Cooking the Books


The fact that I’m a bookkeeper makes that phrase rather loaded, but have no fear–nothing nefarious is afoot, merely the past week’s menu. One of the following meals was inspired by a book I was reading. If you can guess the meal and the book, you’ll win absolutely nothing but I will wonder if you’ve been peeking in my windows at night.

Let’s review the suspects:


Monday: Pumpkin Soup with Almonds and Sage + Cheesy Biscuits

A good Monday-night supper, not too taxing after getting back to work. The soup was good, but I would prefer a creamier version (this used only stock) so milk or a can of coconut milk would probably improve it for me.


Tuesday: Shrimp Salad with Coconut Green Goddess Dressing

I had a little trouble locating unsweetened coconut cream, so I had to go with the sweetened stuff intended for cocktails. This made for a slightly sweeter dressing, of course, and Todd wasn’t as thrilled with it as I was. I also blended the avocado into the dressing rather than leaving it in chunks since Todd isn’t a fan of avocado until it’s mixed into something (guacamole not included).


Wednesday: Forbidden Rice Ramen with Eggs

Yes. that soup is purple. Blame it on the forbidden rice ramen (purchased from iHerb). I made a pot of ginger chicken broth and then split some to leave as is (Todd had to be on clear liquids for a night for a medical thing–everything’s fine!) and then I added the ramen and egg to the remainder for me. The color reminded me, tangentially, of the blue soup in Bridget Jones Diary (which I’d just watched the week before), but otherwise was a bit of a novelty.


Thursday: Grazing tray with Garlic Herb Tomato Goat Cheese Dip

After the aforementioned medical thing, I wasn’t sure how hungry Todd would be or how much energy either of us would have, so I planned a snack night but took the opportunity to make this goat cheese dip I’ve had pinned for a while. It was so good, I didn’t regret putting it together after my 3 hour nap (waiting rooms take the stuffing right out of you!).


Friday: Corn Fritters with Maple Syrup and Sausages

A slightly different take on our frequent breakfast for dinner nights. The fritters are 1 cup each of gf Bisquick and self-rising corn meal, plus a can of corn (drained), and egg, and enough milk to get everything to the right consistency. (Oh, and a pinch of salt for good measure.) They cooked up pretty quick on the griddle and were very tasty.

Saturday: Chinese take-out (use your imagination)

I did precious little this past weekend that wasn’t laying on my chaise longue knitting or watching Star Trek. I just wasn’t feeling up to much else. So when dinner time came around I gave in and ordered Sesame Chicken and Egg Drop Soup. Todd was kind enough to go fetch it.

20170212_200127Sunday: Beef Enchilada Nachos

The twist on these nachos is cooking the ground beef with enchilada sauce and diced green chilies instead of the usual taco seasoning. The homemade nacho cheese gets a kick from a bit of beer and ancho chilies.

Any guesses?

What if I told you the book in questions was a detective novel set in the 20s. It might actually be considered pulp, I can’t really be sure, but I used to read this series when I was a kid and ran out of my other books to read.

Give up? The book was And Be a Villain by Rex Stout (part of the Nero Wolfe series) and the meal was Friday night’s Corn Fritters and Sausage.

I usually enjoy when authors include picayune details like what the characters ate at a given meal, for instance, because it creates a more complete world to step into. Granted, some focus a little too much of the food to the detriment to the story, but I think Stout strikes a good balance. Unfortunately, looking at his prose with an older eye, I now see the rampant sexism (maybe correctly reflecting the mores of the day, but still) and the overuse of slang. Reasons that Todd–who is a fan of Poirot and Homes–never really warmed up to Wolfe.

At any rate, the lunch was described and sounded like a good idea. Have you ever about a meal in a non-cookbook and decided to use that as your dinner inspiration?

Tripping Hard on the Nostalgia (and this week’s menu)


Twice in the last week or so I’ve told a story about somebody that I used to know, only to have them pop back into my life a few days later. Does that ever happen to you?!

I used to say that if I had a dream about someone, it was a signal to reach out to that person (because I seldom dream about people I know who I interact with all the time, it doesn’t happen that much). Just my brain’s way of helping me keep up with people. Of course, with Facebook that’s a lot easier, and we can lurk in peoples lives without actually having to talk to them. Or something like that.

If friend #3 (who I dreamed about this weekend) pops back up from wherever in this far-flung world he may be, then I’m definitely buying a lottery ticket or something!

