Friday, January 2, 2015

2015 Cooking Goals

Well, hello. Let me just hop down off my hoverboard and I'll share with you my 2015 cooking goals. What? You don't have a hoverboard? WHAT? They're not real! But it's 2015! Isn't this the year of robots and hovercraft and whatever else took place in sci fi movies that I never watched as a kid because I wasn't into sci fi?

Okay, so 2015 might not be as crazy as we imagined it might be since we're all mostly living our lives with gravity keeping us in check, but it can still be a fun year! One of my goals for the new year is to cook more. Now that I have my own kitchen (excuse me while I swoon), I want to get back into the joy of cooking. So here's my official goal: If I am not eating out with friends, then I will cook at home. I didn't want to eliminate socialization over meals because I think it feeds my heart as well as body. Plus, it's not like I'm eating out with friends several times a week. Over the last few weeks I've been cooking more and I like it. I'm eating good food, I know what's going into a dish, and it means I've also lost a few pounds even though it's holiday season. This doesn't mean I'll never pop something in the microwave or pick up food. Let's be real. However, the big picture is to cook more, find new recipes to add to my repertoire, rediscover old favorites, and savor food as a delight of the senses while nourishing my body. Oh good grief. I just went into total nerd mode about food. Whatever.

Here's a (starter) list of recipes I want to try:

White Bean Tortellini Soup with Broiled Havarti Toasts
Slow Cooker Garlic & Brown Sugar Chicken (I've already made this. Ridiculously good. It was a Pinterest success.)
IPA Crab Cakes with Spicy Beer Hollandaise (I've had this, but not made it myself.)
Chewy Ginger Cookies
Soft Pretzels (I've wanted to try this for 5 years now.)
Pull-Apart Bread (They're all over Pinterest, but I might go with this one.)
Thug Kitchen recipes (A bookseller at B&N told me about this and while I don't love the language, the recipes seem solid. And they're focused on being healthier, so that's a plus.)

I'm also reading through Dinner: A Love Story which is a mixture of stories and recipes. I'm highly anticipating Shauna Niequist's next book, Savor. (I've already pre-ordered.) And I plan to actually use some of the lovely cookbooks I have sitting on my shelf like this and this. (If you clicked the second link you'll see that it's a cookbook for newlyweds. I don't even care. It's a beautiful cookbook with great recipes and tips.) If you need other books to inspire you to head into the kitchen, check out Shanua's other books (Bittersweet, Cold Tangerines, Bread & Wine). (Also, check out Powell's for used versions of these. For real.)

If you're not a reader, then you should watch The Hundred-Foot Journey. Divine. Darling. Wonderful. Charming. Inspiring. Lovely. All the feels. Or watch Chef. Not quite the same feel, but still shows someone passionate about food and the way he reconnects with that love (and his son). Or watch Mind of a Chef. There's nothing more inspiring than to watch someone talk about whatever it is they're passionate about. It draws you in and you find yourself wanting a piece of it. There are three seasons with the most recent having aired on PBS. I haven't seen it yet because I don't have cable, but when it pops up on Amazon Prime you better believe I'm binge watching it.

Well, beloved friends, strangers, and internet cats, I guess this is the revitalization of my cooking blog. If for no other reason than it will keep me accountable and moving forward in this goal.

Happy New Year.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

You guys, I made a recipe I found on Pinterest. You know how you see Pinterest fails? This recipe is not one of those. This recipe is a winner.

I've been trying to be a bit more intentional about the meals I take to work. Generally, I plan for the first night (or two of the nights when I'm really on top of it), but I often find myself scrounging on night three. Too tired to get up to make something and not willing to give up precious sleep to run to the store, I have a haphazard lunch bag that isn't very satisfying. So my goal for the last couple weeks has been to find not only a recipe that I like, but one that will make delicious leftovers. You see, I'm not a big fan of leftovers. I feel like taste and texture take a significant drop after the first night, so it's hard to feel excited about eating a less delicious version of a meal.

Today, we get to put the chicken enchilada casserole into the winner category. It's gooood and still packs a lot of great flavor when reheated. Yum.

This originally comes from Chef in Training. I haven't explored the blog past this recipe, but I think I might need to after this cooking success.

