My Comfort Meal: Creamed Spinach

When I was single and just barely making the rent, I’d often find creative ways to make a satisfying meal out of frozen vegetables. One of my favorite comfort meals is still a big, slightly spicy bowl of creamed spinach. Here’s how I make it.

Creamed Spinach

Recipe: Really Easy Creamed Spinach


  • 1 10-ounce package of frozen spinach (I prefer whole-leaf, but chopped works too)
  • chopped garlic or onions (optional, and perfectly satisfying without)
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 1 c milk
  • Salt
  • Tabasco


  1. Defrost the frozen spinach in a pot over medium heat. If you bought the type that’s frozen in a block, it’s especially necessary to heat it for a while, flipping once or twice. But if you have the kind in a bag, it should be really quick.
  2. Meanwhile, in another pot, melt the butter over medium heat. (If you’re adding chopped onions and/or garlic, you can add them to the melted butter).
  3. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and whisk until combined. It’ll be lumpy.
  4. Still whisking, gradually add the milk. As it heats, it’ll combine to form a smooth, thick paste (a.k.a. a roux).
  5. Add spinach to the the milk mixture and stir to combine. If it wasn’t totally defrosted yet, just keep stirring and heating for a minute or two.
  6. Add Tabasco and salt to taste. A grate of nutmeg is also nice.
  7. Eat it by yourself, out of a bowl, without apologies.

Spelt and Kale Lunch Salad

If you aim bring lunch to work every day, I’m sure you’ve had one of these nights: it’s past your bedtime, you have absolutely nothing lunch-worthy in the fridge, and you want an easy option to pack the next morning.

For this salad, I cooked spelt overnight in the slow cooker. I worried it would get too soggy (most slow cooker recipes were written for a breakfast porridge), but it emerged intact and springy. The rest of the recipe was easy to assemble in the morning.


Recipe: Spelt and Kale Lunch Salad


  • 1 cup uncooked spelt (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 2 cups water
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 2 tsp honey (or more to taste)
  • 2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/3 c olive oil
  • 1 large apple
  • 1 bunch curly kale
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds


  1. To slow-cook spelt: place spelt, water, and salt in a slow cooker. Cook overnight on low, about 6-8 hours. (Alternately, cook spelt according to the package directions.)
  2. Pour off any excess water from your cooked spelt.
  3. Make the vinaigrette: in a large bowl, whisk the vinegar, honey, and mustard until combined. Taste for sweetness and add additional honey if needed. Slowly add olive oil while continuing to whisk.
  4. Chop the kale: I like to roll it into a thin, long bundle and cut into 1/2 inch strands.
  5. Add the kale to the vinaigrette. If you’re not squeamish, massaging the dressing into the raw kale by hand will considerably soften your salad and make it easier to eat.
  6. Core and chop the apple.
  7. Add the apple, sunflower seeds, and spelt to the salad and mix thoroughly.

Mexican Cocoa Nib Cookies

We made the excellent decision of ordering five pounds of bulk cocoa nibs from Urban Greens. I’m going to a friend’s birthday cookout today, and since he’s a creative cook, I thought some cocoa nib cookies were in order.

Too bad the recipes I found were a bit boring. Most mixed cocoa nibs with chocolate chips, which is like putting a precious stone in a piece of costume jewelry. Some were ultra healthy paleo “cookies”. I wanted something decadent and creative, so I adapted a basic double-chocolate cookie recipe with thousands of positive reviews into this more unusual combination.

Mexican Cocoa Nib Cookies | StephanieDoes

Recipe: Mexican Cocoa Nib Cookies

Summary: Double chocolate spiced cookies with cocoa nibs and pecans. Makes about 20 cookies.


