Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It Would Be Worth It

It's tradition in my office for me to bake a cake for any number of occasions. This wasn't my idea, but office harmony is worth a few cakes as far as I'm concerned.

One such occasion was yesterday. Over the years I've learned to just bring the frosting to the office and frost there. Trying to transport a decorated (ha!) cake brings me to the verge of breakdown. Not that transporting cake, frosting, and all my crap on the train is any picnic, but still.

The cake almost didn't make it yesterday. It's not that I nearly dropped it, it's that I nearly offered it to a fellow passenger if he would promise to never, ever again wear socks with flip-flops. But I restrained myself....

The requested carrot cake was a hit. No one in my office is on Weight Watchers, so far as I know, I just used the recipe because it's the best carrot cake recipe I've found. It's not health food, but it's not nearly as waistline-impacting as regular carrot cake. And it's FAB!

Carrot Cake
Weight Watchers magazine, 2006

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

1/2 cup dried apricots
3 TBSP hot water

2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
4 large carrots, shredded (2 1/2 cups) - DO NOT use bagged, pre-shredded carrot. It will be way too dry.
1/2 cup apple butter
1/3 cup canola oil

12 oz. light cream cheese (Neufachtel)
One 7.5 oz. jar marshmallow fluff (I could only find 7-oz. jars - it worked fine)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray, line the bottoms with parchment or wax paper, and spray the paper.

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda in a bowl.

Put the apricots and hot water in a food processor (I use a mini-chopper) and process until finely chopped and well combined.

Whisk the eggs and egg whites together. Add carrots, apple butter, oil, and apricots, stirring until blended. Spread the batter evenly in the pans. Bake until nicely browned, 30 - 32 minutes. Let cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then remove from pans, remove paper, and cool on wire racks.

To make the frosting, combine the marshmallow fluff, cream cheese, and vanilla (I also throw in a dash or two of cinnamon) with an electric mixer on medium speed.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What I Did Over My Summer Vacation

I embraced the Staycation. There's a lot to be said for sleeping in, having a leisurely breakfast, and taking a stroll through the gorgeous Botanical Gardens. They've set up an edible garden with an outdoor kitchen for cooking classes (cough, SHOW-OFFS, cough). Seriously, props to the Gardens for growing a tremendous amount of produce and donating it to the Atlanta Food Bank.

Might I mention that we got 3 tomatoes, numerous baby squash (they never grew to full-size - why????), and a decent array of herbs from our own patch o'dirt? And yes, I know I should compost. I KNOW. But if I take on one more ongoing responsibility I. Will. Scream.

It was also the summer that Friday became PieDay. Sweetie (my hubs) and Cutie (our niece) share a deep and abiding love for pie. [Note: Cutie has been known to climb in my car and say "What's for pie?"] Sweetie makes some seriously kick-ass pie due in no small part to having learned from his grandfather, a chef. Cutie is an enthusiastic apprentice. Their preferred Key Lime Pie recipe will be a future post.

My own favorite recipes, at least for weeknights, are those that don't require a lot of work. Sorry if that takes the blush off the rose for a cooking blog, but there you have it. There's still some decent corn on the cob out there - enjoy!

And a big shout-out to this fab website that tells you what fish you can substitute for what other fish. This is particularly helpful if you're trying to eat locally or, like me, trying to substitute something - anything! - for the $19/lb fish some recipes call for.

Flounder With Corn & Tomatoes
Good Housekeeping, September 2011

Makes 4 servings (recipe is easily halved or doubled)

2 c. fresh corn kernels (plan on 1/2 to 1 ear per person) - for presentation, I prefer yellow corn to white for this recipe. It adds a nice contrast with the greens and the white fish.

1/4 c. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (call it half a handful for 2 people)

1 tsp. freshly grated lemon peel (I wasn't buying a lemon just for this. I used a squirt of bottled lemon juice)

4 (3-oz.) skinless flounder fillets

1 small leek, white part only, well-rinsed, cut into matchsticks (they were crazy-expensive at the Farmer's market, so I subbed in regular green onions/scallions. Don't substitute regular onion, it will be too strong.)

