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Monthly Archives: November 2010

who wants chowdah?

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Right now, I’m making my Black Friday plan (it’s a family tradition!), but I wanted to share the recipe with you that could possibly make a love connection.  Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving—enjoy!

Last Monday when I returned home from my trip, it was so dreary and dark, complete with chilly temperatures and lots of rain.  I was already suffering from the post-vacay blues.  It was if the skies had opened up and were reflecting my mood.

One of the only things I wanted, all day, was soup.  A nice, hot bowl would warm me up, melt away my blues.  The only question:  What to make?  I wanted something hearty but light, with lots of flavor.  And I knew I wanted to make cornbread.

I checked a few of my favorite blogs, and I finally settled on Potato and Corn Chowder from Rachel (from Shape).

DSC05988  The ingredient list was simple enough, and I only needed to buy a few things from the store.  (Which, as you may remember, turned out to be a much more interesting trip that I could have ever imagined.)  My camera battery died shortly before I started getting my food prepped, so there aren’t really any pictures except for of the finished product.  And that’s all that really matters, right?

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • An onion, chopped
  • A celery stalk (or several small ones, like I used), chopped
  • Minced garlic
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 4 cups water or broth (I used 2 cups water, 2 cups low-sodium broth)
  • 2 or 3 red-skinned potatoes, diced
  • 3 cups frozen corn, thawed
  • 1/2 cup whole milk (I used light sour cream instead)
  • parsley (I used dried)

It all started with a little butter.  Isn’t that how all the best things begin?  Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven.  Cook the celery and onion and it will smell UH-mazing.  Seriously.  Whenever I smell cooked celery I think about the first time I made real, authentic, homemade chicken noodle soup.  Mmmm…so good.

When the veggies are soft, add the water and broth and the potatoes.  Bring to a boil, then take heat down to about medium for about 15 minutes.  (This is when I started prepping my cornbread.)  Add the thawed corn, and cook about 5 more minutes.

Here’s where the only tricky part comes in.  It’s not so hard if you have an immersion blender, but  I don’t, so I used the blender.  Puree the soup (on low) in small batches, being careful around the hot liquid.  I left some of it still in chunks.  (that’s what she said?)

Shortly before serving, add the milk, or if you’re me, the sour cream.  I don’t really like whole milk, and I didn’t want to have a quart just lying around, so I made this substitution.  Honestly, I’ve not had it the other way, but it was pretty damn awesome this go ‘round.

For the cornbread:

Pre-heat the oven to about 400.  Oil up your skillet with some oil or butter (I usually use my Misto and spray my down a little bit) and then place it in the oven to heat up.  I used the recipe on the back of the Aunt Jemima’s bag.  Cornmeal, milk, eggs, unsweetened applesauce instead of oil.  Oh, and no sugar—what Southerner in her right mind would put sugar in cornbread???  They’d take away my cast-iron skillet.

Funny story about cast-iron skillets:  Back around the time I first moved, my mom gave me one of hers so I could make some cornbread.  It was one she’d had forever, and it was already seasoned.  (You know, where it has ages of grease just steeped into it, all piled on top of each other?)  So I’d made dinner, and my roommate decided to do the dishes. 

“I did the dishes!” said my roommate with obvious pride.  “I even washed your skillet.  I had to soak it for a while to get all the grease off.  It was really dirty.”

Sigh.

So, this cornbread.  I also added some coarse salt, rosemary and thyme to the batter.  Let me tell you.  It made all the difference.  Anyway, take the preheated skillet out of the oven, pour in your batter, and then pop it back in for about 15 minutes or so.  I halved the recipe, so it didn’t take as long as it normally would.

DSC05991  This was an epic meal.  Just what I wanted!

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Roomie Reagan declared this the best thing I’ve ever made.  (I slightly disagree, but I did agree that I am, indeed, awesome.)  It made me feel all warm inside—a task that I’m sure my suitor from Publix wanted to complete, but alas, I’m taken:  my heart now belongs to this soup (and Jonathan).  But if you’re single, put on your grocery-store best and head out to the market—this could be the soup that gets you laid.

