My Year Without a Kitchen

Annes,

Did I ever tell you about my first year in Houston? I lived in this giant, furniture-bare, one bedroom apartment in Montrose without a working stove/oven. I had a stove. It was a gas stove! I was so excited to cook on a gas range again. However, small hiccup, the City of Houston seemed to think my apartment had been vacant for at least a year before I moved it and required a site visit.  I made this my landlord’s problem because this issue seemed to be beyond my responsibilities as a renter.  (It totally was, but I’ll get to that.) After several failed attempted visits by the City and no progress with my landlord, I gave up about six months into my lease. At that point my building was bought by a new company.  I was so over the whole thing, I didn’t event bother bringing it up with the new leasing company. (Big mistake.)  Fast forward five months when I’m putting in my notice to not renew my lease. I get a call from the regional manager asking me about my stay and why I wasn’t renewing. I let him have it, politely.  I explained the gas situation (among a myriad of other issues), and lo and behold, my building isn’t wired for gas! Why in the world would they put gas ranges in a building that isn’t wired for gas?! Why didn’t my first landlord tell me the building wasn’t wired for gas? Maybe he didn’t know? At any rate, the regional manager totally understood. They ended up giving me my entire deposit back.

As you can imagine, this put a rather significant damper on my cooking options. Fortunately, I had a microwave and slower cooker. I also borrowed from work an electric kettle with a completely removable lid that I used as a hot pot. I will say this whole situation gave me a solid platform to eat a lot more fresh/raw fruits and vegetables.

So, what did I eat in that year without a fully functional kitchen? I used my slow cooker a lot. I always had portions of Budget Bytes Chicken Taco Bowls in the fridge and freezer. Instead of putting it over rice (which requires a stove or magic microwave skills or a rice cooker), I would use it as taco filling and make soft shell tacos instead. Poaching chicken in the slow cooker was great too. I ended up shredding that for chicken salad or sandwiches. I tried to make a mushroom stroganoff in the slow cooker. That was a disaster. It tasted like mustard, but not in a pleasant way.  I am a bit ashamed to admit that once I got the hot pot, I made a lot of Pasta Roni. I mean, at a $1 a box, it’s hard to pass up. Plus, you can add vegetables and protein to it. I can’t say that I did add a lot of vegetables and protein to it, but it’s an option that other people can do. Whenever I could, I tried to get other people to let me use their kitchens, which was nice.

Annes, I have to say that year without a kitchen cut me deep.  Once I moved into the new apartment complete with actual working gas stove, it took me a few months to get back into the habit of cooking.  However, I’m back at it, stronger than ever.  Look out for my next letter where I discuss all the dishes my friends and I made for our Harry Potter movie marathon.

 

Xoxo,

C

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Friday Pie Day!

*Note: This was meant to be published two months ago, but alas, I suck.

Annes,

When I was at The Glimmerglass Festival, I started Friday Pie Day, wherein the development team and other various Glimmerglass employees and I would eat pie and drink coffee around 3:00 PM each Friday once we opened the season. Just off Highway 20 was a baked goods stand open on Fridays and Saturdays, run by a wonderful Amish family.  Saying these pies are some of the best I’ve ever eaten is not an exaggeration.  I have dreams about their blueberry pie.  In an attempt to create an atmosphere of community at my new job, I decided to institute Friday Pie Day while we’re in production.  Because I am unsure if the Amish have settled this far South and I don’t want to shell out $20 every Friday, I’ve decided to up my pie game and bake my own each week.  As you may recall, dear Annes, I have experimented with pies in the past.  In the last couple weeks I’ve baked an apple pie, a peace pie, and a strawberry crostata.

The first pie I made was apple, and because one of my coworkers is vegan, I needed to find an alternative to the traditional butter crust.  I ended up making an oil pastry crust, courtesy of the 1980 revised 8th edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (of old food no one ever makes because it’s actually pretty gross).  Some of the food pictures in the front cover are pretty gross.  There’s this broccoli casserole/salad concoction that looks like it has marshmallow with ranch dressing drizzled on top, sprinkled with breadcrumbs. (I’m all for broccoli and ranch dressing, but how do the marshmallows enter this equation?)  There’s another picture of what can only be described as a pistachio green jello mold with sugared grapes delicately placed atop the jiggling obscenity.  (Side note:  Were you ever present for Kim’s recounting of the jellos Dr. Larsen makes the music staff eat at his annual Christmas dinner?)  Despite the fact that I wouldn’t dare prepare 75% of the recipes in this cookbook, BH&G saved me this time with a quick, easy pie crust that used ingredients I already had.  I would have just used Crisco, but I didn’t have any and it was too late to go to the store (read: I was lazy and I didn’t want to get shot leaving my apartment at 10:00 PM).

20140828_230401
“Oil will always love you!”

