The Problem With Leftovers

Yes. It's another food post.

I've been woefully uncreative lately and have had a resurgence of the cooking bug. When I was down for the count with my surgeries, I couldn't go out for a lot of restaurant meals and, frankly, not a lot of food appealed to me so I got back into the kitchen. It took awhile to actually cook whole meals and not just "cook" a can of soup but, in case you haven't noticed, this has been my major distraction lately.

The good news is, today is the first day of spring which means that, soon enough, you're going to be bombarded with gardening and beekeeping posts! Woo hoo!

So, what's on the menu today? Leftovers. 

Here's my problem - I hate leftovers. I throw out a lot of food because it sits in my fridge for too long (and Cassandra will tell you that I'll eat stuff that's pretty old). I just look at the containers and think, "That's not what I want to eat" or "I just had that the other day" or "That's not good reheated". So it sits until it's too old for even me to eat. I've decided that the key is to cook things that can be RE-COOKED into something new.

Yesterday I decided that I couldn't let the half a corned beef in my fridge go to waste. I don't really care for sandwiches (too much bread) and there's no way it would reheat very well. I had cooked a "round" instead of a brisket and it was dense but a little dry. So, I decided to make corned beef hash - which a adore. While I was in the store shopping for my missing ingredients, I ran into my neighbors who were shopping for missing ingredients for reuben sandwiches. I just had to laugh. I guess we all have to get creative with leftover corned beef after St. Patty's Day.

So, I grabbed some red bell peppers and russet potatoes. Then headed over to get some Ziplock Snack Bags to portion out the remaining diced corned beef to freeze for future hash. I walked up the freezer aisle and low-and-behold what did I find? Frozen Ore-Ida O'Brien Potatoes.

My life got easier.

Holy cats! I love Ore-Ida products and here, right in front of me, was pre-cut, diced potatoes, bell peppers, and onion all in one, awesome, frozen bag. 

I put the fresh produce back. (I know, I know. But it was already 6p and, by the time I'd be done dicing and cooking, I wouldn't have eaten until 8p).

Boys and girls, this was the easiest, fastest, and yummiest dinner and will be my go-to corned beef hash "recipe" forever - unless I want to get fancy or feel the need to dice stuff.

Here's how to make it:

  • Dice corned beef into 1/4" cubes
  • Heat a skillet on medium high heat and cover bottom with vegetable oil (I used canola)
  • Pro tip: If you heat the skillet first and then add your oil, your food is less likely to stick
  • Put frozen O'Brien Potatoes in the skillet in a single layer
  • Cover and cook on medium high for about 10 minutes without disturbing
  • Turn the potatoes (the bottom should be lightly browned) and add the diced corned beef
  • Continue to cook until the potatoes have browned to your liking. I like there to be some crispy bits in my corned beef hash so I cook them for a while, turning every so often so that they don't burn.
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The finished product. YUM!!

I'd say that the total cook time is probably about 20-30 minutes. As I mentioned, I put up the remaining diced corned beef in the freezer. When I make another batch, I'll probably put the corned beef in at the beginning with the potatoes since it'll be cooking from frozen as well.

Bon Appetite!

- Alex

Perfectly Imperfect

This weekend my youngest celebrated his 5th birthday. I can't believe he's that old already. It seems like only yesterday he was a teeny baby. How time flies!

My littles are big fans of home-made cakes. They don't balk at store bought, but every year they kind of assume that mommy is going to make and decorate a cake to their specifications. I try my damndest to make the best cake I can...and I do fairly well....but these cakes are never perfect. There's always something that's a little bit off. Mind you, they taste fine. I'm talking about the aesthetics.

Cake cooling on my messy counter.
Part of my problem is that I love cream cheese frosting and will go out of my way to use it. Even if that means I have to sacrifice the sculptural qualities of buttercream. looks a little gloopy, but tastes oh-so-yummy!

Cream cheese frosting gets even runnier with food coloring.
I don't self-identify as a baker. Sure I make cakes, some breads, and potica. But it's not my passion. I happily follow a recipe and leave it at that. It's not the thing I think about while driving in the car or before I go to sleep, like I do with knitting, sewing, or drawing. I know folks who's baking is an art form, and I reserve the title of "baker" for them.

I, in my own humble, fumbling way...make cakes with more heart than art. And my kids are thrilled. I call it a win. :)

Take care,


Food, Glorious Food

Last weekend was a whirlwind of social engagements - all of which included food, of course!

Friday night was an epic restaurant meal with one of my great foodie friends. We ate at Nostrano, a Madison favorite, and pulled out all the stops. I'm slightly embarrassed to say that we shared three appetizers, two entrees, and one dessert.

This was our menu:












YUM!! Add a couple of amazing cocktails (wine for my friend) and we had a crazy-good meal.

