Seriously Lemon

April 8th, 2014 by Jenny

This spring is amazing me in all sorts of ways.  I’m noticing the light in a way that I never have before, probably because this is the first spring I’ve spent in this house.

Spring Light

I’m also enjoying spring foods in a new way this year.  Our house is super close to the farmer’s market, and that really highlights seasonal foods.  I’m gardening this year.  Yay me!  And after a bajillion snow days this winter, I’m even enjoying the consistency of going to school every single day.  The spring colors have also really gotten to me.  The yellows, the greens, the bright blues.  I’m really digging them all.

Lemon seems like the most spring fruit to me.  The color fits right in with my spring wardrobe and is probably even cool enough to hang out with grass, the way its dressing this season.  After working hard on the garden (which I got complimented on by a random passer-by), lemonade is exactly what I want need.  Lemons are bright and spunky, and don’t need your permission for much of anything.

… so obviously, I made them into a doughnut.

Lemon Preparation

Sometimes, I do this thing where I want everything to be the exact same color.  It’s something I got from one of my students.  He always matches… socks, shoes, tshirt, jacket, and hat.  When I commented on this, he responded with, “Well, of course, I’m matching.  I can’t go to school looking like no rainbow!”  And while I love rainbows, some colors are just dying for you to go monochromatic.  …so maybe I did use a yellow bowl with a yellow spatula and a yellow cutting board.  I can’t be looking like no rainbow while I’m baking.

… And the theme continued into the doughnuts.  The dough was lemon zest, filled with lemon curd, and topped with lemon glaze.  And while the flavor was intense, intensity has never been a reason for me to run away from anything, but especially not doughnuts.

Lemon Whoa

While those guys were getting tan in the sunlight, these guys are chillin’ Martha Stewart style.

Martha Stewart Style

Seriously lemon doughnuts are brought to you by Baked Doughnuts for Everyone.  Words cannot express how great this cookbook is.  I don’t get paid to say that.  It’s just a seriously great cookbook.

Just like that…

March 31st, 2014 by Jenny

I woke up before my alarm on Thursday morning.  Thursday was our grade level planning day, and I always try to bring the team a little treat on these days.  I almost always end up baking my favorite double chocolate muffins.  I call them muffins so we don’t feel bad eating them for breakfast.  They’re basically cupcakes.  Cupcakes without frosting.  That makes them better, right?  While we all love these “muffins”, I was itching to make something new.

New recipe was a feeling I hadn’t had all week.  The thought of cooking dinner was just too much for me to handle last week.  So feeling inspired to make something was a pleasant surprise.  And boy howdy, America’s Test Kitchen really came through for me.  I made their simple cinnamon streusel coffee cake using “Better than cup4cup” flour from Nicole Hunn of Gluten Free on a Shoestring.

The results were spectacular.  I had gluten-loving coworkers asking for the recipe.

Simple Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake

… and just like that, I was back into it.  This weekend, I was back to my normal cooking habits.  The husband and I made an absolutely divine baked pasta with italian sausage, roasted tomatoes, spinach, and (of course) a generous amount mozzarella cheese.

Baked Pasta

Sunday morning, I was inspired by half a block of cream cheese sitting in my fridge and Marlow of Gluten Hates Me to make cream cheese stuffed french toast.  Since I didn’t have bananas or syrup, I created a mixed berry syrup.  the combo was… like… whoa.

Stuffed French Toast

And then there were the sloppy joe’s.  You remember them from before, I’m sure.  I combined the sandwiches with roasted potato wedges sprinkled generously with ranch seasoning.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

And then I finished them off with some gluten free peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (full explanation/recipe/whatever to come).

… but after all of that (and especially all of the eating out last week), I’m in need of a serious detox, or, at the very least, vegetables.  Hello green smoothies and salads!  And the weather is just right for them this week, too.

More on Meal Planning

March 25th, 2014 by Jenny

This week has hit me like a mack truck.  This past weekend was great, but full of activity.  The husband and I got out in the yard on Saturday and created a walkway to the driveway which I am super proud of.  We hauled 1 truckload of topsoil in our yard and 2 truckloads of stones.  We did a ton of heavy lifting, and I was worn out by the end of it.

