Sunday, July 27, 2008


I got a wok at The Restaurant Store like I said in the last post!

Paul and I made a trip there on Saturday. We got two half sheet pans, one quarter sheet pan, and one grate of each size. The quarter sheet pan fits perfectly in our toaster oven, which is great because we frequently use that instead of the big oven when we're only cooking for the two of us, because it doesn't heat up the kitchen as much and it uses less energy. Of course, now that it's summer we also use the grill outside for the same reason.

Anyway, the wok. We wanted a smaller one (since we have a smaller kitchen), and one with handles on both sides. We didn't want a non-stick one, and the pre-seasoned steel woks only had one long handle. So we got a shiny steel one that has short handles on two sides, and we'll get to use it until it turns all black on its own. Yum! And since we have a gas stove it will work with the little ring stand (the wok isn't flat on the bottom so it can't sit up on its own). I'm quite excited to try the lo mein recipe again with a real wok, which means I'll have enough room to actually toss the noodles around a bit instead of just stirring them carefully in a pot that's too small.

So yay for a wok! And brand-new shiny sheet pans! And grates for cooling cookies and baking bacon (the only way to do it - all the crispy deliciousness and so much less grease)! But for Whip It Up week 4, I need to find a new fun recipe, and it probably won't use the wok. Plus I have my Motorcycle Safety Course for the next two weeks on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday evening, so I won't be doing too much complicated cooking. I'll aim for my next WIU post on Tuesday, cuz otherwise I'll be doing it really late in the evening and I'll be all tired out from the motorcycle class!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Whip It Up week 3: Lo Mein

I think this qualifies as an "old favorite" to go with the theme, although I didn't learn to like (ahem - I mean LOVE) lo mein until late High School. So for people like my sister who have loved it their whole lives, it qualifies.

I used this recipe to figure out what to do, since I've never made lo mein before (otherwise it wouldn't qualify for Whip It Up, duh!):

2 quarts water
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon granules
1 (16 ounce) package thin spaghetti
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon reduced sodium teriyaki sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
1 cup fresh snow peas
1/2 cup chopped green onions


Bring* water and bouillon to a boil. Add spaghetti. Return to a boil; cook, uncovered, for 6 minutes or until almost tender. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Add soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, five-spice powder and pepper to reserved liquid; set aside. Set spaghetti aside.

In a large nonstick skillet or wok, heat oil until hot. Add onion and saute for 2 minutes. Add peas; saute 2 minutes longer. Stir in reserved spaghetti. Add reserved soy sauce mixture to pan. Simmer, uncovered, for 3-4 minutes or until liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle with green onions.

Tweaks Major Changes

I made stir-fry last night, a dish I have made many times, and we had (a) lots of leftover veggies from that, and (b) lots of leftover chicken from our delicious grilling experience last week. So I skipped all the parts above where you cook the veggies, added some chicken (also left over) to the hot oil first (it had been in the fridge for a few days so I wanted to get it nice and hot first), then added the leftover veggies right before adding the noodles to the pan because the veggies were already cooked and just needed to be heated.

The other major tweak was that Paul got rice noodles so we wouldn't have such a heavy meal. I really want to try it again with semolina, but it was also delish with the rice noodles! Plus even quicker because you only need to soak the rice noodles in water for a bit, no actual 6 minutes of boiling required.

I also added some corn starch (1 Tablespoon) to the reserve water/soy sauce mix because I was worried it wouldn't be thick enough. The rice noodles, though, soaked up everything immediately, so I ended up adding more soy sauce (honestly, the lower sodium Kikkoman tastes NO DIFFERENT AT ALL, and it has the exact same ingredients just with less salt, so I have no idea why anyone would buy anything else) just to give things a better color and a bit more moisture. I think a pound of rice noodles has more surface area and soaking-up capacity than (and thus needs more sauce than) spaghetti would.

And lastly, I augmented the canola oil with some sesame oil (a Tablespoon or so) to add some extra Asian flavor because I didn't have the five spice thing - Sesame oil is a really delicious thing to have in your cupboard, I highly recommend it. Adds lots of really great flavor! Kind of expensive, but you don't use much, so I've had the same bottle for over a year. It is getting pretty low, I will need more soon.

So was the recipe easy to follow?
Yes, very. Not only was it easy to follow, but it was all much simpler than I expected it to be. I had no issues whatsoever.

Did it taste good?
VERY good, and it was much less greasy than restaurant lo mein usually is! It was seriously delicious. And every few bites I'd get a burst of sesame flavor, or some other flavor, and it would be even better.

