Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Granted, MasterCook is only about twenty bucks. But it's pretty useless to me if some of the major features won't work on the latest operating systems. Plus, their restore function absolutely stinks. I've had three major hardware crashes and replacements this year, and every single time, I've had to do a pretty heavy amount of tap-dancing to get my recipes back into the software when I've reloaded it. And every time I did it, I lost all the images. Frustrating doesn't even BEGIN to cover it. I consider backup/restore functionality basic to a software that stores as much data as this, and it ought to be simple. Maybe other people don't have a problem with it, but it sure didn't work for me, any of the three times I tried to use it.
So after reading some reviews, I decided to give Living Cookbook a whirl. I downloaded a free trial, which is a VERY nice feature. I'd have been royally pissed if I'd spent thirty five bucks on it to find out, for example, that I couldn't import my stuff from MasterCook. But it could. Not elegantly, by any means. I had to do them each individually, which was a pain in the buttocks, but it did at least get them all moved over eventually. First thing I did was test the backup and restore, and it works fine.
There are some things I like better about MasterCook, and some things I like better about Living Cookbook, and some things I don't like about either one - for example, I think that they should give some good graphic artists a crack at helping design layout and flow. Living Cookbook is very data driven and the gui is not beautiful. It's OK. But it's basic file structure. There's no way (that I've found yet) to browse recipes by looking at pictures, which is kind of how I like to get inspired most of the time. See what I mean? Kind of boring. Easy to navigate, but not exactly pretty to look at.
Their menu feature isn't as easy to use, either, but I'm getting used to it. The shopping list shows way too much crap (I'm not going to sit and enter cost of things per oz., and I don't want that on a shopping list column), and it took me a while to find how to hide things on the list. It SHOULD be a simple right-click and hide when a column is selected, but it's buried in menu functionality.
For now, I'm reasonably satisfied with it. I'll let you know as I use it, but it looks like this is the one I'm going to be sticking with. They do update it, the Help is pretty good (coming from someone who writes Help for software, you GOTTA know I'm picky about that), and it's pretty well-organized. I have my cookbooks set up again the way I like them - by course and split into "To Try" and the ones I'm keeping. I'm about finished switching between the two of them, and should go full blown with Living Cookbook this year. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.
Monday, December 28, 2009
I'm going to have to be seriously creative on dinner blogging tonight, because you know good and well I don't have any damned pictures.
It's cold as (insert your personal metaphor here). I'm kind of partial to "a well-digger's @$$", but you use what you like. Anyway, for here, it's cold. The temperature is dropping steadily, and it's supposed to dip into the 20s. Hey, that's COLD here. We're beach people! So I decided I was feeling kind of chili-like tonight, and I didn't feel like Wych Fowler's, so I did my own.
Time to get up, straighten my shirt, so to speak, dust myself off and start thinking in terms of goals for the new year, which as far as I'm concerned, starts today.
I'm not a big resolution-maker. That's just not how I roll. But I do like the concept of starting fresh and leaving the old behind. And let's face it - 2009 really was kind of a stinker of a year for a lot of us. While it's not the worst I've had by a long shot, I can't say I'm sorry to see it go. (Buh-BYE!) In the interest of starting fresh, I do like to throw a few loose goals out there. Usually I don't have witnesses. But the four or five of you get to hear them - you're so lucky!
Loose goal number 1. Try one new dish per week, focusing on vegetables. Something I've never made before, maybe something that doesn't even especially appeal to me, just to broaden my side dish repertoire. I have a tendency to fall back into the old, easy and familiar, and sometimes boring, especially when I'm pressed for time. Or lacking in initiative.
Loose goal number 2. Get back into meal plannning. The past several months I've been terrible about planning menus and sticking to them. Oh, I have all KINDS of excuses, from having MasterCook software problems, switching to a new software (that will be a separate blog - WHAT a pain in the kiester), working longer hours, not having time, etc. Regardless, the result was a lot of thrown out ingredients (mostly produce). That seriously chaps my hide. It's wasteful and shows poor planning on my part. I'm starting that right now by using up my Christmas party leftover broccoli for the soup below.
Loose goal number 3. Learn to play my ukulele that I got for Christmas. No, it doesn't have anything to do with food, but it's uber-coolio.
My brother says I now have to gain 400 pounds if I'm going to do it right.
Loose goal number 4. Be consistent with the blog and try to take better food pictures. Now, some of that is obviously equipment related (lack of lighting), but I shall try.
Loose goal number 5. Assemble my simple cookbook. I've promised one for my husband's sister and the kids for lunches and I've done diddly on it. I've collected lots and lots of great information, and it's whirling around in my head, but I need to get serious and start pulling stuff together and figure out how I want to print it.
I think that's gracious plenty for a year, along with the general "live healthy, try to be content, and be kind to people." (Sometimes I have to remind myself to play nice, you know.)
So to all my friends out there, (and if you're reading this, I consider you a friend), have a very happy, healthy and kind 2010. Let me hear from you, from time to time!
