Post 23 – Leftovers, Nail Polish, and How You Can’t Lose 30 Pounds in a Week

I like lists.

I’ve been making them lately, checking them off, and feeling quite accomplished.

Ok, so here are three things on my list of what to write about today.

1. I’m not one of those people who lets food rot in my fridge. I pride myself in my ability to creatively use up remainders of ingredients. So what to do when you have extra cream? A million things! Like these chocolate scones – do you need extra cream as an excuse to make those?

photo(25)Or strawberry shortcake! Or no-bake cheesecake (the reason for my leftover heavy cream)! But if you have some rotting onions on your counter (did I say rotting onions? Er, I meant ripening onions) AND heavy cream, now that calls for a delicious French Onion Tart (except alas, you have to go buy more flour because, surprisingly, you’re out).

2. Have you ever noticed how different everything feels with painted fingernails? I NEVER paint my fingernails and yesterday I did. Inspired by my recent dress purchase for a certain wedding in Italy, I painted my toenails and my fingernails a bright shade of “spoiled.” (Not even kidding. That’s the name of the color. Although, Ellen DeGeneres has a hilarious segment on her show where the audience learns there are some much more shocking polish colors out there. Check it out here.) Suddenly each ingredient I measure or word I type looks more glamorous (or more childish?). Eating toast feels different.

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Eating carrots

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Buckling my belt…

Alright Erin, cool your jets. No one wants to see a picture of you eating carrots with nail polish on.

Oops.

The nails sadly only lasted one day, but I feel much more myself now that their pale naturalness has returned.

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3. Some things are too good to be true (even though you really want them to be true!). Like losing 30 pounds in a week or making yeasted whole wheat rolls in 30 minutes. Unless you are using something incredibly harmful or unnatural you cannot lose 30 pounds in a week. Just like you can’t make yeasted whole wheat rolls in 30 minutes. I tried it anyway (the rolls that is). With the plan of blueberry muffins ruined thanks to curdled milk, I searched the internet for bread-variety inspiration and found a few recipes for 30 minute dinner rolls promising to be delicious and fluffy and gone too fast to take a picture. I settled on a whole wheat one that I had the ingredients for and made them, mostly in about 30 minutes. Well, let’s just say the cats were not lining up for these rolls, though they did pass for edible. They were dense and had good flavor, but they were certainly not the fluffy dinner rolls I was looking for. Nonetheless we ate and enjoyed them along with our delicious quiche.

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Now that my list is done, back to the fun part: recipes!

If you love quiche and you love French onion soup, this recipe will make your day happily delicious. I find that serving it along with some sautéed greens or a big green salad really helps to cut through the cheesy, buttery saltiness of the quiche and makes you feel slightly healthier.

French Onion & Ham Quiche

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen (see link above)

Crust
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled butter, in cubes
3-4 tablespoons ice cold water

Quiche
1 1/2 pounds yellow onions (about 4 medium), halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Scant 1/2 teaspoon table salt
Pinch of sugar
1 cup low-sodium beef, veal or mushroom stock/broth
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese
4 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream (half-and-half and milk work too, but cream tastes best)

½ pound smoked deli ham, diced

For the crust, mix flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add butter; either rub the butter bits into the flour with your fingertips or blend with a pastry blender. Sprinkle in cold water and mix it with a spoon or your hands. The mixture should form large clumps. Knead it gently into a ball, adding more water a teaspoon at a time if necessary; it will be on the firm side but should be easy to roll.

Lightly butter a 9-inch round pie pan (SK does hers in a tart pan, but alas I have no tart pan).

Roll your dough out between two pieces of plastic wrap or waxed paper until it is about 11 inches in diameter. Peel the top plastic layer off and reverse the dough into the prepared tart pan, lifting the sides to drape (rather than pressing/stretching the dough) the dough into the corners. Press the dough the rest of the way in and up the sides. Trim edges and chill for 15 minutes in your fridge.

