Cast Iron Love

Two weeks!! 14 measly days! That’s how long the library let me have a copy of Cook It In Cast Iron from Cook’s Country. You can usually check out books for four weeks, but new books are only available for a “short loan,” especially when there are 10+ people behind you waiting to get their hands on the book.

Ugh. Sharing is not always my strongest point.

In true dorky fashion, I literally read through the entire book before I made anything out of it. (It helped that I picked it up from the library the night before a weekend road trip.) I thought all of the tips and techniques were helpful, and I can definitely see why you’d want a 12″ skillet for several of the recipes. I managed with my 10″ skillet, but the pan was just about overflowing with some things.

I did my best to make the most of the time that I had the book, and I think I did all right. We tried (in this order):

  • Chipotle chicken tacos (4 stars!) 
  • Skillet mac and cheese (3 stars from both of us; this is still my favorite mac and cheese recipe. It’s also a lot simpler!) 
  • Blackened chicken with pineapple salsa (5 stars from me; 3-4 from Andy, who may have met the only fruit salsa he’s hated in this dish. Lesson learned: Serrano peppers are too much for him. Whoops!) 
  • Hot fudge pudding cake (4 stars. It goes great with beer ice cream!) 
  • Sausage lasagna (5+ stars. We were so sad when the leftovers were gone… I almost licked my lunch dish clean at work the next day.) 
  • Baked brie with apricots and honey (5 stars, but I made the mistake of only making 1/3 of a batch…) 
  • Skillet chocolate chip cookie (5 stars. I mean, there was browned butter. Need I say more?) 
  • Mexican layer dip (2-5 stars, depending on who you ask. As written, it’s kind of spicy, thanks to the 1 1/2 tablespoons of chipotle chili powder, which means it’s hotter than Andy likes. However, it was well-received by half of the adults at taco night, and Andy said that if I scaled the heat back a bit, he would really enjoy it.) 
BakedBrie&Apriocts
Since I made a small batch of baked brie, I thought it’d be perfect in my mini-skillets.

I snapped a picture of a couple of the appetizer recipes, so I’m hoping to make those sometime in the not-too-distant future. Of course, there are recipes in there that I’ll probably never make (Meatloaf with mushroom gravy? Umm, no thanks. Paella? Not until I can get over the cost of saffron, thank you very much.), but overall, most of the recipes sounded like things we’d enjoy.

I did feel like some of the recipes could be streamlined to use fewer dishes, but when you consider the source, that really shouldn’t surprise you. I also wish the book had more of the science behind some of the recipe steps. I’m sure there’s a reason why I had to whisk the cookie dough for 30 seconds and then let it rest for 2 minutes before repeating the step two more times. I’d just love to know what that reason is!

If we rated cookbooks on the Andy scale, I’d give it a solid 4, which means that it might be worth getting a copy of my own someday. What I loved most though, was rediscovering how many things I can do with my cast iron skillet. It hasn’t gone back in the cupboard in two weeks.

Off-topic, have you seen the Apple commercial with Cookie Monster? THIS IS SO ME!! (Except for the iPhone part. I’m an Android girl.) My friends make fun of me for watching cookies bake through the oven door! I laughed so hard when this came on TV the other day.

Full disclosure: Cook’s Country / America’s Test Kitchen has NO idea that I’m writing about their latest cookbook. I’m fairly certain that no one there even knows that this little blog exists. I wasn’t compensated in any way for my thoughts; I just happened to really enjoy the cookbook. 