4 sprigs fresh thyme (yay! my garden!!!!). A light sprinkle of dried thyme will also work.

8 tsp. dry white wine

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil (don't buy olive oil just for this recipe. Use it if you have it but if you don't, regular canola or vegetable oil will work just fine)

8 oz. spinach (2 handfuls per person)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

2. In bowl, mix corn, tomatoes, peel (or juice), and a dash of salt & pepper.

3. On 12" by 15" or parchment or foil (either will work great - I used foil), arrange 1/4 of the vegetables (or 1/2 if you're cooking for 2) on 1 side. Fold 1 fish fillet into thirds (if it's large; mine were small, so I laid them flat). Place on top of corn/tomato mixture.

Top with 1/4 of leek, 1 sprig thyme, 2 teaspoons wine, 1/2 teaspoon oil, and a pinch of salt. [Much easier - combine leek, wine, and oil and just divide it evenly over the packets of fish.] Fold the other side of the parchment or foil over the fish. Starting at 1 corner, fold edges over 1/2 inch all around, overlapping folds until sealed.

[Note: Be sure to leave enough room in the packet for steam. The steam is what cooks the fish & veggies and the fish comes out fabulous moist and beautifully cooked. If the packet is too tightly wrapped it may pop due to the pressure from the steam. And in that case, neither "fabulous" nor "beautifully" applies.]

Repeat to make remaining packets. Bake, on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan, 15 minutes.

4. Place spinach in glass bowl; cover with damp paper towel. Microwave on High 2 minutes or until wilted. [I check it every 30 seconds].

5. Open packets; serve with spinach.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Workin' It

All of it. The land, the bod, the freezer. Not necessarily in that order.

The pressure is on, because I got rid of all my bigger-size clothes so now I have no choice but to eat gruel for breakfast. Occasionally, I splurge on a raisin.

So far, the 2011 harvest does not look like it'll recoup the cost of the plants, but that's OK. I love seeing this baby squash right now -

And the tomatoes....

Aaaahhh, summer! We're also workin' some thyme, basil, and rosemary.

As for the freezer, this little concoction is FAB. If you have kids, or 95-degree weather, this is a good one to do with them since there's no stove involved. Can I get an amen?

From Clean Eating magazine:

1 baked pie crust

5 small, ripe or slightly overripe bananas

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup light coconut milk (this is different from coconut cream, which is thicker and much sweeter)

1/4 cup cocoa powder (I used dark cocoa, because that's what I have. Regular works fine).

Optional - chopped peanuts

1. Peel and slice bananas.

2. Add banana pieces, vanilla extract, coconut milk, and cocoa to the jar of a blender. Puree, stopping to scrape down the sides every so often.

3. Pour the banana puree mixture into the pie shell - sprinkle peanuts on top if you wish. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and freeze at least 4 hours.

4. Put pie in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Everything's Coming Up Roses

Tulips, actually. My favorite.

When I experiment I don't want to risk dropping $15 on one recipe, you know? For a while I've wanted to throw a whole chicken in the crockpot, but what if it tasted like sauteed latex? With a side of whatever food poisoning comes from chicken? Or worse???

[Side note - never, ever ask an imaginative person "What's the worst that can happen?" It doesn't give us perspective. It's an invitation to roam over wild idea pastures and peek under Scary Story rocks. Not good.]

Anyhoodle, the other night I was at the gym getting my gluteus more minimus and ran (As if. I drove.) over to the Publix right afterwards.

Anyhoodle again, they had started marking down the perishables that were still good but had overstayed their welcome. YES. I grabbed a roasting chicken for $3.32.

And that, my friends, is a chicken to take chances with. To throw caution to the winds, to wrap in nontraditional spices, to allow a wine flirtation.

Can you tell I don't get out much at this time of year?

The chicken was terrific. So good, in fact, I would even spend real money for the chicken next time, and I don't often throw that phrase around. I CAN'T WAIT to get the stock from this little gem.

[Speaking of stock, this is GENIUS. Get a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. Write "Stock - No Broccoli" on it. Keep it in the freezer and add whatever vegetable trimmings you have - green bean ends, onion ends, carrot ends, etc. and no broccoli or brussels sprouts - as you create them and save them for making stock. So take THAT, Miss Nine-Year-Old "you can compost that."]

