Wednesday, January 1, 2020

On Books and To-Read Organizing

I stumbled across these posts on organizing your reading list, and I felt inspired to share my system because figuring out a way that worked for me was a wonderful thing. 
I’m an avid Goodreads user (more on that below) but I’ve never much liked their “To-read” feature, for reasons I don’t really understand. Then I was inspired by this post on Lifehacker, which lead me to Trello. I have a few Trello boards, and I found that the website combined with the App help me keep track of my cultural to-do lists better than anything else I’ve tried (and believe me, I think I had tried them all). For me Trello’s advantage is how quickly I can add something to the list. 

This is my Trello books board - the list on the far left is the “Backlog list” meaning it’s something that I want to read at some point. Same with the “Kindle” list, which are ebooks I have and want to read. Since I get 90% of the books I read from the library, I need a to-read list that helps me keep those organized. The “To-Do” column are the books I have out from the library (with their due dates), and the “Reading” column is the one that I’m currently reading. Once I finish the book, I log a review of it in my Goodreads account and move it to the “Finished” column. (The finished column is starting to get unwieldy, so I may also break it down by year). Then I have the Trello board linked to the Google Calendar, so the book due dates show up on my Google Calendar.

I know some people don’t use Goodreads all the time, but putting a review there, or even marking it as read in Goodreads allows me to do a couple of things: 
I have an IFTTT recipe set up that takes the books from my Goodreads read shelf and puts them in my Google Calendar. (There’s no real advantage to that, I just like seeing them in there cause I think it’s cool).
Once I log the books in Goodreads, I also go through and add them to my Google Tracking sheets. You can export the data from Goodreads, but it can take a while to clean up, and I'd rather just do that work in small increments throughout the year by entering them as I go rather than clean up at the end of the year. Here's a link to a copy of my tracking template, if you want to save a copy then you can enter your books and the pretty charts will self-populate at the bottom of the spreadsheet. 

The Google Spreadsheet has other sheets with TV and movies, and the Trello account has other boards with TV and movies too. Then at the end of the year, they are turned into nice infographics that I post on Instagram. 

Happy tracking!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Brian's Green Curry

When Brian and I were in Thailand, we got the most amazing green curry from the restaurant at a hotel in Khanom, a small beach town outside Surat Thani. It was sweet and spicy and it came in this huge bowl, and we would sit looking out at the ocean while eating it. So before Brian left Thailand he took a cooking class, in the hopes of better being able to recreate the amazing curries. This is the curry recipe we use, slightly adapted from his cooking class. Brian and I haven't lived in any major cities, though luckily in towns with great International/Asian markets, so this has also been adapted by what ingredients we are able to get regularly.

Some notes: for the uninitiated fish sauce smells disgusting, but it makes the food taste so, so good. It's worth buying a bottle at the Asian market / international grocery store and using it in your curry.

Many bloggers will try to convince you to make your own curry paste. If you live near a fabulous Thai/Asian or International grocery store, then go for it. Even though Carbondale had an amazing International Grocery store, it didn't regularly get the fresh produce needed to make green curry (the chilies, lemongrass, and Thai ginger). They did have a nice selection of curry pastes though, and I included a recommendation for the brand that we normally use (Maesri). Just try to avoid the Thai Kitchen green curry paste they sell at grocery stores. Same with the coconut milk. Hit up the Thai/Asian market in your town and look for curry paste and coconut milk that's made in Thailand.

The veggies here aren't necessarily the traditional Thai ones. Sometimes the International Grocery store would have Thai eggplants, but sometimes not, so we've made a version that's geared toward veggies we can get year round. So feel free to substitute.

Brian's Green Curry (Adapted from the Baan Thai Cookery School)
Serves Four

3 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 (4oz) can Maesri green curry paste
3 (13.5 oz) cans Chaokoh coconut milk (or similar)
Half a can of baby corn
2 heads of broccoli (de-stemmed and chopped into small florets)
1 small zucchini (sliced thin)
Handful of green beans (trimmed)
1 chicken breast, chopped
3 tablespoons fish sauce (or to taste)
2 teaspoons sugar (or to taste)
2-3 cups cooked white rice

Start preparing the rice - either in a rice cooker or on the the stove. Prepare vegetables and chicken so that everything is in bite size pieces or slices.

