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No time to cook?

22 Mar

…. me neither!

I just wanted to write to all my loyal readers and update you on why my posting rate has decreased from 4-5 per week to… like… 1 per week (if I’m lucky). 

My new job has me traveling a LOT.  And a lot more than I expected.  Like, in the past 3 weeks, I have actually been at my desk 4 days.   Which means I have not been home either.  Unfortunately (like really, truly), I have not been able to cook at all in the past 2 or so weeks.  It’s sad because cooking is my hobby – I enjoy it and it relaxes me.  Eating out at restaurants while traveling for work gets old fast.  But, that’s life, and sometimes work gets in the way of it. 

I’m hoping to catch up on my cooking and photographing and writing this coming weekend (though I’m traveling again all next week and weekend), so hopefully I will be able to at least post a few things.  I’m thinking an omelette or crepe tutorial would be fun?  Any ideas?  I’m open to suggestions and would like to post about the things you want to learn about. 

In the meantime, if you haven’t already read them, check back on some of my very first posts.  I wrote a lot before I actually got the guts to make this thing public, so check it out if you need some kitchen advice:

Thanks for reading and thanks for still coming by the blog even if I can’t post as often as I’d like (if it was up to me and money was no object, I’d be doing this blog thing every day, all day…… we can all dream right?!).

News!

31 Jan

Today I’m here with a post that’s different than usual, because I have some news to share that will affect the blog.

Starting next week, I will be starting a full-time job as a Food Scientist with a well-known food company in the area!

For a little background for those of you who don’t know me personally, I graduated a few months ago with my M.S. in Food Science, and have been busy over the past few months getting married, relocating, searching for a job and working on this little blog of mine.

I am very excited to finally begin my dream career, but I know that realistically, I can’t maintain posting 4-5 times per week while working full-time.  In addition, the job just happens to be about an hour and 15 minutes away from where we currently live, so with 2.5 hours of commuting each day, that leaves very little time for cooking (and taking pictures and editing and writing!).  Up until now, most of my best pictures and posts have stemmed from day-time cooking, since natural daylight is the #1 secret to good food photography.  Unfortunately now that will have to be saved for the weekends.

I’m still hoping to post at least 2 times a week, so please keep reading!  Starting a new job with crazy hours will also help fuel my creativity and make my recipes even more relatable.  Like most other people in the world, I’ll feel like I have no time to grocery shop or cook, so I’m sure I’ll develop some time-saving strategies and quick-and-easy weeknight meals.

Thanks for your continued support and readership!

Amy

 

P.S.  I am not planning to disclose the company I will be working for publicly on this blog at this time, since I don’t want any of my recipes/views/opinions on this blog to be seen as associated with that company in any way.

My First Real Dinner Party

24 Jan

Matt and I hosted our first real dinner party last week, for a group of friends we met through a fellow Notre Dame alumna.  I was a little nervous, since I felt some pressure to make an amazing meal, but it went very smoothly.   I served a simple, homey meal of roast chicken breasts, garlic green beans, honey butter carrots and salt-and-vinegar roasted baby potatoes.  Nothing fancy, just basic foods done well.  I took a few “before” pictures, but unfortunately no “after” pictures since I was so busy serving the guests!  So be forewarned, raw chicken pictures ahead!

Along the way, I feel like I learned some key tips to hosting a dinner party, so I will share those with you:

1)  Prep everything ahead.  The more you can do ahead, the better!  Either the night before or the morning of.  The morning of the dinner party, I prepped and blanched the green beans, peeled and cut the carrots and put them in the pot, par-cooked the potatoes (see below for the recipe), and made the compound butter for the chicken.  This made things so much easier later in the day.

2)  Make simple, well-practiced recipes.  Don’t try new things for a dinner party!  This may seem counter-intuitive, but if you cook something you are comfortable with and proud of, you will have less worries and no insecurities!  At most, experiment with one new recipe (just not the main one!).  Also, consider what your guests will like.  Are they going to appreciate a super spicy Thai curry?  Or are they a more traditional crowd?  For people I don’t know that well, I tend to stick with more comfort, traditional foods.