For the filling, melt the butter and olive oil together in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions to the pan, toss them gently with the butter and oil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover the pan. Cook the onions for 15 minutes, then remove the lid, stir in the salt and sugar and saute without the lid for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions are fully caramelized and have taken on a light golden color. Pour in the stock (I used beef, which gives it the French onion soup flavor), then turn the heat all the way up and scrape up any brown bits stuck to the pan. Simmer the mixture until the broth nearly completely disappears (wetter onions will make for a wetter quiche), about 5 to 10 minutes. Add freshly ground black pepper. Let cool so that the hot onions do not scrambled the cold eggs and cream. You can hasten this process by spreading the onions out on a plate in the fridge, or even faster, in the freezer.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs and cream together. Stir the onions and chopped ham into the egg mixture.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the pie crust and fill with onion and egg mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and bake 35 to 45 minutes, or until a sharp knife inserted into the filling and turned slightly releases no wet egg mixture. Enjoy while listening to a little Madeleine Peyroux.

Oh and maybe give your cats some attention – poor things.

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Post 22 – No-bake Cheesecake

I got caught.

I thought I was doing so well to keep him from finding out until he came in and said, “What’s the pie for?”

What?

Pie? There’s no pie! I said as a hovered around the Kitchenaid mixer to cover up the evidence. I had been so close.

Ok to be clear, it’s not like I have to make pies in secret because of some tyrannical anti-dessert fiancé or for some other crazy reason. I just wanted this to be the kind of dessert that was so quick and secretive that when Sam came into the kitchen to see if I was ready to go, I would just be drying my hands from putting some dishes away and it wouldn’t be until later when I pulled the glorious thing from the fridge that he would say, “When did you have time to make that?” Oh this old thing? I could make this in my sleep! Oh well. Maybe you can get away with that better than I could.

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In my last post I talked about ruts and doing things out of habit, like eating sugar just because it’s always in front of me at work (the downside of working in a kitchen). The end of the school year brings many occasions for cakes: high school graduation, 8th grade graduation, 5th grade graduation, and your-child-finally-made-it-through-the-lunch-line-without-crying-graduation (no, just kidding, but seriously it happens). Constant cake means I have been tempted by the sweet taste of sugar far too often. So I told myself to start with one day without any desserts or baked goods (not completely eliminate sugar as found in my morning granola and fresh fruit) and take it one day at a time from there. It may sound like a small achievement, but I made it two days in a row and the second day I hardly even craved dessert. It felt good. The past few days since have been relatively low sugar (for me at least) so I have made it a general goal to be more aware and mindful of the amount of sugar I eat.

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In that spirit (and because I had the itch to make something AND I had this graham cracker crust sitting on my counter for I don’t know how many weeks taking up prime real estate AND my friend was having a cookout to take it to) I made my first no-bake cheesecake.

That's vanilla extract and lemon in there so don't be telling me it looks gross. I didn't think about that when I taking the picture.

That’s vanilla extract and lemon in there so don’t be telling me it looks gross. I didn’t think about that when I taking the picture.

Now I love cheesecake, but it can be heavy (to eat and to carry) and time consuming to make (time for some math!)

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You have to

Let the cream cheese soften (sans microwave in my case) – 1 hour ish

Crush the graham cracker crumbs – 15 minutes?

Make the graham cracker crust – 5 minutes?

Whip all the ingredients together –  (if they’re already measured, no biggie)

Bake it for forever – FOREVER

Cool it – can I just put it in the fridge already?

And then chill it for forever – FOREVER. That thing is solid warm cheesecake, which is probably not so delicious so seriously, let it chill.

———————————————————————————————–

Answer – Double forever + 2 hours ish?

This means you can count on eating your cheesecake at least double-forever (did I do that math right?) after you got the idea to make it.

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Winning points for no-bake cheesecake: no cooking, no cooling, and shorter chilling! (And in my case pre-made graham cracker crust! Huzzah!) This cheesecake relies on gelatin to thicken it slightly along with some Greek yogurt for texture. I found this recipe online after a brief search and it totally fit the bill: quick and simply-made with the promise of a lighter, summer dessert. Topped with summer berries, this cheesecake turned out to be a winner. I might make it a little sweeter next time and maybe try another flavor although the little touch of lemon really brightens the flavor.

