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I have great friends.
So long story short, I had a really shitty day at work yesterday. There was a lot of needless drama over partial information about important events. I don’t want to turn this into a venting blog, but the whole thing was just stupid and easily avoidable. It left me in a funk. But luckily for me, when I’m in a funk, my friends roll in to save the day.
This afternoon, my friend Tony and his partner, Ryan, took me to The Palace, a really nice Korean restaurant located at 7131 Little River Turnpike, Annandale, Virginia, to cheer me up and eat some Korean comfort food. Over the years, Annandale has become a little Korea of sorts, with tons of neato Korean restaurants tucked in all over the place, and the Palace is no disappointment.
As you walk in, the décor is very clean and modern, with black tables and beautiful wood working on the walls. Against on of the wall are hung several Korean masks—I have no idea if they’re from statues, or battle masks, or just something to be worn at a party, but regardless, the artwork is beautiful. It is everything you would expect from a higher end Asian restaurant.
I love Korean food. I was heavy in taekwondo a few years ago, and our sparring team regularly devoured bulgogi, kimchi, and bi bim bop after our grueling training sessions. I always ordered the same thing—nahk ji bogum, a meal of stir fried octopus with vegetables in this spicy sauce of…something red. It was like getting kicked in the face with a chili pepper. The spice would spread throughout your mouth like a tidal wave, make your eyes water and your ears burn.
I loved it.
Tony ordered a Korean version of chicken and rice soup—chicken poached in broth, stuffed with rice, with vegetables. He offered me some chicken, and it was absolutely delicious. I’m going to do some more research and come up with my own version. The menu said it had ginseng in the broth, which is great for those nasty winter (and summer) colds that always knock me flat.
Ryan had something called mool neng myun, a cold soup with buckwheat noodles, vegetables, and beef in a cold beef broth. I found that intriguing, actually. I’m normally not a cold soup fan, but he downed his before Tony or I were half way through our soups, so I think I’m missing something.
Scanning the menu, I saw something similar to my old standby. After listening to Ryan gush about his favorite Korean meals, I decided to branch out a bit and try something new. I ended up deciding on something called kal bi tang, which is basically short rib soup. And I loved it. The ribs were tender, succulent, and easy to bite though, once I got them off the rib itself. After watching me struggle with the bone, Ryan informed me that in Korea, it’s ok to just pick up the bone and bite the meat that way. Sadly, I have A Thing about eating with utensils at restaurants (you will NEVER find me a rib joint. Ribs are meant to be barbecued at home, with tons of napkins and people who won’t judge you for having sauce on your face. I can’t be a messy eater in public. I just can’t!) so I just managed as best I could.
The soup was perfect. I don’t know about you, but when I’m emotionally exhausted and unsure of the future, I want something warm and comforting. I want something filling that won’t leave me in a food coma an hour later. And this was it for me.
Service wise, I think it was acceptable. Ryan did have to call the waiter over at the end to take the check, but other than that, it was a wonderful, uplifting, and enjoyable lunch. We were there just over an hour and a half, and spent the time laughing, eating, and getting to know each other.
Ryan is actually the owner of Kim Chi Travel, a US-based travel agency specializing in group tours to Asia. I loved his stories about traveling through China and his native Korea—did you know there are Sizzlers in Korea? Apparently they’re high end restaurants, too. And not just high end because your only other restaurant option is a Jack in the Box. Are you surprised, because I am! I didn’t even know Sizzlers still existed!
Am I going back to the Palace? Absolutely.
I am victorious yet again!!
I remade the lasagna enchiladas tonight. Instead of Swiss chard, I used spinach, added some sautéed chicken, rolled it up in a whole wheat tortillas. Five fit perfectly into the casserole dish, and I slathered them with tomato sauce and a heavenly handful of mozzarella cheese.
25 minutes at 350. That’s all I needed. One bite, and I was carried away on a chariot of comfort food into culinary paradise.
Now that I have my camera’s link cable back, I can finally post photos about that absolutely horrific meal I made last week. And when I say ‘horrific,’ I mean I threw it out after a single bite. I have never in my life made something this disgusting. I couldn’t even be angry, it was hilariously bad.