Whether this is a cause or effect of the nostalgia trip I seem to be on is anyone’s guess (along with my sudden and unquenchable need to listen to My Chemical Romance’s Black Parade multiple times), but it definitely feels like old times cooking from the pages of Cooking Light this week.

(Do you see what I did there? Moving along…)

Here’s what the week looked like on our table.


Monday: Creamy Carrot & Herb Linguine + Salad

Lemon-Dill Quinoa Chicken Soup w/Ricotta Sweet Pea Toasts (link & link)

Tuesday: Lemon-Dill Quinoa Chicken Soup w/Ricotta Sweet Pea Toasts

Roasted Pork Chops with Beets and Kale (link)

Wednesday: Roasted Pork Chops with Beets and Kale (via Southern Living)

Upside-Down Shepherd's Pie (link)

Friday: Upside-Down Shepherd’s Pie

Sunday: Sweet Potato Home Fries with Eggs + tangerines (link)

Sunday: Sweet Potato Home Fries with Eggs + tangerines

We had a coupe of no-cook nights: Thursday we had a leftover night because they were stacking up in the fridge and it was getting a tad bit ridiculous. On Saturday we spent a good part of the day celebrating Duncan’s bark-day and I predicted we’d be a bit tired after going to the dog park, two pet stores, and a froyo stop, too (and I was right) so we headed to a local Chinese buffet in honor of the Lunar New Year (a far cry from last year’s homemade feast, but I was not up to a repeat of that this year).

Not much to say about any of the recipes themselves (the Cooking Light ones aren’t available on their website, yet, hence the lack of links), just a good solid week of menus. I’m happy to turn the reins over to Todd for the coming week–I’ve got to get caught up on my video editing (again)!


My Favorite Risotto Recipe


Risotto has a reputation for being difficult or complicated. That’s far from the truth. Some people complain about how long it takes and that you have to constantly stir it (resulting in all sorts of “hacks” or short-cuts that claim to do it better in less time, but seldom do). Stirring constantly is what created the uniform texture of the risotto, it’s not something to be skipped over, and we’re only talking 20 minutes or so, during which you’re also adding broth in small amounts, so it’s far from the boring drudgery that many make it out to be.

In this week’s View from the Countertop video I show you just how simple it is to make my favorite risotto, and I’ve put the recipe below, as well. I don’t think I’ve ever had this turn out poorly, and I’ve served it alongside steak, chicken, and salmon. Since I was filming this batch, I can tell you that it took exactly 26 minutes from the time I started the camera (just before adding the butter to the pan) and turning it off after making up our plates. And that included going and scolding Duncan at least once for whining at the baby gate keeping him out from underfoot! Add maybe 10 minutes to prep the fish and chop the rosemary; even then this is not a lengthy meal to prepare!

Risotto Friuli-Style with Rosemary and White Wine

From Marcella Cucina, by Marcella Hazan, lightly adapted for Low-FODMAP diets
Serves 4-6

6 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 T garlic olive oil
1 T chopped fresh rosemary
2 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine

2 Tbsp butter
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring the broth to a boil and reduce to a simmer. You want the broth hot so as not to slow down the cooking process.

Melt the butter with the garlic olive oil in a large pot or pan over medium heat. Stir in the chopped rosemary and then the rice.

Raise the heat to medium-high and stir the rice in the butter mixture to coat every grain. Add in the wine and cook, still on medium-high, stirring constantly, until the wine is absorbed.

Add the first cup of broth (about 2 standard ladles worth) and cook and stir until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Then add more hot broth, this time only a single ladle or half a cup at a time, cooking it is absorbed, stirring constantly, repeating until all the broth has been incorporated. This part usually takes 20-25 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the mantecare ingredients. This adds creaminess and richness and is not to be missed! Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve while warm.

We ended up having two nights of take-out (I know, so sad). One was planned but the next night I had a horrible sinus headache and just couldn’t fathom the thought of being in the kitchen, so Todd went and picked up Chick-fil-a and I got to experience the amazingness of the Frosted Lemonade. Oh, man, I think I could have one of those every day and not get tired all summer. I’m definitely on a lemon kick.