Would you make this again?
Yes, definitely. Stir fry (with tons of veggies and occasionally some leftover meat) has been a part of our repertoire for a few years, and we both love it so much that we get into kicks where we make it every week or more,so this will be a nice variation to add to our regular rotation. Next time I would like to try it more closely to the recipe above, specifically try using semolina pasta, but I think we'll also definitely do it with the rice noodles again, and most definitely as a way to use up leftover veggies and meat again - no microwaving them to reheat, just toss it all in a pot with some fresh noodles! By using the leftovers, this honestly took me less than 20 minutes start to finish, including prep and cooking time. It would have been a teensy bit longer if I'd needed to cook spaghetti from the box, and with fresh veggies (I'd almost definitely always use more kinds of veggies than the recipe calls for) it would take longer, but if you wanted to make it fast and didn't have leftovers in the fridge you could get a frozen Asian veggie mix - my grocery store always has a variety or two of stir-fry veggies, some with water chestnuts right in there (we looooove water chestnuts), so that would eliminate the time spent chopping veggies.

In case you hadn't noticed, I rarely follow a recipe exactly when it comes to dinner foods. I meant to find something even more brand-new to me for this week and actually try to be faithful to the recipe, but maybe next week! There's just always something that I think, no, that doesn't sound as good as doing it this way; or something that I want to add more or less of or substitute for something else.

And in case you were curious and haven't done stir fry yourself before:
Veggies we like to use for stir fry, in various permutations depending on what we're in the mood for and what we have on hand
Cabbage, carrots, snow peas, broccoli, onion, garlic, mushrooms, bell pepper, water chestnuts.
In my leftovers I had some corn, so I even threw that in, altho I've never included corn in stir fry before.
For meat we use leftover chicken mostly, and occasionally leftover pork; if we don't have leftover meat to use, then we just do the veggies.
Saute everything in a little bit of oil until they're tender (or whatever doneness you prefer your veggies), add some pepper and whatever other seasoning you enjoy, and serve over rice with soy sauce (low sodium!). Sometimes I add some soy sauce and/or worcestershire sauce to the veggies. If I had a bigger pan, I'd add the cooked rice to the veggies, but I usually end up making too many veggies to fit the rice in, so we usually just put the plain rice in our bowls and top with the veggies. It was quite a squeeze to fit the noodles and the veggies all in the saute pan for the lo mein! I need to get myself a wok at The Restaurant Store.

Hope you enjoy!

PS: Here is a pic from last week's recipe, the leftover chicken macaroni & cheese casserole:

My pictures are so plebeian compared so some of the other participants. I can take nice photos, I'm just too busy cooking and subsequently eating my dinner, which I am usually extremely hungry for by the time I finish making it, that I never feel like taking time to set up a good photo. Plus it's always dark outside by the time I'm done, so I don't get to use natural light, which of course would look much better. Hopefully next week when I try a recipe from one of my many cookbooks, I will also find time to take a more deliberate and high-quality photo.

* I have no earthly idea why, but the original recipe says to use a Dutch oven for this step. Just use a regular old pot, for crying out loud. I have one of those pasta pots with the built-in sieve - best. invention. ever.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Reminiscing & Resolutions

I had quite a nice weekend at Nawakwa with a few other 90's staffers. Paul's first year on staff was '98 and mine '99, making us the oddballs of the group - no one else there was a regular staffer after '99, except Dream, but he also started earlier than we did. So we had a lot of fun hearing about some legendary stuff right from the mouths of those who lived it, and just had a great time reminiscing in general.

It really made me realize how much camp changes over the years, and also how much more I should have appreciated my time there. Paul and I are going to start planning now so that we can go to Family Camp next year.

It was really neat to hang out with people who were once our counselors and talk about things as adults, and it was also good for me to get to spend time with everyone else's babies and spend time with other healthy young families. Unfortunately since I had the luxury of playing with them while they smiled and laughed, and handing them back to be changed, fed, and comforted, it gives me a rather inaccurate picture of it didn't really cure my baby cravings...but it was still really nice.

So anyway, I have decided that:
- I will be in bed by 10:00 PM with the goal of being asleep by 11:00 most Sunday thru Thursday nights
- I will go to the YMCA 2 to 4 times per week, and exercise (mostly lap swimming but occasionally elliptical) for 60 minutes while I am there.
- On days I don't go to the YMCA, I will take an hour-long walk in the evening, unless I rode my bike to work that day.
- I will eat more veggies and fruits, even if I don't eat less overall.
- I will look into other career paths such as teaching or starting a small business, and begin research into what I need to do to switch to a different career.
- I will start researching what we need to do to buy a house in 2009.

