Cooking


Some of the makings of a good breakfast

As absolutely boring as this sounds, I love oatmeal. It’s actually my favorite breakfast food (yes, that means it beats out bacon). And while I can make do with instant, I really, really love steel cut oatmeal. Of course, if you’ve ever made steel cut oatmeal, you know that it is not the most weekday morning friendly meal–it takes about a half hour to cook. Yes, it’s relatively unattended cooking time, but still, I am not really a morning person, so the less I have to do before I get out the door for work in the morning, the better.

Which is why my favorite thing to do lately is make oatmeal in my crockpot.

I use this Alton Brown recipe as a base, but I have quite a few adaptations.

First off, Brown’s recipe does not call for salt. Which…just no. I have always added a bit of salt to the oatmeal I’m cooking, because it just gives it a little flavor kick. So usually add a bit less liquid than he calls for (generally I take away about 3/4 a cup of water) and a dash of salt. I usually don’t add figs, instead, I toss in two Granny Smith apples (peeled, cored, and diced). I also add a hefty dose of cinnamon and ginger.

If I do a recipe and a half worth, I get enough oatmeal for the three of us (Ron, me, and our roommate) for three mornings. The lovely things is, it refrigerates and re-heats beautifully. I refrigerate the leftovers on the first morning and they can be reheated for about 2 minutes in the microwave and taste pretty much just like fresh.

I don’t have kids or anything, but mornings are really hard for me to get going, so anything that makes the day easier helps so much. And, it’s part of my ever, on-going, sometimes unsuccessful quest to be healthier. It’s a lot easier to say no to a doughnut if I have something I already like.

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Super Veggie Shakshuka

The finished product. It was so good.

One of the classes I took at Craftcation was a cooking class with Aida Mollenkamp. It was a great class, and not just because she made us cocktails at the end of it. I love taking cooking classes. I know how to cook a lot of things, but I find myself often falling into a rut of what I know how to do the quickest and what is the most familiar. Cooking classes open me up to new ideas and flavor profiles.

One of the recipes we made in the class was her Tunisian Harissa Shakshuka. It was so, so good and a really neat twist on traditional Shakshuka. But her recipe is a little bit spicy and since all three of us in my house suffer from acid reflux on some level, spicy food is a once-in-a-while occasion for us. So I went searching for a more traditional variation on her recipe that I could make.

I ended up using this recipe from Food and Wine as a jumping off point, but since I’m me, I still made some changes. I made it vegetarian, simply because the store didn’t have any good pancetta when I was shopping. In fact, since I’m always looking to add more vegetables to what I cook, I added both carrots and asparagus to the recipe. I cut up the carrots into small discs and tossed them in when I added the onion, garlic, and chard stems. And I cut the asparagus into relatively small pieces and added it to the pan about a minute before I added the tomatoes.

I really don’t like pre-made tomato sauce. I much prefer to make my own and it’s not difficult (in fact, I’ve shared a really simple marinara recipe of my own in the past) so used a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes, and 14 oz can of diced tomatoes, and about two tablespoons of tomato paste to approximate the prepared tomato sauce. I also added Italian parsley to the recipe at the end, right before putting in the chard, just because I thought it would add a little freshness. And I used Romano cheese instead of Parmesan, simply because it’s what I had on hand.

I loved this recipe. It’s not bland (the crushed red pepper gives it a little kick without being so spicy that I end up miserable with acid reflux) and it cooks up pretty quickly. I had rehearsal tonight for a show I’m doing and I was able to start this when I got home from work and be done with plenty of time to eat. As an added plus, the time it was in the oven let me clean up the kitchen before I ate, which is something I always appreciate when I’m on a tight schedule.

I was a little worried that Ron wouldn’t like it; he’s a little picky about the consistency of his eggs, but he loved it too. And since I made such a big pan, we had a lot of the stuff uneaten, so I made some pasta to to eat with the leftovers for lunch today. I love it when I get two meals for the work of one.

I actually have a lot of ideas for variations on this theme. If I made it with roasted red peppers and soyrizo and served it with beans and tortillas it would make a really tasty breakfast. Or I could add chickpeas, sprinkle on some Feta, and eat it with pita for a Greek flavor. But definitely two thumbs up for this quick, tasty, easy, and filling recipe.

I eat a lot of vegetables. I live in a land of perpetual summer (okay, not really, but the weather is such here that it’s the growing season for something all year round), which means that I’m very lucky in that I can pretty much always get fresh produce. Our farmer’s market goes year round.

