Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Food Demo

On Tuesday I did a food demonstration at work. My friend and co-worker, Libby, is on our company's wellness committee and they were looking for someone to do a "healthy" food demo. (the word "healthy" eliminated most of the recipes found here!) I demonstrated how to make Thai Cashew Chicken and it went really well for the most part. There were a couple of sketchy moments: a) when I forgot to plug in my electric burner at the beginning and was forced to expound upon the virtues of brown rice and rinsing rice to eliminate stickiness in buying time for the wok to heat up b) when I was peeling my ginger root and it shot across the table, but NOT onto the floor c) when I dropped a carrot on the floor. Other than those few minor incidents, it went pretty smoothly. Demonstrating a recipe was much easier than those stupid public speaking workshops I had to do at my last job. Those would give me anxiety, but with this I felt comfortable, I felt at ease. Food is my friend. I didn't burn anything, I did ramble a little, but everyone thought that the samples were really tasty and no one got food poisoning. All in all, I'd consider it a success!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Guest Post on Iowa Girl Eats

One of my favorite blogs (because IGE is local and works at Meredith) is Today I am a guest blogger with my Raspberry Cheesecake Recipe. Check me out!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sushi - No.

Lance and I made it to Taki last night. We sheepishly admitted to our server that we had never had sushi before and we didn't really like fish. Me, being me, had done a little research before we went and learned through food blogs that one of the most popular and non-scary sushi rolls available is the California roll. It features crab, avocado and cucumber. Again, us being sushi uneducated, ordered two rolls as an appetizer. Which doesn't mean two pieces of sushi - it means 8 separate pieces that were cut from a single roll and since Lance and I had ordered two rolls, we had 16 pieces. Omigoodness. Too much sushi. I had about 4 pieces (mind you this is what we ordered as an "appetizer") and knew that I couldn't stomach much more. Luckily for my supervisor Andy, I spotted him and his family and gave them the rest of the Cali rolls. The most entertaining part was watching Lance struggle with his chopsticks. As I watched him drop his sushi over and over on the table, I finally asked the server for a fork for my poor husband. (Funny side story: I was having lunch in New York's China Town with my good friend Wendy a few years back when she was living on Staten Island. I don't remember what I ordered, but the server gave me chopsticks and Wendy a fork. Wendy is much more worldly and well-traveled than I am, thus is far more efficient with chopsticks than myself. We ended up trading her fork for my chopsticks. Talk about type-casting though!) The meal at Taki wasn't all that successful. I didn't like my main dish either and barely made a dent in it. It's a good thing the whole meal was free; we finally used that gift card to Taki!
And last side note. I know that this blog is primarily food, however, I always feel strangely about taking a picture of my food when I'm at restaurants. That's normal, right? But that's why there are no pictures of the meal and typically why there are never pictures when we eat out.

Ugh. I lead discussion tomorrow night for my bookclub. I need to pick up the book from the library and refresh my memory (I read the book during Thanksgiving). I also have my food demonstration on Tuesday. There is much to do for that as well!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

French Onion Soup

I heart french onion soup. I had it for the first time when I was a poor college student working as a server at Outback Steakhouse (tip your server friends!). I never would have thought that I was the type to like french onion soup, I mean, it's onion soup for goodness sakes. That's weird. But then I tried it. And it was so rich and savory, I fell in love. Up until this point I had never attempted to make my own french onion soup, I had deemed it one of those things that I have to eat at a restaurant to enjoy. But this soup is suprisingly good and relatively easy, if you don't mind thinly slicing FIVE onions. Lance and I had to take onion slicing shifts to prep this soup. And both of us could still smell the pungent fumes in our noses even after we had went to bed. If you had a mandolin slicer, this would come in very handy and would greatly speed up the process. And perhaps would save your eyes. I will say this: french onion soup is to be enjoyed in small, managable quanities. Not in a large crockpot-esk vat. We froze the majority of this soup to be enjoyed at a later time. It's a bit rich to have mutiple bowls of it at a time.

Crockpot French Onion Soup - by Sandra Lee
5 small onions, thinly sliced
2 cans (14 ounces) low sodium beef broth (recommended: Swanson's)
2 cans (10 ounces) beef consomme (recommended: Campbell's)
1 packet onion soup mix (recommended: Lipton's)
8 slices French bread, about 1 inch thick
1 cup shredded Gruyere
Combine onions, broth, consomme, and soup mix in a slow cooker. Cook on HIGH setting for 4 hours, or LOW setting for 8 hours.

