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Slap Your Mama Sweet Potato Salad! Just kidding…don’t slap her. Just feed her this…

Well here we are folks! It’s finally Memorial Day weekend, and the official kickoff to summer. People everywhere are opening their pools, buying beach badges, and dusting off the ole grill for the first cook out of the season. I am attending a BBQ this Sunday and was asked to bring the potato salad. I typically make a German Potato salad based on my best friend’s recipe. This stuff is amazing. She is famous for it. She even makes it for her dad yearly for Father’s day. You know how there is usually tons of potato salad leftover after a party? Not so with her recipe.

However, that is not the recipe I am going to share with you today. While it’s amazing, it’s been done before. Instead, I am going to share a recipe I created last week, that made my husband, an outspoken sweet potato hater, into a lover, a believer, and an eater. He had three helpings. THREE!

I researched tons of recipes online and basically took what I liked from each. My recipe calls for chickpeas. The reason for this is that unlike a white or red potato, the sweet potato tends to get really mushy when cooked. The chickpea adds some substance so that the salad isn’t one big pile of mush. You can omit the chickpeas, and use 4 small white or red taters in their place.

On another note, while I know everyone is excited to throw back a few beers, and grill some burgers this weekend. Please take a moment to remember what Memorial Day is all about, and remember those who have fallen.

 

Sweet Potato Salad

3 Large Sweet potatoes

15 ounce can of chickpeas (also known as Garbanzo beans)

¼ cup dried currants

1 bunch (¾ cup) chopped scallions

¼ cup honey mustard

¼ cup mayonnaise

6 slices of bacon (chopped and cooked to a crisp)

1 Tbl cumin

1 Tbl chili powder

2 Tbl coconut oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Peel and cube the sweet potatoes. Boil until tender. Drain, and set aside to cool.
  2. While the sweet potatoes are cooking, drain and rinse the chickpeas. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. In a mixing bowl add the chickpeas, cumin and coconut oil and stir until the chickpeas are covered.
  4. Pour the seasoned chickpeas onto the baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes. You don’t want them to be totally crispy, but slightly roasted and still tender.
  5. In another mixing bowl, add honey mustard, currants, and scallions mix until well incorporated. (reserve some bacon and scallions to top the salad with before serving).
  6. When chickpeas are done, add them to the dressing along with the sweet potatoes and bacon. Mix with a spoon until blended, making sure not to mash the sweet potatoes too much. Refrigerate until you serve.

Enjoy!!

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Look at the pretty pretty chickpeas…

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Mistakes, I’ve made a few…

So, this blog is supposed to be about my cooking journey right? I’ve noticed that I haven’t really given you any insight into my cooking errors (yet another error on my part). Anyway, yesterday was stock day. I took a tip from Bon Appetit online, and roasted my bones first. I was so dang excited for this batch. I let is slow simmer overnight, and my kitchen smelled glorious the next morning. The broth looked rich and dark and as I lifted my spoon for a taste,  it hit me. BITTER. My flippin stock was bitter! Why you ask? I added a full lemon to the stock and it bittered the shit up. I thought about this as I added the lemon, but I tossed it in anyway. I do that a lot. I foresee the cooking error before I do it, and I do it anyway. Why? WHY DO I DO THIS? It’s actually been the culprit to many a kitchen mishap. Do any of you do this too?

Anyway, in the spirit of embracing my authentic self and trying to be better, here is a list of lessons I’ve learned from kitchen mishaps:

  1. Don’t add a whole lemon to your stock and let it cook overnight. Maybe add just the juice at the end, or the whole lemon the last half hour, but don’t keep it in there 18+ hours.
  2. To get a good sear on meat, really take the time to make sure your pan is the right temp (not too hot not too cool) and really just leave it there for a few. I often get impatient and prematurely flip the meat, or put it on before the pan is got enough.
  3. For the love of all that is delicious don’t add food to a pan that you know is too hot. YOU.WILL.RUIN.YOUR.FOOD. I did this the other night with risotto.
  4. Keep your knife cuts consistent. Otherwise you will end up with overcooked and undercooked pieces in the same batch of whatever you are cooking.
  5. Don’t have too much going on at once. YOU WILL BURN SOMETHING. Read your recipe and plan ahead. If you are making a particularly intensive dish, take care of all of your prepping before you turn on the oven or stove. This is what the French call Mise en Place.
  6. Know what your ingredients taste like before you cook with them.
  7. When you know something is ruined, start over. I once accidentally added sweetened canned pumpkin to a batch of my pumpkin soup AND THEN SERVED IT TO GUESTS! It was terrible. I just felt bad wasting the food. In hindsight, I should have just ordered pizza instead.
  8. Forgive yourself. We all have our off nights/days. My cooking mishaps have made for some great laughs between my husband and I throughout the years. Ask him about my ‘Beef Stroganoff’.

