March 29, 2009

Sweet Potato Explosion!

This past Sunday, I woke up. Puttered around the house a bit.

When my stomach rumbled like a convoy of semis, I realized that, maybe, just maybe, it was time for breakfast.

Following the
waste not rule, I used my overripe bananas to make banana nut muffins using my family’s recipe from our Bed & Breakfast days. Yummy and easy, even if it doesn't count toward the cooking challenge.

tified, I decided to peruse the cookbook collection for new recipes that do meet the cooking challenge requirements. In particular, I was looking for recipes to use some of my sweet potatoes that are sitting around gathering dust.

Quite frankly,
if you haven’t noticed yourself, there are not a lot of recipes for sweet potatoes. At least not in my collection. I found that odd all things considered, but still found a couple of new recipes in two cookbooks.

First up was dessert. A Sweet Potato Buttermilk Pie from “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook.” This cookbook is chock-full of recipes I want to try. So get used to seeing it.

The challenge with this recipe was the number of steps in it and my unfamiliarity
with it.

First off was steaming the diced sweet potatoes. Then mashing 'em. Easy enough. Then getting the ingredients mixed in the right order. Fine. Separating eggs that didn’t want to be separating. Beating egg whites to soft peaks when they didn’t nothing to do with it. Sort of annoying.

And then there was the stupid pie crust.

I don’t have cabinet space nor patience enough to make my own pie crust. I admit it. Instead, I used the handy dandy pre-made Pillsbury pie crust dough.

Note: When pre-baking a pie crust before
filling it, do not spray the pie plate with PAM. The pie crust won’t stick to the pie plate. So I had to make up the second pie crust. Okay. Fine.

The work was worth it though. The pie came out tasting just fine.

Once the pie was done, I moved on to sweet potato recipe #2. Chicken Nuggets from “Deceptively Delicious.”

I expected this recipe to be a nuisance to fix and questionable in the taste department.
In actuality, this was easier to assemble than I expected.

Essentially, you make a sweet potato puree, mix it with an egg. Dip the chicken nugget size
bits of chicken in it, then dredge ‘em in a bread crumb mixture.

The nuisance came in to play with the pan frying on my stupid
electric coil stove top. Too hot. Not hot enough. I finally said enough was enough and threw the rest in the oven to bake after the pie was done.

Yeah… That didn’t work.
The slightly burnt, pan-fried nuggets tasted better than the baked ones that I overbaked, which gave them an over-done, dry, sawdust texture through and through.

Bleh. A half pound of chicken – ruined.

However, I have to say. Had I fried them up the right way, they would have been really good. The sweet potato puree gave them a great flavor and just the right balance of juicy chicken and crunchy outer layer.

The lesson learned through this process and last week’s horrid Natchitoches Incident is that I really, really, really need to get an electric skillet so that I have better control over my frying temps. I’d rather have a gas stove, but that ain’t an option.

Luckily, my birthday is coming up very soon, so I can give my mom the birthday gift hint she’s been asking me for.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go console myself with some Sweet Potato Buttermilk Pie.

March 26, 2009

The More Cheese the Merrier!

Tonight I'm putting leftovers to work again. No recipe really. No cookbook crossed off the list as part of the cooking challenge.

That's okay. I'll pour over one or more of them later tonight and plot the next effort to whittle down the list.

Anyhow, tonight was pretty simple. Leftover meat spaghetti sauce. Leftover ricotta. Boil some rigatoni. Mix with the sauce, ricotta and an extra can of Hunt's Diced Tomatoes. Add some dobs of the ricotta. Pour in a greased pan. And then add mozzarella.

Lots of mozzarella.

And I mean LOTS. No holds barred lots. Half the block of cheese lots. Sometimes even the whole darned block of cheese lots.

Because more cheese is better.

's all there is to it, really.

I justify my consumption of huge quantities of cheese by reminding myself that osteoporosis is a terrible, awful disease and the calcium in cheese will save me.

Anyhow, dinner was good. Ricotta mixed in. Mozzarella melted on top. Parmesan sprinkled on it before serving.


It was even furball approved. She must like cheese too.

March 24, 2009

Waste Not...

I have a new rule for this cooking challenge.

Do NOT waste food.