Ladle soup into serving bowls. Top with a slice of French bread. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons cheese over each bread slice. Put soup bowls under broiler until cheese is melted. Alternatively, place the bread on a baking sheet and top with cheese; broil until cheese has melted, about 30 to 40 seconds, and set on top just before serving.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Brussel Sprouts

I'm sorry brussel sprouts, no matter how hard I try, I don't think that I can like you. You just aren't that good. I tried. I failed.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Isn't my coffee cake lovely? Albeit ... upside down. The recipe called for a tube pan, which I do not possess. However, I do own two perfectly good bundt cake pans (which the ownership of two bundt cake pans in completely unnecessary. Somehow I forgot that I already owned the first one when I purchased the second at a garage sale. Note to self: unload bundt cake pan on some poor unsuspecting soul as a "gift.") If you would have used the tubepan, there would have been no for the cake to be upside down. The recipe calls for the first layer (or the bottom layer) to be cake. If you were to use a bundt cake pan, you should make the first layer streusel topping. I'm not sure if there are any sticking ramifications with doing this, so if you endeavor to make this coffee cake and are using a bundt cake pan and do make the first/bottom layer streusel - let me know how it goes :)

Anywho, I made this bundt cake for our Sunday School class today. I had about two bites. It was completely gone, so I imagine that it was well received by all. My two bites were tasty, but what can you expect from a coffee cake that is so pretty? Oh, and I must give my due credit - I first saw my friend Rose make this on her blog and by her testimony, decided to whip this up too.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake by Ina Garten

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sour cream
2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the streusel:
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup chopped walnuts, optional

For the glaze:
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons real maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.
Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is completely mixed.
For the streusel, place the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and butter in a bowl and pinch together with your fingers until it forms a crumble. Mix in the walnuts, if desired.
Spoon half the batter into the pan and spread it out with a knife. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup streusel. Spoon the rest of the batter in the pan, spread it out, and scatter the remaining streusel on top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. Carefully transfer the cake, streusel side up, onto a serving plate. Whisk the confectioners' sugar and maple syrup together, adding a few drops of water if necessary, to make the glaze runny. Drizzle as much as you like over the cake with a fork or spoon.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring Supper

I forgot to take a picture of supper tonight. By the time that Lance and I got home from work and got supper together, it was close to 7:15 pm. No wonder I forgot to take a picture, we were both ravenous! It was so nice to pull the grill for the first time this spring. I like the flavor grilling imparts. Lance threw this marinade on the chicken before he went to work this morning, I trimmed the asparagus and steamed it briefly in the microwave, and then rounded out the meal with some whole wheat couscous. Do you eat couscous at your house? It's so easy and such a nice alternative to your standard rice or pasta. Yum - 1 1/4 c of chicken broth (I used hot water and chicken bouillon) brought to a boil, stir in the couscous with 2 T of butter, and remove from heat and let it stand for 5 minutes. That's it, quicker than pasta or rice!

Right now I'm watching Kate Gosselin on Dancing with the Stars. It's painful and pepto-bismo pink. Ugh. Oh Kate, how you have strayed from the women who I thought you were ... It was almost as bad as watching Buzz Aldrin. I think Dancing with the Stars is where B-list and C-list celebs go to get a career lift :)

Menu Mondays!

Monday: Caribbean Jerk chicken, steamed asparagus, and couscous
Tuesday: Steak and roasted brussel sprouts
Wednesday: Chicken satay (on the menu for the third straight week, maybe this time!)
Thursday: Tortilla soup
Friday: Taco salads
Saturday Lunch: Tuna melts on english muffins
Saturday Dinner: Taki (sushi restaurant in DM. We've had a gift card there for almost 4 years. Lance won it while he was at his first job. He's on his third job now. Neither of us have ever had sushi. It could be the reason why we've had the gift card for almost 4 years.)
Sunday Lunch: Beef and black bean enchiladas
Sunday Dinner: Homemade pizza

Who wants to eat at my house this week? I promise, I will make you eat your green vegetables! Lance isn't a big fan of brussel sprouts. I figure we just need to keep eating them until he does decide to like them :)

I had DVRed the movie "Becoming Jane" a month ago. I finally finished it. It made me sad. Poor Jane Austen. Literally and figuratively. Jane Austen is wonderful.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Aren't these gorgeous? I got the whole bunch of them for $5 at Hy-Vee! Something to help me celebrate the coming of spring and the simultaneous occurrence of snow :( Irony.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Brain Drain

How do you do something you don't want to do? Force yourself to work on your very-behind-the-eightball thesis by planting yourself in a library cubicle for six hours and then transporting yourself to Panera to stave off starvation (and insanity) for another couple of hours ought to do it. I emerge long enough for bathroom breaks.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Asian Dumpling Soup

1 box (32 Oz.) Asian-flavored Chicken Broth*
2 whole Carrots, Peeled And Sliced Thinly On The Diagonal
1 bag Frozen Chinese Or Thai Dumplings (such As Pork, Chicken, Shrimp, Veggie, Etc.)
⅓ cups Mushrooms, Sliced Thinly
1 whole Scallion, Chopped
½ cups Fresh Spinach Leaves