So now that the CSA deliveries are fast approaching, and the realization that I’m going to have a lot of kale really fast, I’ve decided to increase the number of greens in my diet. Greens are really high in all things good for you, including beta-carotene. Considering the fact that I’m as blind as a bat, I should probably be eating them by the bushel.
During one of my many combs through foodnetwork.com, I came across this recipe for Swiss chard lasagna.
“This is PERFECT!” I said out loud to no one in particular. Luckily for me, my three cube mates are used to be talking to myself, and generally tolerate me.
Earlier in the winter, I tested a recipe for Chef Matt for pork involtini, which included Swiss chard. One of my critiques was that while tasty, it’s not something I really like. I was hoping, praying, that if maybe I mixed it in with something I love (like lasagna!!) I’d learn to love it. Or at least cover up the taste and get the awesome nutrients anyway.
In typical Studio Foodie style, I knew I’d never stay true to the recipe. Oh no. A test kitchen approved recipe that had been published in a national food magazine can’t possibly be good enough for me! It needs to Be Improved.
Rebecca, I have an idea!! I messaged my fellow foodie coworker. What if I made this recipe, but instead, I ROLLED the cheese/Swiss chard mixture in the lasagna noodles, manicotti style?!
Could be interesting…she wrote back. And with that, the horrible idea was set in motion.
So I made a quick trip to Harris Teeter on my way home to pick up supplies. As I walked towards the Swiss chard, something else caught my eye.
And it was on sale!
“Hey, I’ve seen this on Chopped once! I can TOTALLY use this instead!”
I was inspired.
Mel’s Horrible, No Good, Very Bad, Broccoli Rabe Lasagna That Almost Was An Enchilada
6 lasagna noodles
1 bunch broccoli rabe
Schlock of garlic
1 cup skim milk ricotta cheese
¼ cup almond milk
Handful of grated Parmesan cheese
A couple fresh basil leaves, chopped
Handful of mozzarella cheese, enough to cover
Usually, I just layer uncooked lasagna noodles in the pan, but if I was going to roll the lasagna up, I’d need to cook them. (SF Note: Do not buy the no boil noodles if you’re layering them the old fashioned way. They’re the exact same noodles. The no boil thing is a total racket invented to make you pay more money.) I brought a large pot of water to a boil and let those suckers go for about 8 minutes.
While that was burbling away, I set my awesome copper core sautee pan on medium heat, and added about 2-3 Tablespoons of olive oil. When it started to shimmer slightly, I added the garlic—do I need to gush about the utopian aroma so wonderful masking Ghetto Neighbor’s nightly toke? I don’t think so. It was wonderful though.
After a minute, I added the broccoli rabe. In order for it to get mixed into the lasagna cheese mixture, it needed to be a LOT smaller than what I bought at the store. The only option was to wilt it down. Using tongs, I gently began turning the rabe so the olive oil garlic mixture was evenly coated.
Then waited. And waited. And waited some more. Apparently
rabe actually take a while to wilt down, not the 3-5 minutes I was expecting. The lasagna finished boiling, and I caught the noodles from the water and laid them to cool on a cutting board. Still waiting for the rabe to wilt, I mixed the ricotta, almond milk (use regular milk if you have it, I’m just not a fan anymore), egg, parmesan, and basil, in a small bowl with a few strongly assertive stirs.
FINALLY, the rabe was ready. I dumped the greens into the ricotta mixture and began stirring. It just wasn’t…right. The greens would mix with the cheese, but it didn’t really look like it was mixing INTO it.
“Huh. Well that’s weird,” I said, and stirred harder.
At this point, I realized that the lasagna noodles I bought were Really Really Cheap. Instead of you know, staying together the way lasagna noodles should, they had all split neatly in thirds, lengthwise. Shit. I can’t roll something like that! How can I make lasagna roll ups if I can’t roll them up!!
I hate it when life doesn’t work with the plans I’ve made.