I am going to certainly add to this list as time goes on. Trust me.

Want a laugh? Here are the pictures of what we call the ‘doomed Valentine’s day breakfast of 2014’. This was a clear example of having too much going on at once.

I’ve got something brewing besides my broth. I’ve been testing meal kits from various sources, and I will report my results in the next week or so. Until then happy cooking.

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Don’t Cry Over Burnt Toast

So last week was one of my worst cooking weeks ever. I was all off. I have no idea what the heck was wrong with me. I burned the toast every morning, I managed to serve dry chicken that was boiled in a pressure cooker, and I gave my family bad breath for days when I added to much garlic to a béchamel sauce I served over tortellini. So because of this, I don’t have an awesome recipe to share this week. I do however, have a few tips to help you get through weeks like this.

  1. Rotisserie chicken is your friend. I either buy a ready-made rotisserie chicken, or when whole roasting chickens are $.99 a pound I buy one of them. You serve them the night you roast them alongside of mashed potatoes, and roasted broccoli, the next day as a chicken salad sandwich, and then reheated the next night in chicken fajitas or pot pie. When you’re done with the meat, you can boil the bones to make your own stock.
  2. Make double and freeze. Sauces, soups and stews oh my! Whenever you make one of these treasures be sure to make a double batch and freeze the other half. On a week when your cooking game is off, you can grab it out of the freezer and thank your past self for a delicious dinner.
  3. Speaking of freezing, I was reading today that you can make roux ahead and freeze it for up to 6 months! Make a big batch ahead of time, and freeze the rest in ice cube trays. Toss one or two cubes in the aforementioned stew or pot pie to thicken the sauce. Another great item to freeze is fresh herbs. I always chop and freeze (again in an ice cube tray) whatever I have leftover from a recipe. Fresh herbs are a great way to amp up any recipe. You can even use the stems to flavor stock!

Next week, I’ll hopefully have something amazing to share. I bet my family would love that too. In the meantime, I’m going to dine on frozen sweet potato soup and burnt toast while staring at these two beautiful faces.

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This One’s a Keeper!

I bet you figured out by now that I love to cook. I love learning about cooking, and trying out new recipes. However, I think that I love trying out new recipes a little too much. It is because of this, that after ten years of making a home and cooking for my family, I don’t have any tried and true recipe staples, or ‘Keepers’. I didn’t even realize this until after three new recipes this week, my husband says, “these recipes are great, but let’s start a list of good ones to go back to.” We have been talking about it for days now, and we both wracked our brains and really can’t think of a SINGLE recipe that I have made consistently. THIS.ENDS.NOW. I have really fond memories of eating (and now making) things that my grandmother, aunt, and mother used to make. Every time I miss my grandmother, I make Breaded Cauliflower, Eggplant Parm, or Pasta Fagioli and I am instantly a kid again sitting in her kitchen dipping the cauliflower in egg wash and breadcrumbs while an episode of the Golden Girls played on her 10 inch television on the counter. I want that for my boys. I want them to come home from college craving “mom’s” (insert dish here). So as part of my new year’s resolutions, I vow to make a list of recipes that will become family staples! I will keep you posted on my progress.

Here is what I made this week:

Orange Chicken Meatballs
Verdict: It’s going on the list! The only thing I changed about this recipe is that I mixed ground chicken and pork. I served it alongside basmati rice and roasted broccoli.

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Orange Chicken Meatballs

Spanish Chicken and Potatoes

Verdict: This also made the list. I roasted the tomatoes, garlic and eggplant instead of cooking them in a pan.

Buckwheat Risotto with Mushroom and Goat Curd

Verdict: Didn’t make the cut. I actually really liked it, but the family didn’t. My guys have simple tastes. Also, not sure if buckwheat is the best for making a risotto. I am going to try farro next time. My husband loved the mushrooms sautéed in butter though. Might use that for another recipe.

Baked Farro and Butternut Squash

Verdict: It’s a keeper! I made the bacon in my dutch oven, removed it and then sautéed the onion and toasted the farro in the bacon grease. I mixed the squash with salt, pepper, parmesan and garlic powder before topping the farro with it. My 3 year old ate the crap out of it.

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Another resolution : Take better pictures.