Here are the details:

  • 7-8 large flour tortillas
  • 2½ cups cooked and shredded chicken
  • 1½ cup Your favorite Salsa
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 (8 oz) bag shredded Mexican cheese
  • 1 (10 oz) can red enchilada sauce
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ½ can cream of chicken
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray.
  3. In a large bowl, combine cooked and shredded chicken, salsa, black beans, corn, cumin and chili powder. Stir until evenly mixed.
  4. Layer 2 tortillas on the bottom of greased pan. NOTE: You may need to trim 1 tortilla to fit the gaps left by the two tortillas on each level.
  5. Place half of the chicken mixture on top of tortillas and evenly spread across.
  6. Top with about ½-2/3 cup shredded cheese (about ⅓ of the bag) and evenly spread/sprinkle across the chicken mixture.
  7. Next pour ⅓ of enchilada sauce evenly over cheese.
  8. Repeat layers of tortilla, chicken mixture, cheese and enchilada sauce) then top with one last layer of tortillas. Evenly spread remaining enchilada sauce over the top level of tortillas.
  9. In a small bowl, combine sour cream and ½ can cream of chicken soup. Stir together completely. Evenly spread over the top tortilla layer.
  10. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  11. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes covered, then remove foil and bake for an addition 5-10 minutes or until cheese is completely melted and casserole is heated through.

And now for what I did differently: I used the smaller tortillas. They were on sale. I chose a salsa that had cilantro in it. Mmmm. Cilantro. So fresh and pure perfection. I skipped the chili powder because I didn't have any and didn't want to buy it. Instead of red enchilada sauce I used tomatillo sauce. I could write a love poem to tomatillo sauce. So good. Heaven help me. I ended up buying fresh chicken breasts and baking them myself with a little oil/vinegar mixture. It shredded beautifully. But if you're making this at dinner time and need a faster fix, buy a rotisserie chicken. Easy, peasy.
I hope y'all enjoy this recipe as much as I did. It's easy, fast, and just as delicious reheated.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Almost Jacked-Up Banana Bread

Dearest of friends, I have something delicious for you to try. De-licious. And super easy. What can be better than that?

A while back (which really could mean any span of time) I found a recipe for banana bread on Smitten Kitchen. It was amazing. So amazing that I neglected to make it until again today. You guys, I was just sitting here trying to figure out when I actually made the bread. I think it's been about 9 months. Geez. What can I say? Time has flown by. Don't be like me. Make this bread and then make it again. After making it again today, I think I'm going to declare it my favorite banana bread. Now that's commitment.

Without further ado, here's what you need to know:

3 to 4 ripe bananas, smashed
1/3 cup melted salted butter
3/4 to 1 cup light brown sugar (I was somewhere between.)
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional- I opted not because I'm not about to buy bourbon just for this recipe.)
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Up to 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 1/2 cups flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla and bourbon, then the spices. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last, mix. Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.

Here are my notes: I didn't use a wooden spoon because who really cares. I didn't use bourbon, so I don't know if that adds flavor, moisture, both, or just general good vibes. I ended up baking for closer to 60 minutes. Oh, and I only had 3 bananas on hand, which worked just fine.

I have a huge crush on nutmeg and cloves, so I think that's why I love this recipe so much. It has this beautiful blend of flavors. Yum city. You guys, I love it so much I felt the need to blog! Considering that I pretty much never blog anymore that has to say something significant about this bread. Make it! You'll thank me. But really you should thank Smitten Kitchen

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Science of Bread

This weekend I took Breadbaking (Level I) with Erik Knutzen at The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano. When I heard that the class was being offered, I immediately jumped at it. I've made bread a couple times before and both times I found the bread lacking. Lacking a good flavor, texture, everything. I like the idea of making my own bread, so I decided to peek behind the curtain and hope to come out with a decent understanding of how to improve my outcome.

What I learned was that there's a science to baking bread. Or perhaps I should say an art since artisan bread is a pretty big deal in the bread baking world. Whatever. Tomato, tomahto. So let's look at the recipe and I'll share some tips I learned.

Secret #1 to making bread: You need a digital scale. 
For real. Apparently, using measuring cups is incredibly inaccurate. In fact, you could be off on your measurement by up to 30 percent. Weighing your ingredients gives a more accurate measure, which is important because of hydration level. (I won't go into that right now. But if you're serious about the bread game, hydration level is a big deal. I'm planning to do more reading to get a better grasp on it as I try out different flours.) If you don't have a scale, you can measure, but I can't guarantee anything.

