Cabbage Soup and Excuses

•February 27, 2011 • 4 Comments

Here I am.  I’m still out here.

I’m having trouble keeping up with everything.  I’m not writing.  In fact, I’ve hardly been cooking.  Here is what I HAVE been doing:

  • Learning a new job that, most of the time, feels like a different language.
  • Planning my sister’s bridal shower, and whoo-hooing or boo-hooing over her upcoming marriage (depending on the day)
  • Traveling to Athens to hang out with the folks
  • Getting sick while in Athens.
  • Being sick for several days.
  • Taking significant other to emergency room (while still sick) with kidney stone.
  • Getting five cats to the vet for their annual check-ups, all within a 10-day period (and yes, some of this was done while I was still sick, in bad weather to boot)
  • Finding out our eldest cat has a mast cell tumor, but luckily it hasn’t spread to his organs.  Planning the necessary surgery, which could possibly cost $1000.
  • Learning that one of our other cats needs a tooth pulled.  That will be another $800 or so.
  • Trying not to be completely overcome by the anxiety that can occasionaly reduce a strong, sassy woman to a quivering blob of uselessness.

But although money’s getting scarce again,  I just feel fortunate that none of these things happened (1) before I was re-introduced to the work force, (2) before the first paycheck hit, and (3) before the insurance kicked in!

Luckily, I’ve been maintaining a certain sense of frugality on the food front, probably just by force of habit.  A couple weeks ago, I made a yummy cabbage soup.  I also wrote the following post – and never got around to posting it.  Sick.  Crazy busy.  Kidney stones.  Cat issues.  You get the picture.  (Though unfortunately, with this post, you do NOT get the picture, because that would have been just one more step.) 

Read on.  Don’t be afraid of the cabbage.

Cabbage is one of those all-around good foods, especially for those on a budget.  It’s super-cheap, nutritious, and one small head yields enough for a really big batch of sweet and sour soup.

In fact, for a two-person household, TOO much sweet and sour soup!  It was delicious the first night and still pretty darned good the second night.  But after three days of eating it for lunch at work, and sneaking it into yet another evening meal, we were both pretty sick of it.  Which is a shame, because it’s so very yummy.  There will definitely be a “next time”, but it will involve freezing at least half (if not two-thirds) of the soup for really easy meal planning later.

This is a very versatile soup.  It’s hearty enough to serve as a meal with your favorite salad and some good crusty bread.  But it’s light enough to eat with sandwiches as well.

The Cookbook:  365 Ways To Cook Vegetarian, by Kitty Morse

The Recipe:  Sweet and Sour Cabbage Borscht (beet-haters, don’t let the word “borscht” scare you…I’m honestly not sure why it’s called that, but I promise –  it has nothing to do with the presence of beets)

Cooking It Up:

Making this soup will devour about 90 minutes of your time, so it’s best for a weekend or, at very least, a night you get home from work early.  That said, it’s light on actual labor while long on cooking time, so it doesn’t involve a lot of fussy prep (or brain cells for that matter, of which I usually possess no more than two by the time I get home at night).

I prepared this recipe with minimal adaptations, though I did play around with the brown sugar.  I know it’s supposed to be SWEET and sour, but 3/4 cup seemed rather excessive to me.  It is soup, after all, not caramel sauce.  I recommend starting out with no more than 1/2 cup, and then tasting during the final cooking process to see if you really want more.

I also recommend thinly sliced cabbage, rather than the shredded that was called for in the original recipe.  We found ourselves wishing for a bit more cabbage presence, as my food processor shredding blade made the pieces pretty small.  If you’d still like to use a food processor, try the slicing blade rather than the shredding blade, as I will do next time around.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Borscht (adapted from 365 Ways To Cook Vegetarian) 

Cut a small head of cabbage into quarters and thinly slice.  In a large stock pot, combine the cabbage with 2 or 3 chopped medium onions, a 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes, a 16-oz can of tomato sauce, and 6 cups of vegetable broth (or a water-bouillon combination).  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Cover and cook until the cabbage is relatively soft, about 30 minutes. 

Add 1 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 TB Worcestershire sauce, and 1/2 cup brown sugar.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes, allowing the flavors to blend.  Taste about half way through to see if you’d like a little more brown sugar.  Add as needed.  At the end of the cooking process, add 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.

