Tag Archives: a lindsey original

all is revealed

I679859_522448151100932_725830429_o had a food processor at age four. I should have seen food in my future.

My name is Lindsey, I’m 27 years old, and it finally happened: The Job. Your reading and supporting this blog is a huge part of it, so THANK YOU.
Let’s rewind:

new 525In 2008, I graduated from college with my Social Work degree. Like most grads interested in future employment, I began job-hunting midway through senior year. I really wanted to work for a small nonprofit, with a special interest in homelessness or senior citizens. I went to the job fairs, wrote a stellar resume, e-mailed organizations left and right. (Oh, and this is during the height of America’s current recession). Nada.

Later in 2008, Andrew and I married and he got The Job shortly before our wedd369_526374195049_468_ning. He majored in film and landed a spectacular job in television (that he still loves), while Little Miss Social Work Major has no luck. For several months I was churning out resumes full-time, my heart filled-to-the-brim with discouragement and self-doubts. Planning our nightly dinner menu was the most exciting part of my day. And then I realized I had a knack for cooking. Later, at Andrew’s insistence, I began this blog about that passion.

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Is it becoming clear now how I spent my time?

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In 2010, I began graduate school for Nutrition. I still had a great interest in working with the homeless, but actually began the program thinking I might start an independent company to serve marginalized seniors. I focused most of my grad projects on food insecurity and hunger in the District of Columbia, as my full-time job in Elementary Special Ed had me interested in meeting the nutritional needs of children. Getting a full-time job as an instructional assistant (4 miles from my house) while in grad school was an amazing and fulfilling opportunity. But the lingo was frustrating; I didn’t complete 7 years of collegiate work to think about standardized tests or gain know-how on severe behavioral issues. And I worked for three years beside many passionate, inspiring teachers so devoted to their work. I admired how much joy they took in their work, because it was the profession they had set out to do. Despite my absolute dedication to my very special students, I felt afflicted like Shel Silverstein’s Missing Piece, wanting so much to find the place where I really felt my life’s calling.

And then it’s that chance thing: I ran into my friend Nate Ho at our gym’s water fountain when he asked me about my job hunt. I shared my discouragement, having now completed graduate school and always making it to the final round of job interviews with limited experience leaving me out in the end. Nate said, “Try informational interviews.” And that, my friends, nearly a year later, finally did it. IF YOU ARE SEEKING EMPLOYMENT AND KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO DO: CONSIDER INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS! So I went to nearly every foodbank in Virginia, Washington D.C., and one in southern Maryland; I introduced myself to Executive Directors, asked them to talk for an hour  (often more!) about the work they do and how my skill-set might fit into the food assistance field.


I began my informational interviews in August 2012, and got The Job Offer just two weeks ago in May 2013. Since 2007, I had sent out countless resumes, cover letters, and applications—then I changed my approach. That’s six years, people. Six years. But it happened.

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Now I am the NUTRITION EDUCATOR for a large foodbank. (And it’s one of those nonprofits Doing It Right, I love that.) I just started this week! My job will entail traveling to homeless centers, women’s shelters, schools and community centers to demonstrate healthy cooking techniques and do food tastings. Back at the warehouse, I will also do food demos and tastings for clients waiting in line for food boxes, and hold regular nutrition classes for clients. It is humbling and rewarding work already.

THANK YOU for allowing A Pear to Remember to be a place where I really began the journey of teaching others to cook and explore healthy eating habits. Your comments and encouragement strengthened my confidence in this field, and gave me something pretty groovy to put on my resume. You’re the best.

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pretty, perfectly awful food

Many Pear readers remark to me how they enjoy the food photos featured here. Now that I’ve taken a photography course (after two years of owning my camera!), the photos will hopefully improve to not just pretty but professional. A Pear to Remember is a place for recipes I have confidence are worth your time, money and effort—not to document meals only a skilled chef could recreate.