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Baking Bread: Nailed it! (Not quite)

I want to talk to you about a little lesson I learned a looonng time ago, but need to keep reminding myself of: FOLLOW THE RECIPE or at least: READ THE ENTIRE RECIPE when baking something for the first time. I am more of a cook than a baker, but I’ve suddenly developed a love affair with fresh baked bread. A friend of mine gave me ‘The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day’  for Christmas. I promptly added it to my collection of cookbooks and decided that I would look at it ‘one day’. Well that day came not too soon after when I went to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread for the first time in years. My son had just turned one and we were finally really delving into solids. I wanted to make him toast, but not only were most of the breads really expensive ($4 for loaf of bread!?), they were also loaded with unpronounceable ingredients. I went down the baking isle instead, and picked up some yeast and flour. I rushed home and made my very first loaf of sandwich bread. It came out OK. My second loaf was way better, but not exactly right. So in classic Niki fashion, instead of trying to master the sandwich bread, I simply moved on to making a different kind of bread. I made pizza crust. It came out awesome. I WISH I took pictures of these Pizzas because they turned out so well. I had a little dough left over, and I decided to make olive bread.

It’s supposed to look like this:

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Copyright © 2014 BreadIn5®, LLC.

And it turned out like this:

 

 

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Nailed it!

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Totally nailed it.

What did I do wrong here?

  1. I didn’t read the recipe all the way through. So I didn’t slice the top of the dough before putting it in the oven so that those beautiful olives could show through.
  2. I didn’t roll the dough back up correctly so that the olives were evenly spaced, and not just a big clump in the middle. (Not pictured)
  3. Instead brushing the bread with a cornstarch mixture before baking, I brushed it with olive oil mixed with garlic powder. It seemed like a good idea in theory, but when the oven was over 450 degrees, so I should have known that the garlic would burn, and therefore turn bitter.

With all that being said, it actually tasted pretty good. I went out and bought some different flours and different types of yeast to play around with to finally perfect my sandwich bread. I will report back those results as soon as I have them. In addition to flours and yeasts for bread, I’m also delving into other areas if ingredient exploration: Vinegar.

For some reason (maybe some of you will agree), I feel like to be a knowledgeable home cook, you need to know your vinegar. I do not know my vinegar at all. Well, let me correct that – I know that different types of vinegar exist: Balsamic, white, red wine, rice,  apple cider etc., but I want to know more about the different applications of vinegar and I want to also know if there really is a difference between brands and types. I recently took a Thai cooking class, and to make one of the dishes I needed some kind of vinegar. I went to our local Asian supermarket, and there was an ENTIRE aisle dedicated to vinegar. In the following weeks, I plan to research and taste and create many types of vinegars and report back.

 

Enjoy your week, and Happy Eating,

-Niki

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A Freakin Frittata!

I started this blog to document my life, and how I tried to make each day more than ordinary.  I intended to post weekly. I intended to post about cooking , crafts, geekery, & being a mom. I have 9 posts… 9 in almost over an year. Pretty pathetic.

I had an epiphany today. I just finished reading the book Delancey, and I’ve never been more inspired. I’m 34 years old and for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to do something special or out of the ordinary with my life. I could never figure out what it would be. I have many interests so one by one I started pursuing things and tried to make a business out of them. Jewelry making, knitting, sewing, sculpy clay beads, handbag design, graphic design, & candle making. I’ve started many blogs, 3 novels, and one cookbook. I have never seen any of these things through. It ends today.

A few months back, I decided to take my blog in a different direction. I wanted to write about everything that I like, and I thought people would be interested. I wanted it to be more than a mommy blog, or a cooking/crafting blog. I became directionless – until today. I seriously was smacked in the face with inspiration. I am not sure what I was running from all of this time. I guess I felt like if I settled on just one thing, that I would be abandoning other parts of myself. Let’s face it though, what do I know about being a mom that others don’t? I didn’t want to paint this picture perfect portrait of my life or my child making other moms feel less than. I also didn’t want to overshare my truths and become a whiner which I have noticed is a growing trend. I like to craft, but I mainly gain inspiration from what is already out there. So then what? Become a curator of other’s ideas? There is nothing wrong with that, but it just wasn’t what I was looking to do.

I’ve struggled with this for quite some time. However, it was just so plain that I can’t believe that it didn’t hit me before. I would write exclusively about cooking. I LOVE to cook. I love to learn about cooking. I’ve always been hesitant to do so before because I am far from an expert. I am just a simple home cook who grew up alongside my grandma in the kitchen. I realize that there are a lot of cooking blogs out there. However, I am looking to take a new approach. I want to document my journey of learning all I can about cooking. You will get the good, the bad and the really really bad. I plan to immerse myself into one hobby and shed my ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ image and become a master home cook.  Who knew one book would change someone’s life so much?