Improvise. I needed to improvise. My mind flashed to my family’s long ago lasagna parties. Grandma Rose, in the interest of churning out as many pans as possible with as little effort and time, began making ‘lazy lasagna,’ in which you basically mixed the whole damn thing together, noodles and all, and baked it.
I was going to make broccoli rabe lazy lasagna!! Working quickly, I cut the pasta into bite sized pieces, and dumped it into the cheese. Which continued to not allow other things to be mixed into it. The pasta clumped together and just…sat there.
I looked at it with detached distain.
“You are just not going to work.” I talked to my food. So sue me.
My tummy rumbled.
I needed more improvising. And fast.
Luckily for me, I had randomly bought a package of tortillas at the store. They sat there on the counter, still yet to be put away. The plastic packaging was like a sign, yelling USE ME! YOU BOUGHT ME, SO USE ME!!
Lasagna enchiladas. I am a fricken improvisational genius.
Rapidly, I picked the pasta out of the cheese. Then, I spooned the ricotta mixture onto a tortilla, rolled it up, and placed it in an oiled casserole dish. My small dish fits three tortillas perfectly, so I covered them with tomato sauce and handful of cheese. The dish was pretty stuffed, and I was worried about the juices boiling over, so I placed it on a baking tray before slipping it into a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.
When it came out, it was beautifully golden and bubbly—exactly the way comfort food from my childhood should be. I could not WAIT to take a bite. I texted several friends to remind them what an awesomely inventive cook I am (just in case they forgot). I cut into the lasagna enchiladas. So much excitement!
I brought a bite of what I knew to be a delicious, wonderful, mouth watering, makes-a-bad-day-better morsel of happiness to my mouth. I chewed it, expecting an explosion of self-satisfying deliciousness to erupt over my tastebuds.
Nope. It sucked.
Apparently, when your grocery list is defined by the statement “Hey! I saw this on Food Network!” you run the risk of grossness. I don’t know if didn’t wilt it enough, or if there was a reaction to the garlic, or if it’s just in the nature of rabe in general, but it is bitter as hell. I don’t think I trimmed it right either (I trimmed it a little, but I think I left a stem or too) because the ends were really hard to bite through.
“THIS IS HORRIBLE!!” I texted to Heather. I threw out the entire meal. Even Foodie Cat walked away from it and that NEVER happens.
You win some. You lose some. And some are just culinary Hindenburgs.
I really am turning into a stay at home frontier woman mom in a studio apartment. Except I have an office job. And I live in a slightly suburban ghetto-ish jungle. And I don’t have kids.
Since moving out on my own, I’ve been taking my laundry home each Sunday. For some reason I take personal offense that the laundry here isn’t free, and fought using the building facilities for a long time. It’s been six months, and I finally collapsed. It’s just a pain in the ass to lug 2-3 loads of laundry down 8 floors, drive 30 miles, try to shove as much as possible in one load because my parents’ dryer is slow as hell, drive 30 miles back, take it up that same 8 floors, then put it away sometime later in the week because by the time you get home it’s 11pm and you’re tired. Plus it’s awfully collegiate to bring your laundry home on weekends, and I haven’t attended a class in close to 5 years.
And since there are no studio apartments in the DC area with an in-unit laundry, I’m giving in. But that doesn’t mean I’m going down without a fiscally responsible, ecologically friendly, phosphate-free fight!!
I found the original recipe here.
Homemade Laundry Detergent
1 bar Ivory soap
½ cup Borax
½ cup Arm and Hammer Washing Soda
Grate the Ivory into a reusable container. I used a peanut butter jar since I finished the last of it to make peanut butter cookies for the coworkers last week. I thought about purchasing an uber fancy looking glass container that would photograph really well, since I knew I’d be blogging about this. But then I realized my name is not Martha Fricken Stewart, and I don’t really care what it looks like. It’s a detergent container. Besides, it’s one less container in the trash bin. One bar should yield approximately 1 cup of grated soap.
Add the half cup each of Borox and washing soda, screw the lid on tight and give a good shake til all the mixture is combined.