What We’re Eating 3/7 -3/11*

*We could also title this week’s menu “Cooking with Cast Iron.” The library let me borrow a copy of Cook It In Cast Iron, and I cannot wait to start trying some of the dishes. I tend to be a ‘try before you buy’ girl when it comes to cookbooks, since I don’t want to overrun the house with impulse buys, but this one is definitely moving up on my birthday wish list. (Are you listening, Andy?) Three out of my five meals are from the book, and I am hoping to have some time next weekend to try a couple of the desserts and breads as well. I mean, hot fudge pudding cake? Rosemary focaccia bread? Be still my beating heart.

cookincastiron
Anyway. Let’s focus on what we’ll actually be eating, rather than my mile-long dessert bucket list. 😉

Monday 3/7 – Corn and potato chowder with biscuits. This isn’t seasonal at all, but I have corn AND corn cobs in the freezer, so it’s the next best thing. (I figured that saving corn cobs for soup was just like saving chicken bones for stock.) And just like I did with the great garlic soup, I added spinach to make it a one-pot meal.
Tuesday 3/8 – Chipotle chicken tacos – CIICI #1!
Wednesday 3/9 – Skillet macaroni and cheese with salad – CIICI #2!
Thursday 3/10 – Blackened chicken with pineapple cucumber salsa and rice – CIICI #3!
Friday 3/11 – Breakfast for dinner! I’m going to try these chai-spiced waffles with some fruit. I may make some bacon to go with this as well, but if I was feeling really ambitious, I’d try the homemade breakfast sausage patties from the cookbook too.

And there you have it! .

 

Being Grateful

I’m going to up front with you about this post. You won’t find a recipe here.

Don’t worry, I haven’t run out of new things to try or share. (Seriously, that list is never-ending.) I haven’t taken the time to pull pictures off the camera lately, and rather than leave you hanging, I thought I’d take advantage of a writing prompt that showed up in my inbox last week. I subscribe to Death to the Stock‘s writing prompts (and their free photos), and although this is my first time using one of the prompts, they always make me think.

The prompt was, “What seemingly small thing are you grateful for today?” And since I can’t leave well enough alone, I decided to tweak it a little: “What seemingly small KITCHEN thing are you grateful for today?”

I mean, I love a lot of things in my kitchen.  Every time we have people over, the dishwasher becomes my new best friend. When it comes to baking, I’d be lost without my Kitchen Aid mixer. (Seriously. How did people make meringue before those things?)  On busy days, I can’t get enough of my crock pot. I wore out my first garlic press because we eat a LOT of garlic. And that cast iron skillet, well, it’s rapidly becoming my go-to pan for ALL THE THINGS. 🙂

So yeah. How would I pick just one thing? It’s tough, I tell you. Kind of like picking a favorite kid. 😉

After a little bit of consideration, I’m going with my Microplane zester. Want to know why?

MicroplaneZester

  1. It was a wedding gift from my grandparents in Maine. When we got married, Grandma and Grandpa gave us a basket of some awesome things, including my favorite kitchen towels and an awesome knife, and this zester was one of them. Every time I use it, I’m reminded of how much they love us. Awww…
  2. It’s sharp, which can be a double-edged sword (or grater, hahaha) in some cases. I have accidentally shredded my finger, but it can handle the hardest blocks of Parmesan cheese with no problem.
  3. I can use it for dinner OR dessert. It’s no secret that I love baking and all things sweet, but let’s be honest: I make dinner WAY more often than I make dessert. A pile of Parm for our favorite soup? Done. Finely minced/grated garlic for potatoes? No problem. Lemon zest for cake/frosting/cheesecake/cookies? Let me handle that for you. Honestly, I use the zester at least a couple times a week.
  4. PUNS! I’m the world’s biggest dork sometimes, and I get a kick out of the fact that I’m GRATE-ful for a grater. Or that it’s a grate great kitchen tool. (Haha… see what I did there?) Like I said, dork. 🙂

So there you have it – the first prompt-inspired post here on the Blue Plate Special. I promise I’ll be back soon with more food. I mean, you probably want to know all about the pie I baked last weekend. 🙂

(Full disclosure: Microplane has no idea that I’m writing about them. I have not been compensated for this post. In fact, I’m fairly certain they don’t even know this little blog exists. I just really like the zester.)

Friendsgiving!

