Happy Birthday Dad

Unfortunately, this post is a lot later than I had planned. I don’t know what happened last week, but I did cook. Tuesday, the 8th, would have been my dad’s 59th birthday. My stepmom and I talked last week about all of the “firsts” that occur after a loved-one dies. Thankfully, we’re almost done with all of those firsts, and family will be around for the ones that remain (birthdays and the first anniversary of him passing), so that eases the pain a bit. I knew Dad’s birthday was coming up, but it really kind of snuck up on me and I started the morning feeling a little down. My friend Jamie made a wonderful suggestion. She knew I’ve been doing my weekly recipes, so she suggested I go home and cook one of my dad’s favorite recipes. It was the perfect way to celebrate my dad’s birthday, doing something that he loved to do.

I wasn’t able to cook the meal on his actual birthday, but it gave me more time to plan, so it actually worked out pretty well. I decided to cook his chicken and dumplings recipe and then his strawberry pie for a bonus recipe and dessert! My stepmom sent me his recipes and I made a few slight modifications.

I’ll start with the chicken and dumplings. I decided to scale down the recipe because I didn’t really need to feed an army. I also decided to make my own dumplings instead of buying them from the store. I’d never made dumplings before, so I’m sure my dad would’ve approved of that change.

Here’s what I used:

4 chicken thighs
1 qt. Chicken broth
Salt
Pepper

1 c. Flour
1/2 c. Milk
2 tsp. Baking powder
1/2 tsp. Salt
2 tbsp. Butter

Boil the chicken and pull the meat from the bone. Heat the chicken broth and after a few minutes, add the chicken. Cook on medium while you make your dumplings. Don’t try to also make your pie while this is going on. You’ll end up going insane and might burn a perfectly good pie crust (not that that happened or anything). For the dumplings, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter (make sure it’s around room temperature). Finally, add the milk until it reaches a doughy consistency. Drop globs into your chicken and broth, they don’t need to be perfectly shaped, they look better with a little bit of character! Simmer for 10-15 minutes and add salt and pepper to taste!

Now for the pie you’ll need:

1 qt. Strawberries
1 baked pie crust
3 c. Heavy cream
1/3 c. Powdered sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla

I decided to make my own whipped cream for the pie, but to be honest, I wish I had just bought a tub of cool whip. So if you do that, forget those last three ingredients.  First, wash and quarter your strawberries. Don’t forget to sample a few as you go along! Sprinkle with a bit of powdered sugar (maybe 1/4 cup) and let them marinate in the fridge for at least an hour. Bake your pie crust as directed. Then combine your whipped cream and strawberries and fill your cooled pie crust.

If you’re making the whipped cream, start by whipping the heavy cream. I was using my hand mixer and really wished I had a stand mixer. I was getting impatient and didn’t want to ruin my chicken and dumplings, but then I remembered hearing about using a food processor to make whipped cream. Ho-ly crap. After standing there with my hand mixer for a good 10 minutes, I broke out the food processor…10 seconds later it was whipped. Add 1/3 c. powdered sugar and tsp. of vanilla and blend well.

Now my problem was that my whipped cream just wasn’t quite right, it tasted good, but it wasn’t completely smooth and it just didn’t look as pretty as store-bought. I also didn’t eat any of the pie until the next day and it had soaked through the bottom of the crust. Overall, the pie was kind of a flop, but I think if I did it a little differently, it would’ve been amazing. I still ate some and it tasted delicious, despite how it looked!

 

Now, embarrassingly enough I forgot to take a picture of the pie when it was done. Oops! Overall, chicken and dumplings were quite successful. The pie…could be improved, but that was my fault. My dad’s was always delicious! I had fun cooking these and trying some things I hadn’t done before. More than anything though, it was really nice to cook foods I knew my dad loved and to just spend a few hours in the kitchen with my dad again.

