Sunday, March 22, 2009

Rodeo Food

This will be a brief post, but I wanted to make sure to announce that I had a jumbo corndog at the Austin Rodeo yesterday. I have recently discovered my unending love for corndogs. I had one at the Texas Book Fair in October and was in love. I'm honestly not sure when the last time I had one was, so I'm not sure where this love comes from. We're not a family that attended any state fairs, and when there were street fairs I had gyros and funnel cake. I like hot dogs, but not so much as to love corndogs. I like cornbread as much as the next person, but again, a corndog is so much more than the sum of its parts. It's an odd obsession, but perhaps the excitement is that I really only partake in the glory that is corndog 2-3 times a year. Who knows.

In any event, below is a picture of my jumbo corndog. It was absolutely everything I had hoped for and more.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

pics now added

Just FYI for the throngs of people who are following this blog, I have added some pictures to some of my past posts. I've started with the post about St. Paddy's (Eire go Brach) and My Valentine's Party. I hope to keep up this habit and remember to take pictures of what I'm doing and actually add them to the blog, so fingers crossed.

Thanks to all for reading!

Foul Foul

I hate breaking down cooked chickens. I learned in my cooking class how to break down a raw chicken (not that I remember how at this point), but one of the reasons I don't roast whole chickens very often (aside from not owning a roasting pan) is that I really think picking apart the cooked chicken is a pain in the butt. A secondary reason is that I think poultry is terribly boring, but that wouldn't really be the reason not to roast.

But as I mentioned in my last post, there was a deal at the grocery store for a rotisserie chicken with a free baguette and a free family-sized caesar salad. So I went for it. I got the chicken home, and the next day I was wrist deep in the greasy skin of the chicken while my dog was apoplectic due to the aroma. I pulled off the drumsticks and made a pile of skin and a pile of meat. I cut off the breasts, which remained mainly intact. And this is where I believe diminishing returns begins. I start poking around looking for more edible flesh. I pull off what must be the thighs, I pull off some some other little pieces here and there, and eventually I decide I've done my best.

I called my mother to complain mildly about the process. She said, "don't you just love picking the meat off the bones?" "Isn't it a great sense of accomplishment?"

All in all, I got some good meat off the bones. I've already had three meals and probably have another three using it, so that's good. Definitely good yield for the money. I had a couple small chicken sandwiches (using the baguette as well), and I did another one of my "casserole" dishes. I put some Uncle Ben's 90-second Whole Grain Vegetable Harvest Rice, some of my ubiquitous canned green beans, some of the chicken, and some of our "House Dressing" in a container together. Shook it up, and voila!

By the way, I don't know if I've ever explained my family's "house dressing." I'll leave that for another post where I'll talk about some family memories I have around food. As I say in the cookbook I'm slowly but surely putting together, memory is our sixth and possibly most powerful sense when it comes to food.

But I digress. The thing that I'm most looking forward to is boiling the devil out of that carcass with the Trinity (onion, celery, and carrots) all to make some great stock. That stock will, hopefully, be turned into my kinda wannabe Italian wedding soup that's not really Italian wedding soup. It's super tasty and has bok choy, sausage, orzo, and tons of goodness....especially if there's homemade stock. Yum.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cooking on a Budget

Every week(?) I get an email from my local fancy H-E-B grocery store otherwise known as Central Market. Normally the deals they advertise don't really strike my fancy, but this time, something caught my eye. Buy a rotisserie chicken and get a baguette and a family-sized caesar salad for free. A total value of roughly $8. Well that's probably three meals for me there, so that's a great bargain. And I might even cook the carcass down to make some stock, so that's a bonus as well.

Then I was also shopping for my annual Irish feast - corned beef, cabbage, and champ (see my last post). The tab looked like this:

  • Thyme: $1 (with leftovers)
  • 4 bulk carrots: $0.85
  • Parsley: $1.49 (with leftovers)
  • 4 russet potatoes: $3.99 (with a potato leftover)
  • 3 bulk onions: $2.30 (with an onion leftover)
  • 1 head of cabbage: $1.43
  • 3lb hunk of corned beef: $11.71
  • bunch of scallions: $0.69

All of those ingredients made enough food for three of us at lunch today and probably two more portions for lunch tomorrow.

So for a tab roughly of $32, I got 8 servings (plus the potential for some homemade stock) for a total of $4 per serving.