Do you have a cool strawberry knife? I do! Thank you Grandma :)

Do you have a cool strawberry knife? I do! Thank you Grandma 🙂

Did I ever tell you the story of how I got engaged? Probably not.

It’s a long one and a good one that I won’t go into on this post, but the point of mentioning it now is that someone got caught right before the big moment, due to a tiny little glitch in his plans (hopefully he doesn’t feel embarrassed that I’m sharing this…)

So if you’re ever looking to earn major Julia Child or Martha Stewart bonus points with someone, I recommend whipping this baby up while they’re in the shower or out for a run. Just make sure you account for any possibilities of them coming back early or showering too quickly or going into the shoe store right next to the jewelry store at the exact moment when someone is putting something important in his jacket pocket…<wink, wink> If you’re successful, congrats. You can act like it was no big thing when they find it in the fridge later. If not, you better think of a fast cover-up. Well regardless, just make sure you’re prepared for anything. Happy Summer baking (or no-baking)!

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No-Bake Cheesecake

adapted from http://gourmeted.com/2010/03/28/no-bake-cheesecake/

1 pre-made 8-inch graham cracker crust (or make your own)

1 tsp. Knox unflavored gelatin (about 1/2 packet)

8-oz cream cheese, at room temperature

1/4 cup sugar

1 + 1/2 tsp. lemon juice

1/2 tsp. lemon zest

3/4 cup Plain Greek Yogurt (2%)

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 tsp. vanilla

Strawberries and blueberries to top it off

Measure gelatin into a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons of lukewarm water. Stir to dissolve and let sit 5 minutes. After 5 minutes add  tablespoons more of hot water, stir, and let sit.

Beat softened cream cheese and sugar with a mixer for a minute or so until well mixed and light. (I love my Kitchenaid mixer for this!)

Add in lemon juice and zest, yogurt, cream, and vanilla and beat to incorporate, scrape the sides, and then beat again for 2 minutes. Slowly, with the mixer on ow add the gelatin and water mixture, scraping the sides throughout and beating for a few minutes to incorporate. Pour into the pie crust and chill for at least three hours. Top with berries of your choice, sweetened with honey or sugar as desired.

IMG_2386Enjoy!

Post 21 – Banana Bread Mode

I have been in automatic mode lately. In a bad way. I come home from work and automatically stuff food in my mouth as if it’s something I haven’t already been doing all day (that’s what you get when you work in a kitchen). I respond to what I perceive as dumb questions with automated sarcasm. “No, this chicken isn’t what we’re having for lunch.” Really? Are you really asking me that?

When they respond with a hurt look, I realize I should think before I speak. Do you ever feel like you are not in control of yourself because you are in automatic mode?

No excuses.

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In my case I am on auto-mode mostly when it comes to my food and work habits. At work I’m getting especially lazy. As the school year draws to a close, most of the kids have checked out and so have I, knowing that only a few days remain until summer. Ah summer. The word feels like magic to those mentally still in kid mode (like me!) – summer means freedom from work and responsibility, sidewalk chalk, walking on stilts, fireflies (though alas now I work in the summers). This is not good for my work ethic.

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When it comes to my eating habits, I also fall into automatic mode. I get up and eat the same breakfast (homemade granola with yogurt, fruit, and nuts), snack on random food at school (without thinking about it), go home and snack some more and make dinner when the clock says so. I am in such a rut. Things need to chaaaaaange. (Insert cool time machine sound effects)

Erin Eating Everything!

Erin Eating Everything!

 

We bought a few too many bananas earlier this week, and by mid-week a few had blossoming brown spots sprouting on their yellow skins. The sight of these banana freckles immediately started my culinary wheels a-turning, as I tried to decide what these precious fruits could become: the classic banana bread, banana “soft serve,” or bananas foster?

