Taco Thursday! Pulled Pork Tacos and Easy Southwest Salad + Homemade Guac

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What a week! Mr. Foodie and I both suffered a little random bad luck this week, so we were all too happy to drown our sorrows in tacos and beer last night. Someone hit my parked car at work and did NOT leave a note, but unfortunately for them (and fortunately for us) our building manager caught the incident (and their plate #) on tape, so boo-yah! to the inconsiderate person who hit my car and drove off. Also, Mr. Foodie’s phone died, so he took my upgrade and got a new Samsung 7. Bad luck for me, but not for him – Mr. Foodie loves new toys. It’s actually kind of funny how into new gadgets he is. Picture Gollum stroking his ring and saying “my precious.” Lucky for me, it wears off fairly quickly. It did, however, cause some marital discord this week when, in an effort to keep his new phone “pristine” he deleted some pictures of our dinner before I had the chance to email them to myself. So you’ll just have to be satisfied with my description of our cabbage steaks and potatoes* instead of the awesome photos I took.

We were so pleased with our bbq pulled pork shoulder in the crockpot from last week that we decided to do it again this week, but to change up the flavor profile for tacos. We prepped the shoulder the same way as last week, but we seasoned it instead with chili powder, lime juice, salt, cumin, garlic (we used fresh, but powder would be fine for this rub) and 1 1/2 cups chicken broth (you could use beer also, but we drank ours before we got it into the crockpot lol). Again, we eyeballed the measurements, but just know that we only used around a tablespoon of most of the seasonings and four limes worth of juice. We omitted the onions on the bottom this time, but that might not be a bad addition next time we make it.

For an appetizer we wanted to make homemade guac because a) we love it and b) we just added cilantro to our wall herb planter!  The only catch is that Mr. Foodie has developed an intolerance to tomatoes in almost every form except ketchup (which let’s face it is barely made from tomatoes). I’ve never made guac without them, and to be honest, I usually make guac with the powdered mix. This time, though, I wanted to experiment. I did find a tomato-less recipe for guac online, but I adapted it so I wouldn’t have to buy extra ingredients. For this recipe, I cubed the guac (see the easy way to do this) and squeeze lime juice from four limes over it (these weren’t the juiciest limes ever, but you need to make sure you have enough to cover every bit of that avocado so they don’t turn brown on you – the last think you want your guac to look like is baby poop lol). I added a good amount of salt (guac can stand up to quite a bit because it is so creamy) and I added finely minced fresh garlic. I also took the smallest onion I had, cut it in half, and diced one half finely. Lastly, I added a handful of cilantro, roughly chopped. Then I took the potato masher and mashed it all together. It was delicious. I didn’t even miss the tomatoes.

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For the Southwest salad, we really just used what we had plus some bell peppers. I diced the other half of my onion, tossed that in with a can of washed, drained black-eyed peas and two diced bell peppers (one yellow, one red). We had romaine, so we used romaine. our recipe made a big salad, so pick a lettuce that will be okay the next day so you can enjoy the leftovers. We made our own dressing as well – just olive oil, lime juice, salt, pepper, and some cayenne. I admit I tried-and-errored it until I got the flavor right. You should have roughly equal amounts of lime juice and olive oil. If you add heat, you might want to add some sweetness (different recipes call for either sugar or honey, but agave might be good too), and remember that you can always add more salt, but you can’t subtract it once it’s in there. Put in a lidded container so you can shake to mix it up. It will separate if you make it ahead, but then just shake it again before you dress the salad.

Last but not least, the tacos! The pulled pork turned out wonderfully again – crockpots are the best!  I didn’t want to mask the taste of the delicious pork, so I served it with only three toppings – a bit of crystal hot sauce, some small scoops of the guac, and some shredded cheese. I like crunchy tacos and Mr. Foodie likes soft. We are going to experiment next time with corn tortillas which I’m sure will be lovely.

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We also played a new board game called Kill Dr. Lucky which has been around for many years, but is new to us. It is kind of like Clue, but where you are trying to kill a character instead of figure out who killed him. The turn-switching thing got the better of me, but that might have had more to do with the beer than the game 😛 I ended up winning, so all’s well that ends well!

