floral background

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Every week for the last several weeks I've been making a new recipe on Wednesday nights for Mr. Hobby and I to enjoy.  They've almost all taken significantly longer than I thought they would take.  Tonight's dinner?  No exception.  I started it at 6, telling Mr. Hobby "It'll be done in 30 minutes!"  Try 1.5 hours.  Fail.  But here is the thing, I don't really know how to cook.  I've always enjoyed baking, and not to toot my own horn, but my stuff turns out pretty good most of the time.  Cooking, you know, making dinner, not really my thing.  But I'm trying, I'm challenging myself to try new things all the time.  
I decided that it would be helpful if I had something to encourage me to try new things in cooking.  I was looking for some sort of blog party, a monthly cooking challenge perhaps.  Everything I found wasn't really striking my fancy.  Then I found the Real Women of Philidelphia website.  Four meal categories, four different categories, 16 weeks of cooking contests, one key ingredient, Philly cream cheese.  It started in July, so the competition has been through several categories already.  However, this week sounded like a good place for me to start.  The goal: an entree, 5 or less ingredients (one being Philly) and done in 30 minutes or less.  No problem I thought to myself, I can do this.  I came up with doing chicken breasts and tiny potatoes in a mexcian style cream cheese baked in the oven.  And because Paula Deen is the celebrity attached to this contest, I thought, why not make it in Paula's dutch oven?  See, I realize that is why people first "learn" to cook, and then "create" their own recipes.  I realize now, that the dutch oven was not the correct vehicle for a "quick" meal.  I was 15 minutes in, and the contents of the pot were still at close to room temperature.  (Of course the pot sat out on my stove top for 1.5 hours after it finally finished, and was still warm when I went to wash it out.)  I started to realize that I should have made it in a casserole dish, but being stubborn I didn't want to dump everything out of the pot and into a casserole dish.  I knew once the dutch oven got going it would make sure the flavor of the sauce made it into the chicken.  But, as far as 30 minutes or less, well that was an epic fail.  Poor Mr. Hobby, he has to live with me while I learn to cook.  Maybe I should start trying new recipes out on the weekend, and then just serving him leftover on Wednesday? ;)
I guess this is a lesson to all parents teaching their children to cook and bake, if your child shows preference for one, don't let them get away with not learning how to do the other.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Spanish Class

I'm taking beginning Spanish this semester at the university where I work.  Why?  Well one, it is free to me since I work there.  Free education was one of the reasons I was attracted to a career in  higher ed.  Never stop learning, right?  Another reason is that we love traveling to Spanish speaking countries.  Finally, I think it will come in handy with the changing landscape of the US.  The church we were married in offers mass in Spanish for two of their Sunday services.  I'm very excited to learn how to hable espanol! Anyway, here is a fun video "The first semester of Spanish, Spanish love song."  I think I know most of the vocab they use in the video already. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Liquid Core Electric Skillet (aka a Lifetime of State Fair Memories)

I've spent my entire life going to the Illinois State Fair with my mom's side of the family.  My grandparents were farmers in Illinois, and the State Fair was a highlight of summer for all of us. I must of been about twelve or thirteen when I first plopped my butt down at the cooking demonstration inside the Exhibition building.  The host was chopping, and cooking, and showing off all the goodies they had to sell.  Then they passed around plates with all the goodies they'd just made right before our eyes, in less than 30 minutes.  I feel like my exposure to tasty steamed vegetables was limited at that time, so it might have explained my reaction to the food.  But I was in love, thinking the vegetables were the best I had ever tasted.  Up until that point in my life, I thought I hated cooked carrots because I'd only had them cooked to much.  These were warm, cooked vegetables that still managed to have texture.  Plus, the taste was delicious.  I declared to my family that I wanted the pots.  They were outrageously expensive, so at first they just laughed.  But as the years passed, and I still loved that booth every year at the State Fair, Grandma made me a promise.  She'd get them for me as a wedding present.  I was thrilled, I'd get the pots of my dreams one day.

