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.

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.

Recipes:

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  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.
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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.

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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.

Ingredients

  • 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)

Instructions

  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.

Photos from Quito and Nono Ecuador

Here are some photos from Quito and Nono Ecuador. I have yet to finish editing our photos from the Galapagos – soon!

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<p>&quot;Brugmansia have also traditionally been used in many South American indigenous cultures in medical preparations and as a ritualistic hallucinogen for divination, to communicate with ancestors, as a poison in sorcery and black magic, and for prophecy.&quot;<br />
<br />
When we were in the village of Nono, north of Quito, we saw these flowers and our guide told us they were often used to drug people and steal from them - it basically puts you in a conscious but nonresistant state, like date rape drugs.<br />
<br />
Turns out it is the same drug I was wearing on a patch behind my ear for sea-sickness (Scopolamine).<br />
<br />
This might explain why I hallucinated several times when I woke up in the middle of the night. Hilariously, I hallucinated Galapagos animals. A penguin by the doorknob, sea lion climbing the door, iguana on the lamp. Otherwise, no side effects.</p>

Brugmansia

"Brugmansia have also traditionally been used in many South American indigenous cultures in medical preparations and as a ritualistic hallucinogen for divination, to communicate with ancestors, as a poison in sorcery and black magic, and for prophecy."

When we were in the village of Nono, north of Quito, we saw these flowers and our guide told us they were often used to drug people and steal from them - it basically puts you in a conscious but nonresistant state, like date rape drugs.

Turns out it is the same drug I was wearing on a patch behind my ear for sea-sickness (Scopolamine).

This might explain why I hallucinated several times when I woke up in the middle of the night. Hilariously, I hallucinated Galapagos animals. A penguin by the doorknob, sea lion climbing the door, iguana on the lamp. Otherwise, no side effects.

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Lessons from an Adult Learner

After a couple of years in graduate school, I wish I could go back in time and retake my undergrad classes. How did I ace all my statistics exams in grad school when I almost failed the class as an undergrad? Why did I pull so many all-nighters in college when I had few time commitments outside of class? Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned by going back to school as an adult:

1. Stay organized from day one.
I’ve been taking 2-3 classes a semester while working full time, so it would be easy to miss a deadline. As soon as I get my syllabi, I put class dates and important deadlines on a “school” Google Calendar. It shows up in bright red and sends me reminders – just the kind of subtlety I need.

2. Read smarter.
As an undergrad I’d do my reading, then later return to study it. Now, with less time, I immediately identify the important concepts and either outline them or, if I will be tested, create flash cards (I use studydroid.com to enter cards on the web and study on my Android phone). This boosts my comprehension while reading and saves hours of preparation during final exams.

3. Keep it all in one place (preferably online).
My notes, assignments, papers, and readings (if possible) are all in Google Drive. If I have an insight when I’m away from the computer, I can access and edit from anywhere. I’ve eschewed heavy textbooks for e-books and Kindle editions so I can sneak in a chapter of my reading in a waiting room or on the bus.

4. Put away the stopwatch and think outside the paper.
As an undergrad, I’d sit in front of a blinking cursor for hours to satisfy some masochistic requirement of “hours spent writing a paper.” As an adult, I realize that offline planning can skim hours off that paper, and it’ll be a much better one too. This week I planned papers in the shower, during a run, as I was cooking dinner…

5. Create weekly study sheets for non-humanities classes.
For classes like statistics and accounting, I got a feel for the scope of the material each week and then broke it down into smaller parts. Each week, I made myself a study sheet with formulas and the various types of problems along with the steps necessary to solve them. This helped me identify the concepts that needed more practice and was so valuable for review at the end of the semester.

Studying Statistics on a Road Trip

6. Make room for school, but don’t put your life on hold.
I ended up practicing statistics in the passenger seat of our anniversary weekend road trip…on a Dunkin Donuts bag. I read e-books on planes and took online quizzes over hotel wifi. The past two years have been filled with school but also fun and adventure. Keep enjoying your life or you’ll get burnt out. If I had been stuck at home, I probably would have been listlessly staring at that blinking cursor.

Houses of the Holy

Sudden memory – it is 1992 and I’m on the phone with a t-shirt company whose ad I saw in Circus Magazine, trying to order an iron-on back patch for my black bomber jacket. I’m leaning towards Led Zeppelin but I can’t remember what the Houses of the Holy album cover looks like, even though I’m pretty sure it was on my parents’ record shelf all along.