For a full load, use approximately 2 Tablespoons per load, and 1 Tablespoon for the smaller loads.
SF NOTE: Make sure you buy WASHING soda, not BAKING soda. Baking soda is sodium BIcarbonate. Washing soda is sodium carbonate. There’s something about those two missing molecules of whatever it is (chemistry class was a LONG time ago but I’m sure my buddy Darryl will chime in here to help me out) that make a big difference.
I just pulled my laundry out of the dryer, and it’s awesome. There are no fragrances, no phosphates, and no extra chemicals. It’s just…clean. It smells clean, feels clean, and clean makes me happy. I’m never going back to the store made stuff again.
I made a powdered detergent because frankly, it’s easier and faster. I’ve linked to a similar recipe for the liquid stuff here, if that’s what you prefer. I have to warn you though, the liquid stuff needs a bucket, a pot, 3 gallons of water, and an additional 24 hours. So um, yeah. Powdered detergent for me!
Now, I’ve heard plenty of people say that homemade, green cleaning products are much more economical and healthier than the store bought stuff. I know I’ve said it, but I figure it’s about time to back it up with the math.
Using Google Shopping Results, a 76 oz box of Borax costs $4.29, a 55oz box of Arm and Hammer Washing Soda costs $2.99, and I bought 5 bars of Ivory soap today at Giant for $2.50. If I bought all of these in the same trip, I would have paid $9.78.
I don’t have the math skillz to add sales tax, so for this exercise, let’s pretend we live in New Hampshire.
“But Mel!! That’s nearly $10! I can get a bottle of TIDE Total Care for $7.99!”
Ok, so then I broke it down by unit cost. In regards to the Borax, there are approximately 9.5 cups per 76 oz box, or 19 half cup portions, since that’s what the recipe calls for. When that’s divided out, it comes to $0.23 per half cup. The washing soda has approximately 6.875 cups per 55oz box, or 13.75 half cups, which comes out to approximately $0.22 per half cup. At five bars for $2.50, the Ivory comes out to $0.50 per bar.
This recipe uses one bar of soap, half a cup of borax, and half a cup of washing soda, or $0.50+$0.23+$0.22=$0.95 per recipe. The recipe produces two cups of detergent, or 32 tablespoons. If you’re cycling large loads and use the recommended 2 tablespoons per load, this one recipe makes 16 loads worth of detergent.
$0.95/16=$0.06 per load.
That’s right. Six cents per load of laundry. If I do two loads of laundry per week, I will spend $6.24 per year.
TIDE Total Care retails for $7.99 (already more than the yearly homemade cost) and promises 20 loads per container, which comes out to $0.39 per load. At two loads per week, that comes to $40.56.
As a single person, that’s probably not going to break my bank. But what family of four do you know who goes through only two loads of laundry? According to www.consumerenergycenter.org, the average American family does 400 loads of laundry per year.
Using the $7.99 TIDE, that equates to $156. Using the homemade version, it’s $20.
Twenty bucks. That’s what I spent on coffee each week.
What’s awesome about this recipe is that its easily adjustable to whatever space you’re in. This recipe yields 2 cups, and doesn’t quite fill the peanut butter jar. It’s perfect for a small space. If you do more laundry, just make more—just remember the 1:1:2 ratio, and you’ll be able to increase/decrease the amount to fit your life.
I was really excited to try out the laundry detergent, because it was so similar to a recipe for homemade DISHWASHER detergent I tried out last week. I’m totally in love with it, and will never, ever buy the store made stuff ever again.
Homemade Dishwasher Detergent
½ cup washing soda
4 packets, sugar free lemonaid Kool Aid (no joke)
¼ cup kosher salt
Put everything into a jar and give it a good shake to mix it together. You’ll use approximately 2 tablespoons for a full size dish washer. (I use one tablespoon for my 18 inch mini washer). If you find you need a rinse aid for glassware, add a little distilled vinegar to the Jet Dry container thingy.
