Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Part of me loves lazy days, and part of me hates them. I love lazy days at home because they give me a chance to catch up on things I’ve been meaning to do, like the dishes. But I hate them because I simply can’t seem to get anything done on lazy days; I’m too busy doing nothing. I feel like I have a day off and I should get to sit on the couch all day and watch cheesy movies. On some lazy days it feels like I’ve accomplished something if I’ve taken a shower. So, I decided I needed to break my couch-potatoness and I walked the dog. Not only that, I showered. Hooray for me! If I’m feeling extra vigorous later, I might actually go through all of the stuff we brought back from our trip down to Fitzgerald and put it away/ wash it. Our going away bags and all the lovely presents we received are still sitting on the couch where we dropped them on arriving home Sunday afternoon.

I mentioned earlier that I walked the dog. In case you’re wondering what he looks like, this is Indie:

Indie is short for Indiana (as in Indiana Jones). Unlike his namesake, he is not brave and adventurous. In fact he’s terrified of just about everything and everyone. Or at least everyone until he’s in the room with them for about two hours (they must, of course, be completely ignoring him, even when he comes up for a stealth sniff and lick) after those two hours, you are his friend for life. He is sweet and loveable, goofy and while he can be very smart, he’s mostly pretty stupid. I can say that because I love him. He is a real-life version of Pluto, you know Mickey Mouse’s dog. He’s clumsy and silly. He thinks he’s actually a little dog. He will try to get in laps. Here is trying to be a little dog:

This means “pet my tummy”:

“Please pet my tummy”:

This position usually is accompanied by a strange grunting noise.

My cat, George, you’ve met. Here he is helping me with the laundry. See how he helpfully sits on the clean shirt. He’s getting hair all over it.

This position we call loaf cat. We call it that because you can’t see his feet or tail and he looks like a hairy loaf of bread with a cat head.

Here is loaf cat from the side:

Here is a true story that is very, very funny and for which my sister will most likely get mad at me for telling you. This past Sunday, my hubby and my sister’s hubby went to go see a movie; meanwhile, I hung out with my sister and her two kids. When the guys got back from the movie, we were all starving and decided to go to this Greek restaurant. Mmmm Greek food. So my sister, her hubby, my hubby, my two nephews (ages 2 and 5 months) piled into our cars and headed out. Never having been to this particular restaurant before, we were not aware that they had dinner and a show. In other words, they had a scantily clad belly dancer with sparkly fringe on her hips and chest that performed every so often. We sat down to eat and all was going well. The boys were very well behaved. Then, the music started, and the dancer started making her way between the tables. At first our little 2 year old nephew took no notice. Then she got closer. He turned and looked, and boy let me tell you his eyes took over his whole face. She stopped at our table right next to him, and he sat there eyes wide, mouth hanging open just staring at her. She, of course, thought this was just precious and she danced there for a while, clanging her finger cymbals and shaking everything she had. My sweet little nephew was just enthralled and everyone around was in tears laughing. The song ended and she left the floor. Then, just as we were finishing dinner, the music started back. This time my nephew knew what was about to happen and he started to point and laugh. Not a sweet little boy chortle, but a wild, crazy little man laugh. My poor sister hid her face, although I’m pretty sure she was still laughing. He continued laughing until the music was over, and then it was time for us to go. On the way home, we asked him what he liked about the dancer. His response, “She’s sparkly”.

Here is a recipe for red velvet cake. I love it because it uses oil rather than butter which makes it very dense and moist and fabulous. Every Christmas deserves a red velvet cake! (A word to the wise, do no be funny and try to make this green velvet cake. They made green velvet cake at Kroger and no one would buy it. It just looked disgusting)

Red Velvet Cake
Make one 9inch, 3-layer cake

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons red food coloring (1 ounce) (I prefer to use the Wilton, no-taste, red gel food coloring)
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pecan pieces for garnish

To prepare pans: Thoroughly grease 3 round 9-inch cake pans, it works best if you use vegetable shortening. Then, using the bottom of the pans as a guide, cut out three circles of wax paper to go into the bottom of the pans. Press them into the bottom, and lightly grease the paper. Then, flour the pans with the paper in the bottom until the sides and the paper are covered lightly with flour. Set pans aside. (this is a sure-fire way of keeping the cake from sticking to the bottom of the pan)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil and flour 3 (9 by 1 1/2-inch round) cake pans.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In another large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla.
Using a standing mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed.
Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Place the pans in the oven evenly spaced apart. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through the cooking, until the cake pulls away from the side of the pans, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
Remove the cakes from the oven and run a knife around the edges to loosen them from the sides of the pans. One at a time, invert the cakes onto a plate and then re-invert them onto a cooling rack, rounded-sides up. Let cool completely.
Frost the cake. Place 1 layer, rounded-side down, in the middle of a rotating cake stand. Using a palette knife or offset spatula spread some of the cream cheese frosting over the top of the cake. (Spread enough frosting to make a 1/4 to 1/2-inch layer.) Carefully set another layer on top, rounded-side down, and repeat. Top with the remaining layer and cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the sides with the pecans.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 pound cream cheese, softened
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and butter on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (Occasionally turn the mixer off, and scrape the down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.)
Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Add the vanilla, raise the speed to high and mix briefly until fluffy (scrape down the bowl occasionally). Store in the refrigerator until somewhat stiff, before using.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tradition... Tradition!

