How I learned to cook

Before I get into how I learned to cook, I thought I’d point out that if you’re reading this somewhere other than on my site, like a reader, you might be missing out on seeing our lovely new family photo in the header. We recently did a mini photo shoot with the talented and lovely Whitney Loibner, and I’m thrilled with how the pictures turned out. I highly recommend a mini shoot if you have toddlers– 15 minutes was about all my kids could handle, and we were outta there and off to get pancakes as a treat in no time. And if you have a talented photographer like Whitney,  you’ll still get plenty of great shots in a short amount of time.

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog programming:

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I’ve kind of become notorious among my friends for Instagramming my food. One friend joked that whatever we have on Friday night, they have on Saturday. Others have joked about their dinners being “one-upped by the Orsborns.” Another Instagrammed her dinner last night and said I inspired her to do so. For all the hating posting food pics can get, most of my real-life feedback has been that my friends like my dinner posts and don’t want me to stop. Thank goodness, because I wasn’t planning to! (There’s a reason I joke that my Instagram brand is “all the things you hate:” kids, food, drinks, selfies, pets.)

Another question friends have asked is when I’m going to teach them how to cook. While I would like to occasionally host some kind of cooking party where everyone walks away with a couple freezeable dinners, that’s not really in my plans anytime soon, either. But what I can tell you is how I learned to cook.

Continue reading “How I learned to cook”

a moment of truth: how I cook all those dinners

A friend asked me a good question the other day. She’s just had her second baby, and she wanted to know, with two toddlers, how in the heck I’m managing to make all those dinners I’m Instagramming all the time.

Here’s the truth: my husband works unusual hours in the ER, so he’s usually home between the hours of 3 and 7. If he works the morning shift, he’s off by 2:30, and if he works in the evening or at night, he goes in at 10 or 7. Of several possible shifts, only one keeps him out of the house at dinner time. It’s one reason I *love* his specialty. So: if he’s home, and he usually is, my hour of dinner-making (and usually, while things cook, kitchen cleanup) is mine all mine because he’s playing with/caring for the kids. He even often takes them to a nearby playground at that time. It works out great for both of us, because I get to actually enjoy my dinner making time since I’m not trying to multitask with toddlers and can just exercise my culinary creativity, and he brings home two very happy kids and we all sit down to a lovely dinner.

If he’s not home? We eat leftovers or I choose a quick recipe that can be put together in the time it takes the girls to watch a Daniel Tiger episode in the den, behind a baby gate, where they can’t be underfoot.

So, there ya have it. I figured I should come clean, lest anyone think I think an hour-long dinner prep time works for most people. I know we have a weird lifestyle made possible by my staying home with the kids and my husband’s unusual work hours.

All that said, I thought I might share a few recipes that we’ve enjoyed lately. All three are from the Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman, which I use more than any other cookbook, and which I highly recommend, but, for you, I found each of the recipes online, so you can make them too!

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This Pasta with Smoky Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Bacon was delicious. I used one fewer sweet potato than the recipe called for and still had enough for the dish. I also think this recipe would work great with roasted winter squash like butternut instead.

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This Red Bean Paella is a dish I’ve made several times. I usually use canned tomatoes instead of fresh because it makes it a true pantry staple dish. We ate it with an arugula salad and brie on toast.

 

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This Arroz con Pollo is another I make frequently. I like that it’s a one-pot meal. The recipe in my cookbook called for chicken thighs, but I used legs because that’s what I had, and because Etta loves eating chicken legs. I also only used one package of chicken legs, added pinto beans and tomatoes and served it with avocado on the side.

 

lemon curd tarts with minted strawberries, and some thoughts on food blogging

lemon curd tarts with minted strawberries // erniebufflo.comI used to write a lot about food (see tab up top). I consider “food” a hobby of mine–mostly in the making/eating department, but the truth is, I spend a lot of time thinking about food. I read recipes just to get ideas for things I will later wing on my own. I read cookbooks like other women might thumb through a fashion magazine. I know a lot of people are all “ain’t nobody got time for that” in terms of cooking dinner most nights, but we all make time for the things that we love, and for me, I love making and eating good food. Still, somewhere along the way, I stopped writing much about food. Part of it is, I see a lot of semi-plagiarism in the food blogging community. “Adapted from” is so often mostly “lifted entirely,” and I think instead of just slightly changing the wording on someone else’s recipe (which is legal– you can’t copyright an ingredients list, only the written-out process, so if you rewrite all the steps, you’re really not infringing on someone else’s copyright), sometimes you should just skip all that and link to the person who inspired you instead of pretending you created something new.  Continue reading “lemon curd tarts with minted strawberries, and some thoughts on food blogging”

meal planning for the easily bored

three methods of meal planning for the easily bored.