*According to the author, Asian-flavored broth can be found next to the stocks and broths on the soup aisle or on the ethnic foods aisle of the grocery store. Liar. This Asian went to 4 different grocery stores in search of the so called "Asian Chicken Broth." I used regular chicken broth, threw in some soy sauce and a few chili pepper flakes and called it good. Apparently my Asian homing device is out of service. Also note, I think more broth would be good. *

Pour the broth into a pot and bring to a gentle boil over medium high heat. Add the carrots. Reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add the dumplings and mushrooms and simmer for about 8 minutes. (Do not cook the dumplings at a rapid boil or they will break open.) Add the scallion and spinach leaves and continue to simmer for about two minutes longer, or until the dumplings are heated through and the vegetables are tender enough.

I found the dumplings at Hy-Vee in the organic frozen food section. They were far too expensive. But they were the only ones I could find in my frantic 45 minute lunch break.

This wasn't a bad recipe, just not a new favorite. It would be fine occasionally. I got the original recipe from The Tasty Kitchen website, a Pioneer Woman affiliate.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Iowa Girl Eats Give Away!

Iowa Girl Eats is doing a tofu press giveaway. You should check it out. :)
Do you eat tofu? Lance would prefer not to. The first time I ate tofu I was a freshman at Iowa State University. The first time you eat anything should not be a cafeteria dining and it should definitely not be tofu kabobs. Ugh ... I shudder just thinking about those lifeless cream colored blobs. It took me almost 7 years to recover from that experience. This household is still a little hesitant about consuming tofu, but it's making rare appearances in stir frys. Tofu is healthy and is a good meat substitute. And it's pretty cheap. If you are trying to sell it to my husband, it's raised locally and should be consumed to support local farmers.
The key to eating tofu is making sure you get extra firm and pressing. Pressing a majority of the water help will greatly aid the texture. To press tofu ghetto-Kara style, simply wrap it in a few clean kitchen towels, place the tofu block in a bowl and then proceed to stack several Des Moines metro phone books on it. Tofu should be pressed, at a minimum, for an hour. I then slice it up, season it with stir fry sauce, and then stir fry it in my wok with some hot oil. I finish up by adding vegetables and a little more sauce.
All in all, tofu isn't that bad. More of a refined, acquired taste :)

Tax Refund

I have read countless articles how receiving a tax refund is a bad savings plan. I know this. And yet every year around this time I start thinking about what we can do with the refund money. In the five years we've been married, a tax refund has never been guaranteed. One year we didn't pay enough in and got hammered and had to pay an exorbitant amount in to the government. There have been years where we've received a refund, but those years also seemed to coincide with having some sort of unexpected expense come up - like medical bills for surgery at the Mayo Clinic. This year is looking on the up and up - as of now, no major bills to pay or check to make out to the government. But then again, Lance isn't quite finished with our taxes yet. This is the first year that Lance has done our taxes on his own. Our taxes are never simple - we've had to deal with craziness with unemployment, multiple jobs, rollover accounts, etc. At any rate, we may get a little money back this year. I'm sure Lance will want to save it. But we've been in the market for a replacement car for Lance for the last 4 years, so maybe that will happen this year. I have dreams of investing it into upgrades for the house ... question: if we replace the carpets, does this mean I'm going to have to move all the furniture? Or does that come with carpet? :) Do you have any tax refund plans?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Here's what the AA household is eating for the week (short week, we are headed home to NW Iowa on Friday night)

Monday: Potato soup
Tuesday: Asian dumpling soup
Wednesday: Baked ziti
Thursday: Slow cooker barbecue beef sandwiches
Friday: French onion soup in a crockpot

We're having a lot of soup this week. I'm a little surprised at Lance for not vetoing ... The Asian Dumpling Soup and French Onion Soup are the only new things on the repertoire. We just finished the Asian Dumpling Soup - look for the recipe later!

Katie, this one's for you

My friend Katie E. has been on a quest to make her own refried beans. Their family has been going through potty-training and she has been looking at ways to improve her daughter's fiber intake. Mostly through beans :) Katie keeps asking me how to make homemade refried beans. I admit, I have never tried. I have no issues with them, it just isn't something that I typically think about making as a side dish. I think I'll attempt them in the future, but Katie, here is a recipe I found online.

