Stuff and Nonsense: April 2012


Grilled Cheese, It's What's for Breakfast!

May's Crazy Cooking Challenge is grilled cheese so, obviously, I've been trying out grilled cheese sandwich recipes. I can't share the recipe I'm using for the challenge, but I'm happy to tell you about all the other recipes I tried. The first one I tried, "Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Grilled Cheese Sandwich" from Lynn's Kitchen Adventures made a super-deliciously-awesome breakfast and I would happily eat it a couple times a week except it would probably kill me.

Oh, sure, I could healthify it with egg whites, fake bacon, and fat-free cheese ... but that sounds horrible. Better to eat the real deal once a month and dream about it the rest of the time.

Grilled Cheesy Breakfast

A thick slice of country-style white bread smeared with yoghurt-butter spread, topped with a slice of Cabot Seriously Sharp cheddar, and two slices of oven-baked thick-cut bacon.

Grilled Cheesy Breakfast

Topped with a fried egg. The recipe said to cook the egg until the yolk was hard, but I left mine soft -- not runny, but more like a thick, gooey gel.

Grilled Cheesy Breakfast

Fried until beautifully brown on one side and then flipped and fried on the other side.

Grilled Cheesy Breakfast

Sliced in half, admired for a few minutes, and then scarfed down. Omnomnom. Owe Lynn's Kitchen Adventures so many thanks for publishing this recipe!


Roasted Cabbage, Sweet and Tender

It's spring, when this cook's tummy yearns for salad. And what goes in salad? Red cabbage, among other things. Problem was, I bought an enormous red cabbage -- far more than could go in salad -- and was at a loss as to what to do with it. Mad Googling led me to Martha Stewart's recipe for "Roasted Cabbage Wedges" and, well, I never knew cabbage could be this delicious!

This is such a simple recipe -- slice your cabbage thickly (despite the title, there are no cabbage "wedges" in this recipe), brush with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, roast in a 400°F oven for 40 minutes. The recipe calls for fennel/caraway seeds, but I forgot to add it and can't say I missed it at all.

Roasting Cabbage for One

If your cabbage, like mine, starts to get a bit too crispy around the edges well short of the 40 minute mark, just cover it with a piece of foil and walk away. It will be fine.

Sunday Supper

The cabbage was just lovely. A little crispy around the edges with a sweet, mellow middle I wouldn't have expected of cabbage. I have to ask, is there a vegetable roasting won't improve?

Wordless Wednesday: Spring Blossoms

Anyone know what kind of trees these are? They were planted all around a pond.


To the Moon & Back by Jill Mansell

Ellie wiped her eyes with the back of her hand; sometimes she didn't realize she'd been crying until the tears slid off her chin and dripped down her neck. She missed Jamie so much she sometimes wondered how she'd managed to carry on, but it had been fifteen months now, and one way or another she had. Maybe she was going a bit batty, conjuring Jamie up and having imaginary conversations with him, but it was her coping mechanism and she wasn't ready to give it up yet.

Jamie, Ellie's husband, is killed in an auto accident. Fifteen months later, Ellie still has not come to grips with his absence. Ellie’s father-in-law visits her and is horrified by how uninhabitable her flat has become (chavs and mildew) and persuades her to move to a much nicer flat in a much nicer neighborhood, Primrose Hill. One change begets many – Ellie quits her old job, starts a new one, makes a friend, reconnects with an old one, and (eventually) finds new love.

To the Moon and Back was a sweet, gentle novel and Mansell wrote Ellie’s loss and discovery of new love in a way that never felt maudlin or hackneyed. Indeed, while there were many relationships and many kinds of love depicted in To the Moon and Back, they all felt quite real and developed in ways which seemed quite natural. Zach might have felt a frisson of romance the first time he saw Ellie, but it took the entire length of the novel for that relationship to develop. (One couple does starts with a romance novel cliché -- they instantly fall in love and into bed, but they’re a nontraditional couple with a relationship that is anything but cliché and so I give them a pass).

I admit the last few chapters were bit too cutesy and rushed for me, but I was still charmed by To the Moon and Back and look forward to reading Rumor Has It and Staying at Daisy’s whenever they come back to my library.