Fast forward at least 10 years.  I wasn't engaged yet, but Mr. H was at the Fair with the family, and Grandma knew we'd be married soon enough.  After all, he was the only boy I'd ever liked enough to invite to the fair, our special family event!  So Grandma bought me the electric skillet of the KitchenCraft cookware.  They have a whole line of pots and pans, but the liquid core electric skillet is what they use at the show to make the food.  Grandma gave it to me early, as a Christmas present the year I was engaged.  
When I first got it, I was scared to use it - knowing how expensive it was.  Eventually I took it out of the box, and promptly lectured Mr. Hobby.  "Don't touch it with anything that might have even a remote chance of scratching the inside."  I don't know that he'll ever touch it at all!  For my part, I only use silicone coated turners or spatulas when using the pan.  After I got over my nerves when handling the thing, I realized it didn't come with a lot of recipes in the directions.  Thank goodness for google!  A few internet searches later, and I had several unique recipes to try.  Some were my brand, the Americraft/Kitchen Craft skillet.  Some were for another brand, Saladmaster.  I figured they all had to be close enough, and dug into my new recipes.

First up was Mexi-Corn Lasagna.  I have no pictures, but if I didn't love using my electric skillet because it reminded me of Grandma, well, it might have put me off my skillet forever.  The food itself was fine.  But I had a terrifying moment while cooking the food.  I had layered in the ingredients, following the directions.  Except, instead of using 4 small tortillas on each layer, I used one large tortilla.  It was the same diameter of the pan, perfect I thought!  Until I pulled the lid off towards the end of the 15 minute cooking time to find the whole thing had swelled in size, the tortillas filling with air.  I grabbed a fork, terrified the whole thing would explode any second as the top layer oozed over the sides of the skillet.  I started to stab at the meal, hoping to "pop" the tortillas and release the air they had built up inside.  After a few stabs it went down and I was able to eat the dinner.  As I said, it tasted good, but was not a pretty picture.

This post is getting long, so I'll break out the other recipes as I move through them.  Do you have a liquid core electric skillet?  Go ahead and follow me then, because I plan to create and modify more recipes for the skillet as I use it more.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Next blog>>?