Dad, I miss you tons, but I’m thankful for the things we have here to keep us connected and celebrating the wonderful father you were. ❤

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Playing Catch-up

I’ve gotten just a little behind on posting my weekly recipes, but I have been keeping up with the recipes themselves, I promise! Last week (or last last week I guess) Erin came over for dinner. It’s always more fun cooking with a friend! Erin became a vegetarian a few months ago, so she brought over a cookbook, the most gigantic cookbook ever! It’s called How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, so I guess it makes sense to weigh a ton. It was overwhelming trying to pick out a recipe, but we both decided something cheesy sounded good. It’s probably not the most healthy recipe (ok, definitely), but we found a delicious sounding mac and cheese recipe. I’m a sucker for good mac and cheese. It was actually pretty similar to how I usually make my mac and cheese, but the recipe used cheddar and parmesan, plus it is baked with bread crumbs on top, yum!!

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Ingredients:
Salt
2 1/2 cups milk
2 bay leaves
1 pound elbow, shell, ziti, or other cut pasta
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups grated cheese, like sharp cheddar or Emmental
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup or more bread crumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.
2. Cook the milk with the bay leaves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  When small bubbles appear along the sides, about 5 minutes later, turn off the heat and let stand.
3. Cook the pasta to the point where it is almost done but you would still think it needed another minute or two to become tender.  Drain it, rinse it quickly to stop the cooking, and put it in a large bowl.
4. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter; when it is foamy, add the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture browns, about 5 minutes.  Remove the bay leaves from the milk and add about 1/4 cup of the milk to the hot flour mixture, stirring with a wire whisk all the while.  As soon as the mixture becomes smooth, add a little more milk and continue to do so until all the milk is used up and the mixture is thick and smooth.  Add the cheddar and stir.
5. Pour the sauce over the noodles, toss in the Parmesan, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Use the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to grease a 9×13 -inch or smaller-size baking pan and turn the pasta mixture into it.  Top liberally with bread crumbs and bake until bubbling and the crumbs turn brown, about 15 minutes.  Serve piping hot.

Swimming bay leaves

 

Cheddar and Parm - mmm!

Cheese sauce!

Erin stirring the mac and cheese

Drool!

I’m not going to lie, I ate more than my fair share of mac and cheese, but still managed to save room for dessert. Erin told me about her aunt’s recipe for apple dumplings and I love anything that has apple in it. She didn’t have a recipe written down, so we just winged it and they tasted delicious!!

Apple Dumplings
Ingredients
1/2 stick butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 peeled, cored and quartered Granny Smith apples
1 can crescent rolls
Cinnamon
1. Melt the butter, sugar and water together on the stove.
2. Roll each apple piece in a crescent roll.
3. Place in a baking dish and drizzle the melted mix over rolls.
4. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and back at 375 for 25 minutes.

 

Wrapping the apples in dough

apples in their "bath"

I could've just eaten them raw.


While we ate, Erin and I watched Food, Inc., a documentary about the food industry. It was really eye-opening and equally depressing. I could probably write a whole separate post about the film (and I might). I definitely recommend it though (as long as you don’t mind some chicken killing). Erin also made good on her promise to teach me to crochet. I must say, it’s much much easier than knitting. I’m almost halfway done with a scarf that for the first time doesn’t even remotely resemble crap. I sat around yesterday watching tv and working on my scarf for several hours. I’m becoming an old lady. Thanks Erin for being patient with me, you’re a great teacher!

I know I’m a bit behind. I’ll post my recipes, yes plural, from this week, tomorrow. Getting back to my southern roots this week! I have a few non-food related posts coming your way too. Look out!

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Wise Old Panda

I’m really becoming an old lady recently. In the past week, I’ve started to spend my lunch break working on the crossword puzzle from the Express. For a long time I wouldn’t even let myself get the Express in the mornings because I knew I should be reading articles or books for school. Now I can do whatever I want on my metro ride – oh the  perks of having a Master’s (ha). Over the weekend, I also taught myself how to knit. I tried it once before, but didn’t go very far with it. It was one of those things that I always wish I knew how to do growing up, but the ladies in my family are not knitters, crocheters (is that a word?), or sewers (people that sew, not the poop tunnels, yes I just said poop tunnels). I watched a few videos to learn how to knit left-handed, and I think I’m starting to get the hang of it. I even have a knitting date tomorrow night with my friend Erin (who is also going to help me with my recipe for the week!)!  There are three things I wanted to learn when I finished school. Knitting is the first one I’m tackling. I don’t want to spill the beans on the other two just yet…

Do any of you knit or have family members that do?