To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell (Sourcebooks, 2011)


Improv Challenge: Peanut Butter & Jelly

When the two ingredients for this month's Improv Challenge at Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker were revealed, I was excited because I had been meaning to make "Peanut Butter and Port Thumbprints" from The Boozy Baker (Running Press, 2010) for many months now. Nut butter, jam, and port all in a cookie? What could be better? Of course, stuff happened and the next thing I knew it was two days before the Improv Challenge and I still hadn't baked those darn cookies! And that is how I found myself baking cookies (and taking pics) when I should have been in bed.

Peanut Butter & Port Thumbprints

The recipe was pretty straight forward -- bog standard peanut butter cookie recipe plus jam mixed with port. Measure out the dough, roll it into balls, poke a well in it, etc. I used my tablespoon cookie scoop to make sure I ended up with uniformly-sized cookies, but I only managed 15 cookies to a sheet so that was 30 cookies overall, instead of the recipe's 32.

Making Peanut Butter & Port Thumbprints

I used the bowl of ½ teaspoon to make the wells and pressed it in deep hoping that would help keep the seedless black raspberry jam in place. And the jam did stay in place ... it's the cookie dough that oozed everywhere.

Making Peanut Butter & Port Thumbprints

My cookies came out a bit wonky-looking and I expect that's because I substituted "natural" cashew butter for the peanut butter. The cashew butter lacked the stabilizers I would have found in "normal" peanut butter like Jif and so the cookies kind-of spread all over the place as they baked. Mind you, they tasted really fab -- nutty, crispy, sweet, and jammy. They just look so homely.


I do want to make this cookies again with crunchy Jif to see if they hold their shape better. If they do, I'll make them with blueberry jam and blueberry port for my dad's birthday. I have many memories of my dad sitting on the couch after supper, spreading Townhouse crackers with crunchy Jif, then making a little well in the peanut butter and filling it with jam. Blueberry jam was his favorite, but he's make me raspberry ones. All the jams were made by Mom, of course, but I think Dad will be happy enough with Stonewall Kitchen's "Wild Maine Blueberry Jam" in his cookies as I lack the jam-making skillz.


Wordless Wednesday: Lilacs

Violets in Bud

In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle......and from this bush in the door-yard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig, with its flower, I break.

Extract from "When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d" from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. Click here to read it in full.


My First Kabobs

Several years ago, when my parents were moving house, my mother gave me her old set of stainless steel kabob skewers. I didn't really know what to do with them, having never made kabobs, but I was loathe to refuse them as I had fond memories of using them to toast marshmallow/fence with my cousins at many family picnics.

I was the Errol Flynn of marshmallow toasters, I tell you.

Anyway, the skewers sat, unused and unloved, in the back of my kitchen's junk drawer until last week when I decided it was darn well time to skewer something or let them go.

There was a pound of thawed beef chunks in the fridge I'd intended for stew, before the marvelous spring weather we've been having persuaded me that stew was the last thing I wanted to eat. Why not, I thought, skewer and broil 'em?

Beef Skewers, Marinated

I marinated the beef for two days (it was supposed to only be overnight, but ...) in McCormick Grill Mates® 25% Less Sodium Montreal Steak Marinade prepared with vegetable oil, water, and zinfandel vinegar. Sunday afternoon, I threaded the meat onto two metal skewers, lay them on a broiler pan, poured some of the remaining marinade over each skewer, and let them sit for about 20 minutes on the kitchen side.

Beef Skewers, Broiled

Then I heated the broiler and broiled the kabobs about four inches from the element for about 4 minutes on each side.

Beef Skewer Over Rice w/ Pigeon Peas

I served the kabobs on a bed of Southern Living's "Basmati Rice and Pigeon Peas" and it made for a rather nice Sunday dinner. The kabobs were tender and peppery with a good hit of garlic and the lemony basmati rice paired well with them.

Beef Skewer Over Rice w/ Pigeon Peas

Overall, I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself and expect we'll be eating a lot of meat-onna-stick this summer!


Eating the Alphabet: E is for Edamame

I knew I wanted to use edamame for April's Eating the Alphabet Challenge as I like edamame a lot, but only ever eat it on its own as a snack and so thought this would be the perfect time to try using it in a "proper" recipe. I tried three recipes, but Bon Appétit's "Edamame Hummus" was clearly the best pick of the bunch.

While I liked this dip a great deal, I’m reluctant to call it hummus as it contains no chickpeas or sesame and, really, tastes nothing like any hummus I’ve ever eaten. It is very green and very refreshing, though, and I found I couldn’t stop eating it! It was like eating spring on a cracker endive whotsit.