After the party, I was left with a good deal of leftover Costo broccoli. In the interest of getting my vegetable on and not tossing produce, I took the remainder and made broccoli soup out of it. No cream, no cheese, no goop - I'm detoxing from all that. I just needed clean veggies. So here's my recipe for a healthy and hearty lunch soup.
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 stalk celery, diced
1 medium Yukon Gold or Idaho potato, diced
4 cups broccoli florets
4 cups chicken stock
In a large, heavy pot, sautee the onion and celery in the olive oil over medium heat. When the onion is transluscent, add the potato and a generous pinch of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Stir to incorporate, then add the broccoli and the chicken stock and a pinch more salt. Simmer over medium-low heat until the broccoli and potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor, or do like I do and use an immersion blender and splatter it all over the kitchen so it looks like you brutally murdered Oscar the Grouch. Taste it and add more salt, if you think it needs it.
BE CAREFUL if you use a blender or a food processor. Hot soup builds up steam in those things and can blow the lid right off the blender. Not that I know this from experience or anything. Leave the little middle part out of the top of the blender or processor so steam can escape and don't try to blend it all at once. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Much Beer and Wine
We wound up with about 42 people, and there was enough food left that I know no one went hungry and not so much left that I felt like I'd made way too much. The breakdown went like this:
Smoked Trout dip (finished)
Nuts (finished - thanks Nat and Mom!)
Beef Stroganoff (beef seared and stored, sauce made and stored separately)
Wild and Brown rice pilaf (made and ready to reheat - thanks Nat!)
Broccoli with bread crumbs (made and ready to reheat - thanks Nat! - she and I agreed though that this one didn't really reheat well. So I'll be looking for a different vegetable dish.)
The cookies had all been made ahead and frozen.
Made the prosciutto rolled greens (late in the day)
Made the salad dressing
Put together the Beef Stroganoff and simmer it (late in the day)
Cooked the noodles and put them in the warming tray
Wade did the buffet table and made a cool centerpiece of various glass vases filled with water dyed red and green, interspersed with some votive candles. He's a clever dude, that Wade. John and Mom and Wade and Natalie also set up the photo room, then Paul Stephan came by to loan us his lights for that. Here's the stage, all ready to go:
Jack and Beth
But as the evening wore on, people loosened up, Melissa's faux fur was "borrowed", and the pictures got a lot more interesting.
1 4 - 6 oz. package smoked trout, crumbled
6 oz cream cheese
6 oz sour cream
2 Tbs fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp dijon mustard
1. Mix all ingredients together. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
To recap: John, setting up outside lights and planning the photo room. Phillip, outside cleaning and setting up the backyard. Dad, feeding my dogs crap. That left the womens in the kitchen. Mom and Nat (John's wife) pushed up their sleeves and told me to put them to work.
Now I have to say, I don't play well with others in my kitchen. I'm not used to it, and we have a tiny galley kitchen that's not really ideal for multiple cooks. But it worked out pretty well, all told. I handed out the recipes from my cooking software, and everyone just got down to business. By 1:00, we had everything done that could be prepared a day ahead and I looked around and blinked and said "Wow. I guess we can go to lunch." So we did. And a little shopping. No way I would have had time for that if I was working this party alone.
Back home for a little rest, and my family scooted back to the B&B to change clothes for Christmas dinner. (Natalie said she smelled like food from cooking all morning and she was tired of it.) I got dinner ready while they were gone.
The pork had been cooking on low heat in the clay cooker all afternoon. All I had to do was simmer some black beans, make rice and a salad.
After dinner, we did our Christmas with each other. Then Wade arrived. Wade is John's old college roommate, and Mom and Dad are crazy about him. He's living in Greensboro now, and decided to come down for the party. Mom and Dad didn't know he was coming, so it was a nice surprise for them.
He joined us for dinner. I made sure everyone was fortified, because we had a long, busy day ahead on Saturday.
This is an adaptation of a recipe my good friend Ronda shared with me. She does hers with pork tenderloin and cooks it a shorter time. I do mine in a clay cooker with a butt roast and cook it all afternoon on low heat. The result is a shredded mess of tender pork that's great for eating on top of black beans and rice, or as a sandwich, which is what Phillip has been doing with the leftovers.
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 cup dark rum
1 large onion, large chop
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 Tbs. oregano
1 1/2 Tbs. chili powder
2 tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
2 lb. pork butt shoulder
Mix first 10 ingredients in a large bowl. Place butt roast in slow cooker, dutch oven, or in my case, a clay cooker. Cook over low heat (350 in oven) for 4 - 5 hours, turning roast occasionally to keep it wet. Shred pork when done and serve with black beans and rice.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Then it was home to feed Snack-Man (my dad). He needed some sour jelly worms pretty bad. Once fortified, a batch of us hit the streets for the Teeter to finalize food shopping for the party. There was a considerable amount of errand-running for this soiree, lemme tell you. No telling how many miles we put on the car last week.
We didn't even bother bringing the loads from the shopping back to the house. No way we were squeezing one more thing in my house. Fortunately, my mother-in-law lives about four blocks from us and has a spare (and thankfully empty at the time) fridge in their garage. So she got to house the party food for me. Everything that didn't need to be refrigerated just got piled on the washer and dryer on the laundry porch at home. Yes, it was chaos. Always is.