Secret #2: You need to make a gas bag. 
You won't be kneading this recipe, so the gas bag is created in the shaping. Honestly, I can't remember what else he said about this, so I'm just going to move on. Nailed it.

all purpose flour (King Arthur's is best)- 400 grams (3 cups)
salt- 1 1/4 tsp (you don't need to weigh this)
instant yeast- 1/4 tsp
bottled water- 300 grams (1 1/3 cups)
hydration ratio: 300 grams water divided by 400 grams flour = .75 or 75%

Use Diamond Crystal salt or sea salt with no other additives. No iodized salt either.
Buy the jars of yeast, not the packets. They're a rip off.
Okay, why bottled water? Because some tap water has elements that alter the bread. I can't remember exact names. Can you use tap water? Yes.

1. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.
2. Add water and mix until dry ingredients are incorporated. Don't knead or over mix! Just integrate the water and dry ingredients.
3. Cover container with airtight lid and let sit at room temperature for 18 hours.
4. After 18 hours, shape into a boule and place in a floured canvas/linen/kitchen towel. Let rise for another 2 hours.
5. A half hour before it's time to bake, preheat the oven to 475 degrees and place your cast iron pot in the oven to heat the pot.
6. Dump your boule onto a floured cutting board and slash a 4 inch square onto the top of the loaf with a sharp razor blade or knife. Carefully pick up the loaf and plop into the preheated pot or casserole dish. Put the lid on the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
7. After a half hour, take off the lid and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the loaf is chestnut brown in color. When done, remove the loaf from the pot and let cool on a rack for an hour before slicing.

Using a digital scale
Place your mixing bowl on the scale. Turn the scale on. It'll zero out the bowl. Now pour in your dry ingredients. After mixing them together, place the bowl on the scale and turn it back on. It has now zeroed out the bowl and flour, so that you can accurately measure your water. Go slow! 

How to shape a boule
I wasn't quite sure how to explain this, so here's a link to a video. It's a wee bit different than how it was done in class, but the general principle is the same.

Follow up comments
Once you have a boule, you'll place it on a floured piece of fabric. Cover up your bread with the towel and place it back in your bowl. Linen or canvas are the suggestions, but a kitchen towel will work too. This is your new proofing towel. Don't wash it. Keep it floured and your dough won't stick. You can keep it in a plastic Ziploc to keep it from inviting bugs. The first few times you use it, make sure to flour the top of bottom of the bread too since you'll still be developing your towel or it'll end up sticking.

Why cast iron? A covered cast iron pot creates steam. It doesn't matter whether or not the pot has enamel coating.

Your slash mark doesn't have to be a 4 inch square. It can be an x or a line or whatever. Just slash it.

The chestnut brown color assures that you'll have a nice crust and that the inside is cooked. 

The reason to wait for the bread to cool isn't to torture you, but it's because the inside is still baking. Let it cool before you eat it. Or don't. If you don't mind the texture of your bread being messed up, then whatever. But waiting the time and having a great loaf is incredibly satisfying. 

I hope I didn't confuse or overwhelm y'all. I promise it's really simple. It's measuring, mixing, resting, shaping, and baking. However, the little tips and tricks will be what helps to make for more consistent, successful bread. If you have any questions, let me know and I'll try to answer them.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Remember approximately 1,210 years ago when I started my cooking blog?

Remember approximately 127, 210 days ago when it started to get mixed up and became a cooking/life blog?

Remember 422 days ago when I ditched it altogether because life became insane and I seemed to stop cooking?

Remember 4 months ago when I had it redesigned to make a fresh start, but then neglected to, well, actually start again?

Remember 5 minutes ago, when I said, "Let's just get this thing in gear already"?

Remember when I used the word remember 1200 times and made up absurd numbers to measure out time because I'm often ridiculous and dramatic?

Alright, kids, here's what's up: I'm picking this blog back up. (And keeping Amy Lives Life for the non-cooking stuff.) Here's what I know: this blog was a motivation for me to cook and try new recipes in the past. And there truly did come a point in the summer of 2011 where it was impossible to juggle everything. I had started a new job and was still learning about life in the NICU, was completing my BSN which meant papers/clinical hours/discussion boards/projects, moved, took part in all the fun activities leading up to Sesha's wedding, walked down the aisle in Sesha and Nick's wedding, and tried to soak up every moment out of our time together before the wedding happened. It took me approximately 9 months to recover. Just kidding. But it did take a while and then I jumped into the new adventure of travel nursing. And while I've cooked, it's not been very inspirational. I've felt uninspired and a bit lost.