 

Lewis, the cat, helping out

Lewis, the cat, helping out

In the spirit of operating outside of auto-mode, I opted for something different. I came across a chocolate bar that has been sitting purposeless in my pantry a few too many weeks and decided to put it to work. I melted it into smoothness on the stove and I dunked the banana chunk in it, sprinkling them with cocoa nibs and putting the whole mess in the freezer.

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Now that the beauties are made and sitting in the freezer, I have reverted back to automatic mode: open the freezer and look for a treat. At least this time it’s a different treat.

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(Note to self: Next time don’t forget to put the bananas on parchment paper because otherwise the chocolate bottom layer gets stuck to the ceramic plate! Also, this recipe probably works best with firmer bananas.)

 

Homemade granola - for dipping in the leftover melted chocolate. Mmmm

Homemade granola – for dipping in the leftover melted chocolate. Mmmm

If you’re feeling in a rut, try doing something new for a change – a new workout, a new recipe, some self-discipline (I’m talking to you, me!) You might just find you end up with the life equivalent of chocolate-covered bananas instead of banana bread (what does that even mean?)

I mean, they say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, but when life gives you bananas… make whatever the heck you want!

Happy Friday 🙂

Post 20 – Sesame Tofu Noodles

Moving is a funny thing. We packed up all of our stuff in a bunch of boxes and bags (we have a lot of stuff!), put it in a truck, drove across town, and took all of the same stuff out of the truck and eventually out of the boxes. Why did we move again?

Friday was a long night. On the plus side we got to put our crazy Tetris-style truck-packing skills to the test (high points for the close fit, low points for speed) and let me just say it took serious strategy to load it all so that everything fit. Luckily we made it out of our old apartment just in time for the eight-man cleaning crew to cover up all the holes we’d poked in the walls and hide the cats’ wall scratches.

scallions

I won’t bore you with the details of moving, but with the help of a few strong friends, we moved into our new apartment much quicker than we moved out of the old one. To temporarily quiet our sore moving muscles, we took ourselves out to dinner Saturday night followed by ice cream, using the last of our waning energy to explore our new neighborhood on foot. When the Sunday sun came through our windows, we finally got down to the business of unpacking and settling in.

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I, of course, started with the kitchen. Though not everything found an immediate home, I found some ways to decorate and store some of my odd appliances thanks to Sam’s creativity, and I soon had things in working order in time to cook some tasty food for dinner.

tofu

For the first meal cooked at our new home, we wanted something cool and refreshing because it had been a wicked hot weekend. This noodle salad is exactly that, though if it is too hot, you may not be excited about chopping. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to find some pre-chopped veggies. If not, you should probably just grab a cold beer and think through your best options. It’ll help you cool off.

soba

This recipe comes from Whole Foods, though I tweak it a little. While their recipe calls for packaged baked tofu, I prefer to save money and bake my own tofu following this recipe. Just be careful to keep an eye on it as the sugar in the marinade tends to burn. If you make your own tofu and use extra veggies this makes a very large salad that would work well for a picnic, a potluck, or just dinner for a few nights.

tofu closeup

 

tofu and beer

Sesame Tofu Noodles

Adapted from Whole Foods

1/2 cup reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce

4 T. toasted sesame seeds (really good, but optional. I forgot them for this round)

2 T. honey or brown sugar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 + 1/2 T. sesame oil

sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 lb. soba or rice noodles

1 bunch thinly sliced green onions

2 small carrots, thinly sliced or shredded (I sliced mine thin and cooked them briefly for less crunch)

1 cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

1 6-oz package baked tofu cut in 1-inch cubes or baked tofu (see above)

1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

 

Whisk together soy sauce, sesame seeds, honey, garlic, oil, and red pepper flakes in a small glass. Prepare the tofu marinade if baking your own and follow the directions for the recipe.

While the tofu bakes, put a pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Slice and chop all of your veggies. When water boils, cook noodles according to package directions – about 6-8 minutes for soba. Drain and rinse with cold water. Toss noodles with veggies, soy sauce mixture, and tofu. Serve immediately or refrigerate for another time.