  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 3/4 cups white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 pinches cayenne powder (or more to taste)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa nibs
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne) in a bowl and whisk to combine.
  3. In a stand mixer, beat the softened butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla until fluffy.
  4. While mixing on low, slowly add the flour mixture until just combined (do not overmix).
  5. Stir in the cocoa nibs and pecans until evenly mixed.
  6. Drop onto the cookie sheet in mounds the size of a ping-pong ball. No need to make smooth balls.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes or until the cookie is baked on the outside but still soft. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Preparation time: 6 minute(s)

Cooking time: 10 minute(s)

Homemade Spam Musubi

Over 5 years after our honeymoon in Hawaii, I’m recreating one of my favorite discoveries of the trip: Spam Musubi.

We picked some up in a convenience store near the volcanoes and it was an unexpectedly good breakfast. It was also the first time I’d ever eaten Spam. Though we had plenty of fresh fruit, raw fish, and other delights, this portable snack stuck in my mind.

When individually wrapped in cling wrap, these are perfect on-the-go snacks or work lunches. The one in the photo below might be a bit worse for the wear after a trip to work in my bag, but tasted great and held together well.



Spam Musubi

Makes 10. Adapted from several recipes.

Sushi Rice
  • 2 cups uncooked sushi rice
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
Rinse the rice in a strainer or colander. Combine with water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes or until rice is tender and water absorbed.
In a small saucepan, combine the rice vinegar, oil, sugar and salt and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Stir into the cooked rice and continue stirring for a minute or two until the rice is glossy.
  • Rice (from recipe above), cooled halfway to room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 12 ounce container Spam
  • 3 to 5 sheets sushi nori (dry seaweed), depending on desired width of wrapping strip
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  1. Slice Spam lengthwise into 10 slices. This sounds difficult, but just cut in half first, then cut each half into 5. It’s easy to cut.
  2. Stir together soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar until sugar is completely dissolved.
  3. Brush sauce on both sides of Spam slices and let sit for at least five minutes.
  4. While it’s marinating, saw out the bottom of the Spam can with a box cutter and fold over the edges so they’re not as sharp. Or, if you’re civilized (I’m not), you might own a musubi press.
  5. Heat oil at medium high in a large cast iron skillet. Cook slices until lightly browned; no need to wipe them off, just make sure they don’t burn.
  6. If you’d like, you can brush Spam with any leftover marinade after browning.
  7. Cut seaweed sheets in half (for complete coverage) or thirds (for a narrower strip).
  8. Put a strip of seaweed on your work surface, then the spam can on top, with an opening on the bottom.
  9. Press a handful of rice into the bottom of the Spam can from the top, then top with a slice of Spam,  and press down on the spam. Gently remove the Spam can and wrap one side of the  seaweed strip around the rice and spam.
  10. Dip your hand in a bit of water and wet the remaining length of the seaweed strip, then complete the wrap. The water helps the seaweed stick to itself.
  11. Wrap individually pieces in cling wrap if you’re not going to eat them right away.

Two Weeks in Germany with the Timbuk2 Aviator

Here’s a post-trip followup to my earlier post about packing the Timbuk2 Aviator.

I was very happy about my decision to take a backpack instead of a rolling suitcase.  After our flight, we had a train journey with three transfers going from Frankfurt to Berlin – and that was just our first destination. Rolling a suitcase through stations and down the train aisles would have been frustrating.

My Timbuk2 Aviator in the train station

Unlike some other huge backpacks I’ve worn, this one didn’t stick out far enough to make me feel like I was going to knock people over. When I first saw it, it was taller than I expected (extending above my shoulders), but it’s a good tradeoff for a slimmer pack. The backpack was comfortable and distributed the weight nicely on my shoulders; I never pulled out the hip straps.

I brought a small purse for everything I needed at constant reach – passport, wallet, phone. Like other backpacks I’ve owned, there’s no easy way to reach inside the backpack while you’re wearing it. Had it been cooler, had my clothing not suffered from minuscule female pockets, or had I been willing to wear one of those passport holders around my neck, I probably could have forgone the extra bag, but it was small and convenient, and I needed to bring one for day trips anyway.

