Using the Internet to Make Delicious Food

Food blogs are probably one of the best things about the internet. I mean, seriously. I can type “Chicken 375” into Google and it will tell me exactly how long to cook chicken at that temperature. If I run out of buttermilk I don’t have to remember that lemon juice or white vinegar in regular milk will work just fine, I can just type “substitute for buttermilk” into the search bar and the answer populates. Nearly all the guesswork is eliminated from my cooking.

But using the internet for cooking advice can be a little dangerous, too, because it’s hard to tell if the source of a recipe is actually the person who created and tested the recipe. Some bloggers swipe content from another blog, doctor it up a bit, and re-post the recipe as their own original work without letting you know that it was modified from another source.

There are two reasons I don’t like when this happens. First, I don’t want to make a recipe that is not actually great. Cookbook typos ruin a recipe, and the chances of typos popping up in modified online recipes are a bit higher. I’m not interested in wasting time and ingredients making something that was slightly tweaked if those tweaks have not been sufficiently tested and do not make the recipe more convenient or more delicious.

Secondly, I really LOVE the cookbook world and I want to build it up. If a cookbook author spends her entire day cooking and testing and tweaking a method, and a professional photographer captures the steps and the final product in a meaningful way, they’ve created something really beautiful. I don’t think it’s okay for other cooks to grab that info, make a few tiny changes, and take all the credit for the final product.

But this is also where it gets a little complicated. There’s no actual copyright of recipes* (as in ingredient lists), and who can really say they “own” a recipe? Don’t we all read recipes and watch our mothers and grandmothers and neighbors and Emeril make the same things differently, and then merge together those different techniques to create our own way of cooking?

Preparing and eating food isn’t just an individual art. Cooking is a community activity. Even though it’s just me and H here in Chicago, our cooking brings all the pieces of my family history and his family history and our culinary interests together. My Thanksgiving turkey is based on my mom’s recipe, but I switch out the apple in the turkey cavity for a sliced orange because that’s what Giada De Laurentiis does. Our roll recipe comes from H’s grandmother, but since I’m terrible at making gravy I throw together “fake gravy” using turkey drippings and a can of cream of chicken soup. This easy and delicious fake gravy recipe originated somewhere in Alabama and was passed to me by my mom’s sister. What comes out of our kitchen is tradition, technique, and trends all muddled together.

This week I’m sharing some of my favorite recipes that originated on the internet. I’ll link you to the source recipes but tell you how I make it my own. I never really use a recipe straight – I mix in my knowledge of certain techniques and my experience with different ingredients. As you get to know a recipe, it stops being that recipe and starts being something you do.

If you’re a newer cook, deviating from recipes may sound intimidating, but it isn’t as scary as it sounds.  The best part of cooking is when you start making the recipes you’ve tried even better.

Here’s the plan for this week:

Tuesday: Turkey Meatballs are not Lame

Wednesday: Lazy Homemade Tomato Sauce

Thursday: Emergency Chocolate Pie

 

I’m excited to receive your own links for favorite recipes too, so be sure to leave them in the comments or share through Facebook or Twitter. 

 

*The source of this information was diannej.com, blog of Diane Jacob, food writer and author of Will Write For Food. It is not legal advice.

 

This post is number 20 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

Crock Pot Sunday

Good morning, y’all. It’s Sunday and I have a crock pot recipe for you today.

But first I have a confession: I fought momentarily against kitchen shame before posting this. I purchased this pre-seasoned cabernet pot roast from Trader Joes. Because I did not technically make this pot roast from scratch my internal shame-brain tried to trick me into not posting this here. And that is crazy, and I don’t believe in letting shame-brain affect your life, so I wanted to start there.

Just like there is no shame in enjoying the food that your spouse prepares for you, there is no shame in using pre-seasoned meats or pre-packaged products in your kitchen. We all have different lifestyles and cooking time frames and it is fine to do what you do and do it proudly.

Also, Trader Joe’s marketing is so tricky and that cabernet pot roast just looked so cute! I couldn’t help myself. I know how to make a regular pot roast, but I wanted to eat THIS pot roast.

I promised you I would try to use my crock pot this month, and hopefully this won’t be the only time I use it, but we’re already 19 days into 31 Days in the Kitchen so no promises. Here’s how I made this pre-seasoned adorable Trader Joe’s pot roast. (I’ll put instructions for a plain pot roast in parenthesis in case you don’t have a TJ’s nearby.)