Oil Pastry

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup salad oil
5 tablespoons cold water
1. Sift together flour and salt
2. Pour salad oil and cold water in measuring cup (do not stir)
3. Add all at once to the flour mixture and stir lightly with fork
4. Form into 2 balls; flatten dough slightly
5. Roll out (Pro Tip:  Roll dough between two 12-inch squares of waxed paper (dampen table/counter first so paper won’t slip). When dough is rolled in a circle to the edges of the paper, it will be the right thickness for crust.)
For the filling, I cut up the 4 gala apples I had left from my weekly bag of apples and poured an amount of sugar, cinnamon, and maybe some nutmeg, and a dash of vanilla.   I was a little worried about the crust because when I tasted the raw dough, it was overpoweringly salty.  Fortunately, the end result was just fine.  The salt balanced with the sweetness of the apples, though I might reduce the salt to  1 teaspoon in the future.  I didn’t want to do a double crust because I was a little low on filling, and I wanted to hide the saltiness of the crust, but I didn’t want a single crust/tart.  Instead, I cut out some tiny hearts with a cookie cutter and placed them on top.  Since I didn’t use all the dough for the second shell, I made a quick strawberry crostata.  This was so simple.  I cut up some strawberries that were teetering that fine line between perfectly ripe and rotten, tossed them on the dough, and rustically folded the sides. I took a leap of faith and hoped during the baking process the sugars would caramelize and sweeten the strawberries. I can’t actually tell you how this turned out.  I didn’t get a piece of it.  The feedback was all positive, but here in the South, I can’t tell if people are being genuine or just being nice.
The last pie in the baking tale is a beautiful peach pie with a lattice crust.  My boss invited a bunch of people to his house in Indiana (gross, but at least it’s not Ohio) for Labor Day.  You can’t celebrate the symbolic end of summer without a pie. I don’t know where this rule came from, but I stand by it.  In traditional Carolyne style, I didn’t really use a recipe.  I loosely followed this one from Taste of Home because it mentioned the Great State (Iowa).  The pie was a smash success. Again, I didn’t taste of this pie.  I had to head to the University of Louisville Football season opener before we got to dessert.
"Lattice bow our heads for Peaches Christ."
“Lattice bow our heads for Peaches Christ.”

 

Friday Pie Day caught on.  I haven’t baked a pie in a while because my coworkers have decided to bring in pie as well, which is great!  Lastly, there is a place in  Louisville called Homemade Ice Cream + Pie Kitchen, which sells homemade pies and ice cream.  Delicious.  If/when you come to Louisville, I will take you to Pie Kitchen. That’s a promise.
Pieces of pie,
Carolyne

Co-op ‘Til You Drop

Dear Carolyne,

Firstly, where did the summer and fall go? Especially here in the hinterland, people are kind of freaking out because the nice weather is rapidly deteriorating and no one has recovered from last winter.

I don’t even know what I did this summer, aside from visit Seatlle and eat my weight in Chickpea Salad (tomatoes omitted because ugh gross).

I feel like I have been cooking a lot, partially because I have acquired a few new cookbooks. I picked up the How Sweet It Is cookbook, since I’ve had pretty good success with the recipes from her blog. However, the cookbook is called Seriously Delish, and that makes me gag so much that I had to buy it for my Kindle so no one would know my shame. In honesty, I used to not care much for this blogger’s writing style (and it is all a hair too cutesy for me still), but I tweeted about making one of her recipes once and she tweeted my back and was really sweet so now I just feel bad that I hate everything all the time.

Self portrait, courtesy of the internet.
Self portrait, courtesy of the internet.

I also picked up The Beeroness’s new cookbook (titled simply The Craft Beer Cook Book).  She is another blogger whose writing style doesn’t do a lot for me, but her recipes are legit and I used a bunch of them when I hosted Thanksgiving last year. I had a misstep recently when I tried to make her Porter Chorizo Black Bean Soup. I tried to make it vegetarian by using Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo, with which I am obsessed. I also made the mistake of trying to make this on a weeknight. I feel like the chorizo got a little charred, and even though I kept adding liquid, the beans never got cooked all the way. Drew loved it, though, so perhaps I am judging myself too harshly. I just find that when a meal bombs, I say to myself, “I can do better. I AM BETTER THAN THIS.”

Drew thinks I am nuts.

Lastly, I have been really enjoying the Thug Kitchen cook book, which surprises me because it is a low salt, vegan cookbook. They totally got me, actually, because I was too busy enjoying all the swearing to notice that was the case. I’ve made a few recipes out of the book now, and they have all been gems. However, as is often the case, I find that I’m happier if I at least double what they recommend for spices. I made their Pumpkin Chilli this weekend in the crock pot, and I definitely added double the chilli powder and probably quadruple the cumin.

I’m glad that you are getting to know your new city and that you have found a place with good pulled pork. I’m also glad that you’ve gotten so much use out of Going Solo in the Kitchen. That book taught me to poach chicken breasts, something for which I am eternally grateful.

Not much else is new here. I have been playing with Drew’s bread machine and using up old mixes that predate me by several years. I also joined the co-op where Dave and Linnea work. This has been fun, because I often see one or both of them when I grocery shop, and they have a great bulk section that contains things like beeswax and french green clay in addition to your usual flours and spices. Would that I could make such a place magically appear closer to you, so as to spare you further disappointing Kroger visits.

My personal Hell is Sam’s Club. Being in charge of the grocery shopping means that I have to stop there once a week and pick up a few things that Drew can’t seem to live without (mostly lunch meat). I did score 300 coffee filters for under $6 one day, though, so it is not always a total bust.