Serve with sour cream for a garnish.  The original recipe also suggests lemon wedges, but my version of the soup didn’t need any additional lemon juice.  Maybe if I’d used all the sugar, I would have felt differently.

Once any leftover soup has cooled, freeze it in meal-sized containers.  You’ll be glad you have it later.  I’m betting you could run a little hot water over the bottom of your frozen soup container and dump it directly into the pot for reheating.  No planning ahead needed.

 Incidentally, I found myself wondering if I should have strayed from the recipe and sauteed the onions and cabbage in some butter or olive oil to add more flavor.  After tasting the soup, I decided this step would have been a waste of time, effort, and calories.  The soup has such a great, complex flavor that sauteeing the veggies ahead of time is simply not necessary. 

Until next time,



Why I’m Not A Food Snob

•February 5, 2011 • 2 Comments

If I were a food snob, I wouldn’t make casseroles from the back of the box of Jiffy All-Purpose Baking Mix.  No, in fact, if I were a food snob, I wouldn’t even HAVE a box of Jiffy All-Purpose Baking Mix.

I’m a little bit embarrassed to tell you that such a box is in my possession.  And, in fact, I can’t remember exactly why I bought it. 

But, a couple of weeks ago, I made Jiffy cinnamon rolls, on a whim.  I made them to use up some leftover homemade butter frosting I had in my fridge.  Doesn’t that seem a little strange?  Just in case you didn’t catch it the first time around – I made cinnamon rolls from a box to use up extra frosting made from scratch.  But at any rate, I did it, and they were surprisingly good.

At that time, I happened to notice the recipe for Chicken Broccoli Casserole.  All you need is chicken (pre-cooked or canned), frozen chopped broccoli, cheese, milk, eggs and Jiffy mix.  Sounded like a pretty good pantry meal to me, especially since I usually have some (you can wince or gasp here) canned chicken on hand.

You might say I’m kind of schizophrenic on the topic of food.  I believe passionately in buying from small, preferably local farmers.  I don’t like to use a lot of processed foods.  Most of the time, I’d rather forego meat altogether than buy it from nasty factories like Tyson or Smithfield.  But then there’s the canned chicken.  And the Jiffy Mix.  And the occasional Friday night after a really long work week when I don’t know what’s for dinner and I remember Chicken Broccoli Casserole.

So I can’t say I’m a food snob.  And I certainly can’t preach to anyone else, though I might talk to you on occasion about the latest factory farm scandal, the humane treatment of animals, the evils of Monsanto, or why a diet of processed foods tends to make us fat and sick.  No, I’m not perfect.  But I CAN try to eat sustainably and locally a lot of the time, and maybe not feel quite so guilty on the occasions that I don’t.  I can always strive to do better, but in the meantime, I can enjoy Chicken Broccoli Casserole.

And, did I mention, it is a KAM?  (Kitty Approved Meal?)

Buster, age 2 1/2, was very interested in the finished product

The Recipe:  Chicken Casserole with Broccoli

Other Menu Items:  An impromptu “It’s Friday night and I don’t really have many fresh veggies left” salad made by sauteeing Trader Joe’s frozen roasted corn with Trader Joe’s frozen tri-color peppers and some chopped onion; seasoning the mixture with chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin, salt and pepper, sticking it in the freezer to chill while the casserole cooked, and serving it over hearts of romaine with a chili vinaigrette.  Not bad!

Cooking It Up:

Preheat the oven to 400.  Grease a 2-quart rectangular casserole dish.

Place 1 1/2 cups chopped cooked or canned (drained) chicken, 10 oz frozen chopped broccoli (rinsed and drained) and 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese in the casserole dish.

Lightly beat 3 eggs, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper in a mixing bowl.  Stir in 1 cup Jiffy Baking Mix and whisk until well blended.  Whisk in 1 cup milk.  (Note – the original recipe says to put the baking mix in first and pour the milk, eggs and seasoning over the top before whisking.  This left me with a lot of lumps, which I found annoying.  I think mixing the eggs and baking mix first before adding the milk will negate the lumping effect.)