Hot cha!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Eire Go Brach!

I guess I'm running a bit behind on these posts. A bit later while the potatoes are boiling, I'll take a moment to figure out how many posts I need to add to catch up.

This is just a quick note to say that tonight I'll be making corned beef, cabbage, and champ. The recipe for corned beef and cabbage can be found at What I like about this dish (as with much from the British Isles) is that you're basically just boiling something within an inch of its life. Literally, this recipe calls for 3-4 hours of boiling (which means I should get to the store and get home soon if I ever plan on going to sleep).

Champ, on the other hand, I learned from a lovely ginger-haired lad I dated for a while who was from Belfast. While he was staunchly loyal to Britain, I still choose to celebrate Ireland Forever (Erie Go Brach) with his recipe. It was a damp cold day when he made this for me, and it just could not have warmed me up any better. Essentially, you simmer milk (or cream...skim probably isn't the best here) with a knob of butter and some scallions. You're basically seeping out all of the scallion-y goodness and the milk becomes infused with it. You then use that oniony-milk yumminess to serve as the lubricant for mashing your potatoes. They end up being a bit soupier than traditional mashed potatoes, but they're lovely and creamy and decadent. He said his mom used to make it for him when he wasn't feeling well. It truly is the ultimate comfort food.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Pledge to End Hunger

I was raised to be creative and find ways to give back. A few times growing up, my mom, sister, and I would spend the day before Christmas working in a local soup kitchen where we wrapped gifts, cooked food, created "to go" dishes of food, etc. for homeless or severely disadvantage people. I loved that tradition. This past year, I emailed one of the nuns that run that soup kitchen, and unfortunately, they already had enough volunteers. Well, it was unfortunate for me, but certainly fortunate for them.

The problem is, that's just during the holidays.

When it's not the "season of giving," not enough people give. And here in Austin, the supposed problem is that we don't give our money, but we give our time. (And to the "I Live Here I Give Here" people, your focus should on PERCENT PARTICIPATION not dollar amounts when you come to speak to a group of young professionals....or most anyone, for that matter. Did we not learn ANYTHING from Obama's fundraising tactics??) People, at least we give back and we're involved. Ugh.

So I figure, why not think of community involvement like the manufacturing concept of continuous improvement. Continuous community involvement? Sounds good. Sounds like a lot of work too, but it doesn't have to be.

No, I haven't hijacked this blog to talk about giving back, per se. There is still a connection with food. And that's exactly my point. Even the most embedded couch potatoes have something that is of interest to them. And the beauty is that you can share that interest with others in a way that gives back to the community.

I have volunteered at the Capital Area Food Bank a couple times, and it was a blast. While washing off cans of peas isn't exactly how I'd like food to be in my life all the time, knowing that I was helping and occasionally coming across an interesting shelf-stable product was a more than sufficient reward. I hope to volunteer with them again.

I leave you with a link to the "Pledge to End Hunger" campaign. While of course they will gladly accept monetary donations, what they are asking for is for you to "sign" their campaign. You put in your email address, name, and state, and poof...their partner, Tyson, donates tons and tons of food to food banks in your state. The problem is, not enough people have heard about it because as of my post, there are only about 1350 pledges. That's a great start, and it's translating into 46,935 lbs of food & 187,740 meals donated. But that's smaller than my college (and I went to a TINY college). We can do better.

Please "sign" the Pledge to End Hunger campaign and tell your friends. Just by posting your support of this program, people receive food. It's that easy.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Ro what?

For those of you who do not know Rotel ( is a widely-used ingredient in dishes here in Texas. I spent one year 2001-2002 in Austin without being introduced to this ubiquitous canned good. But in 2006 when I moved down here and in with my friend Heather, she was shocked (dismayed?) that I had never heard of it. I looked at the can and asked (the audacity!), "Uhh...isn't it just diced tomatoes and jalapenos? Couldn't you just dice the things on your own?" BLASPHEMY!!

The typical dish made with Rotel (or is it Ro*Tel?) is queso. For those not in the know, that is the cheesy spicy dip that you use with tortilla chips. Personally, I've always chosen (outside of a restaurant, that is) the Tostitos brand queso ( It's available at such gourmand eateries as 7-11 or Walgreens, and it is delicious.

