Honey Soy Chicken with Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Late Wednesday night, after my steak with garlic mushroom bok choy, I came down with a nasty stomach bug. Or the flu, the jury is still out. Thursday morning on my way to work I became violently ill on the side of the highway. It was…..not suitable to recount in a food blog. I ended up leaving work early on Thursday and sleeping for over twelve hours. Thursday I wasn’t able to eat anything at all, Friday I was only able to drink straight chicken broth, and by Saturday I had graduated to soup. This morning was the first morning that I was able to drink coffee (a miracle, that) and I had this lovely chicken and a bunch of brussels sprouts waiting in the fridge, so I decided to venture back into real, solid food. I’m still exhausted and generally worn out, but never to tired to cook!

As long as the cooking requires little effort, of course. I used this recipe for a lovely honey soy marinade, and I didn’t change a thing about it. My only post-dinner comment would be that, if you use a three pound package of chicken, there isn’t quite enough marinade to get a good solid coat over everything (at least I think). But it was still absolutely delicious.  This recipe was actually out of character for me, because I generally don’t use honey outside of desserts. But I love soy sauce. My hesitation for honey is because I usually find “sweet and sour” combinations to be far too much sweet, not enough sour, but this recipe does a good job of balancing the soy and honey by sticking to a simple 1:1 ratio.

I’ve also recently developed a taste for brussels sprouts. It is tricky, though, to get them to a point of being soft enough to pleasantly eat, without charring them beyond recognition. The natural nutty flavor of the sprouts quickly becomes overpowering if they’re over-cooked. This recipe is very simple and the cooking time is spot on. The acidity from the vinegar deliciously compliments the natural flavor of the sprouts. Not as good as brussels sprouts roasted in duck fat (that was a special New Year’s meal, shortly before I started this blog, but maybe I’ll post it anyways), but still scrumptious! Especially for a veggie.

Overall, this was a lovely, simple, delicious meal and I would highly suggest both recipes. And now that my stomach is cooperating again, it was an excellent transition back into real food.

Now, I believe there are some real Girl Scout Cookies in the cupboard that would aid my ongoing recovery…….

Holy Brownie Batter, Batman!

I received a request for baked goods in the shape of the Batman symbol. To which I said, “uh, YES!”

So I hopped on Amazon and found this awesome invention:

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Yes, Justice will be served….along with some cookies….and perhaps and glass of milk!

The requester didn’t specifically ask for brownies, but I’m still shopping for the perfect brownie recipes, so I thought, “Brownie Batmans!”

I used this brownie recipe over on Handle the Heat for the first time. It promises “chewy, but not raw batter.” Yes, that’s what I need. They came our of the oven GORGEOUS, with a beautiful glossy crust on top, and my tester toothpick came out with just a few non-goopey crumbles.

batmanbrownies1Last time I made brownies, we tried to cut and serve them while they were still pretty warm. This time, with that cookie cutter in mind, I let them cool for several hours. Really. At least 2. I touched the top of them, and they felt cool. The pan felt cool. Ok great, time to make NANANANANANA BATMAN!

Then, disaster struck Gotham.

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These were the remnants.

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Out of that WHOLE PAN, this is what I managed to get. Four pathetic, crumpled bat signals.

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This was my most successful one.

The next day, after they’d cooled and settled overnight, they were ok. I still didn’t love them. They were not the brownies that Gotham needed.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that what I’m really pining for is CAKEY brownies. Brownies that I can successfully eat while they’re still warm. Is that such a crime? Everybody seems to be down on cakey brownies. Well I’m going to make me my own brownie recipe, that I can eat straight out of the oven. Darn it.

Two Batches of S’mores Happiness Versus One Bad Day

A law school girlfriend’s birthday was Sunday, so I wanted to make her a treat – I love spoiling people for their birthdays! I also was in one of my bad moods today, and was generally irritable, which isn’t nice because sometimes it comes out as snipping at J. Not that he doesn’t deserve some snipping on occasion, but today he truly was an innocent bystander. Baking has become a significant part of my evolving coping mechanisms, so tonight became the night to bake a birthday treat.

