Archive for December, 2008

In the past, I was disgruntled by cooking gifts for birthdays or holidays. Quite frankly, knife sets and double-boilers are neither exiting nor romantic. It does not mean, however, that I have not used these within an inch of their natural lives, but my point is that there is only so much enthusiasm I can muster for a set of pans.

This year, however, was a kitchen appliance of a different color. Stainless steel, to be precise. After all this time tinkering in the kitchen, I did not have a food processor (and the blender was pleading to be put out of its misery). I am now the proud owner of a dual food processor/blender and was quite excited to see it hiding under perfectly pressed wrapping paper.

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Above: Look, shiny! Cuisinart SmartPower Duet Blender/Food Processor.

My other appliance gift is ten degrees of awesome: a wine chiller/warmer, with a library of over 30 different wines with optimal serving temperature. My Cabernet is now at its desired drinking temperature in under 17 minutes. It is also a touch more romantic than a knife set.

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Above: Stemless wineglasses, Waring Pro Professional Wine Chiller, and a bottle of Robertson’s Winery Late Harvest Gewurztraminer.

This year, it was very welcome to see these kitchen appliances under the tree. Over the past two years, I have learned to use cooking as a way to save money and spend more time at home. Anything that helps me do that is definitely Sweet in my book.

Jenn’s Cook Book: A New Year’s Reflection

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

As we celebrate the New Year, I find myself reflecting on my journey through cooking. I started cooking not long after I met James, as we grew sick of eating out constantly. At the time, I served one of the few things I knew how to make: tacos. No, not my fancy tacos with homemade spice mixture, but straight-out-of-the packet tacos with pre-shredded cheese, lettuce, and instant rice. Since I had to buy most all of the ingredients the day before, it wasn’t any less expensive than dining out and certainly wasn’t more sophisticated. It was, however, heartfelt (I even bought little umbrellas for the lemonade).

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Above: A feast of “homemade” Mexican food.

Slowly, I moved on to more complicated dishes and even baking. After a few months, I started documenting my accomplishments on a “blog” of sorts. I couldn’t even post pictures on the site or use any kind of text formatting, but I kept cooking and posting about it (even my failed attempt at a Rachel Ray recipe). As time went on, I started having dinner guests and cooking for others in their homes. The experiences were both exhilarating and terrifying at times.

Soon, I moved in to more complex territory: the special projects. It started with Gingerama, inspired by the memoir Julie & Julia by Julie Powell. I moved through more special projects, seasonal cooking, and other food related topics. James helped me create the website Jenn’s Cook Book and continued to be my gastrointestinal guinea pig. I tried new recipes, new produce, and explored different cuisines from across the globe. A new lifestyle was born.

Now, new recipes are pretty common in my kitchen. James has grown accustom to what I refer to as “the cruel whimsy of Jenn,” which usually consists of me adjusting recipes to my own taste, budget, or pantry. I enjoy crafting new special projects, including Veganomics and my latest venture Soupified (for which I demanded a logo of our friend Ray, which is pretty snazzy). But throughout the course of discovering food, I have also discovered a part of myself and a cause worth campaigning for in my life.

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As you will probably notice, I often dedicate posts to their frugality or to their minimizing effect on the environment. During projects like Veganomics and Econofest, I highlighted tips and tricks to save money while saving the planet. The environment has always been the closest I’ve had to a cause, and now with the world facing an economic crisis du jour, it seemed appropriate to combine the two and sound off my opinions on the declining state of civilization (a bit too dramatic? much apologies).

I hope to offer recipes that are at least somewhat healthy, for the body, the soul, and the greater world around us, as well as the pocket book. Something in my heritage makes me want to be a penny-scrimper, though I don’t always follow that path. I would like to think that most anyone could prepare the recipes on Jenn’s Cook Book, save for a few alterations.

My best piece of advice is to always adjust a recipe for what you have on hand. Do not, under any circumstances, go out to the store to purchase one item for a recipe (unless we are talking about baking, which is much more of an exact science, which requires the amount of butter called for least you find yourself with an end result you might want to consume). I advocate, support, endorse, and fully suggest that you take recipes and twist and turn them into your own creation. That, my friends, is how food comes from the heart.

Anyway, to make a long story less long, please browse my creations and enjoy my journey through the kitchen. I hope that the New Year brings you all that you are looking for, but I have found that if something delicious is cooking in your oven, you always have something wonderful to look forward to. After all, the best part of cooking is sharing that food with the ones that you love. If nothing else, please take that from this website….a little bit of warm and fuzzy in an otherwise vapid world of Internet ramblings. I will try to keep my ramblings to a minimum, as long as you promise to have a happy 2009 full of love, life, and this crazy thing I like to call cooking from the heart!

