Wednesday, June 30, 2010

fococcia fail

If I had a camera, I would take a photograph of the bread I made today and take a survey of the best caption. Choices:

a) Trees poke out from the pale cliffs off the coast of Ireland. The white rocks at top have been causing avalanches in recent years, threatening wildlife.

b) A frog infestation in Nabisco's factory caused crackers and other food products to turn a flaky green and erupt in dandruff and warts.

c) Gertrude Wickems before receiving Botox treatment.

d) After (in an anti-meth ad)

Here are some rules for making bread:

1. Measure out your yeast, sugar, and water. Use the right amount.

2. If you need a little more water, don't put a lot more water in.

3. Cover/dust your hands with flour so the dough doesn't stick to your hands.

4. If you're halving the recipe, don't do cursory math in your head, and don't guess how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon.

5. If you're doing math, use measuring spoons. There's no point in doing the math if you're just going to dump/shake/sprinkle in "probably about that much" anyway.

6. Don't make stuff up unless you know what you're doing. If this is the first time you've made bread without a breadmaker, follow the recipe carefully.

Success post forthcoming.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

officially, not pasta primavera

Today, Betsy had this great idea for a carrot sauce.

I was a little skeptical. After our tomato sauce turned out red and tomatoy, I expected our carrot sauce to be orange and carroty. I figured it would look something like pumpkin pie filling, but taste like carrots.

Whatever. I still had a couple chicken breasts in the freezer in case I needed them.

First, we boiled some butterfly pasta. It's really important that it's butterfly pasta, but I don't actually know why.

Cut up two carrots and sauteed them, also about 2 green onions, a couple slices of squash, and sauteed with oil, garlic, etc. The usual. This time we added a slice of lemon and one of lime. (Squeeze the juice over the vegetables, then toss the rind in, but don't eat the rind.) A bit later we added a can of tuna.

We put the pasta on our plates and dumped the vegetables on top. Just a reminder: this isn't pasta primavera.

--lemon and lime were good, gave the vegetables a different flavor. I prefer the regular way, but this was good, too, and different.
--tuna was good, but we should have added more. If you eat a bunch of pasta and vegetables, you'll feel like you didn't actually eat anything.
--if your pasta looks depressing, mix in a little olive oil and enough basil flakes to make it look nice. It won't really taste any different, but it won't look so pathetic. This works with every kind of pasta, as far as I know.
--this is not actually pasta primavera.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Magical Pasta Salad

Mary and I have picked up this sort of bad habit: Late at night when we’re bored, when reading another chapter of Return of the King seems impossible and watching another episode of 30 Rock feels pathetic, we make food.

Sometimes this food is weird, (like the salty chocolate chip cookies we made –– whatever, we still ate nine of them in two hours), sometimes it is bad (greasy homemade graham cracker crust with melted chocolate and peanut butter spread on it, stuck in the freezer; it may be every 5-year-old’s dream come true, but it was definitely not delicious, and vaguely depressing), and every once in a while, it is awesome.

Like last night.

We’d had this bowl of rigatoni taking up space in the fridge for a while and kept forgetting to eat it. So at about 10:30 p.m. we decided to make pasta salad.

I’ve never done that before, and I don’t think Mary has either. But about $0.30 of pasta was on the line, so we didn’t worry too much about planning ahead of time or anything. This is what we did:

1. Added about a tablespoon of olive oil and maybe 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar to a bowl of rigatoni.
2. Dumped in everything else in our fridge and pantry.

Well, not exactly. But here’s a list of things we added without any special rhyme or reason:

-chopped sun-dried tomatoes
-green onions
-plenty of black pepper
-a little leftover Caesar salad dressing

And you know what? After about 30 seconds of work, it tasted awesome. I kid you not, this stuff is absolutely delicious.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One of the best things in the world

Frozen spinach is wonderful. It's cheap (about $0.90/brick), good for you (Hello, Iron!), and looks neat when you mix it with other foods. Plus, it's pre-chopped, so all you really have to do is defrost it and throw it into whatever you're eating, whether that's pasta primavera, potato soup, enchiladas, white name it, frozen spinach probably makes it better.