Love and chickpeas,

Anne

Kentucky Woman

Dear Anne,

I have been in the Commonwealth of Kentucky for almost a month, and I have to say I don’t hate it.  I never thought I’d be living in the South, at least not this part of the South, and I certainly never thought I’d enjoy it.  My first weekend here, a friend from home visited.  She recently moved to the Carolinas to teach outside of Charlotte, which is about 8 hours away.  I’m glad she did because it forced me to get out of my apartment and explore Louisville.  Our adventures were quite fun, and definitely had a culinary theme.  We took a ride on the Spirit of Jefferson, walked the pedestrian bridge to Indiana, walked around Cave Hill Cemetery and saw Colonel Sanders’ grave.  Later, we stumbled up on the world’s fanciest KFC — KFC 11.  No one knows why it’s so fancy, but it is.  We also went to Comfy Cow, which is number two on this recommended list by Buzzfeed, Tom + Chee, which is now a franchise that only sells variations of grilled cheese and tomato soup. I discovered this place when I lived in Cincinnati, but didn’t realize they had expanded.  You cannot go wrong with grilled cheese and tomato soup.  Saturday night we went to a comedy show at the Laughing Derby and had a good time.  Sunday was magical.  We started the day out by brunching at The Monkey Wrench, which serves Southern-style cuisine and provides you the opportunity to design your own mimosa or Bloody Mary.  They also have banjos playing every Sunday morning. Amazing!  I ordered the biscuits with mushroom gravy (delicious!) and took a stab the Bloody Mary bar.  I must admit I was sorely disappointed by the Bloody Mary bar.  My ideal Bloody Mary has spicy pickle juice in it, and there were neither pickles nor juice to be found.  I also really don’t care for vodka, so maybe my ideal Bloody Mary is briny tomato juice.  Who’s to say?  That afternoon we hiked the pedestrian bridge over the Ohio River.  After we walked to Indiana and back, we foraged for a barbecue place because if I’m going to live in the South, I’m for sure going to try to eat as much pulled pork as humanly possible without getting the meat sweats.  Based on the name alone, I am 98.64% certain you would love this place:  Momma’s Mustard, Pickles, and BBQ.  It was well worth the 20 minute drive from the riverfront.  I had a pulled pork sandwich with baked beans and mac and cheese.  I have been dreaming about going back since we finished that meal.  (Memo to self: make friends so people will go get BBQ with you.)  Since that weekend, I’ve been trying to prepare my own food because dining out is expensive, but I’m glad I explored Louisville.

The other day I read an article on The Toast called “On Cooking For One,” which completely summed up my feelings on solo culinary adventures.  So many people in my life complain about the difficulties of cooking for only themselves.  I wholeheartedly disagree with their sentiments, though I respect their right to express their opinions.  Cooking for myself is an act of self care and a little bit of meditation.  I find peeling vegetables and methodically preparing a meal to be soothing.  I will concede cooking for one can be daunting in the beginning, spurring questions like “What do I make,” “Why does my grocery store assume I’m cooking for at least four,” and “Is this going to get expensive?”  Fortunately, five years ago you sent me off to grad school with this book:  Going Solo in the Kitchen, by Jane Doerfer

 

Jane so brilliantly discusses the philosophy of cooking for one and how to shop for one.  I’ve made a number of her chicken recipes and her sweet biscuits with a cold fruit compote are delicious.  Sadly, as I am back in the land of Kroger, so much of my produce is prepackaged or pre-portioned.  I have found a more local grocery store that allows me to purchase only what I need, but it’s kind of out of the way.  I’m sure after a few more disappointing Kroger runs, I’ll be more willing to schlep out to the Highlands for produce.  Fun fact: this book made it’s way to England this past winter as I lent it to a former intern of mine for her study abroad this semester.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been cooking for myself again.  Getting into a routine took longer than I anticipated, so my cooking has only begun in the last couple weeks, and it’s mostly been staple foods that I can freeze for later.  Two of my standby basic recipes are crockpot (not) refried beans and black beans.  Both recipes com from Budget Bytes, which is by and large my favorite food blog on the interwebs (aside from Dear Broccoli).  I know I’ve written about Beth and her blog before, but I will not stop singing her praises.  The black beans are the easiest recipe I’ve even encountered because it’s a bag of dried black beans and water in the crockpot for hours.  That’s it.  Each one pound bag makes about three cans of black beans.  I freeze them until I use them in soups or enchiladas.  The (not) refried beans are only two steps more difficult because in addition to water and beans, you throw in some diced onion and jalepeno, plus some herbs and spices.  After the beans have cooked for their requisite time (heat setting dependent), you mash them with a hand blender.  Those beans are also sitting in my freezer until I make some enchiladas.  I’m waiting to make the enchiladas because last week I made chicken taco bowls, which are also from Budget Bytes.  Again, this is a crockpot recipe.  All you do here is load your crockpot with some chicken breast, a jar of salsa, a can of black beans, frozen corn and some herbs and spices and let ‘er go. I added a can of mushrooms to help beef up the meal. Once everything has cooked (read: chicken is not raw), shred the chicken.  Serve over rice and top with cheese.  I was too lazy to make rice.  Also, I didn’t have the cooking instructions for this particular kind of rice and could not find them online. . .  At any rate I ate this for lunch almost everyday this past week.  Without the rice, it’s sort of like a really thick chicken chili.

Thanks to your post about Iowa sweet corn, the best corn in the world, I did end up making a couple dinners that didn’t come from a crockpot.  The first was sauteed mushrooms and green beans with a side of corn.  Okay, I lied.  The corn was the main part and the mushrooms and green beans were the side dish.  They just awkwardly sat there while I nearly inhaled the first corn on the cob I’ve eaten in almost three years.  Kentucky sweet corn is just not as good as Iowa sweet corn (what is, really?), but it certainly hit the spot.  I had an ear leftover, so I cut the corn off and tossed it with the remaining mushrooms and green beans and served it over some Ramen at work the next day.  I bought some more corn yesterday with the intent of trying out your recipes.  I want it to be tomorrow night already so I can make the corn.  I’d make it tonight, but I’m headed to a coworkers for a Labor Day get together this afternoon and going to a University of Louisville football game tonight.

