Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Crazy Lazy Greek Salad

Google "I hate red onions" to
see this and more!
I've written about Greek Salad before, and my love for it has not wavered.  Unfortunately, my tolerance for onions - particularly red onions - has waned.  I made a big batch of Greek Salad about a month ago and picked out all the onions.  What a waste.

The recipe above is not difficult, but I was feeling particularly lazy and not at all in the mood for onions.  So here's what I did.
  1. Chopped up a tomato. I like the kind that is sold attached to the vine.
  2. Chopped up part of a cucumber.
  3. Chopped up a clove of garlic.
  4. Threw the above into a bowl.
  5. Splashed with Italian dressing, just enough to coat. 
  6. Sprinkled feta. Currently loving Athenos Garlic & Herb.
  7. Added a few pitted kalamata olives.
  8. Profit!
  • I like this make-as-you-go approach way better than making a big batch of salad at once and keeping for several days. Chopped tomatoes that have been sitting in dressing for over a day get mushy and gross.  
  • The garlic was a good onion substitute. It provided bite without, well, being an onion.  
  • The smallest garlic clove is more than enough. Anything larger and I could singlehandedly protect the Capital District from vampires.
  • Next time, I may go wild and buy a bottle of Greek dressing, but I already had Italian in the fridge and thought it tasted just fine. Plain old olive oil would probably work too.
You may be thinking, "This girl is a hack. This isn't even a recipe! It's more like 'throw random shit in a bowl and it will magically become delicious salad.'" To you I say, as long as Food Network considers Rachael Ray's Late Night Bacon a recipe, I will consider myself a salad visionary - AKA, suck it.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Very Reluctant Thanksgiving, Part 3: Dessert

The best part of Thanksgiving, other than stuffing, is dessert. I went a little crazy and made four desserts for three people. What can I say? Some people have a sweet tooth, I have a sweet mouth. Sorry, I can't think of any way to make that sound less dirty.

Apple Pie with Salted Caramel Sauce

Starbucks was kind enough to inspire this dish, thanks to their (sadly) seasonal salted caramel mocha lattes.

I scoured the interwebs for a proper recipe, settling on one from the Cooking Channel. However, upon reading it more closely, I got scared. Laziness and fear of failure got the best of me, so I made some changes.
  1. I had never heard of a mandoline and didn't want to buy one. I gave up on the idea of thinly sliced apples and bought a corer instead.
  2. Making caramel sounds stressful, with high risk of burning. I bought premade caramel sauce in the produce section. Near the apples. Coincidence?
  3. I didn't pour the caramel sauce on the pie filling for fear of burning while it baked.
  4. I don't make pie crust. That's what Pillsbury (or store brand) is for.
Basically, I made a regular old apple pie and poured caramel sauce on top. Tomato, tomahto.

If you're going the premade crust route, spend the extra 50 cents and buy Pillsbury. If you look hard enough, you can find online coupons to offset the difference. The store brand crusts were dry and a real bitch to unroll.  It made my pie ugly.

Look how ugly I am!

I nuked the caramel sauce in the microwave in 30 second intervals, adding a little sea salt in between until it tasted good, then poured over the pie. I'm not an ice cream-on-pie girl, but I bought vanilla for my dad and brother.

The pie is long gone, but I have a ton of caramel sauce left. What should I do with it? Does caramel go bad?

Chocolate Truffle Pie

Thanksgivings past traditionally included chocolate cream pie, which I love, but I wanted to try something new. This recipe was incredibly easy, and so rich and delicious. I just finished the last piece yesterday.

The only hiccup was beating the heavy cream into whipped cream. I had never done it before, so I'd set the mixer to a low speed for fear of "overbeating."  Is that even possible? After the longest 10 minutes of my life, I cranked that shit up to 11 and got my whipped cream.

After combining the melted chocolate with the whipped cream.

The finished product.  You'd better believe I licked the bowl.
And the beaters.
And the spoon.

Pumpkin-Caramel Cannolis

I have a love-hate relationship with pumpkin. I love pumpkin bread and pumpkin seeds. But I hate, and I mean hate, pumpkin pie. When I tell people this, they think I'm crazy. I try it every year, thinking... no, hoping... it will be the year. No dice.  

But what is Thanksgiving without pumpkin? Betty Crocker offers a nice compromise. My local supermarket is fantastic, but it was like pulling teeth to get the premade shells. They sell prepackaged cannoli cream in handy pastry bags, but no handy packages of shells. When I asked for the shells at the bakery, they looked at me like I had three heads. Then, they wanted to charge me per shell what they would charge for a whole cannoli. That's like $2 a shell, for 12 cannolis. No way was I paying that! Such an ordeal.

