Monday, February 22, 2010

I once offended a foodie by calling him a foodie

Oh noes! All I can think of is food! A couple of years ago I lost 20 pounds and I've been extremely happy with the svelter me. (Also, it's helped my dog agility tremendously; I have way more stamina and my knees and feet don't get sore after a weekend of competing.) One of the things that helped me maintain my weight is the fact that I've never been overly interested in food. I mean, I love to eat and I adore yummy things, but usually I'd rather go hungry than put much effort into making anything. I guess I'm just lazy.

Now that the Swell Fellow and I have been cooking regularly, I'm thinking a lot about food, mostly searching for recipes that would be fun to try. When S.F. isn't around, I'm still not terribly inclined to expend much effort on my food, but I seem to have a lot more yummy leftovers hanging around, which means I'm eating really well without much effort.

Egads, the last thing I want to do is fatten up again. Good thing I have a treadmill! I bought it off of Craigslist last year, mostly because I wanted to teach the dogs to walk on it so I could exercise them and keep them fit for agility even when it was crappy a cold and getting dark really early. But I use it way more than they do. Mostly I walk on it, but I'm working in longer and longer periods of running. It's a fabulous way to not feel guilty about spending a long time in front of the TV. Joss Whedon shows are a great accompaniment to a treadmill workout.

Anyway, back to food ... I think I want to try my hand at something heavenly but not very healthy my mother used to make for us: pork tenderloin sandwiches. Oh, christ on a cracker those things were heavenly! The funny thing is that my mother was never a really great cook, but you couldn't tell it from her pork tenderloin sandwiches. If she could make them, surely I can too, right?

In other food-related incidents, my sourdough starter seems to have gone bad. Apparently it requires a bit more maintenance than the Betty Crocker cookbook let on. It's like the little tiny turtles I had when I was a kid: they look so cool in the store, but then after you get them home you realize you can't forget to feed them and clean their little habitat. So I've been looking into that as well, and will be collecting some of the links I find over at delicious (where I also seem to have accumulated a plethora of recipes over time).

Friday, February 19, 2010

NEW Feature! Unsolicited and perhaps even unwarranted product reviews!

In yet another a blatant attempt to get companies to send me free crap stuff (HELLO, PILLSBURY! Have I not said enough how much I love your crescent dough? Oh wait, it's very nearly free most of the time if you combine the right sale with the right coupon ... so I suppose I can buy my own) I'm going to, maybe sometimes if I feel like it, post product reviews.

Today, We have one GOOD and one BAD. I'll do the bad one first so I can end on an upbeat note.

TAZO Organic Chai Spiced Black Tea
. When I bought this (on sale and with a doubled $1 coupon at Harris Teeter), I thought I was treating myself to an indulgence, because even discounted it cost more than I usually pay for tea. I drink a LOT of tea, so I can't afford the good stuff. Good thing I'm mostly content with the cheap stuff. And I will continue to be, because this stuff is horrible. Bleah, even the memory of it is nauseating me. See, I don't really know from chai. Other than the odd bit here and there at Thai restaurants, I've only ever had Stash brand chai spiced tea, which is quite yummy. So I thought that being all hoity toity and expensive, TAZO would maybe be yummier. And they make it sound yummy on the box: "To create your own version of TAZO® ORGANIC CHAI, you would have to accumulate many frequent flyer miles shuttling between Asia, Africa and Central America gathering rich black tea, sweet cinnamon, zingy ginger, spicy star anise and warm cardamom." But the predominant flavor of TAZO® ORGANIC CHAI is none of these things. No, Tazo Organic Chai would be better named TAZO® BLACK PEPPER TEA, because it tastes like I filled a tea infuser with ground black pepper and steeped it for several minutes. Even sweetening with honey didn't help. If you think I'm kidding or exaggerating, or you're thinking "Mmm, black pepper tea sounds delish," then I've got a box with 17 tea bags left in it to for you (I gave the stuff three chances before I decided I could stomach no more). Let me know if black pepper tea sounds like your thing and I'll figure out how to get it to you. (I'm even willing to send it to Guam if you want it, Santos!)

When I want to splurge, I'm buying Stash tea from now on (which is cheaper anyway).

Nature Valley Granola Nut Clusters.
ZOMG! This stuff is edible crack. I almost regret having tried it (it was on sale at Kroger and I had a stacking e-coupon+paper coupon combo that made it free) because now every time I'm in the grocery store I have to go check the price to see if I can let myself buy it. (Tricky, because while it's with the granola bars at Kroger, Harris Teeter stocks it with the nuts. I don't know where Food Lion keeps it because they don't double coupons so I rarely shop there.) Seriously, this stuff is good. The problem is the regular price is just completely wack and no one in her right mind should ever pay it. A 5-ounce bag, which they claim is 4.5 servings but in real life it's really two, or maybe even only one depending on how you're feeling, has a regular price of $3.99. But regular prices are for chumps. So I'll only be buying this stuff when the combination of sale price and coupons puts it at 99 cents or less. Then you better believe I'm stocking up. Not that a stockpile will last me very long because like I said, a bag can be one serving, depending ...