Heat vegetable oil in large stockpot over medium heat. Add the curry paste and stir continuously until fragrant. Add chicken and half a can of coconut milk, stir occasionally until the chicken is cooked through. Add remaining coconut milk, and bring to a boil. Add vegetables. Season to taste with fish sauce and sugar. Serve over rice.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Angie's Corn Salad

I got this recipe from the wife of a farmer at the farmer's market. And because I live in a small town, I happened to go to high school with her daughter. She gave this to me last summer while I was buying a ton of corn and tomatoes, but I didn't try it until this summer. It was a few weeks ago, Brian and I were preparing to move but I still bought a dozen ears of corn the week before because we also had an after-funeral gathering to attend. I made this because I knew it would keep in the fridge for a few hours, and I had corn. But I am telling you, make this now before the summer corn goes away. You will not regret it.

I brought a big bowl of this with us to the gathering and I was secretly hoping no one would eat it and I could take it all home. Unfortunately, everyone loved it and there wasn't any for me to take home. I've been traveling for the last two weeks, but this morning I made sure to get a dozen ears or corn, peppers and onions and I'm making it tomorrow night. Hopefully this batch will last longer.

Angie’s Corn Salad
From Angela Jenkins

6 large ears of corn, blanched, cut off the cob
¼ cup green bell pepper, diced
¼ cup red bell pepper, diced
3 scallions, thinly sliced or thinly sliced red onion
¼ cup sugar

Combine in medium sized bowl.

⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
⅔ cup salad oil (I used veggie oil)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons sugar

Combine dressing ingredients in a jar and shake. Pour contents over corn mixture. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours before serving. Lasts for a week in the fridge. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Bouchon Bakery Shortbread

There's something that happens every time I sit down and read a Thomas Keller recipe, I sigh. Everything is so precise, so measured, there are instructions on how to do everything. There are normally ingredients and cooking devices that I don't have in my kitchen. Inevitably, for me, it feels a bit overwhelming, a bit too fussy. And then I make whatever recipe I've been eying, and everything turns out perfectly - and I realize why the recipes are written with such care and instruction. 

This shortbread is no exception. I've made other shortbreads before, successfully. But I tend to be an impatient baker, I'm bad at planning out what I want ahead of time. I want to be looking at recipes and eating the fruits of my labor within the hour. Still I followed all the instructions here, including the chilling of the dough and the carefully rolling and measuring of the actual cookies. My boyfriend's response as these perfect squares were coming out of the oven? "These look too perfect - you can't have made them." 

Bouchon Bakery Shortbread
Recipe Adapted from Bouchon Bakery and Scratchin' It

180 g unsalted butter, room temperature
90 g granulated sugar
2 g kosher salt
6 g pure vanilla extract
270 g all-purpose flour
24 g granulated sugar, for dusting

In mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth.

Add sugar and salt, and mix on medium-low until fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add vanilla, mix on low until incorporated, about 30 seconds.

Add flour in two parts, mixing on low until incorporated before adding the next, 15 to 30 seconds.

Remove from bowl, shape into a 5-inch square, wrap and refrigerate 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Adjust oven racks to lower and upper third. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.

Place dough between two sheets of plastic wrap. Roll out to a 9-inch square. If dough has become soft, refrigerate until firm.

Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares. Dust with granulated sugar. Transfer to lined baking sheets, leaving 3/4-inch space between each shortbread.

Bake 17-19 minutes, rotating sheets, top to bottom and front to back, halfway through, until shortbread is a light golden brown.
Cool on baking sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Project Wedding Cake

Project Wedding Cake was a huge success!

When my friend Jennifer moved up her wedding date, and decided she wanted to make her own wedding cake. To say that I was apprehensive might be putting it lightly. I sent her a variety of links to various blogs with wedding cake baking tips and horror stories. Everyone I mentioned the idea to said it was a bad idea without months of practice. I also told her that I wasn't a great cake decorator and I said we needed to do at least one test run. 

After a failed attempt with a french vanilla cake recipe, we settled on a chocolate cake recipe with a salted caramel swiss meringue buttercream frosting. We baked and frosted the two tiers, and then assembled them at the restaurant with some strawberries and extra caramel sauce. 

Both the cake and the wedding reception were amazing. Hollah, project Wedding Cake!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Salted Caramel Filled Shortbread Bars

I originally saw the recipe for these "Salted Carmel Butter Bars" on Pinterest, and Jennifer requested them for her birthday today. So naturally that means they are everywhere on the web by now. I ended up tweaking the recipe a little, and changing a some things. Since people have asked me for the recipe, I thought I would write those thoughts up in one easy to access post. 