I have seen recipes for different variations of S’mores bars and cookies all over Pinterest, and what’s happier than a S’more! They immediately conjure up memories of campfires, summer, lounging at J’s parent’s camper at the lake, swimming, kayaking, and fireworks on the 4th. Happy stuff! And I need happy stuff! Yay S’mores!

The recipe I used is over on Chocolate, Chocolate, and More. And really, how can you not trust a lady with a blog name like that! Sounds like my kind of gal! I ended up using two smaller round pie dishes because I wanted to make two versions – one with the graham cracker crust, for my friend, and one without graham crackers, because I personally think that graham cracker crusts are a pain in the butt and after the first one I thought, “eh, no.”

Basically, it’s a chocolate chip cookie with mini marshmallows in it, which is one of those things that makes me say “why did I not think of this!” The batter ends up thick and chunky and delicious, but it spreads and rises nicely.

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If you remember my brownie disaster post, you’ll recall that I love batter. J shares that sentiment, so I had to keep chasing him away from the bowl. Threats of bodily harm with a wooden spoon didn’t deter him too much (although I do have a history of whacking him with Tupperware when he deserves it), but I was able to keep him at bay until I at least had everything in the oven, after which I surrendered the bowl and spoon with a dollop of batter as a peace offering and he willingly retreated to the living room.

After twenty minutes, my S’mores pies looked amazing and very campfire-ish, because the marshmallows puffed and browned slightly at the surface and it just looked like summer and put a huge smile on my face.

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Then to top it off, literally, the recipe instructs you to smoosh pieces of a Hershey bar on top after it comes out of the oven. I used mini Hershey bars, and may or may not have made myself a mini s’more with my mini chocolate and mini marshmallows while lacing my s’mores pies with extra chocolate. Because, well, chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate!

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J and I dug into ours, and I think I can safely say that the birthday girl is going to be delighted! So are my other girlfriends who I have class with tomorrow, because our leftovers will be handed out as well in an effort to moderate the net caloric intake of my household. J was sure to remind me that I need to save him “at least one!” for tomorrow, but if one is going to use baking as a mood stabilizer, one must also make sure to stabilizer portion sizes, which in turn helps stabilize those scale numbers.

At the end of the night, I was in a much better mood. Baking works for me, I’ve figured out, because it’s time I have to do something I enjoy without THINKING. Because most of my THINKING turns into FRETTING, and the fretting is what turns into the snipping. While I’m baking instead of fretting, I think my brain starts subconsciously working things out on its own, and by the time I’m turning the oven off a solution or some reassurance seems to magically materialize along with dessert.

After many, many nights spent chasing away bad moods with baking over the course of the past six months, I’ve finally admitted to myself, as well as to a few select people whom I love and trust dearly, that I struggle with depression. That was a very scary thing for me. Mental illness runs on one side of my family, and I’ve always been petrified at the thought of that dark set of traits leaping out of my genetic closet and shoving me down a path of self-destruction, as I’ve seen happen to my mother and several others.

Baking appealed to me so much as a coping mechanism for those moments when depression grabs me because it’s a constructive activity. It makes people happy. It engages someone in a conversation and brightens their day. They express their appreciation for their treat, and in turn, for you. It is a way of connecting with someone and receiving their help without burdening the interaction with heavy conversation. It makes me happy, keeps my hands busy, and keeps my mind settled.

And best of all, who can be sad while eating a s’more?