I cook nearly every night in our condo kitchen, so why aren’t there daily recipes posted here? Time is the biggest factor. Flops are another. In the five years I have cooked with determined diligence, the what-a-disappointment meals are increasingly distant from each other. But still.

For those of you who pop over here to find visual culinary inspiration, the following photos are for you. I took them the day after I completed my photography course. What a beautiful meal! An exquisite entrée of herbs, vegetables and wine!

For those of you who want a reliable, replicable recipe—check out the many recipes on this site. The recipe that accompanied this dish produced a complete failure, nearly throw-away bad. The wine made the veggies a soggy, sour mess. I promise I will only ever publish recipes worth your while. I also promise I will always post photos to make you hungry and excited to cook. This is just a we’re-all-in-this-together-my-dinners-flop-too reminder 😉

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Any food disasters you care to share?

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emerging from hibernation

Good evening readers and eaters! As I mentioned two posts ago, I have an exciting life project that occupies my evenings—hence the lack of recent recipes. I have indeed been cooking and photographing lovely meals to share with you. Warning: this blog is about to grow in its proportion of heart-healthy, veg-filled delights.

Andrew and I are really cutting back on saturated fats these days: it’s not about a fad diet or vegan trends. As we venture into our fifth year of marriage, we’re unhappy with the weight gain we’ve experienced in this brief time—over 20 lbs. between the two of us. Neither of us is overweight, but 20 lbs. in 5 years is a scary trend considering the inevitable metabolic slow in the coming 5 years. A generous topping of high-fat cheese was making its way into too many of our meals.

My two years immersed in Nutrition grad studies taught me that the most realistic way to weight loss is small, simple dietary substitutions. One less soda a day, less fattening milk, etc. For Andrew, this meant switching from sandwiches to soup for most workday lunches. For me, this meant cut-up fruits and veggies as snacks before meals insteaPhoto & Video Sharing by SmugMugd of my infamous feed-a-family lunch portions. Smaller portions, more frequent meals. Now Andrew eats breakfast. We eat smaller dinners and finish the evenings with yogurt fruit smoothies.

So now I must share my thrilling very-recent discovery: ethnic markets. I had heard about the affordable produce prices for years, and finally visited my local Korean and Hispanic supermart. Not only were the prices one-third of what I paid at Shoppers (which I had found less expensive than my other local chains), but the produce was fresh, abundant, and varied beyond my imagination. Where Shoppers has carried three to four moldy eggplants the past five months, Fresh World had hundreds of firm, blemish-free eggplants—five different varieties! I realize I am spoiled in my metropolitan area, but if you have the opportunity to explore an international market, this is a wonderfully affordable way to incorporate far more fresh ingredients into your meals. I left with seven stuffed produce bags  for barely $40.

Sometimes, we’ve just got to stop complicating dishes with steps and stress. Have a simple, fresh meal. Give yourself a break, your body a boost. Here was our light Friday night…Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Pita and Feta with Vegetables

inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Very Full Tart” recipe (minus eggs, heavy cream, buttered pie crust)

do substitute/omit ingredients per availability

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 medium eggplant, peeled and diced

handful cherry tomatoes, halved

1 sweet potato, peeled and diced (1-inch)

1 zucchini, diced

1 large onion

4 tbsp. grapeseed/vegetable oil

4 oz. feta, crumbled

whole wheat pita for serving, cut into wedges

Preheat the oven to 400F. On at least two baking sheets, scatter the chopped vegetables into an even layer. Drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with dried thyme or oregano as you like. Roast the veggies about 30 minutes, tossing halfway through, until potatoes are fork tender and browning occurs. Season with ground pepper and sprinkle with feta. If you have fresh oregano or chives, add them here.

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We spooned this vegetable mixture into whole wheat pita pockets, dunking the pita into homemade baba ganoush as well. Surprisingly satisfying.

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10 Things You May Not Know About Me

Spoiler alert to new readers: I love to cook. We talk about that all the time. Here are 10 things you may not know about me:

1.  ELVIS

graceland, 90s, denim

elvis impersonator, denim

this is when demin was “In”.