A few years ago, I was part of a CSA, but I stopped because the pickup was unfortunately too far from my house. So now I just hit the farmer’s market. But the cool part of being in the CSA is that I got a lot of different vegetables that I hadn’t really been exposed to. Or that I thought I didn’t like.

One thing you get a lot of in CSA boxes are greens. Kale, chard, spinach, beets with greens attached. I never really thought I liked greens, except for spinach. But I didn’t want them to go to waste, so I learned how to cook greens and make them tasty. (And healthy. This is not the southern method of cooking greens that uses bacon fat!)

This is less a recipe and more some guidelines. I often use this to whip up a side dish to whatever else we are having, and to use up vegetables that I need to eat before they go bad. It’s very versatile

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Some chopped rainbow chard. Don’t be intimidated.

Ingredients

1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced (you can substitute or add onion if you want)
Any other vegetables you want to cook, chopped into smallish pieces, as if you’re going to saute or stir-fry them. (I find carrots, red peppers, mushrooms, and summer squashes work really well, but you can use pretty much whatever you want).
1/8 cup of water or broth
Your greens, washed and chopped into ribbons (I’ve done this with kale, chard, and, collards, and beet greens, it works with them all. Here is good tutorial on how to cut kale, and it works for any green with a stem you don’t want to eat.)
Salt and pepper
Herbs and spices (Go wild here. I’m biased toward Italian flavors because that’s what I grew up cooking, so I usually use thyme, basil, and oregano. But really, you can use whatever you want that will complement your main dish).

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If the oil is too hot, this will burn.

Heat the oil on low/medium heat. Add the garlic and/or onion and a little salt. Cook until they are translucent. You don’t really want to brown them.

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All I had today were some orange and yellow carrots. I sort of need to go grocery shopping.

Add your other vegetables. Add what needs to cook longest first, let it cook for a bit, then add the next ingredient after a minute or two. I usually add carrots first, then mushrooms, then bell peppers. Summer squash goes in last, because I happen to like it close to raw and really don’t like it overcooked. Add more salt, some pepper, and whatever other herbs and spices you are using.

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This looks like a lot, but it will shrink.

After these have cooked a bit, but aren’t totally done, pour your water or broth into the pan and add the greens. Put a little more salt and some herbs.

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Your tasty, healthy side dish for the night.

Cover and let steam until the greens are wilted and tender. This takes about five to ten minutes, depending on which greens you are cooking, how tough they happen to be, and how much you have. I just take a peek every few minutes and try a bit until they are not too bitter or crunchy. Serve with the rest of your meal.

Congratulations, you’re eating your greens! I know this isn’t super gourmet, but it’s honestly one of my favorite ways to add some veggies to my diet, no matter what else I’m eating. It’s great as a side to chicken, steak, or fish; I’ve also tossed it with pasta or served it over polenta. And it’s super easy.

What are your favorite things to do with greens? Let me know in the comments and give me some ideas!

I love cooking and eating homemade food, but sometimes I’m so busy, it’s really hard to carve out the time. I’m not big on processed foods, so I’ve added some recipes to my repertoire that are quick and easy. This, for me, often involves pasta (or sometimes spaghetti squash, which is my favorite pasta substitute and which freezes beautifully). But I’m not a huge fan of sauces out of jars. Now, I can make really elaborate pasta sauce from scratch that takes all day, but that doesn’t really help me if I’m hungry after at 6:30 in the evening, so I’ve developed a really easy pasta sauce recipe that takes only about 30 minutes.

All you need is some tomatoes (canned or fresh), a little bit of oil, garlic and/or onion, salt and pepper, and whatever spices you want to add. (You can use dried or fresh herbs. Since this is my go-to for when I’m in a hurry, I tend to use dried herbs, because I always have them in my pantry.) It involves minimal chopping and the amounts of the ingredients to use is really loose–you can adjust pretty much all of it to taste.

So here is Jen’s Easy Pasta Sauce Recipe for you. Try it and let me know what you think!

Ingredients for Easy Pasta Sauce

Ingredients

Ingredients

1 to 2 tablespoons of cooking oil (I prefer olive, but you can use whatever you like)
3 cloves of garlic, minced and/or one half of a yellow or white onion, diced
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes or several fresh ripe tomatoes, diced (I often use canned unless tomatoes are in season)
Salt and pepper to taste
Dried Herbs to taste (I use basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, marjoram, and parsley)
Optional: To thicken the sauce, you can use 2 tablespoons of tomato paste (I do this if I have it on hand, but if I don’t the sauce turns out fine regardless.)

Onions and garlic for easy pasta sauce

Cooking the onions and garlic

Heat the oil on medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and a little bit of salt. Cook until they are limp and translucent, but not browned.