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thirty, flirty, and thriving

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Happy birthday to my awesome, wonderful, beautiful, FABULOUS sister Autumn!

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Photos courtesy of Autumn’s Facebook page 🙂

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I love you sister!

it’s turkey lurkey time…

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Tom Turkey ran away but he just came home!

Hope you all are getting ready for the Thanksgiving holiday!  I, for one, am hoping to indulge in small bites of everything I want to eat, instead of gorging myself stupid (as I have done in the past).  We’re going over to my aunt’s to eat dinner this year, and I think I’ll bring my Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese.  (We’ll see if anyone eats it…I’m not going to tell them what’s in it.)

I’m sad that I won’t really be spending any time with my dad’s family.  My grandmother passed away last year, and we have since packed up her house and most everything in it.  Last Christmas Eve, we all celebrated our last Christmas at her place.  It was sad without her there, but there were traces of her everywhere.  The place where she always sat at the table, the empty cookie jar in the corner, her recipes that my mom still makes.

My mom’s family gathering won’t be nearly as big and lavish as it has been in the past, what with my cousins in different places in the South, and one of my cousins just had a baby.  It’s weird…it’s like I turned a corner and suddenly grew up.  Do you ever feel that way?  I get it especially around the holidays.  I remember times when we would run around my grandmother’s kitchen, sneaking bites of food before it was time.  Now my cousins are running around my grandmother’s house—chasing down their own children.

Even though there won’t be as much family around, I know that the moment a forkful of my mom’s dressing touches my lips, it’ll be home, all over again.  Everything else melts away when I taste those familiar tastes:  onion, cornbread, sage—tons of sage.  And of course, there will be turkey, and gravy, and cream corn.  And green beans.  And macaroni and cheese.  Did I mention the gravy?

And oh yes—the desserts.  Pecan pie, red velvet cake (my mom’s is the best, hands down), chocolate layer cake, coconut cake.  There’s never a shortage of desserts when the Harris family is in charge.  I remember last year, my grandmother made several pecan pies and sent one home with us.  All day, I couldn’t wait to dig into a sweet slice of pecan-crusted heaven.  When the time came, I got ready to cut into the treat…the knife went straight through the crust into a soup of corn syrup, sugar and butter.  My mom and I decided we would not call her out on this error, but soon after the mishap we received a phone call from my grandmother.

“Have you eaten your pie yet”?” she asked.

“Um…oh, no,” my mom replied.

“It’s the strangest thing,” grandmother said, in disbelief, “we went to cut into one of ours and it was basically raw in the middle!  Just wanted to warn you!”

Back to the dressing…I, obviously, believe that my mom’s is the very best.  It’s thick, moist, and you can slice it with a knife (that’s what she…?).  I attended a Thanksgiving dinner once before and I was served stuffing.  Crumbly and savory, it was good, but—it wasn’t my mom’s.  I think it’s a regional thing, dressing or stuffing.  What’s tradition in your family?

As I’ve learned to cook, I really love Thanksgiving.  I love the idea of bustling around in the kitchen, preparing my own side dish to bring to a dinner that I merely ate instead of participated in the past.  I love seeing my family, and I love listening to my mother and her sisters and my grandmother talking about their recipes, their food, and holidays gone by.

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving with your family?  What’s your favorite dish?  And the most important question—dressing or stuffing?

looking for love, on aisle three

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Though I don’t always believe in myself, or necessarily think I’m the prettiest girl in the room, I think years past have proved that I’m approachable.  I’ll talk to anyone.  And while sometimes I can get nervous in a crowd, I usually don’t let it show and try to be someone who looks…nice.  And easygoing.

I’ve been approached by my share of men.  (Some attractive, but many of them undesirable.  Don’t get me started on the fella who got my number when I was a server at a restaurant, and then turned into a crazy psycho stalker. Or the girl who just wanted to hug me. Another time.)  Most of the time it’s when I’m unavailable.  My theory is that more so than looks, men are attracted to confidence.  And when I’m in a relationship, I relax a little and feel more at ease knowing that I’m not out to impress someone.