Remind me to tell you about pies and Brussels sprouts next time.  I promise it’s not a Brussels sprouts pie.  I don’t know how I feel about that.

 

xoxo,

Carolyne

 

 

Corn Forever

Dear Carolyne,

First and foremost, congratulations on your new job! I am very excited for this new chapter in your life, though I will miss receiving postcards featuring busty opera singers.

Now her breasts are talking to God.
Now her breasts are talking to God.

While you are busy moving many states away from your current location (but also many states closer to me!), I made a pilgrimage to the motherland. That’s right. I went home to Iowa.

Well, not home exactly. I went to north eastern Iowa for my aunt Linnea’s 60th birthday celebration, then on to the river to stay with some friends. The celebration was lovely, even though my mom forgot the dates and couldn’t be there and I only saw Grandma Pat for a few minutes. We mostly drank beer and sat around a campfire, which it 100% cool with me.

While home in Iowa, I made it a priority to buy (of course) corn, which is in season. I am 100% a corn snob. I won’t buy it up here in Minnesota, claiming it is simply not as good (it’s not).

The essentials.
The essentials.

Okay, I did get some elote recently from the Sonora Grill, and it was good purely because it was smothered with all kinds of stuff. The corn itself still did not match up.

Alotta elote.
Alotta elote.

So anyway, I brought corn back with me to Minneapolis and cooked it up tonight. My original plan was to eat a few ears, save a few ears for Drew, and then use the rest in this bacon corn salad recipe I found. However, I’ve already eaten half of what I bought and Drew’s not even home yet.

Tempting.
Tempting.

Do you remember the first time you realized you didn’t have to eat how your parents ate? To this day it is one of the happiest things about adulthood I can name. Not that we ate poorly or anything, but it’s just so nice to realize that you don’t have to do anything a certain way because that’s how mom did it or whatever. Also, I never have to eat boiled dinner (kielbasa and new potatoes boiled together with, like, no seasoning) again. I hate you, boiled dinner.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is that of course it is fine and delicious to just put butter and salt on your sweet corn. BUT YOU DO NOT HAVE TO.

Instead, tonight I made a pesto compound butter and sprinkled my corn with pecorino romano. I have no pictures of this because I inhaled it.

For the pesto butter, I used about a 1:1 ration of pesto to butter, and added in about a half tsp of cayenne for subtle heat.

This picture is not attractive, but trust me, this stuff was delicious.
This picture is not attractive, but trust me, this stuff was delicious.

I am now corned out until next year, and I seriously doubt there will be leftovers once Drew gets home.

I hope your move goes smoothly! I can’t wait to hear about your new city and new job.

Love and sweet corn,

Anne

New Year, Same Story – Maybe

Dearest Anne,

I hope your holidays were merry and bright, or at the very least you had enough alcohol to get you through any familial crying episodes.  I spent Christmas up in Vermont where I tried skiing for the first time (and lived to tell the tale), ate some delicious sauteed kale, and tried maple cotton candy. Oh, also, we went on a sleigh ride, and there were fresh cookies and Cabot cheese at snack time.  My favorite part of the trip was sledding on our first night in Vermont. I had never been sledding in the dark before, but it was so much fun. I love sledding.  Now, that Upstate has snow this year, I will be able to do more sledding. Lastly, I kicked butt at Jeopardy.

 

Anne, unfortunately, this holiday season did not allow me much time to do any real cooking or baking.  Since I did not go home for the holidays, I was not able to participate in the annual Comito Family Ravioli-Making Extravaganza.  However, it was confirmed by Uncle Frank that without me quality control has been down the last two years. Picture cavatelli making with more of an assembly line atmosphere.

Now, that we’re through Christmas and New Year’s, I’m planning on spending more time in my kitchen.  I’ve already made a curried butternut squash soup, a seven layer dip, quesadillas, and two kinds of beans.  As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, and I’m nothing if not repetitive, I love the blog Budget Bytes. I love how Beth creates inexpensive recipes that use common ingredients.  The recipe I use most often is her (not) refried beans. So easy. Just toss all the ingredients into your crockpot for 4-6 hours and walk away. I’ve been making these since grad school; they’re good with just about anything.  Lately, I’ve been using the not refried beans as a base for quesadillas I freeze for lunches when I don’t have time to shop and cook.  They’re also good as the base for seven layer dip, which is what I made for New Year’s Eve.  The other beans I made last weekend were some straight up black beans.  I used some of the black beans in the quesadillas, and then froze the rest.

Speaking of New Year’s, I didn’t really make any resolutions for the actual day, but I’ve spent last week thinking about things I’d like to accomplish in the next year.

