to the dentist.  His first visit went fine, so I'm hoping this one will too. For dinner we're having eggplant parmesan with pasta and sesame green beans.   In the evening I've got my awesome Zumba class.
  • Wednesday - I want to make shakshuka (eggs cooked in tomato sauce) along with grilled okra and miso-roasted delicata squash. 
  • Thursday - Sonny D's preschool is having a pizza social but I'm worried because it's going to be outdoors but there's no rain date.  The weather looks fine right now.  If the event is cancelled, we'll probably get pizza somewhere and bring it home.  
  • Friday - baked fish with rice.  For Me & D night, I think we'll go to the open swim at the warm-water pool.  
  • Saturday - Our friend John wants to go the Food for Thought festival and it was already on my list, so we'll probably head downtown for that.  Then for dinner we have plans to meet another family at Roman Candle Pizzeria mainly because they have a kid play space. 
  • Sunday - I think we're going to the farmers' market with my friend Heather and her mom.  For dinner I want to make cheeseburger casserole with grilled new potatoes. 
And somewhere in here I want to make more of those peanut butter banana cookies.  Yum!

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My New Warby Parker Glasses Arrived!

My new Warby Parker glasses arrived in the mail on Monday (Sept 8) even though the original delivery estimate was supposed to be a week and a half later than that (Sept 18).  Yay for under-promising and over-delivering!

I was impressed by the care in sending them.  The outer packaging was the shipping box, then there was a dark grey Warby Parker box inside that.  The glasses were nestled in a really nice light grey hard-sided case with a bright turquoise fuzzy interior.  Cute, the color makes me smile.  A really nice case is a great touch, much better than the not-so-protective soft cases I got with my last two pairs of Sears glasses.

When I showed the package to Husband Jeff, he agreed that the hard case was really good quality and that little things like that really matter in a person's satisfaction.  And he was really impressed with the thinness of the high-index lenses and that it only cost me $30 extra for them.  I think I've got him set on Warby Parker glasses for his next set since mine were such a great price and so nice. And I KNOW I convinced my brother-in-law to get new glasses.  He played around with the home try-on samples at his birthday party and really liked them and I sent him home with the name of the frames he liked best.  This week he sent a picture of himself wearing his new Warby Parkers and mentioned that he likes them so much that he's thinking about getting two more pairs.
My new Warby Parker Baxter glasses have arrived!
I was going to wear my new glasses to dinner the first night, but the prescription is a touch stronger than my last glasses (since the old ones are four years old!) so I needed a little more time to adjust to them. When I finally got to wear my new glasses at bedtime I totally fell in love with them. They're awesome. My previous glasses were small and I love the bigger field of vision these give me. Plus they are solid, not flimsy like you might expect with something so cheap. 

The only tiny drawback is I need to go somewhere to get them fitted since I've got a tiny little head and they need to be tweaked to fit me better. But I can still wear them right now without any issues. 
Modeling my new glasses.
I highly recommend Warby Parker for glasses! I had such a great experience with the whole process -- the two boxes of home try-on frames they sent, loved the attentive emails they sent, love the price, love the quality, etc. 

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Coffee-Cinnamon Cookie Fail!

Here is a story of a recipe fail.  I'm not going to point you to the recipe because I don't know if the recipe wasn't well tested or my crazy substitutions were what caused the cookies to be so bad.  But I felt like sharing, so here you go.

Making Dough

On Monday when I was home for lunch I threw together batter for coffee-cinnamon cookies.   I made it ahead of time because it said the batter was runny and need to chill for a couple hours to stay together.  Sounded good.

I didn't have the maple syrup needed so I substituted with honey.  And I didn't have enough honey left in the open jar and I didn't feel like opening the new jar of honey I had just bought at the farmers' market.  I figured the amount of honey would would be ok since I prefer not-too-sweet cookies.  I thought about tasting the batter to see if it was sweet enough, but I was grossed out by the raw egg so I skipped it. The batter was really dry, completely opposite of the way the recipe was described.  I thought it might hydrate a bit as it sat.