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Recipe #4: Going Vegan

I decided to do something a little different this week. Every recipe I had tried so far was a bulk recipe, something I could pack up and take with me for lunches during the week or reheat for dinner. I had plans for dinner most nights this week so I thought maybe I would try baking something instead. Since I was sick for the past two weeks, I feel like I haven’t eaten very well. Soup, soup, and more soup, and while delicious, I just wasn’t getting everything I needed. There were several occasions where I had little more than a cup of hot tea. That counts as a meal right?

So anyway, one of my favorite blogs is a vegan blog, Oh She Glows. While I’m by no means a vegan, I think if anyone could convince me that I would want to be one, it would be Angela. I also knew I could find a fun treat that would be healthy at the same time. I don’t think I’ve ever cooked anything vegan before, so I thought that might be fun too. I decided on her apple pie muffin tops (giggle giggle). I love anything that has apple in it and when I looked at the ingredient list, I only needed to buy one ingredient. Sold!

I also used Evan’s dSLR camera. He just got a new fancy-shmancy one and was nice enough to let me play around with his old one. I’m hoping to get one pretty soon, I’ve only been drooling over them for the last two years or so (oh the woes of a grad student). So the pictures (hopefully) look better than usual. I definitely spent a lot more time than I expected on this recipe because I was playing around with the camera so much.

I have to say this recipe turned out a lot better than my last experience with spelt flour. I made bread a few months ago that no matter how long I cooked it, it was still mushy, doughy, and not done. I also got my first experience with a flax “egg.” I could’ve cheated and used a regular egg, but I wanted to see if the flax egg really was what I had heard. Basically, if you mix water with ground flax, mix it, and let it sit, it’ll turn to the same consistency as an egg!  I’m not going to go through step-by-step because  it wouldn’t be fair (or as good) as Angela’s post, so check out hers. And then check out a few pictures I took:

Nom nom! They turned out to be absolutely delicious. They were just the right amount of sweet and proved to be the perfect afternoon snack. This was a really fun recipe to cook. I like trying healthier substitutes for ingredients. I’ve used applesauce in place of oil before, but this time, the mashed banana was the ingredient replacing the oil. This certainly won’t be the last vegan or vegetarian recipe I’ll cook this year. Part of the reason I made my resolution was to push myself to cook things I wouldn’t have before and to experiment with new ingredients. I’ve given some thought lately to cutting meat out of my diet, but I haven’t made a true decision. Gosh, my Dad would’ve been horrified just to hear me say I was thinking that! If anyone has anything they’d like me to try to cook, let me know! I’m always open to ideas.

At least this resolution is going well, some of my others need some work! More on that later…

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Chicken Noodletastic “Soup”

Well I finally went to the doctor last week (that sentence originally said yesterday, but when do I ever post a timely entry?). Guess what? I have a sinus infection, duh. I got some meds and here we are on Monday and I feel like a million bucks compared to last week. I came home from the doctor and decided to tackle my soup recipe that I had decided on earlier in the week. I learned one major thing this week: follow. the. directions. While the dish tasted really good still, I wouldn’t exactly call it soup. I based my soup off of this recipe from Food Network, with some slight changes. I didn’t use any celery in my soup. Celery is just ok to me. It doesn’t have much flavor and I really don’t like cooked celery. It’s just mushy nothingness. I didn’t think I’d miss it and I was right. I also didn’t have any fresh thyme, just used some dried and it still tasted delicious!

I also learned the difference between chicken stock and chicken broth. Since I’ve been feeling crummy for the better part of two weeks now, I decided to take the easy route and buy chicken stock from the store instead of making my own. Chicken stock is made from the bones of a chicken and chicken broth comes from the meat. Chicken stock also has a fuller, richer flavor (you’re welcome!). I used 2 quarts of chicken stock in the soup. What I didn’t do was use 8 oz. of noodles. Here’s where I need to learn to follow directions. My bag of noodles was 16 oz. instead of 8 oz. I didn’t really pay attention to what I bought (I blame the plague). I dumped the whole bag into the pot and immediately panicked as they took over my soup. I tried to fish as many noodles out as I could, but it was still very noodle heavy. After Evan and I both had a bowl, there was essentially no liquid left to the soup…it kind of looks like stroganoff, oops. I think if I add another box of stock, it’ll be okay though.