  1. Write everyday. I bought a “line a day” journal that has a couple lines for you to write everyday for 5 years. At this point, I’m not entirely sure if I’ll make it a lesson in concision, or if I’ll use it just to take note of mundane happenings. I’m excited to see how it evolves. In addition to writing in this line a day journal, I need to keep up with my other journals, this blog, random writings, and my thesis.
  2. Find an answer to the question, “What do you do in your free time?” It is no longer acceptable to say, “I don’t have free time,” because frankly, that’s a cop out and untrue. It’s also not acceptable to say you spend all your free time wearing sweatpants and reading the newspaper, even if that does sound like a great way to spend one’s time.
  3. Stop using my office as a glorified storage room and actually use it as an office. Resolution 1 will probably complete itself if I actually used my office for its intended purpose.
  4. Feelings — accept that I have them and deal with it. Anne, you and I both know how much I dislike having the feelings, but I must accept that I am human, which means I get the feels from time to time and there’s nothing I can do about it.
  5. As cliche as this is, be more present. I am going to make efforts to listen more fully and really participate in conversations and really commit to what’s going on around me rather than experiencing things peripherally or superficially.

So, Annes, now that I’ve told you and all the interwebs about my plans for 2013, I must accomplish them, because everything on the internet is true, and I don’t want to ruin that record.

 

Luff,

Carolyne

Soup there it is!

Dear Annes,

I hope you like my Space Jam inspired title. Oh, yes. That’s right, Space Jam. Takes me back to a happier time, like when Starter Jackets were cool.  However, that was also a time when butterfly clips were the hair accessory d’jour and gel pens reigned supreme. I think this was pre-glitter, but I could be wrong. I don’t feel like consulting my angst-ridden preteen journals. I do not think I can handle 10-year old Carolyne at this very moment.

At any rate, let’s talk about soup. Gah! That would have been a much better title than “Soup there it is!” What was I thinking? I could have rewritten the whole song and filmed a music video just for you. Damn. Maybe next time.

So, back to soups, yes? Okay. Well, after I returned from Thanksgiving in the windiest of all cities, I proceeded to get sick. Thanks a lot, immune system.  In all actuality, it was a mere head cold, but because I have a dramatic streak, I acted as if I was dying. In fact, I called my mother and told her as such*.

Me: Mom!

Mom: What?

Me: I’m dying! It’s horrible! Okay, I’m not dying. I have a cold, but it’s still horrible.

Mom: You’re weird.

Me: That is not how you talk to a dying woman.

Mom: I stand corrected. You’re very weird.

Me: I suggest we agree to disagree. Moving on, I wish I had soup right now.

*Please note this is a dramatic reinterpretation of what actually happened. I may or may not have previously mentioned I have a flair for dramatics.

Then my mother so rudely went on to talk about the turkey noodle soup she had made from the leftover turkey and cavatelli (sans sauce, fyi).  After this torture, I decided to wander to my local Price Chopper to acquire the appropriate ingredients for chicken noodle soup.

Let’s see, ingredients included some chicken broth, an onion, celery (v. important), carrots, noodles, and a rotisserie chicken.  I got the idea for the rotisserie chicken from your post about soup. So good.  Anne, I don’t know if you remember my aversion to handling meat, but I hate handling meat. It’s disgusting. Not a read. That’s a fact.  However, through some sort of heroic force, or maybe I was just sick enough to alter my thought process, I took all the meat off of that rotisserie chicken by myself, and I didn’t cry at all. Not one bit.  I did whimper through a good portion of it, but no crying from this kid.  Poor roommate Wesley tried to save me from myself, but I made him leave me alone. I told him this was my fight. Sometimes, I don’t understand how the world puts up with me.  At any rate, I put all the meat in the soup, and it was wonderful. I froze a quart or two and ate the rest of it throughout the week.

The chicken noodle soup was for lunches and stuff, but what I really wanted on that fine post-Thanksgiving Sunday was grilled cheebs and tomato soup. In an effort to eat less sodium, I have cut out most processed and canned foods. While I just wanted some classic Campbell’s tomato soup, I forced myself to make soup from scratch.  I used Michael Chairello’s recipe from the Food Network.  I was excited to have the opportunity to use a bay leaf.  Former Roommate Ellie left me some, and I haven’t been able to use one yet.  Due to my lactose intolerance, I skipped the heavy cream.  Overall this recipe was perfectly okay.  I appreciate that it only makes about 4 servings, so I can consume it in a reasonable time.  The flavor was a little lacking for me.  it didn’t really taste like tomatoes, so I added some tomato past to boost the flavor. On Sunday, I thought the whole thing was a little flat.  Roommate Wesley said it tasted fine.  I couldn’t really taste anything thanks to my head cold.  However, a few days later when I finished the last serving of soup, it was great.  Perhaps, having conquered my cold allowed me to taste again. It was like I was tasting soup for the first time. (Not really.)  Perhaps, the soup’s flavors married and created a better bond for my taste buds. Who knows. I’ll just have to make the soup again when I’m not dying.

Anyway, how have you been? How’s the new jorb?  How’s the tree climbing thing going?  This weekend I have to get a new phone, and then I’m headed to the City for work.

Luff and stuff,

Carolyne

Can we do it? Yes, pecan!

Dear Annes,

To address the issues in your  most recent letter:

1. Car accident?! Why didn’t you tell me sooner!? I would have sent cookies.  (I still might.) Also, I’m glad your car is fine and you are relatively unscathed.

2. Jobs New and Old: You quitting your old job is probably a damn good thing because I know how much you didn’t like it. Also, what is your new job? You leave me with such cliffhangers? I’ve decided you’ve joined a knit-bombing team, and that’s your new job.

3. I’m glad you approve of Wesley, because I certainly do.  I think the two of you would get along swimmingly. Hopefully, you’ll be able to meet at some point.