Many thanks to for this one. I used kosher salt, which turned out fine. If you're using regular table salt take it down to 3 teaspoons.

Whole Chicken Crockpot Recipe


  • 4 teaspoons salt

  • 2 teaspoons paprika

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1 teaspoon onion powder

  • 1 teaspoon thyme

  • 1 teaspoon white pepper (why white? No idea. I don't have any.)

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1 large roasting chicken

  • 1 cup chopped onion (optional)

1. In a small bowl, combine the spices.

2.  Remove any giblets from chicken.

3.  Rub the spice mixture on the chicken.  If you're prepping way in advance you can cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight... but that's not usually the case in this house.

4.  Put chopped onion in the bottom of the slow cooker, place chicken on top.  No liquid is needed.

5.  Cook on low for 4 - 8 hours.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Loaded Question

Now that I'm doing this menu planning thing, I have a whiteboard magnetized onto the fridge with a list of dishes we'll have in the upcoming week, assuming no one gets raptured up. You never know.

I came across this recipe while perusing the Eating Well website. Healthy this, tasty that, quick, etc. Having a total of 5 nieces & nephews, I took a look at the kids' section and jeez, what do people pack in lunch boxes these days??? Broccoli, ham, and pasta salad? Well, color me surprised if it doesn't end up in the trash can.

The kids' dinner recipes looked much more realistic, and I HAD to try to Loaded Baked Potatoes. I made them with sweet potatoes and they were fab. If I were making this on a weeknight I'd probably skip the ground meat and just throw in some diced sandwich ham.

Loaded Twice-Baked (Sweet) Potatoes
Eating Well

4 medium russet (baking, or "Idaho") potatoes - or sweet potatoes
8 ounces 90% lean ground beef (I used ground turkey breast)
1 cup broccoli florets, finely chopped
1 cup water (I used maybe 1/4 cup)
1 cup reduced-fat Cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
3 scallions (green onions), sliced

Pierce potatoes all over with a fork. Cook in microwave on Medium for about 20 minutes (I was baking anyway and just wrapped my potatoes in foil and threw them in the oven). Or use the "potato" setting on your microwave and follow the manufacturer's direction.

Brown ground meat in a skillet over medium-high heat, stirring often. Transfer cooked meat to a small bowl and set heat on high. Add broccoli florets and water, then put the lid on the skillet - broccoli should steam in 4 minutes or so. Drain the broccoli and add to the meat.

Cut off the top 1/3 of the potatoes and reserve for another use. Scoop out the insides into a medium bowl, and put the potato shells in a baking dish. Add 1/2 cup of cheddar, sour cream, salt, and pepper to potato innards and mash. Add scallions and potato mixture to the broccoli and meat; stir to combine.

Fill potato shells with tasty mixture and top with cheese. Heat in microwave until the cheese melts.

Monday, January 17, 2011

This Army Runs On Her Stomach

This is my busy time of year professionally - well, one of them, anyway. Gotta bring the A-game every day. Gotta not get sick. Gotta think on my feet. Gotta not yell. Gotta gotta.

So what's a girl to do? The magic wand is always "out of stock", Superwoman capes don't match ANY of my suits (some fashionista get on that, please. Call me.), and I have yet to find a way to get professional credit for being a good doggie-mama. Oh, the challenges of the modern woman!

For a few months our better dinners will be on the weekends [actually, that's always true, but the disparity between Weeknight and Weekend is a little more pronounced]. I was cruising through some recipes I wanted to try and came across a sassy little Ellie Krieger number for Jerk Chicken with Cool Pineapple Salsa.

Never content to cook off the rack, I applied my own tailoring. Specifically I substituted tilapia for chicken and bottled jerk sauce for homemade. I had been an unsuspecting victim of a nap attack and, well, time and energy weren't my thing just then.

YAY for me, I had made the pineapple salsa the day before. That actually worked out better for the recipe, since it gave the flavors time to meld and the mint mellowed nicely. I had my doubts about the salsa initially, but the cooling off period worked great and we were able to have a healthy relationship. In fact, we may meet again (leftovers) with salmon tomorrow.