Baking It Up

When it came time to make the cookies, we had to search all over the living room to find the cookie scoop.  It's one of Sonny D's favorite things to play with right now.  We found it inside a big metal cookie tin.  The dough was really stiff so we flattened the balls and hoped they would spread in the oven.
Scooping out cookie dough.
The cookies didn't puff up at all in the oven.  I think it needed more baking powder and maybe something acidic to react with, like maybe yogurt.  Plus more liquid in general. 
Baked cookies. 
We each had a cookie after they cooled a bit.  They were bland and boring, certainly not sweet. And no coffee flavor at all, so after Sonny D went to bed I whipped up a coffee drizzle glaze in order to give them some sweetness and the coffee flavor I was looking for. 
As they cooled overnight, the cookies seemed to get more dense and rock-like.  By this morning, they weren't very good at all, but I threw one in Sonny D's lunch bag and packed two for my morning snack.  I ate those two cookies, more out of boredom than because they were good.  And I somehow ate three of these not-very-good cookies at lunch today with a mug of tea; they're sitting like rocks in my belly.

Moral Of The Story

My advice is that you should ensure you have all of the ingredients before you start making a recipe.  Or at least read through the recipe and come up with a plan for substitutions.  Or maybe test it to see if it's actually going to be decent! 

Any Recommendations?

These coffee cookies were an absolute dud.  Does anybody have a tried-and-true espresso/coffee cookie recipe?  A family favorite?  I'd prefer something that is solely coffee-flavored, no chocolate. 

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Menu Plan: September 8

Last Week

On Friday night we loaded up our friends in the car and drove to Sun Prairie for pizza at Salvatore's Tomato Pies.  Excellent!! We ordered three pizzas -- a plain cheese, a pepperoni, and the special, which had scallops, heirloom tomatoes, ricotta, fancy pepper, and some sort of butter sauce.  Yum!

On Saturday we did an express, high-speed trip to Chicago for my friend Woojin's wedding and then headed to JoongBoo Korean Market on our way home.  We were in Chicago for about 7-8 hours.  The wedding was on the Odyssey ship, we boarded at Navy Pier, attended the wedding on the top deck, and then cruised around the area and had hors d'oeuvres, drinks, and a really nice lunch.  I don't think I've been to an afternoon wedding, and most definitely not a wedding on a boat.  We were home by about 7 p.m. but we had Sonny D spend the night with his grandparents, it was his first time spending the night without us.  When we talk about his first sleepover, he says "I want to try that again."  Nice!  I'm glad we tried it and glad it worked out so well.
Wedding on a boat!
Beautiful day for a wedding. Navy Pier Ferris wheel in the background.
Bride and groom stabbing the cake.
On Sunday morning I was actually able to sleep in until a little after 8 because Husband Jeff went over to his parents to hang out with Sonny D.  So nice!  I went to the farmers' market by myself and I picked up picked tomatillos and a couple onions so I can make salsa verde and can it this week. 

This Week

By Thursday and Friday of this week, the weather will cool down a lot.  The high here will be 59 on Thursday and 55 on Friday.