*We used this Roasted Cabbage w/ Bacon Gremolata recipe because I can’t get enough of cabbage and I’m always looking for new ways to cook it. We tried sauteeing it a few posts ago and it was delicious. This way is easy because you slice it like a cut of steak, brush olive oil and salt/pepper on it (I might add red pepper flakes next time) and roast it at 400 for 30+ minutes (check for crispiness), flipping half-way. The gremolata was easy to make – just finely chop up some crispy bacon (or bacon substitute if you want to go veggie), zest 1 lemon, mince fresh parsley (we used cilantro because it’s what we had!), and I added some parmesan cheese instead of the almonds because…we didn’t have them lol I can’t stress enough how much you shouldn’t let absent ingredients stop you from trying a new recipe. Google “substitute for..” and you’ll find an answer for just about everything. The cabbage “steaks” were wonderful! The crispy edges were caramelized, and the cabbage was perfectly cooked in the middle. The gremolata added this zesty, salty flavor to the cabbage that was to die for. To stay veggie and keep with our “steak and frites” theme, we made simple, roasted potatoes to go with it. It was a lovely almost-meat-free (maybe meat-light is a better term) weeknight dinner.

Check us out on instagram @fairfaxfoodie 🙂

Pulled Pork BBQ and Skillet Cornbread + Pie for Pi Day!

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So Mr. Foodie and I got to enjoy an unexpected snow day yesterday 🙂 Paradoxically, we had planned a dinner designed for being gone at work all day – crockpot pork bbq! As you know, we are trying to utilize our wedding presents in our cooking, so when Mr. Foodie spotted a huge pork shoulder at the grocery store last weekend, he pounced on it and quickly decided the optimal way to cook this massive thing was in the crockpot on low for 9 hours. I decided to take another stab at cornbread, and, this time, to use our new cast-iron pan. Since we popped the pork in early that morning, we had some time to break out Splendor – one of our favorite table games – and mid-game  I discovered (thanks so social media) that it was Pi day! So, of course, I had to make a pie as well 🙂  With all this glorious food we had to have someone over to share it, so my mother and my aunt joined us – thankfully because this really is WAY too much food for two people. We sent them home with leftovers also.

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The Pork

If you feel intimidated by an entire pork shoulder – don’t! It looks scary with the huge layer of fat on top and the big bone in the middle, but a little prep is all you need to turn this thing into the best bbq pulled pork you’ve ever eaten. Mr. Foodie handled the pork prep while I made the spice rub. To begin, trim the fat off the shoulder with a sharp knife, slicing in a downward motion and pulling the fat away from the meat as you go. Make a bed of diced onions and garlic for the bottom of the crockpot. The spice rub was super simple – salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne. I didn’t do measurements, but basically, you should have an approximate ratio of 1 salt, 1/2 pepper, 1/3 garlic powder, and 1/4 cayenne – make enough to cover the shoulder. Rub the shoulder with a spice rub, then set the shoulder on the bed of veggies. Pour in 1/2 Cup of water (this is so you don’t crack the crockpot bowl when it heats up). Start on high for 2 hours, then low for 9-12 hours (use a meat thermometer towards the end of cooking to make sure it is safe. Once it is cooked, drain, discard the bone, and shred the meat with two forks – it should pull apart nicely. Cover with your choice of bbq sauce (see ours below) and set to “warm” until you are ready to serve. Mr. Foodie also diced up a small onion and included it with the bbq sauce for a little texture and additional flavor (don’t worry, the onion cooks up a bit so it isn’t totally raw and you can omit this step if you don’t care for onions). The meat was so tender and juicy – low and slow really is the best way to make pulled pork. And I did notice a difference between making it myself and eating pulled pork from the store – our version is less salty and not as tough and stringy as pre-made pulled pork is usually. And you can’t beat the value! We spent $15 on the shoulder which is a lot for a meat purchase, but it made a TON of pulled pork. We gave a bunch away and will still have plenty for leftovers tonight.

BBQ Sauce – Homemade

While the pork was cooking, we made the sauce. I’ve written before about the formula for a basic bbq sauce. Mr. Foodie and I eyeballed it entirely this time, and I’m afraid we were not writing down exactly how much of everything we were putting in. That being said, you should definitely try experimenting with your sauce! When experimenting, keep the golden rule in mind – you can always add, but you can’t subtract, so go easy on the various ingredients – you can always add more if you need to. We started with a basic ketchup, brown sugar, Worcester sauce, salt, pepper, vinegar concoction. We ended up adding garlic powder and hot sauce to our version. I kept testing it (since my palette is a little better than Mr. Foodie’s) to get the right balance of salt, sweet, tart, and spicy – once I was satisfied, we refrigerated it until the pork was done. Let me tell you, it turned the already amazingly delicious pork into the best pulled pork we’ve ever had. I wish I had written down what we were doing so I could replicate it easily –  next time, readers, next time! In any case, it was the perfect amount of sauce (we don’t like it smothering the good meat) and it was a delectable flavor!

