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a second chance for cooking light?

21 Mar

I have been a fan of the magazine Cooking Light for years. Actually, “fan” might be putting it mildly. I LOVED this magazine.

I looked forward to seeing it in my mailbox each month. In fact, the day it arrived, I would immediately sit down and read it cover to cover.  I would literally read every word. I would dog ear all the recipes I thought looked good and then every 6 months to a year, I would tear out those recipes to add to my recipe binders. (Yes, not only do I love cookbooks, I also have 4, 3-ring binders of recipes that I pull from magazines or printed out from online sources.)

Cooking Light recipes made up about 75% of the meals I made. Out of all the cooking magazines that come to my mailbox (which at one point was 6, but now is down to 4), Cooking Light was hands down my favorite.

That is….until the re-design. See,  a few months back (6 or so), Cooking Light did a pretty big re-design of the magazine.  It included a whole new lay-out, new columns, moving the index to the front (which I despise), and in general, a whole new look.

A look that I did not like.  Many of the articles I mistook for ads and some of the photography I felt was to Gourmet wannabe (RIP Gourmet).  At first, I thought “hey, it’s the first one, I’m sure it’ll improve and this is just an off issue”. Well, they didn’t. I new it was bad when the latest issue had sat unread for a week or two. In fact, there were a couple issues that not one recipe was dog-eared and went straight to the recycling bag. What was happening to my go-to mag?

Well, I refused to give up. The April issue arrived last week and I sat down with a hopefulness that this one would win me over.

I can honestly say, it was a vast improvement! In fact, I have a ton of pages marked with recipes to try. And there was some great articles including one on nutrition myths. I liked it so much, I will blog about it separately. ( I know, you can’t contain your excitement.)

So, in this week’s menu, I’m featuring three recipes from the April issue.  I’m giving it an all out second chance to see if it can prove its worthiness. Here’s what’s on the menu:

I’m hoping the live up to the standards of previous recipes. One thing I have loved about Cooking Light is although the recipes are healthy and well-balanced, they are not full of stuff like fat-free cheese and splenda. They use fresh ingredients plus wonderful items like olive oil, bacon, and butter. Everything in moderation ya know. I’ll give you a full report of these recipes when the week is done. I promise.

So,  I know I’m not the only one that had some troubles with this re-design. What do you think? Have you gotten used to it? Have you given up? Did you think the April issue is a vast improvement or did it just catch me on a good day?

This is a serious issue folks. If April was a fluke good issue, I might just have to write Cooking Light a strongly worded letter.

a series of unfortunate events

19 Mar

{Alternate title: why cooking just isn’t fun for me}

I’ve been pretty MIA as a blogger around here lately. My better half has been doing a lot of the cooking while I entertain the child and lie on the couch. It’s been grand. However, today’s the husband’s birthday, and so I decided that small child and I would do a little baking. At first I had this grandiose idea of doing everything from scratch!! But then I found this recipe- a modified box cake mix recipe– and decided that was more up my alley. Next the 2 year old and I had an argument about whether or not we were doing CUPCAKES or a CAKE. I really wanted a layer cake; he really wanted the cupcakes. Finally talked him into the cake by telling him how exciting it was that we’d get to put the cake on a super-fancy-special cake plate.

Next we hauled out the ingredients, the mixer, the bowl. Mixed everything together and the batter was a really thick, weird, goopy consistency. That’s when I realized I had forgotten to add the Sprite (or 7Up in my case), so in that went. Two layers of cake in the oven, and off we go to entertain ourselves for 30 minutes. At the end of the 30 minutes, small child is tantruming because his favorite You Tube video isn’t working. Then he’s tantruming that I ignore him to remove the cakes from the oven. For those of you that don’t have kids- tantrums are distracting. You do your best to ignore them and move on, but they really do get your blood pressure a boiling. So here I am, with a tantruming kid getting way too close to the oven at the same moment that I’m reaching into the oven (wearing a brand new oven mitt, mind you), and I did not have the foresight to use TWO hands to remove the cakes from the oven, and so I am unable to get a good grip with just one hand and then SPLAT! One of the cakes has overturned atop the inside of the oven door and all over the new oven mitt and I’m pretty sure I swore and then all I hear is screaming. DADA’S CAKE!!! DADA’S CAKE!!! WHAT HAPPENED WHAT HAPPENED TO DADA’S CAKE??? CAN YOU FIX IT DADA’S CAKE!!!!! WHAT WILL DADA SAY!!! I’m trying to be all calm and cool about this but really I’m pissed off and now I have smeared cake baking onto the inside of my oven door and things are just outta control all around. I took the brand new oven mitt and scraped as much gooped up cake off the door as I could. The dog came in and ate the rest off the floor, and then Ry and I dove into what was salvaged and had a little snack.