  • Monday - creamy mac & cheese (using butternut squash as part of the sauce base), miso-roasted delicata squash, and sesame green beans.  I prepped dough over lunch so Sonny D and I can bake coffee-cinnamon cookies after dinner. 
  • Tuesday - Shakshuka (eggs cooked in tomato sauce), banana bites, and Asian melon.  Dinner has to be quick so I can head to Zumba class afterwards.
  • Wednesday - burgers on the grill, sweet potato tots, and grilled leeks.  Maybe canning today. 
  • Thursday - I need to make a treat for a work meeting, so I'm going to make brownies from a mix but add mint from my garden to spice them up.  The kicker is that I'm not going to work on Friday, so I'll stop by to deliver them.  For dinner we'll have either a layered taco dish or cheeseburger casserole, both of them take advantage of the pre-cooked ground beef I've got in the freezer. 
  • Friday - I'm taking the day off to do my volunteer shift and shop at the Half-Pint Resale event like I do every spring and fall.  I'm taking advantage of the time off to also get my hair highlighted and have a massage.  Husband Jeff and Sonny D are getting dinner at the nearby church's fish & chicken supper.  I'm hoping for some leftovers!
  • Saturday - I've got Core Fusion starting back up for the fall semester.  It's also the morning of Trucks & Treasures at the same park, so I'm planning I will walk over to meet up with Husband Jeff and Sonny D when I get done.  In the afternoon and evening, we're going to Jeff's coworker's house for a company get together. It doesn't look like it's going to be warm for the event, so hopefully we'll be inside! 
  • Sunday - The standard Northside farmers' market visit in the morning.  Then in the afternoon we're heading over to our friend's house for Chucktemberfest.  I think it's the third or fourth annual Chucktemberfest, which is a grillout at Chuck's house.  

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Friday, September 5, 2014

It's Like Magic! Pressure Cooker Baked Beans

A can of baked beans is easy and great. Open it up, heat it, spoon 'em on your plate.  Perfect for a night when you're grilling and need a quick and simple side dish.  I never even considered the idea that you could make your own, not sure why that had never occurred to me.  But a few months ago I encountered recipes to make them completely from scratch and decided that I needed to try it.  

So I made baked beans for the Fourth of July and it was awesome.  My original intention was to make them in the slow cooker so I didn't have to do a lot of last-minute cooking, but my mom mentioned she had trouble making beans from scratch in the slow cooker, that they never fully softened.  So I changed my plans and made them right before the party in the pressure cooker instead.  They turned out so good that I decided I would make them again for my brother-in-law's 40th birthday last weekend.  

Quick Pressure Cooker Overview
Pressure cooking can save you time, energy, and vitamins.
Check out the pressure cooker infographic for more details.
After my last post about pressure cookers, my friend Josie of YumYucky asked for a a primer on them since she wanted to know more about the whole concept.

A pressure cooker is a sealed cooking vessel.  When you cook with it, the closed container plus the boiling liquid creates higher pressure (up to a certain amount, anything above that is let out).  That higher pressure means faster cooking because the steam penetrates into the food faster.  By cooking faster, it means you use less cooking fuel or energy, so it's very efficient and earth-friendly.

The quick-cooking factor means a huge chunk of meat is done in minutes, not hours.  Same with beans, skip the overnight soak and you can go from dry beans to fully cooked in about 20 minutes.

This method works well for recipes that involve moist cooking, so pretty much anything you can do in the slow cooker can be converted to the pressure cooker.  

And today's models are definitely safe.  They use pressure regulators to ensure the pressure doesn't get to high, and special locks to ensure you can't open it until the pressure reduces. 

The pressure cooker is best for people who don't plan ahead.  That's right slackers, this is one place where you're not behind. When I talked about making the baked beans in the pressure cooker, one family member mentioned he can take a roast right from the freezer and turn it into dinner in less than an hour. 

Back To The Dish

The night before the birthday party, I had a panicky moment while falling asleep when I worried about whether I needed to soak the beans overnight (you do not).  I was so tired that I mentally shrugged (and probably physically as well) and figured I would deal with it in the morning.  Then on the day of the party, I had another panicky moment when I couldn't find the scrap of paper with my scribbled Fourth of July recipe notes.  I have a drawer full of printed-off recipes and random scraps of paper with recipes, but I couldn't find that particular one. Of course I found it later, after I didn't need it.  I was able to manage without it by referencing the recipes I had bookmarked and one of my pressure cooker cookbooks.  The recipe I came up with is close to this slow-cooker baked beans from Eating Well. 

