Tag Archives: cooking

Why Grocery Shopping Takes Forever

29 Apr


Since we’ve moved here, shopping for groceries has become an event. I imagine it would be a fairly big ordeal with a new baby anyway, but add in new brands, different foods, etc and it gets a bit insane. Thankfully, Mr. Jones is quite patient and will push Charlie around in the cart (er, trolly) while I go from aisle to aisle and back again.

I thought I’d share a specific example from the past week of why shopping always takes longer than we plan. We were having friends over for pizza, so we stopped to pick up a few things at Morrisions in Cwmbran (I’m not generally a big fan of Morrisons, but the one in Cwmbran is brand new and has a massive fruit and veg section). I planned to grab two balls of pre-made pizza dough, which Publix (my favorite shop back home) always has at their bakery. So I checked at the bakery–nope. They had to ask three different people, the last one saying maybe it was in the ready-made food area. I went over there and no, but the man in that aisle thought maybe they’d have it in the pizza bakery in front (oh, they have one of those?). Again, I asked three different people in that department, all of whom looked at me like I was insane. They finally took me to the ready-made pizzas and pointed out a Boboli-style pre-baked base. Nope, not what we were looking for.

New plan–we’ll make our own dough. So I use my phone to look up a Jamie Oliver dough recipe…right, just need flour. Go to the flour aisle, where there are fifty different kinds of flour, but not the kind the recipe calls for. I google for a substitution and find one. Next, sugar (three aisles away)–again, fifty different kinds to sort through. Finally, picking up the last few things, I head to the check-out (er…till).

Whew. And that was just for one item! Every week it gets a bit easier, but there are those inevitable things on my list that just don’t exist over here, and sometimes they don’t even have anything remotely similar (I’m looking at you, Nilla Wafers, Root Beer and Graham Crackers). I’ve been trying to use more UK recipes (like ones by Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson) because most of the time I can count on the ingredients being in stock. It also makes measuring easier, since recipes here use the metric system. Still, I do love me some Pioneer Woman recipes, and so I will forever be converting and substituting.

I’ll have to take some photos and do a “tour” of some of the supermarkets here eventually, but for now you’ve got a peek into life here. Most things take a bit longer than we plan, but we are forever learning!

Spotlight: The Pioneer Woman

10 Jun

The Pioneer Woman

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Ree Drummond’s blog, The Pioneer Woman, I envy you. Because the first time I was introduced to her tasty step-by-step recipes, hilarious stories and drool-worthy ranch (the kind with cattle, not suburban neighbors), I was blown away. My friend Erin sent me a link to Ree’s series of posts about how she and her husband met and fell in love (Black Heels to Tractor Wheels) and when I looked up, hours had gone by.

I immediately found a more comfortable chair and got lost for a few more.

Ree's Ranch

Ree is the hilarious, self-deprecatingly confident friend you’d write for yourself in a novel. I have no idea how she finds the time to do the things she does, but I’m so glad she, well, does. Thanks to her blog, I’ve discovered the best way to chop an onion, how to make killer pico de gallo, and what my dream sink looks like (ok, maybe I was better off not knowing that last one).

Dream Sink

Her recipes almost always include a cast of real food characters (despite a cameo now and then from the sugar villain) and they are pretty much fail-proof. Her meticulous step-by-step photos may be too much detail for some, but for me they go a long way towards helping me perfect my cooking techniques.

Tequilla Lime Chicken

Some of my favorites:

Fresh Corn and Avocado Salsa

Potato Bundles

Crispy Yogurt Chicken

Rosemary Sweet-Roasted Acorn Squash Wedges

Caramelized Onion and Prosciutto Pizza

…and that’s just to get you started. Go check out The Pioneer Woman and enjoy!

Chocolate Mousse Pavlova

24 May

Chocolate Mousse Pavlova

This past Friday was one of my favorite events of the month: Ladies Supper Club. It’s a monthly dinner that rotates hosts, with each gal bringing one of the courses for the meal (usually based on a theme of the host’s choosing. It’s a wonderful time to let go, catch up, experiment with recipes and have an all-around-good time. If you’re interested in starting your own, I’ll be doing a post later this week with tips to set it up.

But that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about chocolate.

Chopped Chocolate


This month’s theme was (you guessed it) chocolate, with the host serving Seitan in Mole sauce (with a cocoa kick). My course was dessert, which I’ll admit was a little intimidating. I decided that since we were going to be having hits of chocolate throughout the evening, I didn’t want to overdo it–no thick chocolate cakes covered in chocolate frosting (although just typing that makes my taste buds leap).

