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Posts Tagged ‘Cooking’

Today I wanted to share a tasty summer recipe that any mom of little kids is sure to love spending an entire day making. Based on a real recipe by Ina Garten and (loosely) inspired by a true story.

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Bart and I were stuck inside for a couple of days due to snow. While we managed to escape yesterday before going too stir crazy, I did find myself getting rather worn down with the constant barrage of winter. However, a snow day seemed like the perfect time to whip up one of my favorite breakfast recipes, oatmeal yogurt pancakes, which I’ve decided to share with you today.

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Now that we’re fully moved in and partially settled, Bart and I are trying to return to some semblance of normalcy in our daily routine. One thing that has been unusual and pervasive for us over the last half a year or more is eating out multiple times a week. We enjoy going out for a meal as a fun activity now and again, but we were relying on restaurants for food more than we typically do.

One reason for this increase in eating out was house-hunting; we would be out almost all day on Saturdays and Sundays and need to eat between showings. Another reason was my periodic lack of motivation and inspiration in the kitchen, which happens to us all at some time or another. Then, during the final weeks of packing one kitchen, moving, and unpacking into another one, we were forced to eat out with abandon as we had limited resources to cook our own meals.

Needless to say, this dining schedule begins to add up considerably in cost as well as health. It’s easy to toss a few twenties or your credit card at the check when you finish a meal without thinking, but when I stop to really look at the dollar amount of some meals, I can hardly believe I’m willing to spend that much on one meal, especially when I would balk on spending that much on an item I would use every day at home. Now, obviously we have to eat, and that does cost money, but I can cook so much cheaper at home, and most of the time it’s just as tasty. Also, we are used to eating pretty well when we cook, but when I go out for a meal, I’m definitely not ordering a salad with a side veggies. So, it seemed like November would be the perfect time to get back to our normal routine, but with a kick. To keep us motivated, Bart and I have instituted an Eat-Out Challenge for the month of November.

Here’s how it works for us. We set a budget for eating out the entire month, and we do not exceed that dollar amount by November 30 (with some flexibility for unexpected things, like guests or travel). When we did this previously in Colorado, we were able to meet or beat a goal of $100 most months, which for us translated in about one restaurant or casual dining meal per week. Here, things are pricier, and we think $125 is a good goal to shoot for. If I were brave enough to calculate an estimate of our eating out expenditures for October, I think I might faint over the difference in those two numbers, but it’s totally doable. Plus, all that money saved could be used for something else fun, like fixing up the house.

To kick start our challenge, we are instituting a mini-challenge of not eating out for an entire week. That will be more challenging if we have plans to be out on Saturday, but we can work around it. That will also make our next restaurant outing more special.

I also decided to incorporate one more challenge for myself this month. As we’ll be eating at home more, I’ll need some extra motivation for cooking interesting meals. So I’ve decided to try four new recipes this month, approximately once a week, to keep it interesting in the kitchen. Bonus points if my new recipes put my fancy Wolf oven and gas cooktop through their paces. If I come across a real winner of a recipe, I’ll be sure to share. We’ll also be in Raleigh with friends for Thanksgiving, so that would be a great opportunity to try a new holiday dish.

I’m actually looking forward to this challenge. We’ve been so scattered lately that doing something like a challenge means we’re settled enough to focus on a project other than unpacking. It’s also a nice twist that it naturally involves spending more quality time in our new home.

Do you have any goals for the new month? There’s never a better time to try something new!

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Where have I been, you ask? Well, I’m not talking about being physically gone on vacation, like we were to New England a week ago. For the last month or so, my usual verve for cooking and experimenting in the kitchen has been totally out to lunch. This is evidenced by the lack of yummy food pics I’ve shared with you recently. It seemed that coming up with even the most basic ideas for dinner was an impossible chore, and I lacked any motivation for the few inspirations I had for meals or projects. Thankfully, easy ground beef meals, scrambled eggs, and tasty burnt meat on the Big Green Egg with halfheartedly steamed broccoli have saved the day on more than one occasion. But as far as preparing varied, tasty, and healthy meals for us, I have felt lacking for a while.

However, there were some glimmers of hope before we left for New England, and ever since we’ve returned I can say that I’m also back in the kitchen with at least a small helping of my usual culinary energy. I’ve actually had plenty of dinner ideas in the past week and also the verve to tackle them after getting home from work.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally made an Alton Brown recipe I’d been eying out of a Food Network magazine: quiche-filled crêpe cups. The recipe was somewhat involved–I had to whip up a batch of crêpes first, which isn’t trivial, then cook some bacon, which also takes time, and finally whip up eggs and bake them, which wasn’t hard but took a while–so it was no wonder I’d been putting it off. But I finally couldn’t resist trying to recreate a little taste of Paris at home (I was just reminiscing and missing Paris this morning…le sigh). They tasted yummy and looked very snazzy.

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This weekend, Bart and I made attempt #3 at grilling a pizza in the BGE. You would think that carbs and cheese is a home run no matter what, but historically we haven’t had luck with pizza at home even in the oven. Soggy, bready pizza crust has usually been the culprit; we’ve never really been pleased with the dough recipes we’ve tried. But we’d heard that pizza on the Egg is phenomenal, so we had to try it.

The first attempt on the BGE was sort of a long fly ball that the center fielder caught on the warning track…just almost awesome, but not quite. I already had a pizza stone, requisite for the Egg, so we started off strong there. I used the generic recipe from my bread machine cookbook. It’s really convenient to dump all the ingredients in the machine and let it do all the work, but I think it kneads the dough for way too long, making the texture a little too tough. We successfully assembled the pizza on an inverted baking sheet and got it on the pizza stone, but removing it was almost a disaster. The baking sheet wasn’t thin enough to slip under it, and despite the pizza stone, the crust was still soft and floppy. Evidently, we didn’t preheat it for long enough beforehand to achieve a solid, crispy foundation. Fortunately, we didn’t lose more than a few square inches of pizza into the fire–it could have been much worse.

The second attempt was like a routine ground-out to the short stop who threw you out five whole steps before you reached first. Not even close. We did purchase a pizza peel, which definitely aided in getting the pizza on. We also tried preheating the stone in the grill for longer, but we still didn’t get a crispy crust, and even with the peel, getting a limp pizza off the grill was challenging. Plus, I think that dough rose for too long before we cooked it, resulting in a soft, bready, and almost tasteless crust. It was very disappointing.

Being burned twice on the pizza made us a little hesitant on a successive attempt, but after scouring the internet for recipes and tips, we finally felt ready to tackle it with a new dough and a new strategy. I made the dough in the mixer, which didn’t over knead it and make it tough. It looked beautiful…just the right texture and springiness when I formed the crust. We got the stone roaring hot for 30 minutes before we added the pizza, resulting it a perfectly browned crust and downright easy transfer back onto the peel.

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It’s just beautiful! The crust had crunch and integrity and didn’t flop at all, and the toppings were perfectly browned. Our only comment was that we might prefer a slightly thinner crust, but as far as taste we were finally satisfied. Maybe attempt number four will produce The Perfect Pizza!

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