Saturday I had THREE parties to go to. The first is one of my favorites of the year - the annual Garlic Potluck at my friends' Tami and Tom's house. It's exactly as you imagine. Everyone has to bring a dish that includes garlic and, of course, if you're playing along the right way, it should be a LOT of garlic. Tami and I were talking about the party a couple of weeks ago and I was musing about what I should make. I had this idea that I wanted to do a white pizza with garlic but realized I couldn't make enough to feed the entire party. That idea mutated into garlic bread and, between Tami and I, we invented a recipe for the most garlic-y of all garlic breads. It was easy to make and everyone loved it. The recipe is below.

(not the actual child)
The middle party was a combo birthday party for my friend and her two-year old. All I had to do was show
up to that one and be tolerant of a house FULL of very small children. It was a riot. There was one little red-headed girl who insisted on holding a giant bunch of balloons. Every time her mother took them away from her, she'd have a total screaming melt-down. She really loved those balloons... The menu was primarily child-friendly snack foods and cake.

(my actual crock pot & pork)
Party number three was one of two, annual beer tasting parties at my friend Andy's house. It's sort of pot-luck-ish although I was so full from my previous parties that I couldn't think about eating and just brought drinking material. Andy always provides some meat-based product as the core food and, for this party, he made pulled pork in the slow cooker. Holy cow (or pig, as it were), that was some amazing pork! So good, in fact, that I made him give me the recipe then stopped at the store on the way home and bought a pork shoulder to make for Sunday dinner. It's the simplest and tastiest pulled pork that I've had in a long time. The recipe is also below.

Finally, on Sunday, we had the pulled pork with cole slaw and "parmesan potatoes", which is a derivative of a popular side dish from a local restaurant called Quivey's Grove. Again, recipe below. :)

So... that was my crazy weekend of eating. It was so much fun and I really enjoyed creating some new dishes to add to my repertoire. I hope you like them too!

- Alex

Extra Garlic Garlic Bread

One long loaf (or a number of rectangular "rolls") of French bread. You want a bread that's relatively soft on the outside, not a hard crust bread.
5-6 heads of garlic plus a few cloves
Italian seasoning
Parmesan cheese
Salt (if there's not already salt in your Italian seasoning)

Roast the garlic. An easy way to do this that is quicker and eliminates the fuss of removing the cooked cloves from the head is to skin the cloves, place them in an aluminum foil packet, and drizzle with olive oil. Close the packet up tight and place in a 400 degree oven until the cloves are very soft and slightly caramelized.

Put the roasted garlic, along with the olive oil they cooked in, into a bowl and blend smooth with an immersion blender. If you don't have an immersion blender, you can do this in a regular blender. Take the garlic paste and stir in Parmesan cheese and salt to taste.

Cut the bread long-ways and place on a cookie sheet, cut side up. Brush the cut side with olive oil and sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Spread the garlic paste on the bread, making sure you get some paste all the way to the edges.

Mince the remaining cloves of raw garlic and sprinkle on top of the garlic paste.

Place in the oven and cook until the garlic paste is golden and the minced garlic has browned. Be careful not to burn the minced garlic.

Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork

Pork shoulder roast that will fit, whole, in your slow cooker
Worcestershire sauce
Brown sugar

Pour enough Worcestershire sauce to cover the bottom of the slow cooker. Place the roast in the slow cooker and pour more sauce over it to coat all sides. (I turned the roast over and sort of rubbed the sauce all over it) Then take about a 1/2 cup of brown sugar and coat the wet roast with it. Put the cooker on low and cover. Cook for anywhere from 10 to 12 hours. Remove the roast (it'll probably come off the bone in chunks) to a large platter or cookie sheet with raised sides. Discard the bone. Using two forks, shred the pork. If there's a lot of liquid in the slow cooker, pour off all but about a 1/3 to 1/2 cup. Return the shredded pork to the slow cooker, salt to taste. Turn the slow cooker to warm (if you don't have a warm setting, you can leave it on low) and leave it until it's time to eat. Serve with bbq sauce or "dry" (ie: no sauce) and top with cole slaw.

I had so much of this when I was done, I've also used it for pork tacos and with eggs in the morning. It's kind of all-purpose!

Parmesan Potatoes

A bag of frozen shredded hashbrowns
Onion (diced)
Shredded Parmesan cheese

Place the frozen hashbrowns in a shallow baking dish. You want the layer of potatoes to be relatively thin. Mix in diced onion, salt, and pepper to taste. Level out the potatoes so the top is pretty flat. Cover the top with shredded Parmesan cheese until you can't see potatoes through the cheese layer. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 375 degree oven for about an hour, or until potatoes are hot and cheese is melted and golden brown.

In like a lion....out like a lion?

 I don't need to tell you that this winter has been brutal.