Anyway, cannolis. The cream was super easy to make and super easy to pipe into the shells, thanks to Mr. Ziplock Bag. Garnish with mini chocolate chips, toffee bits, or chopped pecans, and voila. So good. Pumpkiny without being too pumpkiny. I have tons of ingredients leftover, so I'll be making them again for an upcoming Christmas party. Hopefully it'll be easier to get the shells next time.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Follow the recipe on the back of the Nestle Toll House chocolate chips bag. Crazy, I know.

The best part?

I took care of most of the dessert prep the day before Thanksgiving! The only things I had to do the day of were fill the cannolis and warm up the apple pie/caramel sauce.

To the future!

As I will certainly be making these recipes again, I am going to try and make them a little healthier next time. I have a cute magnet from Chobani which lists ways to substitute plain Greek yogurt for butter, heavy cream, and other stuff. I'm sure there are plenty of other ways to cut down on calories. Post your favorite low-cal tricks in the comments!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Very Reluctant Thanksgiving, Part 2: Dinner

As mentioned previously, my dad prepared the turkey, while I handled the rest.  I am going to break down this entry by dish.

Dad's recipe seemed pretty straightforward, but even so, turkeys are intimidating.  I mean, look at them.  They'd kill you in your sleep if given the chance.

This one lives near my office.  Check out that death glare.

Regardless, the bird was great.  Nice and juicy, but with a crispy skin.  Perfect.

Stove Top.  Don't judge me.  I asked Dad to buy extra.  He brought four boxes.  I would happily forfeit the rest of Thanksgiving dinner and eat a huge bowl of Stove Top with gravy.

Cranberry Sauce
Ocean Spray.  I'm a simple girl.

Pillsbury.  I swear I actually made stuff.  Keep reading!

Sweet Potato Casserole
I hated sweet potatoes as a kid and avoided them well into adulthood.  Joining a CSA in recent years forced me to try them again, and wouldn't you know it, they're really good when they're not soaked in syrup or covered in marshmallows!  I followed this recipe to the letter and it was a huge hit.  I used white sweet potatoes instead of red.  Not sure if it makes a difference tastewise, but just throwing it out there.

We dug in before I remembered to take a picture.

While it was sweet, it wasn't over the top.  The crunchy brown sugar and pecan topping provided a nice change of texture.  The best part is that you can prepare the potatoes the night before.  The next day, add the topping, then pop in the oven with your turkey for the last half hour or so.  This will become a regular dish at future Thanksgivings. 

I chose a roasted winter root vegetable recipe, which was supposed to include carrots, parsnips and rutabaga.  Unfortunately, I grossly underestimated the hardness of rutabaga and/or the dullness of my knives (I'm going with the former).  I got four or five slivers before I tossed the rest off of my deck.  Luckily I bought extra carrots and parsnips.

Now with 95% less rutabaga!

I boiled the veggies the night before, then refrigerated overnight.  I tossed with oil and seasoning the day of then threw into the oven with the sweet potatoes.  The light oil and seasoning didn't mask the taste of the vegetables.  Plus, they looked pretty.  It was a fine dish, but I'm not sure if I'll work it into my regular rotation.  That could be the stuffing-crazed part of me talking, though.

Part 3: Desserts to come later!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Very Reluctant Thanksgiving, Part 1

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.  I have many fond memories of my grandmother and aunt serving up delicious food amid lively conversation with family and friends.  Over time, each Thanksgiving dinner grew smaller as my family members grew up, moved out, started families, or passed away.  Sad, but that's how life goes.

This Thanksgiving, I hosted my father and brother.  I have never hosted Thanksgiving by myself.  I still haven't, but this is the closest I've come.  

My dad was in charge of the turkey, and I took care of everything else.  I have newfound respect for my grandmother, aunt, and other Thanksgiving-hosts-of-the-past and the countless hours they spent preparing feasts to feed at least a dozen hungry adults and kids.  It took me an entire exhausting day to prepare for just three!

The Menu

Sweet potato casserole
Roasted winter root vegetables
Cranberry sauce
Chocolate truffle pie
Apple pie with salted caramel sauce
Pumpkin cannolis
Chocolate chip cookies

Did I mention there were three of us?  I think I over-prepared.  A lot.  But leftovers are the best part of Thanksgiving, right?  I believe it now, but since neither my dad nor brother took a lot of leftovers home with them, I'm sure I'll be singing a different tune in a few days.

Recipes and commentary coming soon!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dining set: Can she build it? Yes she can!