The one downside of frozen spinach is that it doesn't really have any taste and it would probably make an atrocious side dish. But when added to something that already tastes good, it's fantastic.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

dream sauce

Last night, I dreamed that I was in some sort of serious danger and I couldn't scream. I was trying to, but couldn't. Suddenly I woke up and my heels tingled, as if I had just slammed them into the floor.

"Gol-ly, Mary, is everything okay?" asked Betsy.

"Did I just scream?" I asked.

"Yeah," she said.


"What are we having for dinner tomorrow?" asked Betsy.

"I don't remember," I said.

"I think we were having spinach with pasta," she said.

That rung a bell. I scrawled four words on the back of a receipt, rolled over, and went to sleep.

I don't think I was ever completely awake, and I could make a credible case that Betsy was completely asleep the entire time (she sleep-talks regularly and didn't remember any of it over breakfast). The conversation above is the most accurate I can give you -- memory of dreams and half-awake conversations isn't always the best. It wasn't all a dream, though: I saw the receipt, and the four words were there.

After work, Betsy went to sleep and I cooked. I had to pot/pan-shuffle a few times, so I'm going to give you a simplified version of what I did.

1. I dumped all the rotini we had left into a pot and set it to boil.

A real adult* I know told Betsy and me that when he was in college, he and his buddies would put empty boxes back in the cupboard so it would look like they had more food than they actually had. In this spirit, I closed the empty rotini box and placed it back on the cupboard shelf.

2. I chopped chicken and set it to boil.

3. I drained the rotini and put it in a bowl.

4. I put oil (not quite enough to cover the bottom of the pan) and minced garlic (half a little spoonful) into a little pan, heated it up, added formerly-frozen spinach, and cooked it.

5. I mixed 1 tbsp butter, too much milk (aim for half a cup maybe?), and too much parmesan cheese (add to taste) in a bowl.

6. The butter wasn't mixing in, so I scooped it out and put it in with the spinach. When it was melted, the spinach was done. I poured the whole thing in with the milk and parmesan cheese.

7. The sauce was too runny, so I added a bunch of parmesan cheese, and that didn't help at all. If your sauce is too runny, I don't know what to do.

8. The chicken was done, so I drained the water.

9. I put three bowls on the table: one bowl of boring rotini, one bowl of sauce, and one bowl of chicken. We put the sauce on top of the rotini and ate it. Betsy thought it was good. I'm not a super big fan of white sauce, but it was good as far as white sauce goes. I added chicken to mine.


Notes regarding spices: the usual (basil, garlic, salt, pepper) is good. I didn't put a whole lot in, and it didn't seem to be lacking much. Make sure you add a pinch of salt to the water when you boil the pasta, though.


*real adult is defined as someone who's married and has kids, has a stable job and home, and/or is at least 30. If you're 21, change your address three or four times a year (dorm, summer camp/job, home, new dorm), and can still speculate about what you want to be when you grow up, you're not a real adult. "But I can vote and drink!" you might protest, but it doesn't matter. Get married, settle down, and you will be a real adult.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Potato Soup Redux

Last night we made potato soup that was almost exactly the same as the other potato soup we made except for a few important -- and controversial -- differences.

The first big difference was that it didn't have carrots and did have celery. That's because we didn't have carrots and did have celery and didn't have the will or dinero to do a grocery run.

The second big difference is a few added ingredients: first, 1/3 a block of frozen spinach, which made it look more delicious and less like cookie dough; second, smoked paprika; third, pinto beans; fourth, chili powder.

I thought it was good. Mary, though, doesn't like beans.

If this was a story a grandfather was narrating to his child (a la Princess Bride), at this point, a small voice would interrupt:

Child: Wait, Grandfather! Mary doesn't like pinto beans?
Grandfather: Yes, my child. It is true.
Child: But how is that possible? EVERYBODY likes pinto beans!
Grandfather: I thought as much, until I met this strange Mary bird.
Child: It can't be true! (wimpers)
Grandfather: (rubs childs head affectionately with a sad look in his eye.)

Now back to the soup:

Mary also thought the chili powder was weird. Granted, it was a little different, but I liked it. The smoked paprika was great. Everything should have smoked paprika.

Basically, potato soup is really hard to mess up and it's probably the cheapest thing you can eat, after Ramen. So I have to recommend it wholeheartedly, pinto beans or not.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

True Life: My First Good Experience with Pasta Primavera


Pasta Primavera is kind of a bad idea -- it's one of those foods with an unnecessarily fancy name based on a vague idea that was probably invented by somebody who wanted to use up leftovers.