Work Gloves

I had a plan for dinner, but after all that work, I just couldn’t bring myself to do more.  We needed a hearty dinner out, and Red Robin was calling my name.  It pretty much maxed out our restaurant budget for the month, but it was worth it.  This bacon cheeseburger hit the spot.

Red Robin

Sunday, I woke up sore.  My legs and back were very angry at me for all the lifting the day before.  I was generally pretty lazy, but I still managed to spend the afternoon with my husband, sister, and mother.  We had lunch together, then decided to go see Divergent (which is super great, if you’re wondering).

I also did my regular Sunday meal planning thing.  I made a list.  I went shopping.  I couponed like whoa and managed to save over 50% off my groceries.  That’s always my goal, but it can be hard without feeling like you can’t buy the stuff you want.  This time, I got everything I wanted, and still saved tons of money.  I had a plan.  It was healthy and tasty and affordable.

… and then Monday happened.  I’m trying to find the words to communicate this.  It’s not even a full moon, but I’m telling you what… these kids are something else.  Amidst all of the drama/terror/whatever that was happening in my classroom that day, one of my students decided to write b**** on the walls of my bathroom.  Twice.  He was pretty upset with me.

I came home, exhausted.  Snuggled into bed with Netflix, but was a little distressed by the static noise I heard in my bedroom.  Was it coming from the wall?  The floor?  What was that?  Google “static noise from crawlspace”, and you might discover that apparently snakes can make this noise when they’re under your house.  That was certainly less than reassuring.  After much hunting, however, my husband and I were able to discover it was some sort of water leak beneath the house.  And we’ve had the water on minimally since then.  The plumber should be here tomorrow.  Yay homeownership!

And then today, the kid did it again.  Twice.  I don’t really understand… because he got caught, and he had to have known that he would.  I did, afterall, enlist the help of a “bathroom monitor” today, who checked the bathroom after every person used it (certainly a less than glamorous duty).  And this is the stuff about my job that people don’t get.  And if that were the only stuff I dealt with, I could probably deal with it with substantially more grace than I showed today.  But then there was the plagiarism… the three different girls in tears for three different (and completely unrelated) reasons… the boy drama (oh god, how I hate it)… the talking back… the whispering to a friend during a lesson and the screaming “I didn’t even do anything!” when caught.  Grace was something I surely didn’t possess today.

And somewhere in there, the plan went out the window.  I know that it’s especially important for me to eat healthy on days like this, but when your only goal on a “day like this” is to not cry in front of your students (because crying when they go to P.E. is pretty much inevitable), concessions must be made.  At least, that’s what I tell myself.  Because sometimes, the plan becomes stress inducing, and I’m dealing with enough stress outside of it.  … so we’ll see what meals happen this week… and what meals get replaced by canned soup and gluten free chicken nuggets from Costco… and what meals get pushed to next week.  All I know is that food is supposed to enable me to live life to its fullest, never detracting from it.

Sometimes, it seems like there’s a war between “regular working folks” and “people who cook all the time”.  Their lifestyles don’t seem to mesh.  Phrases like “I just can’t do all that” get thrown around, and it bothers me, because most days, I feel like I get to be both.  And I really think other people can/should be both, as well.  But right now, I’m feeling more like a regular working person, and less like a person who cooks all the time.  And I think I’m just going to be ok with that.

Because sometimes you don’t get a snow day when you really need it… because you’ve got water leaking into the crawlspace under your bedroom (which totally doesn’t even make any sense because there is zero plumbing on this side of the house)… because sometimes the things you love most about your job also require more emotional energy than you can really muster… because sometimes people you care a lot about call you a b****… and sometimes, you don’t even have a reason… it’s just because.  And that’s ok too.

Meal Planning

March 22nd, 2014 by Jenny

Before there are groceries, there are meals.  There’s a plan.  Built on the weather, what’s fresh at the farmer’s market, what’s cheap at the supermarket, and whatever my/my husband’s work schedule looks like this week.  I always try to plan the more complicated meals earlier in the week, because I know I’ll have more energy.  Warm meals should coincide with cold nights.  Grilling with warm nights.  And these days, North Carolina is getting both in the same week.  Plan a salad for Tuesday instead of Thursday, and you might seriously regret it.