I think this is mostly precipitated by all the reminiscing this weekend, and seeing where everyone else is with there lives. So I decided that it's pretty important to get back in shape and figure out a more satisfying career now so that I can be a happy, healthy, laid-back young parent in a few years like most of the former staffers were. Motivation = good.

Towards goal # 1, I am now headed to bed - after not having tried it since 2002, I didn't find sleeping in a cabin in a camp bed to be the most restful experience, so I'm pretty sleepy. Good night, all.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Whip It Up week 2: Leftover chicken macaroni & cheese casserole

8 oz macaroni
2 T butter
2 T flour
2 C milk
12 oz cheese of choice (I used sharp cheddar), chopped into smallish bits (saves time over shredding IMHO)
2 T ground mustard and/or deli-style mustard
1 t garlic powder
1 C cooked chicken, cut up
2 T breadcrumbs

Prepare half (8 oz) of a 16-oz (1 lb) package of macaroni, cooking it al dente to the lower end of the cooking estimate (so it doesn't get too soggy once you boil it later)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In the mean time:
- melt 2 T butter in a saucepan over low heat
- once butter is completely melted, add 2 T flour
- stir constantly until rue (butter/flour mix) is smooth & bubbly all over, then continue to stir for another minute to get flour completely cooked
- gradually add 1 C milk, stirring constantly
- once the 1 C milk is added successfully and sauce is smooth and thick-ish, you can add the remaining 1 C milk all at once because you're no longer at risk for lumps
- once all the milk is added and is hot and steamy (it doesn't have to be bubbly, just plenty hot enough to melt the cheese), add in the 12 oz of chopped cheese and stir until it's all melted
- immediately remove from heat to avoid scalding anything - the melted cheese should have made your sauce thick again
- add 2 T ground mustard and 2 T deli-style mustard
- add a dash of tabasco and a few grinds of pepper, to taste
- put your cooked pasta, leftover chicken, and sauce into a buttered (or Pam'd, or however you prefer to non-stick-ify your casseroles) casserole dish, stir it all together, smooth out the top, and sprinkle on 2 T bread crumbs
- cover with aluminum foil (unless your casserole dish has a lid) and pop it in your 350 degree oven
- cook for 30 minutes or so, and then cook uncovered an additional 15 minutes or until the top is browned. If you didn't cover with bread crumbs or anything, you shouldn't cook it uncovered for too long or your noodles might get crusty.

Since everything is cooked to begin with, all you really need to do is get everything nice and hot and bubbly. If you did the sauce right, it'll already be nice and thick, so to save time you could probably bake it less and barely notice a difference.

Using cheddar makes it a little grainy, but I love cheddar so that's OK with me...if you wanted smoother, you could use another cheese.

You could also easily add other veggies, especially some fresh garlic and onion at the beginning: just cook it with the butter until the veggies are soft, and then add the flour and proceed the exact same way. If you've never tried your own white sauce before, it's easy! Don't be nervous. You just need a pan with a bottom that's not too thin, low heat, and equal parts fat (butter in this case) and flour, and then add your milk (preferably not skim, but anything at least 1% works just fine) very gradually, stirring constantly, and be patient. White sauce is a basic recipe that I used as the base for the cheese sauce, plus additional ingredients which I adapted from a few online mac & cheese recipes to use up some leftover chicken. I was lazy and didn't feel like chopping onions or I would have added that at the beginning with some fresh garlic.

Was the recipe easy to follow?
I didn't think about it enough ahead of time, so no, but if I did it again it would be better.

Did it taste good?
Pretty basic and nothing special, but yes, it was yummy comfort food.

Would you make this again?
I'm sure I'll do something similar in the future, but probably not the exact same thing. But it was a good way to use up my leftovers, so it worked.

I've been too lazy to pick out a real recipe from one of my many wonderful cookbooks, plan ahead and go to the grocery store, and make something more impressive to post about. Hopefully next week, maybe Wednesday. I made a really delish potato salad with lots of veggies like green beans, red pepper, red onion, and corn, with oil & balsamic vinegar dressing, but I didn't take pictures. It was really delish, though, so maybe I'll get the real recipe from my sis and post that & my variation of it anyway as a bonus. It was seriously delish.

OK bed time...I have a doctor's appointment at 7:00 AM tomorrow, ugh.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Good Reads

I recently spotted a neat-looking widget on a few friends' blogs: it displayed books they've read, with links to their rating and reviews of each book. I followed the links to Good Reads and signed myself up! It's a pretty neat site, and I've added a lot of the books I've read over the last few years, plus all the books on my to-do list. I haven't added any reviews yet, but I will. As it turns out, it's also a facebook app, so I added that as well, and deleted my old bookshelf app because it wasn't at all user-friendly.

