Monday, December 29, 2008

Beans & Tomatoes

We don't have food. So I went with the slow cooker approach this morning: you put shit in, and food comes out.
I tossed in a can of garbanzos, a can of kidney beans, and a can of canned tomatoes. I added a bunch of garlic powder and a bunch of chili powder. We didn't even have onions.
I think I'm gonna make potatoes to go with it, as we have about 8 lbs of potatoes left from the holidays.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Gifting

Christmas was pleasant this year, with my mother purchasing several items off my Amazon wishlist, including a Le Creuset Stoneware Casserole Dish which is a good size for 2-person mac&cheese, or for making a half batch of cresent roll wrapped brie - we'll see how the stoneware compares to pyrex, and maybe eventually look into the cast iron stuff. I also got one of each size of these and once I find my pyrex lids, I'll be in perfect make&take shape! I cannot wait for somebody to have a potluck.
I really didn't expect my mother to get me any of the pots and pans that are on my list, because I was sure my Dad would find something wrong with them or something, but Mr. Barefoot opened up this pot, and we both got super excited. It's wider than the Always Pot (3 qt) that we use, and a little shallower, and hopefully will allow us to cook two things at once. Or maybe do fewer dishes. It's anodized alumnium, which is so much better than the nonstick, and maybe once we use it, we'll find out why it was so cheap.
I would say, hands down, the most unexpected thing we received was a coffemaker from Mr. Barefoot's parents. Unexpected because we don't drink coffee, like coffee, serve coffee to others, etc. However, they do like coffee, and as part of hospitality, I suppose it would not be out of line to serve them coffee after they have driven down for 3 hours to see us. Then I came accross this article about other uses for coffee. I suppose now at least I can try the bread recipes I've always wanted to try that involve using coffee. Plus, Espresso Brownies sounds like exactly the kind of thing I could take over to Mama Awesome's for a girly movie session. And now I can serve coffee to my running buddies in the morning before races.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

give life

This holiday season, if you want to make a charitable donation, save some money but give somebody another chance at life. Give somebody more time with a person they love. Save a life. The holidays are tough times for most people, especially if somebody they love is sick. The holidays are also a good time to sit around and remember those moments with lost loved ones.
In the years preceding their deaths, both of my grandfathers became sick at different times and required blood transfusions.
My father's father, who suffered from a chronic bleeding condition, required several transfusions because of it. Specifically, I remember he became fairly sick about two years before he died and required at least 4 blood transfusions (over a two day period). He made a full recovery and lived another two years at full strength. (Requiring at least one more transfusion during that time, I think specifically of platelets.) I cherish every extra moment I got with him because of those transfusions. I cherish every extra lunch, every extra phone call asking me how to use the computer, phone, tivo, every family holiday. Eventually, after living a full life to the age of 87, he passed away one morning during his nap. His 10am nap. That he was taking before he was going to go give a lecture. After he sorted his slides.
My mother's father had heart issues and metastatic prostate cancer. Around the same time my father's father got sick, my mother's father had a heart valve replacement. I am sure that the procedure required a transfusion or two, and the pig's heart valve they put in him gave me an extra two years with him, although he was never quite the same, because his mental accuity and other issues were just troublesome. He got really sick about six months before he died, and he was in between the hospital and the nursing home. About every two weeks, he would go back to the hospital for another blood transfusion. The transfusions always made him feel better, and they gave us just a little more time. I am so grateful to everybody who gave blood to give my grandfather even a few more weeks, and while to some, keeping the elderly sustained is a waste of time and resources, it gave us time to spend time with him, and it gave us time to get his affairs in order. At the end of somebody's life, time is everything.
So that is why I give blood. I give to give back, I give to give others the same chances I had, I give to give children, grandchildren, spouses another chance with somebody they love. I don't care whether the recipient is a good person, a bad person, liberal, conservative, whatever. I firmly believe that everybody deserves a second chance. I started giving blood long before I even realized what it meant, but now that I have firsthand experience with how important it is, I believe in giving even more strongly.
So this winter, give somebody else the gift of life. It is painless, and if you are afraid of the needles, just look away. It takes maybe two hours. And the juice and cookies are excellent.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Cookies