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Skillet Cornbread – Basic

For this, I just used the recipe from the Food Network with no alterations. Since it was my first time using the skillet for this purpose, I wanted to follow the instructions exactly. It turned out okay, but I felt it could be better. It had an okay texture, but the flavor needed some punching up. Covered in some butter and honey, it was fine. Next time I might add some fresh corn or something. I know cornbread is one of those things that is easily bought at the store and largely tastes the same everywhere, but I really want to find a recipe that rocks Mr. Foodie’s socks for our bbq nights 🙂 If you do have a cornbread recipe that you like, please send it my way!

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Apple Pie w/ homemade crust

For this, I just used the apples I had in my fridge – you can really use any apples you like, but I do recommend that they at least be firm and slightly tart for the best results. For this filling, I peeled and sliced up the apples – a total of 5 medium sized ones –  squeezed lemon juice and orange juice over them, and sprinkled 1/2 cup sugar and 1 T cinnamon on them. I made my usual pie crust (Ina’s version). Let me tell you, readers, I almost threw this crust across the room yesterday. I made the crust exactly as I always make it, and chilled it for a good amount of time, but when I went to roll it out on the counter, it kept breaking at the edges and sticking no matter how much flour I used. It took both Mr. Foodie and I using hands, spatulas, and super-human will to get the f***ing crust into the pan. Normally, I roll it up on the pin, and gently unroll it into the pan -voila! But not yesterday. I don’t know if the kitchen was too hot, the counter was too warm, the fridge wasn’t cooling properly. I was at my wit’s end. We got it into the pan and I pressed it in to get it to fit, put the broken pieces over the holes, tried to make the top look somewhat normal. It could (very charitably) be described as “rustic,” but to me, it looked like a heaping mess. I’m sharing this little meltdown with you because I want you to know that even people like us who cook all the time face situations in the kitchen which are so. damn. frustrating. Even more so, perhaps, than normal because we are relatively used to things going our way in the kitchen. I’ve made this crust a million times! And yet this time it chose to torture me. The other reason I’m sharing it is because even though it was difficult to get into the pan and not the ideal thickness thanks to my patch job, it ended up tasting wonderful. My dinner guests loved it. Remember what’s important, dear readers 🙂

So that was our fun snow day! What did you end up doing? For more peeks at what Mr. Foodie and I are up to, check us out on Instagram @fairfaxfoodie

 

Crockpot BBQ Pork Chops

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In the weeks leading up to our wedding, I found myself gravitating toward articles dealing with advice for having a long-lasting marriage. Don’t get me wrong, I have no interest in the arbitrary marker of time-spent as the only indicator of “success.” Just because two people have been married for decades does not necessarily mean they had a successful marriage. But the thought of getting it right the first time and in finding out at the end of that long road that Mr. Foodie and I “got lucky” holds a massive appeal for me. And like the academic, type-A person I am, I figured I should “study” for it lol

One piece of controversial advice that stood out was how to deal with household chores. Let’s start with the assumption that you don’t have a strict gender-based division of household duties. Where do you go from there? Some suggest that you divide up all tasks equally to avoid unequal distribution of chores — the idea being that both partners contribute equally to the household for a more balanced relationship. While the regimental nature of this proposal appeals to my personality, I can also see where it might fall short of its potential for marital harmony. This is why I was pleased to find a counter-suggestion which is that both partners should do all the chores. While this might seem strange to implement in reality, I realized that Mr. Foodie and I have been doing this all along. We both wash dishes. We both fold laundry (but I do bathroom towels better ;)). We both cook. We both change light bulbs and take out the trash. Essentially, we do the things that need doing and *usually* within a practical time frame. Now that I’m mulling it over, it makes no sense that I should have to stand around stamping my feet, waiting for John to change a light bulb when I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself. Similarly, he should not have to wait on me to cook when he’s hungry. A lot of tasks we do together. He takes the trash out, but I replace the liner. I load the dishwasher, and he empties it. And, as you know, dear readers, we love cooking together :).

The real reason I like this piece of advice is it prevents a lot of built-up resentment. I could picture myself passive-aggressively staring at a pile of unfolded laundry waiting to be folded because it isn’t “my” chore to do, but I still want it done. I think whatever your system is, if it is coming from a place of profound consideration for your partner and the home you share, then you’re doing the right thing. Mr. Foodie doesn’t pack my lunch every morning because I can’t do it myself or because I expect him to do it, but because he loves me and wants to make sure I don’t run out of the house without things I need to make my day go smoothly. Being considerate is just plain nice as well as, I suspect, a key ingredient to a long-lasting marriage. Check back with me in 50 years and I’ll let you know ;).