I have always had an infatuation with Elvis. I watched Blue Hawaii a lot as a kid, and my parents even road-tripped the entire fam to Graceland at the height of my Elvis phase (age 10). I still really enjoy his music, but these days I flip frequently between Al Green, A.R. Rahman,  Dinah Washington, and as of this week: the Swedish soloist Robyn.

this is called Third Position in ballet

2. DANCE

I lovvvvve to dance. Since I stopped studying formally, this passion often gets me in trouble. I was carried out on a stretcher (by some hunky EMTs) from my college house (three fire trucks + one ambulance + two police cars blocking a two lane road for moi) after falling from an arabesque in the kitchen. I only studied ballet for 11 years, but there is not a day in my home without plies or pirouettes (hence three total sprained ankles in four post-ballet years). I worked on learning The Thriller dance for a while and secretly hoped we could break into it at our wedding. Currently, I am learning this dance by Robyn.

3. RETIREMENT PLANS

I would really like to run a B & B in retirement. Andrew is totally on board with this dream. We’ve been to The Ledge House, Victorian Charm, The Baywood, and recently Santosha on the Ridge. harper's ferry, the ledge houseWe’ve loved them all, and immediately scheduled a return trip to Santosha for our four-year wedding anniversary in October.

4. FONTS

I have this thing for fonts, in addition to very strong opinions about how and when certain typeface should be used. I pride myself at naming fonts on signs and menus. It’s not uncommon to hear me mutter, “Oh, please, Papyrus?!”

5.  RELIANCE ON THE INTERNET

Confession: I own 35 cookbooks, one big recipe binder, dozens upon dozens of old food magazines and still I most often search Epicurious.com for dinner ideas. Sitting on my kitchen table at present is Bistro Latino from the local library, I’ve checked it out three times in three years. The grass is always greener, eh?

6. CRAFTING

I really like to be crafty. Nut wreaths, photo albums, collages, knitting, sewing (though I lack skill and know-how), and last week I tried painting with acrylics. Here’s how it turned out:

painting by lindsey, art

original painting by lindsey

7.  SIDE JOBS

I teach flute. This is a more recent addition to my schedule, and I am loving it. I love to sing, but do not have much of a voice, and my poor student has to listen to me demonstrate “TooooooooooooooooooOOOO” vs. “tew” or “pew”. Then I try to sing scales—it is something else.

8. I’M BETTER AT WRITING

I cannot be videotaped. Like, when my hubby was making his first feature film, he gave me a two-second role as “Sleeping Student”. As soon as a videocamera is near me, I giggle incessantly and start talking even faster than I do normally. If you have ever heard me speak, I know this is hard to fathom. I made a short cooking video for a grad school project and we had to do 30 takes of me trying to keep a straight face while slicing avocado.

9.  VERY VINTAGE

I’m REALLY into old things. Old albums for my record player, vintage vases, retro furniture, old French music, old dresses, old pots for my houseplant fixation, old movies (Bringing Up Baby, All About Eve). Old photos top them all.

10. HUMOR

I spend my time on funny things. There is so much pain and loss around, and so many people I miss all the time; it’s just too easy to be sad. If I get a choice, I like to laugh. Favorite sources include (in no order): Saturday Night Live, The Lonely Island, David Sedaris, Car Talk, Weird Al, Anne Lamott, Woody Allen,  Catalog Living, Carl Hiassen, The Onion, Frasier, Modern Family, Arrested Development, Wes Anderson,  Seinfeld, Andrew, and the Stingray Sam theme song. We saw Stingray Sam at the Maryland Film Festival a few years back: It’s a musical. And a Western. Set in Outer Space. Narrated by David Hyde Pierce. Ingenious silliness.

For more about what goes on beyond my little kitchen, click here.

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kitchen block, help!