Edamame & Pea

I halved the recipe as I was the only one who would be eating it and 6 cups seemed a bit much for one ... but maybe it wouldn’t have been as I ate 3 cups in 3 days! The dip kept well, retaining its bright green color and tasting as fresh on Wednesday as it did on Monday. I ate it with endive, as indicated in the recipe, but also with pretzel crisps and pita chips when I ran out of endive.

I’d only bought one small head of endive as I’d never eaten it before and wasn’t sure what I’d think of it. I followed the directions from "Easy French Food" for preparing endive and found it to be pretty simple, stress-free work. Alas, the endive spears were a bit meh. Crisp and slightly bitter, they didn’t seem like anything to write home about. I guess they’re just one of those things that make an excellent vehicle for other foods, but don’t stand out on their own. Oh well, the endive was only 50¢ per head so it was not an expensive disappointment! (And now I know endive doesn’t make me swoon and, surely, that’s worth knowing).
Edamame Hummus
Adapted from Bon Appétit, December 2011

Making Edamame & Pea

2 10-ounce packages frozen shelled edamame (soybeans) [1 10-ounce package]
Kosher salt [omitted]
2 10-ounce packages frozen peas ) [1 10-ounce package]
½ cup fresh lemon juice [¼ cup]
2 teaspoons minced garlic
½ teaspoon ground coriander [omitted]
¼ teaspoon ground cumin [½ tsp]
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling [6 Tbsp]
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro plus more for garnish [2 Tbsp]
¼ cup chopped fresh mint plus more for garnish [2 Tbsp]
Freshly ground black pepper [and salt, to taste]
Endive spears [or dip transport of choice]

Cook edamame in a large pot of boiling salted [I omitted the salt] water until tender, 3–5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a large bowl of ice water. Return water in pot to a boil and add peas; cook until heated through, about 1 minute.

Transfer peas to bowl with edamame; let cool. Drain well.

Working in batches, pulse edamame and peas in a food processor until a coarse purée forms, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in juice and next 3 ingredients. Gradually stir in 3/4 cup oil; mix well. Stir in 1/4 cup cilantro and 1/4 cup mint.

[I don’t understand why the directions had me do some of it in a food processor and some of it in a bowl when it seems like I could have done it all in the food processor and avoided dirtying extra equipment. I recommend whacking everything in your food processor and giving it a good whirl].

Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl; drizzle with oil and garnish with more herbs. Serve with endive spears.
Edamame & Pea


Daffodils Are For Poetry

Of course, all the daffodils springing up everywhere put me in mind of poetry. There's the obvious one we all read in school -- Wordsworth's "Daffodils," of course:
I wander'd lonely as a cloud
  That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
  A host of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
  And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
  Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
But I 'm rather fond of A.A. Milne's "Daffodowndilly" from When We Were Very Young:
She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
   She wore her greenest gown;

She turned to the south wind
   And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
   And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
   "Winter is dead."
And there's always good ol' A.E. Housman to cheer us with his "The Lent Lily:"
And since till girls go maying
  You find the primrose still,
And find the windflower playing
  With every wind at will,
  But not the daffodil,

Bring baskets now, and sally
  Upon the spring’s array,
And bear from hill and valley
  The daffodil away
  That dies on Easter day.
Although he must be using a shedload of poetic license, because I've never known daffodils to fade at Easter.


Addicted to The Unofficial Hunger Game Cookbook

Flower Power

Pretty isn't it? It's "Lovelorn Peeta Pita Wildflower Pockets" from The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook, de-pocketed as the "Tips from Your Sponsor" box said I could omit the pita and eat it as a big ol' salad.

Ingredients: edible flowers, mixed salad greens, lemon juice, maple syrup, kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper.

Just toss the mixed greens and edible flowers together, drizzle them with a mixture of maple syrup and lemon juice, season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste and eat. It couldn't be easier. Well, it could. You could cheat and use your favorite bottled vinaigrette. That might shave 3 minutes off the recipe, but you'd be missing out on a really good thing. Maple syrup and lemon juice, while such a simple combination, make a surprisingly delicious dressing.

The hardest part of making this salad was finding edible flowers. I finally found a packaged mix of nasturtiums and pansies in the fresh herbs section of PriceChopper and they were good -- the nasturtiums a little peppery -- but it would have been cheaper and more seasonal to have held off and made this salad in May or June when my own flowers are in bloom. This salad looks pretty with nasturtiums, but violets or johnny-jump-up would work well for a Mother's Day salad.

