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?

50s Food is Pretty Tasty!


Or so said Todd, midway through my latest Junior League cookbook week. I’m not exactly inclined to disagree, either!

Monday we met up with friends at George and Louie’s for a much-needed catch-up session. Considering the restaurant has a retro feel with it’s sign and it’s music, I’m going to say that it was a happy accident to make it fit in with the rest of the week (well, most of it).

Italian Pizza Pie with Savory String Bean Salad

Italian Pizza Pie with Savory String Bean Salad

Tuesday kicked off the tour through the original River Road Recipes (affiliate link), published in 1959, with Italian Pizza Pie and Savory String Bean Salad. Like last time, I’m including the images of the recipes rather than typing them out because part of the undeniable charm of these sorts of cookbooks is the look of them. Transcribing them just insn’t enough!

River Road Recipes, page 89

River Road Recipes, page 89

Yes, pizza night, and the pizza was very good for being a simple ground beef and cheese combo. While the recipe called for roll mix (and I’d originally planned to use gluten-free Bisquick for that step), I ended up buying the Schar gluten-free pizza crusts. I’ve had their bread before and it was a little iffy, but these pizza crusts were amazing! It may have helped that I added garlic olive oil to the crust, some of which seeped through the docking marks, meaning the bottom of the crust “fried” in the olive oil as it baked, but whatever. I’m definitely buying those crusts again.

River Road Recipes, page 34

River Road Recipes, page 34

The side dish was the real surprise. It was a bed of lettuce topped with dressed green beans, topped with egg salad. But that egg salad, though. It had bacon in it. I’m pretty sure I’ve made egg salad sandwiches somewhere in my past that had bacon on top, but this was very next-level. If you like bacon and egg salad, chop up some bacon and added to the egg salad next time and let it sit for a bit before eating it. Trust me.

Lemon Pork Chops + Eggplant Supreme

Lemon Pork Chops + Eggplant Supreme

Wednesday was another winner of Lemon Pork Chops and Eggplant Supreme.

River Road Recipes, page 84

River Road Recipes, page 84

Making some rice or noodles would not have gone amiss with the very tomato-ey Lemon Pork Chops, as there was a fair amount of gravy left over.

River Road Recipes, page 55

River Road Recipes, page 55

Eggplant is rather hit-or miss for Todd, but I keep searching for ways to prepare it that he might like. This Eggplant Supreme was a surprise win with the celery, bell peppers, and cheese. The bits of Worcestershire and hot sauces weren’t super-strong, but they definitely added a little something to the dish!

Thursday was a bit of a rough day at the office, resulting in a tension headache that just wouldn’t go away until sometime after 8pm. I didn’t feel up to cooking, so Todd picked up sushi for us.  Maybe not the standard headache “cure” but it worked for me, that night!

Shrimp Floridian en Papillote + Baked Potatoes with Sour Cream

Shrimp Floridian en Papillote + Baked Potatoes with Sour Cream

Friday I was back in the kitchen with a little Shrimp Floridian en Papillote (try saying that without a Justin Wilson accent, I dare ya!) along with some Baked Potatoes with Sour Cream.

River Road Recipes, page 113

River Road Recipes, page 113

Usually en papillote would have me making parchment paper packets but this recipe just called for cooking it in a covered dish. You will not see me complaining about this fact. The combination of blue cheese, cream cheese, garlic, and white wine (a Florida muscadine wine, because we had it in the fridge) was quite good, and could have easily been a topping for pasta or the baked potatoes we had with it.

River Road Recipes, page 60

River Road Recipes, page 60

Now, why would we feel the need to have a recipe for baked potatoes–isn’t that pretty simple and straight-forward? Yes, but there was something special about the sour cream mix, namely the addition of celery salt and a little hot sauce. It wasn’t a lot, but it did change the overall flavor of the topping in a very tasty way.