I then had to figure out this dilemma: do I stick with a ONE layer cake for good old daddy’s birthday, or do I make something else?? I went with the make something else option- or rather, make the same dang thing all over again- because Ry was REALLY in a tizzy over this destroyed cake. We had one planned errand to run this morning, which placed us conveniently in front of a Rainbow Foods. So not only did I destroy a cake, but I was then forced to shop at ghetto Rainbow to get the ingredients for cake #2.

This afternoon I’m planning on whipping up this dark chocolate cream cheese buttercream frosting (scroll way down to the bottom. and on your way check out that 14-layer wonder!). If I can accomplish the frosting task without some sort of disaster, it will be a miracle. I SO should have just picked up a back-up can of frosting while at Rainbow…

sending out an S.O.C.!!!

5 Jan

{S.O.C. = Save Our Cookies!!!}

I have a problem. It seems that every time I bake cookies they simply do not turn out. I need to pick your brains in the hopes that someone will know what I’m doing wrong.

Here’s a little history… I like my cookies dense, chewy, and soft. I like a nice thick cookie with substance to it, not the flat, thin, crunchy variety. However, it seems for the past long while that whenever I make cookies they spread out, flatten, and end up crispy and crunchy and overly baked. What could be the problem here???

Let’s examine the issue with a recipe I used today: Chocolate Chip Cookies. (Recipe given to me by my sis-in-law Kim.) Kim had these cookies at Thanksgiving I believe. They were marvelous, and fit all of my cookie standards- thick, chewy, soft, yummy. I’ve typically used the Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe on the bag (with poor results over the past couple years). I asked Kim for her cookie recipe, knowing that they could turn out terrifically. Today I made them, and while they did turn out better than my usual Toll House cookies, something still is not quite right. Let’s examine a few possible factors:

1. Ingredients. I followed this recipe to a T. I had all the ingredients on hand, and was careful to utilize the exact amounts called for. The only ‘change’ I made was that instead of using 3/4 of a bag of chocolate chips, I used about 1/2 a bag of choc chips and 1/4 bag of M&Ms. (Should that really make a difference? No.) Anyway, the ingredients I use are your run-of-the-mill ingredients that can be purchased at any supermarket. I know that butter could possibly be the issue. My butter came out of the fridge, but I softened it up by letting it set atop the stove while the oven preheated. This resulted in a nice, soft room-tempish stick of butter. My butter was purchased at SuperTarget. Are my cookies not turning out because I’m not buying butter from the Dairy Maid who churns her own butter from from her organically-raised grass-fed cow??

2. Mixer. Does the kind of mixer I use make a difference?? I’m too anti-clutter to house my KitchenAid on my miniscule kitchen’s counter; I’m too lazy to dig out the KitchenAid from the basement every time I want to mix something. So, I use a hand held Oster mixer. Just so you know.

3. Oven. I feel like my oven could be part of the culprit to this cookie dilemma. Perhaps it heats unevenly. Perhaps it gets too hot. Our oven is relatively modern- was purchased in 2004 when we moved in. It’s an Amana. It’s gas.

4. Oven rack placement. I feel this could also be the culprit. I have two oven racks in the oven. They are both spaced near the middle of the oven- not super high or super low. Our gas oven has a heating element on the top and bottom. Oh, and I don’t have more than two pans of cookies in there baking at a time.

5. Cookie sheets. Another possible culprit. My cookie sheets are 9.5 years old. They are just the plain metal non-stick variety. They have become quite dark and seasoned over time.