While I’ve been approached at the usual places—at a bar, in class—and some not-so-usual—I’m looking at you, Hobby Lobby— I experienced a first this past Monday night:  the grocery store.

That’s right.  While some young man was headed out to pick up some pantry necessities, he tried to pick me up as well.

All day Monday, I was craving soup.  It was dark, dreary, rainy and in general, a Soup Day.  So after a short Google search to see what I would be making, it was off to Publix that I went.  (I’ll share the recipe shortly.)

While in the store, I decided to snag a few other essentials, like produce and some canned items.  As I made my way to the beans, minding my own beans-ness (HAHAHA, I am so funny), I could see a man sidling up beside me.  His brow was furrowed as he scanned the cans.  I was trying to find the cheapest low-sodium option for black beans.  I found my prize in a 4/$5 can of Glory brand beans.  Then he spoke.

“Are these they black beans?” he asked.

I turned my gaze towards him.  Um, you mean, the cans that are printed with the words, “black beans” and have pictures of beans that are black emblazoned across the labels?

“Yes,” I replied.

Then he proceeded to ask me what was a good kind.  What do you put them?  What was I going to put them in (TWSS)?  And on and on.  It was then that he noticed I had a recipe.

“What’s for dinner tonight?” he inquired, peering over at my papers.

I explained that I was making chowder, sort of like a potato soup.  He nodded that it was the perfect night for soup.  Before he could ask me any more questions about beans, I started to roll my cart away in a natural motion.  Not awkward at all.

“Okayawesome…that’sgreat…so…goodluckwithdinnerbye!” I stammered as I made my way to the frozen goods.

As I ran the sitch over my head, I found it so odd.  But also kinda brilliant.  Go to a grocery store on a dark and stormy night, find a somewhat attractive lady, and then proceed to be confuzzled by canned beans.  He was attractive enough.  I never really feel like someone would want to hit on me, so I simply shook it off and began formulating the hilarious story this would become while on the phone with my sister later.

While picking up the last item on my list over in the dairy section, I saw him again.  Le sigh.  It was going to be difficult to run away quickly without being more awkward than I already am, so I decided to just play my cards.

He saw me.

“So, what kind of cheese do you think I should get?”  Oh, he was pulling the big guns out.  Talking to me about cheese.

“I guess it just depends on what you’re making,” I said.

He smiled.  “I’m going to make that potato soup you were talking about!”  I looked down.  The shopper stalker was still clutching that lone can of black beans.  No other items were to be seen.  I mean, come on.  Everyone knows that the cheese and dairy aisle is a last stop for Publix customer.  (At least, if you shop logically, from one side to the other.)

“Definitely cheddar,” I responded, as I tried to make my escape.  Attempts were futile.

“So…are you a student here?”  Oh great.  Here it comes.  We did the little song-and-dance, where are you from, oh that’s nice, etc.

“I wish I had your recipe,” he said, almost wistfully.  In a last-ditch effort to get away, I tried to thrust the print off into his hands.  “Here, I’m just going to look this up online when I get home.”  He wouldn’t take it, though he did ask me what website I used.  (I replied RachelWilkerson.com.  Proudly, I might add.)

I was doing the slow roll-away with my cart, but he was having none of it.  “How will we know whose recipe is better?”  He winked.  “Do you have a phone number?”

“HAHAHAHA.”  Uncomfortable laughter.  “No, but um, here’s my email address.”  <Insert fake email here.>

He pocketed the decoy address, smiled, and asked would I “be online tonight.”

I said maybe, then finally managed to get away.

One of my coworkers asked why I didn’t just say, “I have a boyfriend.”  I think there’s still this part of me that A) doesn’t want to be mean, and B) doesn’t want to come off as sounding conceited and thinking that every man is interested in me.