Delancey, documented a couple opening a restaurant. The husband (the driving force) was a bit like me in that he tried different hobbies here and there, and his wife (the book’s author) only took him only semi seriously when he decided to open a pizzeria. She went into great detail on how immersed her husband became in making the perfect pizza. He would travel, stay up into the wee hours of the night making pie after pie, and even modified their home oven to increase the temperature. Reading this made me realize that I have NEVER been that dedicated to any of my side pursuits. It’s that kind of dedication that inspired me to focus on the one thing that I am pretty good at to become really good at. Cooking.

I once thought of an idea for a cookbook for newlyweds. I organized the chapters, I started writing recipes, I even wrote the introduction. Then I stopped. I either got lazy or I lost interest, and one day while at the mall with my husband I saw it there in the window. My cookbook. It was done better than I ever could have or would have done because up until now I would have not immersed myself fully. Well I am here to say right here and now that I am diving in head first, and hopfully the next cookbook idea that I have will be sitting in a window somewhere (or hopefully someone’s kitchen counter) with my name on it.  I woke up this morning with a renewed sense of self, and an idea for a killer frittata. The idea panned out well and I ended up sharing half with my toddler son!

1 small Zucchini cut into thin slices

½ cup cherry tomatoes

4 garlic cloves (sliced)

2 eggs

¼ cup heavy cream

¼ cup parmigiano reggiano ( and some for garnish)

Olive Oil

Chopped basil & Parsely for garnish

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

Preheat oven to broil.

Coat the bottom of a heavy bottomed skillet with extra virgin olive oil, and turn the heat to medium low.

Add the sliced garlic, and cook until tender. Layer the zucchini slices on top and the sliced tomatoes on top of that. Let cook uncovered until the zucchini becomes translucent and slightly brown (carmelized).

While the zucchini is cooking whisk together the egg, Parmigiano reggiano, and heavy cream. When the zucchini are done, add the egg mixture to the top and cook on med low for 2 min. Add the pan to the broiler watching carefully. Frittata should be firm on top and not brown (about 3-5 min)

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Enjoy!

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Oatmeal Medley for $.10 a serving!

I know its June. when you are getting into your car at 8:00 AM to head for work and it’s already 80 degrees out, you might not be thinking to yourself ‘mmmm… I could go for a nice piping hot bowl of oatmeal right now,’  or if you are like my husband, that is EXACTLY what you are thinking.

You see, he is a creature of habit. That coupled by the fact that he was recently diagnosed with high cholesterol, he has been making quite the effort to eat better. He read that oatmeal helps to reduce cholesterol so we started buying a lot of it. I started by making a batch of steel cut oats every few days, and portioning it out. He didn’t like that (he is a picky creature of habit) so, he started buying a store brand frozen version of steal cut oats – 5 min in the microwave, and it’s done! That was getting expensive. So, he switched to buying boxes with the various packets of flavored instant oats. He was happy with that for a while, until he saw an even fancier version with a ‘medley’ of instant oats, nuts, and dried fruit all in a convenient single serve cup. These came at an almost $2 per serving. I tried buying him generic brand versions of this ‘medley’, as well as a similar product (albeit not as fancy) from the same company. He wasn’t happy with any of it. During this process we literally tried ALL of the oatmeal, and we didn’t find something that would satisfy his taste buds, and my budget. So, I set out to make my own version that we would both be happy with, and I pretty much nailed it on my first attempt!

Below is a recipe for my own Oatmeal ‘Medley’. This version costs right around $.10 per serving. Keep in mind that this is an estimate, and it’s based on prices in my area, and the brands that I buy. You can also get creative, and add/subtract anything you want. This recipe is extremely flexible. I think that next time, I will halve this recipe and make two different kinds so hubby doesn’t get bored. Anyway, this took about 10 min, and saved me $14.30 a week!

Quick Oats – 42 OZ Can

Craisins –  3 Cups

Walnuts – 8 OZ Package

Dehydrated Apple pieces (I own a dehydrator and did my own)  – 5 Cups

Brown Sugar – 2 Cups

Cinnamon 1 –TBL (Optional)

Mix all ingredients in large bowl. You can either store it all in a large airtight container, or portion out in Ziploc bags. This recipe makes approx. 140 ½ cup servings.

To make the cereal, mix 1 cup boiling water with ½ cup of oats. Let sit for 5 min.