We’ve already established that half a cup of borax costs $0.23, and half a cup of washing soda costs $0.22. I bought 6 packets of lemonaid Kool Aid for $1, which brings it to approximately $0.16 per packet, or $0.67 per recipe. Diamond Crystal Kosher salt is approximately $2.39 online for 48 ounces, or approximately 8 cups. That comes to $0.30 per cup, or $0.08 per quarter cup.
The recipe makes 1 ¼ cup of detergent. Mathematically, that comes to…
$0.23+$0.22+$0.67+$0.08=$1.20 per recipe.
There are approximately 20 Tablespoons per 1 ¼ cup. For me, that’s 20 loads at $0.10 per load.
Amazon is selling a box of FINISH All in 1 POWERBALL ® Tabs for $10.14, for a box of 20 tabs. That’s $0.51 per load.
According to www.energystar.com, the average American household runs their dishwasher approximately 150 times per year. If you’re using the store bought detergent, you’re going to spend about $75.50. If you’re using the homemade stuff, that cost reduces to $15.
So now, I think I’m on a quest for home made spot remover for carpets!!!
I LOVE potato chips. Love love love LOVE THEM. There’s something fabulous about that beautiful, satisfying crunch as it moves past your teeth and over your tongue.
Unfortunately, potato chips are not exactly a part of a healthy balanced diet. Like, at all. Yeah, you can get the baked kinds, but those aren’t as great as the fried ones. I started searching for a healthier alternative, and I came across a cool recipe for kale chips.
Kale is a bitter-ish green leaf that looks like a gigantic spinach leaf. I honestly don’t know how to cook it, but I’m going to learn. After it’s baked, it has that same crunch as an original Lays potato chip, but with a strong after bite. It’s like that little extra something is saying “Hello, my name is kale, and this is what I taste like, bitch.”
Kale is also super high in beta-carotene, vitamins C and K, lutein, zeaxanthin, and calcium. I’m a huge fan of the beta-carotene, because I’m blind as a bat. (Zeaxathin is something chemically awesome that has something to do with the eyes. I googled it a few times and I still don’t get it, but the verdict is it’s good so I don’t argue.)
Big bunch of kale
Olive oil spray
Trim the kale leaves from the stocks, and cut out the thick vein running down the middle of the leaf. Either cut or tear into bite sized pieces, and arrange them on a baking sheet in a single layer.
Spray the leaves with a very light burst of olive oil mist—and I stress, VERY LIGHT. You only want a dainty coating, not a full out bath. The leaves should not be dripping with oil. Kale chips are healthier than potato chips, but it’s not going to do you any good if you basically fry the damn things. Shake a little high quality sea salt, and they’re ready to go in the oven.
The original recipe says to bake the kale chips for 10-15 minutes in a 350 degree oven. I think the poster had a LOT bigger
leaves than what I cut, because I found the perfect balance at 300 degrees and about 8 minutes. If you’re going to make more than one batch, wipe the baking sheet down with a paper towel before putting more kale down. If you don’t, the olive oil will turn smoky, and it will hurt the taste.
Transfer to a paper towel to drain a bit, then chow down!!
I tried tonight. I really did. It just didn’t work.
I made a meal that started out with a great idea and great ingredients. Fresh, beautiful, happy produce. And it even started out great too. Then, it started to suck. I made some adjustments, and it sucked even more. I improvised some more, and it looked like I would bring it back from the brink of disaster.
Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
The worst part? I left my camera’s link cable down at my parents’ house, so I can’t even prove it.
I MADE UP SLASH FOUND A RICE KRISPY TREAT RECIPE THAT I CAN ACTUALLY EAT WITHOUT GAINING 30 POUNDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
[insert ear splitting squeal here]
This is a Big Deal. I absolutely adore rice krispy treats. I have no idea why, but there’s something that is just PMS-satisfyingly joyful about those little (ok, sometimes not so little) squares of puffed rice deliciousness that just makes me smile. Until I finish the final bite, and then I frown. Unfortunately for me, I rarely get to eat them due to my problems with sugar.