So the cookie bake ended up being a little sad - most people couldn't make it out, what with traffic and holiday stress, which is totally understandable, so it was me, my hockey buddy, and her boyfriend. My sister and brother-in-law stopped by too, later, to enjoy eating the cookies.
I wound up using the dough from the Best Recipe Cookbook. I went with that recipe because normally when I have trouble with a recipe, I use the BRC and it fixes whatever problem I'm having. My french toast is always too soggy. BRC adds flour to the french toast mix, and tells you how long exactly to soak each side of the bread for, and then how long to cook it for. French toast comes out crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. Same with waffles.
However, the sugar cookies were only mostly okay, but the cream cheese glaze was weird. My sister actually spit it out when she tried it. I'm going to have to get my cousin's girlfriend's recipe, because that was pretty good. Or I could continue to make drop cookies because my cutters are rusty and rolling dough out is a pain in the ass. Plus my drop cookies are good.
I also did spritz cookies, and I still can't figure out how to get the dough off the cookie press.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Vegetarian Sandwiches

So last night, Mama Awesome and myself went to Solstice services. The food they served afterwards was totally fantastic, and the best part was the "caramelized onion and feta" sandwiches. It was just caramelized onion on flatbread that had been spread with feta (I did not know that you could spread feta, and it was creamier than feta, so my guess is that it was something more like laughing cow cheese.)
I have a hard time finding good vegetarian sandwiches, so I was so pleased to try something that would be easy to make and fairly portable which did not involve sprouts. I think one could easily make caramelized onions in the slow cooker and then refrigerate them for an indefinite period of time to have a constant supply for sandwich making.

Cookie baking tools & reviews

So last night I made my all time favorite christmas cookie, the peppermint meringue. I love these cookies. So does my sister. And my mom. So I figured I would bring them to both my family's christmases, and whatever was leftover to Mark's family. I figured that instead of making two separate batches, I would make one batch.
DO NOT EVER DO THIS! (I will qualify this -if you have a stand mixer and two ovens, it might be okay.)
The recipe says it makes 16. I could easily say that I get 32 out of each recipe. I had to use every baking sheet I own, and that includes the baking sheet for the toaster oven. However, they did come out totally perfect and maybe I shouldn't complain. (Although we'll see about my salmonella cookies that I cooked halfway last night and need to do the rest of this morning...)
I also put together dough for christmas cookie cutter cookies from my trusty cookbook. This is a great cookbook because they give you the reasons why their recipe is best, like that regular granulated sugar makes holes that are too big in the butter, and that you shouldn't use the creaming method for cookie cutter cookies because then there is too much flour at the end. The only problem with starting with the flour is you are basically using the pie crust method, and that is just really something you need one of these babies for. (I keep telling myself that my thrice annual need to make pie crust does not justify my taking up cabinet space with a food processor. Then I tell myself that the deep fryer takes up way more and would get used even less.
I also had to make superfine sugar, which was done in my trusty mini-chopper (I told you, its a great gift idea!) and wound up looking like an episode of Will it Blend when I opened the lid, with a cloud of sugar dust coming out. (P.S. I totally need a blendtec to make meringues, because chopping up peppermint with a hammer is no longer cutting it.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cookie Bake

We're not gonna talk about the high hopes of the slow cooker challenge that were quickly dashed by one too many holiday parties, birthday dinners, and meals-on-the-go.
We are gonna talk about the Holiday Cookie Bake. I have purchased 4lbs of butter and 3 dozen eggs to make christmas cookies. I'm not sure that I have enough flour, sugar, or anything else to really make this work, but I am optimistic. I also got two new cookie cutters - a gingerbread man and a candy cane.
So now I need recipes. I need cookie recipes and icing recipes! Lay 'em on me, readers!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Restaurant Review

