Wednesday, April 1, 2015

We've Moved! Please Follow Us!

Hello All,

As Will and I (and Katie) start planning for early retirement--so that we could do more eatingreadingwriting--we've broadened our focus.

Please follow us to:
Thousand Days To Retirement

We hope to see you there soon!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Lentil and Kale Salad for January 5?

Yes, it's almost March already, but we dug back to January 5 in our William-Sonoma Vegetable of the Day cookbook for a "Warm Lentil & Kale Salad with Bacon."  We liked it a lot the way the recipe called for it, but there are ways you can modify it in order to simplify a rather more complex process than absolutely necessary--or to make it vegetarian.

This is a good time to show you some nifty kitchen-inspired gifts that my friend Donna got for me one Christmas.  Essentially, they are post-it notes (in all sorts of sizes and variations of design) which allow you to take notes on a recipe.  Yes, of course, you can write in the notes yourself on the recipe, but this is a nice way not to mar the pages of today's beautifully designed and executed cookbooks.

As you can see above, you can jot down some notes to remind you what you thought about that particular recipe.  Sometimes, you can just stick on a "Quick and Easy" or "Great for Kids," but other times you might want to make more involved notes. 

The Warm Lentil & Kale Salad turned out great, but it also produced many items of consideration for revisiting the recipe.  For instance, while it was "very tasty" and had "lots of flavorful elements," there were ways in which the recipe required more work than absolutely necessary. 

  • If we are in a mood for a lentil and kale salad, perhaps we don't need to fry up bacon in it as well.  While we LOVE bacon, not adding the bacon allows you to make it a vegetarian salad.
  • We appreciate the orange color that the carrots brought to the recipe--and the fact that carrots often accompany lentils--but it seemed that chopping and roasting the carrots didn't add enough "value" to the recipe to justify the extra labor.  
  • Why not replace roast carrots with grated (or otherwise just food-processor-chopped) carrots?  That way, you can have the brighter color of raw carrots along with the crunch of the bacon you'd be missing (should you decide to skip that step).
  • It's not clear to me that the thyme and especially the garlic needed to be wrapped in a cheesecloth for the stewing of the lentils.  I only wrapped the thyme because mine were pretty dessicated (by the way, this is a great use for thyme springs which you might be about to throw out!), but I left peeled whole garlic cloves in the pot without wrapping them.
All in all, a very nice main course salad!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Fresh Fettuccine with Shrimp and Basil Sauce

We recently decided that we had a little problem with over-indulging in kitchen gadget purchases.  Really, they involve Will's engineering mind and needing the just perfect device for each cooking experience.  I've already mentioned the croissant cutter (click here for the post).  Previous Christmas, it was a knife sharpener which sat unused for over a year and which resulted in me threatening never EVER to make another kitchen purchase until he used it.  (He did, and now our knives are amazingly sharp!)

Anyway, one Christmas many years ago, Will asked for a pasta maker.  I suppose it's more a pasta roller and cutter.  You make the pasta dough yourself and then roll endless disks through the device and then eventually cut the sheets of pasta into fettuccine or tagliatelle.  At first, we really enjoyed making fresh pasta dishes, once we discovered how fresh pasta cooks so quickly and has a wonderful texture--soft yet al dente at the same time.  Whoo-hoo!

But then the pasta maker also sat unused for years as we got into other gadgets.  (We are indeed gadget tramps!)  This past Sunday, when Will asked me what I'd like for dinner, I suggested fresh pasta.  We had the ingredients we needed already for the sauce we had in mind, and I was looking forward to a slightly special Sunday dinner that wasn't too filling (like a "Sunday roast").  Will got to work on making fettuccine.  (We actually use the "tagilatelle" cutter, but the width is what we in the U.S. associate with "fettuccine.")

We used a recipe for a creamy shrimp, tomato, and basil sauce (our favorite sauce with this pasta) we get from William Sonoma's Pasta, Noodles, and Dumplings cookbook, and presto!  Yummy post-Valentine dinner!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Happy Valentines--And Presents for Me?!