And by that I do not mean, "Eat everything in sight." I do not mean, "Eat it all, even if it tastes gross." And I do not mean, "Well, it only smells a little funny. I'm sure it'll be fine after I cook it."

Tonight's dinner is an example of this rule.

After making the Natchitoches Meat Pies on Sunday, I had browned, seasoned ground beef and pork leftover as well as some sun-dried tomatoes that were used in Chiqui's Creole Dip.

To make sure I didn't let them become disgusting petri dishes, I sought out a recipe amongst the 45 cookbooks that have not yet been used. Easy enough, right? Mostly, except that I kept finding recipes for things like Tamale pie, which I've made before (breaking the "it's gotta be new to me" rule) or Shepherd's Pie, which I couldn't really imagine with a spicy meat base.

Well... You know... Maybe if I had used some sweet potatoes instead of potatoes...

Wait. Nevermind. That would not have adhered to the waste not rule per se since
I would have had to buy more ingredients. Anyhow...

I went for the meat spaghetti sauce from the 12th edition of the "Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book." Having no tomato paste, I figured that sauteeing the sun-dried tomatoes in their own oil would serve as a nice substitute. I tossed in the previously browned meat, a couple of cans Hunt's Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, some oregano and a pinch of thyme; let it simmer; and then poured it over spaghetti. Add a little grated parmesan, and dinner was done!

All-in-all, this was a way super easy dinner. But if I had had to chop up all the veggies and brown the meat tonight, I might have skipped it because of the mess and time required.

Lesson learned? If you're going to brown a bunch of meat like I did on Sunday, then brown extra for a future meal and save yourself some time.

Oh... And on a closing note. I didn't hurt myself this time. Phew! Still all bandaged up though.

And check out all the bandages! Four in all... Woo. Hoo. Or not. Bleh.

P.S. No. I have not made spaghetti sauce before. That's the sort of thing that comes in jars and is for lazy dinners.

March 22, 2009

One Down, 45 to Go

Let me start this post by first saying: I will not forget this cooking adventure anytime soon. In fact, I will, quite literally, bear the scars of this adventure for years. Serious cooking burns are funny like that... Details below...

More to the point of this blog, I o
fficially embarked on my cooking challenge today. On the menu were two items from a recent acquisition that I'm slowly, but surely falling in love with. Namely, "Cooking Up A Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans." I first heard about this book in a New York Times article by Kim Severson and immediately ordered it.

Per the title a
nd the article, these are recipes that Louisiana residents lost during Hurricane Katrina and that are much loved by so many people. Given the importance of recipes in my family, the story of this book's creation absolutely resonated with me.

Now, as part of the cooking challenge, I set a rule for myself. In picking a recipe, it has to be new to me in some way. Cooking Natch
itoches Meat Pies definitely counts as new. 1) I've never made them before. 2) They involve deep-fat frying, which I've not done before - at least not without parental supervision, which maybe I still need - all things considered.

The original recipe makes a HUGE batch of Natchitoches Meat Pies. So I cut the recipe by a third, but pretty much followed the directions for making the meat mixture of gro
und beef and pork along with the assorted spices and whatnot.

I will admit to getting lazy though.

I did not make the dough from scratch. I figured deep-fat frying was going to enough of a challenge for one day. Instead, I used pre-made pizza dough. Maybe not an exact substitute, but - in the end - it worked out alright.

Also on the menu from "Cooking Up A Storm" was Chiqui's Creole Cream Cheese Dip. According the recipe, which includes cream cheese, creme fraiche, ricotta, sun-dried tomatoes, assorted herbs and spices, and Worcestshire sauce, this is for crackers, but it was just right as a dip to complement the Natchitoches Meat Pies. This counts as new-to-me because I've never made it, never heard of it, and typically use little, convenient, pre-made packets of seasonings when making dips.

Lastly, I have a bunch of avocados. I put one of them to work with some creme fraiche, lemon juice, fresh ground pepper and Zatarain's Creole Seasoning. This dip was good, but would have been better with sour cream instead of creme fraiche. I made do with what I had though. This is a recipe I made up, so it does not count against my cooking challenge.

Now... To the part of this story where I tell you about burning the holy living daylights out of my wrist.