Beef Barley Stew and Other Foods to Eat Without Wisdom Teeth

J got his wisdom teeth out yesterday, so his food options have been restricted to soft foods he can chew gently. My poor guy – he didn’t get put under for the procedure, because as of January 1st, our insurance company has a new policy that they won’t pay for anesthesia for wisdom tooth extraction (except for little kids). And because of J’s job, he can’t take narcotic painkillers without having to fill out a bunch of paperwork for his employer, and its a hassle. So he was awake, and his only pain management was a shot of novocaine to the jaw. He walked out looking like a zombie movie extra, and the only thing he could stomach yesterday were protein shakes and vanilla ice cream.

Today he was feeling a bit better, and I felt like tackling a more time-consuming dish because I don’t have class or work on Tuesdays. I am attempting to generally improve my diet (I’m not calling it dieting or losing weight because that’s never worked before!), and thanks to Pinterest, I have a whole stack of healthier, filling, especially-good-for-cold-weather meals.

Tonight’s selection was Beef Barley Soup, which, in my case, ended up being Beef Barley Stew. I’ve never used barley before, and I really enjoyed it in this stew. It is a great filler and a healthier alternative to the white pasta that I usually crave. I got the recipe from Skinnytaste – http://www.skinnytaste.com/2012/09/beef-barley-soup.html. This gal has some really fantastic, healthy recipes and I highly recommend you go over to Skinnytaste and check it out. I was going to use her picture, too, because none of mine worked out (must have been my lighting, because my liquid looked gray! And it wasn’t, really! Time to get serious about Googling food photography), but I didn’t know if that would be a breach of blogging etiquette of some sort.

I made a couple of changes from the original recipe. I added a whole cup of barley instead of 2/3rd cup. I have never worked with barley before, and when I measured it out and dumped it in the soup, it seemed like the proportions were off and I’d need more barley. What I didn’t realize is how much water barley absorbs as it cooks, and the full cup of barley soaked up enough of my liquid to turn it into a stew, not a soup. Lesson learned! I also added 2 tablespoons each of oregano, parsley, and thyme, which I think gave it an extra oomph.

For J’s portion, I had to scoop out the pieces of beef first and shred them, pulled pork style, to reduce he chew-time-per-spoonful. He didn’t seem very enthusiastic about it, but I’m not taking offense because he hasn’t been enthusiastic about anything since watching his own teeth getting yanked out. Of course, his suggested remedy was ice cream, so after dinner he got his second heaping bowl of vanilla for the day. This stew was so yummy, though, I don’t care if he eats all the ice cream and leaves all the leftovers to me! Unless……..barley and vanilla ice cream? Hmmmm……..better not.

Mozzarella Curry Venison Burgers

I know what you might be thinking – Mozzarella and Curry and Venison? Weird combo! Which, it is. But its a YUMMY weird combo.

It was just me for dinner tonight, and I was looking for something pretty lean and healthy to balance out our fantastic meal out on the town last night with friends followed by the incredibly gooey chocolate brownie disaster. I had venison burgers planned along with veggie mac and cheese, but J not being home for dinner was an unplanned, last minute thing and I didn’t want to make mac and cheese all for myself. So, I figured venison burgers and a side of steamed broccoli sounded yummy and reasonable to cook for one.

The perk of J not being home for dinner is that I get to use CURRY. I LOVE curry. He doesn’t like it. You see my dilemma. Curry and venison gave me pause, but I figured, hey, I’ll try it. And I’m glad I did because it’s actually quite the delicious combination! The spiciness and slight nuttiness of the curry compliments the game-y taste of the venison, and the more smooth, basic flavor of the mozzarella balances out the meat and the spice and kind of brings them together and makes them get along. But then again, melted mozzarella makes anything amazing.

So here’s how you make Mozzarella Curry Venison Burgers!

Servings: 6

Prep and cook time: ~30 minutes

What you’ll need:

2 pounds ground venison

2 eggs

1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I used Italian seasoned breadcrumbs)

2 tablespoons curry powder

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 tablespoon garlic powder

6 slices of whole milk mozzarella

Put your thawed, ground venison into a bowl. Add the breadcrumbs and eggs and mix thoroughly. I usually just use my hands to mix things into raw, ground meat to make sure it is evenly distributed. Mix in the curry powder, garlic powder, and black pepper. Spray olive oil or some other type of cooking oil into a pan, put the pan on medium heat, and let the pan heat up for a couple of minutes. Form burger patties out of the ground venison and place them in the pan.