Crock Pot Pot Roast

Crockpot Sunday

Here’s what you need:

A beef pot roast of your choosing.

A bag of carrots (I accidentally bought the organic carrots but you can just get regular. Either way they taste like carrots.)

A big yellow onion. White is fine if that’s what you have.

Olive oil, salt, and pepper. (Big surprise, I know!)

Water/broth

Here’s what you do:

Chop your carrots and slice your onions pretty thin.

Grab a heavy skillet and heat up some olive oil (just enough to coat the pan) until it’s pretty hot. Drop some tiny water droplets in and if they sizzle when they hit the oil, you are ready!

(If you are using a regular beef roast, heavily salt and pepper each side of the meat.)

Sear each side of the beef roast in the hot oil for 3-4 minutes, so you get a beautiful crust on the edges. This takes some time and I usually get really lazy and just do the big sides but if you can do all six sides, it will taste better.

While searing, put half of your carrots and onions on the bottom of the crock pot.

Once seared, put your crusty brown beef in the crock pot. Pour any oil or extra bits from the pan on top of the meat.

Put your carrots and onions all around don’t forget to season those veggies. They need salt.

Pour in ½ cup of water or beef broth or whatever liquid you want. You can use a can of cream of mushroom too, but I never have that handy.

Set your crockpot and forget about it! You can do six hours on high or eight/10 hours on low. It will be done either way, so just choose the time that fits your schedule for the day.

 

So tell me, are you a Trader Joe’s shopper? Do you get pulled into their pre-packaged meals and products like I do? I try to only shop there once a month because I am HIGHLY susceptible to their advertising antics.

This post is number 19 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

It’s Okay: Just Take a Break

It’s Saturday, day number 18 of October’s 31-day series, and there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you. It’s not your job to do everything in the kitchen, or frankly anywhere else in your family life. You are not the only person in the world who can buy groceries or make dinner or wash those dishes piling up in the sink. Just because you want your family to eat healthy and well does not mean that you have some kind of superpower or empty schedule that enables you to do everything perfectly all the dang time.

Take a break, my friend, and enjoy the kitchen efforts of the people around you. If no one is around, give yourself a break anyway! Order a pizza or grab takeout (we LOVE this place, and we order Chicken Tikka Masala and Lamb Curry at least twice a month). Devour a dinner that your husband (or maybe a friend or a parent or a child) makes for you. Sit back and savor a glass of wine while they do the work.

This week, after hosting guests for six straight days and three weeks of pretty challenging personal stuff, I did some cooking but I also enjoyed being cooked for. Thursday night, my husband made us this delicious steak dinner with crispy green beans and sweet potatoes sautéed in bacon fat. And it was awesome.

I did not cook any of these items and they all tasted delicious.  There is both steak and bacon on this plate.

I did not cook any of these items and they all tasted delicious. There is both steak and bacon on this plate.

And then today, we had some bananas going bad and H whipped up a loaf of banana bread. He used this recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence, but with walnuts instead of pecans.

IMG_3060

Is this the banana bread recipe I would have chosen if I was making banana bread? No. Does it taste even better than what I would have made because I didn’t have to bake it? YES. 100 times yes.

It’s easy for me to jump head-first into something like 31 Days in the Kitchen and think that I have to make every meal from scratch, perfectly, with low calories and high flavor and fancy photographs and never go to sleep without mopping the kitchen and dusting the china. (What china?!?) But being thoughtful about what you eat doesn’t require such extremes. And this weekend, I’m thinking about how lucky I am to have such a great kitchen partner.

Do you take on all of the cooking responsibilities in your family? Do you ever feel like you can’t cook another meal or wash another dish? And if so — what is your favorite takeout?

This post is number 18 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week, 10.17.2014

Five Things New

Five Awesome Links

Patience (Church in the Woods Day 15) by Esther Emery.

Women must ask for pay raises if we are to close the pay gap, by Catherine Rampell for the Washington Post.  This is in response to comments by Microsoft CEO [Mr.] Satya Nadella at the Grace Hooper Celebration of Women in Computing.  Mr. Nadella said, in shorthand, not to ask for a raise because the system will give qualified women raises.  To which women everywhere say:  Nope, nope, noppity nope.