(At this point, if you want, you can add some ground beef or ground turkey and brown it for meat sauce. I usually don’t do this, simply because this is my go to for nights when I have nothing to cook, which usually means I don’t have meat on hand. But if you want to, brown some meat and drain the excess fat before proceeding to the next step. Another option is to saute some portobello mushrooms and then proceed.)

Pasta Sauce

Pasta Sauce. Looks yummy!

Dump in your tomatoes and dried herbs and salt and pepper. You can add red wine if you want to be fancy. I use a lot of herbs, because I like a lot of flavor. You can also add tomato paste at this point. Cook uncovered on low to medium heat for about a half-hour, until the sauce thickens. (Yes, it will splatter. That’s okay. That’s why stoves wipe up easily. Just, you know, don’t cook in your white work shirt maybe.)

Dinner is served.  Pasta sauce, sauteed veggies, and rotini

Yum!

Serve over pasta, meat, veggies, polenta, or whatever you want. If you want to be really fancy, you can stir in some hard cheese like Romano cheese. But shaking some of the Parmesan out of the green can over the top works just fine too. Tonight I served it over some sauteed mushrooms, zucchini, and yellow peppers and some rotini. This is one my favorite dinners for those busy nights when I just am too tired to do something elaborate.

What about you? What is your favorite easy dinner for a busy night? Let me know in the comments.

Craftcation Goal Board

I have more than one goal on this board.

I just returned from the absolutely amazing Craftcation Conference, a conference geared towards owners of small craft businesses. It’s really amazing and inspiring. I went last year and it was fantastic, and this year was even better. The conference is full of the most inspiring, genuine, and generous people who are so willing to share their expertise. The teachers are fantastic, but I also learned so much just from getting to talk to other attendees.

I sometimes get really shy about networking and talking about what I do and what I want to do. Last year, I think I had a lot of trouble networking. I came out of Craftcation feeling really energized, but not really focused, and without anyone to reach out to for help. This year, however, I really pushed myself, and consequently, I got so much more out of it! I learned so much, both about running a craft business and crafting in general.

1. I learned how to make a needle-felted sheep. I remembered that I really like needle-felting, and I should do it more.

A needle-felted sheep from Craftcation

Cuteness abounded in the needle-felting class with Angharad Jones.

2. I learned how to sew a polka dot clutch bag, with a lining and a zipper!

Polka Dot Clutch Bag from Craftcation

I love this aesthetic. Thanks, Mimi G!

3. I learned that I can’t sew jersey. Yet. (That was a challenging class for me. I’m now determined to work on it.)

This was supposed to be a shirt

Despite the best efforts of Nicole Blum and helpers from Bernina, I could not get the hang of this.

4. In that same disastrous sewing class, I learned that rotary cutters are sharp! (No picture here, because you don’t really want to see my cut, right? But don’t worry, there’s no permanent damage.)

5. I learned that thyme is actually an excellent flavoring in ice cream.

Eggs and Thyme really do make good ice cream!  I promise.  Craftcation taught me so!

Ingredients from my ice cream class with Nicole Stevenson and Seth Stanton.

6. I learned so much about SEO, wordpress, branding, pattern-writing, next business steps to take, and publishing, you would not believe it. I attended several classes about running a craft business, and they were great. I feel much more focused and less stupid than last year.

Notes from Craftcation

I took these notes in one of Sé Reed’s classes. I also got lots more great information in classes and panels with Tiffany Han, Steph Calvert, Melanie Falick, Kari Chapin, Kayte Terry, Lisa Tauber, Megan Anderson (Radmegan), Rosalie Gale, Cathy Callahan, Anne Kuo Likito, and Sarah James.

7. I learned that a run on the beach is a really awesome end to the day.

The view at Craftcation is amazing!

This was my view like all the time!

8. I learned that embracing my weird is the best way to be happy. People think I’m funny and smart and that I have good ideas, just the way I am. Right now. This is really hard for me, because I have spent so much time around toxic, toxic people who delighted in being awful to me. In fact part of the reason I started this blog was to help me remember what I love and what makes me happy.

I’m so very, very excited about the coming year. Things are afoot. I know what makes me happy and now I just need to pursue it with all of my heart. But I’m going to set aside a portion of time every day to work on my craft, my business, and what makes me happy.

And, to be honest, you should to. What makes you happy? What do you wish you had more time for? Will you commit to spending some time being happy, doing what you love, every day? Tell me in the comments!

This is a catch-all post, wherein I will (finally!) tie up all the Liebster Award loose ends and share some good news.