Pour into dish over chicken, broccoli and cheese.  Bake for 40 minutes until golden and slightly puffy.  A knife inserted into the center of the casserole should come out clean.  Let cool 5 minutes.  Cut into wedges and serve.

By the way – this recipe is actually from LAST Friday.  I’ve been cooking a lot this week, and the job’s been keeping me busy.  I still have to tell you about meals from 365 Ways To Cook Vegetarian, Weight Watchers Make It In Minutes, and The Best Skillet Recipes (from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated).  Plus, somewhere in there I made a Black Forest Cake for some lucky man’s birthday.  Fortunately, we had frozen pizza and guacamole with our martinis last night, so I should have a little time to catch up this weekend.

Until next time,


A Nutritious, Vegetarian, Calorie-Conscious, Gluten-Free, Generally Yummy Meal

•January 29, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Sometimes life embarks on twists and turns that make eating, let alone cooking, a bit difficult.

A couple of weeks ago, the other member of my household arrived home from a trip to the Outer Banks, bringing with him what has now become known as “The Supervirus”.

This was not your ordinary cold.  The poor guy was on the couch for at least a week, and he’s not your typical man-baby when he’s sick.

He’s still on the mend, but for a period of time, was on a strict diet of liquefied and pureed food due to a complete loss of the ability to swallow.  I am holding strong, largely due to sheer willpower and massive doses of Vitamin C.

It didn’t seem like much fun to cook, when he couldn’t eat.  But I did whip up this root vegetable mash, figuring I could probably get a few spoonfuls in him, and that he needed to eat his veggies anyway.

Every now and then, you find a main-dish recipe suitable for people with quite a variety of eating complexities.  You can eat this if you’re vegetarian, watching calories, or on a gluten-free diet.  In fact, if you substitute oil for butter, it would be vegan.  It’s also cheap.  I guess if you’re the meat-and-potatoes type you might turn up your nose, but what the heck – live a little!

The Recipe:  Root Vegetable Mash with Caramelized Onions

The Cookbook:  Weight Watchers Simply Delicious, published 2002

Other Menu Items:  Sauteed Baby Spinach

Cooking It Up:

So we’re back to the cookbook project here.  I own two Weight Watchers cookbooks, purchased when I lived in Chicago and was trying to lose 30 pounds before my 30th birthday.

I was successful, I might add, but those sneaky pounds have crept back on over the last 8 1/2 years, so now I’ll be attempting to lose 40 pounds before my 40th birthday which is in July 2012.  In fact, I plan to start trying just as soon as I finish eating chicken-broccoli casserole for breakfast today.  (Hey, don’t you know ALL my will power is currently directed toward not getting sick?!)

Weight Watchers is the ONLY weight loss program that’s ever worked for me, largely because it’s based on the sensible concept that if you consume fewer calories and engage in more activity, you’ll lose weight.  Imagine!

Even so, I had to modify it, as follows:

  • I’m not excited about total deprivation, so I gave myself “weekends off” as far as the calorie counting.
  • I’d rather have a little less dressing with my salad than have it taste like sugary plastic.
  • I firmly believe that things like low-fat cheese and fat-free half and half should be stricken from the planet immediately.
  • I’m not much for sugar substitutes, with the guilty exception of Diet Rite, which I actually like.

The other thing about me and dieting is that I don’t think the people around me should have to diet too.  So if I think something’s going to taste like diet food, I just won’t make it.  Not interested.

But this dish actually feels like vegetarian comfort food.  It was good.  Really good.

Root Vegetable Mash With Caramelized Onions:

Peel 1 pound carrots and 1/2 pound parsnips.  Cut them into 1-inch chunks and place them in a large saucepan with enough water to cover them.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are very tender.  The book says 15 minutes; mine took longer.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tsp butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add 2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped, and cook until golden, about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in 1 tsp packed brown sugar, reduce heat to low, and cook until the onions are golden brown and well softened, about 12 minutes.  Stir frequently so the brown sugar doesn’t burn.

Drain the carrot-parsnip mixture, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.  Pulse in a food processor along with reserved liquid, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper and a pinch of nutmeg until the vegetables are smooth.  (OR, alternately, return the vegetables to the pan after draining, along with the 1/2 cup of cooking liquid.  Mash with a potato masher until desired consistency.)