Timbuk2 Aviator in Action

The packing cubes worked perfectly, and I packed well for an unpredictable trip which ranged from 50 degree rain to 90 degree blazing sun. As we traveled, we picked up some souvenirs along the way – beans from Bonanza Coffee Roasters, some spirits from Dr. Kochan Schnapskultur… even with heavier bags, we still were able to hike to the top of the Flak Tower in Humboldthain before our train out of the city.

We’d also packed a collapsible zippered shopping bag from Target. I picked it up in Portland OR last year and it’s fantastic, because it has more structure than most collapsible bags and folds flat. Before we left the country, I put my packing cubes in the folding tote and stuffed my backpack full of delicious German groceries – dark chocolate spread, Haribo gummies, dessert wine, chocolate bars, even my favorite fizzy vitamins. I zipped away the backpack straps and checked it on the way back – it weighed in at 13kg. The backpack provided good structure and protection, and our fragile goodies arrived unscathed.

Packing for a 2-week Trip with the Timbuk2 Aviator

When we booked a 2-week trip to Germany, I needed to replace my broken old backpack. Timbuk2’s Aviator backpack (the smaller, non-wheeled version) caught my eye. I liked how the front fully unzipped so you could pack with full access, just like a suitcase. I also liked the subtle design and black color; it’s more of a city bag than something you’d take on a camping trip.

The reviews were perplexing – some said it was perfect for a weekend trip, some for a week or two. The inner dimensions of the bag weren’t published, so I thought these photos might be helpful to others.

Here’s what I’m packing. It helps that we’ll be in an apartment with a washing machine during the first week.

Clothes for a 2-week trip to Europe

  • 2 dresses
  • 1 skirt
  • 2 pairs of leggings (1 black, 1 gray print)
  • 2 pairs of tights (1 black, 1 gray)
  • 1 cardigan (gray)
  • 4 tanks (black, gray, blue, green)
  • 1 collared sleeveless shirt
  • 1 light, short-sleeved sweater
  • 1 pair running shorts
  • 1 pair sneakers
  • 1 pair flats
  • underthings
  • sleepwear
  • scarf
  • rain jacket
  • on the plane: jeans / tshirt / hoodie

I bought the slim packing cubes from eBags and luckily they fit perfectly in the backpack. Everything except the shoes and rain jacket easily fit into 3 packing cubes.

I packed these in the main compartment along with 1 pair of shoes, an umbrella, a rain jacket, and a hairbrush. I stacked them on their short edge to make more space, but if I didn’t have much else in the main compartment, I would have laid them flat.

The top compartment of the bag will fit my glasses, chargers, and a bag each of liquid and non-liquid toiletries. I like this clear quart bag by Flight 001. I felt frivolous ordering it but I’m so tired of sandwich bags that disintegrate halfway through a trip.

The backpack zips up nicely and cinches on the sides.

That’s it! I’ll tell you how it goes.

Mardi Gras Dinner Party

For the past few years, I’ve looked at the calendar the night before Mardi Gras and swore that the next year, I would remember to invite people over for a dinner party. This year we finally did.

Mardi Gras Dinner

Our menu:

Muffaletta Spread  *  Fried Peanuts  *  Pickled Okra
Raw Oysters  *  Grilled Oysters
Jambalaya (with andouille, chicken, and shrimp)
Bananas Foster  *  King Cake

(Who doesn’t want two desserts?)

This was a low-stress meal. The jambalaya comes together in under and hour and requires no fussing or fancy plating; I did the chopping ahead of time and started cooking while we drank cocktails and ate snacks. Our guests brought a ton of oysters and a pitcher of hurricanes.


See-in-the-Dark Mac and Cheese

My refrigerator’s produce drawers have been heavy with winter vegetables from our produce share.  Marveling at the beautiful orange of my beets and carrots, I did what few childless cooks do – sneakily hid vegetables in mac and cheese!  I would go so far as to say they were completely undetectable.

I like to bake my Mac and Cheese, but this is also good served out of the pot.

Recipe: See-in-the-Dark Mac and Cheese

Summary: Staunch Velveeta fans will have no idea how many vitamins they’re consuming in this tricky, bright orange Mac and Cheese.