I used to live a block from the grocery store. I never had to plan our meals further than an hour or two before dinner time, because I treated the store like my own personal pantry, running over to grab whatever I needed for that day’s meals. Now that my grocery outings involve at least one, sometimes two children in tow (depending on if Etta and I go while Claire’s at preschool), I just can’t go to the store that often. Now, I plan at least a week’s worth of meals at a time. But, since I also feel that cooking is a fun, creative outlet for me (and I like to eat good food), I try really hard not to get into a meal-planning rut– I like to rotate between a few methods and try lots of new recipes. I figured I’d share my methods, and also solicit yours.

A few key pieces of info: we are largely meat-free but not vegetarian, instead choosing to eat less meat and when we do eat meat, to eat locally/sustainably/ethically raised meat whenever we can. We do eat eggs, fish, and dairy. Also, we’re not super adventurous in the breakfast department, so I don’t have to think about that much. Cereal, almond milk, yogurt, eggs scrambled with leftover veggies and cheese, and fruit are about as varied as we get most mornings. Lunches are leftovers for adults, toddler tapas for the kiddos– they have crackers or bread, cheese, raw veggies, hummus, fruit, boiled eggs, beans, etc. that I keep in the fridge and mix up regularly. So, I’m mostly planning dinners, about 5 dinners per week with at least one leftover night and one meal out.

Method One: Tour de Pinterest

pinterest pin boards for recipe organization

I love Pinterest. For me, it’s not just some sort of aspirational fantasyland full of outfits I’ll never try and DIY’s I could never master, but an actual, useful tool. Before it came around, I, an avid food blog reader, had tons of folders of bookmarked recipes to try. The problem with that method was, no matter how descriptively I titled the bookmarks, it was hard to tell what was what. Pinterest solves that, because it’s visual, and makes scrolling through bookmarked recipes like flipping through a cookbook looking for a picture of something tasty.

The key to this method is to hyperorganize your pin boards. I have them divided into categories like: Mexican, Asian/Indian/Middle Eastern, Soups and Stews, Vegetarian, Seafood, Pasta, and Chicken. Then it becomes a matter of choosing 5 recipes from several different boards, so in one week we’ll have a pasta dish, a taco/enchilada/burrito type dish, maybe a homemade pizza, a stir fry, and a soup and salad night. I open up each recipe in my browser, make my grocery list on my phone and write the names of the dishes at the top of the list so I can easily find them when it’s time to cook. Then, for my own future reference, after we’ve had a meal, I go back and leave myself comments on the recipe pins letting me know if we liked it and what I would do differently if I made it again. If a recipe flat out didn’t work, I delete the pin.

Method Two: There’s an App for That

20140312-122006.jpgThis is a new thing I’ve only been trying recently. I have a couple different cooking apps on my phone, including Real Simple’s No Time To Cook and Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food. I did a week of recipes from the Real Simple app over the last week. I opened the app, chose Vegetarian and 30 minutes or less, scrolled through, and picked out several dishes.

Our meals for the last week and a half included: salmon and green beans with brown butter and almonds, red bean and spinach burritos, polenta with blue cheese and garlicky chard, and pierogi with sauteed red cabbage. Our last meal of the week was a use-up-the-leftover-veggies dish of veggie fried rice. Things I liked about this method: It was easy to find and choose recipes, none of them had a ton of weird ingredients, and they all truly did come together quickly. What I didn’t like: several of the meals just didn’t seem hearty enough, so I had to doctor them a little. The salmon and green beans were delicious, but to me, the meal needed a carb/starch, so I added lemon-y risotto. The red bean and spinach burritos were delicious, but I added cumin and chili powder to the beans and grilled my burritos in a panini pan to make them more special. The polenta with blue cheese and garlicky chard was a great starting point, but needed protein, so I added white beans and soft-boiled eggs– now I can’t imagine having that recipe without the “sauce” of a soft egg on top.

Overall, I will try this method again, but I will definitely keep in mind that I may need to add to or spice up the recipes.

Method 3: Pick a Cookbook, Any Cookbook 

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Several of our favorite Bittman meals.

I usually use this method with my Mark Bittman cookbooks, either The Food Matters Cookbook or How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I’ll page through the book, pick a handful that look tasty, maybe a snack or dip or two, too, and make my meal plan that way. I love Bittman’s less-meatarian philosophy, and his recipes are simple, delicious, and always very adaptable to any number of variations. I’m sure this method could work well with whatever your favorite cookbooks are. A perk to the Bittman books: you can get the complete How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian as apps on the iPhone for $10ish, much cheaper than the books themselves.