I wanted something that was chocolate through and through, but still fairly light. When I heard the words “chocolate” and “dessert”, the cover of How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson immediately popped into my head. I began browsing through some dessert recipes on Nigella’s website and stumbled on Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova. I’ve made meringue-based desserts in the past but hadn’t tried adding flavors (like chocolate) or doing a large pavlova-style meringue. It was almost perfect! Almost, because as mouth-watering as the raspberries and cream on top looked, it wasn’t quite chocolaty enough.

After a quick search on AllRecipes.com, I had a highly rated recipe for Chocolate Mousse and a vision for the ideal franken-recipe:

Chocolate Mousse Pavlova Detail

Chocolate Mousse Pavlova

(adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova)


Pavlova Base

• 6 large egg whites
• 2 cups superfine sugar (if you have a food processor, pulse regular sugar in it to make it superfine. It will make the meringue lighter and fluffier)
• 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
• 1 teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
• 2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped

Mousse Topping

• 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
• 3 tablespoons water
• 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
• 1-½ tablespoons vanilla extract
• 1-½ 2 cups whipping cream
• 3 tablespoons sugar

[note: you only need 6 eggs for this recipe—put aside three of the yolks in a bowl when you separate them]

Make the mousse: In a small heavy saucepan, melt chocolate chips with water over low heat; stir until smooth. Stir a small amount of hot chocolate mixture into egg yolk; return all to the pan, stirring constantly. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat; stir in vanilla. Cool, stirring several times. In a mixing bowl, beat whipping cream until it begins to thicken. Add sugar; beat until soft peaks form. Fold in cooled chocolate mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Make the meringue: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Draw a 9-inch-diameter circle on the paper (I just traced a 9” round cake pan). You can flip the paper over so the meringue won’t touch the ink/pencil but you can still see the circle.

Beat Eggs Until Stiff

Beat the egg whites with a mixer until satiny peaks form, and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle the cocoa, vinegar and then the chopped chocolate over the egg whites.

Fold in Chocolate

Gently fold everything with a rubber spatula until the cocoa is thoroughly mixed in. Secure the parchment to the baking sheet with a dab of meringue under each corner. Mound the meringue onto the parchment within the circle, smoothing the sides and the top with a spatula.

Mound the Meringue

Place in the oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 300 degrees F and cook for one to one and a quarter hours. When it’s ready, it should look crisp and dry on top, but when you prod the center you should feel the promise of squidginess beneath your fingers. Turn off the oven and open the door slightly; let the chocolate meringue disk cool completely in the oven.

When you’re ready to serve, invert onto a large, flat plate and peel off the parchment. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to spread the mousse on top, and grate a piece of dark chocolate over the mousse for a nice finishing touch.

Chocolate Mousse Pavlova, Served

This recipe is great when you need to take a dessert to a party—you can bring them separately and quickly put the pavlova together when you arrive. Both the meringue and the mousse can be made up to a day ahead: the mousse should be kept covered in the fridge and the meringue in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Oh. And it’s fabulously, heavenly delicious.

My Favorite Kitchen Assistant

12 May

Ok, not my kitchen--I wish! This one belongs to Kelly from  Cuppielove.

No, it’s not my Kitchenaid Mixer (although I do love it so much that Caleb has spotted me petting it’s brightly colored siblings in Williams Sonoma). It’s not my salad spinner, or my Pyrex bowls, or my wooden spoons.

It’s Evernote.


I really don’t know how I managed before Evernote and I met. It’s my menu planner, my cookbook, my recipe file, my shopping list, and my pantry inventory (and that’s just on the kitchen side of things, look for another post in the future about how I use it for other areas of life).

And the best part? Yup, it’s free.

For the record, Evernote did not pay (or even ask) me to write about how much I love them. I just do, and I want to share it with all of you!

Evernote is basically an online collection of notes that you can access from your computer or any device connects to the internet. You can capture images, text, documents, PDFs and even voice memos, then organize them however you’d like–and search them with Google-like power (it even searches for words inside pictures). Everything is backed up to their database, so you never have to worry about losing your notes.

I have a variety of different “notebooks” in Evernote: Cooking, Graphic Design, Blogging, Home Design, etc. Whenever I create a new note (whether it’s grabbing something from the web or typing it in myself), I organize it by dropping it into one of my notebooks. My cooking notebook contains three things that give my kitchen (and our meals) an amazing organizing boost:

1. Recipes

Recipe Cards

All of my favorite recipes are here. Some are from cooking blogs or food websites that I’ve highlighted and clipped with Evernote’s web clipper, some I’ve typed in from my own recipe cards, and some are even pictures that I’ve taken with my phone of cookbooks. Evernote lets you label notes with tags that make them even more searchable, so I usually classify them with words like appetizer, summer picnic, potluck, etc.