Some holidays are at the beach with my folks, others are here in (hot, storm-struck) Virginia. This year it’s the latter, meaning I will not be parading the boardwalk with this modest portion of vinegar-soaked potatoes.

french fries, Gus boardwalk fries, beach, Rehoboth

No matter where I am, I’m cooking. Every Fourth of July, I am tempted to repeat this nutty fruit tart from Vegetarian Times magazine. It is about my favorite dessert ever. Then, out of the corner of my eye, there they are: The Cookbooks. By the dozen on my kitchen shelf, filled with recipes yet to make.

Last year, two hours before heading to a neighborhood cookout, I decided to make something. With few groceries in the fridge, and that tiny kitchen apartment, I resorted to making crackers. Salty blue cheese and walnut crackers.

How did July 1 arrived so fast! At least I’ve still got a few days to plan this year. With the summer off from school and time on my side, I’ve got writer’s kitchen block: so you decide. Fair and square, the dish with the most votes by Tuesday night will rinsed and on the (literal) chopping block Wednesday morning. And I’ll be right back to tell you about it.

Don’t worry, there is plenty more from Plenty to which we’ll return after the holiday!

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pizza: it’s what’s for dinner

Let’s get in the mood with a scene from a beloved childhood film. In this clip from Back to the Future II, we glipse at the McFly family in the Future: the year 2015. Ha!

I am impressed the writers in 1987 foresaw caller ID. Still waiting on Black & Decker to release The Hydrator.

Yes, it’s a cherished dish since I was born in the 1980s when Mom, Dad, Jason and I would lay the picnic blanket on the family room floor to watch TGIF around a piping hot pizza box. Even on a scorching summer night, 26 years later, pizza is still the ultimate end-the-week dinner. Now that I’ve wrapped up nutrition classes, it seems an apt time to talk about up-ing the nutrient value of our favorite foods. Let’s start perfecting the pie.

OVERLOAD

Carry-out pizza, despite the presence of carbs, veggies, dairy and in one serving, can be nutritionally void and calorically perilous. Fat and salt reign. The sodium overload in the sauce, pepperoni, and cheese cancels out much hope of absorbing calcium. Pizza also often lacks fiber so crucial to our diet; I found a way to include it in my version, with a flavor just as appealing.

RETHINK PIZZA

What do we love about pizza? The crust’s crunch, rich tomato flavor, the alluring salty cheese? Here’s just one way to enjoy this essence without sacrificing our heart’s health. Using an appropriate portion of salty cheese provides ample cheesiness and significantly decreases the saturated fat. I added toppings high in vitamins, low in calories—then baked it to that golden brown we all adore.

Heart-Healthy Pizza

A  Friday Night Linvention

1 cup baby spinach leaves (use arugula for peppery kick)

1 cup mixed basil and mint leaves

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 bell pepper, sliced thin

½ cup shaved parmesan cheese (pecorino, romano, asiago are all great options)

1 prepared pizza crust (mine was only about 9 inches diameter; whole wheat is a great choice)

budget tip: purchase a wedge of romano or asiago cheese and shave with a vegetable peeler. this can be several dollars less than pre-shredded parmesan.

Note the sodium per serving size on this Trader Joes’ pizza crust! It would have been all too easy to eat this entire pie. It’s not just about fat: it’s about the whole picture.

Preheat the oven to 450F.

In a food processor (a 2-cup machine is sufficient), puree the spinach and herbs with 2 tbsp olive oil. If you don’t have a food processor, finely chop all of greens and stir into the olive oil. A traditional pesto with nuts and cheese would add much more fat than I desired here.

Spread the pesto over the crust. Place the tomatoes, cut side up, on the sauce along with the peppers. Sprinkle a pinch of kosher or sea salt over the tomatoes—this will help them roast in the oven. Scatter the cheese in between the tomatoes and peppers, leaving the tomatoes exposed.

Bake directly on the rack according to the crust’s package directions, or until the cheese browns. I place a large baking sheet beneath the pizza to catch any dripping oil or cheese as it bakes. Cool slightly before cutting; I prefer a long knife instead of a pizza wheel.