Last night’s dinner was definitely a team-effort. As part of my attempt to meal plan, stay on budget, create healthy dinners, use what we have, use our awesome kitchen wedding gifts, and come up with at least one new recipe a week (don’t worry, Mr. Foodie helps me with all that, too), I found several recipes for Crockpot BBQ pork chops. Chops are not necessarily the best cut of pork for traditional bbq recipes for obvious reasons, but it is what we had in the freezer. Luckily, we were gifted this beautiful new crockpot as a wedding gift from a family friend. Our old crockpot was one of those 60s slime-green ones with a knob pointing to “high” or “low.” Needless to say it wasn’t a great tool for what we all want in a crockpot – the ability to have it turn on and off at specific times. This one even has a locking lid and the option to have a paddle “turn” the contents of the crockpot at regular intervals (for stews and soups). We feel so SPOILED 🙂

Mr. Foodie has been making BBQ sauces his whole life, so I left that part to him. If you want to make it easier, just find a bottle sauce and pour the whole thing over this dish. My addition to the recipe was the sweet potato medallions. I was a little afraid that they would make the dish too sweet, but I shouldn’t have worried – it came out fantastic! Mr. Foodie’s sauce worked so well with the SPs and the pork. As you know, bbq sauces can have vastly different flavor profiles. Mr. Foodie’s was high on the vinegar with a slight kick from the addition of hot sauce – a perfect compliment to the sweetness of the potatoes and the ketchup/brown sugar mixture. The chops shredded easily with a fork, and the onions were cooked into the sauce just perfectly. You can serve it with corn bread or texas toast, but we ate it plain like a stew. We both had seconds – it was so good!

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You can see the sweet potatoes crumbled in the dish because Mr. Foodie cut them thinly. It might be possible to cut larger pieces so they would retain their shape. I loved it this way!

As a special treat, Mr. Foodie made our now-famous Key Lime Pie, but instead of one big pie, he made mini-pies! The filling is the same amount, but you can buy these little mini shells in the baking aisle.

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Crockpot BBQ Pork Chops with Sweet Potatoes

4 Pork Chops (if bone-in, cook for longer)

1 Bottle of BBQ Sauce of Choice (or see generic bbq recipe here – feel free to add stuff to make it yours!)

1 medium yellow or white onion, sliced into rings or half-moons

2 large Sweet Potatoes, peeled, diced or sliced into medallions

Layer the sweet potato slices on the bottom of the crockpot. Cover these with the sliced onion rings. Over these, place the four pork chops. Over all, pour the bottle (or homemade mixture) of BBQ sauce. Cook High for 3 hours or Low for 6 hours (we did low for 6 – this might have an effect on the texture of the chop – ours was perfect!).

Check out more of our foodie adventures on Insa @fairfaxfoodie

 

Welcome to the Family: Ekras Sabanekh and Lahema Bi Ajeen

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In a few days I will be joining my life with Mr. Foodie’s. After a year and a half of anticipation, I am baffled that it is almost here. I am also ecstatic. I’m not sure how most brides feel in the days leading up to their wedding, but I feel like I’m positively glowing. I won’t lie to you – last week I had a mini-meltdown on the drive home from work, but that’s mostly because I was wrapping up a 5 day head cold and saying goodbye to lady flow. And yes, I am very aware of how lucky I am that all that happened last week and not this week. Still, when I arrived at the weekend before my wedding, I found myself overjoyed hanging with my mom, stamping place cards, and drinking entirely too much wine while watching sappy movies.By the time Sunday rolled around, I was more than happy to take a break from wedding prep to help my mother-in-law bake some of the delicious spinach and meat pies I’ve been piling into my mouth over the past 2+ years.

There I was, sitting at the kitchen table, trying hard to make the perfectly folded triangles that my mother-in-law was doing so expertly, and I felt so grateful to be marrying into such a lovely family. The fact that she knew I’d not only want to eat the delicious pies, but also to learn how to actually make them is something I can’t take for granted.

While this will be a short, rather uncomposed post and my pictures are kind of blurry, I still really wanted to post this memory so I won’t forget how happy I was the weekend before the big day. Happy to be with my in-laws and happy to be baking.