I know jack squat about the history, theory, or cultural significance of this finicky dish. All I know is from what I've eaten at my school's cafeteria and read in vegan cookbooks from the 60's, and that wasn't enough to give me any sort of confidence in the dish.

But, like that poor imagined sucker who invented PP by necessity, Mary and I reached a point where we had not a lot of ideas, not a lot of money, and access to some decent produce and pasta. (Curse, you, the letter P! You make everything sound silly with your excessive alliteration and unnecessary lip-pursing!)

So we decided to try out Pasta Primavera. Our first attempt, which I will not discuss, was kind of lame.

But after two weeks, we decided to give it another go (I forget why exactly we made this choice; it's not important). And it turned out pretty durn good. Here's what we did:

A. We sauteed half a head of garlic and a spoonful of minced garlic in canola oil (of course).
B. We added about two carrots, cut in slices, and sauteed them for a few minues.
C. We threw in about two squash, sliced and then cut into little half- and quarter-moons, and sauteed them for a few minutes.
D. Somewhere in there, we added about 1/3 a can of pinto beans and a decent amount of salt and pepper.

All the while, we cooked some spaghetti.

After the spaghetti was done and the vegetables were finished sauteeing, we put the spaghetti on our plates and dumped the veggies over it. Then I added a copious amount of parmesan cheese (important!).

This dish was kind of a bummer for Mary because she doesn't like pinto beans or squash. But I think both of them are awesome, so I really liked it.

I think the key to pasta primavera is making it be about more than pasta and leftover vegetables. The beans helped a ton by making it feel like an actual meal, instead of like something two incompetent college students threw together to fend off starvation.

Also, putting the veggies on top (instead of stirring them into) the pasta was nice. Not sure why, but it was.

When I do this again, I will probably try it with spinach, red peppers, maybe some zucchini, and maybe some black olives.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

how to actually make awesome sauce (and stuffed shells)

This meal was so good, it's gonna take both of us to write this post. Betsy's writing the first part, about how to actually make awesome sauce....

Awesome Sauce

This is my (Betsy's) method for tomato sauce. It was originally based on a recipe I found online, but I ditched that pretty quickly, and this turned out well anyways.

4 Roma tomatoes, chopped up as little as possible
vegetable oil
a spoonful of minced garlic
1/2 chopped onion
1 can of tomato sauce
3 inches of carrot, chopped really really tiny*
1 stick of celery, chopped really really tiny*

This begins exactly the same way that just about every other thing we've made begins: with garlic and onion getting sauteed in vegetable oil along with a little salt and pepper.

Then I added the carrots and celery, sauteed them for a few minutes, and then added the tomatoes and basil, salt, and pepper.

~At this point, I had this bizarro fantasy that I could make a tomato sauce the old fashioned Italian grandmother way, without any canned goods. But it just ended up looking goopy and floppy and sad. I kept simmering it, covered, for about 45 minutes, hoping it would magically transform into a velvety marinara sauce -- but it was not to be. So I gave in and slowly added the entire can of tomato sauce, about a quarter of the can at a time.

And, wonder of wonders, after heating it, cooking it for about 10 more minutes, and checking on the spices, it tasted good! As in, lick-the-spoon good!

One important thing about this is not adding too much seasoning.** Since the tomatoes break down and everything simmers for a pretty long time, anything you put in the beginning will get really concentrated; the last tomato sauce I made had way too much black pepper and ended up getting thrown out after sulking around in a leftover container for two weeks.

Fortunately, this sauce evaded that sad fate and ended up getting sloshed over stuffed shells for a labor-intensive but super delicious meal.

*or you can chop them big and have massive chunks of vegetables floating around in your tomato sauce, but I didn't do that because it sounds gross.

** except basil. I don't think you could put too much basil in this. We would have done oregano too, but we don't have any because we are poor. All you richies out there in internet-land should try oregano.

...and I'm writing the second part, about stuffed shells. This is pretty easy, and it's fancy-schmancy, and is good for snacks or dinner or hors d'eurves, depending on how many you make.