Happy Valentines Day!  Yes, Will got me these flowers.  They were at just the right point of starting to open up when he got them for me, and I'm looking forward to several more days of all those many petals opening up and revealing ever more velvety layers beneath.

As beautiful as the flowers were, perhaps I was more delighted by what else he got.  We don't actually celebrate Valentines as a romantic event.  In fact, because the last two Valentines fell on a weekend that led to a rare company holiday for Will (President's Day), we'd been taking advantage of the extra time by going down to southern Illinois to visit his family.  So Valentines dinner actually is at an Indian or a Vietnamese buffet restaurant with a bunch of people.  No candle-lit lobster dinners for us!

So, these aren't exactly "Valentines" gifts, but they were presented with quite a bit of fanfare nevertheless.  Ta-dah!

We are sort of addicted to Costco's Kirkland label Tuscan (sorry, "Toscano") Extra Virgin Olive Oil which receives a fresh "press" each fall.  (Think Beaujolais around Thanksgiving time...)  Each year, we get our last bottle of the previous year's oil in late fall, and then anxiously await the new year's batch.  For some reason, this year's wait seemed interminable.  Maybe because they had a Spanish oil instead which made us fear that they might be discontinuing our beloved Tuscan tradition.

Well, fear no more.  When Will stopped at Costco to get me flowers (yes, that's where he gets his flowers--any problem with that?) on his way home from work, he saw someone at the next register purchasing the Kirkland olive oil.  After he paid up, he went BACK and got two bottles--just to make up for the long absence!  It looked to him like they must have just gotten them. 

Maybe this will be our new Valentines tradition!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Super Snowed-In Super Bowl Sunday

We really did have plans for the Super Bowl.  We were going to go over to our friend's place for some laid-back time with his son and some other friends.  Wings and junk food were promised, and we were thinking about what we'd contribute to this bash.

Then the blizzard hit.  At first, we were promised only 1-3 inches Saturday night.  But we woke up Sunday morning and it was still snowing, and heavily!  We started texting: "Are you still planning on having super bowl at your place," etc.  Then, we discovered that forecast 12-16 inches of snow.  So nobody was going anywhere.

But what about our wings?  It's a tradition in our household to have some type of fried chicken product on Super Bowl Sunday.  Often, it's wings.  (Mine really are quite good.  Crispy and with just the right combination of Tabasco heat and a little more flavor derived from Louisiana Hot Sauce.)  One time, it was a WHOLE fried chicken (click here for the post)! 

A quick check of our fridge told us we did NOT have extra wings around.  However, we did have a package of organic boneless skinless thighs.  Having discovered that pan frying and then roasting these thighs produced crispy results, we decided to go for that.  (Basic Steps: 1. Salt and pepper and then dredge chicken pieces in Wondra or flour; 2.  Pan fry in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until both sides are browned; 3.  Roast in 475 degree oven for about 15 minutes.)

Then, while the wings were roasting, I made my sauce of melted butter, Tabasco, and some secret ingredients (which had to take the place of Louisiana Hot Sauce which we did not have anymore of!).  Then the roasted and crispy thighs had a bath in the hot sauce, and then plopped onto our plates.

We also took some leftover pizza sauce I made earlier in the week and put that on Will's French baguette (sliced lengthwise) along with some shredded mozzarella.  Then some torn basil on top once the "pizza" bread came out of the oven. 

On the whole, a slap-dash effort that produced slightly healthier (well, the thighs were skinless and roasted in the oven!) versions of the traditional wings and pizza for Super Bowl Sunday!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Whole Wheat Crust Tart from COOK'S

You should have smelled this tart baking!  Honestly, I was skeptical about the crust right up to about 10 minutes before I inhaled it.  But once I started smelling the amazingly buttery crust baking in the oven, I knew that Will was right to try this whole wheat crust recipe.