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If you have never had Ekras Sabanekh, you are missing out. These little pies are stuffed with spinach and onion – but you can customize the filling depending on your taste. They are little pockets of joy. Warm, tangy, with a crisp, but light crust and soft, tantalizing interior. Not to be outdone, Lahemba bi Ajeen is a heavenly meat tart – a little pastry, spiced meat, and, again, more onions. The dough is made from wheat flour and not unlike pizza dough. Both make wonderful appetizers for a party or quick bites for lunch – I totally got down on some spinach pies today while running around the office getting things ready for my brief departure for the honeymoon.

Baking, eating delicious pies, and spending quality time with family was just the ticket. I am so filled with love. Love for my parents who are working so hard to bring my vision into reality. Love for my new family for welcoming me so warmly. Love for my bridesmaids for being patient and supportive. Love for Mr. Foodie. Love for it all.

Time for the next phase of this exciting adventure to begin.

ps. Happy Galentine’s Day!

Lemon Drop Cookies

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I’m not sure if it is because my wedding is only a few weeks away or if my spirits are still flying high after yesterday, but I am feeling better than I have in a long, long while. Cooking/baking and being happy is a total chicken-egg situation for me. Cooking and baking can bring a smile to my face, but I’m also more motivated to do it when I am already happy. Last week was a roller coaster  of emotions, and Mr. Foodie just strapped in for the ride. One of the highs was receiving a special gift from my maternal grandmother. She hand-sewed a special article of clothing for me to wear on the big day – a floor-length cloak! I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but it is the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever owned. I cannot wait to wear it at my winter wedding 🙂 What I wasn’t expecting was the beautiful gold cross with a ruby in the center – a necklace her own mother used to wear. She also passed on to me the Bride’s Book of Recipes and Household Hints that her grandmother gave to her as a wedding gift 57 years ago!

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While the Brides Book has many neat recipes, I cherish it most for the pieces of advice it gives for managing a household. Even though some of its precepts are outdated (like the fact that the “bride” will be the only one cooking and cleaning), much of the actual advice remains accurate and helpful, like making a list before you go shopping (to save time and money), taking care to entertain with simple, delicious foods that allow you (the host or hostess) to enjoy your company instead of being stuck in the kitchen all night, and replacing shoelace ends with scotch tape lol

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When I saw the “lemon drop” cookie recipe, I was instantly eager to try it out. I love lemon baked goods – really lemon in anything and I’m in love. This is partly because I like tart flavors more than sweet in general. The fact that they are “drop” cookies reminded me of my own mother who preferred the imprecise method of dropping dough on a cookie sheet not only because it is easier but because it often makes a softer cookie (due to less handling). I prepared myself to make some tweaks to the recipe itself because of all the research I’ve done on the evolution of cooking methods and recipes since this book was first published. For example, it says “bake in a moderately hot oven–400 degrees F” for 10 minutes – this is not standard for cookie baking anymore, but I went with it and kept a watchful eye on the dough. My instincts were correct – I ended up taking the cookies out at 8 minutes just as they started to brown around the edges.

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The end result was a delicious, fluffy cookie with a sugar cookie flavor and texture that was punched up with lemon tartness. For a little added drama, I mixed up a quick lemon glaze to drizzle over the tops of the cookies – adding even more lemon flavor and another touch of sweetness from the powdered sugar. Mr. Foodie gave two thumbs up, and later today I’ll bring a batch to my future in-laws to see how they like them.

I am no stranger to loving my grandma’s recipes (and neither are you if you’ve had the good fortune of tasting her molasses ginger cookies which I make all the time!), but this just might become a new go-to recipe for me. The only “special” ingredient you have to have on hand is fresh lemon as everything else is standard baking fare, but I always pick up lemons when I grocery shop. I know I’ll use them in something each week whether it is a cocktail, a marinade, a soup, or a baked good 🙂

What recipes (and/or household wisdom) did your grandma pass along to you?

Lemon Drop Recipe from Brides Book:

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Lemon Glaze Recipe

This is not a part of the original recipe, but I added it mostly because I had extra lemon juice that I didn’t end up using in the cookie recipe itself. Just pour about a half cup of powdered sugar into a bowl, and toss in 1-2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Because I was just trying to use up extra juice, I eyeballed the amounts -you can always add more sugar if it is too liquid or more liquid if it is too thick. Good to know for glaze is the liquid to powdered sugar ratio is small – often one teaspoon to 1 cup of sugar depending on what other liquids you’re adding (a standard version calls for a little milk and vanilla extract – what I use for holiday cookie decorating). You want a slightly thick, but still drizzly mixture. Wait until the cookies cool, drizzle, and let set so you can stack them without sticking. Enjoy!

 

Post-Holiday Dinner – Veggie Risotto w/ Leftover Sausage

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Aren’t these place mats cute? My grandma made them!