First, get some jumbo shells (pasta) and boil them. While they're on the stove, get a bowl and mix ricotta cheese (with a regular cereal or soup spoon, one good-sized spoonful per shell), frozen spinach (which should be de-thawed by now), and parmesan cheese. If you've cooked some ground Italian sausage or ground beef (preferably seasoned), mix that in as well.

When she shells are cooked, drain the water. Take each shell and fill it up with a good-sized spoonful of your ricotta cheese mixture, then put it on a cookie sheet. When you've got all your shells done, cover them with sauce and sprinkle them with mozzarella cheese. Stick them in the oven until the cheese is melted.

Then, eat them, because they are very good.

Friday, June 11, 2010

why onions are important

Here's one thing Betsy and I don't have to worry about.

tomato soup


The first time we had this soup, Betsy cooked while I was oot and aboot with interviews. Betsy told me it was really easy – “stupid,” she said – but it tasted gourmet. A couple nights ago, I told Betsy I was cooking – she could tell me what to do. Soup turned out well again.

Chapter 1: Garlic and Onion

Cut up an onion, then sautee it with minced garlic in a saucepan. The onion won’t break down in the soup; rather, you’ll have onion chunks floating around, so cut them up to the size you want. (If you don’t like onions or are allergic, skip the onions.) We used half an onion and about a teaspoon of minced garlic.

Chapter 2: Tomatoes

Cut up your tomatoes really small. We used two tomatoes, both about the size of my (rather small) fist. You can use any size or type of tomato (as far as I know), but you want about one fist’s-worth per person. The tomatoes need to be cut small enough that they’ll break down into broth – maybe quarter- to half-inch pieces.

Scrape the tomatoes into the saucepan. If you get all the tomato juice and pulp off the cutting board and into the pan, the cutting board will be easier to clean up. Sautee the tomatoes with the garlic and onion.

Chapter 3: Sauce and Seasonings

Add an 8-oz. can of tomato sauce, and as much garlic, salt, and pepper as you like. Every now and then, eat a spoonful of the soup and see if it tastes the way you like it. Add whatever amount of spices seem appropriate.

Chapter 4: Vegetables

Fresh spinach is good. Cut it up and toss it in. Basil is good, fresh or dried. Thyme is good, too. Oregano would have been good if we’d had it.

Chapter 5: Orzo

Orzo is kind of a scary name, but it’s just pasta, I promise you. It’s small and looks a little like rice but tastes just like spaghetti, and you can find it in the grocery store with the spaghetti.

When the tomatoes are broken down, add as much orzo as you think would be good in soup. I think we used about a cup.

Chapter 6: The Finishing Touches

Continue stirring the soup and tasting it every so often, adding seasonings when appropriate. When the orzo feels cooked and the soup tastes good, turn off the heat, pour into bowls, and eat.

But wait! There’s more!

Garlic bread is really good with tomato soup. Lay out your bread on a cookie sheet drizzle with olive oil, and add garlic, salt, pepper, and basil. Bake at 350 until toasted.

Monday, June 7, 2010

weekend away

On a normal workday, Betsy and I wake up in the same room (about 45 minutes apart), eat breakfast mostly together, drive to work together, make phone calls from desks separated by a small filing cabinet, eat lunch together, make more phone calls from desks separated by a small filing cabinet, drive back to the apartment together, cook dinner together, eat dinner together, do dishes together, and by that time it's dark and we've locked our door for the night.

So far, we haven't had any major fights. In fact, we haven't really had any minor fights. We had something like this once:

Betsy: Do you like guacamole?
Betsy: Have you tried guacamole?
Mary: Um...
Betsy: You haven't even tried guacamole! How can you say you don't like it?
Mary: Um...maybe I have tried it. Is it green? Do people put it on crackers? I think I did, and I think I remember not liking it.
[next day, Betsy orders guacamole at a restaurant.]
Betsy: Mary, try this.
Mary: (dips tortilla chip in guacamole and eats) I guess it tastes okay, but it feels really slimy.
Betsy: Well, you have to not think about snot while you're eating it.

And another one like this:

Betsy: Do you like hummus?
Mary: No.
Betsy: (gives Mary a knowing look) Have you tried hummus?
Mary: Yes.
Betsy: And you're sure you don't like it?
Mary: Yes.