Have you ever been approached at grocery store?  Have you ever tried to throw someone off the scent with a fake number?  I had a friend who used to have the number for the county pregnancy testing center memorized, and she would give it out to wannabe suitors.

roux the day

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I love New Orleans.  And I love seafood.  So it stands to reason that one of my favorite soups is seafood gumbo.  Towards the end of Old Man Craig’s garden peak season, there was a surplus of okra lying around.  I mean, a LOT.  My mind immediately went to making gumbo.  I’d heard it was difficult, but we were ready to take on the project.

It all started with the okra, honestly.

DSC03615DSC03618 Did you know that okras start as flowers?  Then they turn into these plants that you probably recognize.  Learn something new everyday!

Anyway, we decided to go by this recipe from Paula Deen, all the while making our own substitutions and adjusting as necessary.  We used no chicken, two links sweet Italian turkey sausage, and a small package of small frozen shrimp (like, petite cocktail shrimp).

First, I started by chopping up the veggies.

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My mom told me that you can reduce tears by cramming a piece of bread in your mouth when chopping onions.

Funny, I usually remedy other tears by cramming bread in my mouth.  Regardless of the source.

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You’re looking at chopped bell pepper, flat leaf parsley, celery and onion.

While I chopping away, Craig cooked the sausage and Reagan presided over the roux.

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Ah, the roux.

I was really worried about this.  Everything online was like, “If you smelled something burned, THROW IT ALL OUT! IT SUCKS! YOU SUCK! YOU RUINED IT!”  No joking.  People taking their roux-ing seriously.

It was kinda like making gravy.

DSC04668 It started like this, looking like pancake batter.  “No way this will work,” I said.  “It’s going to look like this or get really crumbly and dry.”  Little did I know.

DSC04673 Before we knew it, the roux turned this satisfying shade of deep red.  And it smelled sooo good.

Next up, we added the chopped pepper, onion, garlic and celery.

DSC04684 Then shortly after that, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and parsley (not all of it).

DSC04688Paula’s recipe says to add the water and bouillon cubes, and then simmer for 45 minutes.

Um, I’m impatient, so we did not do that.

We let it boil and brought it down for maybe 20 minutes, then we added the okra and tomatoes.

DSC04696 (Paula says to let it simmer for another hour.  Think again.)  I think we managed to wait 30 t- almost 45 minutes before we got so hungry we had to dig in.

DSC04700 Oh, yes m’am.  This was sooo good.  And true to soup’s natural tendency, it was truly incredible the next day after having sat in the fridge overnight.  All the flavors combined; it was like an explosion in my mouth.

Fortunately, Craig has a shit-ton of frozen okra leftover from the profitable summer, so I see more gumbo in our future this winter.

Are you a gumbo fan?  Have you ever made a roux?

that’s where summer went.

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DSC05680 Heeheehee….

I’m so mature.

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But Jonathan is just as bad.DSC05555DSC05557 Some jokes are just too easy.

DSC05559 Other times we had to use our noodles.

Sometimes, when life throws you curve balls…all you can do is immaturely laugh at the balls part.

DSC05670 Happy Thursday from the coolest kids on the block 🙂

guess who’s back??

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Yes, I’m back!  And I think I ate the whole state of Florida while I was gone.  Instead of inundating you all with a whole lot of crap about my trip and oobundles of pictures, I thought I’d pick out my favorites and break them up over a few posts.

First things first:  What did I eat?

It’s no secret that I’ve gained a little weight since my lowest this past April.  At least, no secret to me.  I’ve been really trying to get back on track lately, and I’ve found I can still surprise myself (what up, 10k??) when I put my mind to it.  I knew I’d struggle on this trip, because come. on.  It’s vacation!  You eat lots of crap you wouldn’t normally eat.  I tried to tell myself to enjoy my trip, eat what I wanted, but try to maintain some control.

I think I definitely ate things I shouldn’t have (oh, heyyyy, CiCi’s pizza buffet), but I also savored some good stuff (gourmet pizza) and tried to keep some healthy guidelines in place (fruit and *attempted* exercise).  When we first arrived, my parents, Jonathan and I went grocery shopping.  I made the conscious effort to not buy Doritos or other junk, instead option for fruit, oatmeal and yogurt.  (I’m not saying the junk didn’t make its way into my week, though.)