  • 3 carrots, peeled
  • 1 large golden beet, roasted and peeled
  • 16 oz elbow macaroni
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 6 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups shredded cheese
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • salt and seasonings


  1. Preheat the oven to 400, start heating your pasta water, and butter a large souffle dish or rectangular baking pan.
  2. Slice the carrots and barely cover with water in a saucepan. Simmer until quite soft, about 15 minutes.
  3. While the carrots are cooking, start the sauce: melt the butter in a large saucepan, whisk in the flour, and add the milk.
  4. Bring the sauce to a boil while stirring, then lower to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. In a food processor, puree the carrot slices and diced beet with enough cooking liquid to make a baby food-like consistency. Make sure it is really, really, smooth, stopping to scrape bits off the side if necessary. (I processed for 3-5 minutes).
  6. Stir the bright orange puree and cheese into the sauce, stirring until the cheese is melted. Season with salt and other seasonings if desired (I used a dash of garlic powder and cayenne). Don’t skimp on the salt.
  7. Cook your pasta according to package directions, drain, and toss with the sauce. Pour into the prepared baking dish, top with breadcrumbs, and bake for 30 minutes.

Cassette Memories

I’m not going to tell you about my first* or second** cassette, but the third – it has stuck with me all these years.

I was 10, running an errand with my parents at Caldor, when this caught my eye on the cassette rack. Maybe it was the red foil writing, the (strangely inverted) lightning photo, or the confidence that I could pay for it with three of my own crumpled dollar bills.

Image from this Ebay auction, in case you’re in the market for a cassette

When I popped it in my pink Sidestep radio and the first Black Sabbath song came on, my mind was blown. And three and half minutes into the song, I felt like I was listening to something from outer space. (The Alice Cooper song was even weirder. The irony is that both of these bands were probably on my parents’ record shelves, but children always have to discover things for themselves, right?)

I found myself wondering where this music came from. It was a different world than the insipid love songs on the radio. It made me feel uneasy, yet resonated within me like something I had heard a million times. I was hooked.

Every time I hear Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, I am ten years old again, kneeling on the green carpet of my bedroom, mind blown. It’s a feeling I’m happy to keep.

*Dionne Warwick’s Friends
** Paula Abdul’s Forever Your Girl
(I was 9, OK??)


My Favorite Pizza Dough Recipe

Making pizza can is fun and tasty. And especially if you make your own dough, it’s cheap. My go-to dough recipe is by Anna Maria Volpi and I recommend her helpful step-by-step photos for beginners. The dough is easy to handle and I use it to make three thin pizzas. My abbreviated version is below.

Also, my number 1 tip for making CHEAP pizza dough is to buy yeast in bulk. I did the math and the little 3-portion packets in the baking aisle at the supermarket are – wait for it – 20 times more expensive than the $4.39 2 pound package I bought at Sam’s Club.

Recipe: Pizza Dough

Summary: Adapted from Anna Maria Volpi’s Recipe to use a stand mixer.


  • 1 tbsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups 110 degree water
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  • healthy shake of garlic powder (optional)


  1. Measure the warm water in a measuring cup, sprinkle the yeast on top, stir, and let sit for 5 minutes.
  2. Sift the flour and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer (like a Kitchen Aid). Stir in the garlic powder.
  3. Make an indentation in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the olive oil and yeast/water mixture.
  4. Mix with the beater blade until all the ingredients are combined, then switch to the dough hook and allow the mixer to knead slowly for 3 minutes or so. The dough should hold together nicely and not stick to the bowl. The proportions are usually perfect for me, but you could sprinkle in a bit more flour or water if it’s too wet or dry.
  5. By now the mixer bowl is basically clean, so I remove the dough, rub the inside of the bowl with olive oil, return the dough, flip it over to coat it all with olive oil, and make a cross in the top with a knife.
  6. Cover the bowl with a damp, clean kitchen towel and allow it to sit until doubled, about an hour and a half. I usually put my oven on the lowest setting (170) for a couple of minutes, turn it off, and then put the bowl in the slightly warmed oven to rise.