Venison is tricky to work with when its ground. Because venison is very lean, it won’t make a good burger by itself. Regardless of what other ingredients I use, when I make venison burgers I always mix in egg and breadcrumbs – 1 egg and 1/4 cup breadcrumbs per pound of venison. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a pan full of ground venison, because every time you try to move or flip your burger, the patty will fall apart. Also, if you’re pan frying instead of using a grill, always let your pan heat up on medium heat and let the burgers get a good initial sear. This will help keep them together as they continue to cook. But venison also burns easily on high temperature if you don’t watch it, so after you get a good sear on each side of your burger, turn the heat down to low. I have an electric stove, and I start the temperature on 5, then turn it down to 2 after I sear the burger.

So after you get a good sear on each side of your burger, turn down your heat and cover the pan. Make sure you let them cook until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees (any ground meat needs to reach a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees to kill the bacteria that is distributed through the meat during the grinding process). My burgers took about 20-25 minutes to cook. During the last 2-3 minutes of cooking time, place a slice of mozzarella on each burger and cover the pan again to let the cheese melt. When the cheese is fully melted, serve and enjoy!

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Chocolate Catastrophe Almost Averted

This was a tough week for J and I. My grandmother died on Monday. She was 89 and ill, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it still sucks. We had to drive a state over for the funeral, so I’ve been away from my kitchen for a few days. We got home late last night, and close friends of ours were scheduled to come up from down south to visit us today on their way to another destination. Since its so hard to plan these kind of cross-country visits and we really needed some lighthearted company anyways, we told them to keep our date.

After they got here, the boys took off for the garage to go play with man-toys, and my gal A and I decided that we needed to spend the afternoon making brownies! Because, BROWNIES!!!!! Now, I’ve been on the hunt for The Perfect Brownie Recipe. I have found The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe, but those perfect brownies have eluded me. This time, we decided to try this recipe that I found on Pinterest, and the original recipe is over on Life Made Simple – http://lifemadesimplebakes.com/2014/06/thick-chewy-better-boxed-brownies/. 

Things started off well.

To me, the proportions of flour to cocoa powder and wet ingredients seemed a little off, but hey, I like my brownies chewy, so I’ll go with it.

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A and I, of course, managed to get chocolate ALL OVER my kitchen as we “tested” the batter, which we had to clean up quickly so A’s sweet little girls, Chloe and Delilah, wouldn’t get an unhealthy dose of theobromine.

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The batter came out fairly thick (and was incredibly tasty, salmonella be damned). The recipe says cook time approximately 25 minutes, give or take one or two minutes. At the 25 minute point, they were looking fully cooked and delectable.

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And then we cut into them. And they were raw. Now, as much as we loved licking the spoon, the goal was fully baked brownies. So we put them back in the oven for five minutes. And then another five. And then another ten….Finally, after another almost 25 minutes in the oven, we came to the conclusion that they were as done as they were going to get. And

they STILL looked like a big, goopy, chocolate catastrophe.brownies4bronwies8

I like chewy brownies, but this was a little ridiculous. You couldn’t even pick one up in a brownie square, they just fell apart in a big chocolate lava puddle.

Ok then, if they’re only edible with a spoon…….

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Chocolate mud a la mode!!!!!!!

A and I snuggled up on the couch to watch the Cooking Channel with our brownies and ice cream, and as each of us got about 1/3rd of the way through our bowl, looked at each other, and went………”oohhffffff TOO MUCH CHOCOLATE”. Which, I know, is blasphemous in some circles….but…….ugh. I feel like I swallowed a chocolate brick. Luckily the husbands stepped in and cleaned up the scene.

