Pumpkins not included

In culinary school one of the things I loved best and hated most was mystery basket days. They weren’t attached to winning a million or your own restaurant or your face next to Guy Fieri (shudder) on the Food Network or even not looking like an idiot on the Food Network; they were attached to grades. For this type-A, it was a struggle between this has to be perfect and oooh fun. Stress can kick creativity in high gear and occasionally my team and I would get the blue ribbon for the day.

Fast forward five years.

I am not currently cooking professionally. I work a workaday week and have to get dinner on the table. Life is currently filled with obligations, desires and some tragedy. What’s a girl to do with a fridge full of farmer’s market whim, some staples and some things that just need to get used? What is said girl suppose to do if she is also slightly comatose from too many sleepless nights and extra braining at work?

Enter Whole Foods’ Recipe app for iPhone On Hand feature. If you ever played with Google Cooking you’ve got the basic idea. In the app you choose three ingredients you have in the pantry or fridge and touch search. The magical Internet elves sift their recipe cards and give you a list of what you could make with those three items. Obviously, the app is more limited than Google Cooking and you can’t add things like birds’ nests and unicorn horn to your larder list but it does offer some tastier options, many with healthy eating considerations.

My adventure tonight yielded white beans and sausage over polenta with kale. I didn’t have beans but I did have a red pepper. It also didn’t say add a splash of cream and the grated end of some cheese to the polenta, but, hey, I needed to use them up. Recipes are a map and I encourage detours. As always, your mileage may vary, but I like the app and the type-A in me is still challenged enough with the tweaking and tasting even if it is cheating.

No shrink ray needed

victoria —  October 20, 2011 — 2 Comments

Dinner for hungry teenagers

Thrown together pot pie filling: poached chicken, frozen veg mix, sautéed onion, pan gravy, and thyme. Oil-based pie crust from late 1940s edition of Good Housekeeping cookbook. Muffin tin. 375 oven. 60 minutes-ish. Ta da.

Nashville like many middle-sized cities in the wake of the Borders implosion was left without a proper new book store in town proper. Used book stores, yes. And mighty fine ones, too. But not a bookstore with a newsstand filled with foreign food porn magazines. Currently, said girl has to drive to Cool Springs or Hendersonville (burbs) to get to a Barnes & Noble. There is a Books-a-Million on the opposite side of town but their newsstand is super skinny on the foreign mag side.

The husband indulged me tonight by carting me to one of the dreaded burbs to acquire my fix. On the way home, we cruised by the future B&N home in the old Borders’ husk on West End. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that it will contain a richly supplied newsstand. I’ve learned not to hold my breathe on an independent newsstand.

Yes, I do know you can subscribe to foreign mags but the overseas rates are more than you pay on the newsstand, even if they are a month off. I may have to succumb to the subscription yet.

For now, I’m going to flip through my fix while I have a piece of toast.


Adventures in not cooking

victoria —  September 15, 2011 — Leave a comment

I have officially turned down a pretty big catering gig because I am too busy with the new(ish) job and life in general. It feels weird and slightly naughty. I am 8 months in to my first full-time, non-temp job since I moved to Nashville 8 years ago. Cooking is still a passion but divesting myself of the need to say yes to every opportunity to make even a pittance at it is more liberating than I can express. Will I ever go back to cooking full-time? Who knows? I’ve learned to never say never. There is a part of my brain still in love with the idea of teeny cafe, teahouse, market stall or food truck.

The one thing I’m really enjoying that involves cooking right now is making dinner at my house for Keifel and Jules and watching Jules become a handy cook in his own right. He is also quite the barkeep. His drinks for his consumption are strictly PG but I am glad he looks at alcohol with the mind of a cook and an extension of a meal rather than an ingredient for a bender. I’m touching wood and hoping it sticks.


Still summer. Still hotter than h-e-double hockey sticks. And I now have even greater reason to avoid turning on the oven; the element burnt out in a spectacular pyrotechnic display while making biscuits by request of the newly-returned from Trinidad boychick. In case you were curious, you can finish half baked biscuits on broil with fair results.

All that aside. We’re here for the sloppy joes. I honestly can’t tell you the last time I had them but I think it might have involved pigtails and Mom pouring the sauce out of a can of Manwich. They were definitely something I associated with late night dinners of my youth.