I made this batch without any bacon because we had a vegetarian friend coming to the party, plus I didn't have a full pound of bacon that I had previously deemed necessary for the dish.  On my first try I had only used half a pound because that's what the recipe stated, but you could barely tell it was there.  
Dry beans go in the pot, no overnight soaking.
After the 23 minutes of cooking in the pressure cooker, I transferred the now-cooked beans to my medium slow cooker and added the sauce ingredients. I prefer less-sweet baked beans, so I skipped most of the sugary stuff and went only with a bit of molasses.  And used plain tomato paste instead of ketchup. Since I had skipped the bacon, I added a heavy sprinkle of smoked paprika for that smokey touch. And definitely tasted it a few times after mixing all the sauce ingredients to adjust the spices and flavors.   Then I let it cook away a few more hours until the party. 
Finished baked beans.
I received loads of compliments, which made me so happy.  The vegetarian friend said they were the best baked beans he had ever had, which was great.  And my father-in-law Ken always compliments my cooking, which I really appreciate. 

This reminds me that I need to pull out my pressure cooker more often, it's so handy! Plus utterly fascinating, I think the science behind it is amazing. 

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of September 1

Last Week

Sonny D started back for the regular "fall semester" at preschool after a couple months of "summer camp".  There was only a week off (when we went to New Orleans) so it wasn't really any different, no adjustment period or anything.

On Friday over lunch I canned pickled jalapeños.  I had one jar that didn't seal so I put it in the fridge and can't wait to try it!  I also made spearmint vodka with mint from my coworker's garden. Up next is chocolate mint vodka with mint from our garden.  And jalapeno-infused tequila.
Pickled jalapeños and spearmint vodka. 

My Zumba instructor had her last Saturday morning class, at least for a while.  She had an audition at Gold's Gym on the other side of town so she's hoping she'll be able to teach there instead, or at least take the fall semester off and maybe start up again in January.  I showed up for that last class and it ended up there were only three of us since it was a holiday weekend. 

On Saturday afternoon we hosted my brother-in-law Scott's 40th birthday party at our house for the family.  We ordered 9 pounds of pulled pork, which was WAY too much. Even after eating a couple more meals of leftovers, we had to freeze almost 4 pounds of meat. And we asked people not to bring anything, but of course that doesn't happen, so we had too much other food as well.  Oh, and a cousin brought over the hugest bottle of red wine, we estimated it was about 6 bottles in one. 
Not us in the picture, but we had
a bottle of wine that big on Saturday. 

On Sunday afternoon we went to my favorite Madison "holiday", the Taste of Madison.  I did a lot of research on what I wanted to try, but like always, we had a bunch of random things, whatever interested us.  My least favorite was the spicy pickled egg, it was somehow SO incredibly dry inside, but not overcooked.  And it was just spicy-vinegar flavored, not much more than that.  My most favorite thing was probably the deep-fried pickles from Fried & Fabulous food cart.  These were huge slices of pickle, really tasty.  Sonny D's favorite item was pork dumplings from the SoHo Dumpling food cart, I had to run back and get him his own pair after I finished the first set we had shared.  Husband Jeff's favorite thing was talking with Rocky Rococo and getting a picture with him. 

I alternate between me cutting Sonny D's hair and taking him to my stylist because his hair grows really fast and I would spend too much money taking him to the salon every other month.  On Sunday evening before his bath I cut his hair.  He was patient (ok, completely absorbed in YouTube videos) while I attempted my first haircut with clippers.  Normally it's a pretty hack job because I use just scissors and I'm not a professional, but the clipper cut turned out great!  I used the clippers along with a comb to do a graduated trim up the back.  The front is a bit shorter than normal, but it'll hopefully look fine in about a week. 

This morning I woke up at 4:30 (yes, AM!) when I heard Sonny D hopping out of bed to grab some books.  I tried to go back to sleep, but once my brain starts going, I'm definitely awake for the day.  So I got up and went to the basement with my iPad and did a full 30-minute workout on the elliptical while watching a TV show and also did a tiny bit of weightlifting. 
Early-morning sweaty selfie.
And today I ordered my new glasses from Warby Parker, the Baxter frames in striped sassafras with high-index lenses for $125.  They're so much bigger than my current glasses!    Here's a video I took one morning to show them off.  I can't wait until they arrive, their estimate says 10-12 business days (around September 17). 