6. User Error. I could just be a baking idiot.

So, here’s what happened today. The recipe said to bake the cookies about 11 minutes. After five minutes in my oven, positioned at the higher of the two racks in the oven (which is the third notch down from the top), my cookies were already getting very brown on the bottom but still looked raw on the top. I left them in a few minutes longer (but less than the 11 minutes), and soon started to smell a slight odor of “burn.” I ran to the cookies and pulled them out to discover- SHOCKER- they were burned on the bottom. Pan #1 = Fail. The second pan was in the oven at the same time, only on the lower of the two racks (3rd notch up from the bottom). I wanted to make sure to not burn the bottoms of that batch, so I took them out as the bottoms were developing a nice golden brown color. Pan #2= Fail. The bottoms were a nice golden brown color, but the middles of the cookies were still basically raw. (Note- this is not a problem for me! But technically speaking, the cookie was not baked to perfection). Pan #3- don’t really remember. Somewhere between Pan #1 and Pan #2 in doneness. The last pan turned out the best (baked alone, on the upper rack.) The cookies spread out, but not too much. They were baked evenly through to a nice golden brown doneness. Soft and chewy.

So…??? Thoughts?? Was the dough for the final batch able to ‘sit’ and reach some level of divine doughness to produce a nicer cookie?? Please, help me solve this mystery!!!!

[Aside: Husband just walks in, grabs a cookie. Laughs and says “haha, you burned the bottoms again, hahahaha!!” To which I reply, BITE ME.]

departed bakery update

1 Dec

Here I am blogging, and I don’t even have to. I KNOW!!!!

I just had to post an update on the current state of things at Java Jacks since the departure of Rustica. (I’m sure others could speak to this better than I– those that frequent JJs on a daily basis for example). I was at JJs yesterday about 10:00am. Where Rustica used to be, there is now a seating area. My chai tea was only lukewarm, and I didn’t even have a delicious euro pastry to go with it. I ate a banana instead. JJs is now selling a selection of pastries from Salty Tart, but I didn’t try one. I was too depressed that I couldn’t have a cinnamon bun bun or a choc croissant. And, maybe it was simply a Monday-morning-after-a-long-holiday-weekend phenomenon, but the place was pretty empty. I’m used to going there on a weekday around 10:00 and having a hard time finding a table, but yesterday that was no trouble at all. I just have to wonder if it’s because Rustica is no longer.

(((Also, what’s happened to Java Jack’s web page??)))

random rant: pre-holiday grocery shopping

25 Nov

It’s no secret I hate grocery shopping. Imagine my distaste for shopping in the day or two leading up to a major food holiday, such as Thanksgiving for example. I went to Lunds yesterday morning to pick up a few miscellaneous items. And let me just say it’s a good thing I was in a good mood, that my kid was happy, that I wasn’t in a rush, and was thinking only happy thoughts through the store, because if anything had been slightly wrong in my world, I probably would have gone majorly bananas during the shopping trip. The place was a zoo- although nothing compared to what I’m sure it will be like today. The store was teeming with old people- and I have NOTHING against old people!!! But couple the elderly shoppers with the soon-to-be-elderly checkers and the already-elderly baggers/carry-outs*, and that makes for some VERY long, slow-moving lines. Again, I must reiterate it was a fabulous blessing that my kid was in a good mood yesterday morning.

I pity the fools that will be out grocery shopping today. May I suggest a glass of vino or a mild sedative before you enter the store.

*I must give props to my awesome carry-out man!! He noticed my ginormous plastic sack filled with plastic bags taking up the entire back end of my car, and asked if he could haul them inside the store to be recycled. Because no matter what, I always forget to bring them in with me to shove into the plastic bag recycling bin.

random rant: turkey day stress

18 Nov

I’m hosting Thanksgiving for my family this year. There will be 15 of us. For those of you that have been to my house, you know what a feat this will be. For those of you that haven’t been, let me fill you in. I have no dining room, I have one bathroom, and all rooms are small. Though, all the rooms are cute!

I love hosting people at our home and I love cooking for crowds. However, I must say, I’m stressed. This will be the first time I’ve hosted a large holiday which for some reason has me even more wigged out. I don’t think I’ve admitted out loud how wigged out I am. So I’m doing it on the blog.