Christmas wrapping is officially done. We’ve bought all the presents, and I spent an hour today wrapping them. I hate wrapping; I hate wrapping very very much! My dad used to foist all of his Christmas wrapping on me. Come to think of it, he used to foist all of his Christmas shopping on me too. I seem to remember him celebrating the year I turned 16 because it meant he could hand me his shopping list last minute and order that I get it all done and wrapped in time for Christmas. It feels like nothing has changed; while Dad no longer gives me his list, Tyler does. I went and got/ made/ wrapped the all the presents for his family and mine. I even wrapped the presents we’re getting from his family.

Yep, you read that right. I wrapped the presents his family is giving us. We purchased them to. It is quite possibly the strangest tradition I’ve ever heard of. While they didn’t do it when he was young, as he got older they gave him a budget, took him out and shopped for what he wanted, and then wrapped it up and put it under the tree. Tyler and I live too far away to go shopping with them, so they give us money, we buy the gifts, wrap them up and take them down. It really weirds me out. On occasion my family has allowed us to pick out a gift for our birthday if it’s something we need beforehand or it’s something we’re going to pay for part of ourselves. But, they always just give it to us, even if it’s 6 months before our birthday. There’s no wrapping or waiting to use it involved. But with his family we have a pile of gifts we went out and got ourselves that we couldn’t use but had to wrap up and wait until we’re together to open them. Then, when we do open them, I hardly know how to act. Do I act surprised? Do I shake it and try to guess what’s inside? Do I exclaim “Gee thanks! It’s what I’ve always wanted!”? Also rather strange to me, they don’t take turns opening gifts and ooing and ahhing over when each person got. They just say “go” and everyone starts ripping.

My family has some interesting traditions themselves. When we were younger, we couldn’t just get up and open our gifts. No matter how early you woke up, you had to stay in your room until mom and dad got up. They would assemble us in the hall, and we would wait until they said we could go look at our presents. We would race down the hall while they took pictures. There are dozens of pictures of us at Christmas and Easter in our pajamas or sometimes matching sweaters running down the hall. And when we got the presents, we had to wait our turn patiently and ooo and ahh over everyone else’s gift while mom took pictures. Then there’s the Christmas pickle. Have you ever seen a green glass pickle ornament at the store and wonder who in the world would want a bumpy, ugly pickle on their tree? Well, apparently it’s an old German or more likely German immigrant tradition (I swear I’m not making this up!). Christmas eve, my parents hide the pickle on the Christmas tree. Then Christmas morning the first to find it gets an extra gift. We would always forget about the pickle until the presents were opened and we were contemplating breakfast; one of us kids would remember it. As soon as that child jumped up and raced towards the Christmas tree, the rest of us would suddenly remember and it was all elbows and jostles and we fought to search the tree. It’s a miracle we never knocked the tree over or broke any ornaments. Then we would eat breakfast, bundle up and head off to whichever grandparent was hosting Christmas dinner that year. Sometimes my parents would leave us at said grandparents later that evening to go off to a tradition they started when they were younger: The St. Stephen’s Day party. St. Stephen’s feast day is Dec 24 on the Catholic calendar, and my parents celebrated it because he was the first Christian martyr to get stoned. And no, it is not a religious celebration (I remember seeing pictures one year, after they'd had to much egg nog, they went around forking peoples' yards, including the governor's mansion…) The other major Christmas tradition my family has revolves around food (duh!). Christmas Eve dinner is always chili. I’m not sure why, that’s just the way they do it. Christmas dinner is prime rib roast. Mmmm prime rib roast! And, no one does it quite like my dad. I’ve had it in all sorts of restaurants, but it never compares. I get excited about prime rib weeks in advance. It is also my husband’s new favorite holiday tradition. He was skeptical about our full contact Easter egg hunts, he wasn’t sure (at first) about shooting off illegal bottle rockets on the 4th, he still dislikes singing the birthday dirge, but a hunk of perfectly prepared prime rib he can get behind.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Baking Day Extraordinaire!

So, yesterday was baking day extraordinaire. I made 3 cookie plates for a lady at my mom’s work (hooray, a paying customer!) and a large red velvet cake for the Christmas cooking contest at my hubby’s work. Well, I had originally planned on coming up with a devastatingly delicious side dish, but then I found out that there will only be one prize awarded for side dishes and desserts combined. And let’s face it, who’s going to vote for corn pudding or cheesy leeks when there’s homemade fudge and caramel cake. So, we went with what’s tried and true. By “we” I mean I made it and Tyler stole pecans and licked out the frosting bowl.

I baked, rolled, frosted and dipped for hours. In case you’re wondering here’s what my kitchen looked like beforehand.

All pristine and clean, right? Never mind the pot of chili on the stove, I took this photo Monday night and the chili was cooling so I could put it in a bag and freeze it. Didn’t I say that I always made too much food? My freezer is now exploding with frozen soup.

Then, Tuesday I went into the kitchen to bake. When I opened up the cupboard to get out a pan, here is what I found…

He looks evil, and he is but in a more “I’m going to kill you with kindness by lying on your face while you sleep and purring”. This face is more a “why are shoving that flashy thing in my face and would you mind closing the door I was hiding in here”. I have trouble getting a picture of my cat when he’s not making an “I am evil” face.