Completely unrelated, but I fell asleep while watching Scandal last night, which means I was watching what I had missed this morning, and I just spent the last 5 minutes with my hand covering my mouth, gasping repeatedly as things became more and more intense.  Why did I think this could be a chill watch-as-you-write-a-blog-post show this morning?

And that’s how we ended up with shepherd’s pie planned for this last Monday.  Monday was supposed to be cold.  I had come across a picture of shepherd’s pie on pinterest, and very much wanted to eat it.  Joel has been requesting shepherd’s pie basically since we got married.  I didn’t grow up with it, and thought the whole concept was gross.  But oh, that picture.  I wish I could find it again, but well… you know the internet.

I didn’t even realize Monday was St. Patrick’s Day until I got to school that morning and saw my colleague’s shamrock tie.  But even then, I didn’t put together that shepherd’s pie was a good St. Patrick’s Day dinner.  And if I’m being really honest, Monday was a rough day for me.  I got home and made a huge mistake.  I sat down.  As soon as I sit down in the evenings, I don’t get up.  Knowing this, I sat down anyway.  I browsed instagram.  And whoa… St. Patrick’s Day was happening in a serious way.  It was all soda bread and Guinness.

The coincidence was irresistible.  To the point that I actually got off my hindquarters and made it.

Shepherd's Pie

In the end, it was a whole lot easier than I expected.  Here’s how it went down:

Shepherd’s Pie

Adapted from Alton Brown

For the potato topping:

  • 1 1/2 pounds red skin potatoes, chopped with skin on
  • 3 T. unsalted butter
  • 1/3 c. milk
  • 1 t. salt

For the filling:

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 small carrots, diced
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. black pepper
  • 2 T. corn starch
  • 1 1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 2 t. tomato paste
  • 1 t. gluten free Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 t. dried thyme
  • 1/2 c. frozen corn
  • 1/2 c. frozen peas

Get the potatoes in boiling water.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large (preferably oven safe) skillet, cook the onion and carrot in olive oil over medium heat until the onion is just barely translucent.  Add in the ground beef.  Cook until browned.  Add salt and pepper.  Stir the cornstarch into the chicken broth until mixed completely.  Set aside.  Add tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, and chicken broth mixture to the ground beef mixture.  Continue to cook until just barely thickened.  Add corn and peas.  If your skillet is oven safe, you can use that.  If not, transfer to a casserole dish.

When potatoes are cooked through, drain.  Add butter, milk, salt, and pepper.  Mash.  Spread over the filling, beginning at the edge and working your way to the middle.

Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until potato topping is just starting to brown.

Browning Butter

March 18th, 2014 by Jenny

People have been talking about this whole brown butter situation for awhile.  And to be honest, I was unconvinced.  Why on earth would I spend time at the stove carefully overseeing the browning of butter when I could, you know, not?

I gave Joy the Baker’s brown butter doughnuts a try.  Obviously, I had to make them gluten free, so I smushed together my two basic recipes.  I substituted brown butter for the oil from the buttermilk doughnuts in Baked Doughnuts for Everyone.  It definitely added a more complex flavor which I really dug.

Browned Butter

This is what brown butter looks like.  I didn’t know.  I also didn’t know that 2 tablespoons of butter, browned is different from 2 tablespoons of brown butter.  You live.  You learn.  I’m still not sure if this is going to be a regular activity for me, but I will acknowledge a difference in flavor.

Doughnuts Overhead

The real trick with baked doughnuts is letting them cool completely before you eat them all up.  It’s tough, but it must be done.  Scoop those babies out with the cutest little spatula you can find.  Then let them chill out for a bit.  In an ideal world, this would happen on a wire rack.  I don’t have one of those.  Whoops.  But I do have a platter that exactly fits 6 doughnuts.

Doughnuts Cooling

Joy’s chocolate glaze was basically divine.  They’re not nearly as heavy at the chocolate peanut butter doughnuts from last week, which makes two of these exactly the right amount.

Stacked Doughnuts

The husband and the little sister woke up to the smell of these Sunday morning.  I got more than a few bonus points.  Make these for yourself, and you’ll be a very happy camper.  Make them to share, and you’ll be loved forever.  That’s my strategy, at least.