During a slow period at work, I was chatting online with my coworker Rebecca. She’s an amazing baker, and currently perfecting her homemade copy recipes of her favorite restaurant meals. I mused that it would be awesome if I could find a sugar free marshmallow recipe. We both agreed this to be impossible, as the main ingredient in marshmallow is…well, sugar.
Enter the Google search engine.
Just for shits and giggles, I searched for “sugar free homemade marshmallows.” And bingo!
Slowly, Gus the Proverbial Hamster living in my brain slowly awoke from his spreadsheet induced coma.
What if…just what if…I found a healthy cereal…
Gus brushed the sleep from his eyes, and ambled towards his wheel, rusty from days (ok fine, years) of laying idle.
…then mixed it with dried fruit…
Front legs on the wheel.
…and something else awesome…like COCONUT!!!
With a Herculean effort, Gus heaved his entire body on the sphere.
…then…and then…AND THEN…mix it together…
…with homemade marshmallow made from agave nectar instead of sugar!!!
And with that, the wheel hit warp speed.
Oddly enough, my marshmallow recipe came from an eHow article. Go figure. The recipe bills itself as “sugar free,” but in reality, it’s not. Agave is a type of sugar, but it’s a natural, sweet extract of the agave plant.
What I find amusing is that tequila, an agave product that has resulted in a lack of bad memories for me, and agave nectar, something that lets me enjoy desserts again, originate from the same plant.
So here it is. My recipe for…
Kicked Up Rice Krispy Treats
One box Kashi 7 grain puffed rice cereal
One large handful dried pineapple, chopped
One large handful dried cranberries
1 ½ cups shredded coconut
1 bag dark chocolate chips
1 cup agave nectar
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
6 Tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
Following the recipe for the homemade marshmallows, I mixed the 2 envelopes of gelatin with the 6 Tablespoons of water, and microwaved it for 30 seconds.
Working quickly so the gelatin wouldn’t firm up too much, I combined the agave nectar, gelatin, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of my Kitchenaid (which needs a nickname, btw. Please submit suggestions via comment or to firstname.lastname@example.org) and beat it on high for 12 minutes.
Ordinarily, I would pour the marshmallows into a pan and let them set up. But that was not in the plan!
While the marshmallows were…marshmallowing, I quickly gave a rough chop to the pineapple, then dumped the cereal, pineapple, cranberries, chocolate chips and coconut into a bowl.
After the twelve minutes were up, I combined the now very fluffy marshmallow liquid with the cereal mixture, and gave a strongly assertive stir. It took a few minutes and a lot of finessing to get every little morsel covered with the marshmallow, but being a Dedicated Cook, I persevered.
Pour that sucker into a 9×12 inch Pyrex baking dish, then slip it into the fridge until completely set.
Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, and mother figures out there!
Holidays for our parents are a bit different in our family. My folks are moving into their mid-50s, and are financially well off enough that anything they may WANT for a gift, they can buy themselves. I hate knick knacks, and prefer any gift I give to be practical—why give something that’s just going to collect dust, and will probably go to a charity the next time someone moves? The stuff I’d want to give to my parents—like finishing off their back fence, or redoing their kitchen—is way out of my price range at this moment.
So instead of buying them a bunch of needless junk and trinkets, my brother and I doing something sort of unique.
We kidnap them.
That’s right. For one day, each Mother/Fathers Day and their respective birthdays, Buttface and I shanghai our parents for a full day of hijinx, hilarity, and surprises. They never know where they’re going until the morning of the event.
Memories, in my opinion, are always more important than physical gifts. Never once have I said ‘Man, I remember when Mom and Dad gave me a boom box for Christmas! That was a great day.’ I say “Remember that Christmas when Johnny dressed up as Santa, and Becca stopped by for Christmas dinner, then I got drunk on wine and Grandpa kept doing Drunk Mel impressions? Damn that was a good holiday.”
So we’re making memories.
This year, Buttface and I kidnapped Mom to Great Country Farms, where they were holding an asparagus festival and art show.