Going into this, I knew that deep-fat frying might not be the safest thing for me to do. However, I was determined to try. Frying the Natchitoches Meat Pies (I like saying Natchitoches. Have you noticed?) went just fine. In fact, it was way easier than I expected. While they might not be the prettiest things around (see above...), they tasted

However, when I went to move the pot of hot oil off the burner, I knocked the pot on the back burner just hard enough to slosh flipping-hotter-than-all-get-out oil out of the pot and all over the stove and my wrist.

To make matters worse, I couldn't tend to my burns immediately because I had to put out a very small grease fire. Seriously, this was a tiny, miniscule fire. Small enough that I was able to blow it out like candles while simultaneously reaching for the flour jar so that I could smother it. No damages to anything in my kitchen - not counting my wrist.

Unfortunately, I now have a rather serious burn on my wrist (see the odd blister, upper left corner) along with three or four other smaller, not so bad burns. I've had similar burns before (a story for another day); and, 15 years or so later, I can still see the scars ever so faintly. So I'm pretty sure that I'll have a nice little scar to commemorate the first time I ever made Natchitoches Meat Pies.

Now, last but not least, I'd like to give a shout out to the hero of today's debacle. My aloe vera plant.

Thank you Mr. Aloe Vera Plant for your leafy sacrifices today as well as in the coming days. Your aid in helping ease my pain is very much appreciated.

March 16, 2009

380 Books. 46 Cookbooks. One Cooking Challenge.

I like to think I’m a laid back sort. I figure there are times to kick up a fuss (not too often), times to be detailed oriented (like when booking flights or at work) and times to just be chill (most of the rest of the time).

However, I can be a wee bit anal retentive about some things. Spelling and grammar are one of those things (though I will not claim to be perfect when it comes to either – that’d be stupid).

Another weird anal-retentive habit?

I catalogue all of my books. For the record, I own more than 380 books. This has no bearing on the number of books I’ve actually read. There are plenty of books that I’ve read and then let go – either I didn’t want it on my bookshelves after I bought and read it or because those pesky librarians insist on my returning borrowed books. If I’m being really honest (yuck), I should also admit that I’ve not yet read all of the books I own.

Anyhow, to make things worse, I categorize them into general buckets (e.g. fiction, biographies, humor, philosophy, etc.). Some books even qualify for secondary buckets. This ain’t no Dewey Decimal system, but whatev.

I recently updated the list to include some new acquisitions. Then I sorted the list for giggles, and Excel told me I own a grand total of 46 cookbooks.

Forty-six? Seriously?!

Yes. Forty-six.

Worse yet is the fact that I haven’t actually put all those books to use for even just one recipe a piece, not even the cocktail books. And let’s not even talk about the cooking magazines I purchase each month and read like so much food porn.

To rectify this situation, I’m going to borrow a bit of inspiration from that Julie girl who cooked a Julia Child’s recipe-a-day.

I am no where near as ambitious or organized as that. However, I do like to cook. I do like to host dinner parties. And I do have all these cookbooks and recipes just hanging around…

So, here’s my goal. Before the end of the year, I’m going to use at least one recipe from each of these cookbooks. I just hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew. Pun intended.

March 15, 2009

All the Kewl Kids Are Doing It...

Okay. I give in. I'm doing this. I'm jumping into the blogosphere. The desire to keep up with all the kewl social media kids has bitten me.

However, I am not going to put on any airs about how fabulous this blog is going to be and how it's going to change your life. Not yet, at least.

What I can tell you is that this is an experiment. Can I commit to blogging? Can I say things that interest you and have you coming back for more? We shall see, won't we? (And I sure as heck hope that I can!)

For starters, you should know that I'll write about food a lot. Mostly because I love food, but also because I've set a food-related goal for myself. By the end of the year, I will use at least one recipe from each of the cookbooks I own.

Before you scoff, keep in mind the fact that I own more than 40 cookbooks. Closer to 50 actually (I'll have to double check the latest tally). And I suspect that I'll buy and/or receive more cookbooks before the year is up. So yeah, wish me luck with that one...

Let's see, what else? Daily foibles, but that might be a no brainer. Isn't that what so many blogs are for?

Well... I'm sure as this goes along, I'll think of other things to talk about. I always do.