Let me start by saying that I have perhaps an even higher level of skepticism towards Cook's Illustrated magazine than I do towards anything Thomas Keller (click here for my reason).  At least I believe that Keller is a genius--if ever one could finish his 38 steps for how to bake sugar cookies or something!--but I've stood by enough times while Will looked befuddled and frustrated over a Cook's Illustrated recipe gone disastrously wrong.  (And, really, Will is a pretty good and faithful follower of recipes, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't his fault.)

Too often, their philosophy about the "science" of cooking falls flat on its face.  Will's last attempt to try their recipe was an epic failure--an apple cake recipe which was extremely oily and wet--that I forbid him to try another.  But then Will mastered French baguette using their tips (another post on that soon!), and he decided that he would start using the magazine again.  (Drats!)  Meanwhile, I scoffed at their "helpful" hints about how to be a savvy cook by suggesting that I could rinse out a can of diced tomatoes destined for a soup with a little bit of water or chicken broth to get the last bits of flavor out of the can.  Really?!  Were they seriously thinking that this was something that a twelve year-old couldn't figure out by herself?

Anyway, back to the tart.  Well, the "shaggy dough" was quite "shaggy" and made me doubtful about the whole venture.  And even Will--who masochistically likes difficult recipes--thought the crust was too annoying and difficult to prepare.  And who buys 1.25 lbs of shitake mushrooms for a pizza pie? (Actually, I refused to do that.  I insisted on 1/3 shitake and 2/3 crimini.)  Between that, the leeks, Gorgonzola, and the whole wheat crust, we are talking about a very expensive and labor intensive tart.  (See all those elements in the picture above.)

But, as I conceded right from the beginning of this post, the crust was indeed heavenly.  The filling was tasty as well, but it was the crust that we will go back for.  Flaky layers, buttery taste, crumbly texture reminiscent of croissants!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Walking Purple in a Winter Wonderland

The Chicago area received some snow accumulation a few weeks ago, and we decided it was time to take a walk along the nearby Evanston lakeshore with Katie.

We enjoyed lovely and clear views of the city to the south of us, and picturesque frozen tree branches in all directions.  We didn't venture too close to the rocks which were treacherously slick with several inches of ice cover, but it was still possible to appreciate the creative artwork on the rocks from a distance.

Because Katie has difficulty when walking on much ice, snow, and salt, we'd gotten in the habit of carrying around her "Paws" rubber booties which we whipped out at the beginning of the walk.  Unlike the more expensive set we had gotten earlier which were secured via velcro strips, these rubber ones had tight elastic tops which ended up staying on Katie's paws much better (despite her fairly constant efforts to kick them off somehow).

We got the size appropriate for her big furry paws (which happen to be "Large") and each package was color coded, hers being purple.  We hadn't needed to think much about the color before, but then we noticed that we were getting more than usual number of looks around the Northwestern University campus when we took our walk.  It didn't take us long to remember then that Northwestern University color is purple, and we realized that our Katie unwittingly had become the university mascot.  (She would argue that, as a wolf descendent, she's not really a "Wildcat," but you get the picture.)

So, we weren't too surprised when, instead of the usual "What a cute dog!" exclamations, the comments we got instead were: "What cool dog shoes!"  We thought maybe a university official would admire Katie and offer her an advertising contract to promote Northwestern, but alas...

Friday, January 16, 2015

Cooking More Vegetarian Meals for 2015

Last year, one of the items I requested for Christmas was a vegetarian cookbook.  I gave a list for Will to choose from so that he wouldn't have to start his research from scratch.  Predictably, Will chose to get me the best reviewed one from the list: Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  Alas, it seemed the book wasn't for everyone.  In the past year, I chose to use the massive tome for exactly 2 recipes.