First, these things are dense and rich. One of those square bars up there is more than enough for one sitting. I probably should have cut them smaller to be honest. The original recipe makes a full 9x13 pan of these, which in my opinion - unless you are baking for some kind of event - is way too much. It also means that you use a full pound of butter, which after adding the sugar and flour was almost too overwhelming for my KitchenAid mixer. 

Second, make your own caramel. Trust me on this one. My favorite flavor combination is most definitely salted carmel. Since I started making my own caramel, I've lost the taste for those wrapped store caramels. Plus depending on the state of your pantry, making carmel is cheaper than those wrapped ones. The recipe below will make enough for about two half pint jars of it, so I like to make a batch and keep some on hand for baking emergencies, to spoon over ice cream and into coffee.

Third, I swapped out the original shortbread recipe - butter, granulated sugar. powdered sugar and flour, for a similar sturdy shortbread recipe that I have used in the past. 

Salted Caramel Filled Shortbread Bars
Originally from Pip and Ebby / Shortbread adapted from Real Simple

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (if using salted butter, leave out the salt)
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp sea salt

(Depending on your mixer, you could also halve this recipe, and make two batches of shortbread).

Heat oven to 325° F. Combine the butter, sugar, and salt in a mixer and beat until light and fluffy. Slowly add the flour and mix until smooth. Divide the dough in half, and press one half into a greased 8-inch square pan. Place the other half of the dough in the refrigerator.

Bake 20-30 minutes or just until the shortbread begins to turn golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

Make caramel (see below). Pour caramel over shortbread in pan so it forms an even layer. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Take remaining dough out of the refrigerator, and crumble evenly over the carmel layer.

Bake until the filling is bubbly and the crumbled shortbread topping is firm and lightly golden, about 25-30 minutes.

Salted Carmel Sauce (from Brown Eyed Baker)

(If you haven't made your own caramel before, I would recommend looking at David Lebovitz's 10 Tips for Making Carmel post.)
2 cups granulated sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fleur de sel (or any other flaky sea salt)

Add the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a heavy saucepan, with a capacity of at least 2 or 3 quarts. Heat the sugar over medium-high heat, whisking it as it begins to melt. You'll see that the sugar will begin to form clumps, but that's okay. Just keep whisking and as it continues to cook, they will melt back down. Stop whisking once all of the sugar has melted, and swirl the pan occasionally while the sugar cooks.

Continue cooking until the sugar has reached a deep amber color. It should look almost a reddish-brown, and have a slight toasted aroma. This is the point where caramel can go from perfect to burnt in a matter of seconds, so keep a close eye. If you are using an instant-read thermometer, cook the sugar until it reaches 350 degrees F.

As soon as the caramel reaches 350 degrees, add the butter all at once. Be careful, as the caramel will bubble up when the butter is added. Whisk the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted.

Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the cream into the caramel. Again, be careful because the mixture will once again bubble up ferociously.

Whisk until all of the cream has been incorporated and you have a smooth sauce. Add the fleur de sel and whisk to incorporate.

Set the sauce aside to cool for 10 to 15 minutes and then pour into your favorite glass jar and let cool to room temperature. You can refrigerate the sauce for up to 2 weeks.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Alone in the Kitchen with a Computer : Red Pepper Pitas and Doctor Who

cooking dinner (#229)
In my Syracuse kitchen. Looking back through my photos, this seems like the best one I have of the kitchen, ironic since it was taken in the reflection of the windows.

This past week I've been reading "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone." Aside from making me hungry, it's also been making me think about eating and cooking for people. So I thought I would write up my own confession of cooking for one and dining alone.

After college I moved to New York City for a year. I was working an office job and living in the Bronx with two roommates I knew from college. I had graduated from college without much of an idea of how to feed myself, and this was not a conducive situation in which to learn. There was at least one disastrous attempt to make Eggplant Parmesan (one of my favorites), but most nights by the time I finally made it home I was too tired to attempt cooking, or I had stayed in Midtown and eaten there with friends. I survived mostly on bagels, cereal, yogurt and hamburgers at a variety of Midtown diners. At the time it seemed mostly easier and cheaper than attempting my own meals.

But after a year in a job I hated, I left New York City for the colder pastures of Syracuse. I had a room in an apartment I shared with four other graduate students, less money, and way more time. Cheap, plentiful meals could not be found on every block, if I wanted them I was going to need to make them myself. Luckily, during this time I made a friend who knew way more about cooking than I did, and she liked to cook for people. With someone to bounce ideas off of, and to experiment with, I started a trek into the world of cooking. There was a lot to learn, and because the winters in Syracuse are long and dark and deep, there seemed plenty of time to learn it. Over the two years we were in Syracuse at the same time, Kelly and I made more meals and baked goods than I can remember. One time we spent a beautiful fall Saturday picking apples, then made four pies and gave those away. I made my first jam with strawberries we picked from a u-pick farm in the kitchen of house where she was renting a room for the summer. Even after Kelly left Syracuse, I remained working to finish my thesis and applying to Phd programs.