Anyways… here is my kitchen after I was through with baking day extraordinaire.

Eeepp! Gives the heart palpitations does it not? Where are the frat boys to clean up after me when I need them? I’m afraid I’m going to have to go at this one alone. Sigh…

But in case you think it was all for naught, here is a picture of one of the cookie plates.

Mmm mouthwatering, non?

I think I mentioned before that I am no photographer. I just thought you might be amused by the transformation. I'm going to have to stop here for the day because the cat just curled up on my lap making it nearly impossible to type.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Picky Picky Picky

Sorry for another soup entry, but it’s been rather dismal weather here. It’s been foggy and rainy and just plain blah. Plus, my husband loves soup. A fact I find hilarious, as when I first met him he said that he hated soup, all soup. Perhaps I should tell you a little something about my husband. He is one of the world’s pickiest eaters. If he tried something once when he was younger, and didn’t like, it and anything sort of like it are relegated to the land of things Tyler won’t eat. And let me tell you, just a quarter of what’s in that land could feed the world for at least a year. Soup, all kinds and forms of soup, were residents of that land. I couldn’t figure this out. All soup? How is that even possible? The truth was, he didn’t really like canned soup. He’d never had homemade soup. So because he didn’t like Campbell’s chicken and stars, all soup was out.

I don’t really skip for joy over canned soup either, but I was lucky. My mother is an excellent cook who tries all sorts of new things, and is an excellent maker of soup. It also helped that picky wasn’t tolerated at our house. You ate what was on the table, and if you didn’t like something, you had to take at least a bite of it anyway. While there are some critics of this method, it does have its good points; after all, our tastes change as we grow. I hated sausage when I was little, and though it’s still not my favorite I’ll eat it sometimes and I’ll even cook with it. I have an excellent recipe for sausage kabobs… Well, that’s not how my husband was raised and it drives me nuts. I love variety, and nothing makes me happier than getting in the kitchen and trying something new. It has been a trial with Tyler, but he’s slowly coming around. For the curious, here’s a list of things he was sure he hated when I first met him that he now either loves or at least tolerates: any kind of soup (he will now eat turkey noodle, chicken noodle, chili, and Italian chicken and sausage soup), barbeque (I know, the ultimate man food right?), fresh green beans, zucchini, homemade spaghetti sauce, pork chops or pork tenderloin, summer squash, mashed potatoes (actually any kind of potato that wasn’t fried), hummus or Greek food, and lasagna.

P.S. I love you Tyler, even if you don’t like veggies!

Easy Chili
Serves 5

1 ½ pound Lean Ground Beef
1 med Onion, chopped fine
2 cloves Garlic
1 can Diced Tomatoes, 15 oz
1 can Tomato Sauce, 15 oz
1 can Chili Beans, 15 oz
1 can Kidney Beans, 15 oz drained
1 tbs Chili Powder
2 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Ground Cayenne (Optional)
2 tsp Dried Oregano
Salt to taste

In a 5 qt dutch oven or soup pot, brown hamburger with onions and garlic. Drain and return to pot. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer covered for 15-20 minutes stirring occasionally.
The seasoning measurements are really more suggestions. I tend to like a spicy chili, so I use more chili powder and cayenne than I put in the recipe. I find this recipe is one of those taste as you go sort of things.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Ok, so the change in backgrounds was not what I’d intended to do. To be honest, I really don’t like this Santa background. But, something went screwy with my old background. I used a template from one of those free template sights, and something happened. One day it was fine, the next day the background was all screwy. Oy! So, I had to change it to something temporary until I figure out how to make my own templates. This bright red is really getting on my nerves. It isn’t me. It doesn’t say Kristy, nor does it say Gourmand cooking.

Yesterday I ran around like the proverbial chicken with my head cut off. Since poor Dora (the Ford Explorer) is still out of commission my husband and I are sharing a car. I don’t like to share. I had the car yesterday so I could run a bunch of errands. It meant I had to get up early on my first day of Christmas break so I could take my hubby to work. It also meant that I needed to get everything possible done before 5 when I needed to go pick Tyler up from work. And most importantly, it means I’m homebound when he has the car. I loathe going out when I don’t have to. We live out in the country, 15 minutes from the middle of nowhere. So, there is no 10 minute trip to the store. When I have the luxury of coming and going at will, I generally prefer to stay home unless it’s absolutely necessary. That being said, it’s day 1 of being homebound and I’m going stir crazy. I’ve thought of at least 5 things I need to get at the store and I’m bemoaning the fact that I can’t take the dog to the pretty neighborhoods downtown (downtown Covington, not Atlanta) for a walk despite the fact that it’s overcast and grey. And no, I can’t take the dog walking here. There is no sidewalk, and we live off of a narrow, busy, winding road. So I’m sitting in the dark, cuddled under a blanket with my cat slipper on doing nothing. (In case you were wondering, no, that wasn’t a typo. My cat is sleeping on my feet, and so I refer to him as a cat slipper)

Since it is cold and dreary outside, I’ve decided to make Chicken and Sausage Soup for Tyler and me. I made it for the boys earlier this week, and now I’m making it for us. This soup came about because Tyler and I went to Medieval Times last year. They had a tomato soup. When I make a can of condensed tomato soup, I mix it with milk. Tyler thinks that’s gross. The tomato soup they had tasted like it had been made with broth. Tyler actually ate it. This got me thinking… Maybe a tomato/ broth based soup would be good. Tyler said if I made it, I should put in sausage, and it grew from there. Now, it’s a particular favorite with my husband.