Mr. Foodie and I have yet to go grocery shopping for the week, opting instead to lounge around the house and enjoy each other’s company since we rarely have the same days off anymore. Luckily we had a few remaining provisions for dinner tonight which we quietly enjoyed, just the two of us, after what seemed like a marathon of family dinners (all delicious, of course). I’ve already written about making my traditional risotto, but this version was born out of necessity. Instead of chicken stock, all I had was some veggie stock. Instead of white wine, I had red. I also had leftover sausage to use up.

So I made my risotto, starting with the chopped onion and garlic, adding a generous pour of red wine, and ending with ladles of heated veggie stock. The trick to a good risotto is to stir rather frequently and avoid adding too much liquid at a time and in general. Over the holidays, I watched a fair amount of cooking on TV because it is a guilty pleasure of mine. Guy Fieri made a beet risotto on his show that I positively salivated over. Beets aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but his flavor combo sounded spectacular. I thought of his creation as I made this dish because of the deep red color and the veggie flavors. I finished the risotto with a bit of Parmesan cheese and the leftover sausage.

While not perhaps the nicest looking dish, it was incredibly delicious. Like many pasta/rice dishes, risotto is just a great base for all kinds of things. You can buy one pack of risotto and it will last for a good 4-5 dinners because you only use one cup to make four servings. You can make it down-right decadent with tangy wine, fatty meat stock, and rich cheese or you can go ultra light with chopped veggies and veggie stock. It really is a versatile dish. Paired with a fresh salad, as we did tonight, it makes a fantastic dinner option.

It’s Raining

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It’s raining outside. A slow, miserable drizzle. To say the weather reflects a human’s mood or has human qualities (“miserable”) is what we literary-buffs like to call a “pathetic fallacy.” Literary Analysts observe this. Creative Writers often shun it as a cliche. But today it is appropriate. I am miserable. I’ve had a nasty cold for two days. I’m facing massive anxiety over some recent life choices of mine. And this. What we all woke up to today. My heart is too heavy to even write about it except to say that it must be nice. It must be nice for all of you who backed you-know-who that you enjoy such privilege as to be unaffected by his hateful rhetoric, unthreatened by his proposed policies, and unshaken by what this means for our country. I wish I had such privilege. I know that this is a cooking blog, but it is also a blog about my life. About our lives, Mr. Foodie’s and mine. And this is not how I thought we’d start our married life together. We face the loss of affordable health insurance which Mr. Foodie desperately needs because of his asthma. We face the overt discrimination that will become more and more common because Mr. Foodie (and soon I will join him) carries an Arab surname. And like all millennials, we face increasing costs for living without corresponding increases in pay. We face starting a family in a world where I might lose control of decisions concerning my reproductive health. And we continue to face the xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, abelist, heteronormative, hateful rhetoric that has dominated this election cycle, but worse – because soon it will stop being rhetoric and become our new reality. I don’t even care if I lose some readers (or friends, or family) because of this post. I have to say what I’m saying. This is my life. This is our lives. And it’s fucking raining.

Oh yeah, and I made some new cookies yesterday.

 

Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom: Review

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It might seem odd to derive much pleasure from reading cookbooks, but for me nothing (not even trolling Pinterest and watching cooking shows) gives me as much pleasure as leisurely flipping though a new (or old) cookbook. As part of my continuing education and immersion in all things cooking, I’ve picked up new cookbooks from the library as well as food memoirs which are always a treat. Many cookbooks nowadays are streamlined with large format, stylized, glorious pictures of the dishes and simple instructions. It was not always so. Many a cook has faced exasperation over trying to replicate an older recipe with often little more than a list of ingredients with questionable measurements. For example, there was a time in early American cooking when “a cup” meant pretty much whatever type of cup the cook had on hand at the time. The recipe might have contained as little information as “flour, sugar, eggs, seasonings. Bake for an hour.” How maddening! But this is, in part, because cooking was more often taught from one cook to another in person and not learned from a book.

In Julia Child’s Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom published in 2000, she doesn’t hesitate to give precise instructions while still allowing ample room for variations. I just loved combing through this book because it was less about presenting a set of specific recipes and more about approaching cooking as a discipline. I would go so far as to say that this should be first on your list if you ever want to learn how to cook as opposed to just follow a recipe. I remember when I was first learning, I would read “braise the meat” and think “umm, what does braise mean?” Thankfully I live in the age of the internet because I can not only find an answer to that question quickly, but also watch a youtube video of braising. In Julia’s collection of kitchen wisdom, however, she takes the time to define the different verbs used throughout the book. Additionally, she’ll provide the basic ingredients for a number of variations on a simple dish (like salad dressing) so you can see that the method remains the same and that salad dressing is really just a specific ratio of oil, vinegar, acid, and seasoning. The idea is to provide a depth of understanding and transparency that is often lacking in many cookbooks.

