Recipes

Never-ending House Stuff (and Sriracha Mac and Cheese)

When you buy your first house, people constantly tell you, “It never ends!” and “It’s a lot of work!” and, in a slightly sarcastic tone, “Good luck!” You brush it off at first, thinking, “Well, these people don’t know this house, or my capabilities, or how hard I can work. I’ll show them!”

You are an optimistic little bastard, aren’t you? Because owning a house, especially owning a house that wasn’t taken care of very well, is a definite challenge. There’s painting, and window repair, and “what’s that smell,” and squeaky hinges, and leaking showers, and rude neighbors who say things like, “I would have offered them a dollar for that house.”

Sigh. The only thing you can do is work on it little by little. Paint a wall one day, paint another the next. Then things happen, and you just want to scream. Mr. Something went out to mow yesterday, but soon realized that the shed, which he had locked, couldn’t be opened with any of our keys. One of them fits, but doesn’t turn the knob. So our mower is trapped for the time being. I suggested he watch a few YouTube videos on lockpicking, but apparently that didn’t work so well. Now we’re debating between hiring a locksmith and smashing the knob with a hammer, depending on cost.

BUT ENOUGH OF THAT FOR NOW.

For our neighborhood’s July 4th barbecue, we were to bring a dish to share. I brought my very favorite spicy sriracha mac and cheese, knowing that many people there wouldn’t be able to handle the heat. More for me! (And shush, there was plenty of food for everyone, and one of our neighbors brought a Tupperware home for herself.)

Sriracha Mac and Cheese

Adapted from Parsley, Sage & Sweet

  • 1/2 lb rotini or other squiggly pasta
  • 2T unsalted butter
  • 2T flour
  • 3/4 C milk
  • 1/2 C heavy cream
  • 2/3 C chicken broth
  • 1T honey mustard
  • 1/4 C sriracha (aka Rooster Sauce, aka my favorite thing)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 cups sharp cheddar, shredded. (You could also use a blend of cheeses like monterey jack, cheddar, and pepper jack.)

Prepare pasta according to package directions like every other recipe that uses pasta. Don’t let it get too mushy. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk the flour into the butter, and cook, while whisking, until it’s golden brown and no longer smells like raw flour (about a minute or two).

Mix the milk, cream, and chicken broth, and slowly pour into the flour mixture while whisking. Stir until bubbles start to appear. It’ll start thickening. It took mine about 15 minutes to get to a nice thickness (sort of like thin glue; imagine a thin Alfredo). Yours might only take five or ten minutes; remember, I’m at almost 6,000 feet!

Add salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the honey mustard (I use 1.5t of honey and 1.5t of mustard) and sriracha. Do not breathe in the warm sriracha fumes; you will have a coughing attack. Remove from heat and stir in the shredded cheese. Stir, stir, stir. This part is very satisfying. When it looks like cheese sauce, taste it and add more salt, pepper, or sriracha, if needed.

Put the drained pasta back in the cooking pot, and pour the sauce over it. Stir, then sit the lid back on the pot for a minute or two to get it super melty. It’s ready to eat RIGHT NOW if you want, but sometimes I like to throw it in a buttered casserole dish, cover it with some buttered breadcrumbs, and bake for ten minutes or so, just to get a nice crust on top.

You can add cooked, shredded chicken to this, too, if you want to make it an entree instead of a side dish. This recipe is easily doubled!

Surgery Fears (and the Perfect Amount of Chocolate Chip Cookies)

I’m having my wisdom teeth removed this Friday and I’m pretty nervous. I’ve never had anesthesia before, and this will be my first surgery ever. I’m pretty fortunate, I guess, and I know it’s a routine thing, but it’s still scary. I hope, at the very least, that I am hysterically funny while drugged out of my mind. Surgery Fears | Gainfully Something

And when I’m stressed, I bake.

I think that most cookie recipes are formulated to feed large armies of cookie-crazy loons. I don’t want to make SIX DOZEN cookies, cookbook, because then I will eat SIX DOZEN cookies. So here’s a chocolate chip cookie recipe that makes about 18 cookies, which is perfect for giving someone a dozen and then having a few cookies for yourself.

The Perfect Amount of Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 3/8C white sugar
  • 3/8C brown sugar
  • 1/2t vanilla
  • 1 egg

Cream that together (I used the paddle attachment on my stand mixer).

  • 1 1/8C flour
  • 1/2t baking soda
  • 1/2t salt

Add to the creamed mixture and mix until it forms a dough. Don’t overmix!