The Barefoots went out last night for a finals victory dinner. We chose to go someplace near my school that I have been to before, which Mark wanted to try because it's gotten great reviews. It was a good post-finals place because sometimes the wait for a table is a long one, but we weren't pressed for time.
We picked the Brewer's Art, which is a local microbrewery and pub kind of place, except its like bar food on crack. Its delicious. Over winter break, we will be attempting to replicate the garlic and rosemary french fries that they serve. I will also buy myself a mini cast iron skillet so I can attempt my own version of their caramelized onion and chipotle mac & cheese. Last time I was there I got a veggie burger, which was also delicious. There is actually nothing on the menu that doesn't look amazing, and I think it will be one of the only places I go where I actually try multiple things because everything is so good. Mark got the shrimp & grits, which I didn't really like because the sauce wasn't my style and I don't like grits. But he enjoyed it. I think next time I'm going to make him get the Croque Monsieur so I can live vicariously through him.
The meals I'm speaking of are off their surprisingly reasonably priced bar menu. The restaurant portion is way fancier and three times the price, but if you're looking for fancy, its a good place. Otherwise, just head into the upstairs bar or the downstairs lounge. Sometimes you have to stand around and stalk people for a table. There are no waiters pushing people to clear the tables, so sometimes you need to go with dirty looks or a gentle, "when you're heading out, can you let us know so we can have your table?" Don't wear heels, because you might be standing around, especially on a Friday night or after 8pm.
If you just feel like stopping in for a drink, they have a range of their own beers, plus other local beers, and while you're there, get a plate of Garlic & Rosemary fries. I can guarantee you that it will be the best $4 you ever spend.

Slow Cooker Challenge

So next week, I'm meeting with my moot court team, dealing with Christmas, and undertaking a Challenge.
The challenge will be to use our slow cooker all 5 nights of the week. This is not a very big challenge, but usually when we menu-plan, at least one thing gets clipped.
So far the possibilities I have assembled for the week are these (from 125 Best Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipes):
-Mushroom and Artichoke Lasagna
-Tofu in Indian-Spiced Tomato Sauce
-Rigatoni with Fennel and Spicy Peppers
-Cheesy White Chili with Cauliflower
-Cider Baked Beans
-New Potato Curry
from Best Loved Slow Cooker Recipes
-Arroz Con Queso
-Sweet potato casserole
-Company Chicken Casserole (what should I substitute for cream of chicken soup? Creamy silken tofu? Cream of celery soup? Heavy cream? I think all of these are possibilities. Cream of mushroom and cream of brocolli are not opitons. Maybe it would be good with a creamy tomato soup)
There are others out there. The only rule is that it can't be something I've made before. There is also nothing stopping me from maximizing our available slow-cookers. We are currently housing a guest slow-cooker, so if we really need to we'll use that. But I think I'll do the cider beans and sweet potato casserole one night because that sounds like a good combination.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Ding! I'm done with exams! So what did I do? I baked cookies!
Mark's mom was kind enough to give me a cookie press last christmas when she cleaned out her cabinet. My old roomie had an electric, which I didn't like. But the manual one so far is pretty cool. Its easier to clean, I can use it anywhere in the kitchen, and it doesn't make a weird noise.
So my first batch was a half batch of spritz cookies from the Betty Crocker Cooky Book, a classic (and great gift idea) cookie book. (Anyone know when we started spelling cookie with the ie?)

* 1 cup butter or margarine
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1 egg
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 1 tsp flavoring (almond or vanilla)
* 2&1/4 cups Gold Medal Flour


* Cookie press
* Mixing bowl
* Spatula


1. Heat oven to 400.
2. Mix butter, sugar, egg, salt, and flavoring thoroughly. (I used a mixer, I don't think they existed when the book was written.)
3. Measure flour by sifting or dipping method. (I sift because I don't know what dipping method means.)
4. Add flour slowly.
5. Put dough in press in 1/4 batches. Put onto UNGREASED cookie sheet. (Apparently if the sheet is ungreased, it helps the dough stick to it. Also, the cookies are prone to sliding if you grease it.)

