Category Archives: Food

How to Cook Good Food Inspired by Your Favorite Restaurants!

This afternoon, we went to our “Dinner for 6” dinner club group, and our friend said she was making Pasta e Fagioli inspired by the soup at Olive Garden that she likes.  In an effort to go along, I thought I’d shoot for an Olive Garden-inspired salad, only making it better by replacing romaine for the iceberg and leaving out the only food I can’t love: olives.

In the process, I found out about, this lovely website that provides copy cat recipes of restaurant dishes.  How lovely!

So here’s the link to Olive Garden Salad.  I recommend replacing the iceberg with a romaine or green leaf lettuce.  Also, I substituted Newman’s Own Light Italian with a bit of salt and pepper added in lieu of the “real” Olive Garden dressing, which is probably much higher in sodium.

My friend used the recipe for Pasta e Fagioli from America’s Test Kitchen subsituting the bacon with italian sausage.  With a bit of parmesan sprinkled on top, it was a soup with incredible flavor.

The combination of the soup with the salad was! So, next time you’re in the mood for Italian, I totally recommend this soup/salad combo…and next time you want to make a better version of your favorite restaurant dishes, try CopyKat!

So What’s Up With Seasonal Taste Buds?

What is it about changing seasons that changes taste buds?  No, I mean seriously…no one sits around at the beginning of August saying, “Give me some chili!”  We’re totally thinking “Hot Dog!  Hamburger!  Watermelon!”  But in November, it’s all about the chili, the cider, and the pumpkin-spiced everything.

Some of this is obvious, because hello, fruits and vegetables are (or at least they used to be) seasonal.   But it’s not like Hamburgers are seasonal…so why, in this day and age when we can have strawberries in January and cantaloupe in April and pomegranates any day of the year, do we still have any seasonal ebb and flow to our tastebuds?

I noticed this weirdness this morning, as it was pouring down horrible, horrible cold and horrible rain, was how I immediately thought, “I want a peppermint white chocolate mocha.”  What is it about cold and rainy weather that screams “GIVE ME PEPPERMINT!”

My best guess is that it’s a link to memories…an entire childhood of buying the first available box of candy canes I could get my hands on…the memory of a chilly weekend in November visiting NYU with a good friend and curling up in a corner of Starbucks with a peppermint mocha…and now, on an uncomfortable dreary day, for $4.00, I can buy a bit of reassurance and a link to the past.

My second guess is that we still love tradition at the holidays.  We love the sights and smells and flavors that belong to this time of year.  To drink peppermint mochas in June erodes the value of drinking peppermint mochas in December.  We love the significance we give to the seasons when we put away the barbeque grill, but pull out the pumpkin pie; we say goodbye to the last bit of Christmas leftovers, with no intention to prepare the dishes for another 12 months, because to do so would reduce their special role in the holiday tradition.

And somehow, the corporations know this…they know that if they put candy canes at the checkouts in November, I can’t help myself.  They know that if they take away McRib and suddenly bring it back one day, that suddenly I’m compelled to want a McRib simply because I remember enjoying eating them as an 8-year-old. (GROSS.)

Really, a few minutes after beginning this reflection, my main conclusion is that I should be careful in the seasonal traditions I establish with my own family, because I don’t accidentally want to be stuck eating McRibs as our holiday tradition just because it links to some fantastic memory we all had of eating McRibs together.  Which reminds me…Christmas this year is in a time-share in Florida, but, well, it won’t be Christmas without the sausage and cheese casserole, so…we can’t forget to pack the recipe. 😉

Fall Creative Cooking

Lately, since husband and I have actually been home more often, and because we’ve tightened the belt on our food budget a bit, it’s been an opportunity for some creative recipes in the kitchen.   I’ve been working to figure out interesting ways to work through our weekly box of veggies from Garden Treasures before everything goes bad, using only the things in our cabinets and buying as little new stuff as possible.

Here are some of the creative options that popped up this week:

1)  Chocolate Cake…with beets! No, really!  I got the recipe from Simply in Season, and it gives the cake a nice rich fruity flavor…we paired it with a white chocolate raspberry buttercream frosting, and amazing things resulted!  I even fed them to a bunch of people who had no idea they were made with beets (except now they know…if they’re reading this.)  Way to go beets!  I don’t always love you beets, but you definitely transformed yourself into a rad cake this week.

2)  Mashed Potato Stuffed Chili Peppers! I collected about 75 peppers from my final end-of-summer harvest from the backyard bucket garden, and husband requested stuffed peppers.  Turns out you can roast peppers, whip up some mashed potatoes (avec cream cheese), pipe them into the roasted peppers, sprinkle them with cheese, and amazing things result!  (via Simply Organic.)  Way to go peppers!  (These are so amazing, I keep sneaking back to the kitchen for more!)

I also made some not-so-creative spaghetti sauce with the last of my tomatoes…it resulted in about 6 cups of sauce.  What a crummy year for tomatoes…not the harvest I was hoping for.

Can’t wait to see what’s in the box this Thursday!  I’m hoping for pumpkins!