Jules, said boychick, and I were a the farmers’ market on Saturday and he was carrying around a bag of hamburger type buns we purchased from the Provence stand. The woman we bought our peaches from asked if we’d slap a burger or sloppy joe on one of those for her. The idea was planted.

On returning home later than expected this evening, I had planned to make dal and rice. A very hungry Jules suggested sloppy joes instead. Not having made the messy sandwiches in question in eons, if ever, I consulted that tome of American recipes: The Joy of Cooking. Not having several things the recipe called for, I winged it.

Sunday Night Sloppy Joes (mostly local)

Chop one onion and 4 to 5 cloves of garlic finely. Heat about a tablespoon of safflower or similar high-heat oil in a saute pan. Stir that around a bit while cutting up 3 or four small sweet peppers nearly lost to the back of fridge demon or one regular-sized red or yellow sweet bell pepper. Add the pepper to the pot. Add two teaspoons celery seed unless, unlike me, you have celery, then chop up one stalk finely and add that to the pan. Saute until everything is softened but not browned. Add one pound (local!) ground beef, a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses (or 2 tablespoons brown sugar and the juice of half a lime), a tablespoon or two of Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste, half a teaspoon red pepper flake and a tablespoon paprika. While that is browning, stir it some to break up the meat and rummage through the fridge for some pickled peppers you made a week or so ago, if you find them, chop them up and toss them in the pan with some of the vinegar in the jar (Tablespoon or so). If you don’t find them, add a tablespoon or two of pickle relish or chopped-up pickles of some persuasion with a little of the vinegar in the jar. When the meat has browned and is pretty much done, pour in a quarter to half a large can of Muir Glen crushed, fire-roasted tomatoes, depending on how sloppy you like your sloppy joes. Serve immediately on sturdy hamburger buns.

BONUS recipe!

Oil Biscuits (damn near instant bread for dinner which can be half baked and finished on broil if necessary)

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (can sub up to 1 cup with whole wheat for still pretty fluffy biscuits)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup safflower oil (or similar light tasting, high heat oil)

3/4 cup butter milk


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. In a 1 cup measure, pour in 1/4 cup oil, top with 3/4 cup buttermilk. Don’t stir. Pour into well in dry ingredients. Using a fork faff (technical term…) the flour mixture and liquid together just until it clumps up and most of the flour is moistened. Dump on clean counter or similar, gently knead and turn three times, then stop. No, really. Stop. Gently form into roughly 8″ square about an inch high. Using a  knife or bench scraper, cut into nine equal-ish squares. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake until tops are lightly browned (about 12 minutes). Serve immediately.

(For variety, grate 2 ounces sharp cheddar and toss in flour mixture or add chopped fresh herbs to the flour mixture. For impromptu short cakes you can add 1/4 cup sugar to the dry mixture and 1 egg to the wet.)


Experimental muffins

victoria —  June 12, 2011 — 2 Comments

Brandied cherry muffins displayed on my faux Marimekko plates from Le Target

Young Master Julian is quite the baker. His specialty is muffins. Everytime I hit McKay, I look for muffin cookbooks. I found one aptly title Muffins which we’ve made a couple recipes out of. We can’t seem to make them straight; there’s always a tweak or twist. For this brunch experiment we subbed part of the flour with almond meal as I am forever on a quest to replicate the almond shortbread muffins they used to have a Fido.

I’ll hold off on posting the recipe as the muffins didn’t hold together well. They are however truly muffins, not cupcakes pantomiming breakfast in that they only have two tablespoons of sugar for a batch of 12. We served them as suggested in the recipe with a little sweetened whipped cream laced with kirsch. Very tasty, despite the weak crumb structure.

On a shopping note, I love the unbleached muffin papers we picked up at Whole Foods. They are parchment paper and the muffins don’t stick and leave all the good, crunchy crust stuck to the paper.


It’s still too hot to breathe let alone cook. This is an easy dinner to through together if you don’t mind a little chopping. We make a base of seasoned sushi rice (white or brown) which is served at room temp but you could make regular rice. While the rice cooks, you can put your toppings together. For ours: matchstick carrots in rice vinegar, sliced cucumbers, sliced green onions, sliced sweet peppers in rice vinegar, Japanese-style scrambled egg, sushi ginger, smoked salmon, shiso and nori rice seasonings and Jules’ fiery soy sauce sauce.