Kristen’s Italian Chicken and Sausage Soup
Serves 6

Shredded Chicken from 1 Roast Deli Chicken
1 pound Italian Sausage, cooked and cut into slices
2 can Tomato Purée, 15 oz
6 cups Chicken Broth
1 ½ pounds New Potatoes
1 ½ cup Frozen Corn
1 medium Onion, chopped
3 cloves of Garlic, minced
1- 1 ½ tbs Italian Seasoning
Salt and Pepper to Taste
1 tbs Butter or Oil
1 Zucchini, chopped into bite-sized pieces (optional)

Microwave the potatoes until they just begin to soften, about 6 minutes. Chop the potatoes into bite sized pieces. Heat the butter/ oil in a 5 quart stock pot. Sauté the onion and garlic until the onion is transparent and tender. Add the remaining ingredients, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, cover and lower the heat. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Serve with shredded parmesan.

* If you don’t want to pick a whole deli roast chicken, you can used canned chicken or any other cooked chicken cut up or shredded.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A New Adventure: Christmas Break

Menu: Homemade Caramel-Pecan Cinnamon Rolls, Sausage and Fruit

The semester has come to an end, for me at least. For the next month, I’ll be frat boy free. The only animals I will have to contend with will be my neurotic dog and cat. I will only be cooking for two, and it will certainly be an adjustment. But, it will give me time to experiment. My first task is to come up with a tasty side dish for my husband’s office Christmas soirée. They are having a contest for tastiest dish or dessert. They had a similar contest for Halloween. I made mini monster cream puffs with cheesecake filling. They were adorable and delicious. I was told that that competition would be judged on taste rather than ghoulish appearance. I was told wrong, ironically, by the person that ended up winning the prize… Coincidence? I think not! So, I need to come up with something all-star to make up for my lost prize (I contend that it should have been mine. I was cheated! I was framed! I was robbed!) Sorry, it’s been a rather sore subject with me. My other hope is to make a little money off the baking-challenged this holiday season by hocking my cakes, cookies, and pies. So, if you live in the Atlanta area and are jonesing for some fantastic baked goods, or need a gift for that person who is impossible to buy for, I’m your baker! Cookie Platters R Us, once you try my peanut butter fudge, you’ll never go back… or something like that.

So after today’s, the recipes may be more “family sized”. I may only be cooking for two, but I still feel the need to cook enough food for at least four on any given night. This turns out to be good for my husband’s friends as he tends to like to invite them over at the last minute for dinner. At least he calls me before inviting them now.

The cinnamon rolls I made today turned out spectacularly. I was quite pleased. The recipe isn’t mine, it’s true. I found it on the Betty Crocker Website. But, it needed a little tweaking (as most recipes you find on the internet do). The guys really loved them. I know this because I was late getting them out (traffic was a mess, 3 accidents on my way to work! I will not miss Atlanta traffic while I am on Christmas break). Anyways, the guys came sniffing around the kitchen the minute I pulled the first pan from the oven. They proceeded to stay in the kitchen or just outside the kitchen door and chat. Stuffing their faces and burning their fingers on a hot, sticky mess. When I told them there was milk in the fridge to go with the rolls, you’d have thought I said free beer or gold (which is equally valuable to the average frat boy).

Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls
Makes approx 24 rolls

1 cup Brown Sugar, packed
1 cup Pecan Halves, approximately
1 cup Butter
4 ½ cups Bisquick Mix
1 cup Cold Water
4 tbs Margarine, the soft and easily spreadable kind
½ cup Brown Sugar, packed
1 tsp cinnamon

Heat oven to 450. Generously grease 24 regular sized muffin cups with Spray Pam. Put 2 teaspoons of butter, 2 teaspoons of brown sugar and approx 3 pecan halves (I put more pecan halves in each one because I love them so) in each cup.

In a large mixing bowl, mix water and Bisquick together. Beat vigorously with a fork until the dough comes together. You want a soft dough, but not a sticky one. If it’s sticky, add a little extra Bisquick; if it’s crumbly, add a little extra water. (Unlike most baking, this recipe does not call for exact science, so you’re free to fudge a little). Smooth the dough into a ball on a surface sprinkled with Bisquick (I suggest a countertop covered with plastic wrap, for easy cleanup). Knead 5 times. Pull the dough into 2 even balls. Shape one ball into an elongated rectangle. Roll out until dimensions are approx. 15x9. Spread 2 tablespoons of margarine over the dough. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and ¼ cup of brown sugar. Starting on the 15 inch side, roll the dough tightly to form a log. Pinch to seal. Cut into 12 1 to 1 ¼ inch slices. Place each slice in a muffin cup. Repeat with the other ball of dough. Put the muffin tins on a foil line baking sheet (the butter mixture in the cups can run over the edge).

Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately invert pan on a heatproof plate. Leave the pan/s over the rolls for a minute (but not too long or the rolls will stick to the pan). Serve with cold milk.