  • 1C chocolate chips (or mini peanut butter cups, or butterscotch chips, or chopped up Heath bar)

Add and mix until the chips are combined.

Drop rounded tablespoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 375F for 9-11 minutes. Cool on racks (or devour at your own risk).

Coconut Sugar Scrub | Gainfully Something

Spa at Home: Coconut Sugar Scrub

I have recently become slightly obsessed with coconut oil. It’s a great moisturizer, you can cook with it, and if you put some in water with limes in a small pot over low heat, you can make your house smell like the tropics.

After seeing this concoction on Pinterest a million times, I finally decided to make it. I put mine in a little Gladware thing so I can keep it in the shower, but you could also put some in a glass jar and give it as a gift.

Coconut Sugar Scrub

  • coconut oil (solid, in a jar)
  • white sugar
  • a few drops of essential oil, if desired (I used lavender)

You can scale this recipe to make however much you want. Microwave some of the coconut oil so it’s kind of soft (do this 10 seconds at a time), then transfer to a small bowl. Mix sugar in a little bit at a time until it reaches the consistency of thick batter. Add the essential oil, if using, and stir in. Plop this into jars, if you want, or a little plastic thing for the shower. Use instead of body wash/lotion or shaving cream.

My Poor Right Arm (and Mr. Something’s Favorite Meatloaf)

The past week has been hard on my right arm. When I came home from the grocery store the other day, Big Puppy greeted me with happy paws (and dewclaws that need to be trimmed). Then I grazed my forearm with a very hot baking sheet (that’ll be a fun scar). THEN I acquired a mysterious bruise on the knuckle of my middle finger. It’s a big enough bruise that I should remember how I got it… but I have no idea.

Sigh. At least none of these things hurt anymore.

I know it’s May and getting warmer, but it actually snowed here in the high plains the other day. Like… Christmas amounts of snow. So I made meatloaf yesterday.

Meatloaf gets a bad rap. First of all, meat. loaf. It’s such a gross name. “Who wants some loafed meat, kids?” No one. No one wants meat in the shape of a loaf. But it’s SO GOOD. It’s one of those foods that scares some people, because it’s so midcentury (“Make sure you eat lots of red meat so we build strong Americans!”). Just make it. It makes wonderful sandwiches the next day, and if you have a ton left over, you can chunk it up, freeze it, and use it in a batch of crock pot pasta sauce.

Mr. Something’s Favorite Meatloaf

  • 1.5lbs ground beef (I used extra lean)
  • 1/2C ketchup
  • 2T Worcestershire sauce
  • black pepper, to taste
  • crushed red pepper, to taste
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1C+ 1T bread crumbs (I put a few slices of stale sourdough in the food processor)
  • 1/4C onion, finely chopped (again, I whirred this around in the food processor; smaller pieces are better)
  • 2t brown mustard

Topping

  • 1C ketchup
  • 2t brown mustard
  • 1T brown sugar
  • 2T molasses

Preheat the oven to 400F. Mix the beef, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, spices, eggs, bread crumbs, onion, and mustard. Squish into a foil-lined pan. (We have a special non-stick meatloaf pan that has an insert with holes that drain the grease. I highly recommend getting one of these; we got ours at Williams-Sonoma. It makes meatloaf so much less greasy and icky. If you use one of these, don’t line it with foil.) Mix together the topping ingredients and spread on top. Bake 45 minutes (or until internal temperature reaches 165F; get out that probe thermometer!). Rest 5-10 minutes.

SECRET PROJECT NUMBER ONE (and Crock Pot “Roast” Chicken)

So Mr. Something and I have been working on SECRET PROJECT NUMBER ONE for the past few weeks, and while I can’t reveal anything right now, know that it is very exciting. (Spoiler: it does not involve my uterus.) I can’t wait to tell everyone at the end of this month!

Yesterday I wanted to make something easy, but delicious, so I made a chicken in the crock pot. Now, many recipes for this sort of chicken will call it “roast chicken,” but I think it lacks the crispiness I associate with roasting, so maybe “the best chicken ever that sort of steams in its own juices” is more appropriate.

I adapted this from Iowa Girl Eats, one of my favorite cooking sites. She recommends taking the chicken skin off–unless you are on a super low-fat diet, do not do this. Just… don’t. Chicken fat is one of the joys in life. EAT SOME JOY.