The pineapple salsa recipe is Ellie Krieger's; the rest of it is my daring improv.

3 or 4 tilapia filets (I used the frozen pack from Trader Joe's)
1/4 cup jerk sauce (Atlantans, mine was from DeKalb Farmer's Market)
2 TBSP oil, plus oil for the broiling rack

1. Move oven rack to the center of the oven. Neither fish nor sweetened sauces like to be too close to the heat.

2. Wipe down your broiler pan or rack with an oiled paper towel. This works better than cooking spray.

3. In a small bowl stir together oil and jerk sauce. Olive oil is going to give you an off flavor - vegetable, safflower, or canola oil is a better bet.

4. Place fish on broiler pan/rack and brush with oil and sauce mixture.

5. Broil for 4 minutes on each side.

1 TBSP honey
1 TBSP lime juice
1 cup finely diced pineapple
1/3 cup finely diced, seeded English cucumber (I used regular cucumber and seeds are fine with me)
1 TBSP chopped fresh mint leaves (yes, fresh - you can also add them to ice water for a terrific refresher)

Combine all. Store refrigerated.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Year Halo Effect

Let's see.... linen closet organized, healthful snacks, regular workouts. Yup, it's the New Year Halo Effect. And at 41, I'm too cynical to think I can bring this do-goodery and do-wellery back to life at regular intervals throughout the year. I'm totally going to try to keep my kick-ass linen closet in shape, though.

Atlanta had apocalyptic ice this past week. I suspect that our city's snow removal plan includes the phrase "...then the next day, it melts and life goes on." Which is true 95% of the time. HOWEVER. My neighborhood was unpassable - by car - for several days and I finally busted out on foot without busting anything. Yay, yoga balance drills! As my friends on Facebook know, I really did walk 2 1/2 miles in the snow and ice, uphill both ways. [pssst - totally overrated]

But before "cozy" became "claustrophobic" we had this simple, tasty entree one evening. It's not often that Sweetie gives an emphatic "YUM" on the first bite, but this one rated it. I grabbed some "fish in a bag" flounder at the local supermarket for just about $5. Obviously I'll be getting more.

This is SO easy to throw together on a weeknight and any vegetable(s) will make a good side dish.

Deceptively Easy Fish
2 TBSP lemon zest
1 TBSP olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 pieces flounder, tilapia, or similar (the FIB flounder pieces were small, so plan on 2 or 3 for each adult)

Combine lemon rind, olive oil, salt & pepper, and crushed garlic. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or longer for the oil to absorb the flavor.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Spray baking sheet with cooking spray (I just used baking parchment, it was fine). Put fish on sheet and brush with oil. Bake for 8 minutes or until fish flakes. Serve immediately.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Dressing Up

Tech Girl joined us for Christmas dinner a few weeks ago; we used the Emeril's Caribbean Chicken recipe for turkey and OH MY GOD. It was amazing, and the resulting turkey stock even more so.

Since we've been roasting chicken lately, I needed to dress up the side dishes a little. Plain roast chicken and plain steamed veggies - even if a nice glass of wine is also part of the deal - is just a little austere. Enter Clean Eating (Eating Clean?) magazine - not my usual purchase, because of their use of more ingredients (e.g. "teff flour") than I care to inventory in my kitchen. But they had this keeper of a veggie dish.

Sauteed Green Beans & Carrots with Dill and Horseradish

1 tsp olive oil
1 medium shallot, finely diced
3/4 lb green beans, trimmed (cut in half, if very long)
2 medium carrots, peeled and julienned
1 large orange, zested and juiced, divided
6 - 8 sprigs fresh dill, chopped - about 2 tbsp (I skipped this part)
1- to 2-inch piece horseradish root, peeled and freshly grated (nope - it was way pricey), or 2 TBSP all-natural prepared horseradish (that's more like it)
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add shallot, beans, and carrots and saute, stirring often, until tender (3 - 4 minutes).

Add orange juice to pan and stir once. Cover pan with lid and steam for about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat, add orange zest, dill, and horseradish. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.