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Breakfast stayed pretty normal:  bagel with pb and j, along with an apple and coffee.

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Not-so-normal:  5 Guys.  And it was awesome.  I had a little burger with tons of veggie toppings and split some fries with Jonathan.  And I didn’t feel ridiculous when I left—miracle!

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There was cheap beer and pool at the tiki bar below our hotel…

DSC05705 …and a karaoke DJ who looked like Dog the Bounty Hunter.

We hit up a little place called Tuscany for dinner and date night.  I had a Widmer Hefe, and Jonathan, a Peroni.

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Instead of having a shot of Jonathan drinking his beer…I just have him drinking mine.

For our dinner, we chose a pizza that had several varieties of mushrooms, prosciutto, and a few cheeses, including gorgonzola.

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It. Was. A-freaking-mazing.  So good.

My sister arrived about halfway into the week, and she, my mom and indulged in some shopping and chewing.

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Seafood nachos with shrimp, scallops and other sundries of the sea, along with tomatoes, olives, jalapenos and queso.  And salsa.  And sour cream.  On the right, calamari, and cheese sticks way back in the cheap seats.

There were cocktails.

DSC05724 And French braids.

DSC05759 Not related, but hey, my mom worked hard on those.

The car show was replete with delicious fair food…at which I should have taken one look and ran away.

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I would punch someone for a soft pretzel.  I would.  And those ribbon fries are so fantasticallybadawesome.  On the right are alligator nuggets.  (I still don’t know where the nuggets are on an alligator.)

The last day at the car show, we opted to bring our own food—barbecue and hot dogs.

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Jonathan manned the grill.  He also arranged all the food on the table to the right, then said, “I set it all up so you can take a picture for your blog.”  So well-trained, that one.

DSC05884 I had some barbecue on half a bun, with some chips and dip.

DSC05883 I may have also eaten part of a hot dog and some sauerkraut.  (I’m also pretty impressed that I spelled sauerkraut correctly on the first try.  Suck it, spell-check.)

On our last night, we went on a mini-crawl that started at Shuckum’s with beer and shrimp.

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Meh,  It was ok.  The waitress was kind of a bitch.  And look at the Shuckum’s mascot on that stool:  Am I just a perv, or does it look like a penis?  No?  Just me?  Moving on.

We left there and went over to Dusty’s, which was a much friendlier atmosphere.

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We munched on more seafood nachos (not as good as the others we had) and cheese sticks, which tasted like your usual run of the mill cheese sticks.  But the beer was cold and the service good.  Guess it’s true that atmosphere is everything.

DSC05924I swear, he was having fun.

On the way home, we stopped at a PoFolks for dinner.  I haven’t been here in years, but my parents love it.  When I saw the board advertising turkey and dressing, my mind was instantly made up.

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I had turkey, dressing, gravy and cranberry sauce, along with a side of turnip greens and macaroni and cheese.  Oh, and the world’s flattest biscuit.

I ate every last bite.

Jonathan went with what he thought was catfish filets…

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…um, not.  It was practically staring us down.  (Oh, and if you can see in the background:  Jonathan and I ordered totally separate, but we ended up with the same side items.  We didn’t even realize it until we got our food.  Sigh.)

Once thing we didn’t have:  pickled peppers.

DSC05953Dad wondered aloud if they would charge extra for the fly trapped inside.  Poor thing.

I started to slip into sleep around Montgomery, but we soldiered on (with some help).

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After several hours in the car, some interesting chats and video-hilarity (get ready, YouTube), we made it back to my place.  Home, sweet, apartment.

Reagan and I promptly headed out for Salsarita’s.  I got my new favorite:  bare veggie burrito, no cheese.

DSC05987 It was honestly just what I wanted.

Aaaaaand there’s part of my trip, in a food-laden nutshell!

Do you allow yourself more food treats when you’re on vacation?