Refried Beans

2 1/2 cups of dry pinto beans (about 1 lb or 450gm)
3 quarts of water
1/2 cup chopped onion (optional)
2 Tbsp pork lard, bacon fat, or olive oil (for vegetarian option)
1/4 cup water
Salt to taste
Cheddar cheese (optional)

1. Rinse the beans in water and remove any small stones, pieces of dirt, or bad beans.
2. Cook the beans in water.
Pressure Cooker method Put beans into a 4 quart pressure cooker with a 15 lb weight. Fill up the pressure cooker with water, up to the line that indicates the capacity for the pot. Cook for 30-35 minutes - until the beans are soft and the skins are barely breaking open.
Regular method Put beans into a pot and cover beans with at least 3 inches of water - about 3 quarts for 2 1/2 cups of dry beans. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to simmer, covered, for about 2 1/2 hours. The cooking time will vary depending on the batch of beans you have. The beans are done when they are soft and the skin is just beginning to break open.
Strain the beans from the cooking water.
3. Add the onions and lard/fat/oil to a wide, sturdy (not with a flimsy stick-free lining) frying pan on medium high heat. Cook onions until translucent. (Note the onions are optional, you can skip them if you want.) Add the strained beans and about a 1/4 cup of water to the pan. Using a potato masher, mash the beans in the pan, while you are cooking them, until they are a rough purée. Add more water if necessary to keep the fried beans from getting too dried out. Add salt to taste. Add a few slices of cheddar cheese, or some (1/2 cup) grated cheddar cheese if you want. When beans are heated through (and optional cheese melted) the beans are ready to serve.

Note: many recipes call for soaking the beans overnight and discarding the soaking liquid. We don't. We discard the cooking liquid and just add some water back into the frying pan when we are frying the beans.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Today is my birthday.

Typically, the sentence would have went "today is my birthday!!!" But somehow turning 27 and being stuck at AMICI coffee forcing yourself to write about diversity programs and their impact takes a lot of joy out of celebrating ...

It hasn't been a bad birthday by any means ... just having this stupid thesis loom over my head takes away a lot of my happiness. I will comment that I am enjoying the country music here. Keith Urban is nice.

But it's been a fun celebration - we had massive Costco cupcakes with small group on Thursday night. I wasn't paying attention and I let Jon and Jake put 27 candles in my cupcake. They didn't have a lighter so attempting to light each one of those candles was a little dangerous. Actually it was quite the fire hazard. Erika and Lance organized a girls night out at Cool Basil and we finished by playing Wii at our house. Noelle and Libby have some mad Wii skills - you would have never guessed it, but they both have excellent hand/eye coordination. Yesterday and I got to have a long phone conversation with my beloved Michigan Mandy and go out to eat at Flying Mango with Lance. The food is so good that I was a little bit miserable after the meal. I wanted to eat it all, but my stomach/heart wasn't in it. Today we went to church, had lunch in which the grill and steaks almost went up in flames (Lance is out of practice), and now I'm here at AMICI (not writing).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Donde esta Kara y la comida?

Or in English "Where is Kara and the food?" To answer: not cooking and eating out. A lot. Let's see here ...
Monday: Cajun Chicken Pasta a la Pioneer Women
Tuesday: ISU basketball game & Hickory Park (I introduced our friend to the mashed potatoes and I think he almost died in bliss)
Wednesday: I received a sample frozen meal in a bag from Pinecone Research (this is a cool program. I've only completed 2 survey so far, but I get paid $3 for each completed survey and also receive a sample to test. Easy coffee money!)
Thursday: small group meal
Friday: thai food at Cool Basil with the girls
Saturday lunch: brunch
Saturday supper: Flying Mango for my birthday (yum!!)
Sunday lunch: Asian steak & baked potatoes
Sunday supper: popcorn

Maybe next week I'll cook. :)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Random things to add to your food.

I try and be healthy because being healthy is good. Not because I'm particularly concerned about organics. True fact. If someone was able to convince me that there were health benefits to Chocolate Caramel Commotion Blue Bunny ice cream, I'd be liable to believe them :) But there are a few things I like to do that are easy ways to sneak in a few extra vitamins. Like ...
  • Flax seed or Chia seeds- add it to your cereal, add it to a Monster Smoothie. I don't even notice their presence. I've also been adding in Chia seeds to our stir frys, sauces, and soups. Haha, tricked Lance again!
  • Extra vegetables - I have shredded frozen zucchini leftover from this summer's garden bounty. I snuck some into our spaghetti the other night. Along with some carrots. Lance didn't notice. I also only used a half pound of hamburger.
  • Steel-cut oats - I'm not sure that there is proven evidence showing that these are healthier than slow-oats or old-fashioned oatmeal, but there is definitely a texture difference. Steel-cut oats are much nuttier and definitely chewier. I made these on Saturday. Lance thought they were underdone, but I think it's probably just a texture thing.
  • Extra beans - we had beef enchiladas last night for supper. Instead of making them with straight ground beef I added black beans and chilies. Extra fiber!
  • And above all, I take a multi-vitamin. My momma pounded it into my head that I needed them. Somehow it doesn't seem to be hurting me!