Everyone can build their own dinner without too much fuss for the cook. It’s cooling, easy and you don’t feel like an anaconda digesting a wild pig afterward either. It’s also pretty impressive when all the toppings are arranged in little bowls on the table if you need something to wow or woo when it’s this hot.

It’s hot. It’s really hot. According to the weather channel app it’s hotter here than it is in Trinidad. And, technically, at least til midnight, it’s still May. This fills me with fear and loathing. Yours truly is not a hothouse flower. I think I’m more squarely in the slow-growing tundra wildflower category. I prefer the temp 40-70F, with a breeze.

I love the produce summer brings and the long days, but then it’s too hot to cook so I go into salad and doing as little as possible to the food aside from running a knife through it. Tonight was a compromise of sorts. A lovely carrot salad and some honey-glazed chicken because you shouldn’t eat it raw.


The chicken is an old standby. Melt together 1/4 cup honey, some grated ginger and garlic to taste, couple tablespoons soy sauce and the juice of a lemon and douse some chicken thighs (about 4) with the resulting elixir. 375F for 40 minutes, basting twice. Even folks who don’t like dark meat chicken will eye for seconds.

The salad was a riff on a Jamie Oliver recipe from Jamie at Home. Four good-sized carrots peeled and then shaved to shreds with the peeler mixed with a big handful of cilantro leaves, a shredded green onion and some very thinly sliced Hungarian wax pepper (or any mild pepper) tossed together with a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, ground cumin, black sesame seeds and finely grated (on a microplane) ginger equals some seriously tasty salad with enough left for a straight from the fridge breakfast.

Despite my trying to keep the hot cooking to a minimum, my oven is currently cranked up. Julian requested some teacher bribery for the end of the year in the form of brownies. So much for a cool kitchen/house.

(As a “by the way,” this is my first attempt at blogging from the phone so forgive any weird spellings, syntax or spacing til I check it on the big screen. Thanks.)

And, so, life moves on. Quickly as it turns out. In my last draft to you, dear readers – those few who might still be hanging on waiting for some thread of noise on my end – I was leaving my kitchen and house behind and taking off into the unknown of post mortgage apocalypse and weird job-cobbling. We are now well and truly settled into our rental digs with the quirky, Escher-esque rooms and uneven floors. I have made peace with my fridge facing away from all the relevant work surfaces in the kitchen. The cats are cozy and we’ve survived a snowy winter and stormy spring in our little bungalow.

But what of the culinary life? There has been cooking, big and small. Daily and not so much. I took a full-time job with a non-profit in January that has brought us financial calm and daily schedules that look the same most M-Fs. It means that part time teaching is no longer a real option. My cooking professionally will now be mostly cooking as a volunteer. It’s new to you, but I made peace with it a few months ago. I am hoping that some stability means more time now that I am settled into the new work. It’s coming. To carve out some time means saying no to a few things asked of me and that was hard but has also already happened.

So that brings me here. What do I do with a foodblog started when I was looking at being a food professional? That is the $64 question (we’re pretty low-stakes around here). I have a few ideas, one I’ve been tossing about with Cajun Scorpio Girl who is looking at blogging about living green. I’m thinking there is some overlap. Now that I’m not cooking for dollars and can really cook just for fun. I think I’d like to really cook for fun and just document that. Homemade marshmallows (probably not til fall now), crackers, canning and preserving, making sausage and charcuterie… Stuff I didn’t have time for before and for which no one had enough money to pay me. I also want to throw tea parties with my girlfriends. I have all the frippery and the hat. This needs to happen and be documented of course. I also think it’s time for a redesign and for that I’ll have to hit up the Keifel, but I’m sure he’d be willing if I bat my eyelashes. Oh, there will also be the occasional salon/dinner/concert and a few charity gigs here and there to let you in on. I hope the fun – and the quality of the writing – will make up for the drop in intensity (though few and far between those posts have been). It’s a new leaf. Let’s see how it tastes.

And so it ends

victoria —  October 29, 2010 — 2 Comments

Fall. Usually by now I have posted a long, contemplative post about my favorite season of cooking and well, just being. This fall has been different.

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