Soooooo A and I decided that we need to make our own brownie recipe. Brownies that are edible without a spoon and a stomach pump. But we still had fun! And got some girl time love in, which is much more important than chocolate.

Meal Planning 101

I love meal planning. Both the process and the result. There’s nothing I like doing more on a Saturday morning than curling up on the couch with a cup of coffee, Pinterest, and a stack of cookbooks and food magazines and planning out the upcoming week’s meals. (I’m aware that makes me sound like a total nerd, and I’m definitely ok with that).

I’m finally at a point where I’m consistent with meal planning, but when I first decided to start planning our weekly meals, I didn’t do any research or ask anyone else how they did it. I just jumped in. Through lots of trial and error, I’ve finally found a method of meal planning that works for me and J, and I thought I’d share a few trips and tricks.

#1: Budget, budget, budget

Even though its the least fun part of the process, before you start planning out a large grocery list, you have to get a handle on how much you are comfortable spending. Seafood or top end meat cuts once a week might sound fantastic, but realistically, you may need to plan more for a chicken and pasta budget than a sirloin and shrimp budget. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Being on a budget doesn’t mean you only get bland, boring food.

#2: Multitask ingredients 

When I first started meal planning, one of the problems I repeatedly ran into was that I would get really excited about a recipe with an unusual ingredient, buy that ingredient, make the dish, and then end up wasting the rest of that ingredient. One ingredient in particular that would end up going bad for us is avocados – I don’t really care for them, but J loves them. I’d buy a couple, thinking that I’d use them all in one recipe, then I’d only end up using a half of one and the rest would go bad and get thrown out.

Now, if I pick out a recipe that has avocados or something unusual that I don’t use on a regular basis, I’m careful to include at least one other recipe for that week that includes that ingredient. For example, this week I’m planning on baked salmon topped with an onion and avocado mix. Because I’m buying the avocados, I specifically planned on making guacamole to go with chicken fajitas that I have planned for another night.

And when you’re coming up with ways to stretch ingredients, don’t forget that you don’t have to restrict your meal plans to dinner! If you need avocados for dinner one night, you can work avocados into a lunch salad or a breakfast quiche on a different day!

#3: Don’t forget the leftovers

When planning a week’s worth of meals, I used to get so excited about all the possibilities that I would plan huge meals every night of the week and end up with heaps and heaps of leftovers that sat in the back of the fridge, forgotten, until I had no clean tupperware and the food had gone bad. Check the serving sizes on your recipes – if you want to make a crockpot full of soup, you probably won’t need to plan a new meal for the next day.

I try to make the larger, more involved meals on the weekends so we have leftovers on a Monday or another hectic weekday. But even if I’m not planning a particularly large meal one week, I still leave at least one day without a plan, because we inevitably end up with leftovers, or end up going out to dinner, or get home from work late, ect.

#4: Keep stocked with staples

In our house, there are a few constants: block cheese, crackers, lettuce, frozen steamer packages of veggies, ground beef, and eggs are the big ones. I love planning out our meals, but sometimes I don’t have the time or energy to whip up an entree and healthy sides and lunches and snacks all in one day. So I’ll focus on making a beautiful piece of fish or a steak and let a side salad suffice. As long as I can get some form of veggie on the plate, I consider it a win.

The other benefit of always having easy, simple, tried and true foods on hand is for those wonderful occasions when you bomb a recipe. It happens! No matter how often you cook, if you’re experimenting, you will end up with a dud, whether its something that you burned or something that turned out just the way it was supposed to but you end up hating it. When you have one of those nights, its great to be able to just zap some frozen sweet corn in the microwave to serve as a side, or to throw together some quick, basic burgers. So find a handful of ingredients that your family loves that you know you can work with in a pinch, and keep stocked.