This Week

Last week I included Monday in the meal plan because it was a holiday, which I consider to be a continuation of the weekend.
  • Tuesday - Trader Joe's frozen rigatoni alla Siciliana, leftover corn on the cob, and salads before I head off to Zumba class. 
  • Wednesday - honey, peanut butter, and banana stuffed french toast, sesame green beans
  • Thursday - soup with fried-egg and cheese sandwiches, grilled leeks
  • Friday - going out with friends for pizza at Sal's Tomato Pies
  • Saturday - going to a wedding in Chicago... on a boat.  This is going to be quite different.  
  • Sunday - Our standard Northside farmers' market visit in the morning.  Last week I forgot my canning recipes so this week I'll have to remember them and maybe buy some ingredients to make something else.  Shakshuka for dinner, that's eggs cooked in tomato sauce.  Maybe I'll make some pasta to go with it. 

Wanna Chat?

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hopefully It Tastes Good: Pickled Eggplant

Last night I canned pickled basil-garlic eggplant cubes from The Joy of Pickling book.  I have absolutely no idea what it's going to taste like since I've never had pickled eggplant, but I figured I would try it out.  I don't know how this recipe will taste since you need to wait a week before you eat them. 

It wasn't from a small-batch canning book, but it ended up being smaller rather than larger.  It only took two eggplant and made 5 half-pint jars.  It was supposed to make 6 jars, but that last one wasn't full enough and the others needed more, so I used that less-full jar to get the others filled to the top. 
Blanching the eggplant cubes in vinegar. 

The recipe was really quick, I was done in less than an hour.  It took me about 15 minutes to pull out the jars and lids, find all the rest of my canning equipment like the jar lifter and funnel, and set up my cooking equipment.  I made one substitution, the recipe called for white wine vinegar, which I didn't have because when I originally skimmed the recipe, I thought it said regular white vinegar.  The flavor will be a bit more plain, but that might be ok. 

I tried a new trick for canning this time.  Usually it's recommended to use a rack in your water bath to protect the jars from bouncing around as they boil, but I don't have a rack so I added a silicone potholder to the bottom of the pot.  I don't actually like the silicone potholders to lift things since they seem slippery and I don't feel like I have a good grip on stuff, so this was a good way to use it.  The only other way I use them is occasionally as trivets, but even then I'm not fond of them since they're not very thick and I'm afraid the hot dishes are still too close to the table/counter and will cause damage. 
Blanched eggplant cubes mixed with garlic and basil.

I'm glad I'm comfortable with canning now, I understand the process and I know what I'm doing.  I think my first time canning took a few hours because I had to read and re-read the instructions several times to ensure I wasn't going to make a mistake.  Now I'm a lot more confident and it flows really well.
Steamy canning process.
I especially like that it wasn't a big batch so I could put it in a few small jars and wouldn't end up having to open a huge jar of pickles and then take forever to eat it. 
Sonny D and Husband Jeff sharing a carrot from our garden.
While I was cooking this up after dinner, Sonny D and Husband Jeff were out around the neighborhood having fun.  Their route back home took them through the back yard and they picked  a carrot in our garden.  (the only one big enough to eat!)

One garden thing I need to remember for next year is to definitely put plants into tomato cages or tie them up to a trellis for support.  So many of our plants are drooped over on the ground and all our good food is going to waste while the animals eat them.  And the Asian beetles completely ravaged all my basil.  Last year we had an amazing bumper crop of basil, this year it looks like I will barely have enough left to make a decent batch of pesto after I harvested a bit for this recipe. 
The final product. 
My next pickling adventure is spicy pickled jalapeños. Those should be fun. 

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!