FriendsgivingI’ve said it before, but somethings are worth repeating: I have amazing friends. You know the saying “friends are the family you get to choose”? That’s how I feel about these people. No matter what we’re doing, two things are certain: We will laugh until our sides hurt or until we cry (sometimes both), and we will eat good food.

Last year we had our first “Friendsgiving,” and it was such a success that we decided to repeat it this year. I had the privilege of hosting this year’s event, and I used it as an excuse to break out all of my serving dishes and the never-used, real silverware!

I also had the honor of making the turkey and gravy. This was only the second or third time I’d ever made a turkey in my life, and I am glad to report that it was a success! I used a new recipe, and while the flavor was good, wrestling a 16 pound bird in and out of roasting bags full of two gallons of brine was kind of a hassle. It sloshed brine/raw turkey juice on Andy twice, leaving him to declare war. “I WILL CUT YOU,” he threatened at one point.

I tried a new gravy recipe too, which ended up being pretty salty thanks to our brined drippings. I added some water and extra apple cider to balance it out though, and now I’m hoarding the leftovers.

One of the best things about this dinner is the fact that everyone brought part of the meal, so no one was overloaded. (Overloaded with work, that is. We were all overloaded post-dinner.) 

The rest of our menu included:

Stuffing (made by Bethany of guest-blogging fame)
Green bean casserole (homemade, courtesy of Jackie)
Mashed potato puffs (thanks to Lacey)
Spinach salad (from Emily, the brains behind our cooking club nights)
Cranberry sauce (also from Jackie. This ended up being Andy’s favorite item. He literally ate it by the spoonful.) 
Sweet potatoes (I tried a crockpot recipe from Southern Living, and oh my goodness, it was AMAZING. I will make it again for sure.) 
Rolls (brought by Lacey, and the perfect vehicle for the herbed butter I made) 
French onion soup (Jackie’s husband, also an Andy, MADE HIS OWN BEEF STOCK/BROTH for this soup. AWESOME.) 
Chocolate cream pie 
Vanilla bean ice cream
Cranberry margaritas (Another brilliant Emily idea. I kind of wanted to drink the entire pitcher.) 
Apple cider (Thanks to Bethany for introducing us to another local beverage!) 

Of course, I was so busy having a good time that I didn’t take pictures of the food or the event, and of course, we forgot to get a picture of all of us (AGAIN!), but that’s OK.

I am so thankful for these friends and the investment that they’ve made in our lives. I really do love them like family. 🙂 I’m already looking forward to Friendsgiving 2016!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

We’re Back! CSA 2015: Weeks 14 & 15, Plus What We’re Eating

Hello everyone!

We are back from vacation, and I am sort of caught up with real life, at least at home. We won’t talk about the massive piles on my desk at work. Two weeks off is totally worth it though. A big thanks to Bethany for picking up our CSA (and writing about it for you all!) while we were in Wyoming. I’m so glad she could use our veggies so they wouldn’t go to waste. She and her Andy are pretty much the best. They filled our fridge with some “welcome home” groceries so we would have something to eat when we rolled in late Sunday evening, and left us fun notes to come home to. Everyone should have friends this good. 😀

As great as vacation was, I will be the first to admit that I was glad to get home and back to my kitchen. There’s nothing like two weeks in the woods to make you appreciate things like running water, dishwashers and fresh produce. Not that we ate poorly on vacation – quite the opposite, in fact. Andy’s brother, Dan, and his family joined us for the second week, and let me tell you, Dan and Kim make a mean London broil. Seriously amazing. I’m surprised the bears didn’t come lick the fire grate after we went to bed. I may have to let them guest blog about it sometime!

Andy was gone the first weekend after we returned from vacation, so I had some time to play in the kitchen as well. I made jam (using blueberries that I froze in July) and another loaf of no-knead bread (adding Parmesan cheese and fresh rosemary to the loaf). I also had time to MAKE CHEESE. Yes. Real ricotta cheese, from my very own kitchen. It was amazing.