Here’s what the rest of the week looked like:

Home-Cooked Meals 6/13-6/19

Home-Cooked Meals 6/13-6/19

Monday: Zucchini Crust Pizza
Another as-seen-on-Facebook recipe, this started with the basic crust recipe from Tastemade and I added a meat sauce, tons of mozzarella cheese, and some mini pepperoni slices. Why a meat sauce? It made no sense to me to dirty two dishes to make both the tomato sauce and brown the ground beef. And my zucchini yeilded way more than 4 cups of shreds, so I think we ended up with a double-thick crust. That mean it never crisped up enough to pick up like a slice of normal pizza, but the flavor was really good. I think if/when I make this again I’ll just use some self-rising flour (like gluten-free Bisquick or the like) for a little loft and layer everything in a casserole dish. It’d also make a good freezer meal, I think.

Tuesday: Vegan Corn Chowder
The problem with planning your menu with an eye on the weather is that the weather can shift and leave you with a serious mismatch. Such was the case with the rain holding off until Wednesday and it still being hot and humid on Tuesday night. Oh, well, we always enjoy this corn chowder (from What to Feed Your Raiding Party, the cookbook I wrote), regardless of the weather. I did, however, opt not to make the corn muffins I’d had in mind.

Wednesday: Coconut-Lime Chicken, Purple Rice, and Steamed Green Beans
This recipe from Once a Month Meals looks similar to what I have in our freezer meal recipe reservoir. Usually I’d bake this one, but grilling would be a good idea, too! The purple rice is the last of the bag I brought back from Disney Springs last fall. This time, just making it straight, I could taste a little more of the inherent sweetness in the rice and I definitely would like to pick more of this up next time I find it.

Thursday & Friday: Take out
Thursday was a lettuce wrap from Jimmy John’s (Beach Club is my absolute favorite) and Friday was a Chick-fil-a Cobb Salad and the aforementioned Frosted Lemonade. It was so hot and miserable I was definitely leaning more towards the cold foods, can you tell?

Saturday: Vegetarian Eggs Benedict
As spotted on Cast Iron Cookie, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Hollandaise sauce (it came out too thin for my liking) but the idea of using hashbrowns (Minimalist Bakers’ Hash Brown Haystacks, and I definitely recommend using an egg in the mix) for the base and adding greens instead of the Canadian bacon, that I was all for. Instead of just wilted greens I opted to make up a quick creamed spinach (but kept it fairly thick) for the middle layer. And can I just say that this was my best batch of poached eggs probably ever.

Sunday: Rosemary Risotto with Broiled Salmon
The reason for my being, this week. Since we already talked quite a bit about the risotto, all I did to the salmon was add some salt, pepper, lemon slices, and a sprinkle of dried dill. I put them in shortly after I started the risotto and it was all done at the same time.

That was our week, what’s on your plate for this week?

Fondue for Two at Home


Happy New Year! How did you choose to ring in the new year?

We like to avoid crowds and reckless drivers by celebrating at home and, for the last few years or so, we’ve whipped up a tasty fondue at home as a way to make dinner a little more special.

Our New Year's Eve Feast!

Our New Year’s Eve Feast!

The above picture was pretty popular on my Facebook feed that night, so I thought I’d spill the beans (or cheese, at it was) on just how simple it is to put something like this together. It looks impressive, and tastes divine, but it’s not a lot of work.

First, you need a fondue pot. You can find various types at thrift stores and yard sales, or you can pick up a new one. You can get an electric one or one that uses fuel (like Sterno) or a candle. The one we have was a gift from my mom years ago and it’s the latter type. Intended for chocolate, it calls for a small Sterno can but I can never find the right size. Never underestimate the heating power of a tea light, though–it’s always done a great job of keeping the cheese or chocolate nice and fluid. (For a broth-style fondue, where you’re actually cooking your add-ins, I do bring out the Sterno, even if it doesn’t fit the holder quite right.) You can also use a small slow-cooker for cheese or chocolate fondue. As long as it keeps it hot, you’re golden!

Next, you need a quick and easy fondue recipe. This year’s came from The Fondue Bible (I reviewed it back in 2014) and is super simple.

Bacon Cheese Fondue

adapted from The Fondue Bible, Ilana Simon

6 slices bacon
1 cup Greek-style yogurt
8 oz Gruyere cheese, grated
4 oz old Cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste
pinch ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp dry mustard

Fry (or bake, our preferred method) the bacon until crisp, allow to cool, then crumble. Grate your cheeses and mix with the nutmeg and dry mustard. Do these steps ahead to make night-of preparation easier.

Heat yogurt over low heat until warm. Add handfuls of the grated cheese and stir with a wooden spoon until melted. Once all the cheese in in, add the rest of your ingredients, seasoning to taste.

We found this to be a little thick so stirred in a bit of milk (maybe 1/4 cup in total).