But overall, we're getting along really well, especially considering we're rarely more than 20 feet away from each other. So when I found out I was going home for a family event this weekend, I automatically asked Betsy if she'd like to come along. It hadn't really occurred to me that we could be in separate places.

Betsy suggested that a friend pick her up and take her to Hillsdale for the weekend, and that's what she ended up doing. So I drove home alone.

It was up to my sister and me to make dinner Saturday night. Armed with the confidence I'd gained spending three weeks cooking with Betsy, I scanned the shelves of the refrigerator, looking for food I knew how to cook.

My confidence went kerplunk when I realized we had no broccoli. And we were out of carrots. And basically nothing to make a main course out of except meat, and I didn't learn anything from Betsy about cooking meat.

Our sandwiches that night (lunch meat, sliced cheese and raw tomato) were a testament to Betsy's cooking skillz.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

there will be no unrequited blog promotion!

We've already told the story about a certain 18-to-25-year-old coming over for dinner.

He told his readers to read our blog. So we'll do the same: to all of our readers -- yes, both of you -- go read his blog over at FOX Toledo.

Have a nice day.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

the great debate: social life, produce, or Karate Kid sequel?

Betsy and I were in a pickle of a sort we'd never dealt with before.

We'd discovered someone in the 18-to-25-year-old range and we wanted to have said 18-to-25-year-old over for dinner. But we were booked for two weekends in a row, and we were booked every day during the week, too -- except for Wednesday. But our refrigerator (of which we've become increasingly proud) was completely empty of tomatoes and carrots, and the Farmers Market was only open on Wednesdays.

Betsy summed up our dilemma rather neatly:

"Social life?" she asked, "or produce?"

I polled some friends from school. One said produce. One said social life. They were no help at all.

Fortunately, Betsy's father rescued us by taking Betsy to the grocery store Monday night. She came back with tomatoes and carrots. We'd miss the Farmers Market (one of our favorite places in Toledo), but we could have the 18-to-25-year-old over for Wednesday dinner.

We thought things were going to be fine, but our situation took a turn for the worse on Wednesday afternoon. I discovered that we could get free tickets to see Karate Kid II that night.

I wasn't sure how to handle this one.

I politely declined. "Sorry, we've already got plans for tonight," I said, then blinked and scrunched up my eyebrows a little bit. Had I really just said that? We'd just spent Saturday afternoon bumming around downtown and Saturday night bumming around the apartment. We couldn't make room in our schedule for a free movie (even if it was Karate Kid II)? Weird.

The 18-to-25-year-old came over, and we all ate dinner, brownies, and sprouts. Now I can't focus on my work because my cheeks hurt from laughing so much.

I guess I didn't realize those muscles were out of shape.

Mary is stingy (but not always), pt. 3 of a series.

Mary went out on a limb and spent two hundred little abe lincolns on a
bathroom trash can. Kudos to her for having the guts to make an investment.

Now I want to write about frittata.

Here are a Few Fun Frittata Facts:

-It is spelled very weirdly. It took me a lot of misguided google searches to
realize that it has one double t and one single t. I can't think of any other words
that do this. So we know right off that frittatas are special.
-If you make frittata, you will feel classy -- in the same way that jazz-listening,
volvo-driving, environment-saving, and latte-sipping do.
-Our frittata cost $3. I am not making that up.

Another fun fact unrelated to frittata: when you put together a string of words
that all start with the same letter, it's called alliteration. Fun Frittata Facts is a
stellar example of that.

Here is a basic explanation of how to make a frittata:

Sautee some garlic and onion in a skillet, of course. Slice up some potatoes
very thinly and lay them on the bottom of a frying pan. Cover it twice. Turn on
the heat and cook them until you can poke them with a fork but they aren't
super soft.

Put some more vegetables on top, from hard to soft. We added onions, red
peppers, and later on, spinach.

In another bowl, whisk together about 5 eggs and 1/3 a cup of milk. Add salt,
pepper, and maybe garlic powder.

Pour that mixture over the vegetables. Put a lid on the pan and cook it all until
the eggs are cooked.

Sprinkle cheese on top.

Slice it into wedges and eat it hot!

Feel sophisticated and cosmopolitan.

In retrospect, frittata probably won't make you feel that classy. But it's fun to
make and you can do pretty much anything with it.