I made it down to my hometown about 1030. Of course, Mom and Buttface hadn’t showered yet, so they had to cycle through their daily get-ready-to-go routines first. about an hour later, we were off like a herd of stampeding turtles. (Dad stayed behind to get some things done). But not before a run into McDonalds for coffee—I had a killer caffeine deficiency headache going on. Once the headache was conquered, we headed out to Bluemont for a day at the farm.
We had an absolutely beautiful day. The weather was gorgeous. Asparagus were on sale for $2.99/lb—their green and
purple spears poking out of their bin in the general store brought edible truth that spring is finally here. I showed Mom and Buttface around the main area of the farm. Eddie the Emu was still there, and the new piglets were nearly doubled in size since the last time I had been out. Mama Pig laid in the mud, not moving as her piggy babies ran around the pen.
“She must be tired,” I mused outloud.
“No kidding. She’s got six kids. I’ve got two and I’m still tired,” Mom replied.
After lunch at GCF’s “Roosteraunt,” we took in a small show by a local kid’s theater troupe. I don’t know who he is, but to the 6-ish year old boy in the crab hat dancing to Under the Sea, sir, you stole the show.
Across the road from the Farm is Bluemont Winery—a great vineyard associated with GCF, located 951 feet above sealevel. The drive up is a bitch on the transmission, but totally worth it for the view. On clear days, they say you can see the Washington Monument on the horizon.
The winery was having a local art show in the lower pavilion (maybe only 500 feet above sea level—still a spectacular view), so we walked through, gazing at the gorgeous paintings and photos. A short drive further up the mountain brought us to the wine tasting room, where the owners were offering free tastings to CSA participants. And trust me, there is nothing better than free wine.
Bluemont Winery offers about 7-8 wines, each named after a barnyard animal. They were, on the whole, some of the best wines I’ve tried from that region. We ended up coming home with five bottles—one cabernet sauvignon, two merlots (one from ’08 and one from ’09), a bottle of strawberry wine, and a bottle of blackberry.
Oddly enough, I loved the berry wines. Normally, I hate fruit wines. They’re way too sweet, and they remind me of the nasty ass cough syrup my mother used to make me drink as a child. But these are something different. With only about 4% residual sugars, they don’t qualify as dessert wines, and to me, taste like they sit on the drier end of the wine scale.
Mom and I ordered a glass of wine each, an awesome block of oregano cheese, salami and two baguettes. Sitting on the veranda, we just…relaxed. Two kids and their mom, taking in the vista. I think we sat there for almost an hour, blazing through the food, laughing, and just talking. There was no rush, there were no timelines, deadlines to meet…just calm. Even with the 15 or so full tables buzzing with people, it was calm.
Needless to say, my diet was totally shot to hell this weekend. (And will be shot further into hell once dinner is over tonight. Dante’s gonna need to write up another few circles to describe how far into hell it’s being shot. Trust me.) Pulled barbecue sandwiches, potato chips, organic ginger soda, wine, cheese, bread, salami, and pie—my jeans are gonna be tight this week, that’s for sure. But you know what? Totally worth it.
Happy Mothers Day!!
Guess what everyone!!! It’s clean-out-the-fridge night!! Yaaaaaayyyyy!!!
In my ongoing to quest to reduce wasting food, I “invented” a recipe where I basically throw all my leftovers in a pot of mac’n’cheese. I say “invented” because it doesn’t take a lot of creativity to throw veggies in with pasta, and because when I was done with the whole thing I saw the exact same damn recipe on the back of the Kraft cheese bag.
I’m not sure how I feel about coming up with something that can be found on the back of a bag of anything, but you know what, my pasta was damn good, so whatever.
Under the Food Articles of Full Disclosure, I must confess that there was some major experimentation going on here tonight. I’ve decided to try to break away from milk altogether. I’ve been a huge addict, and have been drinking more milk that water lately. This becomes slightly problematic when you’re slightly lactose intolerant. I’m not cutting out dairy products altogether, since I want to keep the calcium in my diet. I’ve started exploring the use almond milk, which I’m now totally in love with. I used it as the liquid base in the cheese sauce, and frankly thought it would suck big cow balls, but nope! It rocks!