Let’s Be Very Clear about the Goal, by Elizabeth Foss from In the Heart of my Home.  Elizabeth is running for her mental health and overall happiness and this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, so it’s nice hearing someone else’s experience.  (Tip of the hat to Modern Mrs. Darcy.)

12 Words Even Smart People Get Wrong, from Joanna Goddard at Cup of Jo.

Challenge Yourself to be Positive [about your career], by Megan Graninetti for the Above the Law Career Files.  This seems forced and weird but it was also interesting to me.  I’m still forming an opinion.  (Tip of the Hat to CapHillStyle.)

 

Five Awesome Links for your Kitchen

Joy the Baker’s Favorite Autumn Bakes.  (Be sure to click-through because the photos are gorgeous.)

Here’s A Cozy Kitchen’s Classic Apple Pie.  But to be honest I do not enjoy apple pie.

This is beautiful but also seems a good resource:  Love and Lemons’ Produce Tips for Cleaning, Storing, & Using.

Sea Salt Cream Iced Coffee from White on Rice Couple.  They have a weird name but their blog is pretty.

Easy Almond Pear Tart with Shortbread Crust, by Angela Roberts at Spinach Tiger.  Any recipe that says “perfect dessert for a wine and cheese party” in the title is a winner.  I really want to try this.

Sweet potatoes: the best kind of comfort carb

IMG_3055.JPG

Sweet potatoes are better for you than white potatoes but still taste delicious. We eat them two or three times a week.  Here are my three favorite ways to cook them:

  1. Baked sweet potatoes.

Preheat your oven to 450. Scrub and dry your sweet potatoes. Using a fork, poke holes all around your sweet potatoes. Line a cookie sheet with foil and place your hole-y sweet potatoes on the foil. Place the sheet pan in the oven for 30 minutes, then flip the potatoes over and cook for 30 more minutes. Let cool.

  1. Roasted sweet potatoes.

Preheat your oven to 375. Scrub and dry your sweet potatoes. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Chop your sweet potatoes into bite-sized sections and throw into a bowl. Drizzle with oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and chili powder. Stir them up until they are evenly coated. (If you’ve used enough spices they will be lightly speckled but mostly orange.) Pour onto the sheet pan, and bake for 12 minutes. Give them a stir and bake for 12 more minutes. At this point, start fork-testing the potatoes. When they are fork tender and delicious, they are done. Let cool.

  1. Mashed sweet potatoes.

Preheat your oven to 375. Scrub and dry your sweet potatoes. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Chop your sweet potatoes into bite-sized sections and throw into a bowl. Drizzle with oil, salt, pepper. Stir them up until they are evenly coated. Pour onto the sheet pan, and bake for 25-30 minutes stirring every now and then. When the potatoes are very fork tender, pull them out of the oven and throw them into your mixer’s mixing bowl. Flip on the mixer and mash them up with milk, butter, brown sugar, chili powder, and cinnamon. Add salt and pepper to taste.

What is your favorite way to cook sweet potatoes?  Do you eat them all the time like we do? 


This post is number 16 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

Spinach with Cherries and Walnuts

I love sautéed spinach and I like it way more than my husband does, so I always make it when I am having dinner at home alone.

The thing about spinach is that it is super healthy for you and also that raw spinach salads can get old REALLY fast. I personally hate cold meals. I know other people are really into eating salad all the time but I am not. I like my food to be warm, and cooked spinach has a fantastic flavor.

If you don’t know, let me tell you that spinach cooks down really fast – you’ll use almost an entire bag of salad-ready baby spinach for two servings of sautéed spinach. If you’re planning to make this for a crowd be sure to stock up.

Sautéed Spinach with Cherries Walnuts

sauteed spinach close-up

Here’s what you need:

A bag of baby spinach.

Dried cherries.

Walnuts.

Olive oil, salt and pepper.

A skillet and a lid.

Here’s what you do:

Grab your skillet and put in a little oil to cover the bottom. Turn the stove to medium heat and let the oil heat up for a minute.

Put your walnuts in the bottom first because you want them to get a little toasty without taking the time to actually toast nuts. Because who has time for that. [Side note: if you’d like to be really classy you can toast your nuts separately.]

After two minutes put two huge fistfuls of spinach into the skillet per person. Give them a quick stir in the oil with tongs, and let the spinach start to wilt down. Add a little salt and pepper. I put the lid on here for a few minutes to help the spinach cook down faster.

Keep stirring and cooking until the spinach is fully wilted (shriveled up and small). You want to stir the whole time to make sure that your walnuts aren’t staying just on the bottom.