Crock Pot “Roast” Chicken

adapted from Iowa Girl Eats

  • 4lb chicken (if yours comes with giblets, take ’em out)
  • 2T melted butter
  • 2T olive oil
  • 1T Hungarian paprika (do not use smoked)
  • 1T granulated garlic
  • 2t kosher salt
  • 1t onion powder
  • 1t Italian seasoning (I used Penzeys Pasta Sprinkle)
  • a few generous grinds of black pepper
  • 6 foil balls (it’s very fun to crumple them up)

Put the foil balls in the bottom of the crock pot. Mix the spices with the butter and oil and rub them over the chicken (if you use disposable gloves, your life will be easier and your hands won’t be disgusting). Put the chicken, breast side up, on the foil balls. Cook on low for 6 to 7 hours. It will be so tender that you might have to take it out of the crock pot in chunks.

This chicken was amazing straight out of the crock pot, but it’d also be perfect for chicken salad (both mayonnaisey and lettucey), enchiladas, etc.

Sunnier Days (and Lemon Bars)

It’s been pretty nice here in the West–sunny, warm days and cooler nights. I’m not used to such consistently nice weather. It feels like a trick. Weather is supposed to be awful most of the time, right? It builds strong character (and strong livers).

To celebrate the gorgeous weather, I made lemon bars. They’re one of my favorite simple desserts: custardy, shortbready, sweet, tart. Totally unpretentious and easy. You can also make them into lime bars by substituting four limes for the two lemons.

Lemon Bars

  • 1C butter, softened
  • 1/2C sugar
  • 2C flour

Mix (I used the paddle attachment on my stand mixer). Press into an ungreased 9×13 pan and bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes, or until it’s slightly golden around the edges.

  • 4 eggs
  • 1.5C sugar
  • 1/4C flour
  • zest of 3 lemons
  • juice of 2 lemons (you can save the third, zested lemon for something else)

Whisk these together (I used the whisk attachement on my stand mixer), and pour over the baked crust. Bake for 30 minutes. It’ll firm up as it cools.

You could add a meringue to the top to make lemon meringue bars if you were feeling saucy.

“Doesn’t Have a Job” vs. “Is a Housewife” (and Frozen Banana Dessert)

Please, people of the world, choose your words wisely. When describing a housewife’s occupation, please do not say, “She doesn’t have a job.” This is insulting, and, actually, not remotely true. Being a housewife is an unpaid, under-appreciated vocation that involves quite a bit of work; you are a cook, maid, zookeeper, child wrangler (if you have kids), nurse, activities coordinator, office manager, and taxicab. We can send a man to the moon, but we can’t invent self-folding clothes or self-vacuuming carpet. Dishes don’t do themselves (but wouldn’t that be fancy?). Get on it, NASA.

Housewife, homemaker, whatever term you prefer, make sure those around you know what you are and what your occupation is called. You aren’t “unemployed,” you’re not “without a job,”  you are someone who works to make the best of their home, family, and life.

/puts soapbox neatly away

ANYWAY.

This is the farthest thing from a recipe, but it’s delicious and actually HEALTHY. I am not a fan of healthy desserts because if you’re going to eat dessert, just eat some damn dessert. However, I make this pretty frequently because it tastes wonderful.

Frozen Banana Dessert

  • 1 frozen banana per person (get a bunch of bananas, let ’em go super brown, stick ’em in the freezer)
  • cinnamon
  • honey

Put the bananas in the microwave for about 45 seconds, or until you can peel them pretty easily. Throw those frozen nanners in a food processor with a little cinnamon. Whir around until they’re mushed up. It should be about the texture of sorbet/frozen yogurt. Scoop into a bowl, drizzle honey on top, and eat.

Taking the First Step (and Asian-inspired Beef & Rice Thing)

Big news: we got pre-approved for a home loan, which means we’ll be buying a house in the next three months! I’m so excited–no more upstairs neighbors vacuuming and showering at 3am! No more weird maintenance guys! MORE KITCHEN SPACE!

We’re meeting with a real estate agent this weekend to start a serious search. This summer is going to be awesome.

Quick dinners can be a lifesaver, especially when life gets crazy. This is one of my favorites. It only takes about 20 minutes to make, and the leftovers are delicious, too.

Asian-inspired Beef & Rice Thing

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1T sesame oil
  • 1/2C brown sugar
  • 1/2C low sodium soy sauce (if you use regular soy sauce, it will be way too salty!)
  • 1t fresh ginger, grated (freeze the ginger for easier grating)
  • 2t red pepper flakes
  • cooked rice (I make mine with some sesame oil for flavor)
  • scallions, chopped
  • sriracha

Brown the beef in the garlic and sesame oil. Drain (I use a colander), then dump the beef back in the pan. Mix together the brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, and red pepper flakes, and pour over beef. Stir around and simmer, covered, for a few minutes. I usually leave this until the rice is done.