Cheers and Happy New Year!
~Jenn

PS – Look for more of the same in 2009: Special Projects, Bitter/Sweet rants and raves, and everything else you have come and known to love from Jenn’s Cook Book. Have a(nother) glass of wine for me!

Ras el Hanout

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Ras el Hanout is spice mixture hailing from Morocco whose name literally translates to ”head of the shop.” It is known to be the best spice mixture a merchant or vendor has to offer. Some varieties can contain up to 27 spices, though this recipe is not quite that ambitious. From Cooking Light magazine, this combination of 12 ingredients creates a smokey, spicy, yet subtly sweet mixture perfect for flavoring grains and vegetables.

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Above: Yes, that is about $5 worth of saffron.

Be prepared to part with a large amount of your spices, particularly if you do not buy in bulk. This recipe calls for saffron, which basically wiped out my supply. If saffron is a bit too rich for your blood, turmeric would be the best substitute, though nothing really compares to saffron’s unique bitter taste. I added my own touch with a pinch of cardamon, which is my favor spice. If you would like to dial down the heat, reduce the red pepper to 1/2 teaspoon and add 1/2 teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika.

Ras el Hanout
adapted from Cooking Light

2 1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground red pepper
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp saffron threads, crushed
1/2 tsp ground cardamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Spice mixture should last about 1 month.

To use: add about 1 teaspoon to rice, couscous, roasted vegetables, or other vegetarian cuisine.

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Above: The warmth and scent of all these spices combined is practically intoxicating. It makes my kitchen feel far more exotic.

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Above: Be sure to mix thoroughly, avoiding clumps of any one spice.

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Last month, James and I spent a weekend in Chicago. We took a train into the city and walked a majority of the time or enjoyed a free shuttle bus. I am quite sure I walked more in that weekend than any two days of my entire life.

This week, I took my car to the dealership and walked to the mall. I estimate the walk to be half a mile, maybe less. This was a mere hop, skip, and a jump compared to the epic voyage that was Chicago (did I mention we walked the two miles from the train station to the hotel? while dragging my luggage?). Conditions were approximately the same: windy, chilly but above freezing, and partly sunny. This would be easy!

HA! Chicago is made for walking, while this “quaint” little suburb of Grand Rapids was a nightmare. Sidewalks on only one side of the road. Snow piled up in the crosswalks. Crosswalk signals that ignored my requests. Motorists that did not yield. I am lucky indeed to still have both of my feet.

Then there was the mall, which had no sidewalks at all. A steady stream of post-holiday traffic flowed in front, where not a single kind-hearted driver allowed me to cross. After risking life and limb, the parking lot was no better. Cars swerved in and out of the yellow lines with gusto, barely noticing other vehicles, let alone a weary pedestrian. I clung for dear life to a tree on a snow-covered parking lot island. I am fortunate that I lived to tell my tale.

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Above: My feet, clad in fuzzy slippers, recuperate after today’s ordeal. They may never be the same. The ony thing I can offer them now is a bath and cute footwear.

Okay, perhaps I exaggerate (slightly) for effect. But, let the truth be told that it was not a foot-traffic-friendly facility. Now, far be it for me to speak for the city planning commission, but if we are going to encourage people to walk instead of drive, perhaps we should give them a pathway to do so?

This experience, in a neat little nutshell, is exactly what is bogging down the green movement in Grand Rapids. The infrastructure is not conducive to mass transit, carpools, and trekking on foot. There are no subways or monorails or bus routes to my city. The only people in town who ride a bus are those attending school, ironically the only ones living within walking distance of their destination.

While I do appreciate a good round of irony, I must say my sore feet and I are feeling just a little Bitter today. 

By the way, Little-Miss-SUV who swung like a madwoman into the parking space closest to the door, for someone with a sports utility vehicle, you sure don’t like to hike.  

Bitter/Sweet: Christmas Edition

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

Not sure if anyone browses the Internet on Christmas, but I figured I would post anyway because if nothing else, many you would all catch up on archives on the weekend (and, hey, I have important stuff to say!). So, anyway, here are my favorite things of the week:

yumsugar: part of an entire “sugar” network with a variety of channels, yumsugar is now part of my Cool Food Blog list and has been running a series 12 Days of Edible Gifts, including posts for candied citrus peel and peppermint bark.

From Wisebread: Six Simple Tips for Buying Great Affordable Wine (by one of my favorite contributors Myscha Theriault). My favorite tip, which I have used myself, is to search out hidden gems. Look for wines produced in lesser known regions, such as South Africa, for great deals.

From Slashfood.com: I have already sung the praises of the Gift of the Day, but contributor Marisa McClellan deserves some extra love (let’s give credit where credit is due) for turning me on to yumsugar. Also, where else can you find the latest food news and notes, such as The Wine Bailout?

Once again, I scour the Internet so you don’t have to! Please check out these great posts, because finding these gems in across the Internet universe definitely hits the Sweet spot.