Turn off the heat and stir in dried cherries. Taste test to see if you need extra salt or pepper and then serve up!

This post is number 15 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

Mustard-Glazed Salmon

When I was a kid I didn’t eat a lot of fish. I enjoyed steamed shrimp, but in the south we mostly ate fried catfish or fried shrimp or fried something-something and I never really loved it. Other than French fries (which are GREAT!!) I try to avoid fried foods in my usual diet, but I’ve been adding fish into our weeknight meal rotations a few times each month.

While fish can be a little pricier than chicken breasts, and it can smell up your house if you don’t take out the trash right away (pro tip), it is really delicious, apparently good for you, and so fast to cook. A thin piece of tilapia (we like to purchase the frozen bags to save money) can fully bake in the oven with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper in only eleven minutes. A squeeze of a lemon and you are done.

Every now and then, the salmon is on sale and we splurge. Salmon is a beautiful orange color and it tastes great. It’s good for you too. To make it extra special, I make a mustard glaze that turns golden and a little crispyin the oven.

Mustard-Glazed Salmon Recipe

IMG_2869

Here’s what you need:

Salmon: about 6 ounces per person. You’ll leave the skins on and you’ll cook it with the skin-side down.

Mustard: the delicious brown kind. We use fancy-pants grey poupon.

[Low sodium] soy sauce.

Honey.

Olive oil and salt and pepper. I wasn’t kidding about that yesterday. But you can use spray instead of oil today if you have that handy.

Sheet pan and foil.

Here’s what you do:

Grab your sheet pan and line it with foil because cleaning up after cooking fish is the worst.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly brush the pan with oil or just spray it with cooking spray.

Set your fish pieces right down on top of the oily pan with a little space between them.

Salt your fish. Just sprinkle a little over the top. Add a little pepper too.

Now for the flavor. In a small bowl, mix together equal-ish parts mustard, soy sauce, and honey. I try to keep a little extra mustard and a little less honey and soy, but make it the way you like it: stir it up, stick your finger in and see if it tastes good. You’ll need to make more or less depending on how much salmon you are cooking. For one 6-ounce fillet, I used about 1 tsp. each of mustard and honey and a little less of soy.

glaze ingredients

Spoon the mixture over the top of your salmon and stick it in the oven at 400 degrees for about 18 minutes. It should look kind of white on the sides when it is done and it shouldn’t feel squishy if you lightly press on the top with the back of a fork.

This post is number 14 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

With these three things you can cook almost anything

There are three things that, if you have them on hand, you can cook just about anything:

1. Olive Oil

2. Salt

3. Pepper

Seriously, you can make just about any meat or veggie taste delicious with only these ingredients. (And if you have water, you can do your carbs this way too.) You can sauté in a skillet. You can fry in a pan. You can roast in the oven.  And it will taste delicious.

I know, I know, you read these recipes with a million crazy ingredients and twelve steps and 10 pans and you don’t even want to try.  Complicated recipes make cooking seem hard. But if you keep things simple it can be easy. So don’t be afraid. Grab a sheet pan for roasting, or a skillet of some kind for sautéing, and let’s make some plain-jane, delicious roasted chicken.

Step One: Get some boneless, skinless chicken breasts out of the fridge and turn your oven to 375.

Step Two: Get a sheet pan (like the kind for baking cookies) and line it with foil so it’s easy to clean up. If you don’t want to line it with foil it’s okay.

Step Three: Coat your chicken lightly with olive oil, then cover with salt, and pepper. Make sure you do this on both sides. I like a lot of pepper so I keep shaking the pepper shaker until my chicken looks speckled-y. You can use less.

Step Four. Put your chicken in the oven until it is done. (It’s really that simple.) You can tell it is done because it will be golden all over.  It should take about 25 or 30 minutes depending on how thick your chicken breasts are. If you are nervous about whether or not it is done, cut one open and look and see. Chicken should not have any pink spots. If there are still pink spots in the middle, put all of the chicken back in the oven for a few more minutes.

But isn’t roasted chicken boring, you may ask? Not when paired with barbecue sauce, or sliced up on top of a salad, or eaten with spiced cranberry sauce, or mixed into greek yogurt, blueberries, and toasted walnuts for a healthy spin on traditional chicken salad. Roasting chicken breasts is a great tool to have in your toolbox and is just one of the many things you can make with these three base ingredients.