Other ideas:

Rather than high-sodium pizza sauce, top your crust with thin slices of salted beefsteak tomatoes (and herbs if you like) and bake until the tomatoes begin to dry out. Top with ½ cup of salty cheese, and the veggies/meat of your choosing and bake until brown. Of course, the tricky part is not eating the whole pie! Serve with a salad and munch on fruit or nuts before dinner. Eating a salad (tossed with peaches or berries) while our pizza is in the oven helps with smaller portions.

Pizza is a favorite is our home, and we’re always playing around with new ways to make it memorable in our own kitchen. Find more pizza inspirations here and recent medical news on life-saving fiber from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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five out of five

My college dining hall had very few vegetarian entrées, and I ate vegetable lasagna at least four days a week in my undergraduate years. It was one of those carrot-zucchini lasagnas with white sauce and cheese, and it was so comforting. The Mongolian grill installed during my senior year increased the variety in my dining hall diet, but I couldn’t resist the creamy lasagna every once in a while still.

I have always been intimidated by lasagna—making it, that is. The layers and the prep and the waiting all that time for it to bake just seemed like too much work—this from the gal willing to make homemade pasta. But I’m conquering all kinds of new dishes these days. You can, too.

Here’s what makes my adaptation of this lasagna simple in preparation: use packaged artichoke hearts, no-boil lasagna noodles, and pre-trimmed leeks. Trader Joes even has pre-chopped leeks in their freezer section! (Click here to watch a demonstration on cleaning and slicing leeks).

I came across this 5-star recipe and said to myself, This sounds amazing. and it’s screaming to be simplified. and I wonder if it would work with mushrooms?

The Ultimate Vegetable Lasagna

simplified a smidge from williams-sonoma.com

serves 8-10

1 box no-boil lasagna noodles

2 cups ricotta cheese

3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 Tbs. olive oil

5 leeks including 1 inch of  green, rinsed well and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 cup artichoke hearts (frozen or jarred), chopped

about 10 baby bella mushrooms, brushed clean, stems removed, and sliced

5 garlic cloves, minced (on a microplane)

3 cups milk

4 Tbs. unsalted butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

a pinch of nutmeg

1/2 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese

Make the vegetable filling

In a fry pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the leeks and sauté until very soft and lightly golden, about 15 minutes.

While the leeks are cooking, heat 1 tbsp. butter in a medium pot (large enough to use for white sauce) over medium-high heat. Sear the mushrooms by adding them in batches, leaving plenty of room between the slices. Set aside.

Once the leeks are tender, drain the artichokes and add to the fry pan with a pinch of salt and pepper. Continue to cook over medium heat until the artichokes are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Add the mushrooms, stir, and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Set aside.

Make the cheese filling

In a small bowl, stir together the ricotta, parmesan, salt and pepper; set aside.

Make the white sauce

In the buttered saucepan (from the mushrooms), melt the remaining 3 tbsp. butter over medium-high heat.

Whisk the flour into the butter and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. It should look like this.

Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the hot milk. Set over medium-low heat and cook, stirring, until thick and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Remove the sauce from the heat.

Assemble and Bake

Position a rack in the upper third of an oven and preheat to 375°F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with olive oil.

Cover the bottom of the prepared dish with a layer of the noodles. No-boil lasagna noodles just go into the pan straight from the box; it’s fabulous. Spoon one-third of the ricotta mixture over the noodles—this doesn’t need to be neat.

Top with one-third of the leek-artichoke mixture and then with one-third of the sauce. Repeat the layering twice.

Sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the top. Bake until golden and bubbling, 40 to 50 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes (painful, I know!), then cut into squares and dig in.

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food of the gods

There are things in life for which Americans offer incessant apologies: sneezing, asking questions, arriving early, arriving late, and the worst offender: apologizing for apologizing. This is why I am not sorry to  make—yet again—a fuss over feta.

Andrew and I ventured into Whole Foods last weekend to recycle wine corks from our wedding (three years is not too late to consider Mother Earth). At the entrance, a young woman offered eight locally-made dips. One particular feta dip was so phenomenal, we talked about it the whole way home. It was a life-changing cheese moment for us both. Though still not worth the $10 for  4 measly ounces.