Since my computer is next to my kitchen, it’s easy to pull up a recipe and refer to it while I’m cooking–but if your computer is across the house, you can still bring recipes up on your phone, or just print it out if you don’t have it in a cookbook.

It’s also great when I’m shopping and see a great deal on something like, say, artichokes. I can open the Evernote app on my iPhone and do a search for “artichoke” to see if there are any recipes where I already have most of the ingredients, then pick up what I’m missing. Or, if I’m in the mood for a certain dish, I can look up the recipe and know exactly what to buy.

Making notes on recipes is easy too–I can record whether a dish was a hit or a miss, which potluck I brought it to, or note any changes that will make it better next time.

Check out Ward Street Bistro’s post on Organizing Recipes with Evernote for a detailed step-by-step on adding recipes to Evernote.

2. Menu Plans

Menu Planning

Making weekly menu plans is a whole ‘nother post in itself, but suffice it to say that they’re the best way to shop effectively, eat out less, and eat healthier meals. Every Sunday I make my meal plan for the week, all kept in one note in Evernote–with the current week at the top of the list. I know exactly what will be for dinner each night and can easily look at past weeks for meal ideas or to make sure I’m not repeating the same meals too frequently.

This also makes it easy to see what I need to buy for the week, leading in to…

3. Shopping List and Pantry Inventory

Evernote Shopping

Since I have my meals planned out, I can copy or type ingredients I know I’ll need into my shopping list note, which also contains a list of what’s in my fridge, pantry, and freezer. That makes it easy to see what might be hiding in my freezer or in the veggie drawer that needs to be used up and helps avoid duplicate buying. Now, I’m not totally crazy–I don’t catalog every food item that’s in my kitchen. I just add things when I think, “Oh yeah, that _____ has been in the fridge/freezer/pantry for a while, I need to use it this week!”

And that’s it–my simple system for organizing meals, making shopping easier, and using up food before it goes bad.

To start, sign up for a free Evernote account. It’s quick and easy, and while they do offer a premium membership that has a larger amount of storage + no ads, I’ve been quite happy with the free versions (and I’d consider myself a power user). Then make your own notebooks, start adding recipes and you’re well on your way to having your own amazing kitchen assistant!

Blackened Mahi Mahi with Fruit Salsa

28 Apr

Blackened Mahi Mahi with Fruit Salsa and Corn on the Cob

To celebrate being back in sunny Florida, I decided to make something a little colorful tonight. Mixed with a little something from the sea.

I’ve been wanting to make fruit salsa ever since I ate Mango Mango’s Mahi Mahi (which has some of the best fruit salsa on the planet). If you’re ever in St. Augustine, you definitely have to try it. Or really, anything from Mango Mango’s. It’s all amazing.

Fruit Salsa, Before & After

I threw this recipe together from looking at a couple of recipes online, modifying it with what I had on hand. My secret to making it quickly was to grab a carton of fresh tropical mixed fruit while I was at Publix. It had chunks of pineapple, some strawberries, and kiwi. I only used half of it, and now I have enough left to make a green smoothie tomorrow morning.

Blackened Mahi Mahi with Fruit Salsa

• 1 cup pineapple chunks
• 1 kiwi, sliced
• a few strawberries (optional)
• two green onions, white and light green parts, sliced
• pinch of fresh ginger
• 1/2 bell pepper (I used orange), sliced
• 1 small tomato
• juice of one lime
• small jalapeno, seeded and chopped
• 1/2 Tbsp. balsamic vinaigrette
• a few sprigs of cilantro

• 2 Mahi Mahi fillets
• salt and pepper
• Cajun seasoning
• 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Combine all the salsa ingredients in a food processor (you can also just chop/dice them finely and combine in a bowl). Pulse briefly until the salsa is well combined/chopped, but not soupy. A few quick pulses should do it!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season the fish with salt, pepper, and Cajun seasoning. Swirl a tablespoon of the olive oil in a cast iron skillet (or any skillet that you can place in the oven) over medium heat. Sear the fish for a minute and a half on each side, then place the skillet in the oven for 6 minutes. Top with salsa and add a fruity drink (especially if you have any of those fun umbrellas)!

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