Pot Roast in Red Wine + Sour Cream Noodles

Pot Roast in Red Wine + Sour Cream Noodles

This past Saturday was the first in a long time that I got to just spend at home, working in my pjs in The Abyss, and not having to go into Tallahassee, since the beginning of July. It was heaven. So was the Pot Roast in Red Wine and the accompanying Sour Cream Noodles.

River Road Recipes, page 79

River Road Recipes, page 79

I usually do anything pot roast-related in the slow cooker for ease and consistency. I stuck to the stove top this time and took my luxury of time at home to let it cook nice and slow for a few hours. Worth. It. I’m not 100% sold on baking the noodles for an hour (I think I did just 30 minutes), but the combo of the sour cream noodles and the rich pot roast gravy was reminiscent of beef stroganoff, so yeah. Very tasty.

Sunday Night Quickie

Sunday Night Quickie

If Saturday was my day home to play, Sunday was the make-up day as I made my pilgrimage to the old office for a couple of hours. But I had an ulterior motive as there was a planner meet-up that afternoon that I wanted to go to. This meant I didn’t get home until after 6, though, so something called a Sunday Night Quickie sounded like a good supper option.

River Road Recipes, page 71

River Road Recipes, page 71

Essentially it’s scrambled eggs on toast but mixing in a can of chicken noodle soup? Color me intrigued. It was surprisingly tasty and not overly salty like I thought it might have been. Go figure. Breakfast for dinner is nothing new around here. of course, which is why I felt semi-confident about putting it on the menu in the first place. I think, were I ever to make this one again, I might opt for some grilled tomato slices on the side or something just to brighten up the plate.

So that wraps up our trek through the 50s, or does it? I never got to the poultry chapter and there were plenty of other intriguing recipes–do I stay in the 50s for my next week in the kitchen or shall I turn the clock back further? Time will tell!

How to Beat the Heat in Your Summer Kitchen


Growing up, I distinctly remember a few summers where Mom just didn’t cook much at all. Those were the summers where it was regularly 106, 107 degrees outside and we didn’t have air conditioning. We had a gas stove and oven, so cooking much of anything heated the entire front of the house way past sweltering.

Back then, Mom’s solutions were places like Ryan’s and Shoney’s with their kids eat free specials, drive through (my brothers were young, so a happy meal could totally fill them up), and–occasionally–cereal for dinner and then like.

Now, of course we have air conditioning in the Dollhouse, but after 100+ years the insulation is pretty much kaput, so the a/c isn’t always super-effective on the hot and humid days of a south-Georgia summer.

It’s enough to make cereal for dinner sound like a good idea again!

I haven’t quite gotten that far, yet. Instead, I planned this week’s menu to take advantage of some cold-cooking techniques and some chosen appliances that keep the ambient temperature at a comfortable level.

A Week of Meals: 6/27-7/3

A Week of Meals: 6/27-7/3

Monday: Salad Bar Salads

First I went for one of my no-cook favorites: Salad Bar Salads. The difference between Salad Bar salads and other dinner salads is partially in the presentation and partially in the customization. I like to take a little time and lay everything out on platters or in small bowls and set them out so the diners can choose what goes on their salads. This works well for picky eaters since there can be a little something for everyone, as much or as little as they want. I may have spent an hour or so slicing and dicing, but the most cooking I had to do was bring a small pot of water to a boil to hard-boil some eggs.

It’s also convenient for snacking later in the week on the leftovers.

Next, I consulted a book I reviewed a few years back: The No Cook, No Bake Cookbook. That gave me meals for Tuesday and Friday, along with some convenience items added in.

Tuesday: Rotisserie Chicken with Watermelon-Jicama Salad

The watermelon salad was pretty quick to prepare, though our watermelon was a lot juicier than the ones they used for the stylized photos. Still, it tasted pretty good with the salty feta cheese and crisp jicama, and the chilled rotisserie chicken from the prepared foods aisle of the grocery store meant absolutely no heat was required in the making of this dinner.