There are other methods I haven’t tried, like, oh, actually looking at circulars and deciding a menu based around that, largely because I’m driven by the recipes themselves, and because I’ve already cut our grocery bill substantially by cutting most of our meat and processed foods. One of the nice things about having the Pinterest, cooking and cookbook apps, though, is that if I get to the store and notice say, avocados are 99 cents, I can call an audible and pull up a taco recipe or something and swap out one of the others.

What about you? Do you meal plan? Where do you get your menus?

MMMMonday

To all the folks who may be new around here thanks to yesterday’s Freshly Pressed feature: welcome! You may notice I’m writing about food today and not current events: that happens a lot. Day to day you might find food, parenting, DIY, current events, pop culture, feminism, politics, literature…something for almost everyone, I guess!

Now back to your regularly scheduled MMMMonday, a weekly roundup of all things tasty in my world.

LIES.
LIES.

Can I start by admitting a Pinterest FAIL? Have you seen all those “never grow green onions again!” pins that advise just putting the root ends in a glass of water and letting them regrow? WASTE OF TIME. I tried it. I mean, I grow veggies and herbs. We used to run an urban garden. I put my green onions in a glass of water on my windowsill. Two weeks of my kitchen smelling vaguely of onions and swamp water (that water got FUNKY), and only two of the bunch had grown at all. I think I’ll just keep spending the 75 cents for green onions when I need them.

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I wanted a roasted chicken but didn’t want to heat up my kitchen. Enter: slow cooker. I filled the bottom with red potatoes and a few cloves of garlic, put a chicken on top, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and Cavender’s, added a few lemon slices, and created deliciousness that didn’t require a 400 degree oven. The Pinterest component is the side dish. I used oregano instead of basil, because my basil has died/fried, but the oregano is still kicking. Really tasty!

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I did not expect to love this dish like I did. It’s basically an Asian noodle bowl, but the “noodles” are spaghetti squash. It’s also full of kale and broccoli, so it’s super healthy. The one thing I did differently was use peanut oil instead of grapeseed oil in the spicy peanut sauce, because I don’t keep grapeseed oil on hand.

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I sometimes joke that my Colorado-native hubby had to marry a Southern girl just for the okra, which is one of his favorite foods. This recipe was different than my usual fried okra, because they’re sliced sorta like fries, and are just fried in the oil solo, no batter or cornmeal or anything. They’ve got an Indian sort of spice thanks to garam masala, and I really liked it for a change of pace. I might experiment with the same flavor profile in an oven-roasted version.

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I’m a pickle fanatic, and I definitely prefer the ones you can only get in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. These come as close to those as any homemade version I’ve tried, and since they’re a refrigerator version, you don’t have to worry about canning or sealing or botulism or anything. So good!

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This recipe isn’t a new one, but it’s a fave. Tarts seem fancy to me for some reason, but this one isn’t too complicated, I swear. The interesting details: you spread a layer of dijon mustard before layering in the tomatoes, goat cheese, herbs, and a drizzle of honey. The flavors are amazing together. You should try it!

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OK, no recipe for this one. I basically just made a mint julep, and since I had some strawberries on the verge of going bad, I muddled some in along with the mint. A nice combo!

So: what’s cookin’ for you this week?

MMMMonday (on a Tuesday)

Welcome to MMMMonday…on a Tuesday.

You see, what had happened was… Claire was sick yesterday, and while hanging out in the ER (no worries, just an infection, she’ll be ok), I tried to post my MMMMonday post from my WordPress phone app. And somehow all the pictures posted, but none of the text. What follows is my recreation of that text, though surely it was better the first time.

I didn’t actually cook much “new” stuff this week because I couldn’t be arsed to go to the grocery store. Which means I did a lot of pantry-staple cooking. My pantry stocking borders on Doomsday Prepper. I feel antsy if I don’t have plenty of dried pasta, rice, canned beans, canned tomatoes, coconut milk, onions, garlic, butter, and olive oil. Those ingredients plus odds and end vegetables can be combined to create veggie fried rice, pasta with simple red sauce, and black beans with coconut rice, all of which made an appearance on our table this week.