Of course, the last think you’ll do is put the fondue together. Save that for last, and start laying out your trays of nibbles.

A cheese fondue is not meant to cook anything, so your dippers need to be okay eaten raw or already cooked. On the cold tray I assembled:

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Strawberries
  • Radishes
  • Baby carrots
  • Grapes

Not all of these go into the cheese (though you might be surprised at the different combos you can make), but it’s nice to have some cool palate cleansers set out. Apples and pears are not something I eat very much of (since they’re high FODMAP), but we had both in the house so I decided to indulge. The apples were already sliced and bagged, but the pears came in a Harry & David gift box so needed to be sliced and dunked in a little lemon water to keep them from browning too fast on the tray. I split the carrots and radishes in half for better portion control. The strawberries were small, so I just removed the stems. Very simple and quick.

On the cooked tray I did a mix of hot and cold:

  • Capicola
  • Salami
  • Prosciutto
  • Smoked Salmon
  • Chicken Sausage

The salami, capicola, and prosciutto came in a three-pack from Trader Joe’s; the first two already in a pretty little fall so all you have to do is set it out on a wooden cutting board. The proscuitto had deli paper interleaved and it was easier to crinkle it up in a corner than try to straighten out the slices. Work with what you’ve got. The smoked salmon was sliced thick, so I broke it up for the other corner. Presentation is all about balance. The chicken sausage was fully cooked, but I warmed it up in the microwave while arranging the rest of the tray.

Then there’s the bread. A good cheese fondue just begs for fresh bread, so either pick up a baguette from the bakery or, if you’re shopping far in advance, head to the freezer aisle for a load that can go in the oven while you’re laying out your trays. I found a gluten-free loaf that only needed to come to room temperature, didn’t even need baking, and it was fabulous!

I also added some frozen spinach-artichoke dip from Trader Joe’s that was microwavable–all I did was put it into a pretty dish. It was a last-minute add to the table but we certainly enjoyed it.

Fondue for Two

I hope you’ll consider fondue for your next special night in. It’s great for birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, or any given date night.

Giving Thanks for the Little Things

Everyday Adventures

I’ve had a reason to stop at the grocery store each night on the way home, there are two pans of cornbread chilling out on the counter for dressing, and pies and cranberry sauce made. Yup, it’s Thanksgiving!

Growing up, Thanksgiving was always Mom’s favorite holiday. When we still made an annual pilgrimage back home to Louisiana, it’d be for Thanksgiving more often than not.

She preferred it over Christmas and I can see why. Leaving aside the pressures on a single mother to come up with presents and a tree and all the other things that go with the typical idea of Christmas, Thanksgiving is about food, and family, and taking a moment to be grateful for what you have, not wishing for what’s next. Those big dinners at Paw-Paw’s house were full to bursting with people, with tables and counters piled high with food. You grabbed a plate, piled it high, and found someplace, any place, to sit and eat.

Many years we kids ended up on the porch steps.

As much as I look back at those trips with a certain nostalgia or fondness, I admit to wanting, if not the full Norman-Rockwell experience, at least something closer to what I saw in the media, or even what I experienced at Sunday dinners at friends’ homes.

Which is to say, everyone seated around one table, food being passed from person to person. And everything that goes with it.

Seems silly, really, in the grand scheme of things. But it’s what I wanted.

Thrifted Table and Chairs for $50 (the leaves are leaning against the wall near the window)

Thrifted Table and Chairs for $50 (the leaves are leaning against the wall near the window)

So when we stumbled upon that dining room table and chair set for $50 at the thrift shop on the next block, I was ecstatic because this table was wide enough to hold people and their plates and still have room for serving dishes. Could seat 8 with no problem and up to 12 if we were in the mood to be cozy. Not only that, but we’d have enough chairs, between the old kitchen table and the new-to-us chairs that we wouldn’t have to bring out folding chairs or wheel in our desk chairs anymore.

Last year, getting ready for our first Thanksgiving in the Dollhouse, I was already looking forward to it when at work, the Friday before, one of the guys in the back came up and said I had several big boxes and did I want to bring my car into the alley for them to load ’em up.

They filled my trunk, the back seat, and even one in the front--it was like moving again!

They filled my trunk, the back seat, and even one in the front–it was like moving again!

Realizing what it must be, I looked at Mom across the office and uttered, rather indelicately,

Did she ship the f-ing china and silver?!