DISCLAIMER: In accordance with some new rules about bloggers and free stuff, I hereby declare that nobody sent me diddly in exchange for these reviews.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Did I mention there's free chocolate?

Our Wednesday night recipe was something light and simple that I found over at Martha Stewart: Chicken Tenders with Cucumber Salad and Chickpea Couscous. It looked a little something like this:

Chicken tenders with chickpea couscous and cucumber salad

I forgot to buy raisins, so the couscous did without, and I added carrots to the salad because I thought it could use a bit of orange color. It was all really tasty, and I'll definitely try it again.

Now what shall we cook next week? Something Mexican, maybe?

And now for the "Coupon Dork" portion of our presentation, a little segment called "How much did Lisa save at Harris Teeter Super Doubles?" See, every so often Harris Teeter has Super Doubles, during which coupons up to $1.98 in value are doubled (HT always doubles coupons up to 99 cents). It's really a lot of fun, if you're idea of fun is saving a bunch of money and getting stuff for free.

I've been twice already. It was so much fun the first time I just had to go back. Actually, they will only double 20 coupons per day, so you need to go more than once to take full advantage. Also, you can only use 1 coupon on buy-one-get-one-free items at HT even though each item rings up at half price, so if you want to use more than one coupon you need to separate the items into two orders.

On the first visit, the order rang up at $48.58 (most of the items were on VIC special; without that discount it would have been about $20 more). After the coupons were scanned I paid $14.16, $4.61 of which was for the produce (for which I had no coupons). Here's what I got (the photo is annotated because I'm that geeky; click on it for full effect):

On the second visit I picked up a few items that weren't on VIC special, but were a good price with the doubled coupons. It rang up at $41.97 ( would have been about $50 without VIC discount), but I paid $12.33. And I got free chocolate! It looked like this (except that I bought another bag of coffee that I forgot to include in the picture; click for the full annotated goodness):

Mmmm, free chocolate ...

Monday, February 15, 2010

You can't expect to wield supreme power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you

Once again, it's bullet point time here in Pantsville. It's because so many things I think or do just don't seem blogworthy enough for their own posts. I don't know why I think this way because, hell, its my damn blog and if I want to string together a few non sequiturs and call it a post I can, right? But I think maybe that's what Facebook is for. And now Google Buzz, which is Facebook with an edit button and without so many people.
  • Oh damn, my first bullet point was going to be about Google Buzz, but then I kinda just said what I was going to say about it.

  • We made another recipe. See, Wednesday night is sort of "Cooking With The Swell Fellow Night" because it's a night I don't have doggie classes and he doesn't have table tennis. Yes, he plays competitive table tennis. Anyway, on Wednesday we made salmon with spinach sauce (I'd link to the recipe but I think it came out of a cookbook. Like an actual paper one.) and steamed vegetables (you don't need a recipe to make steamed vegetables). Actually, he made the salmon and the sauce, with minor help from me, and I made the steamed veggies. We didn't really pay attention to the presentation, so the photo isn't fabulous, but here it is:

    salmon with spinach sauce

  • I made the sourdough bread. I didn't think I needed the vital wheat gluten Crystal had recommended (even though I had bought it ... see below) because I was using white flour. But the loaves still didn't rise well, growing out more than up. But it tasted great. I didn't take a photo of it. I'll wait for a loaf that doesn't look weird.

  • Valentine's day! Best one in ages! I got flowers, made cookies and we even made a vaguely heart-shaped pizza:

    red red red plate o' hearts vaguely heart-shaped ...

    The cookies were just your average shortbread cookies, and I had meant for the royal icing to be smooth and more red. But I didn't have enough red food coloring and I didn't make the icing runny enough to pipe on properly (the recipe said "not too runny," but I think whoever had written it was thinking it would be used for flowers and shapes. So tip: for cookies you want the icing runnier.) After I wrestled with the decorators bag (I think the hardest bit was getting the icing IN the bag! Is there a trick? Mine got soooo messy ...) I decided that rather than getting the icing out of the bag, making it runnier and 'then putting it back in, I'd just spread the icing with a damn knife.

  • I made a cake yesterday, but not just any cake: it was an extremely ambitious cake. I used this recipe. It would have been far easier and less time-consuming to have tried a recipe that used lemon extract, but no, I had to aim high. I think I may have zested a lemon before, but I had never pithed one. By the fourth one I had gotten the hang of it and stopped cursing so much. Anyway, I think the cake was fabulous. It looked OK, too:

    lemon pound cake

    I realized only after I baked the cake that I don't own a cake plate, or even a regular plate large enough for a cake. I also realized after I wanted to transport the cake that I own nothing suitable for that purpose. I had only just purchased the bundt pan at a thrift store ($1.99 at Cause For Paws) last week when I decided I would try to make the cake.