Note: The beauty of this recipe is that it’s super easy, and the end result is delicious. No waiting for the dough to rise, no anxiety over exact measurements. In fact, I didn’t really bother measuring out the cinnamon and the sugar when I was sprinkling it over the dough before rolling it. It makes it easier to sprinkle evenly if you leave the cinnamon in the jar (which is conveniently equipped with a sprinkle top)

Note 2: If you don’t have 2 muffin pans, don’t worry, you can use an 8x8 pan. Just evenly spread the butter, nuts and brown sugar over the bottom of the pan. Cut the rolls into 20 even slices (between 1 ¼ to 1 ½ inches). Place them side by side in the pan. You may need to add another couple minutes cook time. The rolls will be more like pull-apart sticky buns as the center ones won’t get golden brown on the outside.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful

Tuesday Menu: Lunch: Chicken Mac & Cheese
Dinner: Kristen’s Italian Chicken Sausage Soup
Dessert: 10 Pumpkin Pies and Whipped Cream (yup, you read that right, 10!)

So, last night we went to the Pioneer Woman Cooks book signing. Great fun was had by all. There were so many people in that little book store it was hard to breathe. It was an interesting crowd too. It was mostly women, but of a rather diverse age group. They ranged from girls in their early 20’s to women in their 60’s. There was one guy there on his own. He was getting the book signed as a Christmas gift for his mother. Some ladies thought that was so adorable they gave him one of their better wristbands so he could go ahead of them. It was very sweet. And it seemed almost everyone there had an awesome, fancy-pants camera. There was much camera envy by Katie and me. I have no talent for taking pictures, but that doesn’t keep me from wishing I did. Maybe if I had a fancy-pants camera… We were glad we got there early to get our wrist bands, as we were among the first to get our books signed. Ree Drummond was very nice, and I wish we’d stuck around to listen to her speak, but after an early morning and a busy day of cooking, I was definitely ready to go home. Not to mention that my trek home generally takes an hour plus, and my sister needed to go home and feed her three babies (please note I included her husband in that ;-)

Now that you’re thoroughly tired of hearing about that… let’s talk frat. It is the middle of finals week and quiet as a tomb around here. I don’t have any decent frat boyisms. They aren’t even meeting for their usual lunch-time Price is Right fix. I remember finals week. Everyone made such a fuss over it. Being a French major, finals week wasn’t really a big deal for me. Sure there were tests that I studied for, and late nights spent doing projects that I probably should have started weeks earlier. But for most of my classes, finals were never any bigger deal than any other test. In fact there was only one class I took in college where the final represented the majority of my grade. In fact, it was the only thing that we were graded on, and I failed it. I failed it because I missed the day that they taught the proper form with special emphasis on using the appropriate beginnings and endings. The test was to write a letter in the proper form. I missed that day because the metro workers decided to go on strike while I was eating lunch. Ah, the French. Luckily, it was a class I didn’t need and I only took because the schools were on strike and it was either take a bunch of fluff classes from French as a foreign language program or be sent home and have wasted thousands of dollars getting there etc… Ahhh the French… But that’s a whole different story. Remind me to tell you about it some time, it involves a crazy cab driver, blockades and getting chased and tear gassed by the police. Good times!

In other news, it’s cold outside. It’s cold, rainy, drizzly and dismal. It’s times like these that I miss snow. Snow is at least pretty. You can play in the snow, build forts, throw snowballs and go sledding. The only thing you can do when it’s cold and rainy is thank your sister again for giving you rain boots. Then I remember what it’s like to live in the Midwest. I’ve forgotten what below freezing feels like, let alone below 0. I don’t think I could handle that. They would completely freak out here. My husband has never even seen real snow; not the kind that sticks to the ground and can form a ball to hurl at his unsuspecting face. He thinks a toboggan is a kind of hat.

On cold, rainy days the only thing to do (other than thank your sister for rain boots) is make something warm, comforting and delicious. It is also a great booster if you’re stuck in room studying like a mad man for an upcoming final. Chicken Mac & Cheese is just that kind of food. It’s also a great favorite of the guys’. Whenever I ask them what they want for lunch, the answer is always chicken mac & cheese. I came up with it at the beginning of the semester. I wanted to make homemade mac & cheese but I thought they would probably want some kind of meat with it. Homemade mac & cheese is a little time consuming (compared to box mac & cheese); I think it deserves its place as a main dish so I added chicken. The result is the ultimate creamy, cheesy, meaty comfort food.

P.S. It is also an excellent comfort food on cold, snowy days, if you have those where you’re from

Chicken Mac and Cheese
Serves 25

6 pounds Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into bite sized pieces**
½ cup Vegetable Oil
1 tbs Garlic Powder
1 tbs Paprika
2 pounds Macaroni Noodles
1 ½ cups of Butter
1 ½ cups Flour
10 ½ cups Milk
3 pounds Cheese (shredded cheddar or American cut up into small cubes, depending on which you prefer)
Salt and Pepper

Heat oven to 375. In a baking dish, mix chicken pieces with oil, garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Cover and bake for 15-20 minutes or until cooked through. Cook macaroni according to package instructions. In sauce pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. When butter is completely melted, whisk in flour and a little salt and about a tablespoon of pepper. Cook mixture for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add in milk slowly while whisking to prevent lumps. Reduce heat and bring to a boil for 1 minute while stirring constantly. Mixture should have thickened quite a bit. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. In baking dish (I usually use the one I cooked the chicken in, less dishes that way) add cooked macaroni and cooked chicken pieces. Pour cheese sauce over pasta and stir to coat pasta and chicken with sauce. Top with shredded cheddar cheese if desired. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