I ask the woman on the line and she starts describing it to me: “It’s, like, this big pile of rocks and there are a bunch of naked kids climbing up it. I’m not really sure if they’re boys or girls.”

These things we did before the internet sound like a dim, ancient fantasy, right?

Restaurant Leftovers

Restaurant portions can be huge, so I’ll often end up with leftovers. Some people have a serious aversion to leftovers (I don’t get it), and others eat cold pizza or Chinese food for breakfast the next day (I don’t get that either).

My favorite thing to do with leftovers? Freeze them in small portions for work lunches. I’ve talked about my dedicated work lunch freezer drawer, and while most of it is home cooked, it’s great to bring along a memory from a favorite restaurant. Yesterday was the first afternoon warm enough to eat my lunch outside, and I enjoyed Eggplant and Shrimp with Garlic Sauce over rice, from Gold Stone. We’d been over a month ago and it was great to revisit the tender eggplant and flavorful sauce.

First Al Fresco Lunch of 2013

 

Another way to enjoy leftovers is by transforming them into another dish. We came home from Gold Stone with a lot of rice, so I made the extra into rice pudding – just simmer with milk, sugar, raisins, and spices for a half hour or so. Sometimes I’ll bring home a choice piece of meat or fish to eat on a salad the next day. If  you’re not fond of leftovers, why not make a completely new meal out of them?

Red Quinoa and Greens with Fried Tofu Triangles

It’s always a pleasure to unpack a delicious, healthy lunch on a Monday. Today’s was leftovers from a dinner I cooked on Saturday – I enjoyed it and thought I’d share the recipe.

Red Quinoa and Yukina Savoy with Fried Tofu Triangles

 

Red Quinoa and Greens with Fried Tofu Triangles

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Red Quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 small shallot, finely diced
  • 1 bunch greens, coarsely chopped (I used Yukina Savoy)
  • 1 package of extra firm tofu
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp seasoning salt (I used Texas Hot Salt), or your own mixture of salt and spices
  • 4 tablespoons oil, divided

Instructions

  1. Prepare the tofu: If you have time, remove the tofu from the package and press between two plates lined with paper towels. This is not absolutely necessary but will help dry it out.
  2. Cook the quinoa: bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Rinse the quinoa thoroughly in a strainer, then add to the boiling water along with the 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the quinoa grains have unfurled. (Not all the water may be absorbed).
  3. While the quinoa is cooking, prepare the greens: heat 1 tbsp oil in a large pan/skillet and sautee the shallot over medium heat until softened, but not browned. Add the greens and continue to sautee, turning the heat down to avoid burning the greens.
  4. Assemble the quinoa: drain the cooked quinoa using a fine strainer and add to the greens. Taste and season as needed.
  5. Fry the tofu: Cut the tofu into triangles. On a plate or in a shallow bowl, combine the flour and seasoned salt. In a skillet, heat 3 tbsp of oil until shimmering. Dip each piece of tofu in the flour mixture and fry, not crowding the pan too much. Flip once when lightly browned (should take 3-5 minutes per side). Remove to a plate (you can keep warm in a toaster oven if necessary).
  6. Serve the tofu triangles on top of the quinoa.

Preparation time: 20 minute(s)

Cooking time: 20 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

Freezer Lunches

There’s a drawer of my freezer just dedicated to lunches (and these days, dinners eaten in the student lounge before my night classes). Sometimes I make a big batch of something especially for weekday lunches, other times I just pack up dinner leftovers. I just took a peek at the selection and I have to say, I’m pretty excited to reach for a lunch this month:

  • Hungarian ragout and dumplings
  • Rabbit in mustard sauce w/ polenta
  • Chicken with tomatillo sauce
  • Chinese beef w/ rice
  • Chinese chicken w/ rice
  • Chinese eggplant shrimp w/ rice
  • Pigeon Peas and rice
  • Chicken / rice / beans
  • Senate bean soup
  • Chorizo and bean stew
  • Stir fry (w/ chicken)
  • Celery root / potato soup
  • Jambalaya
  • Beef stew and polenta
  • Moroccan chicken
  • Black bean burger
  • Pork fried rice
  • Empanadas (w/ turkey, raisin, olive filling)

Grab and Go

An older photo – but this is how my lunches are usually stored – I love the Ziploc twist & lock containers and have yet to have one leak.