Have you used the next blog>> button on blogger? 
I've been obsessed lately.  It started last week, while I was playing around with blogger.  I'm still trying to learn my way around, learn about its buttons and their functions.  I saw the next blog, and couldn't help but click to see what it did.  
"Oh! It takes me to another blog." Is there a specific blog that is always after mine?  We'll just hit the back button, and try it again. 
 "Nope! It is a new blog each time I hit the next blog button."  
So, I figured I would spend some of my time visiting other blogger blogs.  While I will openly admit that my inspiration for starting this blog was to be more like the wonderful pioneerwoman or bakerella.com, and eventually be invited to join blogher, I realize I have a long way to go.  Those sites get thousands of comments per post, and have a massive readership.  They are their own .com at this point!  I realized I couldn't be comparing my blog to theirs, with their sleek functioning.  I had to learn my way around blogging, and I figured the next blog button would help me to visit other amateur blogs to get ideas and inspiration.  I also thought it might help me bring some readership to my own blog.  I could be exposed to blogs that share my interest, but where my comments wouldn't be one of thousands.  
With a mission at mind, I decided that each time I posted, I would visit at least 5 blogs afterwards, using the nextblog link each time.  Last week, I ended up visiting lots of family blogs.  The culmination was a blog I found very touching.  It had just been a woman's normal blog over a year ago, then nine months ago her daughter died without warning of some sort of instant heart problem.  She'd never been sick before, just collapsed at the ice rink and died all of the sudden.  I cried myself through entry after entry.  They were so open, raw, honest, I loved her writing.  I read all the back entries for 9 months, until I got through the entries a week before her daughter died.  But how could I comment?  "Hi, I'm a stranger, and I've just cried through your entries."  I sort of felt there was nothing appropriate I could add by commenting.  I closed out of blogger and let it go.
Cue last night.  Mr. Hobby had gone to get a drink with a friend, leaving me a chance to spend some time at home, nextblogging.  (That's what I've named it.)  As I clicked nextblog after nextblog, I started to realize how it worked.  I'm not sure how they pick the first blog I see after I leave my own blog.  But the blog I see after that is somehow related to that blog.  Say I am on an artists' blog, then each blog I see after that will be artists blogs.  Unless I visit a blog that is, say, art and family.  Then I might end up on a series of family blogs.  So as I was clicking next on one watercolor artist blog after another I realized I should just return to my own blog, and try another series.  I'm sure I've visited a hundred blogs in the last day.  
Since then, I've added three blogs that I am following:
  • A new food blog (not like I need to follow another food blog, but they seem to be my favorites!) Fogg Road Kitchen.  I only sort of found her from the nextblog button.  I was on a different food blog that was talking about her amazing chocolate zucchini cake recipe, and I knew I had to check it out.  I clicked on her blog, and just loved what I saw.
  • The blog of a girl who works for dreamworks, and puts up these sketches I just love: LINDSEY OLIVARES.  My favorite is this picture where two people are carrying a goldfish home on the subway.
  • The third new blog is shabbyblogs. I'm following the blog, but I also added the website to my favorites.  I hope to add some of her free designs to my own blog at some point.  I found her from another blog I had dropped in on, they had a beautiful background, and I noticed the background said shabbyblogs.  I clicked on that link, and found this blog!  
As for commenting to draw interest to my own blog - not a lot of luck there.  I only commented on one blog, this woman had a great idea to use the paper sleeves for CDs to put cookies in as treat bags.  It was a super-cute idea, one I might try myself.  I had to tell her I thought so!  Hopefully I'll get better at commenting on others blogs.  But until then, at least I'm getting an interesting tour around the blogosphere.
Hey! Did you come here using the next blog button?  If so, let me know!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Image courtesy repstl.org

The other night, Mr. H and I went to The Rep's production of You can't take it with you.  When people think of theatre, they think of New York and Chicago.  But St. Louis really has some great theatre houses.  I think maybe people don't think of us as a theatre town, because we don't have a wealth of small theatres for actors to get their start.  Take The Rep for instance.  It is on the campus of Webster University, yet it features primarily professional equity actors.  Some big names sometimes too, the next show will have Kathleen Turner appearing.  I'm very thankful for St. Louis' theatre scene.  I've always enjoyed good live theatre, and visiting The Rep is always a treat.  The theatre is small, so you never have a bad seat.  The sets are consistently the best I've ever seen, though I guess I can't say I'm well traveled theatrically. If I wasn't s
cared of breaking some sort of equity set law, I'd have snapped some shots for you.  But The Rep's sets are really amazing.  I always feel like I'm really there.  The set for You can't take it with you was great, it really felt like an eclectic family's living room. Here is a pic from the show's website. 

Overall, the show was good.  The plot is straightforward, Girl meets boy, son of the owner of the company where she works.  They get engaged, and girl must introduce boy's family to her family.  Only, the girl's family has spent their life in the pursuit of happiness, with little thought to career or income.  Her parents, sister and brother-in-law, and several employees are all supported by Grandpa, a man who retired from business early in life, and makes a yearly income off of "property."  The main point of the show, is that, since you can't take it with you, you should be happy.  The cynic in me can't help but think that lifestyle only works if you have a "grandpa" in your life.  While Mr. Hobby and I agree that you shouldn't kill yourself for your job - that your job isn't your life, your life is what you do outside your job - we still think we have to work, whether we like it or not. 
I was thankful for a night at the theatre though, it was very entertaining. I always love theatre programs, in part because they advertise other shows that will be in the future. I think theatre-going would make an excellent full-time hobby, but I imagine it could get expensive. 
*A funny side note about The Rep and me.  While most of its performers are equity actors, I actually performed on the stage when I was a student in highschool.  Before digital photography, nobody was snapping pictures on their non-existent cell phone (we cool kids had pagers) so there is nothing to post.  But they do a program called WiseWrite, where elementary school students write plays.  Then, volunteers like us high school students stage the play for the students, using the Rep's stage.  A fun little claim to fame, too bad they didn't have facebook back then, that would've made a great status update.  ;)  If you're in the St. Louis area and want more information on WiseWrite (I know they need volunteers) visit: http://www.repstl.org/wisewrite/

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cobb Salad? Chop Salad? Chopped-Cobb Salad?