  • So last week I bought the vital wheat gluten, something that's not cheap ($5.99 at Kroger) and for which I had no coupon. I also had to buy cake flour ($2.99), which was another non-coupon item. I was dreading the relatively expensive grocery trip, but then I got my quarterly Kroger coupons in the mail. Every quarter Kroger sends out coupons along with a dividend voucher based on how many "points" you earn through purchases. My dividend was $9, plus there was a coupon for $1 off my next order. I used those plus a few other coupon/sale deals to make a batch of groceries that rang up at $28-something (from memory here--I've misplaced the receipt) cost $13-something. Here's the haul:

    The Oreos were free--I had gotten a coupon for becoming their fan on Facebook--and the Whoppers were on Manager's Special for $1 (I have a recipe I was thinking of trying that calls for malted milk balls). The Kroger mailing contained a $1 off $4-or-more fruit coupon, so that covered the apples and lemons, and a $1 off $4-or-more veggie coupon for the broccoli, asparagus and carrots. The chicken broth was on Manager's Special, and the Purex was a sale+coupon deal that made it something like $1.50. I didn't have a coupon for trash bags so I bought the smallest el-cheapo one, but that was a mistake because they really suck.

So, Wednesday night will be another cooking adventure, and it's my turn to pick the recipe. I have no idea what to pick. I'm open to suggestions. I was thinking maybe toad-in-the-hole, but that seems so unhealthy after this weekend's pizza, cake and cookies. I think something light may be in order. Any ideas?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Just fill it with random text and bake

beast & roots

So really, all I seem to do these days is cook. I needed stuff to take to work for lunches, so I made a crock-pot pot roast. It actually behaves more like a soup because cooking the roast all night in the crock pot makes it just fall apart. Deliciously. I had no recipe. I just chucked the roast in and added onion, potatoes carrots and rutabaga. I had wanted to use turnips but Compare Foods, where I like to get my produce, was out of turnips. So I used a rutabaga and it works just fine. Then I added 2 cups of beef bouillon spiked with my secret ingredient: a big dollop of Marmite.

If my agility class is cancelled tonight because of rain I might just make some sourdough bread. And spend at least a half an hour on the treadmill ...

Monday, February 08, 2010

Because you're not made of invisible pork chops

Should I just attempt to sneak in the substitution of "we" and "us" for "I" and "me," or do I need to be explicit? OK, well, previously mentioned swell fellow is still around. Shall I just keep referring to him as Swell Fellow? S.F.? He does have a name, so maybe I should just use that?

Anyway, he likes to cook. Me, not so much, although I have been making an effort. But I've discovered it's actually fun to cook things with someone else. Here's our most recent pizza:

more pizza

Then we decided to try jaeger schnitzel, which was something he liked to eat way back long ago when he lived in Germany. From what I gather, "schnitzel" roughly means "cutlet." "Jaeger" means "hunter," and since jaeger schnitzel is made of pork, one presumes the prey was wild boar. Or maybe it got away and the hunters just stopped at the store for a tenderloin. Anyway, in our first attempt the schnitzel came out a tad dark:

jaeger schnitzel

So we tried again:

second try at schnitzel

It was yummy. Here's the schnitzel recipe and here's the potato side dish recipe.

Oh, also, I made bread, just because the swell fellow likes bread and it's something I already knew how to make. I was feeling all domestic and shit. But my whole-wheat bread never seems to rise nicely, so I think I need to learn a trick or two. But it tasted just fine.

whole wheat bread

I just used the ordinary wheat bread recipe from my Betty Crocker cookbook. Maybe I need to experiment a little with other recipes. At any rate, making the bread inspired me to whip up a batch of sourdough starter, which will be all ripe in a few days. So this weekend I think I'll make some sourdough bread, or maybe try my hand at sourdough whole-wheat.

So now that I'm feeling bolder in the kitchen, I decided to try something I've been thinking of for a while: homemade yogurt. See, I eat a lot of yogurt, and it gets expensive. And while there are lots of coupons for the mind-boggling variety of newfangled sugary or nutrasweety yogurt concoctions with stupid names, there aren't quite as many for big ol' tubs of plain, unflavored yogurt, which is what I buy. So I read that one can make yogurt in a crock pot, and I decided to try it. I found instructions here. And sure enough, it works! I didn't take a photo, but imagine a crock pot full of yogurt and you've pretty much got the picture. It came out a bit liquidy, probably because I used skim milk (and even though I put some non-fat dry milk in as a thickener), but I use the yogurt to make fruit smoothies in my blender, so it really doesn't matter. It's easy! It's cheap! And because Durham doesn't recycle plastic yogurt tubs, I get to feel a bit superior about not contributing to the waste stream. (Not that I really do; I re-use and re-use plastic yogurt tubs like nobody's business. Chances are if anything is being stored in anything in my house, it's being stored in a plastic yogurt tub. And still I have half a cabinet full of them.)

So now I'm going to keep playing with the yogurt formula a bit. This time I used Dannon, just because that's what I had in the fridge (coupons!). But I think want to try starting a batch with some of the more expensive specialty yogurts (particularly Oikos and Chobani--they're quite yummy!). I've read that Trader Joe's Greek yogurt makes a great starter, too. Also, I want to try other methods of thickening it. I wonder what arrowroot or agar-agar would do? I'll have to research this ...

So now that I'm becoming kick-ass in the kitchen, what should I try next?