When I moved to my new apartment, I didn't have much.  I brought my bed, dresser, recliner, desk, computers, a small TV, clothes, and my cats.  My couch was delivered the next day.  A friend found a perfectly good coffee table in her apartment building and gave it to me.  A co-worker friend moved right before I did and offered me one of those shelving units-with-baskets.  Like this.  It has wooden boxes instead of baskets, but it's hard to Google something when you don't know what it's called.  Anyway, it now serves as media storage and TV stand.

My next big purchase was either going to be a bigger TV or a dining set.  I don't watch much TV, I wanted to have friends over for dinner at some point, and my dining room was awkwardly empty, so I opted for the dining set.  I ordered a decent looking set from Target.  I didn't need anything fancy or heirloom-quality, just something to eat off of.

The day it was supposed to arrive, I was working from home.  As I furiously refreshed the UPS tracking page, a small detail caught my eye.  The dining set, which was in transit, weighed 110 pounds.  This was a problem because:
  • I live on the second floor.
  • I weigh just a few pounds more than the box.
  • I have a laughable lack of upper body strength.
How did I overlook this when I ordered?  Before I could panic, the doorbell rang.  The UPS driver looked at the box, then looked at me.  Without even asking, he dragged the box up the stairs for me.  I offered him a tip and a bottle of water (it was a hot day), but he refused both.  Big ups to UPS!

That extra .03 pounds'll getcha.

I managed to push the box into the dining room and stared at it for a while.  Then I ignored it for a week.  Then I remembered I was hosting the next Spa Night, which involves my girlfriends and I getting together for dinner, wine, gossip and foot-soaking.  Dammit.

Free cat with every order!

I was amazed by the sheer amount of stuff that came in this box.  Legs, backs, cushions, bolts, screws.  No wonder it weighed so much.  I procrastinated further by making cat toys out of the packaging.

Typical playing with cats = Me and Lenny play while Chloe gives less than one shit

I put the table together first.  The directions were in Engrish, but it wasn't too bad.  One thing it did say clearly was that the use of power tools was strictly forbidden.  Perhaps so you don't overtighten and crack the wood.  Ok, fine, they were nice enough to provide a wrench.  I was set, right?

No.  No, no, no.  If you want your table to be done and still go to bed at a reasonable hour, you will not use the provided wrench.  The space between the bolt and the side of the table was so small, I could get in a quarter-turn at a time at most.  Luckily, my dad feels that no single gal should be without a toolbox, so I screwdrivered the shit out of those bolts and the table was done in no time.

Wrenches ain't shit but hoes and tricks.

The chairs were not quite as easy.  I put one frame together and got stuck.  The instructions said I should screw the cushion up from the bottom of the frame.  But the bottom of the cushion was this super-hard particle board and manual screwing (heh) just wasn't doing it (heh heh).  After going through the seven stages of grief that went with mourning my inability to be independent, I borrowed a friend's cordless drill and finished the job.

Tada!  I need a real vase.

Despite my worries that the chairs would collapse under my unsuspecting friends' bottoms, Spa Night went off without a hitch.  Now that it's over, the table is most often populated by cats, on their way to the windowsill.  But it sure looks pretty!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Awesome Etsy finds: Vinyl wall decals

I moved into my new apartment about a month ago, and struggled to find art to hang above my new, fabulously comfy, brown couch. The typical department store offerings and reproductions of famous works did nothing for me. Everything felt too dark and depressing. All I wanted was something that was a) mostly brown, b) sophisticated, to give the illusion that I am an adult, and c) cute, because being an adult is overrated.

Was I asking too much? Not according to my old friend Etsy, and Leen the Graphics Queen! I hadn't even considered vinyl decals until I stumbled across Leen's shop. Her awesome three panel decals with birds and trees fit my criteria perfectly.

The decals arrived in practically no time. A small bird decal was included at no charge, presumably for me to practice on. She knows me too well, that Leen. I successfully applied the bird to my bedroom wall.

Cute, right? How hard could the others be?

To be honest, the first living room decal was a pain in the ass, but the blame is mine. I peeled the backing paper off too quickly, which resulted in a tear near the top. I was able to salvage it, and you can't tell unless you get right up in front of it. If you stand on my couch and put your nose to my wall decal, I will give you the stinkeye. I then peeled the transfer paper up from the bottom instead of down from the top, which made for tired arms.

Intermission! (AKA Snack Break!)

The remaining two decals were much easier to apply, once I knew what I was doing.

Kitty sold separately.

Another awesome Etsy find. Two thumbs (and four decals) up!