After finishing my degree at Syracuse, I moved back to Southern Illinois - the place I grew up, and the place my parents still live - to get my doctorate. For a time I lived with my parents, and I took over the cooking. Now our meals also include my boyfriend and one of my brothers, also back at home. The family lets me cook whatever strikes my fancy, and eats it without complaint. I can try larger recipes that I wouldn't have attempted when just cooking for myself. More than that, I love sitting down with everyone at a table full of food. When I lived in Syracuse, I would often spend Sunday out somewhere reading and writing, go grocery shopping around 7, and then cook dinner around 8 or 9. Whatever, I made - often pasta, soup or chili of some kind - would last the week. After eating, I would portion it out into tupperware containers for the week ahead. Though I would sometimes sit down at our small cafe style table, mostly I would just eat standing up in the kitchen. I'm a much more adventurous cook now, in part because of experience, and in part because there are more people around to help me eat the things that I make. Since one pot of food won't last a week, I'm forced to make more meals and move outside my comfort zones. Now, I go to farmer's market on Saturday mornings and buy fruits and veggies for the week. I try to cook seasonally and mostly vegetarian, and I end up stopping by the grocery store on my way home a few nights a week. And in the apartment my boyfriend and I share, we've even thrown some dinner parties, something I never really did in New York because of the table and the roommates. And so, to paraphrase William Carlos Williams, this is just to say I really like not just cooking for myself all the time. All the meals, even the ones that are rushed and thrown together, or that don't really turn out, are better for having a table of people to share them with.

But this is also to say that while reading"Alone in the Kitchen," I began to get nostalgic for my kitchen in Syracuse. There was something joyous in eating whatever I felt like eating, in whatever form that took - one night I happily made four popovers and ate them still warm with honeyed brown butter. Another favorite was a plate of "egg in a hole,"with ketchup; I remember explaining to one friend that the egg and bread were made more magical after being fried together than alone. Mostly, I think I would be quite content to eat pesto and hot dogs in the summer, and warm soups and grilled cheese through the winter. And I have many such fond memories of cooking and eating simply for myself. But there is a specific fusion of food and time and place - watching Doctor Who and eating Red Pepper Pitas with Feta Cheese. I'm not even sure what inspired me to start watching Doctor Who, aside from Tumblr, probably, but there I was. And of course, it wasn't long til I was head over heels in love with this British show about a time traveling man and his blue box. I must have eaten a lot of meals while watching the first four seasons, but in my memory it's always these Red Pepper Pitas and the episode "Bad Wolf." I would buy a package of pitas, slice up a red pepper and onion, arrange the veggies on the pita with the cheese, and drizzle it with olive oil, salt and pepper. Into the over they would go for 8 minutes. (Only 8 minutes! Both cheap and fast!) There was a corner of the counter right next to the oven, where I would often set up my laptop, so I could watch television while preparing and eating food. And while it's a solitary sort of joy, I wouldn't trade away the memories of watching Doctor Who and eating the Red Pepper Pitas right out of the oven while standing in that drafty kitchen.

Last week, fueled by some Proustian nostalgia, I made these Red Pepper Pitas for my parents and my boyfriend - just two, cut in half, as sort of an appetizer. (Because I wasn't just cooking for myself, I also made another pizza with pesto and cheese). Both were delicious, but the Pitas were just how I remembered them, hot and salty and bread-y and crispy.

allons-y! (#29)

Red Pepper Pitas with Feta and Red Onion (makes 2 single-serve pitzas)Adapted ever-so-slightly from NotEatingOutinNY

2 pocketless pitas
about 1/2 of a medium red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced (I mostly use yellow onions, because I keep them on hand)
about 3/4 cup feta, crumbled (I've never measured, I just sprinkle till the pita looks full)
2 tsp olive oil
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Begin Episode of Doctor Who. Place pitas on a baking sheet and arrange peppers, onions, and feta on both. Drizzle each with 1 tsp of olive oil. Sprinkle with pepper and a touch of salt. Bake for about 8 minutes. Remove pitas from oven and let cool a moment before serving (or not).