4. Soups are the best. It’s getting colder up here in the hinterland, which mean soups galore.  I’m definitely going to have to try that chicken and wild rice soup.  You’re not the only one who likes a thick soup, and has a tendency to not be able to make a thinner soup.  Fortunately, most of the soups I’ve made in the past couple months have been curry based, so I can easily turn them into sauces.

5. Pumpkin bars?! I do not recall pumpkin bars being in my life. I’ll definitely have to make those as well.  Who can say no to pumpkin? No one.

Okay, so for Thanksgiving, I headed to Chicago to spend some quality time with my real parents aunt and uncle.  I was asked if I had ever made a pecan pie, which I had not.  So, I decided to experiment with pecan pies last weekend.  I did some research on pecan pies, and discovered they are traditionally made with corn syrup.  While I really appreciate a good ear of Iowa corn, I’m a little apprehensive about using corn syrup.  It’s just so controversial these days, and frankly I was not willing to serve controversy pie.  I did a little more research to see if there are like minded individuals in the world.  As it turns out, one can make a pie sans scorn syrup.  My game plan:  make 1 pie with corn syrup and make 1 pie without.  Thankfully, I had a ready and willing group of friends to taste test these pies.  Full disclosure, in the interest of time, I used pre-made pie crust.  Normally, I would have made my own.

Pie 1: Scorn Syrup

Pecan Pie
I don’t always take food pictures, but when I do, I try to make them artistic.

I used The Pioneer Woman’s pecan pie recipe.  I’ve always been a big fan of her recipes.  She’s on Food Network now, which could be interesting; I’ve not yet watched her show.  Anyway, the Pioneer Woman crushes/chops her pecans, which I did not do because I am more in favor of a beautiful pie rather than one that is more easily cut.  This pie says to bake for 50 minutes, the first 30 covered with foil, and the second 20 without.  I found that it took about 70-75 minutes to bake, but the Pioneer Woman did mention the baking time depended on the oven.  Due to some brunch reservations and some poor time management, the pie was undercooked by about 5 minutes, which meant the filling wasn’t as solid as I would have liked.  Overall, still pretty good.

Pie 2: Maple Syrup

Pecan Pie
Oh, so artistic.

For the second pie, I used Delightful Repast’s recipe.  This recipe calls for maple syrup instead of corn syrup.  This is something I could get behind.  This pie should have only been baked for 50 minutes, but I got a little concerned and ended up baking it for about 5 minutes too long.  Still good.

Let’s compare and contrast.  Pie 1 was sweeter and creamier than Pie 2.  However, Pie 2 highlighted the pecan flavor better.  Both pies were good, but the general consensus was the texture of Pie 1 was better, but the flavor of Pie 2 was preferable.  So, next time I will try to marry the two.

When my aunt and I started cooking for Thanksgiving, she already had a pecan pie recipe picked out from Cooking Light.  It appeared my research was rendered mostly useless.  However, I was able to explain to my uncle why the pecans are put on the bottom of the pie dish and how they make it to the top.  Scientific & Knowledgeable Carolyne was scientific and knowledgeable.  This recipe used brown rice syrup and maple syrup.  I was not a fan.  I could still taste the brown rice syrup after baking, and I’m not a big rice fan.  However, everyone else liked it, so that’s good.

Anne, can I tell you a story about my bread mishap at the Thanksgiving?  Okay, so on Thanksgiving my aunt and I realized we didn’t have any bread for the meal later that afternoon.  I suggested we make ciabatta bread since it’s relatively easy to make, and it’s delicious.  This is one of those “mostly in my head” recipes, but I have the actual recipe on hand, just in case.  Seeing as how I was in Chicago, and not the good old Coop, I had to rely on my memory and then call my mom to double check.  Well, my mother was eating Thanksgiving with my family because they wanted to celebrate before Kelsey went to work, meaning my mother did not answer, leaving me on my own.  So, I did what I thought was right, which turned out to be wrong (yay me).  I didn’t have enough water, so I thought I could fix it by adding the amount of water I needed.  Wrong again.  I ended up with a soupy mess and a bruised ego.   Fortunately, we had enough of the ingredients to start over.  My aunt rightfully did not trust me to do this correctly this time, so she hovered around to make sure we had the proper consistency.  On a positive note, the bread turned out perfectly, and my aunt made me a sandwich with the bread for the plane ride bake to New York.   I will leave you with the ciabatta recipe.

Ciabatta Bread

Yields 2 loaves

Ingredients

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 packet of yeast

pinch of sugar/honey for yeast

2 cups warm water

2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

1. Dissolve packet of yeast in water with sugar.  Wait 5-ish minutes.

2.  Mix flour and salt in big bowl.  (Make sure to actually mix the salt into the flour.  Salt kills yeast. Learned that from the aunt this weekend.)

3. Add oil and water to flour mixture.  Mix for 10-ish minutes. (Dough should be very sticky, but not soupy.)

4. Let rise for 30 minutes.

5. Flop. (aka scrape dough onto a board, fold one side to the other, fold once more)

6. Put dough back in the bowl. Let rise another 30 minutes.

7. Flop again.

8. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

9. Cut dough in half.  Form two loaves. Place loaves onto cookie tray(s).  Let rise while oven preheats.

10. Bake for 30 minutes, or until bread is golden brown on top.  Bread should sound hollow when tapped.

Love and Giblets,

Carolyne

Ladle me this, ladle me that

Dear Carolyne,

I was excited to hear that Wesley moved in with you, based on the lovely things you said about him the last time I saw you. I’m jealous and wish I was around to partake in the fun.