Stir 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained, into the onion mixture.  Cook until heated through, about 4 minutes.  (If you’d like to make sauteed spinach too, you can dump this mixture into a bowl, and cover it so it stays warm.  Wipe out your skillet, and saute your spinach.  After all, you’ve got enough dirty dishes underway for this meal already.)

If you’re going to put this in a serving dish on the table, you can mound the mashed vegetables in the center, and arrange the chickpeas and onions around it.

If you prefer to let everyone serve themselves in the kitchen, as I usually do, your plate might look something like this.

I don’t normally include nutritional information on my site, but since it IS a Weight Watchers recipe, here you go:

Per serving, which they say is 1/2 cup root vegetable mash and 1/2 cup chick pea mixture: 293 calories, 5 g total fat (2 g saturated fat), 5 mg cholesterol, 591 mg sodium, 54 total carbs, 11 g dietary fiber, 11 g protein, 109 mg calcium

Chris did manage to eat a few spoonfuls of the mashed veggies.  He even tried some chickpeas, which are one of his favorite foods.  He bemoaned the fact that he couldn’t eat more.  So I’ll be making it again for him, sometime soon.

Until next time,


Make Your Own Liquor (Or, At Least, Your Own Liqueur)

•January 23, 2011 • Leave a Comment

When I was growing up, a woman who lived down the street from us made her own Kahlua.  I recall sneaking the occasional sip from the bottle in my parents’ liquor cabinet.  I liked to envision this sweet little old lady locked in some kind of mad scientist laboratory creating the chemical reactions I imagined were necessary to produce Kahlua.

This Christmas, I unveiled the mystique.  I made cranberry liqueur and coffee liqueur to give to my nearest and dearest.  Cheers, Mrs. West!

Let me provide a disclaimer here and say that I’m not much for sweet booze.  In the liquor department you’ll typically find me drinking a very dry martini, a brandy straight up, or possibly a whiskey cola.  I can probably count the frou-frou drinks I’ve consumed in the last 15 years on one hand.  (You know, the cosmos and flirtinis of the world).  I like to taste the alcohol.  That’s the point.  (Well, at least ONE of the points, I guess.)

But I wanted to create something handmade to contribute to the Christmas celebration.  I’m not really a “crafty” person, so I knew it had to be a consumable treat.  When I stumbled across these liqueur recipes while sorting my clippings, I wondered if they could really be as easy as they looked.

I very much liked the jewel-red color of the cranberry liqueur.  And, even more, I liked the 3-week steeping time, which meant as long as I started around the 1st of December, everything would be ready to go with very little last-minute effort.

The Recipes:  Cranberry Liqueur and Coffee Liqueur

The Source:  Adapted from archive issues of Bon Appetit

Special Information:  Project must be started at least 3 weeks before you need the liqueur to be ready.  You’ll need some large, air-tight canisters or jars to use for steeping the liqueur.  And finally, you’ll need to select some small, clear-glass bottles for the finished product.  I found a great deal at World Market – bottles with dispensers, originally intended for oil and vinegar, for something like $3.99 a pair. 

 If you started early, I bet you could find some beautiful and unique bottles at thrift stores as well.

Cooking It Up:

Cranberry Liqueur:

Combine 2 cups granulated sugar and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan.  Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, at least 5 minutes.  Remove syrup from the heat and cool completely.

Wash and sort 12 oz fresh cranberries.  Place them in a food processor and process until finely chopped.  Combine the cranberries and the cooled syrup in a large bowl.  Stir in 3 cups vodka.

Pour the mixture into a large canister or jar and secure with an airtight lid.  Let the mixture stand in a cool, dark place for at least 3 weeks.  Shake the mixture every day.  (This is why an airtight lid is important.  You can imagine the mess otherwise.)  I should note – the shaking isn’t an exact science.  If you miss a day, no big deal.

After steeping is complete, line a medium-large sieve with cheesecloth and place over a large bowl.  Strain the cranberry mixture through the sieve into the bowl and discard the remaining solids.

Carefully pour the liqueur into clean bottles or jars.  A funnel comes in very handy here!  Yields about 4 ½ cups.

The cranberry liqueur can be stored in the refrigerator or at room temperature for up to a year.