Prepping for Potluck

In the wee hours of a Saturday morning (okay, but 8am feels wee on a Saturday morning, yes?)  I’m waiting on an oh-so-colorful pot of red kidney, navy, black and garbanzo beans to finish cooking so they can be thrown in already-simmering pot of tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic summer squash from a friend’s summer garden, bulgur, and oodles of spices.

It’s potluck lunch today at choir rehearsal, and what’s a potluck without a dish to look forward to?  I love being able to share whole foods with my neighbors, and so this morning, I impose upon the world a giant pot of chili, made almost entirely from scratch*, full of good things including dried beans, bulgur and garden squash.

I’m secretly hoping the chili turns out gross-looking, so we can bring most of it home and spend the rest of the week eating it…but well, I wouldn’t be much of a potlucker, would I?

*I used store bought canned tomatoes. Not my preference, but better than hot house tomatoes from Mexico.

From Scratch: Hummus

Hummus is where it’s at.  Over the last few years, I’ve definitely noticed hummus’ growing popularity on yuppie grocery stores specialty shelves.  But guess what?  You can save the $6.99 for 6 oz and make something better and waaaaaay cheaper at home!  Super, super easy if you have at least a small food processor.  Full of protein, flavor, and great as a main dish or side dish for a vegetarian main course.

Here’s how I do it, thanks to my first roommate and her amazing tutorials:


*Chick Peas (about 1 c. dried or 1 can per batch.  Start with Step 3 if you’re using canned.  Dried save you sodium, $$ and have better texture/flavor.)
*1 lemon or lemon juice
*1 heaping T. Sesame Tahini (orange can found near the peanut butter)
*1-2 Fresh Garlic Cloves
*Salt to taste
*Other things you want in your hummus.  I like plain or roasted red pepper & basil.  Husband likes jalepeno.  Yuppies seem to like roasted garlic.

  1. Soak several cups of dried chick peas in water (Overnight for morning hummus or before work for dinner hummus.)
  2. Swap out the soaking water and replace water till it’s 1 inches higher than the beans in pan.  Cook dried chick peas 1-2 hours until they’re soft.  Drain them.
  3. Fill a small food processor about 80% full with drained, cooked chick peas. Add either lemon juice or 1/2 fresh squeezed lemon, along with tahini, garlic, and a 1/2 t. salt.  Blend together.
  4. Throw in extra veggies such as jalepenos, roasted red peppers, or herbs like basil or cilantro if you want.
  5. Gradually add small amounts of water to smooth out texture and continue to blend.
  6. Check flavor, and add additional tahini, salt or garlic to taste.  Finish off with extra water if needed to make texture completely smooth.

Serve with pita bread, as a spread for sandwiches (my fave is hummus, turkey, pepperocini, lettuce, and a little italian or caesar dressing), or with tortilla chips.  Makes a great main dish for lunch or appetizer.


Kids Don’t Know Their Vegetables?

I’ve caught the trailers for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, and it sounds like he’s a man after the heart of Michelle Obama, who just launched the “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity.

Why am I excited about both of these?  Check out this clip.  For Real?

Thanks to @jesusgirls for sending me this link via Grist.

A Reflection on Fasting

I tried to fast a couple of Fridays ago.

It didn’t go so well.  I was irritable most of the time, but the worst part, was that I hated every minute of it.

I shared this with a good friend a week or so later, and she said, “If you hate it, then you shouldn’t do it.” She wasn’t necessarily saying that out of an American worldview that one should do whatever makes one happy. She was responding out of belief that self-loathing and irritability is not what fasting is for.

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Step One: Organize the Ingredients

When I was little, my favorite book was The Berenstein Bears and the Messy Room. (This is quite unironic given that the carpet in my bedroom was usually covered wall-to-wall with grub, but ironic in the sense that the book actually ended with the bears cleaning their room, which I tended not to do.)

Anyways, I loved the book for the same reason I love Real Simple magazine…because I don’t know that many things are more beautiful to me than colorful labeled containers alphabetized in a pretty row.

Last night, husband took me on a trip to the Skagit Valley Co-op, which is a happy place because it’s filled with colorful labeled containers.  I admit I was slightly sad thinking about taking the plastic bags home and just piling them in the cabinet and rifling through them in ugly disorganized fashion.  But — a miracle of miracles occurred when I witnessed a fellow patron of the Co-op fill a mason jar with freshly ground peanut butter.  I was struck upside the head by the idea to use my empty canning jars for winter storage for my grains, beans and lentils.  No need to spend hundreds of dollars at The Container Store, because for $10, I was able to bring the Co-op home.  I have the same giddy feeling I did everytime I finished The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room.  For $10, you can have this kind of happiness too.

More With Less

I know I must have been engrossed in what he was saying, because I had already forgotten that my pants zipper had broken in the ladies restroom only moments before.  I had already tuned out the energy I was expending pulling the hem of my camisole over the broken zipper while simultaneously pretending nothing had happened.  The brain cells that were focused on projecting the breeziness the evening required were apparently now fully integrated into my autosomatic nervous system.  My full attention was focused on him, on this first meeting, and the conversation at hand.

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