Eventually I made it to the Farmer’s Market and restocked us a bit, and I still managed to try a few new things I had pinned. Check it out:

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These lime bars from the A Beautiful Mess blog were delicious. Can’t wait to try the grapefruit version.
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I make a lot of hummus, but after finding some beautiful eggplants at the farmer’s market, I decided to try my hand at baba ghanouj. It’s a little more labor intensive than hummus, because you have to roast the eggplant, but it’s very tasty. I made homemade pitas to go with it, and even Etta was a big fan.
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I used some of the aforementioned farmer’s market eggplants along with local squash and zucchini to make a gorgeous layered ratatouille, which I served over whole wheat pearl couscous alongside some leftover local hanger steak from a cookout with friends. A very tasty way to eat some of the summer’s best veggies. Would be delicious with a poached egg or some goat cheese on top.
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I wanted something special to serve with my odds-and-ends veggie fried rice, and was inspired by this salmon recipe. For my version, I just brushed some thawed frozen salmon with a beaten egg, sprinkled with salt and pepper, covered in black sesame seeds, and baked for about 15 minutes at 400. It was flavorful and had a nice crunch!

What about you? Tried any recipes (or other projects) from Pinterest lately? Have any pantry-staple recipes you use when you need to grocery shop to share? What ARE your pantry staples?

MMMMonday

I’d say I’m addicted to Pinterest, but that would imply a problem. Really, Pinterest is a big solution for me. I used to have folders upon folders of bookmarked recipes, but I only ever used less than half of the saved sites, because scrolling through filenames isn’t very inspiring or appetizing. Pinterest has changed all that, because I can scroll through pictures instead of filenames. I have 17 food-related pinboards alone, each representing a “genre” of food, like “TexMex/Mexican/Latin,” “Pasta,” and “Breakfast.” I usually loosely plan menus weekly, which for me means picking out 4-5 dinner recipes, a lunch or two, some sort of snack, and maybe a special cocktail or popsicle recipe. I’ll sit down in front of my computer, open up my boards, and pick say, one “Pasta,” one “TexMex,” one “Asian/Middle Eastern” and one “Vegetarian” dinner, scrolling through the pictures to see what looks tasty to me. Then I’ll pick one or two recipes from “Salads and Sides” to have for my lunches, and something from “Appetizers and Snacks” to munch throughout the week. My husband isn’t home for dinner one or two nights a week, and on those nights I eat leftovers, and we usually go out at least once a week. I usually don’t eat breakfast, or if I do, I make some sort of scrambled eggs or a homemade Egg McMuffin.

Many criticize Pinterest for being all inspiration, but very little action. While I do have some purely aspirational Pinboards (I mean, I don’t wear most of the outfits I pin), most of my food-related pins are actually in the queue to try someday soon. I thought it might be fun to actually share the things I cook from my pinboards, and give you the links and let you know how things turned out. I’m calling this feature MMMMonday.

Here’s what I’ve tried recently:

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This salad served as my lunch a couple of times this week. I made a few changes to the recipe, namely leaving out the peanuts, adding sesame seeds, and adding a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil to the dressing. Next time I might cut down the dressing a little bit, as the salad was slightly swimming. I’ll definitely be making it again.

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I wanted to make a special meal to mark my husband’s first day in his new job, so I turned to classic Southern cuisine. The fried chicken is a recipe from one of my favorite Charleston restaurants, The Glass Onion, and even though it only sat in the buttermilk brine for a few hours instead of overnight, it was still flavorful and juicy. The okra was inspired by this recipe, except I sliced it, tossed it with olive oil, cornmeal, and Cavender’s Greek Seasoning before roasting. A flavorful, healthier alternative to full on fried okra. The tomato salad was served with a Southern Living recipe for a cucumber basil ranch-type dressing, which was a definite keeper. I even ate the cucumbers in the dressing by themselves for a snack later. Omitting the cucumbers altogether would yield a tasty dressing for other salads, too.

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This green hummus is a super healthy snack, chock full of protein-filled chickpeas and nutrient-rich greens like arugula, spinach, and cilantro. I didn’t change a thing about the recipe, and even Etta loved it smeared on a tortilla. I prefer to dip veggies, myself.

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This dinner was inspired by a sausage and spinach stuffed shells recipe. When my grocery store didn’t have shells, I decided to turn it into manicotti. My changes were adding a little tomato sauce poured over the manicotti before topping with shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

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This meal was amazing. I followed the instructions to bake my squash instead of frying it, and it was still crispy and delicious. For the salsa, I used a whole jalapeno, added more cilantro than called for, and added a diced sweet pepper. I also don’t think charring the corn really added all that much to the taste, and would think canned or thawed frozen corn would serve just as well. Another thought: if you don’t want to use panko crumbs, cracker crumbs would be a good substitute. I served the tacos with black beans cooked from dried beans in the crock pot for the first time, which was so easy and cheap, I’ll be ditching my canned beans habit very soon! In the future, I may use this panko-crusted oven-frying method to make veggie “fries,” while playing around with seasonings.

No Pinterest Fails this week! What about you? Have you tried anything you saw on Pinterest lately? How did it turn out?