Coffee Liqueur:

Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Add 3 cups sugar and ¾ cup instant coffee granules.  Reduce heat to very low.  Stir until sugar and coffee dissolve.  Remove from the heat, and let cool completely.

Mix 2 cups vodka into the coffee syrup.  Pour it into a large canister or jar.  Scrape in seeds from 1 or 2 vanilla beans, split in half.  Add the bean halves to the jar.  Stir to blend and seal with an airtight lid.  Let stand at room temperature for at least 3 weeks.  Discard vanilla bean halves before serving.  Makes about 4 cups.

Note:  Vanilla beans are expensive.  I had never purchased them before.  This recipe will be fine with the cheapest kind you can locate.  I’ve heard there are some Web sites offering really good deals as well.

Serving Ideas:

The cranberry liqueur is best served chilled, as it’s a little bit syrupy (at least for my taste) at room temperature.  I think it would be good with seltzer as a mixer, to cut the sweetness a little bit and add some fizz, but I haven’t tried this yet.

Also, just for the record – I haven’t really served it in martini glasses either, since I hold a very deep philosophical conviction that only MARTINIS should be served in martini glasses.  But I made an exception, just so I could take this picture.  I really didn’t want you to see me drinking it out of a juice glass.

I’ve used the coffee liqueur to spike my coffee, but that seems a bit redundant.  I’m hoping to try it in a White Russian (coffee liqueur, vodka and cream) very soon!  I think it would also be fun to top a brownie or a piece of chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and drizzle some coffee liqueur over the top.

Until next time,


Brandy Snap Baskets with Orange Cream

•January 16, 2011 • 1 Comment

This is the post where you get to hear about my holiday foray into candy making.  But seriously – it’s candy making for dummies.  Well, at least dummies like me who can be a little bit creative and flexible.  I’m afraid of candy thermometers, so you don’t need one for this recipe.  And actually – a brandy snap is really kind of a cross between a candy and a cookie.

It’s basically a warm, thin, ginger-spiced batter that spreads into a flat lacy round while baking and is then formed around a measuring cup (for baskets) or a wooden spoon handle (for cannoli-like rolls) while still warm.  Then, once the rolls or baskets harden into a brittle shell, you can fill them with whipped cream, such as the orange-flavored version included below.

Don’t be afraid.  You can do it, and people will be impressed.

Also, please note – this post is a little bit of a cop-out.  I’m struggling a little bit with the whole new job/snowy commute thing, so I haven’t made many new recipes since I started back to work.  And therefore I’m still sharing holiday recipes with you.  But I have plans for this week.  Big plans!

The Cookbook: Chocolates & Petits Fours by Beverley Sutherland Smith

This cookbook consists primarily of precious little chocolate cups and boxes filled with various creams and beautifully garnished with a perfect sprig of mint.

I know, I know.  A superfluous purchase for someone who has minimal patience for fussy food preparation paired with a deep-seated candy thermometer phobia.  As you might imagine, this is the first recipe I’ve prepared from said cookbook.

But, it’s all part of the game, right?  It was on the shelf, so I had to find SOMETHING that didn’t scare the living daylights out of me.  And Brandy Snaps it was.

The Recipe: Brandy Snap Baskets with Orange Cream

I selected the basket version of this cookie/candy because I don’t own a pastry or frosting bag, so couldn’t imagine myself trying to get whipped cream into rolls roughly the size of a wooden spoon handle.

By the way – the orange cream would be fabulous on the Classic Gingerbread Cake from a previous post.

A word of caution – allow plenty of time for this recipe, especially the first time around.  I found that I could only handle two snaps per baking tray, because I wasn’t fast enough to mold more than that before they cooled too much.  You can imagine how long this took, but it was the perfect activity for a lazy afternoon.  And well worth the time in the end!

I recommend reading the entire recipe before you begin.  That way you’ll be fully prepared, rather than scrambling around to find the perfect mold, like I was.

For the Brandy Snaps:

Preheat oven to 350.

Melt 1/3 cup butter in a small saucepan along with 3 TB light corn syrup and 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar, stirring occasionally.  Add ½ tsp grated fresh ginger and 1 tsp ground ginger and stir to combine.  Remove from heat.