But tonight it was homemade queso. I had some friends over, and one of my friends left me a bag with the two ingredients and some really tasty tortilla chips. Oh, and did I say the other ingredient is Velveeta? Oh yes. That bizarrely shelf-stable yellow/orange cheese-like product. To date, I had never prepared anything with Velveeta either, except for maybe boxed mac and cheese. So this evening was a first for two things.

I announced to my friends that I had never made queso with Rotel and Velveeta. This shocked them. "You don't have a crock pot? But you like to cook so much!" questioned one friend. "I like my queso a little more watery so I do two cans to one block, but it's a question of taste." advised the one who brought the products. "How exciting!" I exclaimed.

I decided to stay with the advice I had been given as opposed to the advice on the box, which was to pair just one can of Rotel with the entire 32 oz (yes, you read that right) block of "cheese." Instead of microwaving in a bowl as my friend suggested, however, I decided to turn to the box for the cooking method - melt it over low heat in a medium sauce pan. I did not choose this method due to the friendly warnings about how queso in the microwave can bubble up like oatmeal, but I will say the concept of cleaning that fake cheese stuff out of the inside did give me pause.

My friend also warned me that I will never go back to bottled Tostitos queso. It is likely that she is right.

Friday, March 06, 2009

A small failure

I wanted to update all of you to say that I did not make the writing deadline to submit my manuscript to the folks at the Writers League of Texas. The plan was to write a synopsis page and the first ten pages of my cookbook (sans recipes and pictures for this contest). But alas, I just didn't devote the appropriate time to the project (I could list the excuses, but why bother). So tonight as the 6pm deadline rolls by, I'll just be thinking about what might have been if I had won and had that meeting with an agent/publisher.

...actually, no. At 6pm, I'll be waiting in line at Yoga Vida for the free Bikram Yoga class with water bottle, mat, and towel in hand....probably while reading The Best Food Writing of 2008.

Food and Kids

Some of you know about my undying love for my TiVo (I've had one since 2000). Having a TiVo usually means that I watch everything in "TiVo Time" which means that you're never watching live TV. You get to fast forward through the advertisements (or if you're averse to embarrassment like I am, through the icky confrontations on reality shows) and basically tailor the show to your every whim.

But for some reason lately, I have been watching live TV. This means, I've seen a lot more ads, some of which are hilarious and involve food and kids (my other love besides food and my TiVo). So, without further ado - I feature three of those ads below. You can watch them on the YouTube links provided.

What is this, minced? You bring me minced??
This Van De Kamp's ad had me literally LOLing on my couch. It's Jackie Mason mixed with the old guy in Coming to America ("what is this, velvet?") mixed with a precocious little girl. It's brilliant on all levels.

What if it had a flat bottom?
Something about the slow motion celebration in this Old El Paso ad cracked me up. The boy is so cute and his creativity genius is appreciated by the make believe Mexican town. Fantastic.

Why don't we have both?
This one is the weakest of the lot, but my favorite part in this Old El Paso ad (aside from the moment of celebration, of course) is the argument over "suave" or "duro" (soft or hard) tacos the two kids are having at the dinner table. The resulting suave/duro taco wheel is priceless.

I'm beginning to think that I should have had this post sponsored by Old El Paso or Van De Kamp's.....

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

This doesn't really count....

...but this post is just to announce that I'm going to go through all previous posts and put tags in. I like the fact that my other blogging friends do this, and I've always intended to do so, but I just never really got around to it. So there you go. (And no, this doesn't count towards my 25 posts in 8 weeks count.)

cheap eats

The economy has not been kind to me. Gas was killer there for a while, and now that I live in a driving community (gag....I miss the subway), that hurt me for a bit. I had to put my property taxes on my credit card back in December (because I had not planned well), and that's a HUGE chunk of cash (easily the most I've ever charged on my card). Then there's the 10% pay cut that my company required of all employees (VPs and above had bigger cuts).

So all in all, I've been focusing more on cheap food than on healthy food. This, in addition to a loss experienced recently, has meant that I've gained a bit of weight. It sure is tempting to do the quick and easy fast food thing when you have a coupon for a free burger, or free breakfast, or whatever. And I recognize that I didn't have to spend that money to begin with, so it's not cheap - it's more expensive than eating something that's already in my pantry or fridge.

I've been trying to get out and walk my dog more, not only because it benefits him, of course, but also to keep active. Problem is, my big loop around my neighborhood walks by a bunch of restaurants at the end, and I like going to the donut shop (to get breakfast burritos, this is Texas, after all) with only about three-quarters of a mile left in the loop. Clearly, things need to change.