Serve beef over rice, topped with scallions and sriracha.

Crafting, Anxiety, and Granola

This article on CNN Health yesterday really hit home for me. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which basically means my brain overthinks everything and I’m always worried. I could be on the beach, sipping a margarita, and I’d still be worried about something. It doesn’t even matter what I’m worried about; it’s usually something that most people would think of as insignificant. My overactive brain makes relaxing pretty much impossible. But new studies show that crafting, whether it’s knitting, scrapbooking, glass etching (more on that tomorrow), or decoupage, can help anxious and depressed people calm their minds. Focusing on a craft project can bring your mind to a state of flow, where you become so engrossed in something that it’s hard to think about anything else. Crafting has definitely done this for me; I find that when I craft, I become relaxed and, as a bonus, have a sense of pride in my accomplishment. I feel the same way when I cook. So get out to the craft store, get some glitter, and calm your brain. This morning, I made granola, something I’d attempted before, but never successfully. This is delicious, easy, and multi-purpose; it’s great in yogurt, with milk, or just in dry handfuls stuffed in your mouth.

Fruit & Nut Granola

  • 8C rolled oats
  • 1.5C oat bran
  • 1C chopped almonds
  • 1C chopped walnuts
  • 1.5t salt
  • 1/2C brown sugar
  • 1/2C honey
  • 1/4C molasses
  • 1C vegetable oil
  • 1T cinnamon
  • 1T vanilla extract
  • 2C dried cranberries (or pineapple, or raisins, or mango, or whatever)

Preheat oven to 325F. Combine oats, bran, and nuts in a really big bowl. Combine salt, brown sugar, honey, molasses, oil, cinnamon, and vanilla in a saucepan; bring to a boil, then pour over the dry ingredients and stir until it’s all coated. Spread evenly over two baking sheets. (I didn’t line mine and it worked perfectly). Bake for 20 minutes; stir at the 10-minute mark. When you take the granola out, it will look like you messed it up; it won’t be crunchy or anything. Don’t worry! Once it’s cooled, it will transform, and you can take a spatula and chunk it up. After it’s cooled, mix the dried fruit in with the granola. Store in an airtight container.

Raspberry Jeans (and Raspberry Scones)

I love baking, but Mr. Something has Type 1 Diabetes, so I try not to do it that often. Here’s the other thing: I don’t even like sweets that much. I’d rather have an extra helping of dinner than have dessert (that’s a lie; I’d rather have extra dinner and dessert and then more dinner). However, I really enjoy the process of baking, and I can usually find a friend or two to take some cookies or whatever. Thank you, friends, for taking that great burden off of my shoulders.

This morning, after I had a ridiculous number of clementines for breakfast, I wanted something more. I wanted butter and sugar and flour, and sure, throw some fruit in there just so I don’t feel too bad about it. So I made scones. Scones are wonderful because they aren’t too sweet and they make a nice breakfast or a good snack with tea at the end of the day. (I love food.)

Of course, I wanted to eat one of these when they came out of the oven. When I was done savoring its buttery, crumbly texture (i.e., shoving it down my gullet), I noticed I’d dropped two whole raspberries on my jeans and smeared them in like fingerpaint. So now I’m doing laundry.

Raspberry Scones

Adapted from La Petite Brioche

  • 2C flour
  • 1/2C sugar
  • 1T baking powder
  • 1t salt
  • 1T orange zest (I used clementine zest, because I’m obsessed with them, and got about 2t out of two clementines)
  • 1 stick cold butter, cut into chunks (I used salted, since that’s what I had–I think it worked well)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2C heavy cream
  • 1C frozen raspberries (peaches would be delicious, too)
  • some more heavy cream for the tops
  • some extra sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 400F.

In your stand mixer bowl (with the paddle attachment), put flour, 1/2C sugar, baking powder, zest, and salt. Whir that around on the lowest speed til its mixed, then throw in the cold butter. Add the heavy cream and egg. Mix til it looks lumpy and just blended. Add raspberries and mix.

Flour your counter and knead the dough into a ball. Squish it down so its 3/4″ thick. Cut into eight triangles. I am bad at this, so I accidentally cut mine into twelfths. There’s a reason I’m not a mathematician.

Brush with more cream, sprinkle with sugar, and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes. The tops should be brown and the scones should be firm when you poke them.

So my scones sort of decided to spread out more than I think they should have, which probably means my butter wasn’t cold enough. Next time I’ll cut up the butter and stick it in the freezer for a few minutes before adding it to the flour.

Spread out or not, they are super, super good.