**Note: You can use leftover roast chicken, canned chicken, tuna, or turkey… whatever strikes your imagination or pantry. If you’re not making the chicken from scratch, omit the paprika and garlic powder. If you are making the chicken from scratch, you can use any combination of spices and herbs that strikes your fancy. Example: rosemary, garlic and thyme with a white cheddar sauce are absolutely divine. Just make everything as directed but substitute white cheddar for cheese and the appropriate spices for paprika and garlic. Or you can omit the chicken all together for your vegetarian friends or to bring it as a side dish for your next potluck

Monday, December 7, 2009

I've Never Been to a Book Signing Before

Menu: Lunch: Pepperoni and Cheese Calzones w/ Marinara Dipping Sauce
Dinner: Oven Pork Chops with Stuffing and Veggie

Happy Monday!!! I’m actually really excited that it’s Monday because… I get to meet the pioneer woman (http://www.thepioneerwoman.com/) tonight! You’re jealous, just admit it. I had to get in extra early today to make lunch for the boys so I could go get wristbands for tonight. It was rather sneaky, mean and evil of Borders to force us to A. Go get wristbands B. You could only get them today C. Not allow you to get them for other people D. Not announce anywhere that you needed wristbands or that the time was changed from 7 to 6. Luckily I thought to call just in case (being the good little scout that I am). So, I’m very excited!

On a sad note… Dora, my Ford Explorer decided to go lame this weekend. There is a problem with the clutch. Does bad luck have good timing with me or what? Here it is, nearly Christmas, and I’m going to be out of work (and out of pay!) for a month, and my car goes on the fritz. Hopefully it will be something minor (please let it be something minor!). So if you’ve a mind to, pray for Dora.

In frat news, GA tech won their game Saturday and will be going to the Orange Bowl against Iowa. Be impressed, I didn’t even have to Google that. Actually, don’t be that impressed. I know they won because of the state of the house when I got here this morning (let’s just say the burn barrel was still smoking). Also, all of the plastic cups were gone. When all of the plastic cups have disappeared, you know it was a good party. However, that means I have a bunch of boys shuffling through the kitchen in search of cups. They don’t believe me when I say there are no more plastic cups, unless they want to rinse the beer out of the 50 or so that are still sitting on the pool table (I can just see my dad cringe at the desecration. Cups on the pool table, they must be heathens!) .

Tonight’s meal is one of my favorite winter meals. It’s warm and hearty and definitely a guy-pleaser. Well, that is, every guy but my own. My husband has an unfortunate dislike for stuffing and does not have a very favorable outlook on pork chops. When it comes to cuisine, he has a lot of hang-ups. But, the boys are less picky than he is, and they love this dish. The best part, it’s super easy and cheap. It can easily be scaled down, and as there’s only 6 ingredients (if you count the butter it takes to make the stuffing) it’s nearly impossible to mess up.

Oven Pork Chops with Stuffing
Serves 45
45 Pork Chops (I prefer bone in pork chops, but thick cut loin chops will do as well)
9 boxes Stove Top Stuffing Mix
9 cans Cream of Mushroom Soup
4 ½ cups Milk
Seasoning Salt

Lightly season pork chops with seasoning salt. In a non-stick skillet over medium-high, brown pork chops briefly on each side. A couple minutes or so per side, the object is to get some color and flavor to the meat, not cook it through. Prepare stuffing as package directs.

Pre-heat oven to 325. Arrange pork chops in a baking dish so they do not overlap. Spoon a generous amount of stuffing on top of each pork chop (a large cookie scoop or an ice cream scoop is especially helpful if you want to make it a neat and pretty mound). Mix together soup and milk until thoroughly combined. Pour evenly over pork chops. Cover and bake for 1 hour.
Note: If you want to make this family size, its 5 pork chops, 1 box of stuffing, 1 can of cream of mushroom soup and ½ cup of milk, follow the directions above.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ooo La Oui

Friday Menu: Brunch: Crepes and Sausage.

I love crêpes. They are one of my favorite street/café food in France. Although, I think I prefer the savory buckwheat ones called galettes. Those they fill with all sorts of delightful things such as juicy brat-like sausages, or ham and cheese or tomatoes, onion and a fried egg or just about anything you can imagine. Mmmmm… When I studied abroad we would have galette parties and have everyone bring something to put in the galettes, rather like a French Stone Soup. But, buckwheat flour isn’t sold at Sam’s and I’m not about to trek all the way to Whole Foods just to make galettes for the guys (although, now that I’m talking about it, I might do it for me. Galette party at my house, everyone bring something!). So, I decided to stick with the sweet ones, which are every bit as delicious, and again, filled with every sweet thing imaginable. I once had a bananas foster one one time…

Crêpes (pronounced like crap with a French accent) are very easy to make. They are generally served for dessert in France, and are traditionally eaten in the wintertime. And, if you want to really impress your friends and family, you can learn to flip them in the air rather than turn them with a spatula. My dad taught me when I was in 6th grade, and I have impressed everyone ever since. Ok, maybe not everyone, but I have impressed a few people… There’s also an old tradition that if you can flip it and catch it in the pan with your left land, while holding a coin in your right hand, you’ll become rich. When it comes to fillings, the most common way you find them is either with butter, sugar and cinnamon, or Nutella. Nutella is a chocolate-hazelnut spread that is out of this world. I would eat it with a spoon if it wouldn’t make me gain 100 pounds. (How did I get so skinny in France, this was literally about 36% of my diet, the rest being bread, yogurt, and pasta. Maybe it was the yogurt…). Fruit is also a very popular filling. For the guys, I’ve got a few different kinds of pie filling, whip cream, and of course, Nutella.