But, as Katie Scarlett O'Hara says, "tomorrow is another day."

Today, however, is still the deal for cheap eats. And boy can Austin deliver. Even with very little money, there is something to be said for going out and spending some time with some friends surrounded by free food and half price drinks. :-)

So, below is a link to a day-by-day list of happy hour deals here in Austin. Next Monday, some friends from work and I are going to Freddie's for the free brisket and wings starting at 6pm. Aw yeah.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Killer Spaghetti...or is it Killing Spaghetti?

On Saturday I was, once again, trying not to spend any money and use the food stuffs I had already at my disposal. I was also inspired (yet again) by a Nigella Lawson recipe featured on her TV show (all repeats, but I still watch them while drooling). Lemon Garlic and Mushroom pasta. Because I went to Costco back for the Valentine's party, I knew I still had scores of lemons and limes. And I had some Dreamfields (high protein, low on the glycemic index) spaghetti. I had a huge clove of garlic. No mushrooms. Okay, so my version was going to be Lemon Garlic Spaghetti.

Let me tell you, not only was this one of the easiest dishes I've ever made, but it was so tasty that I ate about half a box of pasta in one sitting. No, that's not advisable, but it's almost unavoidable due to just how good this stuff tastes.

I did this with spaghetti, and frankly, I think any long pasta would work well. I don't anything like a rotini or penne would make a nice pairing with the sauce. But that's just me.

  • 1/2 box of spaghetti
  • 2 decent-sized cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 Tbsp really good "sipping" olive oil (super tasty, but nothing you'd cook with)
  • 1 large lemon


  • Big pasta cooking pot
  • Large non-stick skillet for sauce
  • Garlic crusher or chef's knife for mincing
  • Microplane/zester
  • Tongs
  • Once you've gotten your water up to boil, salt it like you've never salted anything before. I've often heard that you want your pasta water to be as salty as the Mediterranean. Mine might have been as salty as the Dead Sea, but it was just that much tastier.
  • Put the pasta in the boiling water (check the package for the proper timing). Don't forget to stir it around periodically so the pasta doesn't stick.
  • While the pasta is cooking, heat up a non-stick skillet over medium/medium-low heat with the extra virgin olive oil (not the super good stuff)
  • When the oil has come up to temperature (shimmering slightly), put in the garlic. The point here is to brown it slightly, but watch out - burned garlic is one of the nastiest tastes on the face of the Earth...very bitter, almost metallic. If you're concerned, lower your flame.
  • Did you stir the pasta?
  • While the garlic is browning, rinse off your lemon and use a microplane (or zester) to put the zest of the entire lemon into the oil/garlic mixture. The aromas will begin to dance and it is such a happy fragrance.
  • Cut the lemon in half, and squeeze in the juice from one half. My lemons were particularly large, so feel free to put in the lemon from a whole lemon. Just depends on how citrusy you want your dish. Stir in the juice and the zest.
  • Turn off the heat under the skillet and just make sure the sauce is combined.
  • Assuming you've stirred your pasta periodically, by the time the buzzer has gone off, you've got some perfectly al dente and separated pasta. Take your tongs and pull out some of the pasta. Let the water drip off of it, and add it to the skillet. Take the tongs to make sure the pasta is covered with the sauce. Repeat with the next bunch of pasta and continue until you've got the half box of pasta rolling around with the sauce.
  • Since the skillet has been turned off, it's now "safe" to add in the really good olive oil. Choose a deeply-colored olive oil that you might use for dipping bread and pour in 1 tablespoon of the sipping olive oil. (If you don't have that great bottle of olive oil, you can use your extra virgin olive oil, but I wouldn't put as much on it.)
  • Turn the pasta around in all the sauce once again, and separate into two bowls. Make sure each person has some garlic, some lemon zest, and some of the olive oil/lemon juice mixture. Just to top it off, if you've got the really good olive oil, drizzle on one more teaspoon or so to each of the servings.

I was so excited by this recipe that I posted my glee to Facebook stating I had "just had some killer lemon garlic spaghetti." A friend of mine from Italy responded with, "Spaghetti with lemon and garlic???? You are spaghetti's killer." I'm guessing that means this is not one of the approved sauces for the pasta, but boy did I love it. In fact, I've got leftovers for lunch today. :-)