A single glance at the ingredient list made this simple to re-create at home. Imported feta—essential here—is a creamy experience that shames all fetas you’ve known before. For $6, this high-end tub of feta was still far less than the gourmet dip, and made a generous batch.

jalapeno feta dip

1/2 large red onion

1/2 jalapeno

about 1 lb. imported feta block, in brine (sheep & goat milk blend)

2 tablespoons olive oil

On the large holes of a box grater, grate the red onion. With a paring knife (and gloves on), slice the jalapeno in half, scraping out the white ribs and seeds. Dice the jalapeno and wash your hands well—do not touch your eyes or nostrils… even an hour later!

In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and soften for about five minutes. Add the jalapeno and soften two minutes more. The onions should be translucent, not brown.

Break the feta into a large bowl, and pour the hot contents of the skillet directly over the feta. With a wooden spoon, gently break the feta to incorporate the pepper and onion.

Spoon onto toasted pita (I love whole wheat pita, torn and baked at 250F until crisp). This appetizer is even more phenomenal paired with my slow-roasted tomatoes. This can be made, along with pita chips, within 20 minutes… just in time to take to a friend’s house to share!

 

A note on spice: I can handle only mild heat, and this dip barely approaches medium. The creamy feta balances the pepper well so it’s not too hot. If you want a little more kick, consider using the entire jalapeno.

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better to give (than to eat all the cookies)

The holidays storm in each winter just moments before we get around to our pocketfuls of good intentions. Like the grand notion of baking for every family on our new street. We had a day in mind, and Andrew swore he would stand by my side and not allow yet another baking disaster. But we found endless errands to run on Baking Day, and Christmas week was upon us.

In the end, we attempted a less complicated recipe. Naturally—as December tasks go—at the last minute.  On my only previous attempt, I had produced a succesful batch meringues. And. They. Are. So. Dang. Simple. While I don’t know if they really count as cookies, they were well-appreciated and enjoyed by our neighbors. Fewer neighbors than we planned, as only one-third baked as pretty enough to give as gifts. The remainder resembled teeny toadstools, and were utterly delicious.

Note: we doubled this recipe, and they lasted well for four days in an airtight container on the counter. Maybe they last longer, but they all were eaten by then. Also, if you do not want to purchase superfine sugar, you can pulse regular cane sugar in a food processor. I used Ghirardelli 60% dark chocolate chips; you could also use a dark chocolate bar.

Dark Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies

adapted from Emeril’s recipe, yields four dozen small cookies

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

2/3 cup superfine granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until fluffy but not at all dry. (Be careful not to over beat.) Add the sugar gradually, about 3 tablespoons at a time. When 1/2 of the sugar has been added, add the vanilla extract. Continue beating and adding remaining sugar in batches, until all of the sugar is dissolved and the meringue is very shiny and tight. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the chopped chocolate.

Working one teaspoon at a time, push a teaspoonful of meringue from the tip of 1 teaspoon with the back of another teaspoon onto the lined baking sheets, leaving 1-inch of space between cookies. Or, quickly spoon mixture into a plastic gallon zip-bag with the tip cut and dollop onto the parchment. Place baking sheets in the preheated oven and turn the oven off. Leave the cookies (undisturbed) in the oven for at least 2 hours and up to overnight, or until cookies are crisp and dry. I like to leave them overnight, but only when I have another dessert in the house to hold me over.

In case the neighbors want to know…

Per Cookie: (48); Calories: 44; Total Fat: 2.5 grams; Saturated Fat:0.5 grams; Protein: 1 gram; Total carbohydrates: 5 grams; Sugar: 5 grams; Fiber: 0 grams; Cholesterol: 0 milligrams; Sodium: 3 milligrams

Now I did not create this blog as a venue for profanities, but I had to chuckle when one meringue recipient stated, “These are fucking unbelievable.”