I enjoy cooking, and the challenge of trying to make restaurant quality food at home.  So the other night I decided that I'd make a lovely salad, like the kind I'd pay $10 for at a restaurant.  

At first I told Mr. Hobby it was going to be a Cobb salad.  Then, I told him it was going to be a chop salad.  I don't think he knew there was a difference.  That worked out in my favor, because this ended up being a sibling of the Cobb and Chop salad.

It all started with the bacon.  Don't you love stories that go that way?  See, we recently purchased a microwave bacon cooker. We're still figuring out the right amount of time per slice of bacon.  The suggested cook time doesn't give us the crispy bacon I crave.  The best part of the bacon cooker is that it raises the bacon up, and has space for the grease to drip down.  This allows me to convince myself bacon isn't bad for you.  That's why I decided to use it in my salad.  Eight strips of it in the salad for two people.

We also had eggs, that have not been recalled in the national recall, yet.  So hard-boiled eggs and bacon should cover it for the protein.  I know Mr. Hobby eats a lot of meat at lunch, so I consider it my job to get his grains and veggies in when he eats with me.  I might have to start working on the dairy too, I don't think eating a lot of cheese will cut it as his bones get older.

Then I chopped up a bunch of veggies.  And I'm embarrassed to say that the salad took me one hour to make.  I think my biggest mistake came with the Romaine Lettuce.  I broke off each leaf from the head, rinsed it, and put it in the salad spinner BEFORE chopping it.  I'm not sure what I was thinking.  I threw in some leftover lettuce that Mr. Hobby had bought the other week.  I'm not sure what kind it was, but the head was formed like romaine, just smaller.  When I got to it, I chopped it, then rinsed and spun it dry.  It took 98% less time.  

I also chopped up green beans from Eckert's Country Store into bite-size portions.  Then I chopped up a beet from our friends E + O's weekly CSA delivery.  Then cucumber and carrot from the grocery store.  I also threw in our favorite cherub tomatoes.  I did not chop these, as that would make the seeds run out, and make the salad soggy.  Some cooking blogs would suggest chopping them, and then cleaning the seeds out.  Let me point out now that cooking and blogging are both just hobbies.  I'm not the clean the seeds out of my tiny tomatoes type. 

After 54 minutes, I was embarrassed, but I had everything arranged in my lovely bowl.  I threw in sunflower seeds (more protein) and some feta and Parmesan cheese (the only dairy in Mr. H's diet).  

Finally, it was time for the fun part. The dressing!  I think fancy salad dressing really says "this salad is an entree."  Homemade dressing can be affordable too.  While some people have an emulsifier, I choose to go the easier, carafe shaking route.  The carafe I used came free with 2 packets of Good Seasons Italian dressing mix.  I consider that a good deal.

I started with my "secret" ingredient.  Pomegranate infused vinegar.  It gives it a subtle fruity taste.

Pour in carafe until you reach the V (vinegar) line.  Then add W to the water line, and powdered dressing mix.  You don't need to have a powdered mix, if you have a handy supply of Italian herbs.  I just find the mix convenient, it takes out the guessing of seasoning.  
Shake it all together!


Then, add your favorite olive oil to the O-line.  I like to add in a little less oil, and a little more water.  Then shake it all together, and you've got a homemade vinaigrette.  

The dressing, along with the presentation, will give a restaurant feel to your salad. 

Until the next hobby, love,
Ms. Hobby!