Where did the joy go? Did I forget to pack it when I moved? Does not having a "home" kitchen impact me? Has night shift sucked out my soul and every bit of energy?

Y'all I don't know, but I know something has to change. First, I've been watching some documentaries that have really made me think.

I will fully admit that I'm the first one to approach these with some skepticism. But that's how I was taught to approach information that is supposedly research based... to listen to the information, follow the sources, and inform myself. That means that there are things in Forks Over Knives and Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead that I don't fully support, but I don't disagree with them either. I think there is a little wiggle room with some of the details given. For the most part, though, I think these movies are meant to be wake up calls. And I think Food, Inc. shows us that we shouldn't be blindly accepting what is happening to our nation.

And so I'm jumping back into this blog. Do I have any idea what's going to happen? Nope. But I want to start a new journey and I'd like to invite you along for it. I want food to have a different place in my life and I'd like to open up the idea of it to you all. I think at the heart of it food is supposed to be life sustaining (physically, mentally, and even socially). It's what we use for energy, it helps to give us strength and sustenance, and it is often used to bond over.

These are the books I'm currently reading:

You can find each of these on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble.

Am I going vegan like Alicia Silverstone would prefer? Not likely. Will I cook all my meals from scratch and never let a processed food pass my lips again? Not a chance. However, I like the idea of being more aware. I want to be kind to my body and I want food to be an enjoyable experience that leaves me feeling better than before I started the meal.  So I'm going back to my blogging roots and picking back up the cooking blog. As Julia Child would say, bon appetit! (I mean I'm assuming she'd say that since Meryl Streep said it while in character in the movie Julie and Julia. That's practically real life, right?)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Zucchini Bread

I baked!!!!! Please feel free to dance about your kitchens with me. (Note: I did not say that I'm baked. I said I baked. I'm not on drugs, I'm just naturally weird.)

I took a trip to the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning. I arrived before they even started selling because I'm awesome and I like to make a game plan to get the best goods. Or maybe it's because I got the start time wrong and I could have stopped at Starbucks and still had plenty of time to analyze the area and make a game plan. Whatever. Anyway, I bought peaches (!!!!), tomatoes, red and sweet onions, strawberries, yellow squash, and zucchini. It was glorious.

Later on, I was standing in the kitchen eating yummy strawberries and in my trance I saw the zucchini. Then a voice said, "Psst. You're a baker. Bake zucchini bread." Then I calmly put the strawberries away, grabbed the zucchini, and threw it out the window because I'm pretty sure that talking zucchini are evil. Okay, just kidding. I knew it wasn't talking to me. So in my first real return to the kitchen (like baking for fun and with the purpose to blog), I made my mom's zucchini bread recipe. It's ridiculously good. Enjoy.

Zucchini Bread

3 eggs
1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 cups zucchini
2 Tablespoons vanilla (yes, tablespoons)
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves

Mix in the order written. Pour into 2 greased loaf pans. Bake at 325 for 1 hour.

Those are pretty much my favorite baking spices. And since I'm in love with vanilla, this makes me happy. Now, if you have real vanilla and not the imitation stuff, you may think we've gone vanilla crazy since it'll smell a bit strong. Once the other ingredients are incorporated, the vanilla finds its place and makes everything right in the world.

This is one of my fears. Yes, I am an adult and I fear graters and thunderstorms.

Whoopsie. Never fear, a pan sticking problem does not affect the taste. It was still delicious. Stalena and I verified that fact. In the name of science, you know.

It feels good to be back. :)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Remember when?

Remember when I used to blog?

Remember when I used to cook and bake?

Remember when I spent legitimate time in the kitchen?

Kinda fuzzy memories, huh?

Well, guess what? I'm back! Now that I'm officially Amy, RN, BSN (please feel free to jump around with me), my calendar has opened up. I'm not quite sure what I'll do with myself. For the last few years I've been working and going to school. First there was work and nursing prerequisites, then work and nursing school (boy howdy was that tiring), and then working full-time as a nurse and working on my BSN (Bachelor's of Science in Nursing). Oh, and during the last month I threw in moving and my sister's wedding.

Maybe I should be sleeping right now.

Anyway, I plan to return to the kitchen very, very soon. Cooking has always been such a relaxing, joyful experience for me. I'm ready to feel giddy again about cooking and blogging and feeding the people I love. (Eek! I'm getting excited just thinking about it!)

Hello again, friends. :)