If you’re wondering just what exactly crêpes are, they are, in the words of the movie Talladega Nights “Those skinny little pancake thingys”. Yup, that’s what they are. Skinny pancakes. You’ll find a rather pathetic version at IHOP (ok, call me a foodie, but I simply can’t call those soggy, floppy things crêpes, they don’t deserve the circumflex).

So, without further ado, here is the recipe for crêpe batter.
(Oh… so who’s bringing the wine to the galette party?)

Sweet Crêpes

24 large Eggs
8 cups Milk
12 tbs Butter, melted
6 cups All Purpose Flour
3 tsp Salt
1/3 cup Sugar

Mix all ingredients well, until there are no lumps (It may be easiest to give a mix in the blender). Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour (can be made a day ahead of time. Heat a non-stick omelet pan over medium-high heat (or whatever setting you would put it at to make pancakes). Run a stick of butter over the pan to grease (do not melt too much butter in the pan as it will ruin the crêpes. The easiest way to do it is to unwrap part of a stick of butter and then run the butter over the hot pan quickly while holding onto the still wrapped end) Pour a small amount of batter into the pan. This will vary depending on pan size, but for an 8 inch skillet, it will be slightly less than ¼ cup. Swirl the batter around as you pour to evenly coat the surface of the pan. The crêpe will cook quickly, usually less than a minute or so per side. When the bottom has become light golden brown and crisp, flip it over to the other side. Cook for an additional minute. Serve warm with a selection of tasty fillings (strawberry lavender jam was another of my favorites… L I miss the jam lady at the Rennes market!!!)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ham I Am

Thursday Menu: Lunch: Pesto Chicken Sandwiches and Chips
Dinner: Glazed Baked Ham, Green Bean Casserole, Dinner Rolls and Apple and Onion Stuffing

So, when I left last night there were 3 cans of decorating icing (the kind that you attach the tip and squirt) and 2 tubes of glitter gel. He hehe, yes I put glitter gel on the boys’ cookies. Anyway, this morning when I came in, the cans of icing were all but gone. Apparently they decided there wasn’t enough icing on the cookies and had an after dinner art project.

Today was a relatively easy day. Honestly, I don’t know what all the fuss is about cooking over the holidays. People stress out so much about cooking for 12 people… Ha! By now, I could do that in my sleep. I’m not saying that I don’t sometimes stress out about getting stuff done, but that’s generally either because something is out of whack (cough cough… the grill cough cough) or because the guys have changed something last minute (remember the time when they let me know on a Monday that there would be 40 guys instead of the usual 20-some?) or because someone has eaten the food I need to prepare the meal. But, on a normal day like today, it doesn’t really seem like anything more strenuous than putting out a dinner for me and my husband. Perhaps even less stressful because I really don’t care when the guys complain about not liking onions. I don’t know, maybe it’s the impeding invasion of family that stresses people out, maybe I’m just weird and like cooking enough for an army. If you’re going to make a ham, how much harder is it to make 3 than 1? And then I can be nice and share the extra ham bones with family. Yes, I am going to steal the ham bones. But hey, what are a bunch of frat boys going to do with ham bones? Ok, other than throw them in the burn barrel and light them on fire when they get drunk. It’s isn’t like any of them know a good recipe for ham and bean soup ooo or lentil soup! I think that’s what I’m going to make with my ham bone; I’m going to make some lentil soup!

I have noticed a few changes in how I cook since I started cooking for the frat. For one, I feel weird cutting stuff up or touching raw meat when I’m not wearing gloves. I’ve seriously considered buying some gloves for home, but then I realized I was being crazy. I also noticed that I’ve had difficulty scaling back when I get home. It feels wrong to make something for 2. I want to dump a handful of herbs into the pot instead of just sprinkle a little in. Luckily, I haven’t really tired of cooking yet. Sometimes I feel too tired to cook when I get home, but that’s more the never-ending, stress-inducing 1-1 ½ hour commute I have each way. I would give anything to live in our old house back in the Brookwood area… Except the one we’re living in now is bigger and almost a third less in rent. But that’s a different story.

Chicken Pesto Sandwiches
Serves 18

6 ½ - 7 pounds Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast
4 tbs Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1 ½ cup Prepared Pesto

Cut the chicken breast into small, bite size pieces. Season chicken lightly with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil over in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and sauté until cooked through. Drain any excess liquid. Add pesto to hot chicken. Serve with Provolone, lettuce and tomato slices on either toasted Italian bread or a large sandwich croissant.