I love being surprised.
I call this recipe Mustgo…because it’s made up of everything in the fridge that must go tonight, before it goes bad!
I also love being clever.
One box of your favorite pasta shape
1 lb bacon
3 Tablespoons flour
2 cups almond milk
Skim milk Italian cheese mix
Skim milk cheddar cheese
I brought a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. While the water was getting all warm and bubbly, I chopped the broccoli, pared down the Brussels sprouts and quartered them, then sliced the green beans. These all went into a steamer basket over about an inch of water on high heat. They only needed about five minutes (after the water came to a boil) to get deliciously soft and perfect. (The trick to steaming multiple veggies at the same time is to make sure they’re all about the same size.)
After the pasta had boiled for about 12 minutes, it was a beautiful, mouth pleasing al dente. It got to hang out in the colander down in the sink for the rest of the evening.
For small space cooking, the sink my favorite temporary storage area. I make sure it’s spotless before and after each excursion into culinary frontiers so I’m not being gross, but otherwise, it’s a great way to clear some counter space.
Into the now empty pasta pot went the pound of bacon, cut up into bite-sized pieces. Can I just take a second to ask, what
in the world is better than the smell of frying bacon? Seriously, it’s right up there with sautéed garlic and fresh bread. My apartment was, yet again, an aromatic paradise.
I love living here at dinnertime.
After about ten minutes, the bacon was perfect. Not gonna lie, I totally snuck a piece (or five) waiting for the rest of the meal to come together. It was blissful—perfectly golden and crispy, like Sunday morning on my tongue. Alas, reveling in nostalgia and culinary happiness can not be forever, as I had to vacate the bacon onto a paper towel lined plate to drain before they went past the Beautiful Threshold. (And we all know that Threshold. I’m not looking for Cajun bacon here.)
With the bacon removed, I had a LOT of bacon fat left over. I poured out all but about three tablespoons worth into a bowl, then whisked the flour into the bacon fat. Yeah, I know, I know. Bacon fat is bad. But you need a roux to thicken the cheese sauce, and roux is half fat, half flour. Why the hell would you pour out all of one fat just to replace it with another like butter? Besides, bacon fat tastes awesome.
I let the roux cook for about two minutes, just until it started to darken. The darker the roux, the better it tastes…but there’s a delicate balance before it goes all topsy turvy and gross. Once you burn a roux, you may as well order pizza, ‘cuz it’s a pain in the ass to start over. Once it hit that golden stage, I whisked in the two cups of almond milk, then let it simmer for about five minutes. You want it to look like a weakish white gravy when all is said and done.
At this point, I was hungry as hell. It had been a long day (aren’t they all?!) and I wanted FOOD. Luckily I was heading into the home stretch—the studio was smelling awesome, and I even started a little happy dance in the kitchen. Working quickly, I threw in about twelve shakes of hot sauce, a few good shakes of cayenne, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and the freshly grated nutmeg (do you remember my rant about the nutmeg? Seriously. I will stop talking to you!!). A quick taste proved my suspicions. It was awesome.
I should probably take a second to explain that this entire recipe is to taste. It’s based on leftovers, and whatever you have in your fridge. This isn’t something that’s going to be thrown off if you use a cup of peas versus half a cup. It’s not a bomb, it’s a pasta dish. Keep tasting as you go, and keep adjusting until you like what you’re eating.
And now…the cheese. You can’t make glorified mac’n’cheese without the cheese! That’s like going to prom without a great pair of shoes. It’s just not done. A generous handful each of the Italian mix and cheddar was all it took—they’re fast melting cheeses, so I turned off the heat and whisked it into a homogeneous blend of cheesy goodness.
Next…the peas. Those went in first since they were still frozen, and needed to cook first. After about a minute, I added two forkfuls of sundried tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beans, and bacon. Those were combined with a strongly assertive stir before tossing in the cooked pasta.
Can I just say, without tooting my own horn a little too much, that this is a freight train of culinary awesomeness? Cause it is.
And now I’m off to clean the kitchen!!