I don’t recall you ever bringing me homemade pasta back in Wash 6, which obviously means you don’t actually love me. 😦

Kidding, kidding. By the way, I am still working through the red sauce you made me and impressing family and roommate alike.

My own time in the kitchen has been limited lately due to, like, life happening and stuff. I got into a minor car accident right before Halloween that resulted in a prescription for muscle relaxers. I wasn’t really hurt, thankfully, just really sore. My car also wasn’t hurt too badly, but the guy who hit me’s insurance company is paying for some body work. 

Also, I quit my job without notice, which is the most irresponsible thing I have ever done in my entire life. Luckily, I start a new one on the 27th.

So, with all this funemployment vacation time with which I find myself, I finally can get back to making things!

Yesterday I stripped a rotisserie chicken for the purposes of a) having chicken meat around to use, b) to have a chicken carcass (ew, I hate the word carcass) so I can make stock, and c) to make chicken wild rice soup. I had just had some really excellent chicken wild rice soup at Tilia that cited bourbon as one of its ingredients, so I was itching to make some for myself.

It turned out awesome, albeit pretty thick. I am having this problem lately where I cannot make a thin-brothed soup for the life of me. I made Drew some chicken noodle soup a week or two ago because he had a cold, and he told me it was good but so thick it was more like white chili (I’m sure all the cayenne and black pepper didn’t help in that respect). The thing is, I like my soups thick. I have this carrot ginger soup from Trader Joe’s in my fridge right now that tastes lovely, but the texture bums me out. It needs cream or chunks of butternut squash or something to punch it up. I hate to see a good soup wasted just because it doesn’t meet my texture demands.

Anyway, my wild rice soup is almost too thick to even be called soup, but I like it that way. Here is basically what I did:

6ish Tbsp olive oil

2 c. chopped celery and onion (I had this leftover stuffing starter from Trader Joe’s that was celery, onion, and some herbs that was ideal for this kind of thing)

1.5ish c. chopped carrot

3ish Tbsp flour (here is my whole problem, I am sure)

3ish tsp mustard powder

Lots of garlic powder, because all of my actual garlic had gone bad :/

1/3 c. bourbon

1 of those cardboard things of chicken stock, it’s like 4-6 cups or something

1 Tbsp poultry seasoning

2ish c. shredded rotisserie chicken

1/2 lb of uncooked wild rice (probably the other part of my problem)

1/3ish c. of half and half

salt and pepper to taste, of course

Pretty much you know the routine here. Saute up your veggies in the olive oil, then add the flour  + mustard powder, garlic, curry. Then the bourbon, then the stock, then the rice. Let it simmer while the rice cooks. Once the rice is cooked, add the chicken and let it heat through. Add the poultry seasoning. Lastly, add the cream and the salt + pepper. Oh, I am pretty sure I put a hit of cayenne in this too, because I always do and cayenne is good at bringing out the other flavors. Just a hit, though. Like, 1/4 tsp tops.

 

I am really happy with how it turned out. I mean, minorly irked at the thickness, but only for the sake of tradition. I like it thick *eyebrow waggle*.

 

Today I am going to make my mom’s pumpkin bar recipe. Did Mom ever send pumpkin bars with me to Wash 6? I feel like she probably did, but I can’t recall. Anyway, here is the exact e-mail she sent me with the recipe, and I appreciate the air of, “Eh, whatever,” that comes with it as well as all of my mom’s recipes.

 

this cookbook had the most stains so I think this is the one I use.

FROSTED PUMPKIN BARS

1 3/4 C. SUGAR                                     1/2 TSP CINNAMON
3 EGGS                                                 1 8 OZ PKG CRM CHEESE, SOFTENED
3/4 C. OIL                                               6 TBS BUTTER
1 CAN COOKED PUMPKIN                      4 C, POWDERED SUGAR
2 C. FLOUR                                            1 TSP VANILLA
3/4 TSP BAKING POWDER                     
3/4 TSP BAKING SODA

Combine first 8 ingredients together in order given. Pour into jellyroll pan.  Bake @ 350 for 20 to 25 minutes.  Mix cream cheese, butter, powered sugar & vanilla until spreading consistency.  Spread on top of cooled bars.  ENJOY!!

(I use more cinnamon and a pinch of what everelse I have, like pumpkin pie spice, cloves & or nutmeg.  Use what you like)  let me know how they turn out.

 

Ah, mom. I am looking forward to trekking back to Iowa next week to see her and the rest of the fam. Also the pets. I anticipate coming home covered in scratches and dog hair. What are your plans this year? I’m guessing you’re not coming back to the corn capital of the world. One of these years we need to be in the same place for Thanksgiving so we can do the dinner ourselves. Can you imagine? Everyone we invited would die from awesome.

 

Love and cinnamon,

Anne

 

 

Pasta Straight from My Kitchen

Dear Anne,

I have not been doing enough cooking lately.  Because things have been busy, and they aren’t going to stop any time soon now the holiday season is upon us, most of my culinary adventures are relegated to the weekend.  Fortunately, the holiday season means I can bake to my heart’s content and people at the office will make less fuss about me constantly bringing in food. This weekend I got a little crazy and made pumpkin pancakes and cavatelli from scratch.  However, I heard no complaints from roommate Wesley.