For lunch, I served this salad with toasted pita bread on the side. I toasted the pita bread by brushing a pita with olive oil, quartering it, and toasting it in a 400°F oven for 10 minutes (flipping halfway through). The toasted pita was good, but next time I would sprinkle it with a little kosher salt or a seasoning blend like Penzeys Tuscan Sunset before popping it in the oven.

Since I bought more flowers than I needed for lunch, I made another version of this salad for supper. Instead of making more maple and lemon dressing, I used a splash of oil-free Pomegranate Vinaigrette from Cindy's Kitchen. I also added some leftover blueberries and corn to the salad.

Thursday Supper

(This salad was the sixth recipe I'd made from The Unofficial Hunger Game Cookbook and I have to say I'm really liking this cookbook. While it's not without its flaws, I've enjoyed every recipe I've tried and I can't say that of many other cookbooks).


Crazy Cooking Challenge: Blueberry Muffins

PhotobucketI don't bake muffins very often. I don't know why, because I hate the commercial bakery "big-as-your-fist" type muffins that are little more than overly sweet cake with stuff mixed in. Unless they're split in half, slathered with butter, and slapped on a hot griddle until golden, these giant cake-like muffins (cupcake wannabes?) have nothing going for them. Yes, I am a muffin snob!

So, yes, you'd be right to suppose that, having such strong feelings about muffins, I'd be baking them all the time.  But, no. I could not tell you the last time I made muffins!

Going into this challenge, I knew I wanted a muffin that was not very sweet, but would be packed to the roof with blueberries. The texture should be more like quick bread and less like cake -- denser and heavier, more like "food" than "dessert." The recipe should use oil or melted butter as I am too impatient to soften butter. Ideally, the ingredients would include yogurt as I had a large open container of 2% Greek yoghurt I wanted to use up.

I fed all my hopes and desires into Google and it spat out several promising recipes. In the end, I went with the simplest and most straight-forward of the lot -- The Stock Pot's "Evan's Blueberry Mini Muffins." I admit I was intrigued by the inclusion of cornmeal and mini muffins seemed as if they would perfectly proportioned with the correct ratio of batter to blueberries. Also, if I went all Garfield on the muffins, bite-sized muffins would make me feel less naughty.

Wet Ingredients
All the wet ingredients -- yoghurt, milk, egg, vanilla, canola and olive oil.

Dry Ingredients
All the dry ingredients -- flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and sugar.

Combining Ingredients
Wet ingredients meet dry ingredients and blueberries.

Combined Ingredients
Mixing the batter together. (Surprised by how fluffy the batter
became as I mixed it -- yoghurt & baking powder magic in action?)

Filled Muffin Tin
Ready to go in the 375°F oven 15 minutes later.

Baked Muffins
Fresh from the oven.
(Let them sit 10 min in the tin on a rack).

Cooling Muffins
Cooling on a rack.
(Let them sit another 10 minutes, decanted, before eating).

I made my muffins as directed ... with two small changes. Because I used plain Chobani 2% Greek yoghurt while the original recipe used vanilla yoghurt, I added 1 teaspoon Penzeys Mexican vanilla to my wet ingredients. I also used a combination of olive oil and canola oil as I completely misjudged the amount of olive oil left in the bottle.

These muffins came out really well. So well, in fact, I was not inclined to share them with my coworkers! (But I did, because I'm a nice person ... but only eight, because I'm not that nice). I definitely recommend this recipe if you're looking for a quick, easy, and reasonably healthful muffin.


April Is For Poetry: On the Day of Nixon's Funeral

While we were admiring daffodils at a park this afternoon, I spotted some ferns all tightly furled and I remembered this poem by Ira Sadoff. Well, I didn't remember it was by Sadoff, but I remembered "embryonic / fiddleheads, fuzzy and curled" and Google worked its usual magic.

Furled Ferns

                                                                 You can see why
I'd want to bury this man whose blood would not circulate,

whose face was paralyzed, who should have died
in shame and solitude, without benefit of eulogy or twenty-one
gun salutes. I want to bury him in Southern California
with the Birchers and the Libertarians. I want to look out

my window and cheer the remaining cedars
that require swampy habitats to survive. To be done
with shame and rage this April afternoon, where embryonic
fiddleheads, fuzzy and curled and pale as wings,

have risen to meet me. After all, they say he was a scrappy man,
wily and sage, who served as Lucifer, scapegoat, scoundrel,
a receptacle for acrimony and rage — one human being
whose life I have no reverence for, which is why I'm singing now.
Extract from "On the Day of Nixon's Funeral" from Grazing by Ira Sadoff. Click here to read it in full.