Dinner was up next so we tidied ourselves up (some better that others - it took me all of two minutes to spill something on my shirt) and headed over to Marc's on Market, where they had set us up in a private dining area. Good call, since we're a rowdy bunch. (Not really). We waddled back satisfied and tired, ready to GET AFTER IT the next day.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Wednesday last week, my younger brother John and his most excellent wife Natalie arrived. Wow. It already seems so long ago. A lot happened in a four-day span. Anyway, they got here and we had a nice afternoon visit, and I honestly don't remember what else we did. I started dinner around 5:00, I think.
1 Tbs olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cup carrots, chopped
1/2 tsp ground thyme
3 -4 cups chicken stock (thanks, Jenn!)
kosher salt and pepper, to taste
Heat small to medium saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil, then sautee
onions until transluscent, about 4 minutes.
Add chopped carrots and sautee until tender, another 4 - 5 minutes.
Add thyme and a generous pinch of kosher salt and stir, then add about 3 cups of the chicken stock. Simmer about 15 minutes, then puree with an immersion blender or put in a blender or food processor and puree. Return to pot and reduce heat to low. Stir and add more chicken stock to thin if needed. Serve when reheated through.
The white and sweet mashed potatoes are a favorite of mine and go very well with any kind of roast bird.
White and Sweet Mashed Potatoes
1 large russet potato
1 medium sweet potato
2 Tbs. butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
Boil white and sweet potato skin on in a large pot of salted water. Pierce with a fork to check doneness. When soft, after about 45 minutes, push potatoes through a ricer. Add remaining ingredients over low heat and stir gently until incorporated. Serve warm.
Since this day was so long ago, I honestly don't remember much else about it. A whirlwind of activity, I tell you!
Sunday, December 13, 2009
It was a zoo out there! And I have a message for ALL you holiday shoppers. PAY ATTENTION!! (That's what I wished I could yell at the five people we saw in the grocery, blocking the ENTIRE aisle with their carts and standing there reading labels while six people stood waiting to get by.
This is what traffic looked like in New Hanover County and in all the stores yesterday.
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
2 c. sugar
1 c. eggnog mixed with 1 tsp. vanilla and 2 Tbsp. dark rum
2 Tbsp. Dark rum
2 Tbsp. water
¼ c. sugar
Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease and flour a tube pan.
For the cake: Sift flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg together. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl twice. Add eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each egg. Scrape the bowl down again. On low speed, add the dry ingredients alternately with the eggnog mixture. End with dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly and spread evenly in prepared pan. Bake for 45 – 55 minutes. Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then remove. Brush on glaze while cake is warm.
For the glaze: In a small bowl, blend rum, water and sugar. Warm on low heat until mixture thickens. Brush on with a pastry brush.
2 qts. apple juice or cider
2 - 10 oz. cans apricot nectar
1 ½ tsp. whole cloves
6 cinnamon sticks
1 ½ c. light karo syrup
¼ c. lemon juice
Combine all ingredients and simmer.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
The dinner I'm posting tonight actually has nothing to do with what we're actually having for dinner tonight, which is cooking now and could be a major disaster, by the look of it. We'll see. I'm going to post a dinner from two nights ago. Three nights? Two? I can't remember. A couple/few. You don't really care, do you? Neither do I. Here was the menu.
Tonight's actual dinner, I may post later. It was decent enough, now that we've taken a break and eaten it, although no pictures. (I know, you're thinking, "no great loss there, honey!") I'll leave you with a little holiday calm though.
Peace out, people. I'm going to retire to maybe watch The Polar Express, if we own it, which I think we do.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Here's how it all went down.
Peppermint Sugar Cookies (An old 1994 Bon Appetit Recipe)
Cranberry, White Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies
Chocolate-Covered Sandwich Cookies with Dulce de Leche (Alfajores) - these are actually for the party. They would have been a beast to try to ship and would have been a big hot mess when they arrived. And I don't have a picture of them yet.
So baking we will go! And the end result will still taste good. It just might not be a show stopper.
I love these. They're the soft, thin, chewy cookies spiked with that great cool peppermint taste. It's a basic sugar cookie recipe with crushed peppermint candy added. I altered the recipe to add peppermint extract. I mean, seriously, why isn't it on there in the first place? I liked them better with it. More! Mint! This dough had to be refrigerated, so once it was mixed up, in it went.
Alfajores (From Fine Cooking)
The dough was another one that needed fridge time, so once it was mixed, in it went too.
Another refrigerator dough (and another Fine Cooking gem). Mixed up and in they went.
Cranberry, White Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies
This one is just your basic chocolate chip cookie recipe, except you add a cup of dried cranberries, a cup of white chocolate chips, and a cup of pecans. Frankly, I thought these were kind of "meh", and I won't bake them again.
I switched to something simple next - White Chocolate Brownies. These aren't brownies with chunks of white chocolate. They're melted white chocolate, butter, sugar, etc. They make a rich, chewy, buttery bar and I've been making these for probably 15 years. Maybe longer. Poured a double batch into a pan and shoved it in the oven to bake. The end of those.