3)  Choose seasonal and/or on sale ingredients.  Go to the grocery store and see what looks good, what’s in season, and what is on sale before you decide on the menu.  That’s how I ended up cooking green beans and carrots, because they looked the best of the veggies in the store.  Dinner parties can also be expensive when cooking for a crowd, so choose your protein based on what’s on sale!   You don’t have to be cheap, just savvy.

4)  Be flexible.  Plan for the worst.  Have a back up plan.  Make enough food so there is plenty, just in case your guests are extra hungry or you have late additions.  It’s never bad to have leftovers anyway (we turned ours into soup!).

5)  Invite the right number of people for the kind of party you want.  We had 6 people total, which felt like the perfect size – not too many, not too few.  Too few people, and to me there is less motivation to put in a lot of work (is that bad?!).  But at the same time, that may be a good thing!  If you have too many people invited, it can become overwhelming and intimidating to cook so much food (especially if you want to make more labor-intensive recipes).  Plus you want everyone to be able to fit at a table together!

6) Take people up on their offers to bring something.  I think it’s generally true that if someone offers to bring something, that they would really like to.  It can be overwhelming to plan for not only dinner, but also drinks and dessert.  So if someone offers to bring drinks or a dessert, graciously accept!  That way you can focus more on the dinner, with one less thing to worry about!

7)  Put on some music.  Not too loud!  It’s awkward to feel like you are shouting over the music, but a little bit in the background really helps the atmosphere ;-)

8)  Set out snacks to buy you some time.  This is optional and depends on your timeline for the night.  If you plan to serve dinner very shortly after guests arrive, then you probably don’t need to have snacks, but inevitably, it always feels like dinner is delayed (see my next point).  If there are a few simple snacks out (store bought nuts, pretzels, hummus, olives or marinated mozzarella, etc etc) then at least it buys the cook some time to finish dinner and takes the pressure off.

9) Plan to have the food ready 15-30 min before it really should be ready.  It seems inevitable that if you plan to have dinner ready at 7, it’ll really be done at 7:30.  The chicken always takes longer than you think, or you get distracted, etc etc.   So just to avoid being frantic, I think it’s ok to plan to be done cooking a little before you would really like to be.  For example, our guests were scheduled to arrive at 6:30, so I was planning to have the food ready at 7 (no snacks, just dinner).  Originally I was planning on having the food done at 6:45, which I should have stuck with (!!), since the time I actually had the food done was……7:30.  Oops.  Learn from my mistakes people!

10)  Have fun!  Had to add this last one since a list of 9 things would just look weird.

For my dinner party, I made lemon-butter-herb roasted chicken breasts, which I have made several times now.  I don’t even have a recipe for it, but I just combine the following to make a compound butter:

  • Butter, softened
  • Fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary, whatever you have!), chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh garlic, minced
  • Lemon zest

I don’t measure, I just eyeball it.  I’m pretty sure you can’t really mess it up.  Spread the compound butter and lemon slices under the skin of bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (these stay SO much more moist than boneless, skinless), like this (sorry it kind of looks gross):

Drizzle the tops with a little bit of olive oil (to help them brown) and season with salt and pepper.  Roast in a 400-425°F oven for about an hour, or until the meat reaches 165°F (using a meat thermometer really makes it so much easier – that way you can have full confidence when it’s done and avoid over-cooking it).   Again, sorry I  do not have an after picture!!  Guess it was just so delicious that it was immediately devoured :)

On the side of the chicken, I served two simple vegetables:

Garlic Green Beans:  First, blanch the green beans in a pot of boiling water (that means, toss the green beans in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, to start the cooking and bring out the bright green color).  Remove and immediately place in a large bowl of ice water to quickly cool and stop the cooking.  This can be done ahead – just keep the beans in the fridge until ready for the next step.  To sauté, heat some olive oil and some butter in a skillet, and add several cloves of garlic (sliced, not minced).  Allow them to cook until lightly golden brown, then add the green beans and toss to coat with the garlicky oil, a minute or two until heated through.  Season with salt and pepper.

Honey Butter Carrots:  Cut 1 lb carrots into large pieces, and throw them in a pot.  Add a few tablespoons of butter, 1/4 cup of water, a generous drizzle of honey, some salt, pepper and a dash of ground ginger (if you have it):

Turn heat on medium and bring to a boil.  Stir, cover and reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes.  Uncover, increase the heat and cook, allowing some of the liquid to evaporate.  Lower the heat, cooking until tender.  Sprinkle with fresh parsley before serving and a squeeze of lemon juice, if you have it!