So I think all my librophile friends and family out there should join too. You can get these pretty widgets in your blog! So fun.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Whip It Up week 1: Tuna melt with sprouts & avocado

For 2 people:

Your favorite bread or roll (ciabatta, or in this case I used sourdough bread)
Your favorite cheese (I used white extra-sharp cheddar; provolone or swiss would also be delightful)
2 cans of solid white albacore tuna (the normal size - about 6 oz each)
2 spoonfuls of sour cream
1 spoonful of mayo
squirt of deli-style mustard (the grainy-looking kind, not boring plain yellow)
pepper to taste
sprouts (I used a mixed container of broccoli, clover, and mustard sprouts)
1 avocado

Make tuna salad:
- Drain tuna and empty into a bowl
- Add sour cream, mayo, and mustard, just enough to coat everything - you can always add more, so be frugal to start!
- Mix & mash until tuna is all shredded and coated (add more sour cream/mayo/mustard if you like)
- Add pepper to taste; stir it in

Make tuna melt:
- Turn on your toaster oven (or regular oven if you don't have a toaster oven) and set it to "broil"

- Lightly toast your bread (if using a toaster oven, do this by popping the bread in there while the toaster oven heats up; if this is the method you use, it will be more toasted on the top, so put that side down before adding the tuna)

- Spread tuna salad on bread, pressing it down so you have a flat-ish top
- Place a slice or three of cheese on top of the tuna
- Put the whole shebang into your oven (I used my toaster oven, much smaller, quicker, and easier)
- Keep it in there for a few minutes until the cheese is all melted

- Pop it out and let cool for a few minutes
- Pile sprouts and sliced avocado on top
- Take a huge bite and enjoy!
(Depending on your preference and how sturdy your bread is, you might need to use a knife & fork to eat. The ciabatta at the cafe let me pick it up to eat it, but the sourdough I used at home was too brittle so I had to use a fork!)

From Whip It Up! ...

This recipe was easy for me to follow because I was making it up...I had roughly the same thing in a little cafe a couple weeks ago, and had been thinking to myself how I could duplicate it, so it was all well-formed inside my head. I wrote it down here after I made it, pretty much exactly as I did it!

Some tweaks to make to suit your own taste, style, and timeframe: You could use store-bought tuna salad, or a different ratio of sour cream to mayo to mustard (low-fat, anyone?), or add some onion or other veggies to the tuna; use a different type of cheese if you prefer, say, swiss or provolone to cheddar; and definitely just use your fav bread on the bottom. The restaurant used ciabatta, which was also great, but I happened to get some fresh sourdough from the farmer's market this week, so I used that.

When I make this again, I won't go overboard on the cheese - my slices of cheddar were rather thick, and you can see it melted all the way down over the sides so you can't even see the tuna and bread! Still delicious, but it would be nice to taste the tuna a bit more, plus less cheese would mean less fat.

The nice thing about this recipe was that it was very simple and quick - and it could have been even quicker if I had made the tuna salad the day before, or bought pre-made tuna salad, and if I had pre-sliced cheese and bread. Melting the cheese in the toaster oven took no more than 10 minutes, and all that's left after that is to pile the sprouts and avocado on top! Super fast and easy.

We discovered from making this that my hubby doesn't particularly care for sprouts, so while I would definitely make this meal again, I might do it for company when he wasn't around, or as part of a few options at a picnic, or else just put some lettuce and avocado on his and only use the sprouts on mine! I am newly in love with sprouts, so more sprouts for me would be peachy.

Please comment if you have questions, or if you try it out!! Now I'm all hungry from typing this up...

Whip It Up blog
My Whip It Up pictures
My Whip It Up goal: to publish a new recipe every Monday, starting with this one. Luckily blogger has an auto-publish feature, so I can type this all up ahead of time and set it to publish on Monday - how nice. Oops, now I've given away my secret.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Herbs are Growing!

Look at that basil grow! I hope I can eat it by the end of the summer...I also hope it doesn't attract the masses of japanese beetles that my mom's did a couple summers ago - that was so gross.

I'm not growing anything as exciting as my cousin Katy is, but we do also have a pepper plant out back that is getting flowers. We have TONS of bumblebees, so hopefully they'll visit the pepper plant so that I don't have to help the flowers have flower sex like Katy did.

Next post: Whip It Up Week 1! Coming Monday, 7 July (not June, thanks Mom!). Yes, I have discovered blogger's auto-publish feature.