Furled Ferns


April is for Poetry: A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman

To my knowledge, I’d never intentionally read any A.E. Housman so I was surprised that some of his poems were already familiar to me -- "1887 (I)" and "When I was one-and-twenty (XIII)" were both poems I had encountered before, though I couldn’t tell you where. In one of those chunkster Norton anthologies we used in college, perhaps? I want to blame it on Anne Shirley, but she can't be responsible for all the old-school poetry cluttering up my head!

A Shropshire Lad is a collection of sixty-three poems, many of which deal with death and/or the loss of love. A Shropshire Lad has a distinctly pastoral setting and features some rather beautiful language, but there's little sweetness or lightness to it:

I hoed and trenched and weeded,
And took the flowers to fair:
I brought them home unheeded;
The hue was not the wear.

So up and down I sow them
For lads like me to find,
When I shall lie below them,
A dead man out of mind.

Some seed the birds devour,
And some the season mars,
But here and there will flower
The solitary stars,

And fields will yearly bear them
As light-leaved spring comes on,
And luckless lads will wear them
When I am dead and gone.

Wadsworth’s “Daffodils” these aren't.

Unfortunately, there’s a certain numbing repetition to the collection, beautiful language or no, and I found my attention wandering at points: "Yes, youth is transitory. Yes, death is a sad business. I wonder if I should do some laundry? 'But here and there will flower / The solitary stars.' Oh, that’s a pretty image! What poem is this again?"

Now, of course, I didn’t actually read any of these poems, but listened to them on audio. I find it harder, now that I am years out of school, to seamlessly slide into a poem “just” by reading it, but audio books work really well for me. I have no idea if Samuel West's accent is properly Shropshire, but his voice and reading style suit the poems well. He reads easily, cleanly, and with conviction -- he doesn’t sound like he’s reading someone else’s poems so much as speaking from his own heart. Is it any wonder he was an Earphones Award Winners in 2011 for A Shropshire Lad?

I couldn't find any samples of West reading Housman to post here, but do want to share this reading by Diana Dors of "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now" (II).

A Shropshire Lad - Housman - read by Diana Dors by TheChrisGregory

A Shropshire Lad written by A.E. Housman & read by Samuel West (Naxos AudioBooks, 2011)


My Favorite Poems, Let Me Show You Them

April is National Poetry Month so I thought I would (randomly) share some of my favorite poems with you. I'm starting with a poem by Billy Collins as I've enjoyed his poetry ever since I heard him on A Prairie Home Companion. I own three of his poetry collections -- Sailing Alone Around the Room, The Trouble with Poetry, and Ballistics -- and plan to own a fourth, Horoscopes for the Dead, very soon. I think he's a great gateway poet for people who think they do not like poetry, because poetry is obscure, pretentious stuff fit only for bookish types. His poems are charming, witty, and very approachable. His sound recording, The Best Cigarette, is a good place to start.

Today, I'm sharing "The Country" from his collection, Nine Horses: Poems. I'm not sharing the full poem (copyright, y'know), but it's all in the video.
I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?

And here's a TED2012 talk by Collins:

Pretty (Yummy) Drumsticks

Faced with a surfeit of basil, I turned to the Internetz and found a recipe for "Lemon Basil Drumsticks." And, oh, this was good!

Basil Drumsticks

This recipe was easy and fun to prepare and makes a nice presentation when it's done. The drumsticks tasted quite good -- a little lemony and a little sweet with lots of good basil flavor. A bit sticky, so not finger food, but well worth a little knife and fork action.

Basil Drumsticks

Just gently loosen the chicken skin and tuck basil leaves between the skin and meat.
My basil leaves were quite big so I only used one leaf per drumstick.

I served the drumsticks with garlicky green beans and Taste of Home's "Artichoke Orzo Pilaf." The green beans were good, as always, and the pilaf showed promise but was not as good as anticipated. I used low-sodium chicken broth instead of water, added fresh basil, and seasoned the pilaf quite liberally with salt and fresh ground pepper, but it was still missing something. Next time, I think I'll use a jar of drained marinated artichoke hearts, instead of the water-packed canned ones, for more flavor. Or, maybe, add some diced oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes with the simmering orzo and leeks?