Okay, your turn: are olive oil, salt, and pepper your three main cooking ingredients? Do you prefer a different type of oil?

This post is number 13 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

A few family favorites

It’s Sunday and day 12 of October’s 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen series.  And before we go too much further, I wanted to take a few minutes to dig through the recipes and food stories I’ve previously shared.  Food prep (and food enjoyment!) is a pretty huge part of my living well adventure, so food is often wrapped up into what I share here on the PB.  Here are four favorite recipes from the blog archives:

John Besh’s Jambalaya

Bibimbap (Korean Rice Bowl)

Regular Cranberry Sauce (but I now prefer a delicious spicy version coming your way soon!)

Summer Quinoa Salad

If you’re searching for recipes here on the blog, there’s a tag #recipes that I use for tracking these things.  So, you should be able to click that tag and the headlines of every recipe post should pop up.

This post is number 12 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

Breakfast Options for a Full House

Tomorrow morning my husband and his brothers are running the Chicago marathon. The guys and my in-laws have been hanging with us all week, in-and-out of the house according to their own schedules since Tuesday afternoon. We’ll be going out a lot to enjoy our city, which means a lot of food and drink that does not come from my kitchen.

Since the only thing I can really control about my diet this week without giving up an awesome time is breakfast, I spent a little extra time making sure I had everything I needed for a quick and nutritious start to the day. I purchased a large container of plain greek yogurt, a few packages of heat-and-serve turkey sausages, a loaf of grainy bread, and threw together a batch of granola.

Store-bought granola is “healthy” food, but has a ton of calories and sometimes preservatives.  Also, it’s wicked expensive. A 12 oz bag of Bare Naked granola – which has a great ingredient list for us normal shoppers – will run you more than $5.00. So, I like to make my own. It’s quick, easy, and you can increase the ratio of oats to nuts a little so the calories are a little lower and the cost is a little more economical.

My Homemade Granola Recipe

Granola big pan

See that orange mat underneath my granola? That’s the sil-pat I told you about on Wednesday.

There are a million and one recipes for homemade granola on the internet, and there’s no reason that mine is any better than anyone else’s. The following recipe is what I actually did this week, which had one huge flaw I’ll describe below, and was based off this recipe from Alton Brown.

Here’s what you need:

3 cups oatmeal

2 cups nuts of your choice (I like walnuts, almonds, and pecans)

¾ cup coconut

¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. brown sugar

¼ cup olive oil

½ tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla

¾ tsp salt – you might add a little extra or use a little less to taste

½ to ¾ cup dried fruit of your choice (we like raisins, cranberries, pineapple, apricots, etc. BUT I don’t like them in big chunks, so I cut them up small.

Extra maple syrup and olive oil at the end

Here’s what you do:

Pre-heat your oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a huge bowl stir together oats, nuts, coconut, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt.

Stir together the oil and vanilla, pour over dry ingredients and stir until coated.

Pour the mixture onto a jelly-roll pan (I use two so I can stir without spilling) and pop into the oven. Every fifteen minutes for one hour and fifteen minutes, pull the mixture out of the oven and give it a stir.

When you’ve done the cycle five times, pull the granola out, carefully slide it into another huge bowl (maybe two bowls if you need to), and pour in the dried fruit.

Granola Compare

Comparison shot: on the left, light granola; on the right, roasty-toasty granola.

 

AND HERE’s where it got weird: for my taste, the granola looked a little dry and too light. It tasted great, but the ¼ cup of maple syrup I cut out of Alton’s original recipe to save calories had also cut down on the granola’s stick-togethery-ness. And so I did a fix. Kitchen fixes are things you do in the moment where there is a 50% chance you will ruin everything and a 50% chance it will be awesome. This week, it was awesome.

Turn the oven up to 375. On top of the bowl of granola and dried fruit, drizzle about 1 Tbsp. of olive oil and about 2 Tbsp. of maple syrup, Stir together and pour it back on your pans.

Bake for 8 minutes, stirring at the four minute mark. (I actually went 10 minutes, stirring at the five minute mark, but watch this carefully. There is a thin line between roasty-toasty and burned up nasty.)

When ready, pull out of the oven, stir it up one last time, and let it cool. Store in plastic freezer baggies or a cute glass mason jar.

Do you have a favorite granola recipe? Do you like your granola lightly browned or dark and toasty?