The green beans turned out great – still had some crunch to them, and lots of garlic flavor.  The carrots were the best I’ve ever made.  I don’t even normally like cooked carrots, and I had seconds and thirds of these!  That must speak volumes!

I also served these Salt and Vinegar Roasted Potatoes along side:

I broke a rule of entertaining by trying these out for the first time at a party, and I paid for my mistake!  They turned out good, but not great.  I think I would have added more salt and more vinegar if I could do it over, though I already felt like I added a lot of salt and was scared to add too much vinegar!  The potatoes didn’t get as crunchy and roasty as I thought they would, so that was another thing that fell short.  I would make them again, but I didn’t think they were particularly impressive.

So there you have it – my adventures in dinner parties!  Feel free to share your advice in the comments section!

New Year, New Resolutions

3 Jan

Happy New Year everybody!  I apologize that it has been so long since my last recipe post, but unfortunately we had a death in the family over the holidays which kept us very occupied over the past few weeks.

I thought that today I would post about some simple New Year’s food resolutions I would like to make:

1.  Try cooking and eating more varied whole grains, like quinoa, bulgur wheat, amaranth, farro or durum wheat.  I need to break free from choosing only rice, pasta or potatoes as a starchy side dish.  I bought some quinoa today as a start, which surprisingly I’ve never made at home.  I think I’ll start by following the package directions, but I want to try to make these Spicy Quinoa Patties with the leftovers!

2. Eat more fish.  Right now, I probably eat fish (not counting other seafood like shrimp, scallops, etc) about once every 2 weeks.  I want to up that to once a week at least.  Individually frozen fish fillets are one of the best weeknight meal options, since they thaw so much more quickly than other proteins.  I almost always have them in my freezer because they are so convenient (and pretty inexpensive when you buy in bulk or when they are on sale).  I think the reason I don’t eat fish as frequently as I should is that I need more flavorful and simple ways to prepare it.  In the coming weeks I’m hoping to put together a few simple and reliable ways to cook all proteins for beginners, so hopefully this will inspire some new recipes.

3. Say no to cream and sugar.  For years I drank coffee black, and only recently did I start adding creamer or milk and sugar.  I only drink about 1 cup a day, but I did hear on the Biggest Loser that putting 2 teaspoons of each sugar and creamer in your coffee per day can add up to 10 pounds of weight gain in a year!  It’s surprising how much the little stuff adds up!  I’m not that concerned about the weight gain aspect, but more on principle, I want to try going back at least sugar-free coffee, since that’s how I used to drink it.

4. Cook new things that I’ve never tried!  I want to try new recipes at home, for things I didn’t think I could make at home.  As long as I have a good recipe and some patience, I think I (and anyone else!) can tackle making foods at home that seem difficult, like homemade pasta, braising cuts of meat I’ve never made before, barbecue ribs, roasting a whole fish, and maybe even French macaroons.  Don’t hold me to all those, but I’d love to challenge myself and push the envelope a little bit!  I promise to share if I do, unless it’s a really, really big disaster ;-)

What are your New Year’s resolutions?  Anyone else have food-related ones?

Day 12: MERRY CHRISTMAS!

25 Dec

Merry Christmas everybody!

 

Here’s hoping you and your family have a very happy and relaxing holiday….

…filled with lots of good friends and good food!

But remember, in the words of Miss Piggy,

“Never eat more than you can lift.”

 

Gingerbread house is my own creation, with a little help from my fine husband Matt

12 Days of Christmas: Day 1

14 Dec

The next 12 days on The Kitchen is Calling will be the 12 Days of Christmas!  With lots of Christmas oriented posts and recipes – ranging from a quick-but-festive dinner to pull off during this busy season to many different Christmas cookies. 

 To start off the series, I will share with you the pictures I took all of my food ornaments.  It’s a tradition in my family each year to get new glass ornaments (many are the Old World Christmas brand).  And somehow in the past few years it’s been noticed that I’m obsessed with food ornaments and thus, this is what our tree looks like this year:

Mmmmerry Christmas!