Wednesday: Zuppa Toscana with Bread sticks

A rainy night helps cool things down just enough to fire up the stove and oven. With the soup ready-to-cook in our chest freezer, I could have easily prepared it in the slow cooker to minimize the heat (and used the toaster oven for the bread sticks since it generates less heat than the full-sized oven), but I could also set the soup to simmer and leave the room. Not something I generally advocate, leaving the stove unattended, but if you have plenty of head-room in your soup pot and check it periodically, it’s relatively safe to do.

Thursday: Take-Out!

We ended up taking Duncan to the pet store after Todd got home from work so decided to pop through a drive-through on the way home instead of cooking. The choice of the night was Arby’s–I adore their Jamocha shake! (The turkey club was acceptable, but the shake was the star of the show.)

Friday: Tuna and Lentil-Stuffed Tomatoes with Fruit Cocktail

Another no-cook recipe, the stuffing calls for canned tuna and lentils. Canned lentils, once drained and rinsed, are supposed to be Low-FODMAP so I decided to give it a whirl. If (and that’s kind of a big if) I make it again, I’ll use chicken, leave out the capers, and substitute tarragon for the dill. It was okay, but not our favorite. The curry-yogurt sauce was tasty, though! Fruit cocktail is a delightful throwback to meals at my grandmother’s table when I was little, back in the late-70s, early-80s but when you just need a little something to round out an otherwise-complete meal? It totally fills the bill.

Saturday: Lemon-Pesto Noodles with Shrimp

Pasta is not generally a cold-prep food, but there’s a trick that you really need to know: rice noodles. Not the brown rice pasta in the gluten-free section, I’m talking about the thin rice noodles sometimes called rice sticks, rice vermicelli, or cellophane noodles. They barely need any heat to cook, just soaking in hot tap water will do if you’re going to add them to a stir-fry or soup. Since I was going to add a cool sauce of yogurt, homemade pesto, and lemon sauce, I employed another tool useful in avoiding a hot kitchen: the microwave.

Converting a traditional recipe into a microwave recipe is pretty simple. The biggest adjustment is time: I usually divide the suggested cooking time by 3, but some guides I’ve seen suggest only cooking for a quarter of the recommended time. If you’re making soup or something else with a lot of liquid, don’t add the fully amount at first–you can always add more, later, but there’s not as much evaopration going on in the microwave as there would be on a stove or in an oven. Finally, you want to avoid over-salting your food to be microwaved. Cut back on the strong seasonings and wait to salt everything until it’s finished cooking. Better safe than salty!

You can also find a lot of ready-to-microwave options in the Mug Meals book I reviewed back in 2014.

Sunday: Sweet Potato-Kale Turkey Burgers with Zucchini “Fries”

Another cool tool for cooking without heating up the house is an electric griddle. I was able to cook my “fries” on the large, flat surface, then follow up with the turkey burgers from our freezer stash.

Speaking of our freezer meal stockpile, it’s getting pretty low. Time to resupply and prep is coming soon, I think!

What’s your go-to supper plan for beating the heat?

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?

Thank Heavens for Freezer Meals


Between the changes at work and our new family of three, last week was one of those that I could have easily bailed on cooking any given night and not felt very guilty at all. The fact that I only skipped one planned meal in favor of take-out is a small victory.

Home-cooked meals from May 2-8, 2016

Home-cooked meals from May 2-8, 2016

Check out the video right here:

Monday: Sweet Potato Cake Turkey Burgers + Side Salad + Grapes
Super simple freezer meal number one–this one didn’t even need defrosting! I believe the patty recipe came from Multiply Delicious and I just subbed turkey for chicken as the former is way easier to find and frequently on sale. I also doubled the recipe to make 12 patties or 3 meals at a time. We’ll definitely be making another batch because they are just so simple to have on hand and very tasty.