It's not her.  It's me.  (Probably.)  The truth was that I wasn't that interested in elaborate preparations of vegetarian entrees.  Otherwise, the recipes--actually the more useful ones it turned out--were essentially too-simple side dishes.  For instance, sautee spinach in butter, and then sautee mushroom in butter.  Combine the two after both have been cooked, and then salt and pepper the mixture to enjoy as a side dish (or over toast).  Actually, that deceptively simple direction (sautee the two separately!) ended up producing a quite lovely side.

In any case, the beautiful and heavy book sat little used for the entire year.  This year, perhaps feeling a little sad for my stunted vegetarian cooking efforts, Will got me William-Sonoma's Vegetable of the Day cookbook.  They have a whole series for all the items of food you could think of: salads of the day, soup of the day, etc.  We already have the Dessert of the Day.  (Yes, we have our priorities straight.)

Well, in the two weeks I have been home with this new vegetable cookbook, I found that I've already used 4 different recipes.  Not all are masterpieces, and most are fairly simple.  In fact, in some cases it's really a matter of being reminded that we like particular vegetables prepared in particular ways or in particular combinations.  Like kale and chick peas sauteed with garlic.

We did attempt a main course dish of "Bread Pudding with Chard, Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Fontina" (with Basil too!--pictured at the top of this post) about a week ago.  Our verdict was that the dish was ultimately less flavorful than one would have expected from SUCH flavorful items contained in the recipe.  I decided, however, that we'll blame it mostly on the fact that I used a very hearty "harvest" bread (because we needed to get through it!) rather than the milder flavored "country" bread called for which might have absorbed the flavors more successfully.

We will keep trying.  After all, we still have over 360 recipes to try...

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Present Given--And Received!

I’m starting to become rather expert on how to make a present for someone else work for me.  This scenario is possible if you know someone who likes gadgety things, and if those gadgets can help produce delightful items for me.

Case in point.  Would you believe Will asked for a “croissant cutter” for Christmas?  I don’t even bake much because I find the process too restrictive and unforgiving.  On the other hand, Will decided that he wanted to take precision in baked goods a step beyond measuring tapes and rulers.  He wanted to make sure that each individual croissant shape was JUST so, JUST perfect, JUST the same size as the others.

I’m not one for indulging Will on such matters, and I told him immediately that I refused to get him a croissant cutter for Christmas.  (Imagine a sneer and a snort of contempt with the emphasis there.)  But, here’s the thing.  He really seemed to want one.  And then I thought about the benefits I could reap by letting him have a present that he asked for--and which he was going to get on his own if he didn’t receive it for Christmas...

Well, last weekend, Will baked the most scrumptious croissants, pains chocolats (he asked for chocolate batons too!), and cheese sticks.  He thinks these were his best croissants yet…but he needs further practice in the coming weeks.  Yippie!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year of the Lamb!


A friend of mine recently returned from a trip to Japan and brought me a tiny ceramic animal.  I was puzzled until she told me that 2015 was the Year of the Lamb.

She claimed that these "lambs" were all over Asia and she wanted to make sure she brought back something for her Lamb friends (and she must have remembered that I was two years older than her).  That reminded me that my brother, who is two years younger than me and thus the same year as my friend, was a "Chicken." I said, "So, your year will be in two years, the year of the Chicken."  She quickly corrected me: "Rooster," she said.

I can see why someone might decide that she would prefer to belong to the Year of the Rooster--with its connotations of heralding a new day--rather than to the Year of the Chicken--the least interesting meat, a flightless bird, and an epithet associated with being timid and uncourageous.  Then I recalled that most iconography depicting the Chinese zodiac years have multiple names, depending on which Chinese restaurant place mat you are looking at.  In many signage, the "Lamb" is actually a "Ram."  Vast difference.

In my case though, I think I prefer the less robust version.  I don't need to be associated with oversized trucks and overrun masculinity.  Instead, I'd always enjoyed the vision my mother put forth before me.  She said that a Lamb having a summer birthday represented great good luck because lambs could frolic and rest and enjoy fresh grass during the summer.  She promised peace, tranquility, prosperity.

Peace, Tranquility, and Prosperity for all!