Thursday, May 28, 2009

Le Sigh

1) No, I am not dead. 
2) No, the blog has not been abandoned. 

I know it's become a familiar refrain here lately, but things have been so damn busy! How busy? Well, for the past week I've been saying that I want to make a trip to Whole Foods, and I still haven't had time to get there. All I've been able to manage are quick trips to Publix to get bare essentials, and even that's not working out so well. (Example: we're out of olive oil. Gasp!) On top of, indeed because of, the busy-ness I haven't really been in my groove food-wise. We've been eating of course, but nothing particularly interesting. A nice change from that happened on Sunday, when I had a fun and wonderful little cooking class with my friend M, and we made 2 flavors of soft pretzels, 2 fondues to dip them in, and Chinese chicken salad. Of course, being in teaching mode I didn't take any photos, and I was reluctant to interrupt Hubband's tete-a-tete with M's boyfriend J to make them do it. (They were pretending it was the 50's, as M and I were in aprons in the kitchen. Theirs was a discussion of wood-paneled man-rooms and old scotch. Hilarious.) 
We're going on vacation soon, and I think that a week of decompression will be really good for me. I'm hoping that by our return, I will have found my groove again. I'm hoping that I will be re-energized and ready for what lies ahead. I'm hoping to find new inspirations that lead to great dishes. 
I'm hoping to hit the store today, and hoping to make something new for dinner tomorrow. Hope springs eternal. 

Monday, May 18, 2009


I forgot to mention this little bit of fun in my last post about Hubband's birthday dessert buffet. When I was dipping the buckeye centers in melted chocolate, one went in too far and had only a thin line of center left showing.  I picked up a toothpick, added two little dots, and instead of a mistake, I had created (drumroll please!) BUCKEYE NINJA!

He was pretty awesome. Why did we find him so amusing? I don't know, but I was sad when his number was up a day or so later. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Is This Thing On?

Wow. It's been a long time, hasn't it? I apologize. Things have been out-of-control crazy around here for the last few weeks, and if you know me personally, you know how much I detest it when things are out of control. Things are mostly back to normal now, which means I can get back to cooking real meals and posting! Hooray! First, though, there's quite a backlog to get through. There were a lot of fast meals there for awhile, but I still occasionally managed to take a photo and make something semi-worthwhile. 

Let's rewind the clock a few weeks, to mid-April. 
It was Hubband's birthday! 
He didn't want a big party and all the attention, but did want to spend time with friends and neighbors, so he decided on a dessert buffet. We invited a few folks without telling them the occasion, and just enjoyed their company and some sweets on a Sunday evening. 

Above (on the beautiful etagere Hubbs gave me for Christmas!) we have buckeyes, bite-size smores, and jammie bodgers. Jammie Bodgers are a sweet, crumbly cookie, almost like a shortbread, but more buttery, that are filled with buttercream and jam. They are also Hubband's favorite cookie. We also served Mud Pie and our favorite homemade strawberry balsamic ice cream, made from strawberries we picked a few months ago. I roasted the strawberries back then and poured them into a vacuum-sealer bag with all their juices, (they were a tad too much for pint jars, so I couldn't go with the original idea of canning) sealed them, and froze them until required. It worked perfectly! 
We had a great night with our neighbors, although as usual I made too much and there were too many leftovers. The next day was Hubband's actual birthday, which he took off from work. He did request a menu, which began with his favorite biscuits: sweet potato. He wanted them topped with another of his favorite things, but one that I've never made before and he doesn't get very often: sausage gravy. As it was all an experiment anyway, I made it with spicy italian sausage instead of the usual mild or breakfast variety. I made a double batch of biscuits, but cut the usual number to get thicker, double-height biscuits to stand up to that rich and heavy gravy. Served with an egg over easy, they made Hubband smile and proclaim 'Best Sausage Gravy & Biscuits Ever', so I guess they turned out just fine. And yes, because he didn't let me make him a traditional birthday cake, or anything remotely close, I stuck a candle in his biscuits. On second thought, that sounds like some sort of family-unfriendly innuendo. I'm leaving it anyway. 
I know sausage gravy isn't very photogenic. I should have used Michelle's trick, and topped it with a chive. 
Lunch was another of his favorites, homemade wheat bread with raisins and a cinnamon sugar swirl, made into a chicken salad sandwich. We went out for dinner. This birthday baking frenzy came soon on the heels of Easter, which I already mentioned was hampered by my lack of an oven. Fortunately the oven was fixed just in time to complete most of this, although a few early pieces were done at Mom's house. 

Spicy Sausage Gravy

This was all done by sight, and isn't very hard, so these amounts are going to be approximate. If you want exact measurements, I'm sorry, but look at the bright side: this way you can make as much or as little as you want! 

Spicy Italian sausage (I used 3 large links)
Olive oil
All-purpose flour
Milk or cream (I used skim milk with a little half & half for richness)
Dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
Red Chili Flakes (optional)

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Remove casings from sausage and crumble into skillet. Add about 1 Tb of olive oil to get things going. Cook sausage until it is browned and cooked through, stirring occasionally and using your spoon to break the sausage into small chunks. When browned, use a slotted spoon to remove the sausage, leaving the fat in the pan. Add an approximately equal amount of flour (i.e. 3 Tb fat in the pan, add 3 Tb flour) and whisk together to make a roux. Let the roux cook for 1-2 minutes to remove the raw flour flavor, then gradually begin whisking in your chosen dairy product. Continue adding dairy until the gravy is a bit thinner than you want the finished product to be. Let the gravy come to a boil so the flour fully thickens, and add a little more milk if necessary to make your desired consistency. Add salt and lots of pepper, as well as dried thyme. (Dried thyme is powerful, so unless you're making a huge batch, you probably only want a pinch. Crumble it between your fingers before sprinkling it in.) Taste for seasonings, and add more salt and pepper as you see fit. If it's not spicy enough, add a pinch of red chili flakes. Add the sausage back into the pan, stir to combine, and simmer for a few minutes to meld the flavors. 
Serve hot, over biscuits.