Ham Glaze
For 1 8-10 pound ham

10 cups packed Brown Sugar
2 1/2 cups Orange Juice
2 tbs Molasses
2 2/3 tbs Ground Mustard Seed

Mix ingredients together. Remove ham 30 minutes before it’s done. If not a spiral sliced ham, cut diamonds into the surface of the ham, being careful to not cut into the meat. Cover with glaze. Return to the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cookie Monsters

Wednesday Menu: Lunch: Ham and Cheese Pockets, Chips and Carrots
Dinner: Red and Green Kabobs, Baked Beans, Veggies and Christmas Cookies Galore (Gingerbread Men, Sugar Cookies and Chocolate Chip Cookies)

I could feel the vultures circling today; I was baking Christmas cookies. I make a dessert every week, and generally they don’t bother me much unless they happen to be in the kitchen when I’m taking the dessert out of the oven. But, there must be something special about Christmas cookies. As I pulled the first tray of sugar cookies out of the oven, I heard a voice behind me exclaim, “Ooo Christmas cookies! It just smells like Christmas!”. Then, later as I pulled the gingerbread men out, another came in and was helping himself to the sugar cookies (I put a stop to that). He also wanted to decorate a few; so I let him. Another came down and complained that he could smell them in his room, and to make up for it, I had to let him have a cookie. Then last of all, my brother came bounding down, “I came as soon as I heard…” Then he looked rather disappointed. He was hoping to help decorate the gingerbread men. I had already decorated those, and was half through the sugar cookies so I let him help with those. If I had known decorating cookies would be such a draw (hahaha, me and my hilarious puns), I wouldn’t have decorated any cookies, and would have just left them the icing to decorate their own.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

2 for Tuesday, Round 2

Tuesday Menu: Lunch: Pizza (Pepperoni, Buffalo Chicken, Ham, and Supreme)
Dinner: Roast Beef, Garlic Cheese Potatoes, Veggie and Rolls

Is it nap time? After all the rush and confusion of the past couple weeks, a regular old Tuesday seems a little sleepy. Or maybe I’m just a little sleepy. I don’t need to put the roast in until 2… Sadly, I don’t think a nap will be possible. I could just imagine the guys coming down to get pizza, poking their head in the kitchen and seeming me snoring away… Yeah, probably not a good idea. Besides, this chair (I stole it from the dining area) is not all that comfortable. I’m probably giving myself scoliosis as we speak (type? blog? whatever)

So, as a nap is out of the question (well… mostly out of the question, we’ll see how the next couple hours go) I’ve been perusing the internet, checking out my favorite food blogs, facebook stalking and trying to decide what seasoning I want to rub onto tonight’s roast. So, why not share with you all a few of my favorite sites. Now, this doesn’t mean you can stop coming back here… I’m just giving you options for a sleepy Tuesday afternoon, when you’re done reading my blog of course.

www.ThePioneerWoman.com : This is probably one of my favorite blogs, it’s got it all. A love story, excellent recipes, beautiful photography (and hints on how to make yours pretty too!), funny dogs, and give aways. I haven’t won anything yet… but I’m going to continue to try. I’m really hoping for one of those Le Creuset sets.

www.cookingforengineers.com: I just thought this one was funny. I cook for engineers (it’s GA tech, most of them are going to be engineers of one form or another) and this site is a breakdown of cooking and recipes for people with analytical minds (not me necessarily but I still like it)

www.threemanycooks.com: this one is mostly just about the recipes, although the stories are interesting. I feel like a lot of it could be part of a conversation between my sister, my mom and I (minus the fact that none of us are exactly published cooking professionals)

www.mylifeisaverage.com : Wait… did I put that there… I mean… no uh this doesn’t belong here, I don’t know how it got there… (guilty pleasure?)

**** Some time later****

Alright… I think I’ve discovered the formula for seasoning my roasts:

Roast Beef ala Kristen

20 lbs Sirloin Tip Roast (the ones with the strings around them)
Olive Oil
Coarse Ground Pepper
Approx 32 whole cloves of garlic

(ok… so there aren’t exact measurements, but they really aren’t needed for this recipe)
Bring roast(s) to room temperature 1 hour before cooking. Preheat oven to 375. Cut small slits in roast, just big enough to stick your finger down. Shove a garlic in each little slit so there are approx 8 in each roast (depending on how big the roast is… etc). Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil over roast, sprinkle with salt, rosemary, thyme and a generous sprinkle of pepper. Rub evenly over top of roast. Turn roast over and drizzle bottom with olive oil and salt and pepper and herbs. Put the beef in a roasting pan with a rack. Cook for 30 minutes. Lower temp to 275 and cook until internal temperature comes to: 130 rare, 145 medium rare, 160 medium, 170 well done (approx 1 ½-2 hours more). Allow the roast to sit for 15 minutes under a foil tent. Slice and serve with gravy.

So as I promised, today is 2 for Tuesday… this next recipe isn’t on tonight’s menu, but I’ve made it before and absolutely love it. It’s super easy and makes an excellent side dish for Russian Chicken (see previous post) or for just about anything. Try it sometime instead of going for the Lipton noodles or Rice-A-Roni.

Buttered Noodles
Serves 28

5 lbs Egg noodles, cooked according to package instructions (the good kind of egg noodles that are thick and opaque white)
2 cups Melted butter
2 tbs Garlic Powder (or more depending on taste)
¼ cup Dried Parsley
Salt and Pepper
Combine and serve hot.