CSA 2015 Week 14

Week 14:

  • 4 ears of sweet corn
  • 2 summer squash
  • Sweet peppers
  • Kohlrabi
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Tomatoes (including more of those indigo kumquat tomatoes that Bethany sampled for us!) 
  • Beets
  • Cucumbers

 

CSA 2015 week 15

Week 15

  • Green tomatoes (which are ripening nicely for us) 
  • Eggplant
  • Sweet peppers
  • Jalapeno peppers (10 OF THEM! HOLY HOT PEPPERS, BATMAN!) 
  • 4 ears of sweet corn (last of the season, and still tasty!) 
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Beets
  • Watermelon

So, what did I do with all of this? The first batch of sweet corn got added to our zucchini fritters, which I would definitely recommend. The eggplant and summer squash made their way into this salad, which I took to a church potluck last week. Six of the jalapenos went into popper dip, which Andy gladly let me take to work. The sweet peppers are finding their way into lots of things, from snacks to pizzas.

Finally, here’s the menu for this week. This is the first week I’ve actually made a meal plan in at least six weeks.

Monday 9/28 – BLTs on jalapeno biscuits and sweet corn (The latest issue of Southern Living included a recipe for jalapeno biscuits, and since I have a few laying around, it seemed like a good idea.) 😉
Tuesday 9/29 – Apricot chicken pasta and green beans
Wednesday 9/30 – Butternut squash soup and leftover biscuits
Thursday 10/1 – Salmon, roasted potatoes and a TBD vegetable
Friday 10/2 – Steak, potatoes and carrots. This one is special. We’re taking a short backpacking trip, so this is a campfire dinner. (It’s my first backpacking trip, so here’s hoping I love it as much as Andy does.)

Whew. I think that brings up to the present. Now maybe I’ll start taking pictures of things again so I have something to write about.

CSA 2015: Week 1

Ten years ago, if you had told me that I’d get practically giddy over a bag of fresh veggies, I’d have thought you were nuts. (I probably would have also started seriously questioning where my life was headed. I mean, who writes about food for fun? Hmm. Probably a good thing you can’t see into your future.) But here I am, (older and wiser) geeking out over the season’s first CSA share from the good people at Olden Produce.

CSA 2015 Week 1 Bag

CSA 2015 Week 1

 

Week 1 included: 

  • 1 bunch of radishes
  • 1 bundle of rhubarb
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1 head of Bib lettuce
  • 1/2 pound of sugar snap peas
  • 1 bag of popcorn
  • 1 quart of strawberries

So, what am I going to do with all this loot? Well, the snap peas are gone. In fact, we’re lucky they even made it into the pictures, as Andy wanted to eat them from the moment he picked up the produce. They were our vegetable for dinner last night. I’m still trying to decide what to do with the kale, although this salt and vinegar idea is the current front-runner. We had salads with dinner tonight, and we’ll probably do that again tomorrow, so that takes care of the lettuce.

I’m using the strawberries on our pizza tomorrow night, and I can’t decide what to make with the rhubarb. It’ll probably wind up in a pie. (Cook’s Illustrated has an improved strawberry rhubarb pie, and I saw a recipe for a rhubarb meringue pie as well, so now I just need to make up my mind.) 

Remember my brown butter obsession? That pretty much guarantees that I’m going to do this with the radishes.

We love popcorn with movies and game nights, so I’m sure I’ll make some of it the next time we Redbox something. Or, if I’m feeling fancy, I’ll give the popcorn the brown butter treatment as well.

That’s week one! I can’t wait till next Wednesday.

 

 

Catching Up…

Has anyone noticed that things have been a little quite around here lately? No? Hmm. (That could have something to do with my already-infrequent writing schedule, I suppose.) Well, I actually have a valid reason this time, rather than another “we’ve just been so busy” excuse. It turns out that hurrying across an icy driveway isn’t always the wisest idea. Especially when you wipe out and land on your right wrist. Whoops.