Some other gifts I whipped up last week:

This pillow for Mom’s birthday I stitched over an insert. It was the sweater I wore in my high school senior portrait.

And a few handmade scarves I presented in these darling World Market take-out boxes to my co-workers. Andrew called them Lindsey’s Scarf LoMein.

What’s your favorite gift you gave away this year?

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recipe for success

I love cookbooks with photos. I want to know exactly how to plate a new dish, and how appealing it will look after my labor. With holidays and company and potlucks upon us, it’s time to peruse the ol’ cookbook collection for a photo of Stellar food. You’ll know it: the page on which you pause, salivate, and remind yourself that it’s unhealthy to consume paper. If you are looking for Something Different this year, and seeking inspiration beyond this baby of a blog, spend some one-on-one with a cookbook from days of yore.

I found many discouraging trials in my early days of self-taught cooking when my meal rarely resembled the recipe’s promises. Should you find yourself apprehensive about risking your time and ingredients on the unfamiliar, here are some thoughts you may find helpful upon opening your cookbook:

Serves Eight

In our home, I’m cooking for two. When it’s a meat dish, that’s only one and Andrew is not always up for a week’s worth of leftovers. Be practical with your ingredients; a freezer-friendly casserole or soup may be more economical to double. On the other hand, if you also have a small household and consider the recipe more daring, cut the recipe in half to avoid waste. As I suffer arithmophobia, I usually pencil the ingredient adjustments directly in the cookbook to avoid simple, serious errors. Because that’s what happened on my math tests.

Unfamiliar Ingredients?

An impearative (ha!) disclaimer about Indian cuisine here: I insist you step out of your cabinent comfort zone for this wonder. However, a lengthy list of ingredients, especially the exotic, are a frequent turn-off in other circumstances and perhaps not your best bet for weeknight experimentations.

Pantry Finds

Similar to the idea above, seek out recipes with items you keep in stock. This makes a recipe more accessible and budget-friendly.

Serve Immediately

Beware the Serve Immediately finale. Many of my favorite dishes (egg noodles + brown butter + feta) need be served straight from the stove. However, a new recipe for company is not the time for a dish that risks sogginess as it sits. For company, those recipes recommending “flavors meld at least several hours or overnight” are ideal for cooking in advance and attending to your guests. The Serve Immediately dishes are wonderful, but be sure it works with your meal’s timing.

Read the Recipe to the End

This got me in a lot of trouble in my early repetitive cooking flops. If I did read it to the end, I often did not read the recipe through several times. Those painful paragraphs with four steps-in-one often led to my skipping crucial components. Familiarize yourself with all the aspects of the ingredient preparation and techniques, and look up any pieces that may be confusing. This is why the Internet was invented. YouTube has wonderful tutorials for cooking techniques.

Equipment and Tools

Understanding what tools you need for a recipe will prevent much frustration, and precisely why it’s important to read all the way through a recipe. After drooling over endless recipes stating, “Now with your food processor…”, I skipped many appealing recipes due to equipment limitations. For me, the food processor investment has been worthwhile: a 2-cup Cuisinart miniprep got me through college, now I find plenty of use for my 11-cup Kitchenaid.

It is important, too, to consider whether a paring, serrated, or chef’s knife is most appropriate for ingredients that require slicing. A 6-inch skillet also does not count as a “very large saucepan”. If your pot or pan is not large enough for the amount of food, simply divide the food evenly between two pans. This is crucial for searing and roasting where ingredients must have space to caramelize. Before I invested in a 12-inch skillet, I found much more success dividing my dishes between two medium skillets than crowding and steaming foods in one pan.

Assessing your recipe before committing will hopefully lead to greater success with your culinary endeavors. As recipes are rarely perfect, be certain to taste your creation about 3/4 through cooking and also before serving. Salt is usually the answer, but you can never take it away—underseason first.

What’s new in your kitchen? It’s Lebanese on our stovetop, recipes soon! Click here for some favorite cookbooks from my shelf.

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Filed under dinners, here to share, the basics