Reading even these short paragraphs of instruction will make you love Julia more and more. Her casual, encouraging tone is helpful without being condescending – the tone of a great teacher. I have the added benefit of having read her letters to her dear friend Avis, so by now Julia feels like a dear friend of mine. I thought I might get tired of her after a while, but reading this collection of kitchen wisdom makes me feel like I would have loved to learn from her and cook with her.

Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom is a small volume, perfect for the beginner cook in your life. Consider adding this his/her stocking this year and you won’t be sorry!

Earlier, I also took a look at The Working Class Foodies Cookbook and Provence 1970 (not a cookbook, but a narrative of expat American chefs including Julia).

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Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

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My ideal Saturday mornings consist of taking a little time (maybe an hour or two) to flip on the Food Network, drink my coffee, and scroll through Pinterest. Even though I do these things separately throughout the week, there’s nothing like the slow, quiet luxury of doing them all at once for an our or two on Saturday morning. This past weekend I drifted across a pin on stuffed acorn squash. I immediately thought of my mother. Growing up, we always had the same squat, beige toaster oven on the counter top. Besides toast, the only things I ever saw my mother pop into it were store-bought, frozen mini-pies and acorn squashes that she cut herself. The preparation was minimal – salt, pepper, and a pat of butter, but she LOVED that acorn squash. Whereas many people might cook it with brown sugar or marshmallows, my mother liked to make squash savory instead of sweet – a preference I carry with me to this day.

Though the recipe on Pinterest was a vegetarian one, I decided it would be exquisite with some crumbled sausage. I like mild Italian sausage because a little goes a long way. I can buy one pack of sausages, remove what I need from the casing and save the rest to add to soup, sprinkle into mac n cheese, etc. It is versatile, and the heat from the seasonings pairs well with any rich dish.

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Acorn Squash is fairly easy to prep. Slice open each gourd, scoop out the seeds and strings, and then slice a little off the round side of each half so that they won’t tip over when flesh-side up. Rub the flesh with oil (or spray) and season liberally with salt (and pepper if desired). Recipes differ on the time and temperature for roasting acorn squash, but one thing they almost all suggest is to line your baking sheet with tin foil and place the squash flesh-side down. Some recipes suggest 400 degrees; others 375 – base this on how hot your oven usually gets. Mine runs hot, so I chose 375. The cooking time varies also, but that probably has to do with the size of your squashes and the temperature of your oven. Bank on something between 30 minutes and an hour. I ended up taking mine out at 45 minutes at 375. They are done when the flesh can be pierced easily with a fork.

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For the filling, I cooked up 1 lb of mild Italian sausage (you could cook less, but then you might want to add another veggie component like mushrooms or kale or grain like quinoa so you’ll have enough stuffing). I put the sausage aside and used the pan to cook down small diced onions and garlic. I combined these and stuffed the roasted acorn squash halves with them. I topped each one with Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, and a small pat of butter (you could substitute a drizzle of oil for butter if you like). Then I broiled it for 2 minutes to melt the cheese and butter. The beauty of this recipe is that you can stuff the acorn squashes with whatever you like or have on hand. After tasting my version, Mr. Foodie and I decided it would have been absolutely perfect if we had added a few diced tomatoes to stuffing for a little acid and sweetness. Even without the tomatoes, the squash was rich and filling. The heat of the sausage paired well with the creamy flesh of the acorn squash. The cheese and bread topping added texture and a nutty bite.

Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

3 Acorn Squashes, cut in half

Olive Oil, salt, and pepper

1 lb mild Italian sausage, removed from casing

1 small diced onion

2 cloves minced garlic

1-2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese

Bread Crumbs for topping

1-2 Tbsp butter for topping

Preheat oven to 375 (or 400) and line baking sheet with tin foil. Oil prepped Acorn Squash Halves and season liberally with salt and pepper. Place flesh-side down on lined baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes to an hour. They are done when flesh is easily pierced with a fork. In the meantime, cook up the sausage, crumbling with a wooden spoon. Set aside and use the pan to cook the diced onion and garlic until softened. Mix the onions and sausage together for stuffing. Fill each roasted acorn squash half with sausage mixture. Top all with Parmesan, sprinkle of bread crumbs, and pat of butter. Broil for 2 minutes to melt butter and cheese. Enjoy!