Sift ½ cup all-purpose flour into a medium bowl.  Mix the liquids into the flour and stir well to combine.

Here’s the place where flexibility comes in.  First, decide how big you want your baskets to be, which will help you select your mold.  The recipe suggests the bottom of a small teacup or measuring cup (in which case you’d use about 1 tsp batter for each basket).  I felt these were too big, so I scrounged around in the utensil drawers and found a little wooden press I use for making pecan tassies.  The base is just over an inch in diameter.

For this size, I only needed about ½ tsp batter per basket.  These things REALLY spread as they bake.

And for the next round, I’m going to try to get them even smaller.  They’re a little bit crumbly to eat, and I’d like for them to be a single-bite treat.  I’m thinking about a trip to Home Depot to look for just the right size dowel base or something like that.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

But anyway…using the proportions above (small measuring cup = 1 tsp batter; mini muffin tin base = ½ tsp batter), spoon the batter onto a greased baking sheet.  Leave plenty of room, 2 inches or more, between rounds.  I recommend only baking a couple for your first batch, so you can get comfortable with the molding process.

Place baking tray in preheated oven and bake 5 to 7 minutes until golden.  The batter will spread, bubble and create a lacy effect.

Remove from oven and let cool on the tray for about 30 seconds or up to 1 minute, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.  The goal here is to keep the snaps from stretching too much when you pick them up.

Use a spatula to lift one edge of a snap, pick it up with your fingers, and quickly drape it over your mold for about 2 seconds.  Squeeze the sides gently to shape the basket.  (Note – if you’re doing the rolls, drape the snap over a wooden spoon handle and pinch together to form a cannoli shape.)  Remove from the mold and place on a cooling rack.  Repeat with remaining snaps.  You do need to move quickly here, since a cool snap will become brittle and you don’t be able to mold it.  That’s why I could only bake two at a time!

Once cooled, you can store the brandy snaps in an airtight container at room temperature for 10 days or more.  Fill them with your desired filling, such as Orange Cream (below) just before serving.

For the Orange Cream:

Whip 1 cup whipping cream in a small bowl until stiff peaks form.  Add grated peel of one orange.  Sift 2 TB powdered sugar over the top.  Mix well to combine.  Stir in 1 TB orange liqueur (OR 1 TB orange juice, OR 1 TB orange-infused brandy, created by soaking 1 tsp grated orange peel in 1 TB brandy for about 15 minutes).  Chill 2 hours.  Makes enough to fill 30 brandy snaps.

Experiment with your fillings.  The whipped cream does become softer as it comes to room temperature, and tends to soak through the holes in the snaps just a little bit.  Possibly because my snaps stretched out a little too much due to my inexperience.  Chris tried freezing the filled snaps, which we thought was kind of fun – but only freeze for 15 minutes, or the snaps become soft.

And if you come up with any fabulous filling ideas, please do share!

Until next time,


Everyday French Food

•January 8, 2011 • 4 Comments

Bouchons au Thon are a bit difficult to explain.  I guess I’d call them tuna puffs for lack of a better word, but that doesn’t do them justice.

They’re incredibly easy to make.  You mash some canned tuna and a few other ingredients in a bowl, pour the mixture into muffin tins, and bake for 25 minutes or so.

The end result is rich but not cloying, with a hint of the sea that somehow doesn’t become fishy.  It’s not too “eggy” either, which is a good thing in my opinion.  (I wasn’t looking for a crustless tuna quiche after all.)  The flavors just blend together perfectly, turning the ingredients into a sum greater than their individual parts.

Really, Bouchons au Thon are unlike anything I’ve ever eaten.  In a very good way.

The Cookbook (Kind-of): A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, by Molly Wizenberg.

In her memoir, Molly Wizenberg waxes eloquent about Bouchons au Thon, which she ate for the first time as an exchange student in Paris, and subsequently used to seduce a gorgeous young Frenchman.

In case you’re looking for a parallel between Wizenberg’s life and mine, you might as well stop.  I have never been to Paris, do not know any gorgeous young Frenchmen, and would not be trying to seduce them even if I did.

However, I am admittedly a bit of a Molly Wizenberg addict.  I adore her storytelling abilities, presented first in her award-winning blog Orangette, and next in a surprisingly down-to-earth Bon Appetit column.  When I heard she had published her first book, I promptly added it to my Christmas list, and devoured it in a single day.