 

Chicken Noodletastic Soup

2 tbsp EVOO

½ large onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 medium carrots, chopped

4 fresh thyme sprigs (if you can find them)

1 bay leaf

2 qts. Chicken stock

8 oz. wide egg noodles

3 cooked boneless/skinless chicken breasts, shredded

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Coating a large soup pot with the EVOO, sauté the onion, garlic, carrots, bay leaf, and thyme. When they’re starting to soften up, add your chicken stock and let it cook for about 5 or 6 minutes. Then add your noodles (remember, 8 ounces!). Cook for a few minutes, and then finally add your chicken and let it warm. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pretty simple recipe, really. I’m really picky about meat in soups (why I don’t like most canned soups), so I used the boneless/skinless breasts. Makes a huge difference.

 

Pandas love chicken noodle soup.

I’m brainstorming ideas for a recipe this week, I’m thinking of baking something, maybe a dessert. I’m not sure what I want to tackle yet. Anyone have any suggestions? It’ll likely happen tomorrow since it’s my day off and I can actually get some daylight cooking photos, hooray!!

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So this is what the plague feels like…

So, last week I wrote about how I was feeling sick and was spending my day laying in bed all day. Not much has changed in the past week, in fact, it’s only gotten worse since then. I have been crazy sick all week and it hasn’t improved too much, although I begrudgingly went back to work today (only because of my lack of sick days). Good news: I  did get approved for insurance. Bad news: my coverage won’t start until February. I just googled “plague” to find a picture for this post, and oh. my. gross. I’ll spare you the images. You’re welcome.

Source

I don’t have much to report from the past week, except that I’ve almost finished rewatching Veronica Mars and it’s every bit as amazing as the first time I watched it. I did finish Lucky too. I really liked it, as much as you can like a book about a true-life account of a rape. I’ve been going back and forth between two books now. One is a biography on Thomas Jefferson and the other is about how objects are made to break down after a certain amount of time so we have to buy more. I can’t decide which I want to read first.

I never posted my recipe from last week. I made a pot of chili. I wanted a really simple chili to make. I had made my mom’s recipe once before, but it didn’t come out like I wanted it to. It tasted okay, but not like what I remembered. I found what looked like a pretty similar recipe. You can find it here. The consistency turned out much better than the last chili I made, although it probably could have been a little spicier, and I’m a spice wimp! I can’t wait until it starts to stay light outside later, so I can try to get some food photographs in the daylight. I did get to try out my new bamboo cutting board that my brother gave me for Christmas, I’m definitely a fan!

I need some pretty dishes to make. This week won’t be much better though. I bought the ingredients to make chicken noodle soup and if I can ever get the energy, I’ll actually cook it.

Do any of you have any book recommendations? Recipe suggestions? I’ve been battling with looking through my dad’s cookbooks (mostly of the southern cuisine variety) and trying to cook healthy meals. Those two often don’t go hand in hand. 🙂

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Sick Day

Well, it’s my day off and instead of getting to enjoy it, I’m home with a super-sore throat. I’ve been laying in bed all morning watching episodes of Lie to Me. I suppose it’s not a terrible way to spend a day off. I just hope it doesn’t get any worse. No insurance + no sick days = bad news bears. I know I should go out and get some medicine, but there’s snow outside and I’d have to clear off my car and well, my bed is just so warm and comfy.

I started my first book of 2011 this week. My friend, Erin, let me borrow her copy of Lucky. It’s by Alice Sebold, the author of The Lovely Bones, one of my favorite books. I haven’t seen the movie yet; I heard it wasn’t very good. The book was incredible though. Lucky is Sebold’s true account of when she was raped in college. While it starts off rather gruesome and intense, it was difficult to put the book down. I read at least 100 pages within the first day of having it, and with my day off, I might just finish it today. So far, I would highly recommend it and if you haven’t read The Lovely Bones, read it.

I completed recipe 2/52 on Monday and will hopefully post it later today. It was the perfect meal for a cold winter night. For now though, it’s time to lay back down and do nothing (and eventually venture out and get some meds).

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