Tuesday: Chicken Curry with Cabbage and Peppers + Basmati Rice
Never a bad time for a good curry, this was our first try of the recipe from Loving My Nest and I think it’s a keeper. A freezer meal, yes, but I didn’t bother with the crock pot and it was the right call–the chicken may have become mealy if it cooked all day. Now, I believe I added a can of coconut milk to the mix before I froze it and, yes, it “broke” a bit (separated) when I cooked it. Would I do it again? Maybe, maybe not. I was just trying to avoid planning this meal and forgetting to have a can of coconut milk on hand and while it affected the appearance slightly, the taste didn’t suffer one bit. And, yes, I’d definitely use coconut milk over cows milk for this curry and pretty much any curry.

Wednesday: Cod Creole + Parmesan Orzo + Green Beans
What is it with me and forgetting to actually buy the fish I put on the menu?! I stuck it out this time, though, and it was definitely worth it. Cod is not only a very milk white fish it also doesn’t tend to fish-up the house when cooked. And this preparation from Hello Spoonful is just so simple it’s hard to beat! The one brand of gluten-free orzo we can find is a love-hate thing for us. We love orzo and have many dishes that call for it, but the gluten-free version puts out so much starch while boiling that it really does resemble risotto by the end more so than plain pasta. Straining it is a joke, so I usually don’t even bother, just mixing it into whatever else I had in mind and going with the flow.

Thursday: Broiled Steak + Mexican Street Corn Salad
Mmmm, Cinco de Mayo–as if we needed an excuse to have Mexican food for dinner, but I’m happy to take it anyway. The meal was mostly about the salad, which I found over on Live Eat Learn. I could have eaten a large bowl of this salad and skipped the steak and not been deprived whatsoever–I can totally see us making it again. We did a few substitutions, though. Normally I’d swap hominy for beans in most recipes, but since we were already focusing on the corn, I opted for some zucchini and yellow squash that needed to be used from the crisper. Also, while I adore feta and cotija cheese, we had a sizeable block of white cheddar leftover from my party and I shredded that up into the salad instead. I also cooked most of the ingredients for a bit to soften the squash and peppers up. I’m sure there are endless variations one could make on this salad and not go wrong–some halved cherry tomatoes come to mind, and maybe some avocado chunks, too?

Friday: Take out!
I debated making breakfast for dinner, but my heart wasn’t in it. Instead I picked up fried chicken and fixings and enjoyed the hell out of it!

Saturday: Sweet Potato Carbonara with Spinach and Eggplant
Since Todd isn’t a mushroom fan and they’re pretty High-FODMAP to boot, I substituted eggplant for the mushrooms in this recipe from Eating Well. Even though my sweet potato “noodles” didn’t hold their shape, this was a very filling, very tasty dish overall and I would encourage you to try it, even if yours ends up a bit more like a sweet potato vegetable hash like ours did.

Sunday: Shepherd’s Pie-Stuffed Potatoes + Jicama Citrus Salad
I’m sure you’ve seen those quick-cut videos of inventive food on Facebook, right? Have you actually tried any of them out? Well, I can now say that I have and it wasn’t that bad! While I did neglect to add additional liquid to make up for the thirstyness of the coconut flour I used, everything went more or less according to plan in this recipe/video from Tip Hero. I even dug out my large star pastry tip to pipe the potatoes onto the top! The salad though, that was a disappointment since my jicama ended up well past it’s use-by date (something a little hard to tell with the leathery outside to judge by). I will attempt the salad again, though, as I really do love jicama in cold salads.

Booze tip: I totally took a short cut on the citrus salad and bought the large container of pre-sliced fruit in extra-light syrup. If you are a fan of  greyhounds (the drink, not the dog, though they are lovely dogs), save said syrup and mix with your favorite gin for an slightly sweeter version of this simple libation. Fabulous, refreshing, and super-quick.

And that’s another week’s menu! I hope you got some good ideas from what was on our plates this week and have an excellent week in your own kitchen! Remember, it doesn’t have to be “gourmet” to be good, or even great. Make what you like, mix things up a bit, get some variety in there, and enjoy your meals!