The Recipe: Bouchons au Thon

Other Menu Items: Green salad with French vinaigrette, blanched Haricots Verts (Trader Joe’s carries an excellent frozen version…and how could I pass up the chance to serve Haricots Verts with Bouchons au Thon?!)

Cooking It Up:

You can have this on the table in less than 45 minutes, and that’s generous.  The baking time provides an opportunity to make the salad and cook the green beans.

I made a couple of adjustments to the recipe for cost and supply reasons.  We thought it was delicious anyway.  I’m listing the original ingredients in parentheses, in case you’d like to experiment.

Preheat oven to 350 and set an oven rack to the middle position.

Open 6 oz of chunk light tuna in water and drain it very well.  (Note – Most American tuna cans are 5 oz.  I opened 2 cans and fed the excess tuna to the cats who whip themselves into a frenzy as soon as they hear the can opener.  If you don’t have cats, I’m sure the recipe would be fine with just 5 oz.)

Put the tuna in a medium-sized bowl and mash it thoroughly with a fork so no large chunks remain.  Lightly beat 3 large eggs in a separate bowl and add to tuna along with 1 cup finely shredded Swiss (or Gruyere) cheese, 1/3 cup sour cream (or crème fraiche), 3 TB tomato paste, ¼ cup finely chopped onion, ½ tsp dried basil (or 2 TB finely chopped Italian parsley) and ¼ tsp salt.  Stir and mash with the fork until completely combined.

Spoon the mixture evenly into 8 lightly greased muffin cups.  Bake until the bouchons are set and slightly browned, between 20 and 30 minutes depending on your oven.  Let the muffin tin cool on a rack for 5 minutes.  Remove bouchons from the tin and serve warm or at room temperature.  They will sink a bit in the middle as they cool, but that’s okay.

Depending on what else you’re serving, you can assume 2 to 3 bouchons per person.

The Bottom Line: A yummy, unique, light and fairly healthy meal that’s both cheap and easy to make.  I’d love to try it sometime with Gruyere and crème fraiche, but this version exceeded our expectations!  According to Chris, they heat up surprisingly well in the microwave – the outer crust keeps them from drying out.  Try 20 seconds followed by another 20 seconds for a light, easy lunch.

Next step: I’m looking forward to trying an appetizer version of bouchons using mini muffin tins.

Until next time,


Sauerkraut For Luck, and Because It Is Good

•January 3, 2011 • 1 Comment

We always ate sauerkraut and pork on New Year’s Day.  This probably has something to do with folks from Germany settling in Ohio (where I was raised) and Pennsylvania (where my parents grew up).

The sauerkraut symbolizes luck and prosperity for the year to come.  The pork is served because pigs root forward for their food, indicating forward motion into the new year.  Apparently it’s bad luck to eat poultry on January 1st, and especially chicken, because chickens scratch backward for their food, and who wants to be doing that?

I don’t really buy into any of this (though I find myself wondering if the year we had turkey kielbasa with our sauerkraut had anything to do with the outcome of that particular year).  But each year, I make sure we have a can of sauerkraut on the shelf.

My sauerkraut success has been varied.  Depending on the shenanigans of the previous night, sometimes we’ve opened the can around 10:00 p.m.  I’ve eaten it cold.  I’ve cooked it in the crock pot with pork, and on the stove top with various types of sausage.  I’ve never hated sauerkraut, but I’ve never loved it either.  Until now.

New Year’s is one of my favorite holidays, but I try not to take it too seriously.  I understand that’s why many people hate the thought of New Year’s Eve.  There is a certain amount of pressure, if you allow yourself to go there, to be in just the right place, and the right time, wearing the right thing, with the right people (or person), especially at midnight.  But though I do like to dress up a little (even if we’re staying in), I’ve learned to embrace the evening with minimal fuss.