#5: Be a flexible shopper, but not too flexible

Having a solid plan on your way into the grocery store can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have a very specific list to keep you and your budget on track, but on the other hand, unless you exhaustively search for coupons and deals prior to every grocery store trip, you’re probably going to run into an unexpected good deal once in a while, and that good deal won’t beautifully jive with your existing plan.

When I first started meal planning and ran into an unexpected good deal at the store, I could never resist, no matter how obscure the ingredient was. Huge tub of red pepper hummus on sale? Sure, I’ll buy it, even though we’ve never had hummus before and other than chips, I have no idea what to do with it! I quickly learned that just because something is a great deal doesn’t mean it will be a great deal for me, if that great deal ends up going bad in the back of my fridge.

Now, I use a five second rule – if I see something on sale that isn’t on my list (assuming its not one of my trusty staples), I won’t buy it unless I can come up with at least two ideas for that ingredient in five seconds. For some things, this is really easy. If shrimp is on sale, I’m grabbing it and I will adjust my meal plans accordingly. If its a soft cheese or eggplant, for example, and I think I’d need to put some time and effort into using it, I’ll pass.

#6: Get creative with your produce

For a while, we were in a vegetable rut. I like to serve a vegetable with every dinner, but I was getting so bored with steamed broccoli and baked asparagus, which were my two main veggie sides. So I started paying more attention to my produce aisle. Once I started looking, I was actually pretty amazed at the varieties of vegetables I could find – and I don’t even shop at a fancy or organic grocery store. We’re rural enough that my only shopping option within a 30 minute radius is Walmart.

If you have skeptical eaters in your house (*ahem* a husband), start with something close to a veggie you know they like. J likes green onions, so I tried leeks. Then leeks lead to parsnips. Parsnips were a no, but leeks worked. So I tried bok choy. Now we eat all sorts of veggies that I never thought would sound appealing – turnips, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale. Just keep those staples on hand for those occasions where your experimentation is met with wrinkled noses.

#7: Don’t be afraid of canned goods

I like to serve and eat fresh food. I aim for healthy and flavorful. But for certain things, like beans or diced tomatoes, canned is the way to go. Store brand canned black beans are less than a dollar, can be thrown into any recipe with no more effort than cranking a can opener, and serve as an excellent, healthy filler in most meals. I love to make my own tomato sauce when I have the time, but if I’m making a baked pasta dish and want to get it in the oven with minimal fuss, I crack open a jar of Classico. In some instances, longevity and price are going to win out over the time and expense of fresh or homemade, especially if you’re focusing on perfecting a main dish and don’t want to fuss too much over sides.

#8: Have fun!

Enjoy yourself! The whole point of planning out meals for the week ahead is to make cooking a relaxing, enjoyable, creative process. Whether you’re trying to keep your family healthy, trying to save time and money, or just simply want to play with your menu, meal planning can help you on your way. Happy cooking!

The Reasonable Cook – A Start-up to Myself

Well, here I go – my first foray into blogging. Scared? Yup. Self-conscious? Yup. Going to do it anyways? Yup!

This blog is my attempt to keep myself on track – to keep myself as close to that Reasonable Man as I can. By the time the last semester of law school is starting – which is where my life is right now – students have come to know the Reasonable Man. He’s a favorite of judges, a pillar of virtue, a logical mastermind, and keeps himself in the right place at the right time. Our whole legal system is based around the idea that this person exists, and that he is all of us. Any law student will tell you how elusive this man really is, however, and how we all scramble to find him and catch him, to steal some of his magic, every Finals season.

At this juncture of my life, I’ve never felt more Unreasonable. Not only has the Reasonable Man eluded my grasp, he’s slipping out of my line of sight. This blog, hopefully, will help me find my own Reasonableness through cooking. I started cooking during my second year of law school, as an escape from stress. My hobby quickly grew into a passion, now second only to my desire to pursue a career as a lawyer and to start a family with my wonderful husband.

My hope is that, by sharing my cooking adventures and other attempts at self-improvement, I can catch that Reasonable Man, and make him share his secret.