I haven't quite worked out the best method of getting the dough off the press. It might depend on the shape. I had the hang of it for like, 8 cookies, and then I lost my touch. I was using the butterfly shape. I think in the future I might go with "Scottie". There are also club, spade, and heart shapes for my next poker night.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas Gift Lists

This is a reminder that with the holidays coming up, asking for kitchen stuff isn't just for wedding registries! I think a lot of people make the mistake of not thinking of their kitchens when writing to Santa (or the Hannukkah fairy), but I've found the culinary gifts I have received to be some of the longest-lasting and most used of anything I've gotten. Kitchenware makes a great gift also because most cooks won't buy themselves really nice tools when they outfit their kitchens on the cheap, but the nicer tools are relatively cheap ($20 or so) to give somebody and they will use it a lot and think of you.
So what do you give and what do you ask for?
Last year we received two christmas gifts that we use regularly. The first one is the Vidalia Chop Wizard. I highly recommend it for the amatuer foodie in your life - most people are dubious of As Seen on TV products, so they probably don't own one. There is a William Sonoma version, but its much more expensive, so they probably haven't bought one.
The second is a Calphalon Crepe Pan. It's great for crepes and pancakes, plus non breakfast tasks such as sauteing chopped peppers and onions and making grilled cheese sandwiches, because it has a wider and non-curved surface, unlike most fry pans, but it is usable for more stuff than a griddle because it has higher sides. The Calphalon Crepe Pan with a container of crepe mix is the perfect gift for somebody you know likes food, and you think can handle a mix.
Other favorite gifts include my food scale and Kapoosh Knife Block. Food scales should only be given to hardcore/European cooks who you know want to weigh things as they cook, otherwise it sends the wrong message. (Food scales are used most frequently in the US by people on diets.)
Other ideas:
  • Stocking stuffers/Hannukah Nights 2-7 gifts - measuring tools (pyrex liquid measuring cups in a 1 cup or 2 cup size; OXO measuring cups and spoons for drystuffs), silicon spatulas (again, I recommend OXO), the palm peeler and brush , pretty much any OXO Good Grips products (I plan to buy the 20-piece variety pack at Costco and parcel it out among family member's stockings. The Ice Cream scoop is particularly well designed.) A cookie scoop is great too.
  • Electronics: blender (Black & Decker makes a nice $25 to $30 model - don't spend less than $20, I can guarantee you it will suck), food scale, immersion blender (we don't actually use ours, but if you have somebody who likes to make soup), mini-chopper (look for one with a both chop and grind feature), electric kettle (for the tea lover or Alton Brown enthusiast in your life), hand mixer (the Hamilton Beach one that comes with its own case is quite nice, if you've got money to spare go with the Kitchenaid 6-speed), a crockpot (of any size - the mini-dipper is great for the noncook who entertains. if they are single, get them a 1.5 quart, 4-quart if they entertain or eat dinner with others frequently; 6qt is for a family.)
  • Other items: bamboo/wood cutting boards, a kapoosh knife block, a really nice knife (I recommend a Santoku knife), potholders, pyrex portables or baked dish/cupcake caddies (for the baker/entertainer in your life), the new line of lightweight Corningware, plus cookbooks that are specific to the chef. Also, don't overlook really nice tupperware, for the right person. (Probably somebody you are close to - somebody you can't legally marry. Which in Maryland is NOT your first cousin.)
  • Consider requesting a really nice set of pots instead of that new ipod - you'll probably use the pots more! (The set I linked to is the Costco equivalent of Calphalon. Look for infused anodized aluminum - Calphalon, anolon, and a few other brands make it - but not the teflon coated ones.) You'll use them every day, and they are easy to clean. (I use my ipod every day too - so if yours broke, get the iPod. But if you're just upgrading, think about the pots...) If you don't want to request a full set, go for a 5.5 quart saute pan and a 3 quart saucepan - in our house we call them the "always pan" and the "always pot".
  • If you've always wanted some of that shiny Le Crueset bakeware that looks so nice on the table, go ahead and ask for it! I've never tried it but I did put a mini-casserole on my list so that I can tell whether I like it more than my pyrex.