So it took a couple of weeks, but I finally have my Liebster nominees! They are just a sampling of the small blogs I read, but all three of them are bloggers I appreciate and enjoy immensely. Go check them out!

In no particular order, I nominate

1. Jasmin of Better Than Yarn
2. Meg of Knit+Frills+Food=Love
3. Caitlin of All She Wants to Do Is Knit

Each blogger must post 11 random facts about themselves, nominate three to five other non-mainstream blogs that they appreciate, and they must respond to the following eleven questions (I use must here loosely. They must if they want to play and keep the recognition chain going):

1. What is your absolute favorite thing you’ve ever created?
2. Chocolate or vanilla?
3. Describe your ideal day.
4. What inspires you most?
5. How do you de-stress?
6. If you could give advice to yourself ten years ago, what would you say?
7. Which weight of yarn is your favorite?
8. What do you wish you could do that you currently can’t do?
9. What are your top five favorite movies?
10. What is your favorite kind of cake?
11. If you had to commit to one knitwear designer and could only knit his or her patterns for the rest of your life (no patterns designed by anyone else, EVER), which one would you pick?

And now, to finish up my Liebster experience, here are eleven random facts about me:

1. I love the ocean. If given my choice, I will never live more than an hour away from the ocean.
2. I always thought I hated running until I learned how to breathe properly. I learned to use my singer training to breathe when I run, and I’m a little ashamed that it took me nearly thirty years of life to figure it out.
3. Speaking of thirty, I am alternately kind of freaking out about and completely apathetic about my upcoming thirtieth birthday.
4. I really, really, really miss being in school. I particularly miss literature classes; I love reading books and discussing them.
5. I don’t wear jewelry or makeup, except my teeny nose stud. (I do wear makeup on stage).
6. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
7. I want to dye my hair pink or black and cherry red. Alas, my job precludes me having cool hair.
8. When I was eleven, I first read the book Contact and it had an inordinate influence on me. I still dream about going back to school to study astronomy. I have a biochemistry degree, so it’s not like it’s a huge career change. I had a subscription to Odyssey Magazine and an itty bitty telescope, that’s how much I loved space back then.
9. Sometimes I really miss the 90’s. I relive them by wearing skirts with Doc Martens.
10. I make awesome polenta. (Also, apparently Firefox spell check does not recognize “polenta” as a word).
11. I love good world building in a video game or science fiction/fantasy series. I will forgive a lot of issues with gameplay, plotting, or characterization if things are taking place in a world that I find fascinating. (I’m a geek and I won’t apologize.)

And finally, a quick tidbit of good news. My Celestarium was chosen to be featured in the Twist Collective March 2013 Newsletter. (Mine is number one in the collage of pictures). It makes me feel really good to be appreciated.

It’s been somewhat colder than normal here this winter. I can hear all of the people who live in legitimately cold places laughing at me, but homes and people in Southern California beach cities really are not equipped to deal with weeks worth of nights when the temperature gets down to freezing. I get that it’s really not that cold, but it makes me chilly.

So I decided tonight was a winter comfort food night. I made Beef Stew and simple French Bread, both from Mark Bittman’s book How to Cook Everything. (I link to Amazon because it’s an easy place to link the book, but I encourage you to support your local independent bookstore if you want to buy it.) This is one of my favorite books for simple recipes and techniques for all manner of different kinds of food. This book, and the How to Cook Everything Vegetarian book were especially lifesavers back when I was getting a CSA box. I often got vegetables that were either unfamiliar to me or were in such great quantities that I needed to find creative ways to use them up.

Usually when cooking, I use the recipe as a mere guideline, but it’s been so long since I’ve cooked more than simple sauteed or roasted veggies with pasta or polenta or bulgar wheat or quinoa or some other grain that I don’t feel like my cooking mojo is really working. So I followed the recipe pretty exactly, except I added some rosemary along with the other seasonings and a mix of red wine and beef stock.

The bread was a little more of an experiment. It’s been a long time since I’ve made bread that actually required yeast (as opposed to quick breads like zucchini bread or kumquat bread). It was really slow to rise because the house was so cold. I sped the process along by putting it in the oven set to the lowest temperature possible.

Homemade bread

Clearly I need to work on making the loaf actually be round.

It turned out really well. It was dense and rustic and chewy. It could have risen a tiny bit more (maybe an extra half an hour), but it was really delicious and went really well with the stew.

Beef stew with bread

The best dinner for a winter’s day

My roommates and I all ate well today. Everything was delicious. The recipe said it would make 4-6 servings, but it turned out as more like 10-12, which isn’t a terrible thing. It seems like it will freeze really well for another night’s dinner.

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