Here are my favorite things about New Year’s Eve:

  • It’s an excuse to dress up, even if that just means throwing on a pair of stilettos with my best (read, $17 from Target) jeans.
  • It’s the only time I drink champagne, and I always have fun.  Sometimes, in our Chicago years, when we were feeling flush, we’d buy Veuve Clicquot and pretend we were rich.  This year, new to Cleveland and awaiting my first paycheck, we bought a couple of cheap bottles (we’re talking under $10) from Trader Joe’s and recognized that we weren’t rich, at least in the financial sense.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s bubbly.
  • No matter where we go, or what we do, we end up at home listening to records into the wee hours of the morning.  This year, inspired by a trip to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the soundtrack was Elvis, Carl Perkins, Billboard’s best of the ’50s, and Bee Gees Greatest Hits (BEFORE Saturday Night Fever days – it’s a great album, trust me!).  I never get tired of dancing under the disco ball to great music, even if it’s just the two of us.
  • And the #1 reason…It’s a new start, meaning that ANYTHING is possible.  Maybe this year I’ll finally start exercising, lose weight, achieve the perfect work-life balance, be kind to myself and others, stop worrying, run a 5K, learn how to make gravy, remember to play with the cats every day, quit smoking, reduce my alcohol consumption, slow down, visit my family more, be less of a slob, keep in touch with old friends, believe in random acts of kindness, and remember wash my face every night before I crash.  It’s not about the expectations, and it’s not about pressure.  It’s the fact that, on January 1st, these things could happen.  And maybe some of them actually will.

But back to sauerkraut.

This is an adaptation of a recipe I found a few years ago on  It’s a stovetop version, and after my tweaks, can be made in one pot.  Though caramelizing the onions definitely adds some time to the overall effort, I think it’s well worth it.

I firmly believe you could make this with pork kielbasa, beef kielbasa (which is what we used this year), turkey kielbasa (if you can get past the New Years Poultry issue) or veggie dogs.  If you go the vegetarian route especially, you’ll just need to add some olive oil and butter to your pot before you cook the onions.

The Recipe: Sauerkraut and Kielbasa (adapted from a recipe on

Other Menu Items: Mashed Potatoes and chunky applesauce (Chris made the potatoes…for 7 large taters, he added about 2 TB butter, 2 TB cream cheese and 2 TB heavy cream, plus a bunch of secret seasonings that I can’t remember.  They were to die for.)  I’d love to add a green salad and some sourdough bread for the perfect meal, but I just ran out of time.

Cooking It Up:

If you have a cast iron dutch oven, it works beautifully for this recipe.  If not, that’s ok too…a large pot will work as well.

Slice 1 to 2 pounds of your favorite kielbasa or vegetarian sausage links.  In a large pot, brown the slices in two batches so you don’t crowd the meat.  If you’re using turkey or veggie kielbasa, you might need to heat a little olive oil first, since it won’t have as much fat.  Remove the slices to a bowl and set aside.

The next step is to caramelize the onions in the fat from the kielbasa.  You want somewhere between 2 and 3 TB of fat, so depending on what’s in your pot, you might need to pour some out, or add some butter and olive oil.  Thinly slice 2 large onions and add them to the pot over low heat, along with 1 1/2 tsp dry mustard, 1 1/2 tsp dill and 1/2 tsp salt.  Cook over low heat until soft, stirring periodically so the onions don’t stick.  Increase the heat slightly and cover the pot.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are very tender and nicely browned, about 15 minutes more.  If the onions stick, lower the heat a bit.  Add 1 tart apple, peeled and chopped, 8 peppercorns and 1/4 cup brown sugar.  Stir and cook for another couple of minutes.

Add one 27-oz can sauerkraut, drained (and rinsed, if you prefer).  I use the regular variety, not the Bavarian, because caraway seeds aren’t a huge favorite in my house.  In fact, this particular batch was made with a can that cost $1 at Dave’s Market.  But I’m sure the Bavarian would work nicely, if you like that kind of thing.  Stir in 1 cup dark beer and 3 bay leaves.  Cover and simmer 20 minutes.  Add the browned kielbasa slices.  Cover and simmer another 20 minutes.  Taste, and adjust seasonings if necessary.  You want it to taste like a melding of all the flavors, with no specific ingredient dominating.  Discard bay leaves and serve hot.

I’m looking forward to the leftovers.  And, for the first time, sauerkraut may have a regular place on my winter table.  After all, good luck doesn’t have to be reserved for New Year’s, does it?

Until next time,