All in all, it wasn’t too bad, as they sent me home with my arm in a splint and instructions to take it easy for four weeks. I’ve gotten pretty good at working a mouse with my left hand, and I’m able to zip my coat and tie my own shoes again, so things are definitely looking up. One of the hardest things has been the forced “vacation” from the kitchen. I cannot wait to get back to making dinner again after work, and I’m pretty sure that Andy is more than ready for me to get back to cooking as well.

So, what have we been eating for the last three weeks? When this happened, I told Andy that bones don’t heal on bachelor food, so there was no way we were eating frozen pizza and canned soup for a month. 😉 He’s done a great job of picking up the slack and keeping us fed. Here’s a sampling of what we’ve eaten over the last few weeks (along with some Subway sandwiches, Papa Murphy’s pizza, blizzards from DQ and dinners out with friends):

Meanwhile, I have been catching up on my blog reading and making mental lists of all of the things I want to make as soon as I can wield a knife again. (Trust me, this is just the tip of the iceberg…) 

 

With any luck, I’ll take some pictures and share some things with everyone here!

What We’re Eating – 3/23 – 3/28

Happy Saturday! After a week of disorganization and chaos in our home (all self-induced – we decided to paint the dining room and hallway this past week!), I finally had a few minutes to sit down and put together a meal plan for the next week. Maybe we’ll even sit down and eat in the “new” dining room this week, instead of the kitchen. 🙂

Sunday 3/23 – Pork chops and Annie’s spring risotto. I have been wanting to make this risotto for ages, and I finally broke down and bought the ingredients.
Monday 3/24 – Cabbage and noodles with bacon
Tuesday 3/25 – Steak fajitas – not sure what recipe I’ll use for them, but this post from Smitten Kitchen got me thinking about fajitas. And spring. But that’s another story… especially since the weatherman just said our low tonight is 6. SIX DEGREES. Where do I live, the tundra? Oh yeah…
Wednesday 3/26 – Lemon orzo soup with chickpeas. I’m going to try to make this soup meatless by swapping the chicken for chickpeas. Worth a shot, right?
Thursday 3/27 – Chicken Parmesan and roasted broccoli – my friend Bethany sent me a picture of the chicken parm she made the other day, and I was inspired. Looking forward to this one!
Friday 3/28 – Burgers on the grill, roasted sweet potatoes and cauliflower.

In other food news, has anyone been paying attention to the kitchen challenges that Lindsay is sharing over at Love and Olive Oil? I haven’t done any of them, but I am intrigued by the April challenge – eclairs!! I might try to squeeze this one in to my schedule.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Christmas Cookie Plan!

I feel like I say this every year, but time is just flying by! It seems as though Christmas is coming up out of nowhere. Here we are, almost halfway through the first week of December, and I haven’t done a thing to get ready for Christmas. And I only have 17 days left at home to do it.

YIKES.

I do want to enjoy things this year, and not get caught up in extra busyness, so I’m thinking I will scale my Christmas baking back just a tad. Here’s what I’m planning so far:

Nutter Butter Santas (One of Andy’s favorites.) 
Hershey Kiss Cookies (A classic, and one of my favorites) 
M&M Cookies
Ginger Molasses Pumpkin Thumbprint Cookies (One of the cookies from last year’s Food Blogger Cookie Swap! We liked them so much, I’m making my own!) 
Lemon Sugar Cookies (New recipe for the year! My plan is to roll these in red and green sanding sugar to give them a festive look.) 
Slice & Bake Sugar Cookies (This is my “if I have time” recipe. I like them, but they’re not Andy’s favorite, so if things get busy, they’ll probably get dropped.) 

I may whip up a batch of cappuccino fudge as well, and caramels, IF I feel ambitious. (My friend Bethany and I tried the caramels once already this year, and it went poorly, all because my candy thermometer lied. Grrr. What a waste of ingredients. They smelled delicious, even if they were too hard to consume.) 

I feel like I’ve got a very manageable list this year, at least for cookies. Now, if only there was an easy way to get the shopping and decorating done… Merry Christmas, everyone!