The pumpkin pancakes were not as good as I had hoped, but I think that’s my own fault for building them up in my head.  The recipe called for a pinch of cloves, and I was too generous in my pinching, because the clove flavor overpowered the other, more desirable flavors, such as cinnamon.  In the future I will most certainly be increasing the cinnamon in this recipe.  Also, I served this with butter and real New York maple syrup, but it was too sweet.  I spent the rest of breakfast trying to figure out how to make this better.  Perhaps a fruit compote, like apples with cinnamon for instance, would be preferable.  It wouldn’t be too sweet, but would keep the overall experience from being too dry. (Sorry no pictures because I am the worst.)

Most Sunday evenings, some coworkers and I place euchre.  We rotate houses, and whomever is hosting that week makes dinner for all of us.  This week, Wesley and I hotsed.  Wesley made this beauty of a cheesecake:  pumpkin nutella cheesecake.  Please take a minute to appreciate the amazingness this dessert.  It took a lot of will power to not sneak bites all afternoon.  There are two pieces left in the fridge as I type this, and I am thinking about getting one even though I am not at all hungry. It’s that good.

While Wesley encapsulated heaven in cheesecake form, I made cavatelli, which is an Italian pasta with potato in the dough.  It’s similar to gnocchi, but it uses much less potato.  I guess you could call it a light dumpling.  I choose to call it wonderful.   Every Thanksgiving, my family makes thousands of cavatelli.  Then with our turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, we have cavatelli in red sauce.  I may have described the cavatelli-making process with you before, but I’m going to relay it again because 1. I repeat myself often, and 2. I won’t be participating in Thanksgiving cavatelli this year, so I must relive the experience in my mind.  At the Comito Family Stead, aka my mother’s kitchen, a myriad of relatives convene.  Everyone has their role, one they’ve usually been doing for years with the hope that someday they will be old enough to move up to a new job.  However, there really is no upward mobility in the Comito Family Cooking School.  You do what you’re told, and you don’t ask questions.  For cavatelli, my role is usually “cranker,” meaning I get to feed the pasta through the machine.  This is a role I lobbied for years to win, and one from which I do not plan on retiring  anytime soon, regardless of my lack of participation in the last couple years. I spent a lot of years rolling dough before I got to be cranker.  Anyway, the real magic of cavatelli-making is the atmosphere. It’s hard to accurately describe, but I will sum it for you in this haiku:

Insults thrown, laughing

Vince Guaraldi blasting loud

Who is crying now?

Did I ever make cavatelli for you, Anne?  I know I never made it from scratch for you, but maybe I brought some back to Wash 6 and made it with red sauce? Last night, I chopped up half an onion (more accurately, Wesley heroically  cut the onion half), sauteed it with some mushrooms, wilted some spinach, tossed it all with the cavatelli, and sprinkled some good parm on top.  The group devoured it, and we have no leftovers.  However, we do have quite a bit of cavatelli in our freezer since I made a bigger batch of dough than I anticipated.  Sometime after Thanksgiving I’ll make some sauce, but don’t think it the recipe will make it to the blog.  Nice try, Annes.  However, if I can figure out how to ship you some, I will.

Cavatelli

*Note:  This is another vague Comito family recipe, where you are required to go by feel.

Ingredients

Flour

Large Eggs

A mashed potato (use a starchy potato)

Milk

Salt

*These are the basic ingredients.  The ratio of flour to eggs is 1:1. For example, I used 5 cups of flour and 5 eggs.  When I called Aunt Jackie she said to to 5 cups of flour and 4 eggs, but four eggs weren’t enough for me. I think when my family does this, they use jumbo eggs, which would make the 5:4 ratio more accurate. Also, I don’t think we ever use more than one potato ever.

Instructions

1. Peel and boil potato

2. Mash potato, add a little milk

3. Combine flower and eggs. Dough will be mealy and dry. Add a little potato. Maybe some milk.

4. Knead until you have a slightly sticky dough, and it is malleable enough to form decent ball of dough. (You will likely need to add more milk and potato before you get to this point. Like I said earlier, this is a vague, play-it-by-ear recipe.)

5. Let ball of dough rest under a bowl for 30-60 minutes, or whenever you remember you’re cooking

6. Get out your amazing cavatelli machine, courtesy Aunt Jackie.  Properly assemble.

This is not the exact machine I use, but it’s basically the same.

7. Slice dough into decent sized pieces. (Again, you’ll just have to eyeball this.) (At this point, your dough should be a beautiful and supple ball of dough that is smooth to the touch and bounces back ever so slightly when pressed.)

8. Roll dough into ropes.

9. VERY LIGHTLY DUST ropes with some flour. (For the love that is all good and holy, do not over flour this stuff. It will make your life terrible.)

10. Place a floured cookie tray under your cavatelli machine.

11. Send those VERY LIGHTLY DUSTED ropes of delicious dough through your cavatelli maker.

12. Make sure to spread out the cavatelli as you make them.  You don’t want them to stick together.

13. After you fill up a tray, put it in the freezer.  (Letting them freeze makes them easier to handle when putting them in bags or containers for storage.)

14. Keep doing this until you run out of dough.

For consumption:  boil water (remember to salt the water), add cavatelli to boiling water, and cook for…I want to say 10-ish minutes. I could be wrong about that.  I literally just taste the cavatelli at various points during the cooking and turn off the heat after I’ve determined they’re done.  Strain cavatelli, and enjoy with your favorite sauce.  We usually just use a red sauce, but you can do just about anything with them.

Kisses and kitten,

Carolyne