Yesterday we had nearly 50 degree temperatures at my house. When you stood outside you could hear water dripping or running all around. Finally. Melting snow means spring is on it's way. I know we still have a way to go...and snow is actually predicted for tonight...but we are sputtering into the finish line.

I grabbed my camera at dusk yesterday and snapped a few images of the moment. The light was so soft and beautiful. This fleeting time between seasons is the most magical to me. Much of my creative inspiration is found in the muted tones of early spring.

Taking a pause to absorb the beauty of the light inside and out left little time for dinner. Oops! Ravioli it is kids.

Peace out,


"You're Soaking In It!"

Remember that old TV commercial for Palmolive dishwashing liquid? A woman is getting a manicure and complaining about how hard the dish soap is on her hands. Madge, the manicurist touts the gentleness of Palmolive and, when the customer objects, Madge says "You're soaking in it!" and the woman freaks out and pulls her hand out of the soak. 

While knitting isn't quite as hard on your hands as hand-washing dishes without gloves, it is very drying - especially if you knit with wool. One would think that the lanolin in the wool would actually condition the fingers but, in my experience, it doesn't help much.

So, keeping lotions in my knitting bags has become a necessity. Cassandra made (you read that right), MADE, this awesome solid lotion. You can make your own by following her recipe, found here

As much as I love my Cassandra-made solid lotion, my all-time favorite hand cream is No-Crack. Crazy name, I know. But in the rough Wisconsin winters, hands crack all the time. I used to get deep, painful fissures in the sides of the index fingers and, occasionally, on the tips as well. It took me a few years to figure out that, between the cold weather, the forced-air heat, and my age, I could no longer get away without treating my hands better.

No-Crack actually works and has a really interesting origin story. Made right here in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, No-Crack started as an experiment. This copy is from the Duluth Trading Company website (where you can buy the product, of course):
One summer's day back in the 1940's, a woman walked into Hebberd's Drugs in LaCrosse, WI and asked for "bag balm" – a thick, greasy cream that farmers rubbed on cow's udders, to keep them from getting chafed and sore from all that squeezing and pulling. She explained she wanted it for her hands, not her cows. Enterprising young pharmacist Arthur Hebberd, the owner's son, said they didn't carry it, but he'd see what he could whip up.

Arthur Hebberd, creator of No-Crack Hand Cream
Arthur liked to experiment with different concoctions – deodorants, perfumes, shampoos and such. Now he created a hand cream. Next time the woman came in, she tried it. "It's too greasy," she said. "I couldn't use it during the day."
So Arthur developed a new kind of non-greasy hand cream that people could use as often as they needed to, without having to wipe away messy residue. It was a rich, heavy cream, made from lanolin, allantoin, mineral oil and other ingredients. He gave it a simple name: No-Crack® Hand Cream.
Arthur sold the company in 1993 and the two guys who bought it vowed (and kept their promise) to continue to produce the hand lotion just as Arthur had created it. They've added to the line - producing various scents - but I tend to always revert to the original "Unscented Day Use" cream. The "super" and "night" versions are a little too greasy for me and I find the day cream to work for all purposes.

So, if you need a really hard-core hand lotion, I highly recommend No-Crack. It's available in various places online. Happy knitting with soft hands!

- Alex

King Cake

Happy Fat Tuesday everyone!

My house smells divine. Two king cakes were baked last night.

Dough is mixing!

What? You've never had a Mardi Gras king cake you say? Well, let me school you. According to Wikipedia:

A king cake (sometimes rendered as kingcake, kings' cake, king's cake, or three kings cake) is a type of cake associated in a number of countries with the festival of Epiphany at the end of the Christmas season, and in other places with the pre-Lenten celebrations of Mardi Gras / Carnival.
The cake often has a small plastic baby (said to represent Baby Jesus) inside (or sometimes placed underneath), and the person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket has various privileges and obligations.

Every country that celebrates with king cake seems to have their own take on it. Read here for more details. The kind I make for my friends and family is of the Louisiana variety (they actually do make more than one kind in that region). It's a colorful purple-gold-green praline-filled bread confection with a little plastic baby Jesus hidden inside (I stick mine right inside, not under the slice). If you are from New Orleans, I think the person who gets the piece with the baby inside hosts the next party during the Mardi Gras season (they party for way more than a day down there). We don't adhere to that tradition 'round these parts...we just get excited to have a baby Jesus in our slice.

I have to admit, I use a box mix for my King Cakes. It is so bulletproof. I think next year I might experiment from scratch. I go back and forth on the idea. 'Cause if it ain't broke don't fix it. Right?

King cakes are delicious! (even from a box)
A slice of king cake starts this day of overindulging off just right. Later tonight my family will be having jambalaya and red beans and rice...maybe some hurricanes for the big folks? Mmmmmm.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!


PS: Check out Alex's wonderful post on Mardi Gras in New Orleans from last year.