Here is what is keeping me up at night:

  • How will I fit 15 people? I’d like for them to all be sitting together. Should I tell them to wear parkas and we’ll eat outside?
  • This will be my first time cooking a large bird. What if I make some elementary mistake and it looks like the turkey from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?
  • I am not making my grandmother’s stuffing recipe because…..I don’t like it (sorry grandma!).  I’m trying something new. Will my family forgive me?
  • Is a Wii bowling tournament a good idea? I think so, but will others think it’s lame?
  • Where should I set up beverages where people are not trouncing through the kitchen?
  • Is there one kind of beer everyone likes or do I need multiple? I like to keep the brothers happy.
  • Do people care about lumps in the mashed potatoes?
  • What if there is a giant snow storm and I’m stuck at home with a 20-lb turkey?
  • With that many people in the house, do I need to turn on the AC?

Okay, I feel better now that I have that off my chest. It was really good therapy. I realize after reading these, some of them are a little ridiculous.  This is my family after all, they have to like me.

For you Thanksgiving pros out there, I would love to hear any thoughts/comments suggestion/tips!

random rant: hummus

11 Nov

I must be in a uber positive mood because I can’t think of anything of substance to really rant about. I think of rants as something negative but does it have to be? I don’t think so. This will be a positive rant about one of my favorite foods: hummus.

I love hummus. Really love it. I will always chose hummus when it is available. Creamy, tangy, garlicky, grabanzoy…wait, that probably is not a word, but you get what a mean. If I go long stretches without it, I get antsy and crabby and start to dream about it.

I’m not exactly sure when I first was exposed to hummus, but I do know  it was from my sister, Jackie. She has been a hummus fan for years and as it turns out, my older sis was on to something.  At first, I just thought it was funny that she brought hummus as a veggie dip (we like to tease her on being lactose intolerant), but once I started trying it, it didn’t take long to convert me. I guess I should listen to my sibs more often. They are so darn smart.

Hummus is a traditional Greek food and can often be found on a platter with olives, stuffed grape leaves and of course, pita bread. That is my kind of platter. Try that platter at your next party. Your guests will thank you.

Tonight, I have hummus on the brain.  I just whipped up a batch for a potluck at my office tomorrow where I will serve it with some veggies and pita bread. However, there are many other uses for hummus. Some of my favorites include:

  • as a dip for veggies and pita bread or pita chips (it was worth mentioning twice)
  • sandwich spread
  • on a salad – this was an idea from my friend, Meghan, who introduced me to the Goddess Salad which I will save for a later post, but in the mean time, try hummus on a salad with some lemon juice. You won’t need anything else for a dressing.
  • mixed with tuna to serve on a sandwich or a cracker
  • with a spoon – yep, I’ve been known to do that.

I’ve tried many different hummus recipes and in the process came up with one I like most. The key is to top it with fresh lemon juice right before serving – it makes all the difference.

Jen’s Hummus

3 cloves, garlic

2 heaping Tbsp. Tahini (sesame seed paste sold at most grocery stores)

2/3 C. water

1-2 tsp. cumin depending on your taste (I like 2)

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1/4 C. fresh lemon juice plus more for serving

2 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

salt and pepper to taste – start with a 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.

Combine garlic, water and tahini in a food processor or blender (both will work great) and process until garlic is chopped up. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until smooth. Taste for seasonings and adjust to suit your tastes. If it is too thick, thin with water or lemon juice. Please squirt some fresh lemon juice on top before serving…please? You won’t regret it. You could even sprinkle some chopped parsley on top to make it look really fancy.

Interesting add-ins:

Roasted Red Peppers – tonight I added a Fire roasted pepper for a spicy kick. If you do this one, I would decrease the amount of water otherwise it will be to runny. Why do I know this? Because I did not decrease the water and it turned out to runny for my taste.

Pumpkin (canned or pureed from a fresh one) – I’ve really wanted to try this but haven’t done it yet. Have any of you? I think it sounds delish. Maybe with some pumpkin seed kernels on top?

Black beans – substitute one can of chickpeas for black beans and use lime instead of lemon. Serve with tortilla chips.

Curry Powder – swap for the cumin or add a little of both.

Do you any of you have any hummus variations? I would love to hear them.

I love hummus.