Years back, Aunt M polled the nieces and nephews to see what of her Mom’s things we wanted. She wasn’t planning to wait until the reading of the will to disperse them, instead she was going to downsize in “5 years” (I later found out that was a rolling deadline) when she retired and parcel everything out, then. I requested the china and silver if they weren’t already spoken for.

See, when I was much younger, between ages 3 and 5 or so, we lived with my grandmother on my dad’s side and that house is the site of my earliest memories, including the Thanksgiving I was still in my high chair, at the corner of the formal dining room table, and I asked my uncle in the next seat for another roll as I’d eaten mine. That’s when he explained that I was supposed to save my roll as a pusher (to get food onto my fork) and then eat the roll last.

I don’t know if that’s common advice, but I remember that. And I remember the table set with the china and silver (though I couldn’t exactly remember the patterns). It didn’t matter what they looked like, it was a part of my childhood and I wanted it if it was available.

So in those seven massive boxes, packed in a mountain of bubble wrap and packing peanuts, was Maw Maw Hoover’s service for 12, plus serving dishes. Aunt M was flying in for the holiday in a few days (so I didn’t expect the dishes until a trip she drove down because, really, that’s a lot to ship) and wanted to surprise me.


Noritake Ardis china and Chantilly silver

Noritake Ardis china and Chantilly silver

Todd and I spent a good while digging out all the pieces, checking them for damage to assure my aunt that everything came through fine. Dinner, salad, and dessert plates, coffee cups and saucers and even demitasse cups and saucers all fine and accounted for. I was like a kid in a candy store!

Finally, a family dinner done "right."

Finally, a family dinner done “right.”

I host a baby shower that weekend, so the salad plates were immediately put to use, then Aunt M offered to polish the silver Thanksgiving morning, saying it was usually her job as the youngest to do so, so she’d do it again. And over dinner she told us the story of why there are 13 dinner forks.

The Story of the 13 Forks

The china and silver don’t date back to when my grandparents got married, but to when their oldest daughter (20 years Aunt M’s senior) got married and was doing all the registering for gifts and selecting patterns and whatnot. Maw Maw decided she deserved some china and silver herself. She was always afraid of the silver being stolen, however, and there was a specific hiding spot in the sideboard or wherever that they stashed the silver rolls (preferred over the cases because they were easier to hide/less obvious). Paw Paw, however, was adamant that no one was going to steal the silver and shook his head at her foolishness.

Well, they came home one day and the house had been broken into. First thing Maw Maw says is “check the silver.” Paw Paw insists that it would be there, and it was… or so they thought.

I don’t remember if anything (else) was taken from the home, but it turned out that one of the silver rolls had been absconded with, the one with the dinner forks, and was subsequently replaced. Then, later on, a fork was found in the grass outside the huge double doors that were really the front doors but that no one ever used because the kitchen entrance was more convenient. Whoever had stolen the forks was in such a hurry that they must not have noticed when one fell out of its slot.

And that is why there are 13 forks for our otherwise service for 12.

Always good to have a spare, I suppose!

Not gonna lie, I was pretty happy to set our table with the family china and silver, and use the pretty serving dishes along the middle of the table as the sold table decoration (except for the runner shot with silver and gold, tying the curtains and the silver edges of the plates together). There was no need for a buffet, though we did have to remind my brothers which direction to pass the food in, and I was happy to have what I always considered a “normal” family dinner.

This year, Aunt M won’t be joining us for Thanksgiving, she’s preparing to sell her house in New Jersey and relocate to her not-as-downsized-as-originally-planned lake house in Kentucky before jetting off to Liberia to supervise another round of labwork on the Ebola vaccine trials or something to that effect. She’s a busy woman. So I’ll be the one polishing the silver while watching the Macy’s parade this year.

I realize this post might sound sort of superficial–silver, china, a dinner table–it’s not exactly earth-shattering reasons for gratitude. If we were still serving buffet style and using folding tables and our IKEA flatware I’d be just as happy to be hosting another Thanksgiving dinner for my family. At the same time, that dining room table is one of the things that actually helps me feel like a capable adult, instead of the inner clueless 18-year-old that is my usual, and looking at 40 around the corner I figure it’s about time!

So, yes, I’m grateful for my home, my family, my friends. I’m thankful that I have a job that pays the bills, and that I’m able to do what I want with my time the rest of the days and weekends. And tomorrow will likely be a little hectic at moments and on Friday we’ll plunge into the Christmas season and the headlong rush to 2016. But it’s the little things, like the $50 dining room table, that remind me of all of that and more.