  • Electronics - if you bake a lot, ask for a stand mixer. If you live a hectic and busy life, or hate your stove, think about putting a crock-pot on your list. See above list of electronics. I'm really hoping this year my sister re-gifts her old blender to us.
  • Cookbooks - Santa is a great person to ask for cookbooks - because you can be specific or general. You can say, I really need a new cookie book. Or you can say, "I need a cookbook that isn't psycho about using the right kind of butter."
  • If your Santa isn't very culinarily-inclined, and you don't trust them, either take your Santa with you shopping (my mom and I always hit BB&B the day after Thanksgiving and she lets me pick my gifts) or ask for gift cards to Bed Bath & Beyond (don't forget that 20% off coupon!) or or anywhere else.
Above everything else, when gift giving, make sure to consider the person's age and propensities when purchasing gifts. I have to take the following into consideration:
  • My sister doesn't cook. She makes fun of me for buying her kitchen supplies. So I don't. Some people are a lost cause and you should just get them iTunes gift cards.
  • My father melts everything in his kitchen. Every year, I inventory what he has melted or broken, and go on a hunt for replacements he can't melt or break. Silicone coated spatulas and spoons are the best thing that has ever happened to him. Last year we bought him 10 and he only managed to destroy 1.
  • Take age into account. My grandmother has some arthritis and while she is extremely strong for 86, I don't like to get her anything heavy. I also like to get her the OXO good grips items whenever possible, because they are designed for people with arthritis - the handles are bigger and easier to grasp.
  • Mr. Barefoot learned from his mother that nothing is broken until it actually comes to pieces in your hand and you can't use the pieces in a remotely functional way. (Last year our ice cream scoop broke - the little sweeper thing that actually scoops the ice cream out, which it is useless without because those are so deep - and he wouldn't get rid of it. I bought him a new one for Christmas and he was like, "why did you get me this? we have an ice cream scoop."Also, his old measuring cup actively leaked, but when I got him a new one he was like, "I guess I needed one.") Some people can't understand why you would get them something nicer than what they have, even if what they have barely functions. Upgrade them slowly over time, one or two new things per year, or replace something that they have commented, in your presence, "I need to get a new one of these."
Don't overlook kitchen gifts for gift-swaps either. And think outside the Bed Bath & Beyond/Williams-Sonoma/Target box - Ikea has some pretty decent stuff, and often Marshalls, Homegoods, or TJ Maxx will have a really nice selection of overstocked items. Plus, keep an eye out for coupons and specials. Also, check out a professional restaurant supply store - usually things will be cheaper there, and some will be nicer.
Also, consider clearing out your kitchen of things you don't use or want and regifting them via Goodwill or the Salvation Army - there will be a lot of needy families this year, and that electric griddle you never use might just make someone's Christmas morning or Hanukkah night. Or if you know you're getting a new set of pots or a nicer roasting dish, give yours up a few days early and let somebody else make dinner in that.
Happy letter-writing to Santa!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Daily Show

I know this is irrelevant to everything, but on the Daily Show, they have just described George Bush as a "lame turducken". A lame duck which has been stuffed with a crippled chicken and then shoved into a turkey. Ineffective, but delicious.
I think the Turducken feast may need to be renamed "Lame Turducken" in honest.
Back to my regularly scheduled scheduling...and dissing the Amish...whoops.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Black Bean Mac & Cheese

So what do you do when you are tired of leftovers, craving comfort food, dealing with final exams, and needing a bit of protein?
Make Black Bean Mac & Cheese! I was making mac and cheese with taco cheese and I was like - oooh, black beans would be good in this!
1 can black beans
1/2 lb pasta
1 cup half-and-half
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 cup taco cheese

1. Boil water, cook pasta.
2. Melt butter in a separate pan, add flour, stir together for a minute. Add the half and half. Let thicken.
3. Add half the cheese.
4. Drain the beans and the pasta. Cook the beans in the pasta pot for a second to warm them up and cook off excess water. Put in a pyrex dish. Pour cheese on top. Sprinkle more cheese on.
5. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Next time I'm going to try adding crushed tortillas on top, and maybe a little salsa!