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Food Tour of Key West

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This Florida Keys Foodie had the BEST time these past few days. Thanks to the planning of two great friends, we made it to the keys for a long October weekend. Even though I’ve lived in the Keys twice and been to visit countless times, I’ve only ever been there once between the months of September and March. I couldn’t get over how cool it was the whole time we were there. Instead of the wet heat that clings to your skin and the overly bright long light that spills into every corner, it was breezy, comfortable, and the light spread more delicately across the water, making it look darker than its usual aquamarine green. The upside is that it was WAY more pleasant to walk through the crowded streets of Key West with the cooler temperatures and breezes. The downside is the water was chilly, so instead of languorous afternoons floating in the pool and watching boats go by, we walked more and swam less than we normally would. Luckily my friends were game for a food tour of sorts as I marched them around to all my favorite foodie haunts. Well, almost all – we didn’t make it back to Garbo’s Grill or the Amigos Tortilla Bar, but we had to leave something to come back to 😉

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Our first stop was to Kermit’s Key Lime Pie Shop in one of my favorite parts of Key West – right next to the water and Jimmy Buffet’s recording studio. If you ever visit the keys, you can’t swing a five-toed cat without hitting a key lime pie and there are many pie shops, but Kermit’s is my favorite for one main reason: chocolate covered pie on a stick. This might sound weird to some, but it is freaking delicious. The bitterness of the dark chocolate tempers the tartness of the key lime custard and plays so well with the buttery graham cracker crust. The whole experience is tantalizing and indulgent. If pie isn’t your thing, Kermit’s also has key lime pie flavored crackers, cookies, peanuts, you name it. And they let you sample them throughout the store – #getinmybelly.

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Our second stop was at The Conch Shack on Duval St. – the main drag on Key West and an experience all its own. Our first night we just walked the street gawking at the bars and costumed people (it was the start of Fantasy Fest when we arrived, so there was a more than usual amount of crazy going on). By day, the street looked vastly different and was filled mostly with tourist families window-shopping. The Conch Shack is an unassuming open-air stand which only accepts cash. They have a short counter at the window and a little side alley where you can perch while you smell the enticing scent of fried dough. Conch is the iconic creature and food of the Keys, but was sadly over-fished in the past. Now the conch you eat there is imported. Still tasty though, and these fritters are the best of their kind. The batter is spicy and bready; the conch pieces are perfectly sized and moist. What takes these fritters over the top is the sauce. It is mayonnaise-based and works perfectly with the hot, fresh fritters.

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Our final stop on that day was to DJ’s Clam Shack where the ladies ordered fried clams and I enjoyed a bowl of their delicious middle neck clams. They absolutely held up. The spicy, garlicky broth was just as good as I remembered it. Since we arrived mid-afternoon, it was relatively empty, but we carried on a fun conversation with the staff there. Don’t let the tiny store-front fool you, they have a large, shaded, and comfy patio at the back. If you aren’t stopping by DJ’s, you are missing out!

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Our Key West trip was by no means the only delicious eats we enjoyed on the trip. We had dinner at The Square Grouper – always good value. And we munched on Dion’s Fried Chicken while sunning ourselves at Bahia Honda. The surprise of the trip was visiting what used to be called The Wharf Bar and Grill.  Five years ago I remembered them fondly for their fish fry baskets and blood orange margaritas. More recently they changed owners, added the Tiki bar, and the drinks were not as good. Now it is known as Billy’s Stone Crab which is apparently a chain specializing in the fishing for and serving of stone crab. I was looking forward to trying some stone crab since it is in season now, but I was surprised by the new menu and the rocking picnic tables. A manager came by and brought a presentation tray with different sized crab claws and cuts of steak. It was a far cry from the casual, locals-only vibe of the Wharf. The crab claws we ordered were tasty. They have a fishery right down the road, so it was fresh. If you’ve never had the claws, be prepared for a slightly sweet, chilled, and sometimes mealy flavor/texture – best with a cream sauce of some kind. We also each ordered a potato dish because they had a whole menu section devoted to that humble veggie. We weren’t prepared for the fact that each of the dishes were so large. My Lyonnaise potatoes were delicious, but massive. If you visit Billy’s on your way down to Key West, know that you can share a lot of their dishes which are all fairly pricey, but large.

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Although I loved this keys tour de cuisine, my favorite moments from the weekend were the mornings. My friends and I would take coffee to the screened-in porch and watch the water in the canal, talk, share stories. I loved the light, the breeze, and the laughter. It was so relaxing and yet so stimulating. Is there anything better than a vacation with good friends?

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